How is a Christian to vote? -part 1

How in the world is a Christian to vote?

I was talking to a Christian man recently when the subject of politics came up. I asked him how he casts his vote and he explained that he typically votes in a way that lines up with his stage of life. Which candidate offers me the most?

So I started thinking.

When I listen to the politicians, I realize that two sets of people dominate their consideration: the upper class and the middle class. I get it. Obama and Romney raise millions and millions of dollars, and the lion’s share comes from the upper class. The rich. The well-connected. The most fortunate. The movie stars and the CEOs. But if you want to get elected, it’s only happening via the middle class. Hence, the top priority: the average Joe. The typical Tammy. The friendly family. If you want a shot at the oval office you need the wallets of the upper and the votes of the middle.

Here’s my concern: Jesus.

Because although everybody was welcome, his words never really catered to the upper class and powerful. He was the champion of the poor. The destitute. The stranger. The orphan. The threatened.

This is the same guy who said to NOT throw parties for people who can pay you back. He’s the author of the same book that instructs us to warn those who are rich – not to wine and dine them. Yet Democrats and Republicans alike are fatally tied to the purse strings of the power brokers.

When the King of the universe came to earth and revealed the lens through which he watches (and judges) human history, he spoke like this:

“When the Son of Man comes … all the nations will be gathered before him … They will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-32, 44-46

What a sobering thought. God’s ways really aren’t our ways. His thoughts really aren’t our thoughts. Which is why our minds must be weaned off the rhetoric of network news and the American dream to be retrained in the opinions of heaven. Which is why I’m quite sure that disciples of Jesus should not use What’s in it for me? as a primary political question.

While I do not pretend to believe that Matthew 25 is the only test of our political priorities, it certainly needs to make it to the top of our list. Because if Jesus grades our politics like he grades the rest of our lives, the least of these is a big part of the final exam.

I hope you can see the problem. These people don’t have power. No cultural swag. They have no leverage. Sitcoms don’t push their agendas.

And yet Jesus is going to judge the nations on the least of these. Trafficked children. Widows. Displaced immigrants. The people endangered by hunger, thirst, and disease. Youth vulnerable to violence. Prisoners. The unborn.

Politicians prompt us to address our political points through the lens of self interest. Which candidate offers the most to me and mine? And whichever contestant can make the most convincing promises to the most people usually wins. But let’s be honest. The upper class loves less tax. The middle class loves tax credits. Students love cheap loans. Some love abortion as birth control. Gays love the thought of marriage.

Americans love what’s in it for me.

But Jesus loves people.

And disciples follow Jesus.

If you are a conservative Christian, please tell me you’re pro-life after the baby is born. Please tell me you’re serious about trying to keep young people in school, off the streets, out of jail, and off of death row. Pro-life better mean from the womb to the tomb. Please tell me you are chewing on the sobering connection between poverty and abortion. If you really want to save babies you simply cannot ignore the role of hopelessness and poverty among our youth. You have to do something with the fact that abortions rose under Reagan and Bush I and then declined under Clinton. Try to understand why your liberal brothers aren’t convinced that a Republican president will dramatically affect abortion rates. (To be fair, abortions declined even more under George W. Bush.)

If you are a liberal Christian, please tell me you actually want to help the needy in ways that actually help. For all of the talk of “helping” the poor have you really looked deeply into the policies and programs we claim to assist the needy in our country? Have you really done the work to distinguish between empowering charity and toxic charity? I’m stunned with how seldom we examine the outcomes of our so-called compassion programs. If we’re going to pass the Matthew 25 test we need to do more than throw people hand-outs; we have to lift people up. As far as the sanctity of life, I’ve been profoundly disappointed in the awkward silence of liberal Christians for the cause of the unborn. That’s not the only issue. I hear you. And slavery was not the only issue of the 1800s. But I’m always ashamed of the 19th-century Christians who seldom used their voices for the most needy when it was most needed.

The least of these.

