How A Widow Helped a Little Boy

When I was younger my dad told me that a particular widow always had ice cream sandwiches and coke at her house.  So once or twice a week I would stop by for a snack and a conversation. I wasn’t smart enough to figure out then that my dad had tricked me into regularly visiting Mrs. Robinson. As time drew on I went for the conversations more than for the sweets. God used my dad’s creativity and sweets to bless both Mrs. Robinson and me more than any gift he could have given either one of us.

widdow

As a little boy I never would have dared visit a widow from the church, but for ice cream sandwiches I’d knock on anyone’s door. I was a chatterbox back then, much like I am now, and would talk anyone’s ear off given the chance.  I also knew how to be polite and listen, especially when I was taking a bite out of a sweet treat. I was blessed to hear her talk about her life and how Jesus had walked with her through it all in the good and the bad.

I didn’t know it as a little boy, but I needed to hear how Jesus had helped her through the hard times. I needed to hear it and she needed to say it, because somehow in the saying, it reminded us both that Jesus was still there. What started out as ice cream sandwiches became worship. We didn’t sing songs. She didn’t break out any music. She just simply testified of what Jesus had done and maybe for the first time I saw someone who had a real relationship with God besides the people in my family.

Things changed, my family moved on, and we lost touch. But her life marked mine and I count her as my first true senior adult friend (other than my grandparents of course). I don’t think she or my dad set out to do anything profound other than introduce a little boy to a widow who could use some company, but it ended up being so much more than that.

As our society has transitioned, one of the things I miss the most is the cross generational conversations. We are fortunate to have several folks in the life of our family that we look up to and are blessed to count them as a friend. One of the things I hope my kids always experience is the blessing of Godly saints, telling true stories about how they have walked with God.

The Power of Prayer

When we pray for others we don’t often know the outcome this side of Heaven. There were some women who prayed for me several years ago and I thought I should share the outcome of their prayer.

Around 15 years ago my mom went to a Christian camp in Montana. While she was there she came across a group of women who were serving at the camp. In the midst of conversation my mother mentioned that she had a son in Mobile, AL. She had always known that God had a call on his life and she had a burden to see him go to seminary. These women mentioned that their church had a seminary extension center. They then took the time for a special moment of prayer with my mother, asking God to birth a desire and work out a plan for me to go to seminary.

I was around 23 years old at the time and had absolutely no plans or ambition of going to seminary. At the age of 25 I was gloriously saved and had submitted myself to a group of men from my church for oversight and prayer. They came together after a year and confirmed my call to ministry but felt it essential for me go to seminary. Through these men, perhaps one in particular, God provided for the full cost of my first few years of seminary. (I could not have afforded it otherwise).

I attended seminary through the extension of the very same church that these women were from and eventually graduated in 2012!

Recently I was talking with my mother and she shared the incredible story I just outlined for you. She has always known God had a call on my life and she could often see my path clearer than I could at any given moment. She wisely takes everything to God in prayer and when her prayers are answered she quietly points back to God and in doing so she has proven to me over and over again that God hears our prayers.  I know this because for years my room was next to my parent’s room and I have silently witnessed her pray for many people and seen many things come to pass.

I know without a doubt that much of my life is a product of the faithfulness of a praying mom. When it came to praying for me to go to seminary, she enlisted the help of a few women from a particular church, that had a seminary extension. I ended up not only attending seminary, but attending through the extension center at the church these women attended. These women prayed a small prayer with my mom, but heaven was listening and they played a small but crucial role in seeing me go to seminary.

I am humbled and blessed that God would listen to the prayers of these women, that he would move on the hearts of a few men, that he would organize and orchestrate things so clearly that I could see His hand. In a very real sense my ministry is a fruit of their faithfulness. One of many I am sure.

