A Christian Pastor’s 2016 Election Day Message

[Published BEFORE election results are in, with the belief the following applies whichever candidate wins.]

God is NOT in control of this election! We the people are.

When the day is done and the results are in we cannot say of the winner, “It is God’s will.” Unless you also want to say that it is God’s will that Eve ate the apple.  Eve eating the apple and the outcome of this election are not God’s will but rather the result of we humans exercising our God-given free will.

Of course God could have been in control but he delegated that to “we the people” a very long time ago.  We have been given the gift of free agency with the ability to make choices.  Here in the United States those choices include being able to determine our leaders through free and open elections.  When the election is over we will get the leader we have asked for, not the leader God would want for us. Might they not be one and the same?  That is theoretically possible but I believe it is absolutely not the case in this election.

Even as the primary season began we had already been using the wrong criteria to fill  the pool of potentials.  We were looking at candidates through the eyes of the world rather through God’s eyes.  We were not seeking a person after God’s own heart  (The criteria God used when he selected David.).  Instead we sought out and nominated candidates from a posture of fear. We have asked questions like: Which candidate is the strongest and most powerful?  Which candidate is the smartest and wisest (with the wisdom of this world)?  Which candidate has the most influence?  Which candidate presents best?  Which candidate can best keep us safe and secure, both physically and economically?

I do not and cannot judge where any candidate stands in their relationship with God.  But this I do know:   Based on observable behavior–not just recent but also life-long patterns–we will elect a candidate whose character does not mirror that of God, whose values and priorities do not align with God’s, and who does not love as God loves.  We will live with the consequences of our choice for the next few years.  But there is hope!

1 Chronicles 7:14  says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

I suggest our starting point for humbling ourselves may very well be with admitting and confessing our sin for our part in this election.  Let us pray:  “Heavenly Father, we humbly come before you confessing our sin.  We as a nation, jumped out ahead of you and we have freely chosen our leader for the wrong reasons.  Forgive us. Help us to move forward from here in the right direction.  Draw close to the leader we choose and give guidance and direction.  Speak to our leader’s heart and mind.  Soften the heart of our leader so that there can be genuine transformation.  From where we stand today, work for the good of your people and heal our land.  Amen.”

 

 

 

 

A Generative Old Dog Learning New Tricks

I volunteered this morning for the Kenosha Chess Association’s National Chess Day Event.  I started by helping set up boards.

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Then I spent most of my time  (nearly an hour and a half) giving a one-on-one beginners lesson to a very elderly gentleman.  Just from I learned and observed about him during our time across the board from each other I came to admire him and consider him a good role model as we continue to age.

  1. First of all, I learned that he volunteers as a tutor for a fifth grader. I admire him for being generative in his old age. (Generative has been defined as the ability to care for another person rather than just yourself.)  Some spend their retirement years lazily or selfishly; that is, doing almost nothing or doing whatever they do solely to please themselves.  This man is giving time and energy for someone else, in this case a previously unknown fifth grader.
  2. Secondly, there was his motive for attending this event.  His assigned fifth grader has been badgering him to play chess but he says he knows nothing about the game.  He saw in the paper that a beginners lesson could be had at the library today.   I admire him for caring enough to go above and beyond the call of duty by  trying to learn chess so he can accommodate his assigned youngster.
  3. Thirdly, I admire him for not believing the old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  A lot of people would have sinmply said, “Sorry, kid, I’m too old to take up chess now.”  He was willing to tackle something new; something that can be intimidating.
  4. Fourthly, I admire how seriously he took his task of learning.  He took notes, showed concentration, asked questions, etc.  I’ve had people in the past ask me to teach them something only to have them give up as soon as they realized that it wasn’t gong to take more than just a casual effort.

I hope that when I find myself living out my latter years that I’m the kind of guy that will give of myself, care enough to go above and beyond the call of duty, try new things, and be willing to put in a strong effort.  How about you?

“Land of the Free” – Let’s Keep it that Way

O. say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Thus ends our national anthem. It has been long standing tradition in our country to include the singing of our national anthem before athletic events. Included in that tradition is the habit of the competitors, and the fans, to stand during its performance as a gesture of honor and respect to our nation.

Of late, there has been a growing trend for some to abstain from that particular show of respect. Rather, as a form of protest they remain seated or they “take a knee.” They choose to protest in this way because they believe the freedom the song celebrates, falls short in reality. They perceive themselves to be discriminated against. They question why they should stand in honor of freedom while they themselves feel shackled by discrimination, racism, and prejudice. They believe we can and should do better than we are currently doing.

