Life. Abundantly.

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Why Not How

William Joseph Slim advised that “When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take – choose the bolder.”

I’m someone who used to make most of their decisions from a negative stance, from a place of fear, unbelief, and poverty mindedness. The process would look something like this: Why shouldn’t I do this? What are the material facts? Do I know every detail of how to do this? I wouldn’t take a step forward unless I knew all the specifics of the “how”. Unfortunately my poverty minded mindset told me that I was lacking and limited, and so my grasp of the “how” was greatly flawed.

I was once particularly hesitant to step out in faith about something God had told me to do. I was afraid because it involved many unknowns, particularly in the area of finance. Even though I was stuck in a rut at the time, and it was the only semi-logical step forward on offer, fear was getting the best of me.

Then my Mom told me a story, from 2 Kings 7:3-4, “Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.” My Mom pointed out that choosing to stagnate is a form of death, and that the worst that could happen was no worse than that death kiss of stagnation.

Fast forward a few years on and I now firmly recognize that just about anything in life worth doing involves their being unanswered questions when committing. Be it getting married, having children, signing up for a missions trip, moving to a different country, or taking on a new career, it’s like endorsing a blank cheque. Almost certainly you’ll have absolutely no idea of what you’re actually signing up for! It’s a leap into the unknown, firm in the belief that God has promised you that He’ll be there with you in it.

In the movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade” there’s a scene where Indiana Jones faces a huge chasm. In faith he takes a step, seemingly into thin air, only to discover that a bridge appears under his feet as he does so. I believe that faith is ever so similar. Often the way forward will only appear as we step out in faith, even though so much evidence tells us that it is impossible.

I’ve found that this is particularly true in the area of finance. So often we decide that we can’t do something because of the material facts in front of us. We negate that God never orders something He can’t pay for. But like with Indiana Jones’ bridge, we’ll only discover that the provision does exist if we’re willing to take the first step.

Certainly the material facts can loom in front of us like angry goliaths threatening to clobber us if we dare to take a step forward. So it’s vital that we bolster ourselves with the truth that God tells us that we can do all things in Christ. (Philippians 4:13)

It’s about remembering “why” we should do something: because God told us to go forth and multiply, because he told us to subdue and steward, because His word is true and He loves us and will supply for all our needs. When we can honestly answer the right way to the “why” question, we no longer need every detail of the “how” planned out before moving forward.

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Confessions Of An A Type Personality

There are sections of the Bible that annoy me. I fully recognize that this is a reflection on me, and not on scripture, but none the less the truth is that certain passages cause me to roll my eyes. This is usually because I find them patronizing, and that I associate them with platitudes delivered by well meaning but painfully mislead people.

One such scripture that I’ve been annoyed with more times than I care to recall is the story of Mary and Martha (how many times have you been told you should be more like Mary and less like Martha?)

To recap Luke 10: 38-42 “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The thing that used to annoy me about this story was how obvious the lesson was. I mean, if Jesus – God incarnate – was coming to dinner at your house wouldn’t it seem kind of self-evident that you should probably just leave the dishes till tomorrow and go hang out with Him? I found it so frustrating to have scripture dedicated to such an obvious matter, and it irritated me to be reminded of it through asinine platitudes.

Suffice to say that for many years my perception of this story was heavily filtered a very literal interpretation. But recently God has been speaking to my heart on a much deeper level about the true message: that He wants to spend quality time with me every day.

The truth is that every single day God is in my home, wanting to spend quality time with me. But often I’m so busy doing chores (ironically often “for Him”!) that I completely fail to recognize that He’d simply like me to sit down and hang out.

I know that chores need to be done. Bosses need to be appeased, sales targets need to be reached, children need to be car pooled, and fridges need to be stocked. These are all legitimate responsibilities. But to reiterate Jesus’ words: “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one.”

I believe that the key to Jesus’ advice on this matter lies in the contrast between the words “many things” and “few things”.

If we’re honest, most of us would confess to having a schedule that is overcommitted. It’s as though we choose to carpet bomb our schedule with all manner of activity just in case the way to salvation really is through works.

Which leads me to yet another section of scripture that for many years irritated me: Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” This verse used to frustrate me no end, because my understanding of meekness, otherwise referred to as humility in other translations, was that it was a character trait, like extroversion, eloquence, or intellect, and as such was something you either had or you didn’t have. It seemed painfully unfair to me that people who had been arbitrarily blessed with a certain character trait were the ones who would inherit God’s blessings. It seemed to me as arbitrary as one saying “Blessed are the extroverts, for they will inherit the earth”!

If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be humble, as my perception of humility was that it was synonymous with impotence, self-righteous piousness, and that kind of wimpiness that is absolutely of no use to a world in crisis. I wanted assertiveness, solutions, and pioneering warrior-like action. The whole “who am I but a lowly worm” thing didn’t appeal to me in the slightest.

But of late God has been radically shifting my understanding of humility from the idea of it being a character trait, to the truth that it is actually a lifestyle choice.

I’ve come to understand that the actual definition of humility is “Not operating at full capacity”. And the more I see of life, the more firmly I become convinced that not maxing things out is really the key to inheriting God’s blessings.

For example, humility in our personal finances means not spending all the money we receive. By following the Bible’s directive to not spend more than we earn, to avoid debt, and to live under our means we place ourselves in a position where we can much more easily embrace the good things that God has for us. Lack of humility in our finances can absolutely rob us from being able to fully embrace what God has planned for our time here on earth. In these times of economic hardship, and the foretold difficulty that is increasingly going to be present in the final days, I believe that humility in personal finances will be absolutely crucial to the Church remaining unscathed.

Humility in our careers means advancing slowly but surely, as Proverbs 13:11 says “whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” This allows us to build our character as we build our skills, so that when responsibility is placed upon us we are truly ready for it. In an age that has seen many charismatic young leaders fall from grace due to lack of character development, the need for humility in the vocational field, whether it be in the marketplace or in ministry, is very apparent.

Humility in our personal life means that we await the right seasons for sex, for marriage, and for the bearing of children. Rather than rushing ahead, knowing that it means pushing ourselves to the limits of our emotional capacity and our financial stability, we humbly recognize the reality of our current limits and the season that we find ourselves in.

Humility in our schedule means choosing to do less than what we know we could get away with. It means not being a workaholic, and not cramming our free time with endless meetings and social engagements.

Please understand that I’m not saying that an accomplished career, meetings, and social engagements aren’t necessarily good endeavours, because they absolutely can be. But it does cause me great alarm, and an increasing level of anger, to see how absolutely unavailable a good portion of the body of Christ have rendered themselves through schedules that completely fail to take into account Christ’s exhortation and example that we should seek to do less, so as to remain available to Him.

A good part of my anger regarding this matter is the motivation that seems to lurk behind so much of it: Greed. We call our greed nice little names like “ambition”, “being responsible”, “going full-tilt”, and “being a good example”, amongst other things. But the reality is that it is no more than materialistic, money-whoring, selfishness. It is ungodly, and I believe is a big part of the reason that the Western church is failing to operate in power at present.

If you doubt me in this, just think back on how many times you’ve asked a fellow believer how they are, and have been met with a monologue about all the different ways that they’re busy. Or maybe they just responded with the word “busy”, because they were too busy to even have a proper conversation! Sadly I think that we’ve become so used to this response that many of us don’t even question it any more.

You see, materialism is not exclusively about a rampant desire for material possessions. More generally speaking it is actually the prioritizing of earthly reality, material reality, above spiritual reality. And I would venture to say that material reality is the highest priority reflected in many of our schedules today.

I believe that God is calling us to simplicity in our schedules, simplicity in our commitments, and simplicity in our lifestyles. Indeed Jesus praised Mary for making this choice saying “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Humility gives leeway for grace. Humility gives leeway for the unexpected things of life to happen. Humility gives margin for mistakes, and it allows the natural process of learning through trial and error to remain safe. Humility provides protection.

So I call you to a life of less. Less acquaintances. Less hobbies. Less work. Less purchases. Less recklessness. Don’t accept any more responsibility than you have to! Spend time with God. Real time, not just fifteen minutes at the end of a hectic day. Spend time intentionally with carefully chosen friends, being fully available to their hearts and minds. Spend time noticing and enjoying the beauty of creation, and spend time simply being. Because those that choose such a lifestyle of humility, such a radical, subversive, freeing lifestyle of humility, are, according to Jesus, those that will inherit the earth.

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All The Single Ladies

I was recently driving back from a missions trip with a group of single women and we got onto the topic of dating, friendship with the opposite sex, and everything that falls in-between. The stories were very different, but the one central theme that ran through most of them was the pain and bewilderment of being hurt.

Now I don’t want to fall into the pitfall of suggesting that women are the only ones that can claim such casualties. I fully recognize that my gender have inflicted countless wounds too. However this did lead me to reflect on the nature of the season which many of us find ourselves in in our twenties and thirties as we try to figure out who to trust, who to pursue, and who, for lack of a better word, is a total douchebag*.

With every love story I hear recounted by those that have successfully navigated the dating minefield and reached the hallowed grounds of the wedding altar I realize more and more that relationships are most definitely not one size fits all. God clearly likes to work in a variety of ways and for every dating “you should never” there are bona fide exceptions to be found. So even though in my early twenties I genuinely thought I’d sussed out the one and only blueprint for relationship, I am now increasingly convinced that any attempt at formula is utter foolishness.

