#WWJD. Abstain! (3) John the Baptist

5 08 2016

If John the Baptist was here and now, what would he say about Election 2016?

Three episodes of his life stand out to me.

First, John remembered that Jesus is greater than any other leader.

His entire purpose in life was to make a smooth path for the coming JohnTheBaptistMessiah. He did this by denying himself the perks of his culture, and by telling others to get right with God. His baptism was for repentance; i.e. change your mind about what matters and change your behavior to please God. John said he was not worthy to strap Jesus’ sandal. That’s humility as a result of keeping Jesus in His rightful place as God’s anointed.

–> Election 2016. Let’s not get so wrapped up in the outcome of the Presidential race that we knock Jesus out of first place in our hearts. The Lord Jesus has survived and outlasted hundreds of horrible candidates and rigged elections! He will outlast this one too!

Second, John faced his doubts but clung to Jesus when things got confusing.

I’m remembering the time when John was in prison and was getting a bit bewildered. He had a clear calling, but it had led to his suffering. Understandably, he needed the encouragement of knowing that it was all worth it. So he sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if things were still under control out there (Matt.11).

Jesus did not fault John for this, but sent word back to him saying, in effect, “John, you would be so jazzed to see what I’m up to. People are being healed, sinners repenting, the poor are being empowered by the truth, and resurrections are happening. Keep believing and you won’t regret it!”

–> Election 2016. This is a great time to cut through all the confusion and realize that Jesus is at work today in phenomenal ways. We are living in a supreme illustration of the folly of the efforts of humankind. Our world-class democracy is like the tower of Babel — our best effort and our greatest folly. Let’s keep our eyes and hearts on Jesus Christ.

Third, John knew character mattered and did not compromise.

We learn that the reason John was in prison was because he spoke out about the immorality of Herod who had gotten involved with (affair? married?) his brother’s wife (Mt.14:3-4). Herod, perhaps tipsy on wine, made a promise he later regretted, and ended up having to execute John to save face.

When John criticized Herod, he was not keeping his views under wraps inside his believer’s fellowship. He was speaking into the public arena the moral standards of God. And he paid the price.

–> Election 2016. I’m troubled with the idea of voting for the lesser of two evils. I know there have never been any perfect candidates, either morally or in terms of issues, but the candidates in this presidential election are, to me, so flawed in character that I feel I have passed a tipping point. I have read many justifications for voting one way or the other, but I keep circling back to the obstinance of John the Baptist.

Photocredit: spindleworks.com  (btw if you want a good chuckle, google “john the baptist images”; some of the depictions of this guy are so wonky; I think if there is blushing in heaven that John is tomato red)

See prior thoughts on Moses and Isaiah. Next up is Jesus.


To vote for President or not (2)

30 07 2016

As I pondered who I should vote for come November, I was struck with the number of compromises of character and morality I would have to condone to vote for either Clinton or Trump. As much as I value the right to cast my vote for the Presidency, and as much as I dislike withholding it, I began to wonder if exercising the right to vote outweighs my troubled soul.

Voting is one important way of influencing my country – one way I have been given a voice. But it is not my only voice. I can write and express my opinion and, in this one contest, my words will take the place of my vote. Here is why: Americans have chosen two Presidential candidates that are so raunchy that my commitment to Jesus Christ leads me to vocally reject them both. In what I “know” of their personal character and certain of their issues, both candidates are so out of sync with the eternal kingdom values I embrace, that I conclude it is better to not support either of them.

I am deeply thankful to be an American citizen. Both my parents defended its freedom in WW2. My U.S. passport has opened doors of opportunity in several countries. So I truly wish that our citizenry had chosen at least one candidate worthy of American virtues.isa 41.10

In this series of protestations, I head toward the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” My belief is that He would abstain from the Presidential vote. As I  aim toward articulating an answer, I am reviewing some of the writings of those whom Jesus looked to, and built upon.

isaiahConsider Isaiah. Prophets like Isaiah were not called to be popular. Isaiah, if living today, might have 16 Facebook friends beefed up with 7 Twitter followers. Prophets received biting revelations from God, expressing how disappointed and downright angry God was at His people Israel. Prophets castigated God’s people for idolatry, intermarriage, adultery, sabbath-breaking, and taking better care of their homes than God’s worship center.

America would not receive a rebuke from God if it suddenly appeared on every computer monitor and TV screen. Evangelicals either. Just look at the way brothers and sisters are compromising character to support the lesser of two evils.

For this post, I’ve chosen some of the kindest words out of Isaiah’s mouth (Isa. 40:15,23-24). I like the positive perspective they give us at this time:

Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales;

He brings the princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth useless. Scarcely shall they be planted, scarcely shall they be sown, scarcely shall their stock take root in the earth, When He will also blow on them, and they will wither, and the whirlwind will take them away like stubble.