Unity is Good, But Why is it so Hard! (Meditations on Psalm 133)

A Song of degrees of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Psalms 133:1-3 KJV)

Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

Do you have kids? I have 2 kids. I had visions when I was younger that when I had kids that I would tell them what to do and they would obey me. I would see people lose their cool with kids in public or have a kid on a leash or something and I’d judge them. I would think, “I’m not going to do that when I have kids.” Then I had kids and the first time I chased my kid across 3 soccer fields (he had a huge head start) I was looking up how to buy one of those leashes… I also dreamed that they would get along, but they can find away to get on each others nerves from two different rooms in the house.  Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

Anyone have to travel home for the holidays? There are four of us siblings and then most of us got married, and had kids. My parents have like 14 grandkids. Visiting is one thing, but staying is something else. Some people have room, but get a hotel room for their family to stay in when they travel just to save on the family drama. Then there is the gossip. There is always the black sheep of the family and they have always done something (by the way if you are thinking… not my family, we don’t have a black sheep… look in the mirror, you are probably it). Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

Then there is work, right? You work hard, do your best, and all of the sudden everything you were just working really hard on doesn’t count for anything and you have to start over on a new project because the higher ups had another great idea. Or your boss loves to dole out the criticism, but doesn’t seem to recognize what’s going on. You’re not the only one to notice this either. Sometimes you have a little prayer request session for the boss… never prayer… always prayer requests though… And if you’re the boss you are always wondering why people don’t just do their jobs. Why aren’t they happy with a paycheck, you don’t have time to go around and pat everyone on the head and give out golden stars… what is this kindergarten? Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

This is a Psalm of David written for the people to sing as they would come into Jerusalem, the Holy city, to celebrate one of the three major feasts they would have each year. It would be sung by travelers who met on the road headed for a common destination. They wouldn’t know each other but they would join each other in singing this song.

I find it interesting that David is the author. If anyone knew about the need for unity it was David.  David was anointed to be the next king of Israel when he was a young boy. He kills the giant Goliath in battle. He serves in the king’s court as a musician. He marries the King’s daughter. But Saul get’s very envious of David and tries to kill David on several occasions. David has several opportunities to kill Saul but never does. Finally Saul and his son Jonathan die in battle and David attempts to reunite the kingdom but Saul’s family rebels and for about the first 5 chapters of 2 Samuel Israel has a civil war. People are killing their own countrymen until a truce is called, the bloodshed is stopped and David is the rightful king, but there are some that still resent his kingship.

David knows what it is like to be leader and try to unite a people who seemingly don’t want to be united. I think this Psalm (song) serves as a good reminder that some things are bigger than the petty things that divide us.

There is something that can cause unity to occur among even seemingly total strangers on the road to a common destination.

UNITY IS WORTH IT

The first thing we note is that unity is both good and pleasant! Some things are good, but they aren’t pleasant. Vegetables are a classic example of something that is good. I mean no one doubts the general health qualities of fresh raw vegetables. But unless you have acquired the taste for raw broccoli it taste and looks like a mini tree. I remember one time my wife an I stayed at a hotel and we were a bit late getting to the breakfast buffet the next morning and all the good stuff was taken and everything that was left was just “good for you.” I was  scraping to get a few bacon crumbs so I could sprinkle them on my grapes and banana halves.

There are some things that are pleasant, but aren’t good. The world is full of things that we might enjoy a little too much, like a biting remark, or talking behind somebody’s back, that are not good.

But before we go on and address some of the difficulties of unity. King David wants us to know and sing up front that Unity is good but that it is pleasant. We should not only need unity, but we should want it!

What kind of sacrifices do you make for the things you want?

If you are in a hunting club, You are up there on weekends planting food plots, putting up trail cams, tracking where the deer are. Everything gets put on the back burner when dear season rolls around.

Maybe it’s your kids. No one is going to fault you for wanting the best for your kids, right? So maybe you want to get them in a better school and so you borrow grandma’s address or you move so your address will be right or you contact everyone you know so you can figure out how to get little Johnny or Suzie in the right district for school. Or maybe it’s not a district issue, it’s a private school and so that costs more money and you sacrifice there.

The first thing in this song is about how good and pleasant unity is and it’s there to drive in us a desire to go and get it. To find it, even if it costs us something, because it is worth it!

UNITY AS WORSHIP

In this next part David brings to mind the image of when the high priest would be anointed. Specifically he goes back to the first High Priest, Aaron. The high priest was someone who was set apart to mediate between Israel and God. The people know they had sinned against God and they needed someone who could make sacrifices, sin offerings on their behalf.

We were saying “unity is good, but why is it so hard?”  We’ll it is difficult because of our sin, isn’t it? We are sinful people. We sin against others and we are sinned against. Whether it be my sinful children terrorizing each other, or a family bickering about a situation, gossip at work, or even quarrels at church.

