why I’m not much worried about the election, or upcoming elections

I will participate in the election tomorrow, and I do have opinions, some of them strong. And I have expressed concern over the incivility nationally on both sides, beginning in the White House. And not good in many places.

I think what the founding fathers of the United States struggled to put in place is strong enough to withstand the problems today, as long as citizens, and particularly those in governmental leadership continue that struggle. There is a good overview, well worth the time, on that. Although the subject matter may not seem to be directly applicable, I think it does get to the heart of what the American democratic republic is, never tried before in the separation of church and state: First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty.

I do share a concern over the United States, but my own biggest concern by far is the witness of the church in all of this. Yes, for the good of the nation, but above and beyond that, in view of God’s kingdom present in Jesus through the gospel. The church, and Christians should not be seen as either Republicans or Democrats. We are Christians and follow one Lord, Jesus. Because of that we’re going to run counter to prevailing thinking on a number of issues nowadays. And maybe considering the big picture, on some issues which likely won’t ever change. Though over time some may. And even Christians will disagree at times. One example: I’m for government mandated healthcare for all, but others are not. At the heart of that is the role of government, a debatable issue in itself. Christians are certainly not opposed to healthcare for all, the question is how to get there.

Whether we agree with what is in place or not, we’re to be in submission to such (Romans 13), and even to honor the office I take it, even if the one in place is not entirely honorable. We are to pray for all those who are in authority (1 Timothy 2). We may have to make appeals to such, and because of the democracy which the United States is, we can participate by lobbying for change, and voting.

Though God gives humans responsibility, God is ultimately in control (Psalm 75, etc.). We can and should participate insofar as our conscience dictates. But we should not be alarmists, nor should we think the world is on the line. At the same time, we need to be sensitive to real life issues out there, which are impacted by government, where perhaps laws are needed for the common good, and particularly for those who are marginalized. And we need to avoid readily taking on some kind of martyr complex, even if a political party or ideology is trying to force their will against us in a way which violates religious liberty. We should press for freedom in the public square for all, those religious as well as those who are non religious. In the midst of all of this, our final appeal is to God. As Christians and the church we live as Christians who happen to be American, along with those who are British, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, etc., etc., etc.

And we need to remember that the power of God for salvation is only through the gospel, never through politics. The change needed will come only when people’s hearts are changed through the gospel, and by common grace. So that there’s a new standard in place for people of the world, including everyone. Christianity through the centuries, along with grave errors at times, has brought a world of good, such as hospitals, stands against slave trade and racism, protection for the unborn, etc.

I will vote, and will lose no sleep over the outcome. God is God. Our trust is in him, not in any president, any government, nor in ourselves.

 

 

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looking beyond what’s in front of us

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

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, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:14-17

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”

This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

Romans 15:14-22

Yesterday a number of us listened to a message which is well worth the barely over 30 minutes it takes to hear it, from a most respected evangelical thinker, Os Guinness. It was expansive, to the point, and most encouraging, all in one message, and that to a young evangelical student body at Biola University.

This got me to thinking. In some ways we always need to be looking beyond what’s immediately in front of us, and often shouting in our faces for our full attention. I don’t think Jesus was occupied with Herod, even though Herod was outstanding in his day, some of his greatest achievements near where Jesus lived. Certainly a mover, if not the mover and shaker of his day, at least in Palestine. Neither did Paul pay much attention to the Roman power except to use his Roman citizenship to move forward in preaching the gospel which even impacted the Roman emperor’s palace.

When will we wake up to really believe that it is the gospel of Christ that makes the needed difference in the world, and not Washington, or some world leader, or whatever else? We say one thing and may believe it to some extent, but we act as if we don’t. Other things clamor for and often get our full attention.

We as professing Christians have to ask ourselves if we really believe the gospel, and that it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, and that it’s what is needed in our world beyond anything else. And if we do, what difference that should make in our thinking and in our lives. Today there’s a mighty current pushing us in one direction, yes, with different reactions, but I’m afraid with the same result: leaving us high and dry, on empty, and more importantly, of no help to others at all, in fact all too often I’m afraid, just the opposite.