I do not wish to enter the debate about whether or not they are right or whether or not their chosen form of protest is appropriate. Rather, I wish to address the response to their protest. I expect and understand people being in disagreement. I get it that people are upset about this. However, it goes further than that. I have read the suggestion that those who protest in this manner should be expelled from the country. I’ve read the suggestion that those who protest in this manner should be punished. There was even a new story of a pee wee football team (11 year-olds) choosing to “take a knee” rather than stand, and then receiving death threats for doing so. Even without the death threats, this is going too far.

Do we really want to find ourselves in a situation where we love freedom so much that we want to dictate a person’s posture when we sing about freedom? If we expel, or punish, or in any other way prohibit forms of protest that we don’t agree with, then we will find ourselves in a nation where the Star-Spangled Banner still waves, but it won’t be the land of the free, o’er which it waves.

That’s something to cerebrate.

Unhappily Ever After

(The following was previously published in the Church of the Nazarene’s denominational magazine, The Herald of Holiness, in Sept. 1994.)

“Once upon a time a teenage girl was praying and distinctly felt that God was calling her to be a missionary. The idea frightened her. She didn’t know if she could ever move far away from her family. She certainly didn’t think she would be a very good missionary. Besides that she had other plans, including a boyfriend who did not feel called to be a missionary. So the young girl went to college, became a teacher, married her boyfriend and lived unhappily ever after.”

I wish stories like that only happened in fairy tales. The truth is, this is all too real. We probably all know people who find themselves living “unhappily ever after” because at some point in their life they said “no” to God’s call. Ever since that day they have lived with the tyranny of guilt. From that day forward they feel like second-class citizens in the kingdom. They feel they can never be spiritually fulfilled because they missed God’s plan. Maybe even you personally are living “unhappily ever after” because you said “no” to God’s call on your life.

The good news is that saying “no” to God at some point in your life doesn’t have to mean defeat for the entire rest of your life. Our God is not a grudge-bearing God. He is a God who forgives and forgets. We seem ready to accept his forgiveness for a multitude of sins but not this one. We believe that God can heal broken bodies and twisted relationships. We believe he can give meaning to life. But for some reason–Satan’s suggestion most likely–we don’t think he can or will heal our life’s course after we have said “no” to Him.

It is certainly unfortunate when we make the mistake of not realizing that God’s plan for us is best. There is no question that we are in the wrong. There isn’t even any question that God is displeased by it. However, making such a mistake should not mean living the rest of our lives unfulfilled, unhappy, and spiritually defeated.

The key is repentance. Like any other sin, saying “no” to God’s call eats away at a person’s relationship with God. Allowed to go on unchecked it will eventually completely destroy that relationship. But, I John 1:9 should apply here just as it does with stealing or bearing false witness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9 NIV).”

Not only does God forgive us and cleanse us, he also forgets. The Psalmist expressed it this way, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12, NIV).” Through the prophecy of Jeremiah we have this word from the Lord, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34, NIV).” In spite of Scripture passages like these we too often forget that God for¬ gets. When we confess our sins, God no longer holds them against us. That means you need no longer feel like a second-class citizen in the Kingdom. In God’s kingdom there are no paupers.

The question to ask yourself is whether or not you have really confessed this sin to God or have you merely regretted your disobedience and wished that you would have obeyed? Wishing and regretting heals no one but confession and repentance heals everyone–even those who have said “no” to His call.

But what about consequences? After repenting for running from God’s call, Jonah was able to go ahead with that call. In your case perhaps your life has taken some turns that prohibit you from going ahead with God’s original call. Then what?

While it is true that there are consequences to our actions, sometimes even lifelong consequences, it is not true that God cannot continue to work through our lives. To think that God cannot create fulfilling and meaning¬ful service opportunities after you have said “no” is to greatly limit God. Recall that we serve the God who called the universe into existence out of nothing. If you have said “no” to God and repented of it, then the important thing is to say “yes” the next time He calls.

A Christian Country

Generally speaking, Christians in America like to think that the United States of America is a, “Christian country.” Those who say that we aren’t, generally wish that we were.

Of course, even if we all agree that we ought to be a Christian country, that doesn’t mean we actually agree. It seems that there is still a discrepancy in what we even mean by the term, Christian country.

For many it simply means that we are a country where…

  • Christian prayer is allowed, or even encouraged, in our schools and other government settings
  • saying, “Merry Christmas,” is always accepted and preferred
  • the Ten Commandments are welcome in our courthouses
  • nativities are welcome on public lawns
  • the pledge to the flag includes, “under God”
  • our money declares, “In God we trust.”
  • Christian churches can build where they want (mosques, not so much)
  • churches are tax exempt
  • Christian ethics guide the laws of the land
  • Christians are free to live out their own convictions without fear
  • etc.

