M*A*S*H

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
– Ephesians 6:12

This is the second post of thoughts on the responsibility of Christians in what is undoubtedly the roughest year of my life time — if you haven’t already, read part one first. We live in a rural “red” neighborhood, surrounded by Trump signs, and we really have no choice but to try to reconcile the goodness we see in our neighbors, with the man most of them want for President. Its really challenging, because by no objective measure can Trump be called a good person.

Love

Most of those we know who vote for him are not apologists — they acknowledge his faults, but maintain that his party is closest to their values. Whether those party’s values are most like Christ is debatable, but as someone who can’t vote, I can have empathy for the position they’re in. And I guess that’s where I’d like to start off:

Both sides will tell you they’re not being understood; they’ll bemoan the death of nuance in political conversation (even as their chosen leaders shout each other down). Many people from both ends of the political spectrum are capable of reasonable conversation, and of hearing the other’s viewpoint respectfully — but the national discourse obscures that rationality, the two-party system drives people to increasing polarization, and cognitive dissonance forces people to defend their choice rabidly. Mark 12:31 says “Love your neighbor as yourself” — a statement that requires you to feel for someone else; to understand their context, their fears and needs, their ideals and their goals. Empathy starts with acknowledging the validity of another’s viewpoint… even if you don’t agree with it.

Its tough for me to say this, and even tougher to do it, but for me, this means that it is counter-productive to write-off anyone with a Trump flag as an ignorant racist idiot (despite Trump’s gleeful courting of ignorant racist idiots.) Its also means that it is neither true, nor reasonable, for Christians to claim that anyone who votes for Biden is voting to kill babies. Every issue, idea and problem that a country is facing cannot be sorted into one of two buckets. And an earnest voter, forced to stack rank the issues, then choose a candidate that they hope and pray will aggregate to some over all-improvement, deserves respect, empathy and consideration.

If you’re an American and you earnestly believe that a vote for Trump has the most potential for Christ-like outcomes, this Canadian accepts you.
However, if you’re an American, driving in a Trump parade, shouting “Black Lives Don’t Matter”, then even the most enlightened person has grounds to condemn you. And that brings me to my next point.

Humility

If you have arrived at the decision that Trump is the best candidate to represent you on Christian issues, you must realize that you have chosen a man who is nothing like our Savior, that most of his personal positions are not found in the Bible, and that your rational is, at best, a matter of faith: you’re putting your faith in a deeply flawed human being on top of the faith that God’s providence will work good through that man’s sin. If you can get there, and keep your footing on that wobbly ground, then fine — but you don’t get to attack others who don’t share your belief system, haven’t rationalized this dumpster fire the same way as you, and who have legitimate complaints and fears about the outcome.

The issues on which Conservatives Christians are willing to extend themselves beyond science, politics or the general consensus are, by definition, issues of faith. Positions on how the earth was created, when life begins, how to help others find fulfillment and satisfaction in life — they can be looked at with a scientific lens, but for most of us, they’re going to boil down to what we believe. The Bible tells us that some people are not going to believe what we do, and while that sets us apart, it also gives us a responsibility — not to judge, but to love. If an omniscient God can love a sinful human, then what makes us think that we, as sinful humans, are entitled to hate other sinful humans?

Your leap of faith is not a reason to spite your neighbor. Your political party does not represent your Savior.

Reason

And finally, brothers and sisters, while we do believe there is a war going on, it is not a war against elected representatives, or your neighbor who votes for the other political party. The war is a spiritual one, and the lost are not foot soldiers for the devil — they are casualties of that war. When poor black communities cry out for justice, and your response is to condemn their sense of entitlement, you are on the wrong side of the spiritual battle. When women tell us dudes that their needs aren’t being represented in our systems, and your response is to accuse them of murder, then you are not practicing wisdom from above.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the world’s solutions are necessarily the right ones — but to shut down the conversation and brush aside all other perspectives as just being sinful, is to hypocritically claim that your faith automatically makes you right on every issue. Turns out Christians have a history of being wrong on important issues that they thought the Bible spoke to, but actually didn’t. Christians justified racism by saying black people were descended from Ham, and thus cursed — a horribly vile and sinful perspective that has caused more than a few centuries of problems. We put God-fearing but curious scientists in jail because their findings threatened our very human and very flawed understanding of Scripture…

Christianity does not grant us omniscience. It doesn’t even guarantee reason — but our Savior does call us to it.

So What is a Christian’s Role?

When I was young, my parents used to sneak off and watch a show called M*A*S*H. I didn’t know what it was about (although the theme song is permanently implanted in my brain) but my parents sure seemed to love it. As a parent now I understand they probably mostly just needed a few moments of grown-up humor, and a respite from the constant demands of young children. Recently, we started watching it ourselves — mostly for the same reasons.

The main characters in M*A*S*H are in a war — the Korean war, which continues to be a quagmire for the US even to this day. Set in a time of political upheaval, huge clashes between the American left and right, and generational tumult that largely pointed to a younger, more liberal voting block as being responsible for the moral decay of USA, M*A*S*H is interesting not because of the now-very-mild adult humor, but because of the responsibility of the main characters…

Regardless of what was happening in America, or the politics of the war, or the side a particular combatant was aligned with, when a wounded person arrived at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the men and women of the unit dropped what they were doing to fight for the life and dignity of that human being. Personal opinions (or shenanigans) aside, they acted in a way that recognized the Imago Dei of every fallen solider.

Christians, this is us! We are in a war — but we know how it ends! And in this war, we are not called to be soldiers, we are called to be doctors. Our love for the lost does not permit any attack on their position. Our mercy for those in need does not allow us to label someone else as “other” or to treat them un-kindly. We don’t have to agree with them, we don’t have to condone sin, but we must be willing to lay down our opinions, our preferences, our fears, our projections of guilt — because our Savior laid down His life for ours, when we were the foulest of sinners. And even then, He did not condemn us.

There was a time when Christians were famous because of our mercy. There was a time when a hospital was a Christian ministry, when the greatest centers of socialized education were Christian, when caring for the poor was understood to be a Christian vocation. If your interpretation of the Bible is that those things are not the government’s responsibility, then show the world an alternative! Show the world that Christian love puts others first.

Maybe the world would be more interested in our ideas if we took the Trump signs off our lawns, and became known in our communities as people who love and serve others again.

A Hot Mess Inside a Dumpster Fire Inside a Train Wreck

The biggest question I’ve been wrestling with for this whole crazy 2020 is: what is a Christian’s responsibility right now?