That said, of late I’ve been realizing that there is one precept which is absolutely critical, and indeed the litmus test of dating relationships. And this isn’t whether you were friends first, how many months you’ve known each other, whether you’re of the same nationality, or indeed any of the other wise principals that have been sadly perverted into legalism by some. It’s actually the simple evaluation of how closely someone follows the greatest commandment of all.

In Mark 12: 28-31 we learn what that commandment is: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Now I know that most single people have a long list of things they’d like in a partner. They want someone who likes camping, or someone who hates the outdoors. They want someone who has a heart for Asia, or someone who feels strongly called to the local neighbourhood. They want an animal lover, or someone who has a pet free home. And then there’s the list of physical preferences. They want someone tall. Or someone short. They want someone blonde. Or someone brunette. They want someone who looks like an Abercrombie model. Or someone who is comfortingly homely. The list often goes on and on.

I firmly believe in the importance of being able to identify and articulate what we desire, and I do believe that God likes to bless us abundantly. However it seems to me that a common mistake that Christian singles make is in prioritization.

Ultimately, according to Mark 12, the two most important questions we need to ask ourselves when evaluate someone’s suitability as a potential partner are:

1) How much do they love God?
2) How much do they love people?

Single ladies and gentlemen, I encourage you to make these two simple questions your main criteria when selecting a partner, as I contend that if your crush is lacking in either of these areas you are setting yourself up for much heartbreak and disappointment. It doesn’t matter that they meet every other item on your list, or that you hear the Hallelujah chorus every time they glance in your direction. If they don’t also plentifully meet both of these criteria you are most likely going to find yourself in some kind of dysfunctional relationship. Conversely, if you choose someone who has an abundant love for God, and an abundant love for people, your relationship will likely be characterized by overarching peace and blessing.

On this basis I’d like to suggest that all other preferences, from whether someone likes rock climbing through to whether or not they eat meat, are very, very, very secondary. While lack of commonality is certainly a legitimate deal breaker to non-believers, Biblically based marriage functions in a whole different way. So “do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

For this reason I encourage you singletons with strong preconceptions to take your blinders off. Don’t discount prospects because of shallow preferences that are liable to change with the seasons!

I am firmly convinced that a heart full of love greatly overcomes many differences. This is because true love focuses on blessing others, not on gratifying oneself. I personally believe that it is servant-hearted marriages like this, marriages that so utterly transcend the natural grid for what is easy, self-serving, and logical, that transform the very fabric of society. Indeed, these make the most enjoyable marriages of all.

[* For those of you that would question my use of such condemning language, please see the use of the terms “fool” and “evil man” in the book of Proverbs, which demonstrate how behaviour is sometimes so relentless that it actually can be referred to as being an inherent part of someone’s nature.]

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These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things…

I like pretty things. I collect pretty things. Amongst others, I have a large collection of hairbands. I own a pair of Marni shoes that have only been worn a couple of times as I consider them more art than functional footwear. I also collect napkin rings, which I realize is slightly unusual. And I have a Karen Millen leather coat from my Mom that is undoubtedly one of my favourite possessions ever.

Your list is probably quite different. Maybe you cherish a carefully curated record collection, or an antique piece of furniture. Or maybe you collect sunglasses, or own a beautiful set of golf clubs. Whatever your own list of personal treasures is I know you have prized possessions. We all do.

Throughout history there have been numerous theological and philosophical ideologies purporting that we should not care about earthly belongings. Indeed this ideology of possessions being evil is often closely associated with spirituality. Certainly the whole relationship of self to possessions is a prominent and inevitable part of life. Regardless of how much cognitive energy you’ve put into appraising your own relationship with your possessions, the fact is that you will have been influenced and indoctrinated to some extent into one stance or another.

So what relationship should we have with our possessions? Are we right to care about them? Indeed, should we even have “stuff”?

This subject has been particularly prevalent in my mind in the last few months as I moved four times in just one year. More than once while packing up moving boxes for the enth time the idea of just getting rid of everything I own and living out of a suitcase has seemed eminently appealing. But then I remember that this “stuff” represents so much of God’s provision, and things that God has called me to steward over, as originated in Genesis 2:15. And I know that much of this “stuff” represents part of my story.

I’ve noticed that I tend to oscillate between this sporadic desire to just throw away the responsibilities that come with stewardship, with this intense desire to hoard my belongings with an avarice that would put Scrooge to shame. At those times I can’t help but think that I don’t so much have my possessions so much as they have me.

During my latest move I was pondering this dichotomy that I seem to be torn between, either extreme being to my detriment. I observed the lack of joy I had in this area. And then I felt God point something out. He said: “One day you’re going to loose all of this stuff anyway. So why not already accept when you receive these gifts that they’re just yours to enjoy for a season?” For me this was a paradigm shift in the whole way I viewed my belongings. I suddenly went from seeing my belongings as items that I “possessed” to items that are merely in my hands for a season.

Since I’ve been following God’s advice on this matter I’ve found that my enjoyment of my possessions has greatly increased. Now that I’ve accepted the reality that I won’t have these items forever I’m so much more aware of the importance of fully enjoying them and giving thanks for them today. And I don’t have so much of a crushing sense of having to fight against reality by trying to cling onto these things. Since admitting that there will come a day when my possessions will pass into other hands I feel I have been set free into the relationship with them that I was designed for. For the first time in my life I understand what it means to be a steward, not an owner.

They say that health and healing comes from moving further into reality. So if you haven’t done it yet I encourage you to move into reality in the area of possessions. Be set free of strife and enjoy the blessings of today by accepting what will inevitably happen one day!

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The Advocate

One aspect of Jesus’ character has been a revelation to me recently. I’m very aware that when one speaks about a specific aspect of Jesus character it can be easily taken out of context and then presented as the only aspect of who He is. This makes sharing a balanced message in just one short article somewhat of a challenge, so please understand that for the sake of brevity I can’t possibly go into every nuance of how the characteristic I want to speak of today plays out against the rest of who He is. (I can’t help but think of the scene in Talladega Nights where Ricky Bobby prays “Dear little baby Jesus in the manger…dear 8lb 6oz baby Jesus…dear tiny God…use your little baby Jesus powers…” and his wife retorts, “Ricky, I don’t know why you keep referring to Jesus as a baby! He was a grown man, you know. He had a beard, for crying out loud!” To which Ricky Bobby responds, “I like the baby Jesus best! When you say the prayer you can pray to teenage Jesus or grown up Jesus or whichever Jesus you like best.”)

The aspect of Jesus’ character I want to discuss is that of His compassion, and how this reality fits into our grid of understanding of who He is.

I feel that this aspect of Jesus’ character is one that a lot of us are particularly blind to. This is usually because of the judgemental and condemning examples of Fatherhood that almost all of us have experienced to some degree or another.

Typically when we think about how God knows everything about us our reaction is to cringe. It’s not unusual to instantly have a “best hits” reel of every dodgy and perverted thing we’ve ever done in our lives run through our mind. Not surprisingly, the result of this is that the thought of our every moment and thought being witnessed by God is not particularly reassuring.

The experience of feeling judged is one I think we can all relate to. For most of us memories of feeling judged bring up a certain amount of anger and pain. I personally find that the worst part of others being judgemental towards me is their lack of empathy. I find that they just don’t seek to understand why I might be doing something, or even recognize that there might be legitimate reasons behind my actions. In my experience judgmental people presume that their limited perception of what they’re witnessing is the entire story, which, they seemingly reason, would put them in a reasonable position to act as judge. I personally find this infuriatingly unfair as there is almost always a considerable back story or explanation that is not being taken into account. These reasons are often buried deep in my heart in places of great vulnerability and pain, exactly the kind of place I don’t want to open up to someone who is exhibiting a judgemental attitude!

However this matter of “knowing” someone’s backstory is the very reason that Jesus is the single most compassionate being in the universe. He knows everything about us, every last detail, which means that He knows ALL the reasons for our junk and our struggles. He knows ALL the extenuating circumstances and ALL the mitigating reasons that have culminated in our acting in a certain way. He has witnessed every single harsh word ever said to us, every emotional wound inflicted upon us, and every damaging relationship we’ve ever walked through. He knows our desperation, our fears and our hurts. He knows every tear we’ve shed and every moment of pain we’ve ever known. So he knows in detail what is justifiable about our behaviour, even better than we do ourselves. And that makes Him our very best advocate.

This doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t hate sin, that our sin is excused, or that our sin doesn’t matter. Scripture is very clear that all sin is detestable to God, and that He knows all that is wicked about our ways. However, I’d like to contend that alongside that He has a deeper level of empathy and compassion for us than any other person we know. I firmly believe that when we meet Him in person and look into His eyes we will see such compassion and such empathy that we will be aware of how totally, completely, overwhelmingly and utterly He loves and accepts us. We will feel entirely “known” by Him, in a way that many people only ever get a glimpse of through fulfilling romantic connection. This being truly known and loved is the most wonderful experience we could ever have.

So we need not fear rejection from Him. When Jesus says that He knows us He is saying that we are truly in a place of deep empathy and understanding.