Sin separates us from one another and it separates us from God! When we sin we put a break or tear in our relationship. Just take the 10 commandments. If you steal from someone it affects your relationship to them. If you commit adultery it affects relationships in two families and then creates wider trust issues in the whole community. If you lie, if you disrespect your parents, if you murder… these things all have relational consequences. There is no unity where sin is practiced and tolerated.

The biggest problem we have with unity is that we are all sinful people. Not only are we separated from one another but we are separated from God by our sin! Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The prophet Isaiah wrote, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 50:2).

For true Unity to exist, Sin has to be addressed!

In the context of this Psalm the high priest would be the one who would address the sins of the Nation of Israel before God. He would make a sacrifice to atone or pay for their sins. Every year on the day of Atonement there would be a national day of repentance and this high priest would reconcile the people to God.

The imagery here is that of the anointing of Aaron this man who was Israel’s high priest. When he was anointed they would use a ton of super fragrant oil that would pour out and all who were present would be able to smell it and thus were taking part in the ceremony. It covered his head, his beard, his robe, it covered everything.

This is important because it was abundant. It wasn’t anointing on a budget, but extravagant. It was this way to show what great love God has for us in that he would deal with our sins. His love is poured out on us. We deserve the wrath of God for the sins that we have committed but we receive the Grace of God through his appointed mediator.

The priest would be wearing a special vest that would have twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel and as the oil flowed down it would cover over them all! This was another symbol of unity that this man didn’t make atonement or offer a sacrifice for the forgiveness or sins of just one tribe, but of all the tribes.

In our context we know that Jesus is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5); He is our high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). We have the benefit of looking back on this now. We don’t have a high priest like Aaron. We have one better. We have Jesus Christ who made atonement for sins! He paid the price so that we might know God and have fellowship with him. His blood was poured out so that we might live.

The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:9 that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Also in Acts 3:18 we are told, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.” It is through the work of Jesus on the cross that we can even know God and come into a relationship with Him through the forgiveness of our sins.

When we do we become a part of his church. Unity is one of the hallmarks of Christianity. Where there is no real unity, the devil has crept in and there is no real Christianity. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, by your love for one another.”

Our unity is worship because it is evidence that our sins have been forgiven and that we have forgiven each other.

However, we’ve all seen or been in social situations where folks put on a plastic face and smile for the camera, but you know there is deeper tension beneath the surface. There is a sin issue that has to be resolved. I’ll never forget there was a woman in my former church who HATED me. I didn’t know why. She tried to get me fired! I didn’t know what was going on until someone told me.

My pastor said to leave it alone, but I couldn’t leave it alone, because for unity to exist, sin had to be addressed. For all I knew I had sinned against her somehow. If that was the case, her reaction was wrong, but while there was this issue between us, there would be no unity in the church. So I pulled a Matthew 18 and went to see her and her husband, asked point blank what I had done to offend them and sought reconciliation.

And do you know what… we were reconciled! It was a misunderstanding. She thought she heard something and rather than give me the benefit of the doubt she assigned me thoughts and motives that weren’t even there at all. She said she was sorry for saying all those mean things about me and trying to get me fired. I said I was sorry for not being clearer in what I said.

Unity is a WITNESS

This last part can appear a bit mystical. If you don’t know your bible geography very well you’ll always read these passages and just consider them as difficult names. However if you have the book of maps in the back of your bible you can look for these. If you see a map of Israel and in the north above the Sea of Galilee is Mount Herman. In the south is Jerusalem which is often referred to as Zion. There is over 100 miles between the two.

Mount Herman is the tallest mountain in the region and often has snow on the top. The mountain of Zion in the summer months especially is dry and arid. There is no way the abundant dew from Herman literally fell on mount Zion.

So this is what we see when we read this, the song writer David says Unity is an abundance of refreshing dew, that doesn’t occur naturally where we are… in other words it’s supernatural! It is something that can only happen because God has commanded it!

When we are united in Jesus Christ it sends a message to the world that something supernatural is taking place in our midst. We are drawn together not because of our love for bowhunting, or a particular nascar driver, or even for an SEC football team, but because of Jesus Christ.

