Category Archives: Religion and Politics

Thoughts Toward Sunday

The lectionary readings this week will be Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1 Timothy 2:1-7 and Luke 16:1-13. I haven’t normally focused on the weekly texts, but this group was arresting.

 The texts for this Sunday’s reading are strongly fitting as a warning against the class envy and class warfare being promoted in current political action. Our president regularly castigates “the rich”and“fat cat CEO’s” and “greedy bankers.” Yet he himself lives like a very greedy showoff with parties and vacations back to back while scorning traditional American values such as hard work, personal integrity, and the ability to prosper in an environment that promotes free enterprise. Our president behaves as if his office is a mandate to destroy American prosperity that grows out of opportunity for all in the name of “spreading the wealth around.” His method for achieving this objective is to abrade the citizens with the notion that people who are poor today would be rich if only the rich had not stolen all the wealth. Any person who understands economics knows what a big lie this is. This week’s lectionary readings completely disassemble such a notion.

 To our president, Amos would say, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy.” Likewise to our congress. The policies and legislation passed by our national leaders have increased the number of “the needy” to record levels. (“Needy” means people living on incomes less than the current legal definition of the poverty level.) Our leaders continue to trample on the needy by pushing more and more people into dependence on government, while simultaneously stealing more and more of the nation’s wealth by oppressive taxation and by policies that make it impossible for free enterprise, the source of employment for everyone, to thrive. Further, our leaders refuse to do the work of government to protect the nation from invasion, choosing rather to encourage an invasion of illegal aliens by the means of a refusal to enforce immigration laws.

 Luke would say that these people are like the faithless manager. This man was accused of abusing the trust of his employer, and as soon as he was called to account, he proceeded to abuse that trust even more. When he ordered all the customers to reduce the amount owed on their bills, he quite literally stole the reduced amount from his employer. He did it to buy friends. Our leaders do the same thing by injecting the DREAM act into a bill to fund our national defense.

 What a perfectly ridiculous joke! To couple funding for defense with legislation that will legitimize the most destructive invasion we have ever experienced is an outrageously obvious attempt to buy friends from among the enemies of our nation’s already battered economy. The government leaders, like the steward who wanted to create a safe haven for himself, are buying votes, just as the “steward” bought friends, from the very people who are poisoning our economy, siphoning off the wealth of our nation to other countries and reducing the number legitimate job opportunities for legitimate citizens. Not to mention the overwhelming difficulty for law enforcement created by burgeoning drug merchandising and human trafficking coupled with the crushing load on American social services expected to serve people who ought to be demanding that their own country do a better job of serving them.

 Paul says that we should pray for people in high positions. He does not say that we should pray for them to continue to oppress us. Rather, we should pray that they will do their work of protecting us from foreign invasion and the work of keeping order domestically that we may be able to live in peace and prosperity.

 Psalm 113 puts it all in perspective. People dare not hope in the government we endure in time and space. This world’s institutions are temporary and broken. We don’t hope in government; we hope in God. We live our lives in relationship with God no matter if we are rich or poor in the time/space sense. We look at our lives in relationship with God, and we are rich. Our gratefulness for the fruits of that relationship enables us and motivates us to be kind and generous to the poor. We trust God to accomplish his sovereign purpose, and therefore, we live lives made righteous by God’s grace, loving and serving our neighbors as citizens of his kingdom.

 In the context of God’s kingdom, self-centered, arrogant, wicked government leaders will ultimately be judged for their failure to serve God and the people. As the proverb says, the wheels of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine.

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Where is the real power center?

This weekend I read an interesting statement. “One of the hardest lessons for a follower of Christ is that visible power is not always the highest level of power.” (Thibault, Jane Marie, 10 Gospel Promises for Later Life, copyright 2004, Upper Room Books, Nashville, p. 52)  The author was actually talking about the apparent powerlessness in people’s lives as they age, but when I read the statement, I realized that it applies to everyone. The feeling that we have lost control of our lives is a crazy-making experience at any age.

 I feel that way often these days. It is not my health, or even my finances. It is actually my country. I see this country do things and go places and harm people in ways that are completely incomprehensible to me. I feel simultaneous amazement, despair and total incredulity. Is this really happening? Why can’t I do anything about it?