And Jesus not only knows of our personal pain, but He also knows what it is like to feel pain. He experienced on earth all the things we experience, including hunger, rejection, abandonment, isolation, discomfort, neglect, ridicule, contempt, and physical pain. He is truly able to say to us “I know what you’re going through”!

This is why we read in 1 John 2:1 that “if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”. We have the most perfect advocate pleading our case out of the very deepest empathy imaginable.

I hope that one day you get to look into Jesus eyes for yourself and witness the incredible depth of His empathy and love for you. When we come to Him, we find true acceptance. He knows, He cares, and He understands.

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What To Do With A Double-Edged Sword

How many times have you been told that you shouldn’t be sarcastic? Do you think that sarcasm is inherently bad? Or do you believe it can be used for good?

In order to successfully delve into this subject I think we need to start by looking at what sarcasm is. This in itself is a contentious exercise as, I suggest, even dictionaries present highly biased and narrow definitions of it. Various dictionaries describe sarcasm as: “a cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound”; “a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter jibe or taunt”; and “a form of wit that is marked by the use of sarcastic language and is intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule”.

There is no denying that sarcasm can, and often is, used to wound and to cut people down. Clearly its basis can be in bitterness. However, I believe that there is another aspect of this subject that is seldom considered, but important to acknowledge.

As Christians we believe that all evil in our world is a perversion of that which is good. So, for example, lust is the corruption of desire, selfishness is the corruption of stewardship, and people’s point of greatest weakness is often a corruption of their greatest strength.

From this standpoint we can deduce that the character assassination that many refer to as sarcasm does in fact have a healthy counterpart.

So what does such a version of sarcasm look like? Well, most misgivings about sarcasm is that it attacks the person. Clearly, attacking a person’s identity, i.e. condemning them, is never right, as God never condemns, He only convicts. Condemnation constitutes of telling someone that a negative behaviour is an inherent part of their identity, hence implying that they will never change. None of us like being placed under condemnation! In contrast conviction is an act of love that exhorts someone to change their conduct, the implication being that they are worth more than such behaviour, and that such behaviour is not what they were designed for.

From this we can establish that “righteous sarcasm” (as I’d like to call it) won’t attack the person, but will instead attack the ungodly and destructive nature of their conduct. Its intention won’t be to destroy the recipient, but to destroy the evil they are engaged in. So the purpose of this kind of sarcasm isn’t to wound, but, on the contrary, to restore.

While such righteous sarcasm is often full of contempt, its contempt isn’t aimed at the person. It’s aimed at their sinful attitude or at their sinful behaviour, sometimes at both.

Now, I know that some believers struggle with the idea of a Christian expressing contempt. But what do we stand for if we don’t have contempt for evil? How can we say we have God’s character if we don’t feel righteously angry about the destruction that evil is wielding in the world?! Throughout the Old and the New Testament we see countless examples of God both describing and demonstrating exceeding hatred of anything that harms His creation. On this basis I firmly believe that we, His followers, are to follow Him in utter hatred of all that is corrupt, perverted, and destructive.

This established one could raise the question of why righteous sarcasm is necessary. Why can’t we just confront people directly about their evil behaviour? Well, direct confrontation should certainly always be the first line of approach. However direct confrontation often doesn’t work, and so heavier artillery sometimes needs to be deployed. In instances like this, righteous sarcasm can be highly useful.

People who are caught in deception often lack the perspective to heed rebuke, especially when they have become desensitized to an issue. Conviction is a gift that if ignored for long enough will eventually die, at which point direct confrontation can be frustratingly unproductive. In addition to this the person may be stuck in stubbornness and pride – a result of their having turned their back to God regarding the issue. As such it can take quite something to get through to them!

Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend write in “How People Grow”: “The kinds and dosage of pain differ according to our need. A person with a receptive heart needs less pain to get the message. Someone who is egocentric or naturally strong-willed may need more…Our attitude towards growth and accepting discipline is a key character quality that dramatically affects the amount of pain we must endure.”

Righteous sarcasm is one of several powerful tools we can use to get through to deeply deceived and stubborn people. The reason it is so effective in such situations is that it functions by employing irony and satire, stances that force the recipient to see their behaviour from a different perspective. Righteous sarcasm essentially mirrors back to the receiver their mindset, explicitly verbalizing what their behaviour is implying. As such it actually undercuts the passive aggressive nature of their behaviour.

Indeed, while ungodly sarcasm is an act of passive aggression, righteous sarcasm actually exposes passive aggression. It does so in a highly cunning and often humorous manner. I contend that when Jesus instructed us to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) it was this very sort of shrewdness that he was referring to.

So when, for example, someone is repeatedly cheating on their spouse, or is engaged in a cycle of denial regarding alcoholism, or is systematically placing their work before their family, righteous sarcasm can prove a helpful tool. Righteous sarcasm can place a mirror in front of such repetitive perpetrators, reflecting back what their behaviour looks like to others. It can be a means to disempower passive aggression. It can be an astute method of verbalizing sinful attitudes and demonstrating the folly of such thinking.

Essentially sarcasm is like a surgeon’s scalpel. Scalpels are razor sharp knives, capable of cutting through flesh with great ease. When used in surgery, they save lives. But when used as a weapon, they cause great injury. Clearly, a scalpel in itself isn’t good or evil. It’s merely a tool. Whether it is used to heal or to destroy is completely dependant on the intentions of the person using it. In the same way, sarcasm in itself isn’t good or evil, it’s just a tool. The outcome of its use is entirely dependant on the intentions of the person wielding it. It depends the posturing of their heart.

Indeed we see this reflected in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Interestingly, the root of the word “sarcasm” from the Greek “sarkasmos” literally means “to cut a piece of flesh”. We can apply this definition to both kinds of sarcasm. Unloving sarcasm is most definitely designed to wound. However righteous sarcasm is designed to cut through our fleshly nature, helping to reconcile us to the truth found in Galatians 5:24 that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

I believe that the true litmus test for whether we should employ a certain conduct is to see whether it is demonstrated by God in scripture. In this instance, if we look at the Bible, we see a number of examples of God’s use of righteous sarcasm:

In Job 38 we read of how Job had been speaking very confidently about his situation, as if he understood it, until God showed up and asked him an extremely long series of increasingly sarcastic questions such as, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!…Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.” This long stream of righteous sarcasm worked to great effect, because Job ended up repenting of his foolishness and responding to God, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Another instance of God’s use of righteous sarcasm is to be found in the book of Judges when the Israelites abandoned Him and worshiped idols instead. God replied to their subsequent request for help, “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” (Judges 10:14). By indulging in their foolish thinking God showed them just how imprudent it had been. His sarcasm had its desired effect, as the people repented and got rid of all their idols.

In the New Testament we see Jesus using much wit, hyperbole, and sarcasm to tear through religious pretence. One such instance is in Matthew 7:4 when Jesus sarcastically reprimanded “How will you say to your brother, let me pull out the sawdust out of your eye; and, behold, a plank is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:4) This sarcastic hyperbole was designed to expose to the audience just how hypocritical their attitude was.

There are also a number of examples in the Bible of God’s leaders using righteous sarcasm. In 1 Kings we read of a showdown between the prophet Elijah and a large group of pagan priests who he had challenged to demonstrate the power of the “god” they worshiped. Chapter 18 verse 27 says “About noontime, Elijah began mocking them. ‘You’ll have to shout louder than that,’ he scoffed, ‘to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened.” This bold use of provocative righteous sarcasm emphasized the pagans foolishness and by doing so exposed the level of deception that they were operating in.

And in 1 Corinthians 4 we read of an instance in which the apostle Paul used righteous sarcasm. Some of the members of the church in Corinth were acting as though they knew better than their leaders, and so Paul used a highly sarcastic tone to admonish them: “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings!” If one studies the context of this passage, and understands just how advanced Paul was as a leader, one realizes just how sarcastic he was being when he essentially said “Wow, you guys are right, you’ve got it made, who needs me?!”

We also read of how Paul reprimanded some early Christians who were being foolish in the way they were imparting revelation. He mocked their presumption and pride by sarcastically declaring: “Was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?” (1 Corinthians 14:36) By verbalizing the mindset that their conduct implied, he articulated their thinking in a way that exposed its presumption and delusion.

From these few examples we see that righteous sarcasm has been used with great effect by both God and His leaders. Can you imagine how much poorer scripture would be if these figures had not felt at liberty to use this powerful tool?!

Sadly, as most of us don’t like being rebuked, and as most of us know that sarcasm isn’t widely accepted in modern western “Christian” culture, it’s all too easy for us to shut down someone who is employing righteous sarcasm by shaming them. We know that if we self-righteously nit pick we will most likely successfully detract them from the crux of the matter, and that by doing so we’ll evade the spotlight of truth that is being shone directly in our face. This is the spirit of religion and ignorance, and I believe that this is exactly the sort of attitude Jesus spoke of when He talked of those who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).

Before I finish there are some important caveats that I feel compelled to mention. I am highly aware that many, if not all of us, have experienced being “lovingly rebuked” by a person who is actually completely lacking in love. Sadly this happens quite often within certain fellowships, usually ones that are dominated by the spirit of religion, typically characterized by pride, self-righteousness, and judgmentalism. Such environments are skilled in the art of justifying how their vicious attacks constitute “love”. They are fundamentally deceived about the posturing of their heart, and as a result are deeply deceived about the intentions fuelling their behaviour. My purpose in writing this article is absolutely not to endorse the twisted attacks of such individuals. Nor do I seek to justify such behaviour to those who have been genuinely wounded by this kind of religious evil.

