‘Twas the night before Elections

‘Twas the night before elections…

And I can’t shake the words of Abraham Lincoln. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Should we have such a concern?

There is a parallel thought in the book of Joshua. Commander Joshua is on the verge of his signature victory over the city of Jericho. The walls are about to come down and word is about to spread, but not before he has a life-altering encounter with a mysterious being standing with a sword drawn. Joshua’s mama didn’t raise a fool so he asks the rational question:

“Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” (5:13)

Good question. Whose side are you on? Is God a Democrat or a Republican?

The response is priceless: “No.”

No? What kind of an answer is No? What do you do with No? When it’s the angel of the Lord, you listen to rest of the message: “But I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” (5:14) Translation? I have not come to take sides; I have come to take over.

I am praying today for God’s will to be done on the earth as it is in heaven. I pray for God’s people called by God’s name to humble themselves and pray, and turn from our wicked ways. I pray for God to heal our land. I pray for the politicians that will give us the best shot of being on God’s side. I pray for our future president to have a Joshua-type encounter with God. I am fully aware that my country may be a drop in the bucket in the global plans of God; I am aware that our sins are many; I am aware that God will not gloss over injustice and innocent bloodshed; so I pray for mercy. I plead the blood of Jesus over my sins and the sins of my nation. I pray for my country to be a place where God might say, “Now I have come.”

By all means, vote. But enough natural.

You have not because you ask not. Get off the computer, put down your smart phone, and pray.

Come, Jesus. Take over.

How is a Christian to vote? -part 2

Tell us who to vote for.

Wouldn’t that be easy. But I’m not trying to use discipleship to do an election; I’m trying to use an election to do discipleship. It’s not that this election doesn’t matter. It does. But not as much as making disciples. I write for our little tribe of Jesus-followers to reconsider our approach through the eyes of Jesus.

Disciples think with Jesus.

I’m surprised at how many people want to be told what to think and how to vote. Following Jesus means you have to love him with all your mind, which means you’ll have to learn to think. I’m sharing my thoughts – not because you need to think like me – but because I want you hungry enough to get on a journey to think with Jesus, and question assumptions like our spiritual ancestors always have.

This means Jesus-followers need to do something more than vote; we need to embrace our prophetic call to shine light in a dark culture. Through our words and deeds we are the living spotlights that remind our culture about the priorities of heaven. Consider the early Christians. They stood out from the rest of their culture in some very radical ways that made them impossible to ignore.

  • Uncommon compassion and generosity with the poor.
  • Total opposition to blood sport. They refused to be entertained by the gruesome sport of the masses.
  • Unprecedented empowerment of women.
  • Opposition to sex outside of marriage.
  • Opposition to same-sex relations.
  • Unsupportive of Roman military conquest.
  • Unusual diversity and mixing of the ethnic groups and social classes.
  • Complete opposition to abortion and infanticide.
  • Jesus exclusivity. They claimed that Jesus was the only way to God.

I almost chuckle when I read the list. Half of the list sounds liberal, and the other half conservative. Because God’s agenda is neither left nor right; it’s neither progressive nor traditional; it’s another option altogether. This is why it’s dangerous to live predictably under any label. As soon as someone hears the label the judgment game begins – and everybody loses.

And we forget to shine.

Why does an election matter? Because it dramatically impacts the spiritual lighting of a nation. It determines what “sermon” a nation will be listening to for years to come. A politician does more than influence policy; he is given a unique voice. He possesses influence. He has a sway that turns the moral compass of a nation in one direction or another. To use church lingo, the issue is discipleship. Presidents “preach” and governments make moral assertions through the things they call legal or illegal. The greater the alignment between human laws and divine Law, the greater the light.

I contend that a central issue for any government and every Christian must be using our light to bring justice and power together. Elections influence how a nation thinks, especially about the least of these. And God judges the nations according to how they treat the least of these. There are many issues on the table. Foreign policy, the economy, national debt, Big Bird. I understand that. But I can’t escape the reality that governments are revealed by the way they steward their influence with the least of these. (See previous post here.)

The needy. The threatened. The voiceless.

This is why I argue that we must not only identify the priorities of heaven, but call government to line up. I hear people say that we cannot legislate morality. Imagine having that conversation with William Wilberforce, the man who devoted his life to end the slave trade in England. Of course we legislate morality. This is why justice and power must be brought together. Every law we pass is a moral statement into the hearts of a nation. Surely there were many issues during the political career of William Wilberforce, but this issue carried the most weight.

Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.” -Blaise Pascal

It’s one thing when an individual does not posses the same advantages that someone else has. The cards are stacked against her. The playing field is not level. This is not fair. It is dark. But it’s another thing altogether when the law is constructed in such a way that someone has no options. It’s beyond being dealt a bad hand; they’ve been given no hand. There is no access onto the playing field.

If we visited Germany in the early 1940s I’m sure there were many challenges and numerous needy people. But I hope we could agree that of all the people that may have been called less, the Jews were the least. If we visited the US in the 1850s we would discover a number of challenges. But I hope we could agree that of all the issues affecting the spiritual lighting of the nation, slavery was a darkness that simply had to be addressed. Slaves weren’t just less; they had no options. No cards. No access. Least.