 

Why Dealing with your Sin is more important than your Desperate Wishes (Mark 2:1-12)

Mark 2:1-12 ESV  And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.  (2)  And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.  (3)  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  (4)  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  (5)  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  (6)  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,  (7)  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  (8)  And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?  (9)  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?  (10)  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the paralytic–  (11)  “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  (12)  And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

The Desperate Wish (1-4)

The first thing we notice in this story is that there is a man here with a desperate wish. He wants to be healed! It’s unspoken, but seemingly obvious. He is paralyzed. He can’t much move on his own…not in the same way that everyone around him can. He has to dependent on four of his friends to carry him to Jesus.

Just for a moment, I want you to visualize what it would be like to be paralyzed in Palestine during this time. There are no wheelchairs, no ramps, no building codes, no privacy stalls in the restroom. You can’t work. You either depend on the charity of your family or the generosity of strangers as you lay out by the street.

You don’t get to look people in the eye, that’s a luxury not afforded to those who can’t stand on their own. Everyone looks down on you whether they mean to or not. And you lay there on the dirty floor. You recognize people not by their faces but by their feet. All day long you see them. You see other people using their legs, their feet, their toes. You look at your own and wonder, why don’t they work? 

There is no doctor to tell you it’s an issue with your spine, your muscles or a birth defect… it is a mystery. There is no surgery or hope of a surgery that can give you back some of your mobility. There is no physical therapist who will painfully manipulate your legs and offer you a hope, painful hope, but hope that maybe you can walk again, or shuffle yourself from one bed to the next, or not have to depend one someone to take you to the restroom. No one in your life can offer you any real sense of hope that you will regain or obtain your mobility.

Then one day you hear the news. Jesus is in town. He has healed people. He cured leprosy (the cancer of the day). He had healed the blind. Maybe he can work on motionless limbs too? All of the sudden, there is hope. So you get a plan. You have to go see Jesus. You have four friends or cousins or friends of friends who also see the hope and they are willing to carry you to see this Jesus. This healer.

You try and hold your emotions in check. Something in you knows that this man can heal you, at the same time you don’t want to get your hopes up. Street magicians have come through town before. Charlatans, fakes, frauds who gather the ill around them, perform miracles and yet somehow the same numbers of people leave on their beds as were carried in. But this Jesus seems different.

You are discouraged when you get there. You see the crowd packed around the house. There is no way that you can even get in, but that doesn’t stop your friends. They run around back of the house where there is an external staircase and they carry you up. One of them listens intently to find out Jesus is in the house and then he starts to claw and pry at the dirt, sticks, and straw that makes up the roof. Then they begin to lower you… and for perhaps the first time ever you are looking down on people, not in a mean way, but for a moment you see them as they have seen you your whole life. You strain your eyeballs to see their expressions.

Then you see Him. You see Jesus. You don’t know what he looks like, but this must be him. He is sitting there in the teacher’s position. Your eyes meet. You don’t say a word, but look with earnest expectation. Finally as your body hits the dirt floor and you find yourself in front of a large crowd staring out at their feet again you wonder what it will be like when you are healed…will it be sudden or will it be slow. So you look up with longing and expectation. Now trapped on the floor, your friends who brought you here didn’t travel with you on this journey. They only came to the roof. You alone descended into now silent shadows of the house. You alone lay helpless before the crowd. You lay helpless before Jesus… Silent and expecting.

And you can see that he is moved by what you and your friends have done. He is smiling. He recognizes your faith in Him. You can see it in his eyes. And as he speaks the first word is so tender, He call’s you “son”. A tear is forming in the corner of your eye, partly out of expectation of what Jesus is about to do and partly because you are so vulnerable. Your weakness is on display for everyone. You can’t crawl away from this. Your deepest wish is either about to be granted or you are to be rejected.