We’re supposed to be salt and light. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. We’re supposed to care for the “least of these.” We’re supposed to take care of orphans and widows. All that would suggest we should be pretty broken hearted about a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands. White Christians should be pretty upset when we hear our black neighbors telling us they feel disenfranchised and abused by our systems. We should feel sorrow for immigrant children taken from their parents and locked in cages. All of these reactions seem to me to reflect the heart of a Savior who laid down his life for people who rejected Him.

And if all that seems obvious to you, then can you explain why Donald Trump is the man chosen to represent the “Christian right” in this “Christian” nation? Cause I can’t…

But we live here, and I have no choice but to try, because if a horrible man like Trump represents me, then there must be some justification for it – and believe me, people are working hard at it. Every time I post something about what a dumpster fire Trump’s America is becoming, some helpful Conservative pops up to explain to me why either A) Trump is really a good person, and its just the media making him out to be horrible, or B) Trump is a bad person, but God is using him for His own good purposes, so we need to support the President anyway.

Never mind that I can’t vote, and have no say in what happens in November, some Republicans feel really, really obligated to convince others that Trump isn’t the worst human being to ever make a mockery of a Presidential debate. So let me try to read it back to you – and then, for the sake of my own sanity, and despite being totally impotent on the matter, I’ll follow up with a second post on what I think we should be doing…

Argument #1 – Morality is the Only Thing We Can Legislate

Christians are called to work toward God’s Justice (which is different than “social justice.”) In this theory, we have an obligation to engage in secular government in order to bring about outcomes that are more like how God would want a nation to run. We recognize that this is a fallen world and that any outcome will be imperfect, so we often have to choose the “lesser of two evils” and continue to work toward gradual improvement. Issues like abortion, Israel and the Middle East, the definition of marriage, and for some reason, the right to carry a gun, all need to be protected, to keep secular society from slipping away from being Godly.

This argument is problematic, because:

A new game show for 2020 where American’s get to choose the Best Awful!

This doesn’t mean advocates of this argument are wrong. Certainly any life created in the image of God should be considered sacred – although the Bible isn’t clear on when the image-imparting event occurs during gestation. Certainly we should desire an end to strife in the Middle East. Certainly a family unit is an important part of society and clearly special to God. And certainly there’s some Biblical justification for defending, or providing for, yourself and your family. But there’s no real evidence that Trump cares much about these things – we’ll give him points for some progress in the Middle East, but its laughable to consider a man who hires prostitutes to pee on him, has been married 3 times, and courts violent hate groups as his base, is God’s chosen representative for these “Christian” issues.

Argument #2 – Onward Christian Soldier

The second argument is blatantly evident in Fox News, and other conservative media bylines: we’re in a war. There’s a “war on Christmas”, it’s “time to stand up for our rights” and we’re “fighting for our lives!” Any move toward socialism is an outright attack not just on democracy, but also on our faith, and it’s our job to fight back. Masks during a pandemic are really just the first wave in a new assault on Christianity that seeks to close our churches forever, and if we don’t fight now, our children are doomed to live in a Godless communist society. And this argument drives me nuts for a bunch of reasons:

  • First of all, Jesus was not a warrior, nor did He ask His disciples or followers to become warriors. Jesus chose to be born into government oppression, the early church met in secret, and when the apostles “stood up” for their faith, it wasn’t by demanding that fellow believers fight for them – it was by patiently enduring hardship, devotedly writing letters from prison, and dying for their faith (not killing for it!)
  • Second, Jesus actually promised that we would be persecuted, and that such persecution would get worse – but at no time did He tell us that we could change that! In fact, not only did He tell us not to fight back, He proclaimed that the battle was already won, and that as believers all we need to do is wait it out – and his followers counted it all joy!
  • Third, there are many countries that are more socialist than America – many of them rank higher on the freedom index than the US of A, and God isn’t dead in a single one of them. Canada is a great country, with lots of government services, lots of freedom, and a vibrant Christian community, that has launched some truly impactful missionaries and ministries into the world. There’s no evidence that God is afraid of a progressive President – why are we?

Argument #3 – The Constitution is God’s Other Scripture

OK, Americans who are more invested in the Constitution and the history of this great nation than I am have made some progress with me here. The founding principles of these United States are really good ones, the founding fathers were mostly pretty good dudes, and while they left some stuff out (like that whole slavery thing, and that part about women being people too), they did include a mechanism to address their blind spots, and historically, this country has been a pretty great one. We should absolutely not rush into changing those original intents just for the sake of change. A run-away left-wing would probably do some damage eventually, so if the three branches of government are balanced with a variety of viewpoints, and its leaders are committed to due process, legal understanding, and a diligent interpretation and application of the Constitution, then this country would be functioning a lot better.

But then things start to get a little crazy. “I’ve got my Bible in one pocket, and the Constitution in the other” is the kind of idolatry I’m talking about. In the Old Testament, God gave real specific instructions to the nation of Israel on how it should be run – based on laws, and frankly, some accommodation for the historical reality in which they found themselves. Then He took the nation of Israel apart, because they couldn’t get it right, sent His Son to fulfill the law, and left us with instructions on how to live our lives and care for our families and communities. In effect, He said, my people are now the Church – and this country you call home doesn’t figure much into the plan. We are sojourners in a foreign land, and as such, the two key commandments for us to live by are: love God, and love your neighbor. The United States doesn’t appear in the Bible, there will be no “Americans” in heaven, and God didn’t actually write, or inspire, the Constitution. It’s a human document, modified plenty of times, and while a decent human creation, its not actually Scripture.

Citizens should vote. There are some believers who are called to serve in government – He’s gifted us all in different ways, and we honor Him by doing those jobs well, and applying Biblical principles to our decisions within those roles. This is admirable — and I get that its pretty difficult right now. But we aren’t supposed to be building or fighting for a Christian nation, we’re supposed to be loving our neighbors. Donald Trump doesn’t love his neighbor – he mostly just loves Donald Trump.

Within a democracy, there will be different interpretations of what policies are most loving; rational debate can be had. Is job creation more important than social programs for helping the down trodden? Does reducing taxes create more opportunities for people to live happy lives, or do social safety nets give people a better sense of security? Should an armed police department respond to every incident? These are great questions! Let’s have those debates, do some studies, and try to figure it out! But claiming the Bible always sides with your political party is not only wrong, it is putting something else before God.