I don’t think I could feel more despair if a soldier had suddenly arrived at my door and escorted me in handcuffs to a re-education camp. I used to read stories of the Israelites going into exile because their conquerors wanted to erase their memories of the way it was when Israel was an independent kingdom, and I had no idea what they were feeling. In those days, I imagined that relocation was like taking a permanent vacation to another country, and as a child, I thought that might be fun. Today I feel that without being moved out of my country, I am constantly subjected to a barrage of re-education by the press with the objective of making me forget what it is like to live in a country governed according to the Constitution of the United States. Somebody, obviously a lot of somebodies, intend for me to learn to live a different sort of life. I experience the visible sources of power as both oppressive and confusing.

 You may not agree with my political despair, but you probably experience your own sort of despair. We both know that sick feeling as we examine our options and discover that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can do to push back against the power being brought to bear on our lives, power that is taking us where we do not want to go, regardless of our wishes or even our deep convictions. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, you know how I feel. If you just discovered that the person to whom you committed your life “till death do us part” has no such reciprocal commitment, you know how I feel. If you have been laid off from a job that was both personally fulfilling and well compensated, giving you means to care for your family and enjoy a few things above the survival level, and now when you search for work, that kind of work is no longer available, you know how I feel.

 We all have to go through times, sometimes very long periods of time, when we are in the grip of power we cannot resist or defeat. The days look hopeless. The nights seem endless. There seems not to be any light at the end of the tunnel where we live our dark days. Maybe there is no end to this tunnel of doom.

 What do we do about this situation? Despair and dismay destroy our ability to appreciate anything beautiful. They crush our hope that we can accomplish even small things. What do we do?

 If we truly believe that we are completely at the mercy of only the powers we can see in the world of time and space, then we are truly doomed. In fact, if we believe that the reality we observe in time and space is the only reality, then we are doomed. This reality has a propensity to cave in to evil intentions and monstrous egotistical power. Furthermore, nothing in the world of time and space lasts forever – not the happiest life, not the best of people, not the most beautiful bridge or the finest painting. Nothing at all lasts forever. Everything ends and everything dies. Our best survival strategies still end in death. What can we do?

 Our only hope is that this world we can see, hear, smell, taste and feel is not all there is. Our only hope is God.

 This message is the whole point of the Bible. The Bible tells us from the first word to the last that this reality is not all there is. God himself created this reality for our joy and blessing, but when we allowed ourselves to be deceived by Satan, then we allowed ourselves to believe that this world is all there is, and that is when we lost hope. The Bible tells us that we can have hope, because the evil, destructive power we can see at work around us is not the strongest power and is certainly not destined to hold sway forever. There is hope.

 In the days of the Roman Empire, a lot of people had reason to feel hopeless. The might of Rome was greater than anyone in Galilee or Judea had ever seen before. Rome’s power had conquered nations across the entirety of the world Mediterranean peoples had known. Roman power suppressed all power but its own, and eventually the emperors of Rome demanded not only submission, but actual worship. The book of Revelation was written to Christians who were in danger of losing hope in God while living under the boot of the Roman Empire. They were being tempted and/or threatened to worship the emperor of Rome, and the impetus behind that demand was to shore up Rome’s political power. The emperor wanted all his subjects to look to him for what they needed, and he wanted to be the one who decided what they needed. Christians had to ask themselves whether they wanted to be subject to the power of Rome, the power they could see at work in the time/space reality, or if they were actually subject to the power of God, the eternal, infinite Creator who had given his Son’s life for theirs. They had to decide if this world we can experience with our physical senses was all there was, or if there were something more, a higher order of power, a different and more compelling Savior than the emperor of Rome. The author of Revelation instructed them to hope in God, not the Empire, and he recorded the promise of Christ to those who hang on to that hope.

  •  To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
  • Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)
  • To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
  • To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. ( Revelation 2:28)
  • If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life. (Revelation 3:5)
  • If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. (Revelation 3:12)
  • To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)

 According to the author of Revelation, we conquer when we put our hope in God alone. We conquer by testifying to our faith in Christ, by living according to his call and his claim on our lives. According to Revelation, Christ says, “hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (Revelation 3:11) If we have faith in Christ and live our testimony, putting him ahead of everything else, we do not succumb to despair because the Roman emperor thinks he is God or because a twenty-first century socialist government enslaves and impoverishes its citizens. If we put our hope in Christ, we will not despair at terminal diagnoses or give up on life when betrayed or be defeated by the job market.

When I face my hopeless situation, I remember that this world is not all there is. I remember that God sits on his throne, and that he has power and sovereignty over everything that happens. I trust him to be with me as he promised, no matter what happens in this earthly reality. That is the only antidote that gives me peace and happiness in my time of despair. I believe it is the antidote we all need when we feel powerless. It is not for me alone; it is for you as well. Hope in God. He is on his throne. You can count on the One who gave Himself for you. You can count on the One who is the real power in the real reality beyond the limit of time and space.

