Saturday, 30 January 2016

Two Reasons Why I May Never Vote Again

I have a bit of a confession to make.

I feel that I am beginning to have a real aversion to that inalienable right of our society … voting in the political machine. As a matter of fact, so strong is this aversion lately that I am seriously considering never voting again. I know, I know, many will then say, “If you don’t vote, you cannot complain.” The truth of the matter is, however, I’ve done my share of political complaining and/or whining in the past, and quite frankly, I’m tired of it. Maybe God is tired of it too.

Furthermore, I’m really am beginning to wonder as to the wisdom of always voting according to the proverbial “the lessor of the evils.” I mean, does not that very mantra suggest that, regardless who we vote for, we’re still voting for … evil? I know it’s just an expression, like saying that I’m “playing the devil’s advocate” (his defense lawyer), but there’s still a measure of truth to it, no matter how much we try and mask it over with cute clichés. Perhaps it’s a little ironic that voting in our “Democracy” often appears to have “Dictatorship” overtones to it. As an aside, I have a book in my library called “The Friendly Dictatorship” featuring the profile of former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (Liberal) dressed like some third world dictator. Coincidence? Hmm.

Please understand that I am not trying to be legalistic or religious about all this. Likewise, I am not suggesting that Christians should or shouldn’t vote in secular politics, for to each their own. However, there are also a couple biblical themes that have contributed to my thinking that I may never vote again, and to those I’d now like to turn. At the very least, I have found myself meditating on them a little more lately as I wondered if there isn’t also within them a modern application to our polling station pilgrimages.

A lesson from Samuel: Does it apply today?
“So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.’ 
“But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.’” (1 Samuel 8: 4-9; NIV)
As we read further, Samuel does warn the people as the Lord instructed him to do, but in the end, the people adamantly refused to listen and still demanded a king. Bottom line was, they wanted to keep up with the proverbial Jones’ and be like everyone else around them. The bigger bottom line was, God called it a rejection of Himself. Still, God was not going to force Himself on the people, and so He told Samuel to give them what their hearts longed for; He told him to give them a king (1 Samuel 8: 19-22).

I cannot help but wonder if there isn’t a correlation between that event leading up to Israel’s first king, and the way many of us chase after political leaders today through supporting our electoral processes. Society says we have an obligation and a right to vote, and the implication is that we are somehow deemed unpatriotic if we abstain from casting a ballot on Election Day. After all, it’s the democratic way (whatever that means), and democracy is good, right? Hmm. But what if, in casting a ballot for a political leader, we also inadvertently cast a ballot against God as leader? Is King Jesus not enough?

Likewise, politics and big money go hand in hand, begging a possible rethink of Matthew 6:24 where Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (NIV). Let’s take this one step further. Is voting an agreement with the political machine, and then by default, essentially a bowing of the knee to the worldly god of Mammon? Ouch!

Is it such a stretch to apply Israel’s rejection of God (remember, that’s what God called it) by asking for a king to our asking for a new king (President, Prime Minister, etc.) every four years as a rejection of Him as well? For me it certainly is beginning to beg the question. Still, I do not wish to be dogmatic about this, and so I will just leave that thought here on the back burner and move on to the second reason why I may never vote again.

Strangers and aliens: Am I one?

Let me ask you, where is your true home? Where is your true citizenship? There are three interesting related words in the New Testament, which basically describe an alien living in a place that is not his home. They are: paroikeō (Luke 24:18, Hebrews 11:9), paroikia (Acts 13:17, 1 Peter 1:17), and paroikos (Acts 7:6,29, Ephesians 2:19, 1 Peter 2:11). Are we living in a place that is not really our true home? For the purpose of this blog post, let’s focus on two of those verses.
“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here” (1 Peter 1:17; NIV). “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11; NIV).
It is interesting to note that in the Apostle Paul’s day, most people who lived in the Roman Empire were actually not Roman citizens. Having said that, they still had to pay taxes to the Roman political machine and abide by its laws, much like we have to, but the rights of citizenship most didn’t have. Even the Roman centurion who was about to flog Paul seemed surprised to learn that he was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:26). What does that mean for us today when we read Peter’s call to live our lives as strangers and aliens? Did that only apply to the early Church in his day, or is there a call to do likewise here today as well? In many ways it’s just as if I were travelling or vacationing in another country. I would not be a citizen of that country, and as such have no voting rights. I would, however, still have to obey and abide by the laws of that country.