So if God isn’t a Republican, Trump isn’t a Christian, and voting for him isn’t going to make this nation more Christ-like, then what is a believer supposed to do? Well, I have some thoughts, but I guess those will have to wait for part two

One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear

One of the president’s more ridiculous statements in February — one that looked even stupider a few weeks later as we began locking down — has become something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Not, of course, because we’ve beat the coronavirus, but because as a nation we decided it wasn’t a thing any more. Unable to follow the pattern of other countries that have done a good job of managing the pandemic, Americans quickly decided the bigger threat was to their individual rights, and that anyone with the education or authority (elected or otherwise) to give them guidance during a pandemic was actually the enemy.

In the battle to protect their rights, the collateral damage comes in the form of over 100,000 of their neighbors who died as a direct, or indirect, result of the dangerous spread of Covid-19. So be it, we’ve decided: I’ll do what’s right for me, that’s what being an American means!

I have a whole other draft post of some of the astoundingly ridiculous parts of being in America right now, but I’ve decided those won’t help. While the country that voted for the border wall guy is effectively locked out of visiting most other countries (including our home country that has no interest in seeing more Americans right now) life actually does go on. And the reality we’re in is one we just have to live with. The US is uninterested in participating in global efforts to manage the virus, because no one tells Americans what to do — not other Americans, and especially not the World Health Organization. And so we have to figure out how to live with this virus as a daily reality. A reality that will continue at least until we have a vaccine, but maybe longer, since we don’t trust vaccines either

Of course, opinions on the actual risk fall fairly precisely on political lines. And since its an election year, all data made available to us is filtered through one of two lenses. If you’re on the left, the pandemic must be the worst thing that ever happened because Trump’s mismanagement of it should impact his re-election chances. If you’re on the right, the pandemic has to be overblown, because if it really was a problem, obviously Trump would be doing a better job. Now, go ahead and apply this logic to everything else going on:

Masks Pose a Risk to My Health

If you’re on the left, you wear a mask while you’re alone in your car, because the virus is everywhere and we should all live in fear.
If you’re on the right, you wear a sign like this around your neck, because masks are a form of government oppression.

If you’re on the left, the peaceful protests against systemic racism only turn violent when jack-booted storm troopers appear and start shooting gentle hippies that were singing Kumbaya before they got attacked.
If you’re on the right, Antifa terrorists were burning American cities to the ground before Trump’s heroic defenders of Christian values arrived to save the day.

But what if I told you that you could be anti-racist, without looting local businesses? Or that you could support your local police department, but still want bad cops to go to jail?
What if I told you that practicing basic precautions like wearing a mask, or being thoughtful about interactions with those around you that might be more vulnerable, would allow your society to resume with a reasonable degree of normalcy?

Well, I could tell you those things… but since they don’t align with one of the two available political positions, you probably wouldn’t listen. It is an election year, after all, and any information that doesn’t affirm your worldview is irrelevant. You can hardly blame Americans — its hard to remember a time where politicians didn’t use fear of the “other” to win elections.

It turns out, in talking to individuals from both sides of the Covid debate (because somehow reality is up for debate), one thing we can all agree on is that we’re not getting good information. I’ve been tracking stats for our county, and the neighboring, more populous county, all summer. The raw data is extremely limited — and all other information comes with a political spin. The CDC has failed — not because its not a rigorous scientific organization, but because it doesn’t know how to disseminate information to the American public. Opinion wins hearts because that’s all we’re offered on the news. Most people I’ve talked to, regardless of political viewpoint, are actually hungry for good data, and willing to talk reasonably about what little we have.

I find neither the leftist fear-based view of the pandemic, nor the right’s determination to pretend it isn’t real, to be satisfying. I’d much rather take a data-driven approach to evaluating risk — for myself, my family and my neighbors. And actually, most people I talk to individually are similarly reasonable. Its just that the political discourse in this country drives groups to extremes…

Here’s what I’m fairly confident in for our family, given the data we’ve collected recently:

First, it is possible to get home to Canada. Nic and the kids spent a little under three weeks there, and although it was challenging, there isn’t an actual border wall — just an abundance of caution. Canada requires two-full weeks of complete isolation for anyone entering the country, but allows travel for essential purposes — which includes “reuniting with family”. Because they would be staying in a camper on Nic’s parent’s property, and complete isolation would be challenging, we all self-isolated at home in the States for a week prior to their trip. We then planned a route home with emergency bathroom spots identified where they wouldn’t encounter other people (trails, parks and cemeteries with lots of trees). Fortunately the stops weren’t needed. The border crossing was facilitated by an App-based form they filled out before they left home, that identified where they would be isolating, how they would get groceries, and what numbers they could be contacted at by the government to confirm their conformity to the plan. The camper was spacious and modern, and they had access to the pool and the Internet during their quarantine.
I remained in the US as the “anchor” — and because we couldn’t risk being refused re-entry to the States and losing my job. On the way back they were “reuniting” with me, and had no issues.

Thank you to Nicole’s family for providing a comfortable quarantine spot!

Second, we live in a county where the risk is low. Although compliance with the mask mandate probably hovers around 50% (we have lots of those “don’t tread on me” Americans near us), the population is not dense, and there are few large gathering areas. Since data was made available in March, only 0.7% of the county has been impacted, and less than 50 people have died with Covid. Add to that the new information we’ve just gotten about co-morbidity (and factor in common co-morbidities, like obesity) and its less than 0.05% of our population that has died from this since it arrived. I update my spreadsheet daily, and its been 15 days since I had to update the “deaths” column — I’m sad when I do have to change that value, and I pray for those families, but the data-based reality is that 46 deaths since March is not much.

From my own spreadsheet, tracking cases in our county using raw data

That said, the next county over, which includes the city of Cleveland, has very different numbers. 4% of their (much larger) population has been impacted, there are about 140 news cases a day on average, and they’ve only recently started to get that under control. What this means to me, as someone who spends a lot of time trying to interpret data in my day job, is that risk varies — and therefore, so should precautions. We will, of course, practice reasonable precaution any time we’re outside our home. But we will increase those precautions if we have to go into the city. And for every destination between picking up groceries at the corner store and going to the city, there’s an appropriate scale of precaution that should be applied.

Cleveland area cases, from raw data

Unfortunately, with a polarized, politicized view of the pandemic, there’s little room for this sort of risk-based evaluation. Either you believe you have the right to sneeze in anyone’s face that you want, or you believe that people shouldn’t leave their home. And the truly unfortunate thing is that this has begun to split the Church. God’s people, who should be united in showing mercy, practicing justice, and walking with humility — those of us who are called to love self-sacrificially — are fighting about our rights and our fears.

