our politics is hurting our witness (mine included)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

I’m not sure what to make of the posts I see from Christian friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Often at best there’s a mix of morality and politics. At worst it seems like there’s more adherence to the political party line than there is to truth. Of course that’s my judgment. But when I see Christians line up either on the religious right as conservatives, or the religious left as progressives, I don’t see just an unblinking, uncompromising commitment to unmitigated truth. Maybe they’ve weighed everything and decided on one side or position, or another, something we may often have to do when we vote. And too often then they’ll try to line up with their party’s agenda or platform completely, on every issue. I suppose thinking that the underlying philosophy mirrors their own.

I was raised Republican in an area with an understanding that voting that way was being faithful to Scripture, voting any other way, especially Democrat is not. What I think anyone is going to find is that the politics of this world just can’t be endorsed without compromising something of morality and truth. I find over and over again on every side that when one political party takes a stand against something that’s wrong, while the other party seems to either endorse that wrong, or be blind to it, the party doing well in that is invariably not doing so well on other matters which are of equal importance, or at least matters of justice and mercy. Even if you think your party is doing basically well on everything, that doesn’t mean you should march in lockstep with them. As a follower of Christ, you’re going to have to be willing to take unpopular stands if you’re going to be faithful and a true witness to the Truth and the gospel.

The decisions made in such places are often not black and white to be sure; they’ll have complexity and accompanying uncertainty. In those positions, Christian officials will have to pray and seek God’s counsel and wisdom, listen well, and make the best decision possible. And of course all of us need to pray for everyone in positions of government authority (1 Timothy 2).

Jesus before Pilate makes it clear that his politics are above this world, his kingdom not being of this world since it’s not from it, but directly from God, no less than God’s kingdom come to earth. But as such it’s not of this world which I think is a good rendering since Jesus makes the point that that is why his servants wouldn’t fight to prevent or end his arrest. Instead Jesus said that he was present to testify to the truth and that everyone on the side of truth would listen to him. Pilate in what one can see as up to date right to the present time, lifts his eyebrows, shakes his head- so to speak, and almost protests: “What is truth?”

If we Christians don’t wake up then our witness is going to be entirely lost, or at least significantly diminished. We must speak out with the truth in regard to abortion, racism, helping the poor and dispossessed, violence, caring for earth, and a whole host of other issues. We must be known as followers of Christ, not of any political party or ideology of this world. Bearing witness to the good news in him, not to anything less. And humbly participating as we’re led, in the affairs of this world.

God’s kingdom come in Jesus is not of or from this world, but it is definitely for this world. People need to see the difference in us for one reason only: we are followers of Christ. We inevitably will have different understandings of issues, and how to address them. But that should be secondary to our commitment together of Christ and the gospel. Alas, all too often it’s not. That needs to change. Again we as Christians should not be known as Progressives, Democrats, Conservatives, Republicans, or whatever else, regardless of how we’re registered, or how we vote. Rather we must be known as Christians, true followers of Christ, witnesses to the one and only good news for the world in him.

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longing for a better day

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?

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
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!

“Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god—
which you made for yourselves.
Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.

Amos 5:19-27

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Martin Luther King, Jr., was I believe the greatest civil leader of the last century. He spoke with a moral authority which arose out of his Christian understanding, and with a gift of intellect, resolve and passion unmatched probably during his time, and nearly any time. And like the prophets of old, he called people to a better day, which would involve change, indeed repentance. He didn’t mince words, yet he spoke and acted as a follower of Christ, with no love withheld from enemies, in the midst of many prayers, and surely, struggles and tears. To do what he was doing put his life on the line. It was compelling, and could not be dismissed even by those who desperately wanted to.

The prophet Amos lived during a time of great evil in the land. God’s people Israel were continuing on as if all was okay, but in fact all was not. Rich people were living off the poor. The heart of God’s command to love God, and one’s neighbor as one’s self was not the heart of God’s people. So through Amos, God was calling his people to repentance.

They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.

Amos 2:6b-7a

Here in the United States, racism is not erased. Society is still stacked against people of color, at least in many places. Of course some overcome, but for many, they settle down into what they have to do to make ends meet. Others, disenfranchised, don’t do as well, sometimes into a life of drugs in which violence is more or less an every present danger and threat. The gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening. I don’t see how God’s people who read scripture and take Jesus and the prophets seriously can remain silent in the face of such injustice and lack of love. To write it off as secondary to the tragedy of abortion is simply the refusal to do what God does throughout the pages of scripture. And see Amos on this. God doesn’t let some sins slide. Everyone for everything is held to account, particularly for sins against love for God and for one’s neighbor, including those different such as the stranger and refugee.