Let’s pull out of the story for a moment because some of you have been here. You have been to this point with Jesus. You have a strong felt need or desire in your life. You are running on empty. You are longing for something to fill you. You know that if you just had that one thing you would be happy. Some days it’s just having a car that would run without breaking down. Some of you seek it in relationships. You bounce from one to another hoping to be filled. Some of you it’s landing the dream job, graduating school, it’s finding reconciliation with a loved one, it’s getting that house. You know that if you just had that one thing that life would be better. It has been the subject of your prayers for nights on end….

so because this man’s one thing is so obvious and you share a desire for God to grant you your One thing, that Jesus says next confuses you…

Jesus says to this man…, “Your sins are forgiven.”… Not “your body is healed” and it looks like Jesus missed the obvious

 

 

The Deeper Issue (5)

Jesus saw what this man didn’t see. He saw the deeper issue of sin. He could heal this man, but he would really just be empty again. It would be just a few short months and he would find something else in his life that would cause him to feel empty. The matter of needing to be healed was a surface issue. It was apparent to everyone that the man came there that day hoping to walk, skip, or at least limp out of there. But Jesus wasn’t as interested in the surface issue as he was the deeper issue.

You see God does have the power to grant all of those requests we see as pressing issues. God has the power to grant us our desperate wishes. But sometimes they would be no favor to us at all.  Jesus is looking at this man and saying I see the deeper issue here and I am going to reward your faith in me by going deeper than you thought I could go. I’m going to the very heart level and I’m going to forgive your sin. I’m going to get to the root of the issue here.

So Jesus doesn’t say, “Be Healed.” He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” And the crowd around him begins to react. There are two issues at stake here that we might miss if we are unaware of the historical context.

One: The people of that day commonly thought that sin and hardship went together. If your car just slung a piston rod, well it’s because you are sinful. If your child is born blind, well, it’s because you did something very bad. So when Jesus here addresses sin, they don’t necessarily see it as an unrelated issue in the minds of the people. And the truth be told, sometimes bad things do happen because of sin but alot of bad things happen because of other peoples sin or they just happen.

Sometimes bad things happen because of our sin and our deepest wish is to undo the hurt we have done to ourselves. Sometimes bad things happen because of other people’s sin, and our deepest wish is to remove the hurt from their actions in our life. And sometimes bad things just happen and our deepest desire is that we wouldn’t have to face this kind faultless adversity.

The second thing we don’t need to miss is that the people in Jesus’ day knew that only God could ultimately forgive sin. Up until this time Jesus was loved by most everyone. He’s a likable guy. People are coming out to see Him perform miracles. They want to be there when a blind guy gets healed. They want to tell everyone what they saw. They listen to his teaching and marvel because it’s unlike anything they have heard before.

But now he just forgave a man’s sin and that is something only God can do. The religious leaders on the edge of the crowd are processing what he just said. They are contemplating that perhaps Jesus just committed blaspheme.  They were mulling over the difference in claiming to be God and claiming to do what only God can do in their minds. They were ready to see the healing, but reluctant to accept that He could forgive sin.  

This leads Jesus to ask a Difficult Question…

 

The Difficult Question (6-12)

Which is easier, to say your sins are forgiven or to tell the man to walk? Think about that question for just a moment. What does this paralyzed man want to hear? What is the desire of his heart? What has he come all the way here carried by four friends, and lowered through a roof for? He has come for healing and so if Jesus just merely wants to please this man all he has to do is tell Him to get up and he’s got a fan.  I bet if Jesus went around answering your desperate wishes that you would be his fan too!

But Jesus isn’t looking for a fan, he is looking to bring real healing into this man’s life a healing that is deeper than this man even knows to look. He has come to heal the rift in his soul. He has come to forgive his sins and reconcile him to God!

Look again for a moment. What does it cost to heal this man? Seemingly it’s just a few words upon the divine lips and this man is restored to health? What does it take to forgive this man of his sin? The story of the gospel of Mark is not over. This pronouncement sets Jesus on a course for the cross. To forgive this man’s sin, he must be obedient where we weren’t. He will be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. No my friends. To purchase the forgiveness of sins was not an easy thing to do, but it was a necessary thing to reconcile us to God!

 But what is Jesus doing here by answering the crowd? They haven’t asked a question? They are just thinking in their hearts… you see. Jesus knows our hearts. He didn’t just come to grant our desperate wishes. While He has no problem healing broken bodies, it isn’t just the sick and the lame that need to come to Jesus. It’s everyone who has sinned against a holy and righteous God… and that is all of us! For this moment, Jesus looks over this broken man and in the silence is asking, why aren’t you coming too?

You will rip open roof’s and labor to carry your friend to the feet of Jesus in hopes that his desperate wish will be fulfilled, but will you do that for the sake of your own soul? Will you do that for the sake of your friends and neighbors or even for those on the other side of the world?

