Inevitible

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4)

Friend: Did you watch the (Republican) debates?

Me: No

Friend: They were awesome!

Me: They are playing to the base, so I imagine it was a lot of fun for you.

Friend: Jesus loves us all. As a person who loves Jesus, I enjoyed the lack of dissing on their Democratic opponents.

Me: But they went after each other pretty hard.

Friend: I only watched the end

Me: I read the transcripts and didn’t think they were all that respectful of one another. Frankly, I think it is better to read their economic proposals, which tell a lot more about the candidates than the debates.

Friend: The thing that is most important to me is… do they know Jesus and listen to His voice.

InevitibleI appreciate my friend’s hope for a candidate who will have a strong moral compass — one founded on his/her life in Jesus. But I don’t expect our presidential candidates to be Christian — not in the hopeful way that my friend does. I am skeptical about the candidates. Though most of them (and most of our recent presidents) have claimed Christianity, very few have acted consistent with Jesus when in office. So when the time comes I will vote for the person who I think will most effectively lead, keep us safe and restore our economy.

I am old enough to have been through many election cycles. There was a time when I held to fairly naive views of what an election promised. I was hopeful. I was thrilled when my candidates won, but then I was disappointed when their leadership betrayed the things they said were important to them (and me). And when those who I did not vote for won, I was disappointed (but not surprised) when they did exactly what I did not want them to do. So I have become increasingly cynical and I don’t really like to be that way.

Power and wealth are irresistible magnets to men and women who aspire to wield them. Those who are in the highest levels of government in America are powerful, indeed. Even the people who orbit about them get very rich and powerful. In an essentially moral environment, conscience could provide a safeguard against misuses of power. But in an amoral environment like we have today — one defined by the survival of the fittest — the ends justify the means (which is a philosophy completely inimical to liberty). As Lord Acton said in his letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton (Apr. 5, 1887),

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which . . . the end learns to justify the means.”

Because there is so much money involved in politics, the stakes are high. And when power and wealth are so clearly attainable, corruption is inevitable.

I have come to believe that the rest of us are “votes for sale.” We are polled ad nauseum and our behavior at the voting poll is fairly predictable.   In a national election there are a relatively small number of precincts that can swing the vote. Highly-paid experts conspire to win them. Voter fraud adds even more corruption. Do we each really get an equal vote or can our votes be disenfranchised? Once the two parties have chosen their candidates, is the result inevitable? Am I pessimistic… realistic… or both?

So what do men and women who love Jesus do in an election year? What do we want the candidates to do? Maybe we can start by recognizing that we are not voting for a Savior. We already have one. And yes it is good to vote! It is a privilege to do so, to be informed and to vote thoughtfully. But whoever wins this election will be a flawed human being. Whether or not they carry our political banner, their sin-nature is a given — it is inevitable— as is the inevitability of a certain amount of evil in places of power and wealth.

But there is another inevitability. God is on the throne. And He can change the heart of a leader in response to the prayers of His people…

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

And Christians are instructed what to do regardless of who leads in our government…

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

I can advocate for those in power by asking my Father in Heaven to intervene. I wonder how many Christians have earnestly prayed for our current president — for salvation, wisdom, justice and good judgment? Or have we complained and grumbled about him? My own words here convict me! God’s will is not an unknown to me. Prayer for our leaders is a Christian responsibility. It can begin in earnest even during the candidate selection process. For the people of God, prayer for our leaders should be inevitable.

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Women

 

Behold, children are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)

How amazing it is to hold your own newborn child. This little miracle of life enters the world small, vulnerable and completely dependent. I was entranced each time one of our children were born. They won my heart immediately and permanently. And from that first breath onward God begins to unfold life to the fullest. Truly, boys and girls are a gift from the Lord.

WomenBut it is not a surprise to anyone that in many countries around the world girls are not valued the same as boys. Take China for instance, where until recently it was against the law to have more than one child. The preference for sons has had a disturbing impact on the country’s population. Thankfully, the one child policy was recently revoked. But for several decades the ratio of men to women has been skewed. In China today there are 120 boys born for every 100 girls. There will not be enough brides for one fifth of the boys being born today when they are ready to marry.

In many parts of the world it is normal for a pregnant woman to be blessed by others with a prayer for a boy. A boy has better earning power over his lifetime. A boy carries the family name forward. So cultural pressure on families for having boys in many of these nations is overwhelming. In both China and India ultrasound was used to determine the sex of the unborn child. If it was a girl, it was often aborted. China finally made it illegal to use technology to determine the sex of the child before birth. However, the practice continues in India and in other parts of the world.