Another point I feel duty bound to mention is that even those of us who don’t typify such extreme behaviour are quite capable of temporary lapses of judgement. When we feel hurt it’s very tempting to viciously attack, and to deceive ourselves that our intention was righteous. As such it’s absolutely vital that we check the posturing of our hearts before we open our mouth. In ongoing conflict it’s crucial that we reassess whether we are “for” the person, or “against” them on a regular basis. As our intentions can quickly shift we must regularly and habitually go through prayerful assessment, confession, repentance, and forgiveness. If we fail to do so we can easily be tempted into attacking the person’s identity, which may lead to our being compelled into self-righteousness in order to justify our behaviour. When this happens, as it easily can do, it is important that we repent and seek to restore what we have broken.

So, to summarize, I propose that sarcasm is not inherently good or bad, but that its value is completely dependent on the posturing of the heart of the person imparting it, and on the discernment and wisdom with which it is used.

Sarcasm is a double-edged sword that can be used to murder people or to free them. And like any sharp sword it needs to be wielded very carefully, with great discernment and discipline. But in our desire to avoid contention we must be careful of unwittingly casting off Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34: “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword” !

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E.T. Phone Home

I recently went to a screening of E.T. and was struck with the audience’s clear affection for this classic movie. It was a free open air screening so a large crowd of families, couples and groups of friends had assembled armed with blankets, deck chairs and picnics. As the title appeared on the screen several thousand people broke into spontaneous applause.

Now before anyone gets too upset that I’m writing about an “alien movie” let me preface this by saying that the themes found in corrupt films often resonate with their audience precisely because they echo the story God is telling through history. In fact, I believe that fandom of certain cult movie franchises points to deep longings that are healthy and God given, but that have simply been misdirected out of ignorance. (Please note that I’m not implying for a moment that there is anything innately unrighteous about the film E.T. – I’m simply prefacing this out of consideration for the fact that my readers come from a wide range of backgrounds.)

As I watched E.T. I was struck by how it was a prime example of mass recognition of spiritual truth. In this particular case that truth was the protagonists strong desire to go home.

Let me explain. We are all very far from the home we were designed to live in. You see, this fallen world full of pain, disappointment, and ugliness is not the one we were made for. Our home was designed to be breathtakingly beautiful, perfectly satisfying, and deeply peaceful and safe.

Ever since the fall man has grappled with feeling like something is very, very wrong. For this reason we are continually striving to recapture a small glimpse of “home”. We do so through visiting beautiful places, through creating special moments with our loved ones, and through trying to make our dreams happen. Sometimes we’re blessed by an experience of life as it was meant to be when we accidentally stumble across a transient moment of beauty.

A little girl was sat next to me at the screening. She needed a lot of reassurance from her mom that the movie had a happy ending. It was surprisingly reassuring to hear her mom repeatedly assert “The story has a happy ending. E.T. is going to get to go home.” (Don’t tell anyone, but as the story became progressively darker I needed to hear that too!)

I could understand why this girl needed such reassurance. The tale of someone being cut off from the home they were made for and desperately wanting to return to it strikes a primeval chord in all of us.

Sometimes the situation we’re in seems so disheartening, so disorienting, so dark and inescapable, that the only thing that gives us the faith we need to keep going on is the truth that this life is not our ultimate home. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the story does have a happy ending.

So in those times when you feel like you’re far from the world you were made for I recommend taking a moment to flip to the end of the book. If you do, you’ll find that the story has a happy ending. If you choose to, you get to go home.

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The Disciple Whom Jesus Loves

A question I’ve been particularly interested in recently is why the apostle John was chosen to receive the vision described in the book of Revelations.

This might seem like somewhat of an inconsequential question, but when you consider that John was the only one of the twelve disciples to die a natural death, it becomes plausible to speculate that maybe a specific kind of favor rested on him. And when I see someone who has favor on their life, I want to know how they gained it.

As we read scripture we see why John is thought to have been the one called “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. He lived life with a dedication to Jesus that was such that Jesus even trusted him to look after his own mother upon his death. After the resurrection John was one of the first disciples to run towards the tomb, and he was the first to believe that Jesus had truly risen from the dead. Clearly he was a true believer, and it is easy to see why his attitude pleased the Lord’s heart.

However the point could easily be made that many of the other disciples also demonstrated faith. So the question becomes: what distinguished John from the rest?

I feel obliged at this point to state that the following is largely personal conjecture.

I think that maybe the reason that John was chosen to receive the revelation vision is related to the fact that he was the only disciple that remained near Jesus at the crucifixion.

Have you ever wondered how much pain Jesus went through on the cross? I don’t mean so much the physical pain – though none of us could even start to fathom that level of physical anguish. I mean more the emotional pain that came as a result of having His Heavenly Father forsake Him, His community mock and reject Him, and the emotional pain and guilt of every person to ever live put upon Him.

Can you imagine how painful it must have been for his loved ones to witness such torture? It is little wonder that the other disciples were nowhere to be seen.

The reality is that most of us will do everything we can to avoid emotional pain. We’ve been trained by our culture to fear it, to do whatever it takes to avoid it. I believe that this is in large part because our culture has become so shallow, and so focused on immediate gratification, that many of us have never learned the value of embracing grief. As a result we have a tendency to shun those that are emotionally crushed. Our self-preservative instincts kick in and we find ourselves casting off the brokenhearted with platitudes and insincere reassurances that we’ll pray for them. We’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to drop a casserole off than it is to actually sit with the suffering person and personally share in their grief.

But John did exactly that. In Jesus moment of deepest need he was there, and remained there, sharing in his pain, until the very end. In that awful moment John did the only good thing he could: he offered Jesus his friendship by voluntarily submitting himself to his pain. Unlike the others, he didn’t run away. And for that, I believe, he acquired a special place of trust with God.

So how does this apply to us? Well, the truth is that God’s emotional pain has not ended. Every day He bares the pain of seeing the ones He loves torn apart by sin. Every day He suffers the pain of being rejected and ignored. Every day He experiences the grief of watching a new wave of His children being consigned to hell as their earthly lives end without reconciliation to Him.

When we consider all this we realize that a significant part of God’s existence involves pain, grief, and indescribable sadness. For many of us this isn’t convenient. It’s not the God that we like to sing about on a Sunday morning.

However I believe that those who are willing to share in God’s suffering, those who are willing to “mourn with those that mourn” (Romans 12:5), are those who He will entrust with the greatest levels of revelation.

Pragmatically this involves us inviting God to open our eyes to see His children as He sees them. For it is only when we truly embrace the pain Christ feels about his estrangement to them that we will become effective advocates of His love. When we allow ourselves to feel such desperation God hears the cry of our hungry hearts, and He responds.

As we join God in His place of pain and offer Him our friendship we build the kind of trust that allows Him to speak to us about matters that are close to His heart. He is able to trust us with revelation because He will know that we will not run away.

I want to be the kind of person that God can trust with powerful visions and revelations of things to come. I realize that “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48). But I’m up for the challenge.

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Meat or Milk?

You might have heard fellow believers use the expression “milk” or “meat” in reference to varying levels of difficulty in Biblical teaching. These expressions are based in several different sections of scripture, such as 1 Corinthians 3:1-2: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” Most often it’s interpreted as a reference to the fact that some Biblical tenets are more complicated to grasp than others, and that as such we need to be sensitive to the learning level that those listening to us are at.

A result of this traditional interpretation is that believers are commonly to be found complaining that they want their pastor to feed them meat rather than milk. This is particularly true in churches that primarily cater towards the evangelization of non-believers.

I personally believe that this interpretation of the metaphor of milk and meat is incorrect, and that as such we are missing an important lesson that God wishes to teach us.

While the conclusion of this common interpretation is in itself correct I believe that the writer actually intended to make a far more powerful and challenging statement. In fact, as we will shortly see, such interpretation unwittingly reinforces the exact opposite of what I believe was intended.

So what deeper meaning might God be connoting through this metaphor?

To begin with it is important to establish that God is a god of order, and that as such there are logical parallels between the spiritual metaphors that His Word employs and the principles that we see in effect in the natural world. Hence for this exercise to be successful the key question we need to start by asking ourselves is: “What is the difference in the natural world between milk and meat?”

The common interpretation of this text stems from its proponents correct observation that meat is a lot harder to digest than milk. As a result milk is primarily consumed by babies, whereas meat is only consumed by those that are mature enough to metabolize it.

This is where the interpretation usually concludes. However it seems to me that we’re being called to extrapolate the metaphor much further.

By doing so we come to a further conclusion that milk is a substance that is fed, where as meat has to be hunted down. When an animal graduates to eating meat it is usually because they’ve learned to hunt it for themselves.

To obtain meat an animal has to depart from the comfort of their nest, venture out of their safety zone, and enter into the unpredictability of the wild. It requires them to patiently pursue their prey and carefully follow its tracks until they eventually corner it. Then they have to attack it with all their might. All their strength is called on as they tear into it and devour it.

In contrast milk is a form of nourishment that animals are fed. They need only to cuddle up to their provider to be supplied with a meal. As they do so they’re protectively nurtured.