To my fellow believers who are all in a lather about this election, I remind you isa 43.2that America is not promised perpetual greatness. The effect of a Presidency is short-lived against the swirling winds of centuries. We who have joined the eternal kingdom are strangers passing through this place. God will still be God when the next century has come and gone.

When our national citizenship asks us to compromise our Kingdom citizenship, we had better have our wits about us.

Stay tuned. John the Baptist is in the on-deck circle!

Photo credits: (Isa 43.2) nyupperroom.blogspot; (portrait) oca.org

Leave me a comment won’t you. What are your thoughts?


What Would Jesus Do? Abstain! (1)

29 07 2016

WWJD  What Would Jesus Do?

WWJD was a semi-popular evangelical mantra a few years ago. I have found myself pondering that question as we have entered the most confounding election in my memory.

I plan to get to what would Jesus do, but I want to back up and take a running start at it, by considering some of the predecessors Jesus read and endorsed.

So let me start with Moses. WWMD?

moses_ten_commandments__image_2_sjpg637Moses went up on the mountain to deliver to the Israelite immigrants (fleeing Egypt, seeking a land of promise, illegally) the instructions from God. He came down with the “decalogue” (10 commands) once, only to have to ascend the mount a second time to receive them again, since the people, notably, had fallen into idolatry in the form of worship of a calf made of the precious metals and gems which God gave them from the Egyptians who were only too happy (after 10 devastating plagues) to see them depart.

So I think it safe to say that Moses valued these commands, and would see America’s election cycle through the lens of the revelation he received. One thing that came through loud and clear was that God did not want to be considered a peer with anyone else. (“You shall have no other gods before Me” Exodus 20:3). Neither did God want to become another in a line of revered entities (“You shall not make for yourself a carved image…for I the Lord your God, am a jealous God….”). So there is a back-story to election 2016 — America has shrunk God and phased Him out.

WWMD?  He would likely cite the bit about taking the name of the Lord in vain. Likely touch on remembering to take one day in seven to rest and reflect on how good God is to provide. I suspect he would mention the murder thing, and something about adultery. Oh, and coveting. Moses would say: Are you surprised you’re in this fix?

I’m not talking about the scuttlebutt some time ago in the U.S. about taking the 10 commandments off government buildings. No, what matters is that respect for God left our country long ago. The awe of the one true God left our hearts decades ago. Even from the beginning. Our founding fathers were only “Christians” in the (extremely loose) sense that they believed morality mattered. That was something at least. It would be good to go back to that at least.

As I have written before, the “pursuit of happiness” is not one of Jesus’ promises. He promised the suffering of a cross and (for the trouble) an eternal reward. Despite the brothers who now espouse a heaven-on-earth kind of reward, I’m looking for something a lot more glorious than possibly containable on this planetary sphere.

moses notBut back to the election… I think Moses would say to us: Look, human glory fades. Yours clearly has. You are in a real reality show, and it is not going well. You have made your decisions as a people. You have idolized a future with your “rights” and “equality.” You have, with open-eyes, violated every one of the 10 pillars of a thriving society — and have invented some of your own. Now your society has wilted.

Is there hope? What do we do?  Stay tuned… next up is Isaiah

PLEASE comment, like, protest, laugh… something to let me know you were here!

Extremist Christian

30 08 2014

a crossWhen does one acknowledge that we have entered an extraordinary period of history? I am prone to downplay statements which say these are unprecedented times. But it seems we would be wise to acknowledge that we entered an age of extremism several years ago, and extremism only seems to be increasing.

The 9/11 attack is the iconic event of this extreme era, but the sentiment is diffused globally and over many years.  Every nation places itself in the center of all things important, and America excels in doing so. So now the focus is on how Americans who went to fight for the Islamic State may return to America and commit acts of terror on our soil.

I have begun to ponder how I, one who aspires to follow and emulate Jesus Christ, should think about the possibility that a fellow American citizen could open fire in a shop or restaurant in which I am sitting. Should I begin to suspect everyone around me, especially those of black or brown skin, especially those with beards? Should I buy a pistol and keep it near me at all times? Should I move my wife and extended family to a remote area of the country, construct a fortress, and live out my days as a recluse?

As I reflect on this, and interact with other Americans, it seems we have adopted the belief that to be an American is to be safe. Wars are fought “over there” now. Not only can we send soldiers over there to fight to keep us safe, but we can do more of it with drones and rockets than ever before.

But I think I have been duped. My desire to live for Christ has been polluted by this American ideal of safety. Thomas Jefferson and friends, Adams and Franklin, gave an ideal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This Declaration of Independence has been wonderful to enjoy, but it is not good Christian doctrine. It is extreme humanism, or at best, deism.