I am much more concerned about the ability of the church to function lovingly in the world as a beacon of hope, than I am about seeing mega-church pastors fight for their rights to put 3000 people in a room. I am much more concerned with seeing God’s people united in the Great Commission, than I am about exactly how each congregation decides to apply the Biblical mandate to gather (which should be determined based on risk factors, as outlined above.) And while I’m happy that my kids can participate in hybrid schooling and outdoor youth group right now, I recognize that just one county over, things are different — and its not a political spin that should be dictating our reaction to events in the world; it should be Christ’s love, and where available, good data.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

– Micah 6:8

To act justly means that Black lives definitely matter, but that neither violence nor Marxism will fix the problems that need to be addressed.

To love mercy means that I should wear a mask: it is an act of mercy to others who may be at risk.

And to walk humbly with my God, means that my rights aren’t important — a servant heart, and a love for God and others, should rule my life. (It also means a recognition that my political candidate/party of choice might not actually speak for God…)

Ignorance with Piety

I’ve written a few flaming posts lately — I’ll admit, there’s a level of emotion in my blog that I haven’t mustered in awhile. Unusual circumstances and all. I’ll admit too, its nice to see some engagement and responses to those posts. Of course, such engagement will come with differing opinions, but my post on conspiracy theories seemed to have provoked a significant reaction — and one I’d like to partially address. I won’t post the reply in its entirety, because I know the person, and I’m embarrassed for them (you can read their full thoughts in the comments, if you’d like). But I will engage, in part, to clarify and continue the admonition:

Last month I read a piece that someone had written and people had shared. After I read it, Holy Spirit said to me, “Well, that was the most anti-Christ thing I’VE ever read.”

…I wanted to share this with you because I never saw the anti-Christ agenda so clear before. It really is just anti Christ (opposite of Christ). I used to think that the spirit of the anti-Christ meant that someone would come in shouting, “Down with Jesus!” But, God has shown me that it is a lot more subtle than that. We need to be on the look out for what is exactly opposite of Jesus. We need to be on guard against the devil’s schemes.

My first rebuttal then, is a very important clarification: I am not anti Christ, or a part of the anti-Christ agenda. For absolute clarity, I am a Christian, a believer in Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose again in propitiation for my sins. His Word, the Bible, and His guidance of the early church that sometimes took the form of signs and miracles, provide Holy instruction for life. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Aside from 10 years of education in a Christian school, and 2 years of my childhood on the missions field, I also have a Certificate of Theological Studies from a conservative Christian seminary. All that said, more often than I would like to admit, I find myself ashamed of those who claim a similar background.

Then, God showed me about this need to believe in science. He said, “So, people are going to put their faith in science, the same science that tried to tell the children about darwinism in schools? That is anti Christ.”

There’s few things that make me doubt a message is from the Holy Spirit more than the person claiming God spoke it to them directly. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I am saying its rare. God doesn’t really need to breathe blog comments into the average person — He breathed His Word, and He guides through the Holy Spirit, but WordPress isn’t usually where He physically interacts with His people.

In fact, maybe the only thing that makes me more wary about a message that claims to be from God is if the content of that message is opposed to the laws of nature He established. And here again, I’ll grant you our imperfect understanding of how He works, but Biblically, suspension of His ordered universe is a relatively rare occurrence. I certainly am not a proponent of Darwinism (but I’ll do the man the respect of capitalizing his name), although I understand the human need to make sense of what appears to have been a miraculous creation event, but I do expect that in most cases, science is a use of our Imago Dei to learn about, and exert dominion over, that creation. We first practiced the God-given gift of science when we gave names to the animals. (Shortly afterward we were compelled to develop the study of crop science!)

When a repeatably observable behavior in the physical universe is established, then behavior outside that documentable “law” is reserved for the Creator and Orderer of that universe. If the behavior of radio waves transmitted from a radio tower is known, then a dramatic and heretofore impossible change in that behavior, such that it can suddenly cause or activate a virus, is either a) the assumption of a lunatic or b) the miraculous intervention of the Creator of that behavior. Unless God is miraculously causing 5G cell phone towers to give people a virus, then it is not happening. And unless you can show me how a secret change to the behavior of radio waves is a part of His Gospel of reconciliation and salvation, then you are sowing fear.

Second, it was suggested that a person needed to have 3-5 years of schooling in order to have a valid opinion on something. God said, mirror that to the theology that is given. This writer would then believe that no one can tell another person about the Good News of Jesus until they have 3-5 years of schooling. Then, Holy Spirit said to me, “Is that how Jesus got the Good News out? Did He only use learned people? “No,” I said, “He used fishermen, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc

Herein you might be more correct than you think: the best historical estimates are that Jesus spent 3 to 3.5 years with His lay-person disciples, walking with them in earthly ministry. During that time He instructed them, corrected them, and even rebuked them. He educated them until they were ready to lead the church without His physical presence. James, most probably the brother of Jesus, specifically wrote: Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly – James 3:1.

Nonetheless, none of that was my premise. My premise was that people on Facebook who have zero knowledge on the science of viral transmission or radio signal capabilities are irresponsible if they share misinformation on those topics as if it were fact.

First, Jesus never called the common, every day people names. He called names to the Elites of his time, the Pharisees (Matt 12:34), but he never called the common people names.

You’re right, my post was a little harsh. But I wrote it in response to a former church leader with no education on the topics I mentioned, using his leadership position to sow discontent with the government on Facebook. I did not say that Christians shouldn’t share the Good News unless they have three years of education — but since you brought it up, a minimum of three years does seem like a reasonable defense against bad theology.

Then, this morning God asked me to ask you, “What side are you going to be on?”

Skipping over the fact that God probably didn’t ask you to ask me that, I am on the side of reasoned faith. I am on the side of a Creator of the universe who loved us enough that He didn’t thrust us into a random, frighteningly unpredictable world so that we could live in fear of things we don’t understand. He placed us lovingly in an ordered world, instructed us to care for it and then, when we made a mess with our sin, He sent his Son to provide a way for things to be good again. He then called us to share His message of hope with those who need Him (Matt 28:19) — and He specifically told us not to sow fear (1 Tim 1:7, 1 John 4:18, Romans 8:15) or rebellion (John 19:11).