This has profound implications for me as I consider the gravity of electing a man to political office. A president does not merely occupy a seat in a white building; he becomes a spokesperson who in some way represents the moral conscience of a nation. He is given a unique voice. He possesses influence. He has a sway that turns the soul of a nation in one direction or another. I have to ask myself how Mitt Romney might use his platform to speak into the soul of a nation in the next four years. I have to ask myself how Barack Obama has stewarded his voice over the last four.

The wise king of the book of Proverbs clearly grasped such a reality as he penned these words:

“Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 31:8-9, 14:34)

This means we might need to become much more serious about expanding our views and challenging our culture about who God calls the least of these. If ever we needed Christians to become less predictable and more prophetic, it’s now.

See more thoughts in part 2.

For more info on helping that hurts click here or toxic charity click here.

For more info on abortion rates click here.

All flesh is like grass

Here’s a quick thought to prep our hearts for this weekend.

It’s awfully easy to be an expert in the trivial and stay shallow in the significant.

That’s why there are men who know every team and every player and every statistic of their favorite sport but can’t ever seem to remember their wedding anniversary.  This is why we know people devoted to People magazine and gossip columns yet never have time for the classics. This is why we can quote the lines to silly songs and bad movies yet freeze up with the holy scriptures.

We have been discipled to go deep in the temporary and superficial in the eternal. So what’s a disciple to do? Here’s a hint:

All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” 1 Peter 1:24-25

The word of the Lord.

Chew on that contrast.

It’s uncanny how the words of God are like an antidote for the curse of superficiality. They are loaded with eternity like nothing else in the universe. To the extent that you are invested in the word of God you are invested in eternity. Every ounce of energy digging in to the word of God is an investment in the eternal. Are you stuck in the mud of futility? Are you spinning your wheels and wasting your life? You’re never more than one holy time in God’s word away from breaking through and re-igniting the flames of eternity again. And if you’d go daily in your commitment to the word, watch out.

Read! Seek. Study. Chew. Memorize. Dig.

You won’t be sorry.

 

Coming up next week: How in the world is a Christian to vote?

Dear Church Family – from Missionary Sam and me

photo credit trekearth.com

When I saw the number I was stunned.

125,000. That was the number of dollars in support our faith family was handing over to our beloved Missionary Sam on Sunday night for the cause of justice and rescue. At the conclusion of all the weekend services the number had topped 100K. I wish you could have seen Sam’s face when he heard the news. It was better than a Super Bowl. Our little discipleship tribe is not huge and we are certainly not rich, but something huge is going on in the hearts of our people and it thrills my soul.

Just to put some perspective on what such a number means:

  • $160 rescues a child out of slavery.
  • $1040 takes a child from rescue, rehabilitation, and ultimately adoption into a Christian family.
  • $20,000 provides a new children’s home to increase the number of children able to be rescued.

$125,000. Incredible. That does not even include whatever funds may still be trickling in via the internet and online giving.  (By the way, if you happen to be reading this and you’d like to donate, click here and designate “India”. We do not hold back one penny for overhead and every dollar given makes its way to the precious work taking place in India.)

Check out some words from missionary Sam:

After the amazing Sunday 10/15/2012, I’m still trying to think as to how do I react to such an amazing display of God’s blessings through the generosity of God’s people. One incident in my life 11 years ago confirmed the calling and stamped the desire in my heart to do what our Father in Heaven wills.

As I saw a small girl being dragged out with her damaged lip, my heart literally stopped, my state of mind was of anger, pain, confused as to how I will react, 11 years later along with people like you, we have been reaching touching and changing lives in the name of Jesus.

Let me share with you a small story…..

Happily a little girl skips her way home from kindergarten one warm afternoon in early April. It’s a bit muggy out as summer is getting a head start this year. As she makes her way home she tromps down a familiar path: two blocks, left turn, past the yard with the mean dog (thankfully it’s still tied up), past the small corner grocery store, a right turn..

