The Matchless Love of Jesus

Image courtesy of

I’m leading worship for church tomorrow, and I chose the hymn “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne.” I love this hymn for two reasons.

First, the music is captivating. It has an interesting chord progression, including some wonderful minor chords, and I love minor chords.

Second, the lyrics are absolutely beautiful. They’re old-fashioned English; no one says “thou didst” anymore. But they’re so poetic and evocative. I’ll post them below. (I wish I could find a good recording of this hymn, but I haven’t yet.)

Honestly, the combined impact of the words and music makes me weep. The hymn describes how Jesus left the glory of heaven to come to this earth to live a life of poverty, humility, and suffering, and then to die a death He did not deserve so that He could set us free. And then it ends with the joyous longing for Jesus to return and call us home to Him. It’s one of the most moving pieces of music I have ever encountered.

If we have never had our hearts broken by the matchless love of Jesus and the incomparable sacrifice He made, I’m not sure we truly understand what He did for us. It reminds me of what Jesus told Simon when he judged with contempt the woman who anointed Jesus with costly perfume and washed His feet with her own tears.

“Do you see this woman? I entered your house. You gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss of greeting, but from the time I entered she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfumed oil. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.”

Luke 7:44-47

Jesus’ words were a subtle rebuke to Simon. Simon didn’t think his sins were that bad—certainly not as bad as this woman. He did not realize the depth of Jesus’ forgiveness for him, and in response he did not love Jesus as much as she did. Thus he could not understand her deep, emotional expression of love. In fact, it seemed downright inappropriate to him. His failure to accept Jesus’ love for himself caused him to become judgmental and hardhearted toward others.

The same can happen to us. Until we realize just how much Jesus has done for us, how sinful we really are, and how gracious He has been to us, we can never fully experience the wonder of His love, nor can we share it with others—for how can we give what we ourselves have not received? And we will inevitably become judgmental and hardhearted, like Simon, toward our brothers and sisters whose experience with Jesus we cannot understand, and of which we are perhaps envious because we have not felt it ourselves.

With that in mind, I invite you to thoughtfully reflect on the words to this hymn and ask yourself, do I really understand what Jesus has done for me? Has my heart been broken by His love and mercy? If you’re not sure, a good way to check is to consider your attitude toward others. Pride, selfishness, hardheartedness, and judgmentalism are all indicators that perhaps we’ve forgotten just how much Jesus has forgiven us. But a spirit of true sorrow for our own sin, and of deep gratitude and love for Jesus because of all that He has done for us—this is the fruit of a heart that has been touched by the unfathomable, boundless love of God.

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang
Proclaiming Thy royal degree
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth
And in greatest humility

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

The foxes found rest and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God
In the deserts of Galilee

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word
That should set Thy people free
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn
They bore Thee to Calvary

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

When the heavens shall ring and the angels sing
At Thy coming to victory
Let Thy voice call me home, saying, “Yet there is room”
“There is room at My side for thee”

My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus
When Thou comest and callest for me

“Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” by Emily Steele Elliott

A Response to the Victim-Shaming of Tara Reade

A friend recently tagged me in a Facebook post that attempted to discredit Tara Reade, the woman who has accused presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden of sexual assault. You can read that post in its entirety here. What follows is my response. Please note that my interest here is neither to defend nor to discredit any particular politician or political party. Rather, my concern is for victims of abuse of all political persuasions who are attacked, slandered, and shamed whenever they come forward against people in positions of power and influence. It is disheartening that both major political parties exploit abuse accusations against their political rivals, but are willing to ignore them against their political allies. Truth and justice, not political expediency, should be our motivation when dealing with accusations of abuse. It is to that end that I have written this response.

I’ve hesitated to weigh in on the Tara Reade story because the inherent political nature of this issue is fraught with danger, particularly for people like myself who are in positions of church leadership. But I have decided that the importance of speaking up in defense of abuse victims is more important than maintaining the illusion of neutrality. As Elie Wiesel said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” So I’ve decided to respond to the attacks on Reade, most of which, like the aforementioned Facebook post, rely on a greatest hits collection of victim-shaming tropes. Here we go.

“…Tara Reade has numerous websites and social media accounts under various names, although many have now been deleted because they conflict with her latest story.”

Right off the bat we start with an assumption about why Reade deleted her social media accounts, the first of many assumptions and insinuations in this piece. No evidence is provided for these claims, mind you. We’re supposed to reject Reade’s story because of lack of evidence, but we’re asked to believe this criticism of her that is also offered without evidence. Curious.

Next we move on to a common criticism of Reade.

“Reade is a huge fan of Vladimir Putin…”

I’ve repeatedly seen Biden defenders appeal to Reade’s love of Russia as a means of discrediting her. However true this may be, it does not prove that she is lying about being sexually assaulted by Biden. We’re verging into conspiracy theory territory now, where anyone who has ever said anything positive about Russia is suspected of being some kind of secret agent who’s out to help Trump win reelection. Conspiracy theories on the left are as unbecoming as they are on the right.

“Over the years, Reade has written openly about her personal life, including being abandoned by her father and suffering domestic abuse by her ex-husband. I would think that someone who shares stories of such a personal nature so publicly would almost certainly include a mention of sexual assault by a VP.”

Writing about abuse by a husband or father, as difficult as that might be, is nowhere near the same as accusing a well-known and powerful government leader of sexual assault. The latter involves far more public scrutiny. This point of attack reveals a profound lack of understanding about the dynamics of abuse and how it impacts victims. It is quite common for victims to wait years before coming forward; many never do. The fact that Reade waited for so long to come forward, even after she had publicly discussed other abuse experiences, does not disprove her story. The author is simply engaging in common victim-shaming tactics meant to silence Reade rather than engage substantively with her claims.

But the author is not content with questioning Reade’s credibility because of the timing of her accusations; she also questions how Reade could be telling the truth when she previously said positive things about Joe Biden.

“Personally, I have a hard time believing that someone who was sexually assaulted would spend so much time on social media praising and commending their alleged perpetrator for their work preventing violence against women.”

Maybe the author has a hard time believing that because she doesn’t understand how abuse impacts victims.  Most victims of sexual abuse are assaulted by people they know, not by strangers. The result is that they often have complicated relationships with their abusers. They may even have feelings of affection toward the abuser. To an outsider, unaware of what is happening behind the scenes, it may appear as though everything is fine in the relationship between the abuser and the victim. This is one way that abusers avoid accountability. They cultivate trust in the relationship with the victim and create the impression that they have a caring relationship, making it harder for the victim to be believed if they should ever come forward. The abuser may even explicitly tell the victim, “No one will believe you.” And sadly, many times they are right.