I’ll close this one with another admonition from Scripture:
When I am with people whose faith is weak, I live as they do to win them. I do everything I can to win everyone I possibly can – 1 Corinthians 9:22

I’ll start with myself: I get that I could be more gentle. Many are genuinely afraid right now — and for good reason. A lot is happening in the world, and most of it can be hard to understand. Aside from just dealing with a virus, people have lost jobs, security, and access to loved ones. Events have triggered the exploration of deep sin within our systems. It sucks, and it leaves us all feeling uncertain. I’m probably not winning anyone to my view of the world by yelling at them.

But fellow Christians, as gently as I know how, I have to tell you: you are no friend of the Gospel if you espouse dangerous, hateful, or fringe viewpoints on public forums. When you are unreasonable and uninformed on topics like vaccinations or viruses or the experiences of minorities, it is too easy for the unchurched to extrapolate that you are also unreasonable and uninformed on other topics — like Jesus. Exegeted logically, the Bible, the ministry of Jesus, and His gospel are compelling (or condemning) to anyone who would approach them earnestly. But when you mix your faith in with your fears, and your superstitions in with your beliefs, or your religion with a political party, you present to the world an unattractive, and unjustifiable testimony, and you will win no one. You are not pointing to a loving Father whose hand of providence is active through this tough time; you are not becoming weak for the sake of winning others… you are showing your faith to be too weak to be any good.

Ignorance with Impudence

It seems like people think a pandemic gives them license to let all their worst characteristics out on display. Here in the States, we went from fear of the virus, to frustration of being stuck inside, to angry protests about rights, to finally just pretending its not a thing any more — all at break-neck speeds. And the few voices that spoke out about the irresponsibility of it all were shouted down awfully fast. Turns out you’re within your rights to show up en-masse armed for battle at a government building — as long as you’re white. If you so much as jog through the wrong neighborhood, or pass a bad check while black, you can be killed on the spot.

I’m aware that somehow this position is a political one. Generally, as a guest in this country, I try to remain politically neutral. I don’t believe that either of the two available extremes are completely right (or completely wrong), and I empathize with those who have to try to vote from their conscience in a two-party system. In Canada, I’d probably be a Conservative, but here in the States, where we have fewer and less nuanced options to choose from, I can’t really align myself with the country’s conservative party, the Republicans. Donald Trump is a reprehensible, vile human being, and that party is increasingly aligned with reprehensible, vile human behavior.

Edit: adding that time the President of the Unites States of America threatened to have American citizens shot by the miltary… via Twitter. Feel free to contrast the statement from that liberal, non-Christian former President.

And this is a source of real despair for me: of the two positions, one claims Christian ideals and Conservative morals, the other does not. But people spewing hate, spouting ignorance, or acting horribly when asked to wear a mask often identify as Republicans. While the rational folks, listening to the guidance from experts, acting in ways that protect others, and decrying the senseless death of people of color… those often claim the non-Christian Democrat party?!

Let’s call these things what they are:

Reprehensible human beings gather their weapons and Trump signs to demand the right to share a virus with the nation’s vulnerable

If you have a position on economic policy or the role of the government, then choosing to align with a particular party might make sense. But if your alignment with that position requires you to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the black community, or block hospitals with your protests, or share an article that suggests that people should die until we develop herd immunity, rather than take a vaccine… If your politics support the kind of behavior we’ve seen over the past couple months, then damn you to hell.

You look nothing like Christ.

On Protests and Conspiracy Theories

This virus has drawn some truly amazing behavior out of us as a society, hasn’t it? We’ve seen leaders step up and take decisive action to protect people. We’ve seen science and medical professionals rise to the challenge of treating patients and finding cures. We’ve seen people learn new ways to connect and stay in touch with their loved ones. There’s been a lot to commend us.

But we’ve also seen a lot of really spiteful behavior. We have a president desperately deflecting responsibility for failures, while smirkingly taking credit for small victories that he had nothing to do with. We’ve seen people putting the lives of others at risk to impotently protest the actions designed to keep them safe. And we’ve seen a whole new wave of virulent misinformation and loathsome deception spread across the internet.

I want to give those who act on, and share, these absurd ideas some grace. Most of those doing the sharing are squarely in Dunning-Kruger territory — possessing a false confidence that comes from knowing a little bit about a subject, but not enough to understand how much information they’re missing. I also realize that fear drives people to lash out, and that things they don’t fully understand (like how cell phone towers or viruses work) make prime targets for irrational reactions.

I want to give them some grace, but when you see pictures of nurses calmly blocking an intersection in front of a hospital, literally using their bodies to protect the sick from the misguided protestors who think their rights are being impinged… I just haven’t got any grace left to offer.

In 2009 the FCC ended the broadcast of analog television content, freeing up radio spectrum that had been reserved for this kind of broadcast since at least 1949. 5G is the result of this, and other moves, to re-purpose existing radio frequencies for advanced wireless services. What this means is that the very signals people are afraid of right now have been around for over 70 years! Instead of carrying TV content, those radio waves are carrying Internet data packets, but its still just modulated data. Modulated data cannot be used to transmit or activate a biological virus. It can, however, be used to spread fear and misinformation.

In 2000, one of the world’s most successful business leaders redirected his considerable brain power and money from selling software to solving problems with sewage treatment and medical infrastructure in third world countries. Bill and Melinda Gates could do literally anything they wanted, and they chose to invest their time in helping people deal with poop. In 2015, after fighting the spread of disease for 15 years, Bill warned everyone that we were unprepared for a global pandemic, and that we were heading for trouble. 4 years later, we got trouble, and within weeks people are blaming the person who predicted it would happen, and insisting on their right to be reckless with other people’s lives.

These things are frustrating, because obviously they’re stupid. Obviously no rational person would believe that Bill Gates is using 5G radio signals to cause a pandemic so he can lock people in their houses and take over the world… Except that rational people are actually sharing these ideas like they’re truth. And I can’t escape the correlation that its the people who are most impacted economically, and who have the least formal education, that are the ones spreading these poisonous ideas. I know it sounds arrogant, but it shouldn’t be wrong to point out when someone is doing something stupid out of ignorance and fear. As much as I have been a proponent of, and participant in, a free and open Internet, I am opposed to the distribution and glorification of ignorance.

Conspiracy theories are fun intellectual exercises — they’re a “what if” exploration, that in better times make for good entertainment (I mean, who didn’t love the X-Files in the 90s?) But they are not news, they are not supportable with science and research, and they should not be shared with the same weight or given the same attention as actual information. If you see something on the Internet that sounds like it explains a part of the world you don’t understand, you owe it to yourself, to your social media connections, and to civilization as a whole, to respond responsibly. You can either:

A) Pursue a degree in the topic from an accredited higher education institution, or seek out 3-5 years of equivalent on-the-job experience. Because yes, its hard work to develop actual expertise.