In India, poor families will make a decision to send a son to school while the daughter remains uneducated. She will begin a life of labor as early as the age of 10 (which is why my church invests in a school there to educate poor minority girls Bright Hope English School). And in many Muslim countries women are treated as second-class citizens. Simply put, a majority of women enter this world without even a notion to dream of a different future.

The empowerment of women in the West has brought amazing vitality to our nations. Educated and capable women make contributions at every level of our society. But culture shifts are hard. It was hard in the west. A century ago in America it required a long struggle before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified (on August 18, 1920). When they first tried to pass it they had plenty of advocates in the Republican and Progressive parties. But the Democratic Party and the President were powerful adversaries. Both used their power to defeat it when it was first presented in 1915. Beth Behn[1] writes about how it was finally passed in the House with President Wilson’s support…

“The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)… was decisive in Wilson’s conversion to the cause of the federal amendment because its approach mirrored his own conservative vision of the appropriate method of reform: win a broad consensus, develop a legitimate rationale, and make the issue politically valuable.”

Cultural challenges existed in America. Reasoned arguments were offered on both sides. There were Christians who argued for and against the amendment on biblical grounds. One of the biggest contributors to a change in the heart of America was the contribution made by women during World War I. There was a broad recognition of sacrifices made by women and their role in the winning of the war. As Behn says, they won broad consensus, developed a legitimate rationale, and made the issue politically valuable. The NAWSA persisted. Justice is not always as immediate as its advocates want. But in America, a nation where equality is one of the highest ideals, justice was inevitable.

In The Crucified God Confronts Gendercide Dr. Paul Metzger says,

“The Lutheran Bonhoeffer… argued that Jesus is the man for others and the church is the community for others. Special consideration is given to those others who suffer genocide like the Jews or gendercide like so many women and girls across the globe. May we, the church, not stand aloof as we hear the cry of the victims of violence and sexual abuse (domestic abuse included). If we do, we fail to listen to Jesus’ call. Rather, may we enter their nightmare with the hope-filled advocacy grounded in faith in the all-powerful, gracious and costly love of the crucified and risen Jesus. Our Jesus is their victor.”

As long as there are women in this world who remain marginalized, we have a responsibility to actively pursue and value them. We may be hindered by culture, law and opposition, but we need to be persistent. It is the Christlike thing to do.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants. Those who have gone before us have sought and won justice. They changed the argument, won broad consensus and affected laws. Can we do any less with the freedoms and blessings bestowed upon us in Christ?

 

 

[1] Behn, Beth, “Woodrow Wilson’s conversion experience: The president and the federal woman suffrage amendment.” (PhD dissertation, U. of Massachusetts-Amherst, 2012)

 

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Future?

This is a link to 10 Predictions About the Future Church and Shifting Attendance Patterns. I thought it was worth the read.

 

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Unwanted

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24 ESV)

Amos longed to see righteousness prevail in a society that objectified and dehumanized the poor in their midst. He could not believe that those in power would continue to take advantage of those without it. Amos wanted a just world — one where God’s goodness prevailed — and it was untenable to him that God’s own people would be reluctant to bring it about. How is it that we see this repeated again and again, generation after generation, for thousands of years?

Institute students enjoying water

Institute students enjoying water

In Honiara, Solomon Islands, there are scores of unwanted street kids who grow up fending for themselves in one of the poorest nations in the world. They were abandoned. They have neither education nor resources. They do what they can to survive….

  • pick-pocketing
  • child labor (industry, logging camps, mining camps)
  • scavenging
  • prostitution
  • live-in slaves for housekeeping and babysitting.

Their situation is not unique. All over the world there are street children who are abandoned while very young and who have to survive on very mean streets. Society has no use for them and they are treated poorly. They have no defenders. They grow up to become young men and women who perpetuate the same situation on another generation.

IMG_2291 Titus Luther came to the Solomon Islands from Papua New Guinea. He had been the Foursquare National Director of Youth there. He opened a community center to serve meals to the street kids. He offered them chances to learn to read. He shared the life of Jesus in word and deed. He found among these young men and women that there were some with pastor’s hearts. So he built an Institute outside of town and began to teach them to become pastors. When they are ready they are sent to one of the 300+ occupied Solomon Islands to bring the good news of Jesus.