By the way, this is one of the arguments that Harvey Weinstein’s defenders have made. They say that the women accusing him of rape continued to have a relationship with him after the assault, so how could their accusation be true? But it’s not hard at all to understand how that could happen, if one has taken the time to become educated about abuse and the complicated relational dynamics involved.

The author also casts doubt on Reade’s story by implying that since she has changed it, she is unreliable.

“Then, on March 24, the story changed suddenly and dramatically.”

This is loaded language. By saying the story “changed… dramatically,” the author implies that Reade contradicted herself or fundamentally altered the facts of her story. This is not necessarily the case. She came forward with previously undisclosed details. This does not prove she is lying. It could mean that she finally found the courage to tell the full truth.

The author insinuates that Reade’s motivations are political, implying that Bernie Sanders’ supporters are trying to gin up interest in her story. She also implies that Reade is simply seeking attention. Again, these are common victim-shaming tropes that are used against almost every woman who accuses a powerful man of abuse. Republicans said the same thing about Christine Blasey Ford. She’s a Democratic operative; she’s just trying to get her 15 minutes of fame. I wonder how many people who were tweeting out #BelieveWomen in support of Blasey Ford are now piling on Reade.

The author then includes a lengthy quote from Biden’s former executive assistant, who says, “…I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received, any reports of inappropriate conduct…” The nature of sexual abuse is that it is usually perpetrated so that no one knows about it except the abuser and the victim. But even if there are other witnesses nearby, skilled predators know how to cover up their actions. Larry Nassar, for example, abused young girls while their parents were right in the same room. They didn’t see the abuse, either. But it certainly happened nonetheless.

The next few paragraphs are an attempt to discredit Reade because of her affinity for Russia. I’ve already addressed this argument above, so I won’t add anything more here, except to say that there are a lot of insinuations in this piece but little evidence.

But now we come to what might be the most disingenuous line of the entire piece.

“In my opinion, Reade seems to be a very emotionally troubled person. She has written openly over the years about being abandoned by a deadbeat father and about the abuse she claims she suffered by her ex-husband. As someone who has suffered as well, I definitely feel for her.”

The author “feel[s] for” Reade, but has just written paragraph after paragraph accusing her of being an attention-seeking, politically-motivated liar. Seems more than a little insincere. But here again we have another common victim-shaming strategy. “Look, the accuser is an emotionally troubled woman; clearly she’s been through a lot. She has suffered abuse from other people in her life.” The implication is that Reade is untrustworthy because of her emotional trauma. We can’t really believe what she says because her father or ex-husband abused her; maybe she’s projecting those experiences onto Biden for some reason.

Countless victims have suffered the same treatment, having their past suffering cruelly twisted against them by those who wish to discredit their accusations. This is an ad hominem attack. It does not engage with the substance of Reade’s story. It simply attempts to undermine her story by claiming that she is an unreliable narrator. We can’t trust what she says about abuse because–how’s this for irony–she’s been a victim of abuse.

In this way, victims are caught in a Catch-22. If they act as though they are unaffected by the abuse, critics will say, “She doesn’t look like someone who’s been through trauma.” If they do show emotion, though, critics will say, “She’s clearly unstable.” Rachael Denhollander talks about this impossible emotional dilemma in her book, What Is a Girl Worth? (which I highly recommend reading if you want to learn more about abuse issues).

Then there’s the last sentence in the article.

“There is a serial sexual harasser, assaulter and abuser running in this election, with no less than 25 credible accusers, and his name is Donald Trump.”

What makes those women “credible” but not Reade? The author apparently lacks the self-awareness to realize that Trump’s defenders have made the exact same arguments against his accusers that she is now making against Reade. Democrats really want to have it both ways on this one. When women accuse Republicans of sexual assault, they’re believable, but anyone who comes forward against one of their own is obviously lying, motivated by politics, or simply seeking attention.

Isn’t it possible that the people defending Biden are also motivated by politics? Isn’t it possible that they are trying to discredit Reade specifically because her story is politically inconvenient for them? And how can we take them seriously when they say they “believe women” and care deeply about victims of abuse when they respond to Reade with tired victim-shaming tropes and unsubstantiated character smears?

There is another implication in that last sentence, and it is that regardless of Reade’s accusations against Biden, Trump is still far worse. Look, 25 women have accused him! Is that what our political system has become? We’re left to choose between the lesser of two sexual predators?

Perhaps both Democratic and Republican partisans find that logic convincing. I do not. It is a false dichotomy that says we must choose the lesser of two evils or we are tacitly supporting the greater evil. If more of us would refuse to accept this morally bankrupt reasoning, perhaps we wouldn’t be left with such unsavory options. If we would hold our own side accountable for wrongdoing instead of excusing it, maybe we’d see some integrity and credibility return to Washington. Or we can keep frothing out the mouth over the latest outrage perpetrated by our political enemies while blithely ignoring the injustices of our own side, and watch our political system descend further into corruption and dysfunction.

Besides the political consequences, this course of action will also serve to drive victims of abuse back into the shadows. When we take up their cause only in cases where it is politically advantageous for us, we’re showing that we don’t really care about them. We only care about exploiting them to win a political contest. When their story might hurt our chances of winning, we’ll throw them under the bus faster than you can say “Juanita Broaddrick.”

As for me and my house, we have higher allegiances than a political party. As I said in the prologue, truth and justice, not political expediency, should be our motivation when dealing with accusations of abuse. When victims come forward, they deserve fair treatment regardless of what political party they belong to, and regardless of what political party their accused abuser belongs to.

In closing, let me clarify that nothing I’ve written here implies that Reade is unquestionably telling the truth, and that Biden is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. I don’t know for certain that she is truthful. I know that false accusations of abuse are extremely rare, but they do happen. I know that friends and former neighbors have confirmed that she told them about the assault in the 1990s, which adds considerable credibility to her story. Her claims should be thoroughly investigated, and we should be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

But the vast majority of criticisms, including this piece, are nothing more than attempts to defend Biden and discredit Reade by appealing to victim-shaming tactics that rely on a poor understanding of abuse. When we share these criticisms, we’re signaling to other abuse victims that if they should ever come forward, this is how we would treat them. We’re telling them that the cost of believing them would be too high if they accused someone we admire. We’re telling them that they are expendable, that their suffering is an acceptable loss if it allows us to maintain the status quo and avoid confronting the harsh reality that a close friend, a beloved pastor, a popular coach, or our preferred presidential candidate might be an abuser. On behalf of victims everywhere, I implore you to consider this carefully before you jump to defend Joe Biden, Donald Trump, or any other powerful person who stands accused of abuse.