While this may be the way many people think when they think of what it means to be a Christian country, this list actually falls way short. This conception of a Christian country reflects a self-centered understanding. It basically means that a Christian country is a country for Christians; a country that favors Christianity and creates/maintains a very Christian-friendly environment.  This idea of a Christian country is all about making our country pleasant and comfortable for we Christians.

I would suggest a different idea for a Christian country.  Rather than  a country for Christians, I would suggest that a Christian country is a country that behaves in a Christlike manner.  In other words, it is a country that takes personal Biblical, Christian ethics and applies them at a national level.

Let me share some examples of what I mean.

Way back in Genesis, when God first called Abraham, he made this covenant:

“I will make you into a great nation,  and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,  and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,  and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth  will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3, emphasis added)

Here is the general principle that can be drawn from that passage: When God blesses, the blessed are supposed to bless others! The Marvel hero, Spiderman, famously learned the lesson that, “with great power comes great responsibility.” This passage teaches the rest of us that with great blessings comes great responsibility. As a nation, we here in the United States, are greatly blessed. As a Christian I credit God for those blessings. Consequently, if we are to be a Christian country, we must use our great blessings to bless others!

This plays out in a wide variety of ways. Among other things, it means that as the most powerful country in the world, we should help and assist the less powerful. It means that when we make trade agreements, we should think not only of how it benefits ourselves, but also how it benefits those with whom we make the agreement. (Note Philippians 2:3-4 — “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”) It means giving aid to nations that are not as blessed as the United States–nations dealing with drought, famine, war, and so on.

A truly Christian country will not horde its blessings for itself but will use its blessings to bless others.

For another example, consider the environment. In the beginning, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15) Notice that the command is two-fold. We are to, “work it,” but we are also to, “take care of it.” It is an unfortunate truth that our culture has been better with the former than with the latter. We must bring that into balance.

A truly Christian country will not only “work” the planet but will also “take care of it.”

As another example, there is the issue of how a Christian nation should treat the marginalized and needy within its own borders. Here are just two relevant Scripture passages (from among many) that should guide and direct our policies if we want to be a Christian country: 1 John 3:17 asks, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” Along the same vein, James 2:14-17 says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

The directives of these and other relevant passages would include assisting with basics like food, shelter, and health care. It would also include ensuring that our laws don’t favor the well-to-do and that we proactively give the needy a hand-up in things like educational opportunities. It means we would make sure that our tax code doesn’t favor the well-to-dos over against those in poverty.

A truly Christian country will take care of its marginalized and needy.

Immigration is a divisive subject in our country. How should a Christian country respond to immigrants? Turning to Scripture, we are in Leviticus 19:34, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” It is an inconvenient truth (to some) that this passage makes no distinction between documented foreigners and non-documented foreigners. We are simply told that if they reside here, we should treat them the same as our native-born.

A truly Christian country will love its immigrants.

There is the issue of equal rights… According to Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, …” Our own Declaration of Independence mirrors this teaching with those well-known words, “all men are created equal.”

A truly Christian country will not discriminate, but will operate from a stance of equality under which everyone has “equal protection under the law.”

Domestic Economic Policy: There are Biblical principles that address business. For example, Deuteronomy 25:13-16, teaches: “Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.” The details of this passage were written in a different time and place but once again a general principle can be gleaned. The idea is to be fair in all our business dealings. Wages and prices should be fair, not simply, “whatever the market will bear.” The principle of, “let the buyer beware,” is just another way of saying that you can cheat customers if you can get away with it. Such a principle should have no place in a Christian country.

A truly Christian country will enact policies that aim for justice and fairness.

For the final example, I want to think about how we posture with our enemies. I often hear a call to to overcome our enemies by destroying them with our power and controlling them with intimidation and threats. Biblically, however, we are told: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,…” (Matthew 5:43-44) We are further told, in Hebrews 12:14, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone…”

A truly Christian country will have a foreign policy that is based on goodwill, negotiation, and peace, rather than control through power, fear, and intimidation

I for one would love to live in a Christian country. Not simply a country that loves Christians but a country that embraces Christian love.

It’s something to cerebrate!

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, March 1, 2015

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached about on a previous Sunday.)

Are you a believer?

Usually, when that question is asked, “believer” is being used a synonym for, “Christian.”  That’s fine.  However, it couldn’t hurt to remind ourselves why the word, “believer,” makes a good synonym for, “Christian.”

Let’s go back to the days of Abram.  When he was about 99 years old, God sent word that he and his wife were to become parents.  His wife was about 90 herself and had been barren for her entire life.  The idea that after all those years of not being able to have children, that they would have a child at this old age seemed unbelievable.  The Bible tells us that initially both Abram and his wife laughed at the idea.

