Monthly Archives: October 2012

Politics and Pink Flamingos

As the political season enters high gear, I have one recommendation—pray for the rapture.

During an election year it is easy to weary of political analysts on television, political commercials, and lawn sings promoting candidates and causes. Personally, I’d rather have a plastic pink flamingo in my front yard than one of those candidate lawn signs.

Of course there are serious issues for God’s people to consider in preparation of voting in the upcoming election. Naturally, the economy is on the minds of most voters. Should we have an economy of confiscatory redistribution of wealth or one where ostensibly all boats rise on a rising sea of prosperity? Powerful political and economic forces vie for our votes in the hope of getting the type of economy that benefits their interests. What’s a Christian to do?

One problem is that we the people have a tendency to cast our votes based on a tremendous variety of self-interests or superficial evaluations of the candidates. Ideally, conscientious voters weigh the issues and policy positions of the various candidates and cast their votes using the wits they have, keeping in mind the best interests of the entire nation. As admirable as this approach might seem, it isn’t the end all for Christian voters. Why? For the answer let’s look at Hosea 8: 4. In this Scripture the prophet Hosea is listing things that the nation of Israel was doing that displeased God. Here is one item on that list:

“They set up kings without my consent;
they choose princes without my approval. . . .”

Fast forward to today. Do we even bother to ask the Lord who we should vote for, or do we simply choose based on our own understanding, experiences, and worldview? When I pray about voting I don’t expect God to speak through the rolling thunder the name of Romney or Obama. Nevertheless, God clearly takes an interest in the selection of leaders. He rightly expects to be included in the process.

Let’s also look at 1 Timothy 2: 1-3:

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, . . .”

Did you catch that? It says to pray for “all those in authority.” That’s a tough imperative to follow. It rubs me the wrong way to pray for leaders I did not vote for, leaders who I find distasteful or who’s policies I loathe. But the Bible demands that I pray for them. It’s hard to do. But here’s the thing: God can use leaders who don’t come from my preferred political party, even leaders from a political philosophy at odds with Christian principles. Perhaps the church in America doesn’t pray sufficiently across the aisle for ALL leaders. This might explain the current loathsome state of affairs in American politics. So before you walk into the voting booth in a few days, take a moment to pray for God’s guidance and his blessing on our leaders.

I’ve known Christians who have no interests in politics whatsoever. While this approach is understandable, the verses above demonstrate that God expects us to take an active interest in the selection of the leaders who govern the nation where we live.

So how should we vote? Many Christian leaders encourage believers to vote for candidates with policies that most closely align with Biblical principles. This is good advice though it incorrectly assumes that most believers have studied the entire Bible with their hearts in a teachable disposition. Granted, the Bible is the best guide to a proper worldview, though it is most effective when we read it many times over the course of a lifetime. We must remember that it is also crucial to extend the reverent courtesy of asking for God’s direction with our vote. Sincerity is essential in our supplication to God for guidance. Don’t let television and radio ads sway you. Read about politics in newspapers and magazines on the right and the left. Don’t just read novels and popular fiction; read an occasional book in the genre of politics and current events from the perspective of the right and the left. Be informed but don’t worry too much about politics; ultimately it is God’s vote that prevails. He lifts up one leader and brings another down and he’s been doing it a long time. See you at the polls.

Type A Imperfection

There is a bumper sticker that says: “I’m not perfect, but parts of me are incredible.”

Have you ever known a Type A personality (an archaic term used to describe a high-strung uberconfident person prone to cardiovascular disease) that gets under your skin? You know who I mean: the assertive, hard-charging, extremely ambitious, painfully persistent and insufferable guy or gal who keeps pushing until they get their way.

Let me introduce you to Jehu. His story is found in 2 Kings 9 and 10. God gave Jehu the task of purging the nation of folks who encouraged the sinful proliferation of idol worship in their national culture. Jehu was very aggressive and accomplished his assignment efficiently and ruthlessly.

When the task was accomplished, the Lord praised Jehu for following his instructions, though the Lord was not entirely pleased with Jehu. As a result, the Lord limited the number of Jehu’s heirs who would be national leaders. Apparently something was amiss with Jehu’s attitude. Ironically, Jehu eventually led his people into sins like the previous administration. Theologians and Bible commentaries suggest that Jehu took action against the previous leaders out of selfish political ambition or because of some malevolent feeling he had against them. In other words, they say he despised the sinners, not the sin, and he may have used the Lord’s assignment as a mechanism to advance himself politically.

Whatever his motivation, Jehu did everything the Lord asked him to do . . . but he wasn’t tracking with the Lord’s heart and motives. Jehu had his own agenda. He had the appearance of a servant, but he had aspirations of something more.

Many of us start out with good intentions. We feel like the Lord has given us an assignment and we go after it with zeal. But somewhere along the way our motives get twisted and our efforts become about our personal ambitions when it should always be about the veneration of God. We would be wise to periodically ask ourselves some poignant questions like: Why am I doing what I’m doing? Are my motives free of selfish ambition? Am I too aggressive or assertive? Am I tracking with the heart of the Lord? If I’m off track, am I open to correction from the Lord?

These are prudent questions that can keep every believer from running afoul of the Lord.