The van door opens quickly. On one fluid, practiced move, the little girl is grabbed, gagged with an oily rag and tossed inside. The driver, accustomed to this routine, drives away slowly. After a few turns he makes his way out to the highway and is swallowed in the gradually building miasma of afternoon traffic.

Hours? Days? She can’t tell. Must be only hours. They let her have a thin mat, but no blanket. A small amount of food has been provided, but she’s been told that more must be earned.

She resists for a day or two, but an empty stomach is hard to ignore. Eventually, she gives in; they all do.

Her first customer leaves her shaken and bleeding, but food is provided afterward.

The next “visit” is no less painful, but as the days begin to slide by, each one becomes a little easier.

She’s a survivor. She’s learned how to mentally and emotionally check-out; how to position herself so that it doesn’t hurt as much.

“This must be karma,” she supposes. Or fate. Or both. There is no hope! (Life For the Innocent)

Now, imagine that little girl is your daughter, your sister, your neighbor or someone on your street.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?  Proverbs 24:11-12 

We do what we do because we don’t want even one child to be abused or trafficked.  Can we rescue every one of them? God willing YES!  How do we stop this deadly disease of human trafficking? The answer is the Gospel. Only the infectious grace of Jesus Christ can truly change the human heart and reorder its desires.  It is our only solution, In the words of German Chancellor Adanaeur “Outside of Jesus, I see no other hope for the world”.

Anonymous resurrection email

(The following is an email I just received from someone being recently resurrected by Jesus. Great advice to fresh “resurrectionaries”: develop a love affair with the Bible.)

First of all, I am neither a pastor nor a professional writer. I am just like you, and am coming back from the dead. But I want to give you some advice to help you on your faith journey.

Grasp God’s love for you and hang on to it like it is the lifeline that it is.

Romans 8:38, 39 sums it up. Paul writes “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height not depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” A love that cannot be separated from us? Can you even grasp that? Throughout the Bible, it is said that God’s love is steadfast. That means dutifully firm and unwavering. Grasp it.

You see, I have abandonment issues. I have love issues. Hey, I just have issues. But this Word, this “nothing can separate us” is my lifeline. But you know what gets me in trouble? It isn’t just the “S” word (sin). It’s the “L” word. Anytime I look to anyone or anything else to try to get love, I fail.  My heart begins to die. It’s like the story of Peter walking on water in Matthew 14:  when I take my eyes off of Jesus, I sink.

It’s not the rules that Jesus died for, it’s love. Love fulfills the law. It supersedes the rules. So when I stay focused on that love, on how He cares about me, my heart is alive. I don’t always feel loved, but I am assured that I always am loved, and that is good enough for me. Man, woman, child, the world – do not love like this.

For me, the only way I can stay tuned into God’s love is to read the Bible.  But for some, they find their lifeline through prayer, in worship, or even by staring at the stars,  with people or  alone.  Whatever it takes, do it. Stay connected to the love.

It is, after all, what brought Jesus to us, and what has brought us to Him. Grasp it, and hold on. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Discipleship Vocab: Propitiation

If you want to understand a culture, you’ll probably have to know the language.

I discovered this very quickly while pursuing my Puerto Rican wife. For months I would walk into rooms where I would hear clusters of incomprehensible syllables – often including my name – and then bursts of laughter. They’re talking about me. As you might imagine, learning Spanish was an exercise in rational self-interest. And it paid off.

It was a happy day when I started to understand what they meant.

I have a lot of new friends who have just begun their faith journey with Jesus, and I’ve asked our tribe to read through 1 John this week. Today we hit chapter 2 and there is one verse in particular I want us thinking about. The Bible uses a word here to describe what Jesus has done, and I know it sounds like a foreign language, but it’s too important to miss. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2

Propitiation. It’s a great word.

Because the word is so difficult to understand some translations of the Bible use another phrase to clarify (e.g. atoning sacrifice). But it’s too wonderful to skip, because if you want to understand the culture of heaven, you’ll want to add this to your vocabulary.