He got over that soon enough.  The Scripture records that Abram believed God and it “was credited to him as righteousness.”

That notion that God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, loves us and forgives us seems unbelievable.  But believe it and it will be credited to you as righteousness!  That’s why Christians are called “believers.”

Are  you a believer?

 

 

 

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, February 22, 2015

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached about on a previous Sunday.)

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

It’s a pretty common question. Lent is, after all, a time in which we commemorate Jesus’ forty day fast in the wilderness.   Thus our commemoration usually includes giving up something.

But Lent (and fasting in general) ought to be about more than just giving up something. Isaiah 58:6-7 puts it very well:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

The bottom line is that there is another side to the give up Lenten coin.  Giving up something frees up resources.  Those resources can take the form of money, time, energy, or some combination of them.  So, once you’ve given up something, thereby freeing up something, then take the next step and give to something.

It’s been hundreds of years since Isaiah was written but the causes he specifically mentions are still a good place to start:  loosing the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free, sharing food with the hungry, providing the poor wanderer with shelter, etc.

What are you giving to for Lent?

On Learning a New Trick

What is it we humans have against change?

Within the genre of fast food sandwich shops, I like Cousin’s Subs. There used to be one just about a mile north of my house. Not anymore. Instead it is now an independent sandwich shop called, Varsitea Flats. Same local owners. Same employees, as near as I could tell. The owners had simply decided to let go of their Cousin’s Subs franchise and go independent.

During my second visit post-Cousin’s, while waiting for my Italian Bomber, a lady came in not paying very close attention. As she got ready to order she looked at the menu board and apparently looked a little confused because the cashier broke the silence with, “This isn’t Cousin’s anymore.”

What is it we humans have against change?

The lady looked dismayed. The cashier asked, “Well what were you going to order?” “A club,” she answered. The cashier offered, “I can make you one of those using our bomber buns.” But the thrown-for a-loop customer politely declined, then turned and walked out the door.

Mentally, I was shaking my head thinking, “I can’t believe she is that set in her ways and that opposed to change.” But I had to admit to myself: It had only been a few days earlier that I had walked in and unexpectedly discovered the sudden changeover, myself. I had stood there and mentally debated walking out without ordering. It was only after a good deal of inner coaxing that I made myself stay and try something new. I had examined the menu and found a sandwich that approximated the Italian Cheesesteak I usually ordered from Cousin’s: The Italian Bomber.

What is it we humans have against change?

I’m one of those guys that loves Gary Larson’s, The Far Side, cartoons. The setting of one of my favorites is inside a circus tent. There’s a dog juggling while riding a unicycle on a high wire. The caption reads, “High above the hushed crowd, Rex tried to remain focused. Still he couldn’t shake one nagging thought: He was an old dog and this was a new trick.”

I’m patting myself on the back for being like Rex. Even though it’s a new trick, I’m trying it. I can adapt. I will go back to Varsitea Flats. From their expanded menu featuring a wide variety of new paninis and flatbread sandwiches, I’ll probably order an Italian Bomber. Again. I could try a different sandwich but I don’t want to get carried away with this change stuff. After all, I am an old dog…

 

 

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, February 15, 2015

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached about on a previous Sunday.)

Mountain wisdom is simple and profound.  Here are couple examples:

  • “Don’t sell your mule to buy a plow.”
  • “Don’t corner something meaner than you.”

Simple and profound. But I think some of the wisest advice to ever come off a mountain top was of a very different nature from those folksy examples.  Jesus was there with three of his followers along with a couple of very special and unexpected guests: Moses and Elijah. As this mountain top experience was coming to close a voice was heard, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7, NIV)

Listen to the Son of God!  it doesn’t get much more simple and profound than that.

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, February 8, 2015

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached about on a previous Sunday.)

Mark 1:21-34 tell of Jesus amazing the people by the way he taught as one with authority. It also tells of Jesus acting with authority by the way he overcame evil spirits and healed various diseases. The result of Jesus’ authoritative teaching and actions was immediate popularity. It must have been an exhausting day. The next morning, did Jesus sleep in and order breakfast in bed? Isn’t that what pop stars do?   Well, it’s not what Jesus did.  Did he call a press conference to exploit the momentum? After all, that’s what pop stars do. Well, that’s not what Jesus did either. Mark 1:35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

I think this reveals something very important about Jesus. Very simply, it reveals that Jesus placed a high priority on prayer. Equally simple is the implication: If Jesus placed a high priority on prayer, then we should too!