Think about your neighbors and coworkers for a moment. The people you see every day. Think of the folks who don’t know the Lord. They may be healthy. They probably smile and wave in the drive way. They probably seem like they have everything together. What if I were to place a picture of them up here and then were to place a picture of a poverty stricken  Hindu mother half a world away and say to you, “Which one has the greatest need?

You know the answer. They both need the forgiveness of their sins. The Hindu mother has physical need that you might be able to take care of, but both have a need to be forgiven and that only comes from Jesus.

 

 

Observations:

 

Some people seek Jesus for desperate wishes and end up receiving far more than they had ever imagined in a relationship with Him.

Some people are brought to Jesus because they can’t get there on their own.

The only real power to overcome sin in my life,is not found in what I can do, but in what Jesus Christ has already done for me.

ONE OF THE FEW

one-of-the-fewI had the opportunity to read One of the Few a few weeks ago. It’s a great read and well worth your time. I highly recommend it as a gift book for those who come into your life who are struggling (or should be struggling) with their world view. It’s a fantastic symphony of biography paired with practical application which makes it an easy and compelling read.

Jason Ladd is an authentic and engaging writer. One of the Few reads as his personal story of life as a Marine pilot and his conversion to Christianity. The window he opens into his life is also an invitation for the reader to examine their own life and evaluate their understanding of the world. Jason’s trasparent and intellectual writing style allow the reader to address real life issues in a thought provoking way.

The last part of the book is a great reference on different issues that confront the Christian worldview. Jason provides great answers as well as great references all throughout the book, but especially in these chapters that address varying lifestyle objections to Christianity. This makes the book especially valuable as a gift book to those who serve in our military who are struggling to discover a worldview that will answer life’s basic questions.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I think its a fantastic read for anyone, but can be especially powerful for men and women serving our armed forces that have real questions about Christianity. The Kindle version is on sale right now, but you will want to get a physical copy or two to give away.

Pragmatism, Principles, and Politics

It’s been a crazy election year. We are a few days away from a presidential election and many folks have asked me for my opinion. Generally I make it a rule not to write about politics. I had a passion for it when I was younger and enjoyed opportunities like Missouri Boy’s State to learn more about our great country and how it worked. Yet as I’ve grown into adulthood the cynic in me has taken over and I’ve found myself bored with politics and have subsequently left the discussion up to those who were more passionate… until now.

pragmatism. principles. politics.jpg

Lets talk politics and Christianity for just a minute. There is this sentiment that one’s religion need not interfere with politics. That is the position of senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate and choice for Vice President. It’s also a very religious statement. It’s religious simply because he said he could do something with his religion… forget about it when he makes political decision.

Folks have turned this around to say that we should check our religion at the ballot box. They have said, in effect that THEY know better than ME on how to practice MY religion (tell me that’s not a religious statement)... But let’s be honest, Tim Kaine’s religion doesn’t permit him to do that, he does it in defiance, not compliance to the faith he claims. He claims to be Catholic and his Pope (or any Pope before him) hasn’t said “check your Catholicism at the ballot box“… His church has a long history of standing against abortion (One of the issues that Kaine holds personally and religiously but doesn’t let interfere with his political life).

All this chatter about checking your religion at the ballot box is an attempt to persuade you to embrace an otherwise unappealing candidate by ignoring a major disagreement you have with them. It should be seen as manipulative and underhanded. Politicians don’t get to define YOUR religious beliefs and you should not fault them for theirs (if you could find one that held their beliefs with any sincerity).

Now let’s talk Pragmatism (it IS in the title anyway). There are folks out there who will tell you that you have to vote a certain way because you don’t want Hillary to win or you don’t want Trump to win. This is where I think a lot of evangelical pastors and theologians have compromised their principles. I don’t mean that flippantly so let’s investigate pragmatism for a moment.

Pragmatism is the philosophy that whatever works is “right.” So in essence the “end” justifies the “means.” So practically speaking you might vote for a particular candidate to get a certain end such as, “prevent Trump from blowing us all up” or, to “prevent Hillary from appointing liberal activist judges to the supreme court.” You cast a vote for someone you dislike (means) in order to get a result that you will be pleased with (end).

