Monday, January 28, 2013

Sticking My Neck Out

I think you will enjoy reading this one, whether you agree or not.  It reiterates three principles for making decisions about our involvement in the issues of the day, then it  applies them to everything from the Muslim agenda to the degradation of the church and the economy. If you think I have missed something important, just plan to come back next week when I finish up my list.

Sticking my Neck Out

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.   And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[1]"

In the next two chapters, I plan to be more specific about some of the things that worry us most, and in doing so to apply the principles we have discussed so far.  But first let me recap the principles:
1.      God loves us and wants us to be at peace.[2]
2.      Though he wants us to be busy in his kingdom,[3] he does not require that we "fix" the world.  That's his job.[4]
3.      God has not called us to use the country's police forces to require non-believers to live righteously. Instead, he has charged us with calling people to righteousness.
God wants us working toward righteousness, which includes justice for the poor and disadvantaged.[5]  But he doesn't want us so obsessed by our outcomes (or lack thereof) that it destroys our peace.  So what are we to do about the issues of the day?
What should our attitude be toward the following?

1.      Muslim people?
We are to love them; they are our neighbors.  They are represented in the scripture by the outsider, the Samaritan, who stopped to help when the religious leaders failed to do so.[6]  If Jesus went into Samaria and asked a woman for help[7], surely we can go into a Muslim neighborhood and offer to give some assistance.

2.  Terrorists?
We are not likely to meet any and to know who they are, but if Jesus could pray for his murderers ("Father forgive them...") we can pray for terrorists.  And I am not suggesting we pray for their destruction.  That is not what Jesus did. He prayed for their salvation.

3.  Social legislation and the government ?
What do we know about the Bible's writings on the role of Christians and government?  One thing we do know is that democracy or a republican form of government was unknown in that day, so what is written there is more likely relevant to a dictatorial system.  Jesus said we should pay our taxes, so, even though a couple of his followers were zealots who previously had sought to overthrow Rome, that was not his approach.   Paul reiterated Jesus' instruction and expanded on it,[8] saying that we should be subject to the government and that to resist it was the same as opposing God.  So joining illegal resistance movements, as exciting and adventurous as that sounds, is not an option for a Christian.  Speaking the truth though, even from billboards, TV ads, blogs, and Facebook pages, is a Christian option - one we should strongly consider as a viable part of our Christian witness to the world.

But what do we do in a democratic nation?  How do we exercise our democratic rights?  Can we run for office?  Should we push for "Christian" legislation?  Here are my answers; you should study it out for yourself:

4.  Public Office?
The Spirit prepares us all and calls us to many different roles in our society.  If you feel drawn to public service, even in an elected office, you should consider it.  Just be aware of the tools Satan will use against you, if you are elected.

a.  Power.
Lord  Acton is often quoted as saying, "Power corrupts."  Most Biblical references to power refer to the power of God.  Power is addictive and that explains why people continue to run for high office long after anyone thinks they have any chance of winning.  People who have power tend to think they should use it and they often do so to their own detriment and that of others. 

b.   Pride.
"Pride goes before destruction."[9]  Pride shows up in lots of ways.  It lowers resistance to sexual temptation and to temptation to appropriate what is not ours for our own purposes.  It takes an "I am worth it!" approach to life and promotes a sense of "I am smart enough to get away with this; besides, look at all I have given up for my constituents."  

c.  The Value of Christian Leaders.  In spite of the many possible pitfalls, a Christian leader who truly acts like one would be a welcome relief and a tremendous asset to the kingdom.  She or he would act and vote on principle regardless of which way the political winds are blowing and would daily risk not being reelected in favor of doing the right thing.

5.  "Righteous Legislation?"
This may be a little controversial, but I do not believe that, as Christians, we are called on to pass laws or to try to get others to pass laws legislating our morality onto the rest of society.  God wants us all to be free moral agents, to make our own decisions about whether or not to follow him.  Otherwise he could have put an electric fence around the tree in the middle of the garden, with razor wire on top, and placed some scary looking guards by it.

We are charged with bringing people to Jesus, not with forcing them through legislation and law enforcement to do God's will.  Didn't we learn that lesson after the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920's?  And the time known as the "dark ages" was a time when the church got control of the government and everyone was, at least in name, a Christian.  We do not want to go back to that time.  Every soul that is saved is one less person we have to worry about trying to force to follow God's will.  We make followers by preaching,[10] not by legislating!

6.  Degradation of the Church?
The church seems to be falling apart.  It is divided; it is off-focus; it has been captured by charlatans and is being misrepresented; it is rapidly falling away from the truths of the scripture.  What are we to do?  Do you hear echoes of Chicken Little?  "The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!" 

Yes the church has its issues, just as did most of the churches addressed by the letters of the New Testament and five of the seven churches addressed in the Revelation.  No we can't relax our efforts just because church problems have been around for over 2000 years.  But neither do we need to cry out in defeat.

We are called on to the stay the course.  "Preach the gospel,[11]"  Paul told Timothy.  "In season; out of season."  Keep preaching.  Don't give up.  I remember Kinwood Devore, the minister at the Metropolitan Church of Christ and the Executive Director of Metropolitan Fresh Start in San Francisco, teaching a group of urban ministry fanatics a song, and with it an idea.  The title was "Never give up!"  Brother Kinwood said his group started every gathering with that song.

We are not called to rail against sociological phenomena, we are called on to teach the truth.  And by teaching the truth, we will convert people to Jesus, even perhaps those who have worn his name in vain.  But failing that, we will hold up a standard that the world will relate to.  We will represent our savior in and to this world in which we live.  Drop the rant, pick up the Bible and let's preach - gently, calmly, with the confidence that comes with our salvation.
7.  The Economy?
We know better than this.  Right out of the gate, Jesus in the sermon on the mount told us that God takes care of the birds and flowers and he will take care of us.[12]  He told us he had never seen God's children begging bread.[13]

But we have become dependent on the U.S. economy.  We get angry when economic forces take our jobs overseas.  We rant when some rich people get richer by cheating less fortunate people - especially if it is us they are cheating.   We are afraid that immigrants will take jobs away from us, that the economy is going into the toilet and that all our "things" will follow it there. 

We just need to trust that God will keep his promise.   We should be living on what he puts in our hands, giving away as much as we can, working to support ourselves and our families, and telling people the good news.  Everything else is icing.  That includes Medicare and Social Security, a solvent government, our retirement savings and anything else we may be counting on.  Set it all aside and trust.

[1] Philippians 4:6-7
[2] John 14:27
[3] Ephesians 2:10
[4] 2 Peter 3:10-13: Revelation 21:1
[5] Isaiah 58:6-7
[6] Luke 10:30-37
[7] John 4:7
[8] Romans 13:1-7
[9] Proverbs 16:18-19
[10] 1 Corinthians 1:21
[11] 2 Timothy 4:1-2
[12] Matthew 6:26
[13] Psalm 37:25

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