And so this age of extremism is calling Jesus-followers to respond accordingly. I wish it could be all of us, but the myth of safety and happiness so possesses the Church that I am sure it will be only a Christian remnant that will change.

Jefferson prophesied for us “life.”  Jesus blesses us with life abundant.

Jefferson declared for us “liberty.”  Jesus calls us to servanthood.

Jefferson envisioned “the pursuit of happiness.”  Jesus relishes the pursuit of righteousness.

If anything, I sense that the call of Jesus is a call to risk. He said that anybody who desires to follow Him must deny self, take up the cross, and follow. I am called to an extreme love for my enemies which, to the degree it emulates Jesus, ends in death.

And some other words of Jesus help me envision how to be an extreme Christian. He told us (Matthew 10) to be wise as serpents and harmless (or innocent) as doves. To be innocent as a dove means to avoid evil, to commit no sin or crime, to continue to look at others with love and optimism even though I may be taken advantage of or harmed.

To be wise like a serpent is to know the danger of the times, to stay razor-sharp in faith, to know the wickedness of the human heart and not give my allegiance to any political or economic saviors but to Christ alone.



Why churches naturally exclude

21 07 2014

I occasionally enjoy reflecting on the little volume Ministering Cross-Culturally (by Lingenfelter and Mayers, Baker Academic). While I always profit from these discussions in the context of foreign mission, I now cannot help but reflect on issues of culture through the lens of the multiculturalism of the USA and the West in general.

Lingenfelter writes, “Acceptance in our groups comes at the cost of exclusion from the groups of others. An attempt to belong to groups whose standards are in conflict with ours produces emotional stress within us and antagonism in our relationships with others. For this reason, most of us choose to belong only to those groups within which we find people who have standards and values similar to our own. As a consequence of our choices, the communities we form include some and exclude others.” (p. 21)

Intentionally intercultural churches are therefore a challenge because we must reverse this tendency to exclude so as to include those who are different, whose values and behaviors clash with our own.

At the same time, as a community hailing from different cultures work together over time to understand, appreciate and draw from each other, a new kind of meta-culture can form among them. In the same way that every person ultimately has their own unique personal culture, surely every church (including multicultural ones) has its own unique culture.

Here is another quote: “The cultural bias we share with others in our communities becomes a consensus we use to protect ourselves from others…. The comfort of our community becomes a bias toward [against?] others and a blindness to viable relationships different from our own.” (p.22)

This is where the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP)  turns ugly even as it does its good work of community preservation. Shared culture shuns those who are excluded and thereby misses the opportunity to learn that there are aspects of other cultures that are actually worth evaluating and even adopting. People who leave a multiethnic church because they are not willing to consider the benefits of other cultures have made a decision to stay within the safe fortress of their community. I cannot fault them for this because I (and all of us) do the same thing, we just choose different levels of risk. I may take some risk in living in Kenya, or joining a primarily African-American church. As a result I might consider myself superior to someone who stays in their comfortable church made up of people much like themselves. But I have also limited my risk in that I have not gone for 50 years to a city that is 100% muslim or Hindu; I have not sold my house and gone to live in a pre-historic village in a forest somewhere. We all make self-preserving choices.

For those who are willing to attempt the risk of multi-ethnic church, read this next quote (in which the author speaks to the cross-cultural missionary) from the standpoint of building trusting relationships across cultural lines in your multiethnic local church: “The practice of incarnation (i.e., a willingness to learn as if we were helpless infants) is the first essential step toward breaking this pattern of excluding others. Missionaries, by the nature of their task, must become personally immersed with people who are different. To follow the example of Christ, that of incarnation, means undergoing drastic personal reorientation. They must be socialized all over again into a new cultural context. They must enter a culture as if they were children–ignorant of everything, from the customs of eating and talking to the patterns of work, play, and worship.” (p. 22-3)

One of my concerns in the multiethnic movement in the USA is that many of the practitioners do not seem to have this missionary mindset. Of course I don’t know what is in their hearts. But if the movement is to include deep reconciliation, leaders will need to pave the way and have this sacrificial, incarnational commitment. If the multi-ethnic pursuit is seen primarily as a way of better reflecting the changing neighborhood around the church, or if it is basically an implementation of the Biblical passages that call for it, without this deeper issue of self-denial to the point of incarnation, then the efforts will stop short of their potential as external witness and internal transformation.

I think an interesting question to discuss this would be: Must incarnational church life be a special calling from God, or does He expect it of all His children?

Another would be: How is my community life helping me learn “drastic personal reorientation” that comes with doing life with those of different cultures than my own?