B) Shut up, admit to yourself you are not competent on the matter, and acknowledge that your opinion is not worth the bytes of memory it gets stored on.

I have more to say on professional sources of opinion (so called “news”) but I’ll save that for another post — suffice it to say, yes, there is an alternative to the “main stream” media that doesn’t foment conspiracy theories. But instead of going into that right now, I’m going to close this with an additional admonishment to those who follow Jesus. As Christians, the standard for Godly wisdom is clearly provided for us in the book of James:

Wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peace-loving, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.

If what you’re reading is not reasonable, not impartial, and not peace-loving, don’t share it. You damage your testimony by embracing hateful opinions. You malign your Savior by spreading fear. And worst of all, your gullibility makes your faith look foolish.

Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living

September had no business travel, so of course October had to make up for it. Combined with a 3-stop speaking tour, I had a trip to our LA headquarters and another to Seattle for a meeting on the Microsoft campus. Sprinkled in-between were some wonderful personal trips in Ontario and Pennsylvania. I’ve lost track of how many miles were spent in the air, but 2,226 miles were spent in a car. Tonite will be the first night in my own bed in 3 weeks.

Travel creates lots of time for reflection — especially when it has you re-treading old paths. In Seattle, I got an afternoon to visit the sweet spot we used to call home in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The event I spoke at in New York was 20 minutes from the apartment where our oldest two kids were born. I also circumnavigated Lake Ontario for the first time ever, and got to enjoy breath-takingly beautiful views of the Thousand Islands — a place I am resolved to visit again with the family.

A particularly interesting stop was at a conference in Pennsylvania with ABWE, a missions organization with a long history of enabling incredible good, and briefer history of hiding incredible evil. We were interested to see what had become of the folks that sent my family to Bangladesh in my youth, and after reading many books on the topic, learn a little more about what’s happening in that still-troubled country. Some things have definitely changed: their website and missionary training now contains clear and unequivocal information on the safety and protection of children, and they’ve launched a tech ministry that has the stated purpose of partnering with, and enabling, nationals to reach their own people. Some things have not changed: I spoke to a missionary who felt over-worked on the field and that his family suffered as a result, and we heard from an executive team that is still 90% old white American dudes — not exactly a diverse crew. Still, even the white dudes were espousing some progress: that our families are our most important work, and that Americans might not always be God’s premier messengers in some parts of the world.

Each of the stops had a certain percentage of “what if” to them. We’d probably be a good deal more wealthy if we still lived in Seattle. Things might be easier if we lived somewhere in Ontario. I spoke at a really cool college in New York, maybe I could have made a career path out of that, if we’d stayed there. And of course an organization like ABWE could launch us almost anywhere in the world. We don’t really have any data to suggest that any other option would be better than the one we’ve selected, but the weight of other possibilities is sometimes overwhelming. We turn 40 next year — have we done everything we should have by this point? Our oldest becomes a teenager in just a couple months — are we doing a disservice to our kids by giving them such an easy, comfortable life?

Travel is expensive with a family of five. Banking miles on business travel takes me far away from my kids, but buys us opportunities to take them on little adventures. The next few we have planned will be fun and easy ones, but I wonder if its time to show them a little more of the world.

Why I stopped attending your church

Its been a frustrating 6 years trying to find a church home here in the States. There’s lots of them, sometimes they’re just barely afloat, and when you get there, you start to wonder why they keep trying. We’ve been to lots, and given up on quite a few. We’re not fickle “church shoppers”. We know that churches are made up of imperfect people, like ourselves, and therefore there is no perfect church. We’re willing to make a commitment, and love other people through their foibles and hope they can put up with ours. But with the kids approaching middle school, its reasonable to have a minimal set of expectations, so that we can maintain that commitment through their challenging “youth group” years. Here’s some of the reasons we haven’t been able to find a permanent church home (within a reasonable drive of our actual home!)

You weren’t prepared
Having a theme and an anchor verse for your message is not preparation. You are charged with delivering the most important material in history — take that responsibility seriously. A good sermon requires careful study, serious exegesis, historical research, and thoughtful application, delivered in a structure that allows even the most immature congregant to follow along as you deliver the material. You don’t get to just pick a topic and pray for the Spirit to speak through you. Granted, thinly prepared material, disguised with a charismatic, folksy story-telling style is at least entertaining (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it doesn’t make up for a lack of substance. Disorganized rambling is even worse.

Whether you intend to deliver a topical message or an expository one, I expect your sermon to be backed by a significant chunk of contiguous scripture, which is read aloud and, during the course of your sermon, is properly contextualized (from its source) and applied (to the target.) And I say “contiguous scripture” because you’re not allowed to pull one verse from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, and claim the Bible backs up whatever point you’re making — that’s called proof-texting, and you should be shown out of the room when you do it. That doesn’t mean you can’t show relationships in Scripture — it means you don’t get to make up your own.
(By the way, be real careful about fresh new discoveries in the Word — most of them aren’t fresh and new. Most of them are heresy that someone in the 1st century already tried.)

Your music wasn’t worship
I get it, church music is hard. Different people have different tastes, and most don’t like to be outside their comfort zone. Immature believers are unwilling to put their personal preferences aside for the good of the body. My point is not about style or preference, its about who the music is for (hint, its supposed to be for God!) When you lead corporate music, your job is to facilitate the worship of others, not put on a show, impose your preferences, or create an experience. You should all but disappear.

There are lots of ways to get that wrong: are you the only one who knows the song you’re singing? are you selecting a variety of styles so even the most “immature” congregant can feel a part of the worship — or are you only selecting your favorite style and hoping everyone else adapts to you? did you rehearse together in advance so that you can lead properly? is the tempo so slow that people are yawning? did you decide not to sing Christmas songs at Christmas for some reason? if you’ve rejected hymnals on the belief that no one can read music, are the words on the screen at least the ones you’re actually going to sing, or are you planning to free-form it, and leave everyone guessing? are you singing so many songs that the congregation is tired and the older folks have to sit down?
You don’t have to cater to everyone’s preference. You do have to create an inclusive and transparent environment, so that you disappear and God can become the focus. The golden rule for church music: don’t be a distraction…

You thought this was an entertainment venue
Related to music, but not strictly limited to it, I did not attend your church service to be entertained by you. There are plenty of entertainment venues in the world — I can go to a movie theater, a play or a concert if I want to be entertained. I didn’t come here for that. I came to be with fellow believers, to worship God, and hopefully to feed and be fed in the Word. Sound, lights and video can facilitate that, if used appropriately and with restraint, but they shouldn’t replace it.