Taken a step further, just because your home country gives you the ‘right’ to vote, or any other ‘right’ for that matter, does that automatically mean that you must exercise that right? I don’t think so! As a matter of fact, just because society says something is good and acceptable, doesn’t mean that God necessarily sees it that way too. In fact, as He told Samuel, it is possible that God may actually see the exercising of some of those rights as a rejection of Himself. What are we going to do with that?

Remember, Jesus said, “if you belonged to the world” (John 15:19), implying that we do not belong to it. Certainly we are to be lights to the world, just as Jesus said that He was the light of the world (John 812), but we do not belong to it. If Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), and if we belong to Him and to His kingdom, “then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), then is it not also right to say that we don’t belong to this world anymore than He belonged to this world?

Where is our true home and true citizenship, regardless where worldly political machines have drawn the borders on this planet Earth? While I’m a Canadian by birth, and by default my citizenship is Canadian, and while it’s true that as far as my earthly existence goes, I really do like living in this country, that in no way means that I have to support the politics of this country. Fact is, true sojourners don’t have votes at all.

Prayer: More effective than casting a ballot?

So if you don’t see me in the voting booth, it may be that I’ve finally made peace with this strange dichotomy of being a citizen of Heaven while being a stranger and an alien in this world and struggling to keep from embracing its crooked and often anti-Christ values. At the very least, I’m asking myself a few questions these days. Do I really want to cast a ballot endorsing an individual or party that does not share my values? Am I really OK with simply shrugging my shoulders and nonchalantly saying, “it’s the lessor of the evils,” out of a twisted belief that I must vote for someone? Why would I vote for any kind of evil? As a Christian, I already have a perfect King; why would I even think of voting for a lessor one? As I asked earlier, “is King Jesus not enough?”

Having said that, though I may never vote again, I am not completely lethargic or apathetic on the subject; Jesus did in fact call us to pray even for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Despite the fact that sometimes God has been known to use evil world leaders for His purposes, by default I’d suggest that Matthew 5:44 extends to include our political leaders as well, whom we sometimes seem to see as enemies of God and His ways, or at least subjectively so in our own mind’s eye we appear to do.

Though I may choose to never vote again, I also choose not complain about worldly leaders. Rather I choose to pray for them, and then leave them and their earthly kingdoms to God. My King is already on the throne and I know that He isn’t about to be voted out.

That’s the way I see it. Peace and blessings.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2: 15-17; NIV).

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Insanity of God: A Book Review

One of the books I received this past Christmas was this one: “The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected.”

Its author uses the pseudonym Nik Ripken. Why a pseudonym? It is pseudonymously written as a part of the author’s effort to protect the identities of the people whose lives continue to be in real danger because of their faith.

It is the story of Nik Ripken, who when once asked by a mission committee interviewing him about his call to the foreign mission field, answered simply, “I read Matthew 28.” It is the story of how the Ripken family would move from their native American homeland to Nairobi, Kenya. It is the story of how in the early 1990's, long before the western world woke up to the plight of the Somali people and responded with aid and UN troops, Nik Ripken made several trips in and out of war-torn Muslim Somaliland to assess the needs and do what he could for a people devoid of hope. It is the story, not just of tragedy among the Somali people, but also of how tragedy stuck even in the Ripken’s own family. In reflecting on his time in Somaliland, the author writes:
I had to work hard to remember that neither Islam nor Muslims were the real enemy here. Lostness was the enemy. The enemy was the evil that viciously misleads and traps people like lost sheep without a shepherd. The Somalis were the victims. They were not the source or even the cause of the evil in their land. They were victims suffering evil’s grim effects. (p.119)
After already having spent years in Somaliland, and in a effort to one day return better prepared to serve and work amongst the Muslim communities of Africa, Nik Ripken traveled to over sixty countries to seek out and listen to the stories of more than six hundred believers, men and women who learned to live their faith often amidst severe persecution. Toward the end of the story, and after travelling the globe listening to the testimonies of the persecuted church, Nik Ripken seems to have an epiphany of sorts, and makes a few statements that ought to wake up an otherwise slumbering and non-persecuted church. He says:
We identify ourselves as believers by taking a stand with, and following the example of, those in persecution. Or we identify with their persecutors by not giving witness of Jesus to our family, our friends, and our enemies. Those who number themselves among the followers of Jesus – but don’t witness for Him – are actually siding with the Taliban, the brutal regime that rules North Korea, the secret police in communist China, and the Somalilands and Saudi Arabias of the world. Believers who do not share their faith aid and abet Satan’s ultimate goal of denying others access to Jesus. Our silence makes us accomplices. … “Why would Satan want to wake us up [to anticipated potential North American persecution] when he has already shut us up?” … Perhaps the question should not be: “Why are others persecuted?” Perhaps the better question is: “Why are we not?” (p.310-311)
Ouch! Hard words, no doubt, but (prophetic?) words nonetheless that Nik Ripken believes that many of us need to hear. He may be right. Still, it's amazing to me how often it seemed that I was reading a paraphrase of the New Testament book of Acts.