So now I share my top political concern: justice for the unwanted unborn. Legally, they don’t just have bad cards; they have no cards. And I can’t figure out why the sense of urgency is so low among the people of God. People say you shouldn’t be a one-issue guy. I can just imagine how that conversation would have gone down with Wilberforce. Come on, Will. There’s a lot of other fish to fry. But slaves were the least. The Jews were the least. And right now, right under our noses, the unborn are the least. It’s a justice issue.

I sometimes wish I was wrong about this. But Scripture makes me tremble:

“Deliver those who are drawn to death, hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, Surely we did not know this, does not he who weighs the hearts consider it? And will He not render to each man according to His deeds?” (Proverbs 24:11-12) 

Let me sum it up:

1. Think with Jesus. Question assumptions.

2. Shine light. Stand out from your culture in such radical ways that you are impossible to ignore. Live it and speak it. We need your voice. Have the guts to stand for the least, not just the issues that have cool points attached. Make holy noise wherever you are. If you are in a movie and racism is depicted as right, I’m not asking you to shout. But you do have a voice. You could clearly stand up, make a scene, and walk out. If you are a conservative and you hear Republican priorities that cripple the poor, be their voice both politically and personally. If you are a liberal, and you attend a rally where the injustice of abortion is presented as a civil right, use your voice. Or walk out. But stop this awkward silence.

2. Vote for the person you believe will steward their voice to bring justice and power together.

3. Offer our culture a distinct approach at the qualitative level. When everybody else displays anger, wrath, and malice, choose peace, patience, and kindness.

4. Don’t forget where you came from. We were the least. We were weak. We were without strength because of our own sin. We were going to be drawn to death. Until Jesus. In Him something greater than justice and power came together; justice and mercy converged on a cross so that strangers stumbling to the slaughter could be rescued and welcomed into the ultimate country, ruled by the ultimate commander in chief. Because of love.

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.

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.

Can I pledge my allegiance to politics?

I wish we’d ask good questions.

Here’s one: Can you really be loyal to Jesus and also be loyal to a political party?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sold on being salt of the earth. Light in the darkness. Voice for the voiceless. I love to see Christians getting involved in every sector of society.  Some of the best evidence that you belong to the kingdom of heaven is when you make an actual impact on the kingdoms of earth. Penetration, blessing, and transformation are marks of the people of God, which is why I’d love for dozens of my friends to run for office and demonstrate the revolutionary way of Jesus in that arena. So I’m not asking if we should get involved; I’m asking if you can really follow Jesus and simultaneously follow one of these political parties.

Continue reading “Can I pledge my allegiance to politics?”

Chick-fil-A – part 2

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but we have (at least) seven children.

Recently, my three-year-old daughter wanted a piece of the action with one of the big-kid games called Connect Four.  It was the end of a long day and I really didn’t feel like teaching her to play the game, so I tried to let her win as quickly as possible.  When she refused to cooperate I took matters into my own hands, and strategically connected four of my own chips.  Game over.   “Oh no, Daddy.  The game’s not over till we fill up the whole thing.”

Reluctantly, I submitted, as we dropped a chip in every single square.  What felt like an hour later, her face lit up as she looked into my eyes and said, “Now that was a good game, Daddy!”

How exactly was that a good game?

“Because I was with you.”

My heart melted.  The purpose of the game was to be with daddy.  Yeah, that really was a good game.

The way you know if something is good is if it fulfills its intended purpose.

That’s why I don’t get angry with my tennis shoes when they don’t drive nails into the wall.  That’s why gay internet phenom Antoine Dodson still eats Chick-fil-A. (Youtube it.)  And that’s why my little girl was thrilled to play the longest game of Connect Four in human history.

So how do you know if a human is good?

You have to know the purpose.

Continue reading “Chick-fil-A – part 2”

The morning after Chick-fil-A day

It’s the morning after the Chick-fil-A drama and I’m still chewing.

I remember the day I was sitting next to an incredibly nice gay guy, enjoying a really good conversation when he dropped the ultimate conversation-killer.

“What do you do for a living?”

I hate that question.  I hate that question because people can’t help but size you up when they hear the answer.  I hate that question because we’re already prone to think of ourselves as human doings instead of human beings.  I hate that question because of what it does to people when they find out what I do.

I’ve often tried to find ways around the question. I’ve told people I work with non-profit organizations (this is true). I’ve told people that I write (this is true). I’ve even told people that I am a spiritual guru that assists people in opening their third eye (I really like this one).  For whatever reason, on that day, I just cut to the chase.  “I work as a pastor of a church.”

Everything changed.  His next words went something like this:

Listen, I’m gay and I’m content with who I am. I’m sure you are going to say that I was not born this way, and I won’t argue the point. For a significant part of my childhood I was violated by a neighbor and then an uncle.  Did that play a role in my sexual orientation? Possibly. I also know many people that had a trouble-free childhood and they turned out very happily gay.  Regardless of how it occurred, this is who I am now and I make no apologies for the man I have become.  If God has a problem with a man who tries to be true to himself, then I have a problem with a God that allows these kinds of things to happen to kids like me in the first place.

I kept thinking how much easier it would have been if I said I was a writer.

Continue reading “The morning after Chick-fil-A day”