I have no problem with technology in worship — we can give glory to God with the tools He gave us. But if we replace worship with tech or media, or use those things in ways that are so distracting that we can’t focus on what we’re there for, then we have made an idol of our technology, and we should repent of our sin and stop.

You tried to manipulate my emotions instead of engaging my brain
This kind of manipulation can happen with tech and media, but it also happens in more subtle ways. Repeating a line or chorus in a song repeatedly is a technique used in cults to induce a suggestive state — don’t do it. God doesn’t need us in a suggestive state to speak to us through you. Three times is plenty of repetition for healthy communication. “Setting a mood” by changing the lighting, inviting weeping testimonials on stage or playing them in a video, or delivering prayers that are disguised instructions to the congregation (“God, we know that many in the room want to come forward right now…”) are blatantly manipulative. I’m not talking about spontaneous response to the Holy Spirit — I’m talking about staged, planned activities designed to induce an emotional response. These are inappropriate.

Instead, allow God to deal with matters of the heart — what I feel is not your responsibility. Instead, pour over the Word, earnestly seek what God would have you share, and communicate that clearly and intelligently. Prepare your message with multiple levels of depth so that you can speak to everyone, no matter where they’re at in their maturity or life. By all means, use anecdotes or testimonials to help me understand or apply the message, but if you find yourself trying to create a feeling, or appeal to an emotion, just stop. That’s not teaching, its manipulating, and its wrong.

You didn’t create an on-ramp
Unfortunately, most of the churches who get the above things wrong are the ones who get this right. The inverse is also often true. You can get everything wrong, and keep people who came for the wrong reasons. You can get everything else right, but if you don’t have a way for me to fit in, you fail too.

And really it doesn’t take much. I’ve been a “professional church lay person” for 20 years — I’ve been a dedicated volunteer in many ministries, a part of church leadership, and I even have a seminary certificate. I’m ready to plug-in… if I can figure out how! We once attended an (almost everything right) church for a year, including signing up for a small group, going to kids activities, and trying to get ourselves invited to other events. After a year, no one knew our names except for the people we knew before we started going, and the people in our small group wouldn’t make eye contact when we saw them outside the group. One time I went as a new-comer to a dad-and-son event at this church, and I was the only one identifying and greeting other new-comers.

Here’s another hint: an on-ramp isn’t inviting new comers to identify themselves to the entire congregation, or participate in a large group activity that makes them stand out. Its a “Getting Started” class facilitated by a few members of the congregation who are gifted in hospitality, or a “Welcome Lunch” with the elders or pastor.

If your church can’t engage a mature Christian that’s ready and willing to get involved, then how will you ever reach the lost?

Getting it right
There’s lots of books out there, and lots of “mega church” patterns to try to follow. But despite all the church strategy, I suspect its much easier than you think. From all the churches we’ve seen over the years, I think the formula is pretty simple:

  • Pastors: study the Word, communicate as clearly as you can, trust God to speak to the heart.
  • Music leaders: don’t put on a show, don’t try to create a mood. Just lead music that everyone can sing and try to be invisible, so people can focus on God instead of you. If that means there’s less people on stage, and less technology involved, so be it.
  • Church body: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

We won’t all get these things right all the time, but if you’d at least try, it’d be a lot easier to stick with you through the tough spots.

Who is John Galt? The Pursuit of Happiness, Pride, Humility, Grace, Justice, Christlikeness and the American Dream