I choose to stand with victims, with the powerless against the powerful, with the oppressed against their oppressors, with the voiceless against those who have silenced them. I choose to tell them that they are not expendable, that their suffering matters, that they deserve justice, that their abuser deserves accountability regardless of their position, and that hard truths are better than comfortable lies. Standing with victims is not the easy thing to do. But it is the right thing to do.

For those who wish to learn more about abuse, I encourage you to read Rachael Denhollander’s book, What Is a Girl Worth? Another good resource for understanding how abusers operate is the book Predators, by Anna Salter. It is based on her personal research and interviews with sexual predators and other violent offenders.

Perpetrator Bias in the Media

Photo by John Noonan on Unsplash

When dealing with abuse there is a concept called perpetrator bias. What is perpetrator bias? Here is one example of it.

This article about John Wetteland, a former MLB pitcher who was arrested and charged with sex abuse of a child, ends with a rundown of his professional accomplishments. But what relevance does his pro sports career have to his predatory behavior? None, really (except that for some reason we care more about these stories when they involve famous people).

But think how this subtly blunts the impact of the allegations against him. MVP of the World Series! Member of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame! All-Star closer with 330 career saves! This is the article’s last word on John Wetteland—not that he has been criminally charged with sexually abusing a child under the age of 14, but that he was a really good baseball player.

In many cases of abuse, the perpetrator has family, friends, or fans who struggle to believe the accusations against him. “But he’s such a nice guy; I can’t believe he would do something like that.” Or in this case: “He had such an outstanding baseball career; could he really be a predator?” Our society subtly but powerfully reinforces those doubts with articles like these that focus more on the perpetrator’s good qualities and achievements than on his heinous crimes. Remember the uproar over Brock Turner, the college student who raped a woman and got an exceedingly light sentence? Central to the controversy surrounding his case were the numerous articles that portrayed him as an All-American swimmer from Stanford University instead of a rapist who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. This whitewashing of a perpetrator’s life happens all the time. Start paying attention to news articles about accused abusers and notice how often they end with a summary of the perpetrator’s talents, fame, or accomplishments.

The reality is that abusers come from all walks of life. They’re not just the creepy guy stalking that woman jogging in a dark corner of the city park. They’re successful businessmen. They’re famous R&B singers. They’re superstar athletes. They’re world-renowned doctors. They’re adored pastors. Don’t let the polished outward appearance of their life fool you—especially when they’re celebrities, whose careers are often built on idealized perceptions of their glamorous lifestyle. That’s exactly how so many of them get away with their crimes!

John Wetteland was a world-class athlete. He can also be a sexual predator who preys on children. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. The sooner our society figures that out, the sooner we can prevent more of our most vulnerable members from becoming the next victim.

Understanding Job

scotland-1645868I’ve been reading through the book of Job. It’s been awhile since I read it. I think I’ve avoided it because it seems hard to understand. It’s the kind of book whose meaning scholars debate endlessly. But after going through some of the most difficult years of my life, and trying to process the grief, pain, and loss, I found myself drawn to Job’s story. So I started reading.

What I’ve found is that Job really isn’t that hard to understand. I completely relate to him (even though I haven’t experienced quite the same level of suffering that he did). I get him. His response to suffering makes sense to me, because I’ve thought similar things myself. Why is this happening? God, where are You, and what are You doing? What have I done to deserve this? When will the pain stop?

I get Job’s friends, too. There’s a part of me that feels like every time something bad happens it must be my fault. I did something to deserve it. That’s essentially the message Job’s friends tell him. You brought this on yourself. God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, so if you are suffering this badly—well, you do the math.

What I’ve realized is that I couldn’t really understand Job until I went through some major life crises of my own. Until you’ve walked through the fire and the flood you can’t relate to those who have. My wife was saying the other day that she feels like grief is its own sense. Trying to explain what it’s like to someone who hasn’t experienced it on a deep level is like trying to explain color to someone who can’t see. There’s just no way to communicate it. It must be felt.

Another thing I’ve noticed while reading through Job is that I keep wanting to get to the part where God answers Job. Quick, give me the answers so I can hurry up and finish the test! But that part doesn’t come until the very end. The book of Job is pretty long, and most of it is his anguished dialog with his friends while he is in the depths of pain and despair. That’s what the experience of suffering is like in real life. You can’t rush through it or skip to the end. It’s a long process of agonizing pain, doubt, and fear. There are no shortcuts through it or detours around it.

And some of us will never get a direct answer from God. If you read the end of Job’s story, even though God does speak to him out of the storm, He never actually answers Job’s questions about why he is suffering. He simply reminds Job that He is God, and Job is not. I know that scholars far more knowledgeable than me have offered complex interpretations of the meaning of Job’s suffering. But looking at his story from the perspective of someone who has gone through suffering, maybe the simplest meaning is that sometimes there isn’t a neat, tidy answer to all our questions. Sometimes we may never know, at least this side of heaven, why God allowed us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The point of Job’s story isn’t to give us a satisfactory answer for our suffering. It’s to remind us that God remains God even when we’re experiencing the deepest pain, even when we feel like He has abandoned us, and to give us hope that He has the solution to our suffering.

See, there’s a difference between an answer for our suffering and a solution to our suffering. I’m not sure that Job ever really got an answer. But he got a solution. In the end, God healed his sickness, restored his family and his fortune, and blessed his latter years even more than the former. Those of us who have experienced suffering in this life have the promise that one day, Jesus will come back to this earth to make things right. He can’t undo all the pain we have experienced—and we shouldn’t want Him to. That pain has shaped our characters and taught us to rely on God. But He promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes, to create a world where there will never again be death or mourning or crying or pain, and to give us life eternal in this new world, life with Him and with all those who love Him.

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I may not get an answer to all my questions about why I am suffering. But I will get a solution for every pain I’ve felt, every tear I’ve shed. And that’s enough for me to keep trusting Him.