Pray for the Government?

I pray for government every week. I started doing this a little over a year ago after visiting the National Day of Prayer website. I borrowed their concept of praying for some aspect of our national life every day, but I modified the list a bit. I pray for government every Monday. My high-level prayer is that everyone in government will act with integrity and serve the people according to local, county, state and national law. Beyond that, I pray about specific issues in these various realms. It all sounds fairly benign when stated that way. I might just say “Bless everyone in government and keep our country safe,” but that is not nearly enough.

Praying for government is complicated. For starters, everyone in government, whether elected, appointed, or hired through some civil service process, is a human being. They are all sinners, just like me, and they all do things that make me crazy. Just because they are human. That, unfortunately, is the start, but not the end of the problem.

At every level, there are some people who are in it for what they can get out of it. They have figured out how to scam the system or beat the system to some advantage for themselves. They lie to the public, they lie to each other. They steal by deception or by blatant theft. In most cases, I only suspect, but I don’t have facts to support an accusation of outright criminal fraud. It is hard to pray for such people. I don’t know how to word a truthful prayer.

There are people in government who, to all appearances, serve with integrity and honor – until they don’t. It is easier to pray blessings on someone whose behavior and character appear to be honorable. It is a deep wound to discover that some of them have feet of clay. That discovery is such a challenge, especially if they retain their position of trust after I no longer trust them.

The biggest challenge is the political ideologies that I consider destructive and even unlawful. When I read that some politician or public official has embarked on a program that I consider to be sidestepping or even completely in opposition to our constitution or our laws, I can hardly bring myself to pray blessings on that person. I certainly cannot pray for the success of the program. My prayer is confused and halting. I am angry. I am hurt. I am afraid for the future.

It is even worse when day after day I hear national, state and local leaders line up to support this destructive action. I can pray that the program will be defeated or ended, but that is more like wishful thinking than prayer. In fact, my mental churning and emotional stew makes it very difficult for me to pray about these issues.

One day I wrote to a blogger whom I have long admired. We share a common political viewpoint, but we also share faith in Christ. I observed that even when she had to speak in opposition to a program or a candidate, she retained a level of focus that avoided the ad hominem attacks that so often cloud the issues in the public forum. I asked her how she keeps that clear perspective on the issues without scorning the human being. Her answer was very clear.

She said that she prays for the salvation of every person in government every day. Knowing that God sent Christ into the world in order that the world might be saved, she focuses her prayers on God’s will that all of us be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. I was humbled. I knew immediately that she was right. God’s purpose for each of us is to know Christ and to be reconciled to God through him. We are all failing in our obedience, no matter our level of relationship with Christ, so it is always right to pray that each person will come to know him in a relationship shaped by love and grace.

Now I keep that prayer uppermost when I pray for our government. I still pray about the issues. I think God had a hand in the formation of the USA. The people who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the people who fought the Revolutionary War, the people who wrote our Constitution and who served as our early leaders all testified to faith in God, both in their lives and in the words they wrote in our founding documents. They relied on God for guidance in the establishment of our country. They, like me, were imperfect, but they did what they did as an outgrowth of their relationship with God. So I feel confident that God cares what becomes of us.

Therefore, remembering that God worked through flawed human beings to achieve his purpose in the founding of this country, I pray that he will continue to do that. I ask for his guidance in understanding the issues. I ask for his leadership in shaping my actions and comments with regard to the issues. I pray fervently for his will to be done in all things.

I pray for our government, and when I do so, I pray for myself. In this country, we can never exempt ourselves when we criticize the government, for we are the voters who elected the leaders who do the government’s work. If we really want the government to work the way God wants it to work, then we are all called to be God’s faithful servants, obedient to his will in our lives, including the way we vote. I have come a long way since the day I prayed for the defeat of a bill I thought was bad. We may be unhappy with our government for doing things we never expected when we voted for the incumbents, but we must always remember that in this country, at the most basic level, the government is us. We must pray fervently the petition in the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Then we must speak and act and vote in accord with God’s will as we best understand it, and pray with love that our elected leadership will do the same.