We don’t believe in the revolutionary change the gospel can bring, not only in individual lives, but in entire societies, and out from that impacting the entire world. We think the difference comes from elsewhere, really. The breath of heaven doesn’t make the impact we seem to think comes from other places. In our heads we may not believe that, but our hearts give us away. The heart is known not only by the words said, but the life lived, and how we preoccupy our time, again- what weighs on our thoughts.

In a time as critical as the time in which we live, with the dangers involved, comes a new opportunity for God to bring home to ourselves, and to many the real answer. Which when all is said and done will stand and go on. But will we answer this call, or not?

the opportunity the church has at the present moment

The too rough and tumble of US politics, departing from the ideal of friendly opposition in working through differences has indeed taken a nasty turn in recent years, beginning in recent decades. And the sad fact of the matter is that many of us Christians have joined in on both sides. I’ve also noticed those who have a certain clear cut view, yet remain relatively silent, not entering into the war of words.

A good number of us have seen the nation as on the edge of violence. Fortunately there are no clear boundaries for this, even with the red and blue states. But unfortunately that means the stark divisions are everywhere.

It is hard to know what to do. Clearly enough, part of Satan’s tactic right now is to set the bait for Christians to react, period. And it doesn’t even matter so much how we react, but just the fact that we’re doing so. Maybe with strong words in opposition to something, or defending what is questionable at best, and from whatever side.

Somehow the church must remain nonpartisan when it comes to the politics of this world. And let’s start at the most basic level: the church is never national in terms of any nation on earth, but it is of the kingdom of God in Christ. Now even this part is tricky because it’s not as if the church shouldn’t care about the nation in which it resides. But in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, Christians are indeed “resident aliens.”

Yes, we must somehow be above the fray, even if a few of us speak out against evils of this time: bigotry, violence beginning with words, blatant disrespect of others, little to no regard for truth telling, etc. We as Christians must come out from all of this, and be separate. We are indeed in the world, but not of it. Regardless of how we vote, whether we choose to or not, or whatever, we must be present to all in God’s love in Christ, each of us playing our small part. Committed completely only to Christ and the gospel, everything else in its place, but being secondary and subservient to that. In and through Jesus.

when it comes to the election and politics, first things first

I am thankful to live in the United States, a nation which in spite of all its problems (and you can’t escape serious difficulties in this world) does allow people to worship as they please. There is no question that there are serious issues which very much engage the public. And to list them would not be hard for anyone who pays any attention at all to the news.

I think it’s fine for Christians to be involved in speaking out on political issues, and especially to participate in voting, if they so choose. But of first importance always is to be faithful to the gospel, both in one’s personal life, and out from that, into the lives of others. Jesus called his disciples to make more disciples of all nations to the end of the age, with the promise of his presence. That is our calling, regardless of what happens in the political world.

I think it’s essential for Christians to take care in the political choices they make, particularly when it comes to alliances with any party or candidate. In a sense we should be for all the parties and candidates, and those in office, because we wish for the good of all, and for the good of the nation in which we live. Even when we stand in opposition to them on certain issues.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming election, and elections elsewhere in the world, Christ is the one who reigns, and God is sovereign over all. Christians where they can, can express their views, but we must get back to first things first. It is the gospel, the good news in Christ which is the power of salvation for all who believe. And we are to be disciples of our Lord, following him in all of life. Everything else is secondary to that.

We must beware of getting caught up into the political wind to the extent that it marks what we are all about, our identity, either in supporting or opposing this or that. I’m referring to Christians in general, not to those who are actually in the process as candidates themselves.

Following Christ as believers and as the church might well involve some public stands. But I wonder if it might be different if we avoid following either the conservative or progressive line. We can and probably should consider what people are saying from every angle. That is important, since as people of God it is good for us to understand our times, if we’re to know what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). But what we do, including what we say and don’t say, how we act should all be dependent on one thing only: Christ, and God’s will in him, or the truth as it is in Jesus.