Let Justice Roll

Let Justice RollThe week started out so well. Monday was the Fourth of July. It was supposed to be a fun-filled holiday weekend of celebrating our freedom. But things went rapidly downhill from there. Just after midnight on Tuesday, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police responding to a call shot and killed Alton Sterling, an African-American man. Two different bystanders uploaded video footage of the event, and it went quickly went viral online, sparking outrage and grief as people saw for themselves what happened. Mr. Sterling was shot while officers held him pinned to the ground. Many observers saw it as a blatant miscarriage of justice and an abuse of police power.

But before we could wrap our minds around what had happened, before the investigation was even close to being completed, the very next day another African-American man, Philando Castile, was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. This time there was no video of the actual shooting. But Mr. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, somehow had the presence of mind to take out her phone and start live-streaming the aftermath. As her boyfriend’s body slumped over in the car seat, bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds, you can hear her cry out, “Please don’t tell me this, Lord. Please, Jesus, don’t tell me that he’s gone. Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.” Later on, in maybe the most heartbreaking scene of the video, Ms. Reynolds is sitting in a squad car along with her four-year-old daughter, who was there at the time of the shooting. She begins sobbing, “I can’t believe they did this,” and her daughter—her four-year-old child—comforts her, “It’s OK, I’m right here with you.”

This is gut-wrenching stuff. As I’ve watched the reactions unfold on Facebook over the last few days, I’ve been reminded how different life in America is for my black friends than it is for me. I saw my friends wondering, “Will I be next? Will my son be next?” I saw them talk about driving five miles under the speed limit in the right lane, praying that they won’t be next. I saw them grieving and mourning for two men that they never met, but felt a kinship with on a level I can’t really understand because I’ve never walked in their shoes, I’ve never lived in their skin. I enjoy privileges that they never have simply because, by accident of birth, my skin has less melanin than theirs. And I have to tell you, I’m angry. I’m heartbroken. I’m distraught, on their behalf. I stand in solidarity with them, wondering when our great nation will finally live up to its lofty ideals that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Because it’s not just these two shootings. It’s the cumulative effect of so many other shootings, the cumulative impact of a thousand different forms of inequality, the cumulative weight of injustice that our black brothers and sisters have borne ever since they first bore burdens for their slave masters. It’s the racism that is so deeply ingrained into our culture that many of us don’t even think about it, don’t even realize it’s there—unless we happen to be the victims of it.


“It’s… the cumulative weight of injustice that our black brothers and sisters have borne ever since they first bore burdens for their slave masters.”


Let me say it clearly, because it needs to be said: America is a great country; in fact, it may be the greatest country in the world. But it is far from perfect. In 2016, racism is still a reality. Injustice is still a reality. Now, maybe you’re skeptical about that. For many years I wasn’t even aware of these issues. I enjoyed the privilege of ignorance. I didn’t have to be aware of racism and injustice because they didn’t affect me. But many of my fellow citizens do not enjoy that privilege. Maybe some of us are still in the process of learning about these issues. Now is the time for listening to the experience of others—listen before you speak.

But as I was thinking about these things over the last few days, tragedy struck yet again, Thursday night in Dallas, Texas. There was a protest organized to call for justice for the two men who were killed by police in the previous days. The protest itself was peaceful. But as it was concluding, a gunman armed with a high-powered rifle opened fire on the police officers who were there escorting the protesters. And suddenly downtown Dallas turned into something that resembled a warzone. Dozens of officers were involved in an hours-long manhunt for the shooter. They exchanged gunfire with him for nearly an hour before finally detonating a remote-controlled bomb to neutralize him without further endangering the lives of the police.

The final tally was two civilians wounded, seven officers wounded, and five officers killed. (Some were from the Dallas police, others from the transit authority.) The shooter, who was himself a black man, was upset about the recent killings of black men by police. He said he wanted to kill white people and specifically white police officers. Sadly he succeeded. Police officers around the nation are reeling from this devastating attack. No doubt the fear for their lives and safety that they experience every time they don the uniform has dramatically increased in the wake of the deadliest day for police officers since 9/11.

And let’s be absolutely clear about this: no matter what happened on Tuesday, no matter what happened on Wednesday, nothing justifies the killing of innocent people, whether they wear a uniform or not. And just so there’s no doubt about this, our black brothers and sisters would agree. I’ve seen the same people who were mourning the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile also mourning the loss of these five officers: Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens. These men had families, people who loved them. Those people are heartbroken right now; their lives have been shattered. And our entire nation has been rocked these tragedies.

I’m reminded of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

As I’ve pondered what to say about these senseless and horrific acts of violence, I’ve been at a loss. What can you say? There are no words that make any of this better. There are no words that can make sense of madness. But if there’s one thing that these tragic events remind us of, it’s that this world does not operate according to God’s standard of justice and righteousness. This world is governed by sin and evil. And God rises up in judgment against it.

What should be our response, then, as His followers? We cannot sit idly by and say nothing. Silence in the face of great injustice is unacceptable. In the past God raised up prophets to speak to His people during times of distress. And while I don’t think that any of us personally claim the gift of prophecy, collectively as God’s church we must raise our prophetic voice and speak truth in our times.


“We cannot sit idly by and say nothing…. collectively as God’s church we must raise our prophetic voice and speak truth in our times.”


Perhaps the Old Testament prophets can serve as a guide for the message we might deliver to our troubled world. But in order to deliver the message, we must first hear it ourselves. The prophets spoke to God’s people. May they speak to God’s people even today.

The prophet Amos was called by God to carry a special message of warning to Israel: repent of your wicked ways, or judgment will come. It must have seemed a preposterous message to the people of Israel. At the time, the kingdom was powerful and prosperous. The people lived in self-indulgent luxury. They were certainly not thinking about calamity and destruction. Perhaps we might draw a parallel to our own times. Many people today live in blissful, comfortable ignorance, unaware of how quickly disaster can strike. But just as in Amos’ day, they need a prophetic voice to rouse them from their slumber.

Amos did not hesitate to call the sins of Israel by their right name.

This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed, I will send fire upon Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.” This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.” (Amos 2:4-8)

Amos calls them to repent, to seek the Lord before it is too late.

Seek the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire; it will devour, and Bethel will have no one to quench it…. Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. (Amos 5:6, 14)

But then God has a stern warning message that, at first glance, might seem a bit strange to us.

Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? (Amos 5:18-20)

Why is woe pronounced on those who long for the day of the Lord? Aren’t we supposed to look forward to that day? Don’t we long for it, especially when we’re faced with the suffering and evil of this world? Aren’t we encouraged by the thought that Jesus is coming back soon? So what’s the deal? The next few verses answer the question.