If we draw a parallel between this natural phenomena and the spiritual world we observe that when a believer is young in the faith they need to be fed revelation. They aren’t yet capable of acquiring sufficient understanding themselves. If they were sent into the “wild” they would probably get lost or be attacked by a predator. They don’t yet possess the skills required for hunting down personal revelation, and they don’t have the strength to fight off attacks from the enemy. It is for this reason that those of us that are mature in Christ make the gospel easily understandable to them. We do this primarily through effecting the work of analysis on their behalf and providing them with clear explanations and revelations.

When dealing with baby Christians this is an appropriate and necessary endeavour. It ensures that their faith survives. And in so much the common interpretation of milk and meat is absolutely accurate.

It was for this reason that Paul counted it grace that he had been chosen “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” (Ephesians 3:9)

But it is important to note that there is a secondary purpose behind this process. 1 Peter 2:2 reveals what this secondary purpose is through the exhortation that we should: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it [we] may grow up in [our] salvation.” From this verse we understand that the purpose of milk being provided to new believers is not just for survival, but also for growth. The intention of such growth is that they might outgrow their dependence on others for spiritual revelation.

As we advance in our walk with Christ it becomes increasingly inappropriate for us to be spoon-fed the gospel. In the same way that it would be unfitting for a ten year old to be feeding from their mother’s breast it is unfitting for someone who has been a believer for a decade to still be reliant on their fellow Christians for spiritual revelation.

When believers continue to outsource their acquisition of spiritual nourishment they become habituated to human dependency. This produces stagnation, an undervaluing of revelation, and a serious lack of intimacy with God.

Sadly some of the church currently ignores the fact that kingdom growth requires them to hunt down their own meat. They expect their spiritual nourishment to be primarily provided to them through an easily palatable, significantly simplified twenty-five minute sermon on a Sunday morning. As they only eat once a week they are malnourished and weak. Indeed some are so spiritual starved that they are not far from spiritual death.

Such learned dependency is akin to the ways of the old covenant when man was dependent on high priests to communicate with God. This is such a grievous waste! Christ shed His precious blood on the cross so that we might be reconciled to Him and free to communicate directly with Him. In addition to this the Holy Spirit came down to dwell with us on earth so that we might be able to operate in a greater level of revelation of God’s kingdom. There is no longer any need for us to go through man to get to God!

For this reason we should cast off all behaviour that perpetuates such lazy habits. In the words of Joyce Meyer we need to learn to “go to the throne before we reach for the phone”! God Himself has declared “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

Though this issue is currently particularly prevalent in the western church it is by no means a new issue. The author of Hebrews reproached his readers for making exactly the same mistake. He observed that: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)

For this reason when we are tasked with feeding milk to new believers we need to prioritize providing them with a solid foundational understanding of who they are in Christ, and how they can go about seeking Him out. The time of milk feeding is purely designed for equipping and training new believers to be let loose in the wild.

As we feed new believers we should be continually reiterating the fact that everything we are teaching them is being taught so that they can put it into action themselves. The goal of all such education needs to be a graduation to God being their primary purveyor of spiritual nourishment.

If we undertake this process correctly then we will be able to declare, as the author of Hebrews 6:1-3 did, “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.”

It is important to note that it is only as believers learn to take responsibility for hunting down their own meat that they become capable of providing milk to the next generation of believers. When this process of growth is undertaken it allows for compounding growth of the kingdom. In addition it becomes possible for the mentoring of new believers to be shared amongst the many rather than the few (which avoids our pastors and ministry teams being at risk of burn out.)

For these reasons believers that feel frustrated that they are not being fed meat need to understand the oxymoronic nature of their desire. And in doing so they need to start taking the initiative to hunt down their own nourishment.

It is important to remark that those that are unwilling to do so or unable to do so are clearly at the point where they need to be fed quality milk. I highly recommend that those of you that are in that situation undertake a foundational course in your identity in Christ, such as the highly acclaimed Freedom in Christ course
(http://www.ficm.org.uk/discipleship/index.html)

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The (not so) New Political Correctness

Today I’m asking the question “What role should governmental politics play in a believers life?”

As politics are an inescapable part of life I believe that it’s important to dispassionately explore what our response should be. Clearly politics are a controversial and often divisive issue, and one which at one point or another we have all been faced with formulating a personal opinion about.

I embark on this topic with a keen awareness that it is potentially a highly explosive subject. I’m going to do my best to tip toe my way through this minefield unscathed, however I realize that such an endeavor does involve inherent risk. But like a child with a box of matches I figure that if I burn the house down it will probably be worth it for the thrill of watching the match ignite.

Evidently political issues vary so widely from country to country and from decade to decade that it’s impossible to prescribe a one size fits all political manifesto. And, though the Bible clearly defines the values with which we are to treat our fellow countrymen, it doesn’t dictate the methodology.

As such, this article is not going to attempt to do what the Bible doesn’t. Instead we are going to explore the matter of our attitude to policy, and how we should relate to one another when we disagree.

I have found very little contemporary writing on the subject of fellowship and political dispute, which I find surprising considering just how pertinent the matter is for many believers. I suspect that this is for good reason, after all this is a difficult subject to write about without further exacerbating offense. However because 2 Timothy 1:7 tells me that I shouldn’t have a spirit of timidity, and because I started this blog with the intention of writing about real life issues, I’m going to attempt to wade into the deep end of this matter.

A quick side note – I felt that the matter warranted it’s full context to be depicted. It seemed to me that as many of the key issues interrelate that it would be highly ineffective to expound on one without paying credence to the others. As such this article has organically evolved into a jumbo edition.

I didn’t want to fragment the central ideology of my thesis by breaking it down into several different articles, and I also didn’t want my site to be monopolized for several weeks by this subject. So I have simply elected to divide this article into subsections, each of which approaches the subject from a slightly different angle.

I apologize to those of you for whom time is at a premium. I have endeavored to keep this article as succinct as possible, and I hope that you deem my thoughts worthy of your time. Hopefully my words are sufficiently pithy and engaging to sustain your attention!

The Bait of Satan

Before starting this article I feel that it is necessary to make a statement about the spirit I believe it needs to be received in.

Sadly there are many believers that are habituated to responding to disagreement with the spirit of offense.

Offense is what happens when we cultivate resentment. It’s the root of division, and the single biggest enemy of the unity of the body of Christ. It is the bait which satan uses to lure us into destroying the relationship which God desires for us to have with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

If we allow offense take hold of our heart through pride and a refusal to forgive then we quickly become isolated. As a result it becomes a lot harder for God to work through us. And as we are continually given opportunities to feel offended by the people around us this isolation can happen very quickly if we aren’t diligent about the attitude of our hearts.

This is particularly true when it comes to political discourse. Sadly many relationships in the church have been adversely affected because its members have harbored resentment due to political disagreement.

I exhort you to avoid falling into this trap whilst reading this article. For my part I have sought to stay focused on the Word and to avoid making any kind of a partisan commentary. However, much of what I share is not what is generally taught in mass culture, and as a result it might initially seem quite foreign to you at first.

The aim of this article is to untangle the falsities of mass culture from the Word. In the process of doing so you might realize that certain beliefs that you have been taught are not based in Biblical truth. And I realize that at the junction of personal culture, upbringing, and religious attitudes there is often a lot of sensitivity, and ergo, a lot of opportunity for offense.

I urge you to keep in mind that the enemy might well try to tempt you into a spirit of offense. I ask that if after prayerful consideration something of what I have written still doesn’t seem right to you that you simply forgive me and resolve to not let the enemy gain a foothold.

It can be extremely difficult to be objective about cultural beliefs. As such a reasonable evaluation of my thesis might require you to engage in prayerful consideration over a period of time. For this reason I urge you to not react out of the immediacy of your emotions, but rather to humbly give God the opportunity to show you otherwise.

All Just a Little Bit of History Repeating…

If we want to really understand the topic of politics and God’s kingdom we need to start by looking at the evolution of politics throughout the Bible. For this reason I am going to attempt to give you a (greatly abridged) overview of the history of politics in Biblical times.

Originally politics as we know them (i.e. man governing over other men) did not exist. Man had stewardship over the animals and the land, but in terms of interpersonal matters there was no need for politics as there was a clearly established order that was organically based in the love and fear of God.

Our role was designed to be a dependent one. God was our provider and our role was to trust in Him. God was in control of the world and our job was simply to control ourselves. God was the judge of life and we were purely to experience it. God ordained the rules of life and we were charged with obeying and living by them.

Life was good, simple, and wholesome, but then one day man decided that he wanted to be like God. Sin entered the heart of man and the natural structure of life was corrupted.

Mankind started believing that he had control of the world, and as a result we lost control of ourselves. We set ourselves up as our own judge, and the consequence was that we ceased to be able to simply enjoy the experience of life. We decided that we could author our own rules, and the outcome was that the natural order that God designed was defiled. Confusion and discord reigned. And, in our own foolishness, we believed that the solution was to try to regulate the mess ourselves.

As a result laws became necessary. The hearts of humanity had become corrupt and so the law had to be developed into ever greater levels of complexity in order to mitigate the corruption.

Eventually the Israeli people were founded through God’s blessing of Abraham. During this time God’s people were a very small group of people living in a fairly primeval sociological structure. However they eventually grew into a much larger population and became subject to slavery under a foreign dictator. In due time they were freed from this structure by Moses and God became their leader (with Moses as their mediator.)

