Tag Archives: Politics

God’s People, part 101: Zeal x 3

Read Daniel 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew‬ ‭16:25-26‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

img_1084Part 101: Zeal x 3. Have you ever heard the story of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? If not, these were friends of God’s servant Daniel and were among the aristocracy that had been exiled into Babylon. In Babylon, they had almost been put to death when none of the astrologers, magicians, or wise men of Babylon could tell the king what his dream was.

As a result, King Nebuchadnezzar II ordered that all of the wise men in Babylon (including Daniel and his friends) be put to death. Upon hearing this decree, Daniel met with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and begged them to pray for God to reveal to them the King’s dream so that they could avoid being put to death. That very night, Daniel was told in a dream what the king had dreamt of.

The next morning, Daniel told the king his dream and also revealed to the king its meaning. The king was so impressed that he fell down and worshipped Daniel. What’s more, he promoted Daniel to a high position his court and, at Daniel’s request, he also promoted Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The three friends became known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach and Adednego, and Daniel became known as Belteshazzar. With that said, they had not eluded danger for long.

The narrative goes on to tell us that the Babylonian king decided to build a giant golden statue (possibly of himself) and demanded that all of his subjects bow down and worship the statue in order to show loyalty and respect to the king. I can only imagine how scared the Jewish people must have been. It was against God’s holy law to bow down to foreign objects but, with that said, they were now exiled in Babylon with God seemingly nowhere in sight.

I am sure that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among the Jews who were afraid of what would happen. I can imagine each of them racing through their minds and searching their own hearts for what to do next. Should they bow to the king and live to see another day, or defy the king and refuse to bow? The latter would most definitely get them killed.

The three friends, in that moment, became filled with zeal for their God and refused to bow. Zeal can be defined as a great energy or enthusiasm for God and for their faith. Rather than cower to the king, they refused to bow. Even when the king demanded they bow or be killed, they told the king that even if he threw them into the fiery furnace, their God would rescue them.

Well, that claim certainly got tested and the three, along with their zeal, were thrown in to the fiery furnace. They could have died; however, the angel of the Lord (who was visible to the king, and other onlookers, as a fourth person in the flames) protected Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah from the flames and they ended up coming out of the furnace alive.

This event brough great glory to God, and the king of Babylon decreed that no one could utter a word against them or their great God or such people would be torn limb by limb. Because of their devotion and their zeal for God, because of their unwavering faith in the heat of the moment, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah witnessed to the power of the true and living God. They, and Daniel, were witnesses to the reality of Immanuel…God with us.

While not all martyrs live to tell the tale of their martyrdom, like Daniel and his friends did, all believers in God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are called to be martyrs (aka witnesses). Don’t misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that we are all called to DIE for our faith, but that we are all called to witness to our faith and to the love of our God regardless of the cost for doing so. When we witness to God’s truth in this wicked world, there is no doubt that persecution is sure to follow.

When God’s people stand up for what is right, the world tells them to keep their opinions to themselves. When God’s people oppose unjust laws and wicked government leaders, the world tells them that they should not mix religious morality with politics and that they should simply preach sterile messages of false hope and “happiness”. When God’s people seek to help the “least of these”, the greatest among us in the world seek to undermine and destroy any and all efforts, as well as those carrying them out. The challenge for us, as it was for Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, is to swallow our fears and allow our zeal for our Lord and Savior and God to give us the strength to resist.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

When we choose our lives over what is righteous, we invite death into our souls. When we choose Christ over our lives, our souls become filled with true and eternal life.

PRAYER

Lord, give me the strength, in Jesus Christ, to be a mighty and powerful witness for your glory. Amen.

God’s People, part 69: Jezebel

Read 2 Kings 9:30-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.” (Revelation‬ ‭2:20-21‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 69: Jezebel. The name of Jezebel, wife of Ahab and Queen of Israel, has gone down in infamy. She is infamous for leading her husband, Ahab, to worship the Canaanite god Baal. She is depicted in the Bible as an evil, deceitful and murderous queen who used her power to bring destruction upon Israel and God’s people. Her name is so synonymous with being in opposition to God, that John of Patmos used her name to symbolize a person (or people) within the church at Thyatira who were turning the church away from Christ.