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)

God is fed up with self-righteous religiosity that pretends to be pious while tolerating sin. If He were speaking today, He might say, “I can’t stand your church services. I don’t want your offerings. I do not accept your prayers. I’m not listening to your hymn-singing.” That is God’s rebuke to us when we take His name upon ourselves, calling ourselves Christians, but failing to uphold His standard of justice and righteousness. As Jesus once warned, the people who call Him “Lord, Lord,” but do not do what He says are in for a rude awakening on the day of the Lord, when they will hear God say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

You might recognize that verse. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted it in his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” In that same speech he proclaimed, “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

But freedom cannot ring until justice rolls. So let justice roll! And let God’s church be at the forefront of the movement proclaiming righteousness and justice for all those who do not yet have it. Why? Because our God is leading that movement—“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” (Psalm 103:6).


“But freedom cannot ring until justice rolls. So let justice roll!”


At this point some of you are thinking, “I’m not sure about all of this. I’m uncomfortable with getting involved in politics. That’s not the church’s place.” It is true that the church should never become a political organization. Bad things happen when it does, history shows. And yet we have no problem as Christians raising our voices in the public sphere to decry abortion, or to oppose the redefinition of marriage. Why is it acceptable to speak out on those issues, which we believe to be of great moral importance, and yet we cannot speak out about the racial divide in our country, about the tensions between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to protect, about the injustices that disproportionately impact minority communities?

If we do not speak out about the moral issues facing our society, we have lost our prophetic voice. “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1).

The church need not become entangled with partisan politics in order to be a prophetic voice to our society. We need only stand for what is right and true, upholding our standard, our only rule of faith and practice—the Bible. And the Bible tells us—“let justice roll!”


“The church need not become entangled with partisan politics in order to be a prophetic voice to our society.”


We could go to so many other passages of Scripture with this same message, this same call to uphold justice and righteousness. Psalm 89:14 says that these are the very foundation of God’s throne. We could spend many fruitful hours plumbing the depths of God’s Word learning what those concepts of justice and righteousness mean—doing what is right, doing what is in accordance with the character of God. If you’re looking for a topic for personal Bible study, that would be a good one.

But let us not end with proclamations and studies. Let us be motivated into action. Justice must roll on like a mighty river; righteousness must flow like a never-failing stream. That’s an action, not merely a sentiment. A river doesn’t just sit there waiting for something to happen; it rolls on, the power of its current carrying along all that falls into its path. And so it must be with us.

I’d like to suggest some concrete action steps that we can take in the wake of these deadly shootings. These are ways that we can raise our prophetic voice in this time of need. But first I want to clarify two issues that our society is facing right now.

First, we need to own up to the fact that there is racial injustice on a systemic level in our nation. Consider these statistics: black Americans are two and half times more likely than white Americans to be fatally shot by the police. Even more alarming, unarmed black Americans are five times more likely than white Americans to be fatally shot by police. (And despite what you may have heard, no, we cannot pin these disparities on crime rate. Read this article for more details.)

Second, we also need to recognize that blaming all police officers for the actions of a few is irresponsible. We don’t want to inadvertently send a message of hatred for law enforcement. They risk and sometimes even sacrifice their lives to protect others. If we want to effectively address the problem of police brutality, then we should support police officers who are doing their jobs well.

So understand this: we should support police, and we should also support victims of police injustice. These are not mutually exclusive ideas. Currently in our country some are advancing a narrative that says if you support protest movements against police brutality, you are therefore anti-police and are actually contributing to violence against police. This is a false narrative and should be firmly rejected. We should also reject any narrative that suggests supporting the police means one condones police injustice. Again, support for the police and support for victims of injustice are not mutually exclusive ideas. With that in mind, here are some action steps to take.


“We should support police, and we should also support victims of police injustice. These are not mutually exclusive ideas.”


First (and right now I’m speaking primarily to my fellow white Christians), now is the time to join together in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters. Let them know that you care about them, that the issues which matter to them matter to you, that when they mourn you mourn. Let us join together in unity to stand for justice, to stand against violence—all violence, whether it is unnecessary violence against black Americans, or unjustifiable violence against police officers.

Second, consider writing a letter of encouragement to your local police department. Right now they’re most likely on edge from the events in Dallas. They need to know that we support them—that we’re pro-justice, not anti-police. Write them a letter or send them an email and tell them that. Tell them you’re praying for them, that you’re asking God to protect them as they serve your community. They have a hard job, and right now they’re feeling like they’re under attack. The need our support now more than ever.

You might even consider asking to meet with your local police chief to talk about these issues. Here are two questions you might ask (I’m indebted to my friends, and fellow pastors, Jeremiah Sepolen and David Hamstra, for these suggestions). Ask your local authorities what you can do to help build a positive relationship between police and the people in the communities they serve. And ask what they are doing to prevent unnecessary officer-involved shootings of persons of color.

Lastly, use your influence to work for positive change. You may not think you have much influence. But everyone has family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. We can all start a positive dialog about these issues. Let’s not bury our heads in the sand and pretend that if we don’t talk about the problem it doesn’t exist. Let’s have an open and honest dialog about the problems our society is facing, and how we might remedy them. Change starts with us.

And all of us have the power of our vote. Now, I’m not going to tell you who or what to vote for, because that is up to your conscience. But I will encourage you to consider the issue of civil rights when you vote. Vote for leaders who are going to help make our communities, our states, and our country a better place, leaders who will lead positive change.

In all of these actions, we must constantly be in prayer. As Christians we believe that prayer is essential. Pray for all those who have recently lost loved ones. Pray for the victims of injustice. Pray for police officers and their families. In and of itself, though, prayer is not a concrete action; that’s why I didn’t list it as an action step. Sometimes we use prayer as an excuse not to do anything. We hear about terrible tragedies, and we say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.” Let’s do more than just think and pray. Let’s act, with the gumption of the Holy Spirit.

Friends, now is the time to stand up with all of the courage and conviction our Christian faith gives us. Stand up for what is right. Stand up for what is true. Stand up for the oppressed. Let us not grow weary in doing good. Stand up, and let justice roll!



This blog is an adaptation of a sermon I preached on July 9, 2016. You can view a video of it on my sermon page.