The problem with pragmatism is that for the Christian, the means matter just as much as the end! This is why I said some of our pastors and theologians have compromised their principles… they have endorsed a corrupt means… voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil. 

It is not as though we don’t have a guide for such situations. We have a Savior who was perfectly obedient, even where we would choose not to be. Can you imagine Jesus casting his ballot for Trump? How about Clinton? Would he choose the lesser of two evils? Is there another way?

There is another way. The way where the means matters just as much as the end. Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). He was promised the world as his kingdom without the cross (end), all he had to do was worship the devil (means). Yet He rejected this and chose the cross out of obedience to God and the cross became the means by which you and I can be saved from our sins (end)!

You see, the silly thing about pragmatism is that when you apply it to something like politics, ethics, or religion it breaks down because as you change the means… you change the end. You won’t just prevent Hillary or Trump by voting for one against the other, you will also be endorsing Hillary or Trump.

Now let’s talk about Principles. Principles are those beliefs that you hold at the foundation of your being. You build your personal actions based off of your principles. If you are a Christian you have deeply held principles that will come up every election cycle. You have principles about life, marriage, poverty, justice, and more. Anyone who tells you to ignore your principles and vote for them is telling you that your principles don’t matter… and if you vote for them against your better judgement… your principles really don’t matter. But that was because YOU gave up your principles when you voted against your conscience.

Now you’re going to tell me that you are stuck. You have two options and you don’t like either one. You can’t vote for Hillary because well, you don’t need me to tell you, you’ve got tons of reasons. Now you know you also can’t vote for Trump, again you don’t need me to campaign for or against these folks. You’ve seen the media. You’ve formed your opinion… You don’t think you can go into the ballot box, cast a vote, and come out clean.

You do have another option.Vote based on your principles, even if this leads you to a third party candidate. You can vote for someone else. It may feel like you are throwing your vote away but in the last several elections nearly half of the people who voted, voted for a candidate who lost… You see that’s the thing…. Someone will lose! What if you vote for Hillary or Trump and they lose? You might be able to wash that off, but what if you vote for Hillary or Trump and they win? What will you tell your children when they ask? History won’t remember the loser only the winner. 

In a few weeks when we know who will be the next president I’m sure that God will still be on His throne!  However, the ballot box says just as much about our principles (or lack there of) as it does about the folks who are running for president.

Anyhow to those who asked. That is my 2 cents on this election. Hope it helps.

It’s not about counting people as much as realizing that people counted (Nehemiah 7)

It’s not about counting people as much as realizing that people counted (Nehemiah 7)

I get what it’s like to be exhausted as a leader, but a leader must never forget the people he is leading. I once had a leader tell me that, “I don’t have time to train you and all these other people.” It was the moment he forfeited his leadership. To be sure, he was still a leader and he still had my respect, but he had forfeited the very point of leadership… moving people.  We all lose focus sometimes.  The temptation of leadership is to consider our path and place as greater than the people we lead. The reality is that we cannot be leaders if people are not willing to follow. It serves us well to remember that those who follow in the darkest of times all have their own stories of calling and sacrifice.

One of the biggest challenges of leadership is remembering all the people who have helped along the way. Nehemiah takes a moment to review the record and note in his account that the people who built the wall and staffed the city had names. At first glance Nehemiah chapter 7 looks like just a long list of names and numbers, but names reflect something more than just another number to be counted… these are people counted.

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Each person listed had a story to tell about their family, their life, and why they felt called back to Jerusalem and Judah. Each person listed had a choice to make on whether to stay where they were or to travel back to their homeland. Each person made sacrifices; I’m sure both financial and social in order to fulfill their calling. Which brings up an interesting point, Nehemiah couldn’t have rebuilt the wall alone, God had called THESE people, back to His city, at this time, to accomplish the task of rebuilding the wall! So while the whole book may not be named after them and while they certainly didn’t write it with their pen, their names still show up because they did help write the story with their lives and a great leader never forgets that his life story is tied to hundreds if not thousands of other life stories.

If you are a leader it may or may not come naturally to you to think about all the people along the way that you lead but if not, take a moment today and write a few thank you notes, send out a few text messages, write down the names of the people who have sacrificed along the way and pray over them. Take time to make sure that the people you lead count for more than just names than on a roll that add up to numbers.