It’s up to us as God’s people in Jesus to do what Martin Luther King, Jr. did. To do our part, whatever that might be, in calling especially the church, God’s people along with others to a better day. Of course in the church we should be endeavoring to live this out, but alas, all too often we rest in the status quo. God is patient, but wants us to develop a sensitivity to these things. That we might have something of God’s heart for every situation. And show that heart through prayer and deeds in and through Jesus.

the need for persistent prayer

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

If there’s one thing certain as far as our practice as Christians go, we need to be in the word, in prayer, and faithfully meeting with other Christians for worship, fellowship, and the teaching of the word. Prayer is something we have to persist in doing, because we so easily drift in that practice, and eventually can end up relatively prayerless.

Jesus’s parable is in terms of need, and the application is justice for God’s chosen ones who cry out to God day and night. Probably in view was the persecution of Christians, which Christians experienced right along, off and on during the early days into the first centuries of Christianity.

My own words: We need to pray and relax; relax and pray. Keep praying. Our Lord’s words: We should always pray, and not give up.

Fortunately it’s not about our effort, or what we do to make the needed difference. It’s what God can do in answer to prayer. But do we really believe that? We are so prone to think otherwise, that somehow we need to take matters in our own hands. That if we don’t do it, it won’t be done at all. Or we can feel that there’s no hope at all. But Jesus tells us not to give up, or lose heart, but simply to pray. With the promise that unlike the unjust judge, God’s answer will be forthcoming, on the way. As we continue on in faith and pray. In and through Jesus.

to remain in worship

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Habakkuk (audio) is one of my favorite biblical books, though each and everyone is just as important in its place. Habakkuk is helpful to me, because it challenges God over God’s leading, will, and work. It seemed to Habakkuk that God did not make sense in terms of what God was doing at the time. Habakkuk wanted life to make sense in a world bent against God and God’s will. And it was certainly personal to Habakkuk, who stood as one of God’s prophets, proclaiming God’s word, often of God’s judgment in anticipation of God’s justice and salvation. But what was to unfold according to God’s word given to him as we see in the book seemed to make a mockery of justice. That God would use Babylon which engaged in practices more evil than the nation God was punishing, his own people Israel, made absolutely no sense to Habakkuk.

This single thought, to be taken from the book as a whole, is vitally important, if we’re to be true worshipers of God. Habakkuk ends up being a book of worship, though it is in the process of working through real life that Habakkuk finally gets to that. And part of that process was questioning God.

God did answer, and that’s vitally important for us today. We have God’s answer in spades, when you consider not only the book of Habakkuk, but the entire Book of the Bible. And yet to live through the process, not to mention to try to get our heads around it, or more likely, just to try to begin to understand it, is really beyond us. We need God’s grace and help for sure.

But there’s nothing more important for us as God’s people in Jesus than to be true worshipers of God. To remain in that posture, we will have to work through challenges to God’s goodness and greatness. But it’s vital to us that we are committed to being worshipers of God, come what may. The thought Habakkuk closes with, quoted above. In and through Jesus.

Jesus tells us not to lose hope, but pray

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus was more than a teacher, for sure, but he was a teacher par excellence. A good part of the gospels consist in his teaching. Of course the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; also the Sermon on the Plain- Luke 6) might be considered the prime example of that, but then you also have his parables, such as that of “the good Samaritan,” and “the prodigal (lost) son(s).” And many others. This is one of his parables that ties faith and hope together, along with prayer.

It is easy on the surface, but it also seems hard to simply pray about things. “What must I do?” is the big question for most of us. Or just as likely, we feel like we can’t do anything at all, and so are completely at a loss since we don’t really have enough faith in God to pray.

Jesus does tie faith and hope together, just as we find elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:8). If we have faith, then we’ll always have hope. To have faith means to pray, even to cry out to God about our trouble, or the trouble of others around us.

Jesus refers here to simple justice, which often in the world, even today (not here in the United States, though it may happen subtly) is denied to Christ-followers. We must bring our own troubles to God, rather than letting ourselves become consumed in them. And be sensitive to the problems of others. And keep doing that day after day until Jesus returns. In and through him.

politics and the gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[b] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[c]

Romans 1:16-17

We have a rule at work that we’re not supposed to discuss politics there. Maybe that’s good, given all the heat nowadays.