Let’s not lose the sense of who we are because of the strong opinions which we or others hold. We will be concerned about the unborn, immigrants, the environment, and other matters, and will have our views. What must not be lost in the shuffle is how first and foremost, beyond anything else, we are disciples of Christ, servants of the gospel. Our lives marked by that, come what may.

the real world: Christians and the state/politics

The idea of “the real world” can be as different as night and day in what Christians mean, and from that, how they act. John Stackhouse, a Baptist theologian, believes something like a kind of realism which accepts the good and bad, along with the limitations in government, and makes the most of it, of course trying to arrive to what’s best, but realizing there will inevitably be shortfalls and issues and new problems will arise. Then there’s the meaning of “the real world” which might come from what’s called a Christian anarchist position, here summarized well by Greg Boyd. It basically takes the position that what happens in worldly government is rather beside the point for the follower of Christ. They should be living with one world in mind, God’s kingdom present in Jesus. So for them, that’s the real world. The rest is a charade, or worse. Destined for God’s judgment.

I see something of both perspectives when I look at scripture. The realism advocated which says Christians can and even should get their hands dirty by getting involved in civil societies, of course doing so with integrity and Christian truth, we can see clearly enough in Daniel, and to some extent, arguably, in the New Testament itself. The other position is clearly seen in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What Jesus calls his disciples to, God’s kingdom present in him, certainly political itself in that it is a way of life under his rule.

What might be a determining factor is to read what follows in what unfolds after Christ’s resurrection and ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit. It does seem to emphasize what our witness in the world is to be as the church and as believers. It really doesn’t say anything about Christians serving in government, but rather how Christians are to respond to government. There are instances of people in the New Testament who have faith and serve in government positions.

So at this point I think like life, it’s complex. It is easy to simply withdraw. But it seems to me more Jesus-like to remain in society, but with a different message. After all, if we don’t have a different answer, then what is distinctive about us as Christians? Isn’t what we’re called to live, and if necessary die for, the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus? Regardless of just how we come down on the question of Christians and the state, there should be no question that this is what distinguishes us from the world.

And that will require a different track and wisdom, I think, then what we see from either the Christian left or Christian right in the United States. Both fail in compromising by not holding to the gospel as paramount in every consideration. Miserably. I take neither one of them seriously at all, myself. Both fail because in one way or another, their witness to Christ and the gospel is compromised. That ought to be our first and foremost concern: how will what we do or not do in the world impact our witness to Christ?

Maybe the best position is to leave the answer a bit nebulous, uncertain, but major on what we do know is our calling: to be faithful to Christ and the gospel. We must avoid any position that mixes the cross and the flag together. However we think our responsibilities to the state are to be played out, like paying taxes, and honoring those in authority, we must make it clear to all that Christ’s kingdom is different, not from this world, though down to earth, but in a completely different way. We certainly do good works to help people in need, and solve problems.

Something for our consideration, or at least what I’ve been considering lately. As we ponder what it means as Christians and the church to be a faithful witness in the world. In and through Jesus.

regaining our focus away from politics or what not

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

John Dickson’s chapter entitled “Christ” in his helpful book, A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus underscores the fact that Jewish anticipation of God’s promise of the Messiah from scripture, and Jesus’s fulfillment of such did not match. They wanted someone who would bring military victory against their enemies, and through that, implement a peace, meaning, shalom, which would cover the entire earth. Jesus’s fulfillment was completely unanticipated, and in fact, an affront to their understanding. All crucified Messiahs were proven impostors, and after all, didn’t scripture say that all who were hung on a tree were under God’s curse? And yes, that was true of Jesus, but in a remarkably different way than they surmised. Under God’s curse so as to remove that curse through his death to bring salvation and blessing to the world. But it was the way of the cross, never of the power of worldly kingdoms and government. Read the gospels, Matthew through John, to verify this along with the rest of the New Testament.