For I Was Hungry, and You Told Me to Get a Job

Hungry JesusPonder with me, if you will, the frequently quoted but rarely practiced words of Jesus in Matthew 25:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (vv. 35, 36)

The problems of human suffering that Jesus highlights in this passage have always existed, but nonetheless it is striking how relevant His words are to our own society and time. We live in a world where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer—and if you’re an American, you’re among the richer, no matter how poor you may feel. Elsewhere around the world, people are literally dying for lack of the basic necessities of life: food, clean water, shelter. Numerous humanitarian crises threaten the lives and safety of men, women, and children on a daily basis. Earthquakes in Nepal. War refugees in Syria. Ebola in West Africa. Drought in Central America. And what are we, the citizens of this most favored nation, this “Christian” nation, doing about it?

Most of the time, we’re unaware of these crises because we’re too focused on our own problems. And to be fair, our nation does face challenges, though I would argue that on the whole we’re much better off than many others around the world. But our track record of dealing with our own problems suggests that even if we were aware of the suffering of others, we might not be first in line to help.

We accuse our own poor of being lazy and selfish. We claim that they’re just waiting for their next government check because they’d rather live on welfare than put in the hard work to improve their situation. We think it’s a crisis when a water shortage leads to brown lawns. We have no idea what it’s like to lack access to clean drinking water. We fight political battles over healthcare laws and resent the fact that our tax dollars are being used to fund someone else’s health insurance. We live in the most incarcerated nation in the world, and despite damning evidence that our criminal justice system is anything but just, particularly for minorities, we still insist that we need to get tougher on crime—in other words, give more power to a system that is already abusing the power that it has.

What malady ails us that we fail to see the suffering of others, and if we do see it, to blame others for their own problems? It is a lack of empathy for the other, those who are different from us, who have walked paths we do not know, who have suffered tragedies we can only imagine. We call Jesus our Savior and Lord, but we fail to see others as His brothers and sisters, the least of these though they may be. Jesus said the other is our neighbor and is deserving of our help. But we prefer to divide the world into us and them, with them being the other, the ones we don’t recognize as our neighbor.

Since Jesus indicates that there is a connection between our admittance to heaven and our response to the other, to the least of these, I wonder how we, the citizens of the greatest nation in the world, will be received when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. I pray that we will not hear Him say…

For I was hungry, but you told me to get a job instead of expecting a handout. I was thirsty, but you were too busy checking the sprinklers on your lawn. I was a stranger, but you told me to go back to my own country. I was naked, but you were filling your closet with designer clothes. I was sick, but you told me that healthcare is a privilege, not a right. I was in prison, but you left me there to rot because you think I deserve it. I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did not do for Me.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 are a rebuke to us when we disregard the needs of the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the minority, the abused, the sick—anyone who is among the least of these. But let us not shrink away from the rebuke, “because the Lord disciplines those he loves” (Heb. 12:5). Accept the discipline, and repent. Learn to see others through Jesus’ eyes. And do for them as if you were doing it for Jesus Himself.

A religion that leads men to place a low estimate upon human beings, whom Christ has esteemed of such value as to give Himself for them; a religion that would lead us to be careless of human needs, sufferings, or rights, is a spurious religion. In slighting the claims of the poor, the suffering, and the sinful, we are proving ourselves traitors to Christ. It is because men take upon themselves the name of Christ, while in life they deny His character, that Christianity has so little power in the world. The name of the Lord is blasphemed because of these things…

Search heaven and earth, and there is no truth revealed more powerful than that which is made manifest in works of mercy to those who need our sympathy and aid. This is the truth as it is in Jesus. When those who profess the name of Christ shall practice the principles of the golden rule, the same power will attend the gospel as in apostolic times.  (Ellen White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 137)

Bill Cosby and the Problem of Proof

131107-D-VO565-021Recently Bill Cosby has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Multiple women (19 at this point) have come forward and accused him of drugging them, assaulting them, or even raping them. The media have been in a frenzy over the accusations. This has led to what can only be described as a horrific debate in our society. Should we believe Bill Cosby, who has denied the accusations? Or should we believe the women who have accused him?

The reason this debate is so horrific is because many people, when they hear accusations of rape, immediately rush to the defense of the accused and suggest that the accuser might be making it all up. This is especially true when beloved celebrities are accused of rape. We find it hard to believe that Bill Cosby, America’s wise-cracking, sweater-wearing dad, could be capable of such terrible crimes. We have idolized an imaginary figure (Cosby’s public persona) and have conflated it with the real person, who is very human and thus capable of evil. Such is the nature of celebrity culture in America. Perhaps I’ll write more on that in a future blog.

The issue that presently concerns me is how our society places an impossible burden of proof on victims of sexual assault. If a lone victim comes forward, we doubt her[1] credibility. After all, if the accused man was really a rapist, wouldn’t there be more victims coming forward? But if multiple women come forward they don’t fare any better. Numerous alternative explanations are offered for the rape accusations. Maybe the sex was consensual but she had regrets afterward. Maybe they had a romantic relationship that soured, and now she’s seeking revenge. Maybe she’s trying to get attention and win her 15 seconds of fame. Maybe she’s after money. Of course, no logical reason is given for why multiple women would all accuse the same man of doing the same thing to them.[2]

Even if women come forward at the time of the assault, they are often doubted. They don’t earn fame and fortune. They earn shame and scorn. They’re accused of being sluts, attention whores, vindictive ex-lovers bent on revenge. This is why many victims of assault and abuse do not come forward. And then, in a cruel twist of irony, if they do find the courage to come forward years after the assault, we raise an incredulous eyebrow and ask, “If this really happened, why didn’t she say something at the time?”

This is the impossible burden of proof our society places on victims of sexual assault and abuse. Many times no evidence offered by the victim is enough to convince us that a rape occurred. There’s always a preferred alternative explanation. The very nature of sexual assault makes it a private affair. No witnesses are available to corroborate the victim’s story except for the abuser, and he’s certainly not going to incriminate himself. In fact, he has likely arranged the situation in such a way that no one is able or willing to support the victim. He has isolated her so that if she does come forward, she will receive the response our society is all too willing to give: blame the victim.

Contrast this with the approach that God commanded the Israelites to take when dealing with accusations of rape:[3]

But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbor, for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her. (Deut. 22:25-27)

What is significant here is that the accused rapist was to be found guilty and even sentenced to death based only on the testimony of his lone accuser. Normally a person facing the death penalty had to be convicted by at least two witnesses (see Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15).

The principle is exceedingly clear: when a woman says she has been raped, believe her. Rather than resorting to increasingly implausible alternative scenarios that let the rapist off the hook while leaving his victim doubly traumatized (first by him, and then by society), take her accusation seriously.