Before we can evaluate the Queen herself, we really need to have a bit of background on her. She was the daugther of Ithobaal I (make note of the last portion of that name) who was the king of Tyre, a city in Phonoecia. During his rule, all of Phonoecia, including Sidon, was unified. If you haven’t already thought of this, Phonoecia is the land that came up with one of the first alphabets that allowed for them to improve communication between themselves and those they traded with. In fact, the English and other alphabets owe their thanks to the Phonoecians.

According to the ancient Phonoecian historian Menander of Ephesus (cited by the Jewish historian Josephus), Jezebel’s father was a priest of the ancient Canaanite god Astarte prior to becoming king. This means that Jezebel grew up as the daughter of a priest and was, no doubt, steeped in the religious traditions of her father and people. This would also explain why Jezebel was persistently proselytizing her husband in the ways of her own religious beliefs and traditions. While this certainly made her unpopular among the those faithful to the God of Israel, one can hardly blame her for her devotion to her religious traditions.

So, out of fairness, let’s put the fact that she proselytized her husband aside and look at some of the other things she was known for. Once she became queen, Jezebel wanted all of Israel to worship Baal and wanted the Canaanite religion she observed to become the national religion that all Israelites must observe. She ordered the deaths of anyone who stood in the way of that. Thus, she murdered all of God’s prophets who obviously objected to her and her husband leading the people of Israel astray.

In their place, she appointed her own priests and prophets of Baal. In fact, when Elijah stood against the 450 prophets of Baal, he noted how he was the only one of God’s prophets left. Jezebel was someone who would not take no for an answer and was someone whose power had long gone to her head. The Bible even states that she ordered the death of a local farmer after he refused to sell Ahab his vineyard.

We cannot be sure how much of the rhetoric in the Bible depicts who Jezebel was and how much it depicts how she was perceived to be from the vantage point of faithful Jews; however, one thing is for sure: the Biblical account lines up well with the historical record of her devotion to Canaanite gods and, like all people in power, it is not hard to believe that she would get rid of anyone who stood against her as a political or religious opponent. In fact, politics and religion were not separate in the ancient world but were very much one and the same thing.

In the end, Jezebel’s opposition to God’s prophets and her political ambitions led not only her husband but also herself down a destructive road. While she may have outlived her husband, her fate soon followed his. Following being anointed King by the prophet Elisha, Jehu had Jezebel thrown out of a palace window, where she laid a bloody mess, was trampled on by horses, and was eaten by stray dogs. Eventually, the king had her corpse removed and the mess cleaned up. Pleasant, I know.

This, my brothers and sisters, is where unwavering commitment to political viewpoints and dogmatic worldviews end up. Jezebel’s unwillingness to be reasonable, fair, honest and just was her own downfall. Those who live for politics, die by politics. Those who live for the sword, die by the sword. Those who live for God may surely experience death, but they never truly die, for in God rests eternal life. Let us be challenged to evaluate ourselves. Are we open to the grace of God? Do we allow the Holy Spirit to work godly change in our lives? Do we seek to represent God in all that we do? Or, are we seeking our own way, worshiping our own ambitions, and, ultimately, leading others to do the same? Let us lay down our idols, repent of our sin, and turn back to God who calls us with open arms.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Put away your sword. Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” — Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew‬ ‭26:52‬ ‭NLT‬‬

PRAYER

Lord, allow me to use the story of Jezebel as a means of evaluating my own life. By your amazing grace, restore me to righteousness and use me to bring love, peace, hope, healing, wholeness and justice to all. Amen.

Religion and Politics

Read Luke 9:21-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10 NLT)

religion-politcs

There is nothing like a political campaign season to bring out the ugliness in people. One cannot go online without being barraged by people on all sides of any political divide, smearing everyone who thinks and views things differently than them. In this particular “Election 2016” cycle, things have descended to uncharted lows.

What’s more, the divide is not solely political either. There is a huge divide in terms of religion as well. Of course, religion has always been a divisive topic among Christians and other religious groups. There’s divisiveness within a religion, where people of the same religion are divided over doctrines, dogmas, and other such things. There’s also divisiveness between different religions as each fight to compete in whose religion holds the absolute truth.