I enjoyed reading The Insanity of God and I do recommend it. Peace and Blessings. 

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Prosperity ... and the Gospel that Isn't

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1: 6-10; NIV)

I have often meditated upon that passage from the Apostle Paul. While historically there have almost always been false prophets teaching their "different gospel," and while Paul most likely had the Judaizers (*see footnote) in mind when he penned that, I've often wondered if one of the best known "different gospels" of our day isn't Prosperity Gospel, or as it's also known, The Word of Faith Movement. Still, Paul repeats himself by twice saying of the offenders "let him be eternally condemned." Was that the same as telling them in the modern vernacular to "go to hell?" Ouch! At the very least his repetition does seem to suggest how seriously Paul viewed such things.

Today I saw a post in which author Rick Henderson said the following:
If you listen to Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, if you take what they teach seriously, it will not be good for you. It will be detrimental to your long-term growth as a follower of Jesus.

What came to mind as you read that? As I read that post I imagined what some people might be thinking, such as (that often misquoted) "do not judge" of Matthew 7:1. But is airing the proverbial "dirty laundry" of others necessarily wrong, and especially if they're church leaders? No, we are not to judge in a condemnation sort of way, but we are to judge in a discernment kind of way, and especially, I would argue, when it comes to leaders of the church who have the power of influencing others with their teaching/preaching.

It all reminded me of another post, one that I wrote several years ago, and which I entitled On Critically Testing Church Leaders. Part of the reflection in that post centred on Revelation 2:2, which in the Amplified says, "I know your industry and activities, laborious toil and trouble, and your patient endurance, and how you cannot tolerate wicked [men] and have tested and critically appraised those who call [themselves] apostles (special messengers of Christ) and yet are not, and have found them to be imposters and liars" (emphasis mine). As I meditated further on that verse I mused,

What I noticed here is that Jesus commends them for testing and critically appraising. This may sound harsh, but Jesus is not against them for this, but rather commends them for taking such action. Jesus does rebuke the church at Ephesus for something else, but He first commends them for testing those who called themselves apostles. The result of the test is that these so-called “apostles” were found to be impostors and liars. If this was true already back then in the church of Ephesus, does it not stand to reason that the same thing could be true today? Of course it would, and maybe even more so today.

At the risk of offending some still further with this post, and based upon Jesus' words to the Ephesian church, could it be that calling out the likes of Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer (popular as they are), and others like them who would espouse a "different gospel," is actually also somewhat commendable? Taken one step further, if doing so saves a sister or brother from potential spiritual ruin, is that then really wrong? What, if anything, should we say to someone dear to us who may have been exposed to a "different gospel?" If, out of our desire for political correctness we say nothing, and if they end up becoming spiritually lost, are we then also guilty by default if (heaven forbid) they end up also being "eternally condemned?" Have you ever wondered about such things? At the very least, perhaps it's something to think about.

Finally, in case you missed it in Henderson's post, here again is the video he featured by John Piper on the Prosperity Gospel. If nothing else, it ought to make us all sit up and say, "Hmm."

For Discussion:
  • Is there a parallel between Paul's "different gospel" in Galatians and the Prosperity Gospel? Why or why not?
  • Should church leaders be "tested and critically appraised" and called out if they're believed to be in error? Why or why not?
  • Do you agree with John Piper's views on the Prosperity Gospel? Why or why not?

Photo Credit: Patrick Marione, Flickr Creative Commons

*Judaizers: Basically the Judaizers were a group of people who attempted to impose the laws and standards of Judaism upon the early church. This included such legalisms as requiring Gentile coverts to be circumcised and to keep the Mosaic law. At the risk of causing offence, I would argue that any "Christian" with legalistic or religious tendencies is basically also a Judaizer by nature and as such the same harsh words from Paul may apply to him or her. But that's just my humble opinion.