Following this no central government existed for around two hundred years as the people followed God’s guidance under the direction of appointed mediators. This was God’s prescribed mode of operation in the fallen world.

However the people eventually decided that they needed a king. This was primarily because all the nations around them had kings, and they wanted to be like them. So they went to Samuel, who was mediator at the time, and they demanded that they be given a king to rule over them. This greatly displeased Samuel, because he knew that it should be God ruling over His people, not a king.

God was unhappy with this too as he didn’t want to turn His people over to a human being, even if he had the pedigree of a king. But, as always, God gave His people the freedom to choose. He recognized that they had the right to choose to forsake Him. And He recognized that an attitude of idolatry had already taken hold of their hearts. So he told Samuel: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” (1 Samuel 8:7-9)

So Samuel then proceeded in warning the people of the abuse of power that would happen if a mere man was in control of governing them: “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:11-18)

“But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:9-20)

So to teach Israel a lesson, God gave them the desire of their own hearts. King Saul was tall, handsome, self-willed and strong. He was also corruptible, and prone to evil. And so just as Samuel predicted he exposed God’s people to all the liabilities of politics: abuse, corruption, and deception.

Through this we can observe that politics were never God’s original plan for humanity. He wanted His people to be lead directly by Him. He knew that if a man was charge of he would be vulnerable to sin, and furthermore he would likely become an object of idolatry.

As such we can also observe that democracy was never God’s plan for His people. He declared in his Word that majority rule is not necessarily righteous. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)

However, despite all of Gods warnings, politics became deeply entrenched in the lives of God’s people, which lead to great amounts of suffering, destruction, and abuse. This continued all through the rest of the Old Testament era. Though some leaders were better than others none could ever be as righteous, just, or wise as God.

When we reach the New Testament we are able to directly observe God’s attitude to politics through the life He lead when he dwelled on earth in human form.

Jesus was subjected to a huge amount of politicking during the course of His life. Politics were a key influence on His life, especially during the years of his ministry. Many of Jesus’ followers were primarily interested in Him for political reasons, as they thought that He was going to deliver them from the corrupt high priests and the Roman government that was occupying Israel at the time.

There are many similarities between our world today and the period in which Jesus lived. At the time there was seething resentment towards those in political power. The Jews hated paying taxes, which they felt were unreasonably high and they hated the fact that their land was occupied by foreigners. Their religious beliefs only reinforced their resentment.

The masses were seeking a liberator. They wanted, or rather, demanded to make Jesus king, and that was something that the entire community was very aware of, including the local Roman authorities. Through scripture we gather that Jesus was aware of this fact too, because John 6:15 states “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force…”

Through scripture we know what the attitude of His heart was in regards to this matter. His position is aptly demonstrated in Acts 1:6, when the Jews asked Jesus “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (In other words, “Are you going to overthrow the Roman rule?”) and He responded “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

I believe that Jesus meant three things through this statement. Firstly, that God had a solution for them that lay far outside of the scope of current local politics. Secondly, that such matters were to be entrusted to God. And thirdly, that he didn’t want to be implicated in issues that would distract from his ministry.

He followed up this statement by a declaration designed to place His followers attention on what He wanted them to focus on: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus wasn’t unaware of the suffering that political policy was causing his followers. He was subject to the same policies as they were. But He was pertinently conscious of the fact that all political regimes are temporary, and His heart was resolutely set on eternal matters. Furthermore, He knew that God hadn’t authored His birth merely to have him deal with matters of Galileean political discontent. Jesus had a much bigger remit for his followers than the local politics of the day.

For these reasons John 6:15 says that when Jesus knew “that they intended to come and make him king by force,  [He] withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” We see through this verse that Jesus intentionally removed himself from any political matter that was liable to distract from His ministry.

And this wasn’t the only time that Jesus avoided the instant gratification of temporary earthly power. In Matthew 4:8-9 we read that “the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” But Jesus wanted no part of it. “Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”

Jesus never modeled any behavior that suggests that he believed that God’s kingdom was going to come through political reform. This isn’t to say that politics are unimportant, or that God doesn’t appoint specific believers with gifts and talents in this area (the lives of Daniel, Esther, and David are Biblical proof of the fact that He does.) It is simply to say that we need to avoid falling into the error of ascribing a level of importance to politics that Jesus never did.

So, to resume our overview of politics through the course of the Bible, we have learned three key facts:

  1. God didn’t design man to govern over other men.
  2. God equates the belief that men can solve our problems with idolatry.
  3. When God walked the earth His focus was on matters of eternal importance. He placed his faith for mankind’s salvation in His kingdom, not in a manmade political structure.

This is the foundation on which all conversations about politics in the body of Christ needs to be based on. It is in this context in which all our attitudes and opinions need to be placed.

Evidently we live in a fallen world that does not adhere to God’s sovereignty.  As such, we need to follow Jesus’ example of living respectfully within the confines of the structure we find ourselves in. The rest of this article will look at what the Bible teaches about how to do so.

However the key point that I wanted to make before proceeding any further is that, as Dr Cloud and Dr Townsend wrote the book “How People Grow” “Independence is not an option for us. God existed without us, not vice versa. So the role that we must take in life is not only for dependency, but also against self-sufficiency. Our role is to recognize our limits and to transcend those limits by looking outside of ourselves for life.”

On that basis I believe we can safely proceed in our discussion of the manner in which we should engage in politics.

“I’m a…”

One clear theme in the Bible that pertains to politics is that sectarianism is sin. (Sectarianism is anger, hatred, or discrimination arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group.) Unity is absolute vital to the effective functioning of the church and, as such, the devil will do everything he possibly can to undermine it. He will try to bring division through offense, through resentment, through bitterness, through anger, and through prejudice. A divided church is an ineffective church.

It is for this reason that Titus 3:9 clearly warns us to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.”

Recently I have witnessed instances where believers have trampled over one another in the name of political belief. They have been insensitive, provoked offense, and generally sown seeds of discord through dogmatic and insensitive declarations of their political beliefs.

This is not a new phenomenon. In the early church some of the believers engaged in exactly the same behavior, and the apostle Paul was not amused.

In 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13 Paul declared “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

In a modern context this text could be re-interpreted as: “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am a Republican,” or “I am a Democrat,” or “I am of Obama,” or “I am of McCain.” Is Christ divided? Was Obama crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of McCain?”

Paul wasn’t connoting that personal preferences don’t hold value. He was simply declaring that such beliefs pale into insignificance in comparison to the unity we should be pursuing in Christ.

Paul spoke with the authority of someone who had experienced the consequences of sectarianism. Prior to his conversion he had been a ferocious sectarian, unafraid to shed blood over his beliefs. He so strongly believed that Jesus was a heretic, and that those following him were contributing to the demise of society that he felt legitimized in persecuting and murdering them. As such he had personally witnessed just how costly sectarianism is, and it was on this basis that he warned the church of its perils.

Amazingly through God’s redeeming power Paul became the very person who brought forth the revelation that God’s kingdom is open to all people. As such the once renowned sectarian became a passionate advocate of unity, and his teaching changed the course of history. His testimony represents great hope to those that have been embroiled in the sin of sectarianism.

But what about people who refuse to relent from this sin? The following section of Titus 3 tells us exactly what we should do about them: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” These are words of warning we should all take very seriously!

God is so clear on the incredible danger that sectarianism poses to the body of Christ that He would rather that an unrepentant member of its body be cut off than have them infect everyone else with their poison. Like cancer, sometimes the amputation of a rebellious cell is the only way to avoid certain death.

On this basis I recommend that if you are friends with a believer who is unrepentant in their political insensitivity, who feels justified in driving a wedge between themselves and other believers over political matters, who uses social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to make brash and condemning statements about those of other political affiliations, that you should have nothing further to do with them.

If you have warned them twice, but they unrepentantly persist in trampling over you with their political beliefs, you should follow the Bibles instruction and end the friendship. This may seem radical, but it is necessary because “you can be sure that the person is warped and sinful.”

You should absolutely seek to convict any such believer of the sin they are committing, so that you have a chance of being reconciled to them and keeping the friendship. But if they have been so corrupted by the spirit of sectarianism that they are unwilling to accept the authority of the Word in this matter, then you should have nothing further to do with them.

Friends, you can be sure that this is what I will be doing.

Me, Myself, and I

Another clear issue in the body of Christ regarding politics is the sin of selfishness and self-centeredness. As we have just seen, democracy was never God’s plan, and is actually based on some very sinful assumptions. However it is the system in place, and as such it falls under the exhortation of 1 Peter 2:13-14 that we should “Submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

This means that if the authority in place decides to pass a certain law we are to submit to it. Submission does not mean grumbling, murmuring, and updating our Facebook statuses to say that we’ve decided to move to another country. These behaviors are all acts of rebellion and divisiveness. Submission means accepting the decision of another, whatever the consequences mean for us. Submission can be costly, and that is the very strength of it. Authority can only function to the extent that those under it are willing to crucify their flesh.

Unfortunately the mass culture of many countries has become so sinfully individualistic, so very selfish and “me” centered, that many believers will only peacefully submit to authority when it is in agreement with their personal beliefs. This isn’t submission. Submission is only in affect when we concede over matters we don’t agree with. Otherwise we are simply in agreement!