Titus invited me to Solomon Islands to assist him in a water distribution project (see Water). His vision was for abundant fresh water to be available to all of the students on all corners of the Institute campus (they had neither water nor electricity). I met amazing, talented young men and women who have been transformed by Jesus at the school. No matter how marginalized they had felt, no matter how valueless they had seen themselves, and no matter how hopeless their situation seemed, there was a God in Heaven who knew them. God wants the unwanted! So while society neglects “the unwanted,” by the touch of Jesus they have become “the sent.”

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

…For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

(Psalm 139:1-6, 13-16)

These men and women were never out of God’s sight. So He sent someone with an invitation. He always sends an invitation. He condescends to use us to deliver it. These marginalized men and women saw a loving God and said yes. They were never unwanted. God wanted them to become King’s kids.

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Trusted

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1Peter 3:14-16 ESV)

TrustedHow do we participate as a Christian witness in a secularized society? At this point in history America is a post-Christian nation. While there are certain legacy morality and ethical after-effects, we have seen a fundamental shift. Some would even say that Christianity is viewed with hostility by secular America (though in general I don’t believe it has gone that far). Christianity enjoyed favored status in America for many years. Our laws reflect the privilege given to the church. But our nation has become secularized and pluralistic. No longer does Christianity represent the dominant culture of America.

Sadly, the church did not offer a radical alternative to the world’s systems in America. On the contrary, it got in bed with Western culture. It is hard to separate the democratic republic America from Christianity’s expression.  Both of them embraced the same consumerism. The church no longer stood in contrast to society, but became complicit. The cynicism of a new generation is understandable.

We live in times that mirror Rome in many ways. So what do we do? How do we find a voice in the times in which we find ourselves? It is imperative that the people of Jesus engender trust in the communities in which we live and work. That should not even have to be said – the very mark of the life of Jesus compels us as such. But we are human and broken and our brokenness shows itself to the world around us when we fail to be the people of Jesus. We will have to learn what it means to be shining lights in this culture.

Our lives should look different. Something radical has taken place. God says of us that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Rom 8:37). He calls us ambassadors of reconciliation (2Cor 5:18ff). Paul tells us, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20).” The power of the Holy Spirit in me is supposed to be evidenced by the change in me. I have a compelling testimony of what Jesus as done in my life. I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). The just shall live by faith (Hab 2:4). So when we encounter the world, no matter where, we are compelled to share Jesus.

Paul Metzger, in his post Lights Out: Shining a Light on Caring for the Dying in a Multi-Faith World, advises caution when a Christian chaplain or pastor or trusted friend is given the honor of caring for someone of another faith tradition who is approaching death….

Christian ministers may share their beliefs concerning the soul and their personal hopes and beliefs, if asked. But they should be very much on guard against manipulating conversations given that they have “a captive audience.”

The post encourages the caregiver to be sensitive to the beliefs of the person approaching death. I agree. Showing respect and listening gives the caregiver credibility. The sensitive care and love shown to the dying patient opens doors of understanding. That said, I am somewhat troubled by this notion of being “on guard” since this an end-of-life issue. As a person of conviction I do not regard sharing truth as a form of manipulation. In fact, the trusted place I hold gives me the freedom and responsibility to do so. I am certainly not going to hold back the essential truth while someone’s life is slipping away. There is certainly sensitivity, but there is urgency as well. This is how we give a thirsty soul a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus.

“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

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Care

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3-4 ESV)

RabiaRabia lives in Ankara, Turkey with her husband and children. She is a Christian – a convert. She and her team of special needs children’s advocates are serving the least of the least. Her church is providing for the Iraqi and Syrian refugees in a significant way. They feed and clothe about 5,000 of the war refugees arriving from the south and east. In serving these people, Rabia noticed that there are families with children who have special needs. The challenges to those families were even more daunting in this new country. Turkey provides no public assistance to refugees.  They are safer here, but they need to fend for themselves. The church, which is very small in Turkey, has stepped in to advocate.

Ethnic cleansing in Northern Iraq and Syria by ISIS has resulted in millions of people fleeing for their lives to neighboring Turkey. They are Turkmen, Kurds, Christians and Yazidis. ISIS interprets the laws of Islam to give them divine rights over non-Muslims. The stories the refugees tell are harrowing. It is hard to believe that such brutality can be unleashed in this day and age. But it is and it has displaced a people who left everything behind in order to hold onto their lives. Many do not know the fate of family members they left behind. Among those who are arriving is a need that often goes unmet. There are children with disabilities, autism and other challenges that are swept up into the family escape plan. The following is an excerpt from the Kerdelen Ministries website…

Cursed… shameful… bad karma… unwanted

These are just some of the names children with disabilities are called. Whether you were born into a wealthy family in Istanbul or an impoverished one in Delhi, it makes little difference if you were born with special needs. Chances are that not only you will be stigmatized and rejected, but your family will be too. In Turkey, if your family has connections then they might abandon you to a state-run orphanage where you will die a slow death from neglect. If you are poor then you will most likely be doomed to living tied-up in your bed in the back room of a brick and mortar slum dwelling where lack of care, hygiene and medical attention will mean an early death in an atmosphere of depression and rejection.