Now, I know that someone is going to raise the issue of “innocent until proven guilty,” a cornerstone of our legal system. I am not repudiating that principle here. Our legal system works much differently than ancient Israel’s, and we have methods of evidence and investigation that were unavailable to them. I am not suggesting that we should rush to judgment in the other extreme. But I am saying that we, especially as Christians, should listen seriously when a woman says she has been raped and apply a reasonable standard of proof instead of an impossible one.

A study conducted by David Lisak on an American university campus found that over a ten-year period only 8 out of 136 cases of reported sexual assault were false. That’s 5.9%. Overall they estimate that only 2% to 10% of sexual assault accusations are false. That means when a woman says she has been raped, it’s very unlikely that she’s making it up and very likely that she’s telling the truth. Yet our society responds in just the opposite way. We act as though it’s likelier that she’s lying than telling the truth.

This data is especially troubling when we consider how many sexual assaults go unreported. If we were to compare the number of false accusations with the number of actual assaults, it would be an even tinier percentage. False accusations of sexual assault are indeed a problem, but they are not nearly as widespread as the epidemic of sexual assault that plagues our society. We need to stop acting as though false accusations are a bigger problem than rape itself.

As Christians who follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we must take a stand with the oppressed and downtrodden. That includes the victims of rape and sexual assault. No more victim blaming and shaming. No more defending the abuser. While we should never rush to judgment, we should rush to the aid of victims who come forward with stories of abuse. Listen to them. Believe them. Take a stand with them. Maybe we can begin to change the stigma that our society places on victims of sexual assault and remove the impossible burden of proof from their shoulders.

“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3, 4)




[1] I realize that not all victims of sexual assault are female, and not all perpetrators are male. However, that is the situation in many cases, including this one, so for simplicity’s sake I refer to victims as female and abusers as male.

[2] Cosby’s accusers all have remarkably similar stories, despite the fact that they have come forward individually. One would have to believe that there is a massive conspiracy to destroy Cosby, and that all of these women have colluded together to get their stories straight. Such a belief defies logic and common sense.

[3] The Old Testament’s teachings on rape are sometimes misunderstood and thus vilified, but notice here that even compared to our modern society this standard of proof is exceedingly progressive.

Jesus Weeps for Ferguson

Jesus ContemplativeFerguson, Missouri. A police officer shoots and kills an unarmed man. The city erupts in protests and riots. The police respond with surprising force and cruelty. The media breathlessly reports on every little twist and turn in the case. Opinions fly back and forth in a heated discussion across America. The investigation continues for several months. The grand jury finally reaches its decision, and then comes the announcement: no charges will be brought against Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown.

Some call it justice. Some call it injustice. Often it seems that people take sides based on which eyewitnesses they choose to believe are telling the truth. The facts are difficult to discern, and this side of heaven we will never see true justice delivered.

Ferguson should serve as a reminder for us that this world is broken, that we are broken, that justice here is often elusive and fleeting, and that nothing but the parousia of Jesus can set things right. It was promised of Him: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory” (Matt. 12:20).

Justice has not yet been led to victory. We, in our brokenness, have perverted justice. Many who took sides with Officer Wilson have acted as though the death of a young man is somehow a good thing. Many who took sides with Michael Brown have acted as though wanton destruction is somehow an acceptable response to the tragedy of his death.

God sees it differently. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Gen. 6:5, 6). None of what happened in Ferguson makes God happy. The evil in this world, in men’s hearts, fills His heart with sorrow.

When Jesus lived on earth, He experienced the sting of death when His friend Lazarus died. He responded by weeping (John 11:35). I can’t imagine that His response is any different today when He sees the suffering and death that His children experience all around the world, every single day. How His heart must break for the horrible consequences of sin.

Jesus weeps for Ferguson. He weeps with the family of a young man whose life was cut short by needless violence. He weeps with another family whose lives have also been forever changed by the choices that were made on that fateful day in August. He weeps over the blind rage, hatred, and senseless destruction that have followed in the wake of the shooting, instigated by angry protesters, exacerbated by overzealous police officers, and fomented nationwide by ideologues on both sides looking to score political points. And he weeps over each one of us who allows this story to water the root of bitterness in our hearts till it springs up into hatred toward our fellow man.

Jesus is not celebrating the triumph of justice today, because there is no triumph of justice. There will be no triumph of justice until death itself has been defeated. Until that day let us join together and do all within our power to work for peace, justice, and mercy. Let us resist the forces of anger, hatred, and violence. And let us also mourn the pain and suffering that death causes, for as followers of Jesus we ought to weep just as He wept (1 John 2:6).

Deceiving the Elect: The End-Time Danger of Conspiracy Theories

DeceptionAheadThere seems to be a fair number of Christians who are hooked on conspiracy theories. The secret government plot behind 9/11. The Jesuit conspiracy to pervert modern Bible translations. The mass mind control techniques being used by pop stars in their concerts and music videos. A multitude of excellent blogs have already been written on this subject. Like this one, for example, that analyzes why conspiracy theories don’t hold up to careful scrutiny in the light of history (it’s actually a two-part series). Or this one, which is an impassioned appeal from a fellow young pastor to stop focusing on fearful speculation and instead focus on Jesus. Or this one, which emphasizes that our job as Christians is to shine light into the darkness, not to delve into the darkness trying to ferret out all its secrets. I highly recommend reading all of these pieces; they’re not that long. It will take less time to read these blogs than it will to research a new conspiracy theory.

This is a somewhat dangerous subject to blog on. Some people may be defensive about it. Also, I may risk repeating what someone else has already said more eloquently. But I humbly undertake this risk to highlight a very grave end-time threat that I see in conspiracy theories.

End-Time Deception

Remember the warning Jesus gave to His disciples: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matt. 24:24). Jesus was talking about the events that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and also the final events that will precede the second coming. His disciples certainly saw this fulfilled in their day. Numerous false teachers and false messiahs arose and led many Jews astray. Not only that, they led people into rebellion against the Roman authorities, and thus to their deaths.

The deception in the last days will be even more deadly. Satan, the enemy of God and His people, will try to lead people astray from God’s truth and thus to their eternal destruction. In Revelation we find that Satan (the dragon) works through earthly powers (the beasts) to deceive the whole world (Rev. 13:14). Everyone who does not follow God ends up following the beast—and the beast ends up in the lake of fire (Rev. 13:8; 19:20). Clearly it is extremely important to be aware of the last-day deception and to avoid it.

And actually, that’s the reason why some Christians are so interested in conspiracy theories. Uncovering the enemy’s schemes is a way to defend ourselves against them. It gives us confidence that we will not be deceived. If we know what the deception is, we won’t fall for it!