One can only wonder what disillusionment a believer is under that they don’t recognize the sheer impossibility of the democratic process agreeing with them on all of the matters all of the time!

Certainly in some countries there are policies that are not directly voted on by the general population. Under such political structures certain laws are only voted on by governing bodies. But these governing bodies are representational of the people as they have been elected into place through the democratic process. And as such the believers in that country have had an equal opportunity to state their personal preference in the choice of representative.

One vote is all any believer has the right to, and any rebellious behavior due to the tally not going the way they wanted is anchored in the sinful spirit of entitlement (entitlement being the belief that you should be treated better than those who are on an equal standing with you.)

We all have the right that our society has bestowed upon us – which is the opportunity to have an equal say in the elective process. However we are not entitled to a specific outcome. The extent of our right is a single vote, and any outrage over not receiving more than that is based in a spirit of pride and delusion.

There is only one occasion in which we should not submit to earthly authority. That is when we are directly banned from following Christ. If this happens we are to respectfully disobey. We have a Biblical example of how to do this in the form of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to obey a national decree to bow down and worship a gold idol that their king had set up to be worshipped, on pain of death.

It is important to note that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were highly respectful of the king when they declined his order. They continued to recognize his kingly title, and they didn’t denigrate or curse him. They simply stated: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16) They remained respectful and self-controlled, even though they knew that the king was threatening them with a very gruesome death!

It is also important to note that they did not engage in a political debate over human rights or the validity of their political position. They knew that such debate would be useless against the overwrought emotions of a man who didn’t recognize God as his savior. They refused to get embroiled in such an unproductive and futile endeavor. They simply stated “we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter” and left it at that.

Essentially Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego allowed God to be their defender. This gave God the opportunity to save them in a miraculous way, leaving the entire nation very clear on whom their rescue should be attributed to. The testimony of this was such that the king actually instituted a new law stating that it was illegal to say anything against the God of the Hebrews. In essence, the respect and obedience that they showed towards both God and the king actually ushered a new political paradigm into their nation!

It’s important to clarify at this point that simply because we suspect that a governing political party’s policies might one day lead to the pursuit of Christ being outlawed we are not entitled to act rebelliously towards them. Such justification is sheer conjecture, and a sinful excuse for rebellion.

It is also important to note that if a government does outlaw the pursuit of Christ it does not entitle us to rebel against everything else that they institute. It only means that we are free from the specific laws that state that we are not to practice our faith.

The Bible gives us a clear example of submission in the midst of persecution. The early church suffered great persecution under the authorities that were in power at that time. And yet they continued to do all that they could to demonstrate peaceful submission in every area apart from the specific laws pertaining to their faith. In fact the apostle Paul repeatedly advocated respecting cultural norms in the interest of maintaining political peace.

The political leaders of the time were deeply concerned that the early church was going to spearhead a political rebellion, and the local community was highly fearful that the church was going to undermine all their cultural norms. For this reason Paul created strong contextual guidelines for the church, such as the principle of women not preaching, and of slaves continuing to serve their masters. Paul knew that unnecessary discord between the church and the government would only breed contempt, which would in no way serve God’s purposes. He knew that it wasn’t the right time to fight for women’s rights or for abolition. Though these were righteous causes they weren’t anywhere near as important as the spreading of the gospel.

“R-E-S-P-E-CT find out what it means to me…”

Respect for the authorities in power is another absolutely clear tenet of the Bible that we should look at in our study of politics.

Respect is born out of faith: faith that God is the just, loving, protecting, powerful God that His word declares Him to be. When we have profound revelation of Gods awesome power we are free to respect the authority of unsanctified leaders because we know that the outcome is ultimately in God’s hands.

David is a great biblical example of respect. He was heir apparent to the throne of a king who had persecuted him mercilessly for years. But David respected him, even when he was subjected to great provocation. When David was given the opportunity to murder him, thus removing an undeniably unsanctified leader from power, David declared “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 26:9-11) David respected the authority that God had bestowed upon the king, even though doing bared the consequence of further suffering for him. He absolutely refused to do what only God has the authority to do. Ultimately his reverence towards both God and the king paved the way for great blessing later on in his life. God even commended David for being “a man after His own heart”. (1 Samuel 13:14)

Daniel is another great Biblical example of reverence for authority. Daniel was a man of immense political power, his position essentially being that of Head of State Affairs during the reign of three consecutive kings. The very fact that he managed to hold onto such a powerful position over the course of three different political eras suggests that he knew a thing or two about politics!

Daniel faced many temptations to be disrespectful to those in authority over him. A clear example of this was when his own life was put at risk. We read in Daniel 6:3 that “Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” As you can imagine Daniel’s fidelity to God and his consequent success as a political advisor provoked much persecution from jealous rivals.

These rivals orchestrated a cunning plan to trick the king into sentencing him to death, and the king regretfully fell for it. And so Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den, with the full expectation that he would be promptly mauled to death. However God saved Daniel, and his respectful attitude towards the king remained undeterred. Indeed, after he was saved his first words to the king were “O king, live forever!” He did not curse him, rebuke him, or disrespect him. Instead he continued to recognize the king’s authority, and he chose to bless him.

The whole book of Daniel is a testament to his respectful attitude to leaders who often made unwise, corrupt, and deceived choices. It’s important to note that as a result of his respectful attitude he gained significant favor, which he is thought to have used to greatly influence the decree that ultimately put an end to captivity his fellow Jews were subject to.

The theme of respect for authority is upheld in the New Testament too. Romans 13: 7 tells us that we should pay “respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” And Hebrews 13:17 could not be clearer about the importance of obeying political leaders. “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

It’s very important to note that this verse says that leaders are held to a higher standard. One day our leaders will have to give an account of how they kept watch over us. Ultimately any sin that they’ve committed against us will either be paid through the blood of Jesus Christ, or they will be condemned to the torment of hell. Either way we can have absolute confidence that any sin they commit against us will be avenged.

This verse also reminds us that when our leaders feel supported and loved they are able to operate a lot more effectively. It is a clear warning that every time we rain down resentment on our leaders we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

Titus 3:1 reiterates the importance of a peaceful attitude when it comes to politics. It tells us to “be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”

Respect isn’t just something we should demonstrate when our leaders are good and pleasant, but also when they act cruelly towards us. Peter 2: 18-19 tells us to “submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.”

There are serious consequences to be faced when we fail to show respect to our leaders. Romans 13:1-5 warns us that if we do not respectfully submit to those in authority we will incur the full force of God’s wrath. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”

This attitude of respectful obedience extends to the issue of taxes. When Jesus was asked whether He should pay taxes (after all, should the son of God have to submit to the taxman?!) He declared “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) And He left it at that. He didn’t grumble, He didn’t accuse Caesar of being a thief, or speculate on how Caesar was probably going to misappropriate His money. He simply accepted that a proportion of His money belonged to the government that was providing his town’s infrastructure, and he went about God’s business.

The continuation of Romans 13 reiterates the importance of peaceful submission in the area of taxation. It tells us that “because [our leaders have been instituted by God] you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed.” In this matter the Bible is explicitly clear.

Political Humor, a Window into the Soul

Humor and politics have always had strong connections, and for good reason. Satire is an essential tool in exploring and unmasking the vice, folly, hypocrisy, and foolishness of certain policies. As such political humor can be edifying, and a therapeutic outlet for the legitimate concerns of constituents. Humor can also be used to convict, and can be a helpful tool in our ministry of reconciliation.

However when humor is misused as a means to impart hatred, rebellion, disrespect, and curses it is sinful. Humor that is designed to hurt and maliciously offend has absolutely no place in the church.

I recently encountered a startling example of this when a group of believers I know reveled in a joke on Facebook the punchline of which was that they wanted their president to die. Clearly their belief that it was appropriate to wish death on a man simply because they don’t agree with his political policy was absolutely sinful.

One could say “But it’s just a joke!” However Luke 6:45 tells us that “the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” and Proverbs 18:21 warns us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

We need to be very careful about discerning the attitude of our heart when we make political jokes. James 3:6-8 tells us “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

The heart of the aforementioned joke was disrespect, hatred, and a lack of reverence for the edict that followers of Christ are to impart blessings, not curses. There is nothing edifying or educative to be found in such “humor”.

Romans 12:14 instructs us to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

John 13:35 declares that the way the world will know that we are different is by our love. Political jokes based in hatred and contempt do great detriment to the testimony of the believers that propagate them, however innocuous they might seem at face value.

Our mouths are to be sanctified for words that are going to edify others and bring glory to God’s kingdom. There should be no hypocrisy in between the values of love we represent, and the words we espouse. James 3:9-10 warns us: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

So by all means believers should engage in political humor. But as we do so we need to carefully monitor the attitude of our hearts.

“I’m right!”

When reading the comments of many believers about political policy I am frequently reminded of the Jim Carey movie “Bruce Almighty”. In this film Bruce is an average guy who operates under the strong belief that if he could just be in charge of running the world it would be a much better place. He feels that God is a selfish, insensitive, inept person who would be better off being replaced. Then one day he gets his wish and God hands over to him the opportunity to be in charge. It doesn’t take Bruce very long to realize that running the world is an extremely complicated job, and that the ramifications of his every choice go far beyond what he could ever imagine. It eventually dawns on him that it’s absolutely impossible to please all of the people all of the time.