Rabia and her team, Kardelen Ministries, visit 40 flats in the refugee area. Each of these two bedroom flats house about 4 families. There are a total of 300 people who are directly impacted by what she does. Her office provides a respite for the families several times per week. The families come and are fed. The special needs child plays in the physical therapy room. The other children have a play area, as well. And the moms are taken aside and pampered. War torn and desperate, they have forgotten to take care of themselves. So for several hours they get their hair cut and get to just enjoy being women together. She has put a face on Christianity that has not been seen before by many of these people. She is extending the advcoacy of Jesus with her own hands.

That is advocacy as Jesus intended it.

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Ought

“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35 ESV)

OughtWhat “ought” to be? I am struck recently by the array of “oughts” that prescribe for me an ethic based upon someone’s presumed knowledge of right and wrong. I feel pummeled by various flavors of environmental, racial, economic, and political ethics…. Of course, no such ought has any validity unless it is voiced from authority – moreover, it has to be an agreed-upon authority – or it is nothing more than relativism. Unless, that is, the authority has real authority in and of Himself. In that case, it is authoritative whether I choose to accept it or not. But here I am left to determine the validity of the oughts – what is authoritative?

How is the case for authority made? Appeals can be made to prevailing thought, scholarship, experience, power, wealth, religion or any number of validators. But even these are claims – they need to be examined.   Take global climate change, for instance. The science is far from settled, but among the political elite there is agreement that something needs to be done. Based on what authority? It is power. An elite minority can simply allocate resources based on their presumptions, and so they do. They may indeed be right, but there are other authoritative voices that have not been invited to the table because they do not agree with the conclusion. And so the ought is as controversial as it is condescending.

Hume discusses problem in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739):

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.[1]

I think it is reasonable to question the basis of the oughts. As ethics becomes more and more secularized, it is likely that appeals to authority may become more random based upon the pleasure of those who yield power or majority status. Consider eugenics. In his post Should Ethics Be “Biologicized”? What Might that Mean for Eugenics?, Dr. Paul Metzger looks at Edward O. Wilson position supporting eugenics,

While [Wilson] conceded that given our limited understanding of human genetics we should at present aim to preserve the entire gene pool, he maintained that in the future, when we have “almost unimaginably greater knowledge of human heredity,” we may be able to institute a “democratically contrived eugenics.”

Though he rejects it for the entire gene pool today, he sees a day when humanity has evolved its knowledge enough to begin the program. Metzger goes on to say,

Wilson’s discussion of eugenics in On Human Nature evinces not the prejudice and racism of which he had been accused, but rather a naïveté about the prospect that science will be guided by the essential goodness and rationality of mankind. Not only does Wilson display too much confidence in science’s ability to control human genetics safely, he also believes that adherence to the democratic process will eliminate the potential for abuse.

Based on this idea that we could make “democratically contrived eugenics” because we “finally” have the requisite knowledge of human heredity, I am concerned that the oughts are moving from a place of ultimate authority (God) to the realm of human persuasion. From time immemorial, there are always competing groups who claim authority and want the rest of mankind to accept their claim. In our current culture there are a number of issues that make news frequently in a war of oughts…. global warming, gun ownership, racism, asylum for refugees, euthanasia, secularism… In each case people with different truth claims vie for power and influence to institute their ought. The fact is that democracy can tend towards utilitarianism (which entails the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest number of people). Examined closely it can often boil down to whose rights ultimately trump the rights of another who is voiceless.

What if there is an objective authority? What if there is one who speaks from outside Creation and defines clearly what is right and wrong? It is wishful thinking on my part that we would engage our ethical questions from the perspective of His revelation. It would be enough in our pluralistic world if truth claims were examined carefully. Or that we would let love enter the equation. However, the evidence of history is that power trumps justice when it suits it’s ends. And so the opportunity for the people of God is that we bring justice to the place where society would justify its denial – and bring a touch of the Kingdom of God — a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus.

 

 

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5808a1.htm?s_cid=ss5808a1_e

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