Government is not God

In ancient Israel, citizens were persecuted for failing to honor Baal, the patron god of the government. It was considered tantamount to treason, because the government relied on Baal for success. One of the classic confrontations between government/god and heavenly God took place on Mount Carmel when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call down fire to burn their sacrifices to Baal. The fact that Elijah succeeded after they had failed did not change the government position in the matter. The government, and all its followers, continued to worship Baal and reject the God of all the earth. Serving God became a sure way to be chased into the wilderness where a person would likely starve or die of dehydration even if the government were unsuccessful in its pursuit.

 In the first century Roman empire, emperors began to claim status as deities, and that claim led to an expectation that citizens would worship the emperor. He claimed the authority and power to take care of citizens, and he expected thankful, respectful worship. Although merely an expectation or a politically correct act at first, it became a mandate and the excuse for persecution of those who did not worship the man claiming godhood. It was tantamount to treason to act as if the emperor were not a god.

 In twenty-first century USA, our government is increasingly taking on the role and expecting the worship of a god. It wants to deliver commandments, receive offerings and dole out blessings. Moreover, it wants worship, in the form of no criticism. So far, the expectation of compliance with government thinking has not progressed to the accusation of treason for those who disagree, but disagreeable speech is not well received. Historically, governments that began by suggesting that arguments against government are thoughtless progressed to actually censoring or forbidding free speech.

 There are Christian leaders, surprisingly, who seem to believe that government can, even should, be God’s agent to bring his kingdom to pass. They applaud a government role in social services for provision of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education and transportation. They believe that when the government guarantees to provide for all human needs, it is creating the kingdom of heaven on earth. They seem to believe that when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come” that we are praying for the government to bring that kingdom to pass.

 The author of Revelation warns us in twenty-two riveting chapters of the futility of believing that government can replace God. John of Patmos was granted a vision that transported him into heaven where he could look back at the earth and the time/space continuum, and there he could see what becomes of a world in which people worship government instead of God. This world is full of ever-increasing chaos and destruction, all overseen by a bloated, besotted, whorish government that wants and needs the worship of the people who are being destroyed by the boulders that government oppression drags down upon them. The book of Revelation is completely relevant to our world today, not as a timeline for the end of the age, but as a real vision of what is happening right now.

 The big lesson of Revelation is that God does not call upon government to do his work on earth. He calls on his faithful followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless and share his love with everyone. God rightly expects that his followers will worship him, and those who love him rejoice in the opportunity to do so. Their worship and testimony pushes back the evil that runs rampant over lives and property when government replaces God in people’s hearts.

 The sad part of it is that some Christians seem willing to pay exorbitant taxes to government under the impression that all that money will bring the kingdom of God to pass. They forget that money we give to government seldom comes back to bless anyone. All that money builds bureaucracies and builds buildings to house bureaucracies and buys computers and papers to process the rules and regulations of bureaucracies. Very little of it ever gets into the hand of poor, starving, homeless people. Those who do receive any benefit have been so thoroughly demeaned by the process that they can never do anything more than survive to apply for more aid.

 Contrast this outcome with the results of the World Hunger Project of Lutheran World Relief. People who participate in this project are the beneficiaries of giving motivated not by tax laws but by the love of God and people. Of every dollar that LWR puts into this project, 92 cents is placed in the hands of the people the project helps. That money funds deliveries of animals and plants to farmers along with water projects and training in agriculture skills that increase productivity of both plant and animal culture. Families are not simply fed three times a day; they receive livestock and training that set them on a path to self-sufficiency. The family does not become dependent on the program. Rather, the program leads them to become independent of the program. They take away skills and encouragement to help others as they themselves have been helped.

 For that matter, contrast government charity with the results achieved by the Heifer Project, a completely secular and private project that also provides livestock and training for hungry people. The people helped by Heifer Project also are led to independence and self-sufficiency, unlike the sad dependents of government charity in housing projects across the country.

 The people who are “helped” by government become defeated and dependent. The people who receive help from projects like the World Hunger Project retain their personal dignity and become independent, self-sufficient, and prosperous. It is not government that brings the kingdom of God to earth. It is God’s people following the Holy Spirit in love and service to others.

 Government has an important role on earth, a role ordained by God. It provides security and good order to allow free people to thrive and to serve God in safety. Government clears the playing field for free commerce, providing opportunity, not benefits. Government has no God-given right to supersede the work of bringing God’s kingdom to earth. When we try to make government an agent of charity we only beggar both the taxpayer and the recipient. As Christians, we all need to work very hard to reverse the trend of trying to replace God with government by means of social programs. We should not put our faith in government. We must  put our faith in God and serve him obediently and faithfully, doing the work he calls us to do, “love your neighbor as yourself.”