I’ve almost finished reading Atlas Shrugged. Let me tell you, the weight Atlas carried pales in comparison to the weight of dragging that giant, preachy tome around with me all summer. But I can’t deny the impact it, travel, and world events lately have had on me over the past few months.
For the uninitiated, Atlas Shrugged reads like a Republican Bible — probably a more appropriate one than the actual religious book most of them claim. But stripped of the preaching, and the often intolerant-seeming approach to government (or lack thereof) there’s a core point that they’re trying to make, that when you take away the theater, posturing and the other (more ridiculous) mountains Republican’s are willing to die on lately, it’s a very lucid one: every individual should have the right and responsibility to build their own future and consume what they produce.
There’s a caveat here that Rand’s philosophy fails to recognize (or would prefer to exclude from the debate entirely) which is that not everyone is born with equal opportunity. It’s a flawed to assume that if everyone put in the same volume of effort, every person born would be able to arrive at a state of self-sufficiency and happiness. The reality is that an ambitious child born in Africa that works harder than a less ambitious child born in Canada is not likely to end up with the same level of wealth, happiness and fulfillment, producer though he may be. You needn’t even go as far as Africa to understand that principle – between school districts in the U.S. you can find gaps in opportunity that are just as large. And of course there are those stuck with disabilities or challenges that can’t be overcome. These are not exceptions to the rule, these are the norm. Rich, healthy white folk living in a plush land of opportunity are the exception.
But none of that takes away from the notion of personal responsibility. Systems created to remove personal responsibility are corrosive to a society. This is not debatable. When its better to evade taxes by staying on welfare while getting paid for work under the table, then the system is broken… And perhaps it shouldn’t have existed (at least in that definition) to begin with.1
Tina Fey says gradually becoming a Republican is a side-effect of getting older. Perhaps the longer you’ve had to work to achieve what you have, the more you value seeing that same responsibility in others. I recognize that I am made uncomfortable by people who’s success (or apparent success) was not achieved through hard work of their own. I bracket in “apparent success” because this corrosion of personal responsibility applies to debt – in epidemic proportions! What you own/drive/live-in is an outward indicator of success, so people leverage themselves to the hilt to appear successful – hoping never to have to take responsibility for those appearances.
I can’t argue these sentiments. The Bible says those who do not work should not eat. With a few exceptions (mental or physical capacity), I’m in total agreement. But the natural (human) extension of this is something I can’t reconcile. That happiness is the result of what you’ve earned, and pride in it is justified and even righteous, flies in the face of what I believe about our place in the universe. Some would call that Liberal guilt…
Conservative Christian friends, help me:
How can I say I’m proud of being a skillful worker and producer, while being humble before my God (and in testimony)? How can I acknowledge that despite my hard work, without Him I would be nothing, while claiming that those who have nothing must deserve it because they’re obviously not working hard enough? Is it righteous to be prideful of my achievements when the Bible tells me that pride goeth before a fall?
How can I show grace to those in need, how can I feed the hungry and clothe the naked in obedience to Christ’s direction, without feeding into a system that is corrosive, or supporting an individual’s destructive mindset of entitlement?2 How can a group of believers who should wish that none be lost, be opposed to a government program that endeavours to provide opportunities for the broken to recover? How can I acknowledge that without God constantly giving me second chances, I would be doomed to hell, while criticizing a political viewpoint that works to give second chances?
And I guess if I could answer myself, I would contend that it’s not the government’s job to provide programs and opportunities – each of us who has learned the value of personal responsibility has the opportunity (and as Christian, the duty) to show humility by extending grace and second chances within a relationship with those we know who could use some help picking themselves up and trying again. And if every Republican who shouted down entitlement program spending, were also such a person of grace and humility, then maybe I could get on board with them…
I have a good job that I enjoy working hard at, and I do relish success. Nicole and I discipline ourselves to live within our means, and consume at the level that we produce. We don’t feel guilty that we have a cute little house, or a couple decent vehicles, or the opportunity to find the best possible education for our kids. But I don’t think its right to claim pride in any of those things either – they are gifts from God that our imperfect human efforts do not make us deserving of. And if anything, the grace extended to me in that provision should teach me to continuously extend that grace to others – even those who don’t appear to deserve it. Even sacrificially.
I know so many people with good jobs, who produce admirably for themselves and society, and who are apparently enjoying the benefits of their hard work, but who ache with emptiness and dissatisfaction, a loneliness in their success that no promotion or possession will ever fill. They have exercised the right and taken the responsibility for their future, but their American Dream is a listless nightmare, because they live only for themselves, and fulfillment of their happiness.
I’m not sure how to be a Conservative and approach the lost with humility and grace. I’m not sure how to be a Liberal but still hold Truth as absolute. And as I watch the coverage of the upcoming election, I despair that its neither extreme that will tear our society apart, but the growing polarity between them that will render us ineffectual and immobile.
Atlas is not a man, more righteous than others because of his mind or his output. Atlas is the Holy God of creation. And he doesn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, He holds all the universe in the palm of His hand. He waits not in anticipation of our collapse, but in His desire that each of his children, individually special in His eyes, finds their way home. And no matter how many times each of us has failed to live up to what He intended life and work and happiness to look like, He has never shrugged us off… That I am redeemed by Him should be my only source of pride.
1) This is not specualation, this is based on a real story of a person I know who spent years on welfare, but for the past 4 has worked hard at a regular full-time job to get out of that hole. Unfortunately, having started later in life, he cannot manage to cross the threshold where his income allows him to support his family and pay taxes. He has to keep his pay under the table and continue to claim unemployment. In other words, he has to take money from the government to avoid paying them money. WTF?!
2) Case study number two: I volunteered at a United Way homeless shelter for over a year, serving in the kitchen. Never have I been treated so badly as by the homeless folks who felt they were owed a meal. Granted there were some who were grateful, having come in from day-labor, tired but gracious, who took what was offered with a smile and sometimes a hint of embarrassment, cleaning up after themselves as they left. But most of the clientele were rude, sometimes hostile, demanding personalization of their meal as if they had paid to dine at a fancy restaurant, leaving their half-eaten food on the table as they stomped out for a smoke or to sneak a drink, or demanding seconds while others still waited to be fed, sometimes yelling and threatening violence if they didn’t get their way.

Claiming Old Testament Promises

Alas, I am still easy-chair bound, and to hobble downstairs and yank out my giant textbooks would be too difficult for a simple blog post, but I’ll write this without citing sources simply as a challenge — rest assured that this challenge was given to me in the form of first year seminary courses, and not something off the top of my head. If you have questions, I encourage you to research them for yourself.
At issue is our tendancy to claim Old Testament promises out of context. I myself am guilty of quoting Jeremiah 29:11 to encourage someone going through a tough time, but its important to understand the implications — especially political, national and theological — of doing so.
The promises God gave to the Israelites in the Old Testament were given to a geopolitical group: when He promised land, He wasn’t promising you land; when He promised wealth, He wasn’t promising you wealth; and when He promised a hope and a future, He wasn’t talking to you, or even to individual Israelites at the time. He was promising to provide a home, and later to provide restoration, to His chosen people — a whole nation (and sometimes not-yet-born generations of that nation, not even the ones alive when He made the promise!!) — with the stipulation that they obey His commandments!
The only way to claim those promises for ourselves today is to re-understand “Israel.” The most common approach to that, and in my opinion, best supported Biblically, is to understand that when Christ came, he redefined “His chosen people” not as a geopolitical people group but as the new nation-less, race-less assembly of those who would chose to follow Him, whom He called His Church. If you can accept that “Israel” is not now the (relatively newly established) country in the Middle East, but is instead the Church, then you can lay claim to some of those Old Testament promises and stipulations on them — as they relate to the whole Church; again, not to individuals.
If, however, for reasons likely political, it is important to you maintain the current country and people of Israel as a continuation of the Old Testament Israel, then you have no claim to the promises given to that nation thousands of years ago; all of those promises belong only to them.
Apparently there are those who find some middle ground, or compromise between those two positions, chosing to view the church Christ established as a chosen people, and ancient-through-modern Israel as also a chosen people, picking and chosing which rules and promises are applicable to the former, as they see fit. I see the two positions as mutually exclusive. John 16:33 promises that in this world we will have trouble. It doesn’t promise that God will make everything right — at least on this earth. Our only reason for hope, and the only reason our brother’s and sister’s living in Israel have for hope, is in life eternally with Him.
There’s no promise that each of us will have a pain free life, just because we’re Christians. I offer as evidence my mangled leg: I hope it will heal completely — but the most likely outcome is that I’ll have 2-3 months of re-hab, 6-12 months of painful swelling, a lifetime with at least a mild limp, and probable arthritis when I get older. If I hope hard enough (or pray hard enough) there’s no promise that will change. But when I get to heaven, I do have hope that my new body will be a much better one than I have now!!
A good list of the viewpoints on who the “Chosen People” are today can be found here.
PS: It would be prudent to exclude Psalms from this discussion, as those should be interpreted differently, due to their genre. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as well seem to offer promises, but the wisdom genre again requires a different kind of exegesis…