In America, and in Western Civilization as a whole, people have become less willing to share their faith because they have come to see faith and religious believes as something that is personal and something that is to be private. What’s more, people have also come to believe that faith should not interfere with politics and vice versa. There is a whole history in Western Civilization that informs us on the dangers of religion and politics mixing. Even families are guarded against discussing the two, as the phrase goes, at the “dinner table” because they can often bring about heated and divisive arguments.

While this is often true and the mixture of politics with religion can be quite toxic and devastating, this has also led America and the Western world to a skewed and incorrect understanding of the role of religion in society. As we saw in the devotion series I wrote on the wrath of God, religion and politics are not mutually exclusive. The prophet is one who is called to speak out against injustice, against sin, against systemic evil and the societal abandonment of God.

In order for the prophet to fulfill her/his role, she or he must speak out against the ills that are plaguing society. Not just moral ills and not just social ills…but all ills. Prophets speak truth to power and, by doing so, push for societal/social/religious change. The prophet’s words are never “politically correct”, nor are they ever politically wanted. As a result, prophets often pay high social, political, and sometimes religious costs for daring to speak God’s word to the people.

What’s important to note here is that, while the prophet is not called to politicize God or Scripture, she or he’s message will inevitably have political effects and ramifications. By remaining silent and refusing to let God speak through us, we silence our prophetic voice and choose to remain complicit in the way of the world. The prophet is one who recognizes God is calling us to speak truth to power, to stand up against injustice and to push for the changing of the hearts of God’s people.

The question for us is, what is holding us back from being such a prophet? What is keeping us from speaking truth to power and standing up for what’s right? What is stopping us from choosing to not hide our faith away like some sort of “best kept secret”? What is stopping us from keeping our religion in the proverbial broom closet? Are we ashamed of our faith? Are we afraid of the consequences and of what others might think? Let us not shy away from our obligation to speak the truth and stand up for what is right. It may have political consequences, but far better that than the spiritual consequences of remaining silent through, complicit in and culpable for, the evil around us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. – A. W. Tozer

PRAYER
Lord, help me to speak the truth at all costs and steer me from turning a blind eye to the injustice in the world. Amen.

Pledge Allegiance

Read Romans 12:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. (Luke 12:34 NLT)

PledgeAllegianceToJesusIf you are at all like me, you are probably growing very weary of the American political campaign for the Presidency of the United States of America. It does not matter where in the world you are while reading this, you have no doubt heard the names Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Donald, of course, is now the presumptive GOP nominee, and Hillary is looking like she will be.

I have never used my devotions, or the pulpit, to talk politics and I do not intend to now; however, I have used both platforms to talk about specific spiritual and theological issues that are connected to or implicated by political issues. I am called to speak out prophetically on issues that concern all Christians, regardless of where, when and how those issues arise. Thus, I do so now.

The political climate in America is so divisive and malicious that the country has become a battle ground for a war being waged between very contentious and controversial candidates. We have Donald Trump who has said very hurtful things about fellow candidates and about certain groups of people. We have Hillary Clinton who is caught up in a plethora of scandals and has trust issues among voters. We also have Bernie Sanders who identifies as a Democratic Socialist, who has tried to maintain a campaign focused on the issues important to him, but who has also stepped up the rhetoric by accusing the Democratic Primary System of being rigged and stacked against him and the people.

Worse than the candidates, many religious figures have stepped into the political fray in order to demonize those within their own religious groups who are supporting a candidate different than theirs. Unfortunately, many Christians have followed suit with that. It’s as if such people now identify Christ and Christianity with a certain party or a certain political ideology. Conservative Christians see Christ as socially conservative. Progressive Christians see Christ as socially progressive, and anyone who disagrees with either side must not be a Christian. This is the sad, but unfortunately true, state we American (and dare I say Western) Christians find ourselves in nowadays.

I have family, friends, and colleagues who are on both sides of the political divide. Some of them who are progressive look down on Trump supporters as ignorant, angry, racist, white people of privilege. Some who are supporters of Trump and/or identify as conservative, view the Clinton and Sanders supporters as a threat to the economic stability and American traditions that “made America great” and accuse those supporters of “wanting to fundamentally change and destroy our great country and freedoms.”

Ironically, the progressive view of conservatives is very elitist and sounds awfully similar to the accusations that the Jewish and Roman elites used against Christ and the early Christians. Yet, a word to the wise, ignorance comes in many forms and a college education does not guard against it.  Conversely, the conservative view ironically sounds awfully like the view that the Jewish and Roman leaders held against Jesus, and a lot like the mob mentality of the Romans as they threw Christians, who were seen as being out to destroy Rome’s greatness, to the wild beasts.