Truth, Deception, and the Elect of God

But notice again what Jesus warned: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” Jesus didn’t say that only the unenlightened “sheeple” of the world would be at risk. He specifically warned that the elect, those who know and follow the truth, would be deceived if it were possible. In other words, the deception will be so overwhelming that even godly people are at risk of falling for it.

How can this be? Deception is, by definition, tricking people into believing something is true when it really isn’t. If you knew that you were being deceived, you wouldn’t be deceived! That’s redundant, but I’m trying to make a point: In order for the elect to be at risk of being deceived, the deception must come in a form that they are likely to believe.

Let me give a couple examples of things that would not deceive the elect. If a crude and profane rapper boasts of being like God, you’re not going to think he’s spiritually uplifting and start listening to his music. If a popular movie tells a well-known Bible story, but conveys a very different version of the story than what’s actually in the Bible, you’re not going to fall for it. These are not things that seem true to the elect.

But you know what might seem true to the elect?  The idea that there is a small, secretive group of people behind popular movies and music who are trying to brainwash the general population and control their minds. The reason that seems true is because there is an element of truth to it. Ultimately Satan is working behind the scenes to deceive people, and he will use any means available to promote error, even music and movies. But is he working through a secretive cabal of world leaders who are bent on coalescing the reprogrammed masses into a New World Order? That’s what some conspiracy theorists would have you believe. Despite a lack of tangible evidence, they pull together tantalizing clues to weave a tangled web of associations to support their theory. And some Christians believe it’s all true.

The Danger of Conspiracy Theories

If the last-day deception will come in a form that the elect are likely to believe, then conspiracy theories are a good example of how that deception will work. I’m not saying that conspiracy theories are the last-day deception, only that they work on similar principles, and they could potentially lead to last-day deception.

One of the most disturbing aspects of conspiracy theories is that even when they are based on demonstrably false information, Christians will still believe the overall theory because the conclusion fits with their worldview. It seems that the specific details don’t matter if they like the big picture. It’s the opposite of missing the forest for the trees; they can’t see that the trees are fake because they’re too busy admiring the picture-perfect landscape. An example of this is the conspiracy theory that the translators of the NIV intentionally removed verses from the Bible in order to undermine vital theological truths, like the deity of Christ. Walter Veith, a prominent conspiracy theorist in the Adventist church, makes the outlandish claim that “up to 60,000” words have been removed from the NIV. The New Testament has about 180,000 words. One could easily compare the NIV with the KJV and quickly confirm that the NIV is not, in fact, missing the equivalent of one-third of the New Testament.

Another claim Veith makes is that all references to Jesus as Lord have been removed from the NIV. That’s a serious charge, and if true would be a grave threat to the very foundation of Christianity. But even a cursory examination of the New Testament will prove this to be false. There are plenty of references in the NIV to Jesus being Lord. It took me a few seconds of searching my computer Bible program to locate one of the most obvious: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

My purpose here is not to belittle Walter Veith. Many people say he is a wonderful man, and I’ve heard that his work on creation is outstanding. However, the conspiracy theories he promotes are not only fallacious, but spiritually dangerous. If a theory is based on numerous “facts” that can easily be disproved, it’s not much of a theory. And if this theory claims to give people spiritual enlightenment but is based on myths and rumors, those who believe it are at risk of actually going deeper into darkness. Why should we trust the conclusion to be true if the premise is false?

But many people do trust the conclusion, and this is why I believe that conspiracy theories are so dangerous. They seem to cause us to momentarily turn off the critical reasoning powers of our brains and believe that something is true when it isn’t. Maybe we want to believe it because it makes us feel like we’ve outwitted the devil. We know there will be deceptions in the last days. Is it that far-fetched to imagine that Satan might try to deceive people with a faulty Bible translation? No, not really. But if such a deception were a reality, we should be able to establish it by verified evidence and sound reasoning instead of demonstrably false claims and preposterous leaps of logic.

Loving the Truth

The apostle Paul wrote: “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2, emphasis supplied). The way to promote the truth is—are you ready for this—to simply tell the truth. I know, what a novel concept! But sadly it has become a novel concept for many people. They have become so caught up in the twisted world of conspiracy theories that they can no longer discern truth from fiction. Some of these people could have been described as the elect at one time. They are deeply religious people who love God’s truth and are zealous to defend it. But somehow they got off track. They followed the siren song of conspiracy theories, and little by little it has led them away from the safety and security found in God’s Word toward a dangerous combination of speculation, deceit, and rumor-mongering.

If we can’t tell truth from fiction when it comes to conspiracy theories, how will we be able to discern the last great deception that will threaten even the elect? Will we actually be among the elect if we don’t cultivate a love for the truth? Paul warns that the last-day deception ends in destruction specifically because those who are deceived refuse to love the truth and so be saved (1 Thess. 2:9-12). In other words, they become deceived through their own choice; they choose error instead of truth. It’s especially important to cultivate a love for the truth now, while it is relatively easy to distinguish truth from error. If instead we are cultivating a love of conspiracy theories that are based even partially on error, we are placing ourselves in serious jeopardy of falling for the last-day deception.

Truth is not merely a set of facts. It is not a collection of special, secret knowledge that only those with insight into the inner workings of the devil’s schemes are privileged to understand. Such a view is actually unbiblical. It is a new form of an ancient heresy called gnosticism (my friend David Hamstra calls it “occult epistemology”). The Bible teaches that truth is a Person. Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). If we want to be a part of God’s elect people who avoid the end-time deception, then we need to stay close to Jesus. Spend more time getting to know Him, and less time researching conspiracy theories. I promise you there is infinitely more value in being with Jesus than in trying to discern the next great deception. If you know the Truth, then you won’t fall for the deception.

So here’s my challenge to you. The next time you encounter a conspiracy theory and are tempted to follow it down the rabbit hole, stop and pray. Then pick up your Bible and read the promises of Jesus: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27, 28). No one can deceive you if  you are following Jesus. Listen to His voice, not to speculative and untrustworthy conspiracy theories. Let Jesus worry about thwarting the devil’s deceptions. Make sure you know and are following the truth, and you will be eternally safe.



Matthew With Kieran

Matthew Shallenberger pastors in the Georgia-Cumberland Conference. He and his wife have two little boys and two hyper dogs. Matthew believes that tin foil is best used for cooking purposes, not hat-making.

The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference or the Seventh-day Adventist Church.