What does it mean? A dictionary will tell you that to propitiate means “to appease” or “to pacify” the wrath of an offended party. This gets us going in the right direction, because the Bible makes it clear that our sin awakens wrath and judgment against us. But propitiation goes deeper than that. The amazing news is that the cross of Jesus has not just taken care of most of the wrath and judgment that is against us; it has exhausted it.

It is finished.

Jesus paid it all.

Once and for all.

This isn’t like doing chores. You spend hours cleaning the kitchen, picking up, or doing the laundry, only to come back later to another mess to clean. It never ends. You feel like you never catch up.

So many Christians see their moral messes in the same way. Jesus cleaned up all my garbage and let me off the hook for wrecking the house. As long as I keep my life perfectly clean, I’ll be in good shape. But if Father comes home and sees the house trashed again, I’m back on the hook and the wrath of God is coming. This is why you need to speak the language of Jesus. The wrath for all your sin – past, present, and future – is exhausted. This is why you have to learn the amazing message of 1 John. “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 2:1

Because sometimes when I’m suffering I’m tempted to ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” But propitiation means I’m not getting what I deserve; Jesus got what I deserve. It’s not like Jesus made a 90% down payment and now I spend my life paying off the balance. Propitiation means it is nothing but religious pride to try to pay the penalty that His blood has already paid for us. We are free.

And it was a happy day when I started to understand what that meant.

Now I’m living my life trying to speak the language and experience the culture of this new reality.

Chew on that.

The presidential debate and the open mind

There’s nothing like a presidential debate to bring out the crazy in people.

But it wasn’t the predictable political bias from all the networks that stood out to me after Wednesday’s debate.  It was a lesson I keep having to relearn about us homo sapiens: many people have no intention of changing their mind.

I forget.

People watch debates and read the news and engage in conversations – not looking for insight, not to better understand, not to think more deeply – but with their minds already made up, hunting to confirm their positions, looking to compile extra fuel for Facebook posts they’ve already written. The talking heads weren’t watching our presidential candidates with an open mind to better form their opinions; they were collecting evidence to justify their pre-conceived ideas. They extract sound bites to fire up the support base (and sell Toyotas during the commercial break).

It’s a dangerous flaw: many people will not change their mind.  No matter how good the idea or compelling the argument. We love to be heard, not to listen, and it’s unfortunate. It’s the tragedy of the closed mind.

But marriage never works like that.

Friendship never works like that.

Leadership never works like that.

Why won’t we change our minds? Because it feels beneath us. Because humility is a virtual miracle, and it takes humility to change one’s mind.

We have to get this. Disciples are humble. Disciples listen. Disciples are learners. Disciples keep an open mind for truth. It’s not that we never reach conclusions; we do. It’s just that disciples are people of the open mind – always ready to acknowledge truth and beauty wherever they happen to find it.

All beauty and truth is ultimately found in Jesus.

The Bible has an explosive word for this changing-of-the-mind-and-heart reality: repentance. 

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)

People don’t reject Jesus because they are so open-minded; it’s usually because they are closed-minded.

I know this word gets some seriously bad marketing but it’s much better news than we imagine. I realize our cultures and our politicians and our religions have raised us in the lifestyle of anti-repentance, but I assure you, there is no greater way than the way of repentance. Real disciples are different. Real disciples are repenters.

Let’s do this.

This man eats with sinners

“This man eats with sinners.”

That was the accusation against Jesus.

Because meals have a way of communicating. There’s something about a dinner that puts a person in their place.

How fascinating that one of the tools the Pharisees used to put people in their place was to refuse table fellowship. Sharing a meal meant an open hand and a heart of acceptance. To refuse a meal meant censure and a heart of rejection. The Pharisees knew what they were doing.

And so did Jesus. He ate with outcasts. He sat with sinners. No strings attached.

No wonder they saw the light.

What if we recaptured the lost art of a good meal and great conversation? Cell phones on silent and hearts open wide. I bet you know someone that could use a real meal this week. The Bible calls it hospitality.

You are welcome.

For previous thoughts on hospitality click here