What I am going to say may come as a shock to some, and perhaps less so to others, but it is as truthful and honest as I can be. Jesus Christ does not give a damn who you vote for. Christ is not Republican and Christ is not Democrat. Christ is not Amercian and Christ is not the figurehead of Western Civilization. Christ, and Christ alone, is LORD of all Creation! What’s more, there are Christians on all sides of the political divide and their vote does not make them more or less Christian.

What makes us Christian is CHRIST. If our hearts are centered on Christ, then we are Christian. None of us are perfect in that and we serve a God of grace. Christians can and should vote, and I wouldn’t state otherwise. But voting is your national duty, not your Christian duty. Vote for who you are going to vote for, and have the grace and love to let others do the same. In the end, whoever wins will win and, in the end, their term(s) will come to an end. Christ’s reign will NEVER come to an end. What Christians are required to do is follow Christ and and lead others to do the same through their example of Christian love and service. I pray that, whatever your political beliefs are, your true and only allegiance is pledged to CHRIST OUR LORD.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
As we seek out someone to “save our country”, we forget that we are to pledge allegiance to the ONE who saves our world.
PRAYER
Lord, guide me to pledge my allegiance to you over and above anything else. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #10: Glorifying One’s Bosses

Read Romans 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (Titus 3:9 NRSV)

GettyImages_71897390All I have to do is turn on cable news to remind myself that I simply DO NOT like politics. Actually, it reminds me of ancient Rome and all of the in-fighting, maneuvering, slandering, backstabbing, and power-grabbing reminds me of ancient Rome. Julius Caesar worked his way up the ranks and nearly claimed being KING…only to be assassinated by his friends who didn’t want to see him have that kind of power…who were in turn executed for treason by the great nephew of Julius (someone who never would have been named an “heir” by Julius himself)…who then makes himself Emperor for life. Of course, once that life is extinguished, a whole new slew of Emperors take power, are corrupted by the power, and are assassinated by people who then, in turn, take power and are corrupted by it. And this is just Rome we’re talking about. We now will turn our eyes to the church.

Ailment of the Church #10: Glorifying One’s Bosses. A lot of people will say that they do not like politics. In fact, I opened up this devotion with that very statement. When that is said, I think most people realize that politics are a vital part of how our society is held together. We all, everyday, live according to and are held accountable to the social contract that governs our society. Without that, one could argue that complete chaos would ensue because it would be each for his/her own. Whether or not that is true, and there others who would argue the other way, politics are a reality within the governance of a country, society or institution.

And that is just as true within the church as it is in any other organization. Along with the positives that we can find in being organized, comes all of the negatives as well. In churches, at the denominational level as well as at the local level, we find in-fighting, maneuvering, slandering, backstabbing, and power-grabbing that is commonplace in all organizations. We have people who think one way pitted against others who think another way. We have people who look up to positions and status within the church hierarchy in ways that bring glorification, value and power to those positions and statuses.

This issue of “politics” goes well beyond the walls of the church and into our everyday lives. Do you consider yourself a Christian? If so, have you ever sought a position of status or power? Have you taken measures to ensure getting into position. Have you competed against others for positions and/or statuses? Have you ever in used the phrase, “the end justifies the means?” I think when we all pause and think about this for a moment, we can all say, “Yes, I’ve done that.”

I am not trying to knock success, or structure, or healthy competition, or positions of responsibility, or even power. These things can, and have been, used for good; however, when we glorify those things above Christ, when we seek them out at all costs, when we neglect our call as Christians or, worse, when we allow positions, statuses, and power define us as Christians, we’ve abandoned Christ and failed to be Christ’s true followers. We have been called to make Christ our valuable treasure that we seek. We are called to make following Christ our life’s goal. We are called to seek out and invite others to join us, as equals, in embracing the status of “children of God.” So let us drop the politics and HONOR God by picking up that identity, embracing it, and sharing the GOOD NEWS of it to all the world…just as the CHURCH has been commissioned by Christ to do.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick.” – Pope Francis I

PRAYER
Lord, help me to move beyond my own struggle for position, status and power so that may be solely focused on you and your will for me. Amen.