I do think the politics of this world has its place, and that there ought to be civil discussions by those engaged in it. I know politics today seems to be in a crisis, with democracy taking a back hand to more of an authoritarian approach. There is so much involved in all of this, in the United States where I live, the whole question of the Constitution, and whether or not it has failed, or not been given its place to succeed. If you start going in depth into the entire discussion and more, you’ll find that it’s essentially mind boggling, or at least having no more authority than what a bunch of diverse intellectuals can muster.

But now to down to earth, in our face, day to day politics. We have a friend who is seeking to get on the state ballot as a candidate concerned primarily with education. We applaud her and her efforts. I would like to add, I think it’s strange, the money required for her to get on the ballot. Everything seems so money driven nowadays. These kinds of efforts can be helpful, addressing real problems and needs with better solutions.

I think and feel strongly about some things, but usually with the sense of realization that we’re at the mercy of a power which seems to have its ways both in our face, and usually more subtly, and finds its way systemically from our hearts into institutions. That’s the power of sin. We don’t care about this or that, because of what we really care about. Or we ignore certain things, because they may or may not be problems, and after all, they’re other people’s problems, not our own.

Paul gets to what we need as Christians, the one thing we can hang our hats on and be devoted to day in and day out, regardless of the mess in the world: the gospel. It is about Christ, and God’s saving righteousness in and through him, through Christ’s death and resurrection, through which sin is dealt with, and something of God’s vision for us and for the world given to us in scripture can begin to take root in people now, especially in Christ’s body, the church. The gospel can be the unifying point in which people of diverse thinking can settle, and find what is just and right, and therefore good. That begins in our own hearts, and right where we live, and goes out from there. Which is why Christians have often been persecuted, and still are in parts of the world, as well as marginalized.

There is one good news in the world worth living and dying for, and only one. The other areas in which people serve can be quite good in their place, and we need to honor them, particularly those who give of themselves in service for others, and who put their lives at risk in doing so. That has its place too.

But we in Christ take our stand completely on the good news in him. While we may take lesser stands, which are provisional for time and place, we know the gospel cuts across all our differences, and gets to the heart of things. It addresses the power of sin. In pointing us to Jesus himself, and God’s grace and kingdom present and to come in him. Hopefully shedding light on the darkness now present through changed hearts and lives. In the church, and out into the world. In and through Jesus.

speaking against other believers unlawfully

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

James has a lot to say about the tongue. This section follows, or perhaps (as NIV heading might suggest) is part of what preceded on submitting oneself to God, and one can see the possible connection with the opening thought on quarreling and not getting along.

To slander is to speak some untruth against someone, but the word might only mean to speak against someone, period, even if what is said is the truth. Only God knows the entire truth, and the truth through and through, so that we must beware of thinking we know in any final sense.

And when we speak in that way we also somehow put ourselves in the place of God. God alone gave the law, and God alone can make judgments based on it. Our judgment invariably won’t measure up to God’s, nor will our application of the law. In fact we will be so amiss, that we in effect will be judging the law itself. Exactly what that means is hard to pinpoint, except to say that our judgment on others inevitably means we are judging the law, and not getting at the true meaning of it, making the law into something other than it is. It is for living according to God’s will in love. We simply are incapable of making any such judgments on others.

And that’s what might be key to understanding the passage. It is referring to judging others in a sense in which we can’t. There are necessary judgments in life which we must make and receive. And best to do so together, always in a prayerful attitude.

What we might take home from this is simply to be cautious, so that if and when we speak we will do so in complete humility, emphasizing mercy, and God’s work in the entire process. Only God can convict the wrongdoer, and bring them to repentance. We can’t. We may necessarily have to confront someone, but we do so gently in love, realizing that we can easily fall into sin ourselves. But we are included in God’s work of restoration (Galatians 6).

We must beware of taking matters in our own hands, and brashly applying the law, when inevitably we who judge do the same things ourselves (Romans 2). When we stand in that kind of judgment of others, inevitably we not only distort what they did due to our own sin, but we also distort the law itself, somehow making it conform to our own understanding, beset with a heart not right, and therefore not seeing everything clearly. Only God can judge, convict, sentence, and redeem. We can’t.

So we best take a cautious attitude. And not slander or speak against our brother or sister even when our gut reaction is to do so. When we have to consider problems, we best do so before God, and when necessary, together. And not tolerate anything that doesn’t accentuate mercy along with the utmost humility concerning our own weakness and shortcomings.