We are at a fever pitch right now in the United States over politics, quite divided to say the least, and it seems like we’ve fallen into the fray as badly as the rest. We believe in political power. But in so doing, aren’t we doing what Jesus was actually getting at: forfeiting our souls, even as Satan tempted Jesus to do when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms and their splendor, offered to Jesus if he would only worship Satan.  Of course Jesus dispelled that immediately, interestingly on the basis of scripture, quoting the passage where it tells Israel (and us) that we’re to worship the Lord our God, and serve him only. But also implicit in that is the reality that God’s kingdom in Jesus is not of this world, and in fact, though down to earth, is from another place, of a higher, heavenly realm, just as Jesus said elsewhere.

We need to get a grip in realizing that no matter what happens in American politics, or elsewhere, our life and good depends on God’s promise in Jesus and the gospel. Not just for us, but for the world, we bearing witness to that. That can take a tremendous weight off our hearts. We live for Christ and the gospel, and if need be die for that. And we depend on that. Nothing else.

That doesn’t mean that none of us can serve in political places of this world. Daniel did. But like Daniel, they will likely face opposition and trouble as they live for and with God’s kingdom in view. Not an easy road to take, either. Complete commitment to Christ and the gospel must accompany that.

We pray for those in positions of governing authority, and hope for the good of our nation, and all other nations. And living in a democratic republic or nation like the United States, we participate in the political process as we feel led. But we remember that whatever happens anywhere in the world, while it may bear great and even grave consequences, to be sure, we in Jesus live by and for one thing: God’s word, the message of God’s good news in Jesus for us and for the world. Anything else we’re involved in only in light of and in submission to that. In and through Jesus.

 

the culture war and what’s come of it

Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

Acts 24:24-26

Usually this blog doesn’t touch on anything political in the worldly, partisan sense, and I have no intent that this post will be an exception. And if it does, then I hope not to tip my hand as to where I might be in what essentially is a spectrum in which good, intelligent people differ.

I am a “baby boomer” and I remember well the rise of Moral Majority. I think in large part it was a response to the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v Wade, a stand against abortion, but also a stand against immorality, particularly against the rise of open homosexuality.

It is my opinion that the church involved in such pursuits as Moral Majority, largely lost its way to the extent it was involved in this. I am thinking of the conservative part of the church, evangelical, in which I was raised. There is the liberal or progressive wing of organized church, which lines up on the opposing side. And the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, on the conservative side, particularly against abortion, though many of its adherents depart from the church on issues such as birth control and homosexuality.

I believe the part of the church which has gone on this path, the path of the culture wars, regardless which side (though, like Christ’s letter to the seven churches in Revelation, there are numerous ways the church can become unfaithful to Christ), has frankly gone off on a side path, and in doing so stumbled, at least as far as its witness goes. We are present for one reason and one reason only: Christ and the gospel. When we give something like supreme allegiance to anything less, then we not only endanger our souls in the process, but the souls of those we are to be a witness to of the gospel.

Paul lived in a different time. No representative democratic republic such as we live in here in the United States. Roman rule was essentially totalitarian, and the Christian message was a direct affront to it, though the gospel had no intention of a rule like that which God has actually ordained in the world. It is a rule based on Christ, and the good news in him, someday to take over the earth in the new earth, but present now by the Spirit in the church.

But Paul cared about one thing, and that was his calling, and by extension, ours today as well: the proclamation and witness by word and deed and life, of the good news in Jesus. Of the world’s need of that good news. And what it means for everyone today. Including all who serve in government.

Interestingly, Paul’s message did impact people in government, and even members of the emperor Caesar’s household. And the impact of the church’s witness was exponential growth, God’s hand in it. Not, I would argue, what we’ve seen in my lifetime.

We need to get back to the basics. Yes, as US citizens we can and should, to whatever extent we’re led, participate in the political process. But we must not compromise our identity in Christ and what that means for the world. In terms of the good news in Jesus which can only begin to be fully understood and appreciated through the pages of all of scripture.