It is quite tempting to think that we are wiser and more competent than our political leaders. The reality is that most of us are not. These leaders have graduated from the most prestigious universities, hold law degrees, have high level military experience and many years of running cities and regions. The fact is that simply in order to sustain the grueling process of election one has to have a high level of knowledge, education, training, and stamina.

Those that indulge in fantasies that they are intellectually superior to the people running their nation, even though they themselves barely made it through high school, are struggling to hold down a job, and spend most of their free time hanging out on their couch covered in Cheetos dust, are operating in deception, pride, and foolishness. (I realize that this is a cheap stereotype, but I think most of us can recognize that those that complain the loudest are often the ones who should be the most circumspect of their own shortcomings!)

Most of us have absolutely no idea how incredibly complex the realities of running a country are. And most of us would fail lamentably if we were ever dropped into such responsibility. There is innate wisdom in humbly recognizing that your political leaders probably do know better than you, rather than placing your political intellect on a pedestal that God – or some blogger – will have to lovingly knock you off of.

1 Peter 5:5 tells us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” By all means we should have our own opinions. But we need to humbly recognize the reality of their limitations.

Capitalists, Communists, Idealists, and Other Things that End with “ist”.

Having lived in both Europe and the United States I’ve been able to experience for myself both the negatives and positive aspects of capitalism as well as a more communistic approach. However much fundamentalist proponents of both ideologies would deny otherwise, it is only logical to conclude that there are distinct advantages to both systems, just as there are disadvantages to both.

It seems to me that there is innate danger in our elevating any one system as being “the solution” to mankind’s problems. When we do that we enter into the Babylonian spirit as we imbibe the pride of Lucifer that tells us that we can be like God.

So how are these systems flawed? Well, historically, there is much evidence as to why extreme communism does not work. Essentially the system fails because when it comes to mankind absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that those in charge invariably end up abusing their position. As a result those who have been good stewards are stolen from, and the spirit of entitlement is rewarded.

The evils of extreme capitalism are less obvious to those inside its system as the issues it creates are mostly hidden under the surface. Selfishness, materialism, superficiality, destructive consumerism, immorality, and a lack of regard for the needs of others are all fostered when rampant capitalism is held up as being the solution.

Unfortunately in the western church, especially in the United States, many believers are completely unaware of how indoctrinated they are in this capitalistic philosophy. They believe that the rest of the world envies them, and they fail to understand how disgusted many nations are by their unbridled consumerism, their blatant disregard of the cost it carries for certain ethnic groups and the irreverence they hold for the toll which such mass consumption takes on the world’s eco system. I personally believe that it would behoove the North American church to take the perils of capitalism just as seriously as it does the perils of communism.

It is not my intention use this article to endorse any specific political agenda. I simply feel that it is important to point out the potential areas of spiritual blindness, cultural indoctrination, and hypocrisy that might be affecting our political perspective. It is only through the process of sanctification, of setting ourselves apart from the innate lies of our culture, whatever that culture is, that we will be free to truly live in righteousness.

“God says…”

Another pitfall we need to avoid as believers is that of committing the act of heresy when it comes to our preferred choice of political leader. When we feel strongly about a certain leader it is easy to fall into equating our preference with God’s preference. However when we elevate a certain party as being “God’s will” for our nation we commit a grave sin.

We are entitled to believe that a certain party would be better for our country, and to deem that certain policies that a party endorses are not biblical. But the moment that we start declaring that we know God’s mind on the matter of who should lead our nation, or that we imply that something is in scripture which isn’t, we are in absolute breach of authority.

We are also acting sinfully when we represent a certain political party as being “all good” or “all bad”. Such condemning, judgmental, and prejudiced beliefs are not at all in line with God’s teaching on how we are to treat others. Besides which such fundamentalism defies the gift of logic which God has given us.

The bible teaches that the fruit of the spirit (listed in Galatians 5:22-23) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Any time we relate to supporters of another political party in a prejudiced or judgmental manner we are acting in the flesh.

Self-control is especially important in this day of Facebook and Twitter. As much as impulsively ranting about the shortfalls of a certain political belief might bring a certain level of temporary gratification, one is likely offending a number of fellow believers in the process. Such behavior is in no way edifying to God’s kingdom, and is a great sign of spiritual immaturity. Furthermore it completely undermines our testimony of being redeemed into a life of love and self-discipline.

When we use the pulpit to influence followers towards a certain economic agenda, when we claim that one economic structure is more Godly than another, when we abuse our power over those in our charge by pressurizing them into supporting a specific political ideal, and when we elevate politics to the level of scripture, we are completely whoring our position as representatives of Christ. And one day we will have to give account to Christ as to why we did something He never did during His time on earth.

Magicians Hats and Gullible Believers

I personally believe in the importance of believers exerting a great deal of flexibility when it comes to choosing which political party they are going to vote for. Clearly there are certain issues such as abortion rights and gay rights that are deeply interlinked with biblical doctrine. However it is my personal belief that politicians often use these issues to win votes, and that believers often guilt their fellow believers into feeling like they have to pledge alliance to a certain party over one or two key issues.

Issues such as abortion and gay rights are undeniably important issues, and should absolutely factor into our voting choices. However we also need to bare in mind that any prospective political leader represents a wide range of policies, and that it is the totality of these policies needs to be carefully assessed.

For example, if a leader is strongly against abortion, but his foreign policy endorses the unnecessary death of millions of children in other countries, it might on balance be best not to support him being voted into power.

It is my personal opinion that many prospective leaders have used issues such as abortion rights and gay rights to affect a sort of magician’s trick. Just as a magician gets us to focus so intently on the hat we don’t notice the way in which they’re deceiving us with their other hand, some politicians use moral issues to take our attention off other policies that are just as evil, but simply less blatant. (This is by no means to say that every pro-life candidate is acting manipulatively, only that we need to beware of the global picture of what they represent rather than to basing our judgment of them on just one or two key issues.)

Voting for a certain party because your family has always voted for them, because of one key issue, or because a fellow believer has coerced you into feeling like you should do is sheer foolishness, and an abdication of the responsibility you have to exercise the discernment and wisdom that God has given you.

It’s important that we pay attention to all the issues, that we refrain from impulsiveness, and that we avoid being duped by the manipulations of guilt driven politics when casting our vote. We should all read the fine print first!

Talkin’ about a Revolution

I hope that my biblical take on submission and respect hasn’t left you with the impression that I don’t empathize with the general frustration with politicians. I assure you, I fully understand why many of my fellow believers feel great righteous anger over their communities unmet needs.

It would be insensitive to not feel anger and deep concern over evidence that suggests that some of those in political power are not doing all that they could to help their constituents. But though I believe that the anger is Godly, I don’t believe that the direction it’s going in is. In reality when we look to the government to fix such issues we are looking in the wrong direction.

The fact is that we are God’s body, commissioned to help heal the fallen world. However much of God’s body is currently paralytic, stuck in a comatose state, resigned to complaining that no one is doing the job that is actually theirs to undertake. Undeniably it is so much easier to dump the blame on the government, rather than looking at our own failure to heal our community. It’s a job that many of us would simply prefer to outsource to someone else.

Isaiah 61:1 declares that “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on [us], because the Lord has anointed [us] to preach good news to the poor. He has sent [us] to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

The best way to make the government redundant is to step up to what Christ is calling us to do. If God’s people truly engaged in what it means to love others as we love ourselves there would be much less need for benefit programs, law enforcement, and economic bailouts.

The Bible does recognize that not all governments are effective governments, and it gives us the strategy with which to counteract this through Peter 2:15:“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

There are many practical ways that we can meet the needs of our communities. Much of it is self-evident. It’s simply a question of taking initiative and being willing to be inconvenienced.

One of the great weapons of change that we have at our disposal is the power of prayer. Philippians 4:6 is very clear on how we are to deal with dissatisfaction and concern: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

The disciple Timothy knew the great importance of us praying for our government. He wrote “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and those in authority, that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

We should not pray that God put a certain person in power or that He remove a certain person from power. Such prayer is witchcraft, as it is an attempt to use a spiritual means to serve our own purposes. Rather we should pray that God removes any spiritual blindness from the elect and that they be surrounded with Godly advisors so that they might grow into intimate relationship with Christ, and learn to seek His guidance in all they do.

Matthew 5:44 encouraged us to “Love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us].” How powerful it would be if the elect knew that even the believers that don’t agree with their policy were still praying prayers of blessing over them! What a witness of love that would be!

Indeed, it is through the power of blessing our leaders that we align our nation for help from the only one who can actually bring true restoration – the Eternal God. For He has made this promise to us: “If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

So if we want to see our land healed we shouldn’t grumble, cast curses, and rebel, but rather we should humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways. No politician on earth can stand in the way of us doing that! And by doing so we make way for the only kingdom that will endure forever – God’s kingdom.

I hope that this article has allowed you to evaluate the attitudes of your heart in regards to your government. If you feel convicted of some sin then please take the opportunity right now to confess your transgressions to God, and to ask that He cleanse you from them.

I invite you to share this article with any believers you know that are acting in an unsanctified manner in the name of political belief. My prayer is that this article helps edify and reconcile the body of Christ. May there be an increase of peace and unity!

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