Food Falls from Grace

Weight is a sensitive issue. It’s almost as taboo as religion and politics. (I’m trembling in fear even as I write these words.) I think most people know the basic reasons for the dramatic increase of obesity in America. We have become less active and we have a tremendous variety of delicious foods to choose from. Look at the many genres of restaurants in any given city. Portion sizes have increased. Grocery stores are bigger and have thousands of items for consumers to choose from. There’s even a Food Network on television. We have become a nation of epicureans.

On the other end of the spectrum there is a plethora of diet products for corpulent consumers.

The Bible Dictionary defines Epicureans like this:

“. . . followers of Epicurus (who died at Athens B.C. 270), or adherents of the Epicurean philosophy (Acts 17:18). This philosophy was a system of atheism, and taught men to seek as their highest aim a pleasant and smooth life. They have been called the “Sadducees” of Greek paganism. They, with the Stoics, ridiculed the teaching of Paul (Acts 17:18). They appear to have been greatly esteemed at Athens.”

Yeah, well, it’s easy to be greatly esteemed when you peddle a lifestyle that makes people feel good. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve likely heard the term glutton or gluttony. We know being a glutton is sinful, but let’s consider another angle on our love affair with food—addiction. You see, our problem with food is now so extensive and harmful that we need to replace the word “diet” with “recovery.” For many people, food has become an addiction. The ecclesiastical world focuses its ministrations on addictions to alcohol, illegal drugs, tobacco, pornography, and Dear Prudie. (Just kidding about Prudie.) I propose that food addiction and self-image can consume a person’s thoughts as much as those other less genteel addictions.

Let’s go back to the beginning and look at our relationship with food before and after Eve took that fateful bite of the apple, or whatever tempting fruit caused all this brouhaha.

In Genesis 1:29 God is speaking to Adam and Eve: “Then God said, ‘Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all fruit trees for your food.”

The thing that jumps out at me in this verse is the perfect relationship that God created between himself, Adam and Eve, and the sustenance they would need to survive in this world. God created a world that would provide for the bellies of humanity. Adam and Even did not need to worry about what they would eat and how they would acquire food. They had the best the world could offer and they had an endless supply. They could trust God to provide for this most basic need. They experienced complete anxiety-free satisfaction in the food they ate.

Then the serpent enticed Eve and Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. I find it fascinating that God established this crucial rule for Adam and Eve around their most basic human need—food. God did not tell them they must not take a bath in the pond of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather, he told them don’t eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. It highlights the significance God places on food in his grand design. But something changed after they ate the forbidden fruit. In Genesis 3: 17 – 19 God tells Adam and Eve:

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

This is one of the consequences of the infamous fall of humanity and the corruption of nature. Here’s the point: From this moment on humanity became responsible for feeding ourselves. Not only that, we have to do it in a fallen world that doesn’t always provide for us the way we would like. Additionally, we ourselves are trying to survive and thrive in bodies and minds perverted by the knowledge of good and evil. Our physical needs became exaggerated after our survival switched got activated. Hunger and mortality dogs us throughout life. No matter how much we eat, lasting satisfaction and fulfillment eludes us. We never feel like we are taking in enough life. This is the context in which we attempt to live a balanced life that includes our relationship with weight and food.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that some folks are overweight because of infirmities beyond their control. But it helps to know what we are up against. Like an alcoholic, change won’t happen until we arrive at that holy place where we admit to ourselves and God that we need help to overcome our addiction to food. Granted, food isn’t something that can be eliminated entirely through total abstinence.

So what’s the solution? I think a big part of it is found in Matthew 6: 24-25:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?”

Indeed, life is more than food. I suspect that each day we need to ask God to help us live, to fill all our senses with life. He is able to bless us with much more than just food. When that happens, food isn’t as important and mind-consuming. Here’s a simple little example. As I write these words there’s a cup of tea on my desk. It’s an African tea with a fragrance that reminds me of an oak forest after a fresh rain. Throughout the day I’ll simply lift the cup to my nose, breathe in the tea’s aroma, and let my memory run through the damp oak forest with soft leaves underfoot. Now that’s living . . . and it cost me zero calories!

Why Not Me?

Cain and Abel by Titian

If you spend much time in the church you will notice that some Christians seem to receive more spiritual blessings from God than others. AS you become more aware of this seemingly unfair allocation of blessings, you might ask God: Why not me? I’ve too often asked that question and, honestly, with an indignant attitude. Then last Sunday our pastor preached about Cain and Abel from Genesis chapter 4. Here is their story (verses 1-8):

“Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

Theologians have debated the reasons why God preferred Abel’s offering over Cain’s. Abel may have brought the best animal in his flock while Cain may have brought the leftovers of his crops. Cain may have brought his offering expecting to get something in return from God. Abel’s motives may have been more pure. It’s all speculation. What we do know is that Cain knew exactly what God expected but jealously and anger reared its ugly head in Cain’s heart. As a result, Cain did not recognize that God was trying to help him find favor and acceptance. God offered Cain a path to a blessing, but Cain couldn’t let go of the indignation he felt. It consumed him and drove him to a horrible outcome. You see, God reached out to Cain. This tells me that God wasn’t playing favorites with Abel, it just seemed that way to Cain. Are we any different than Cain?

Let’s face it, it feels good to be angry and indignant, but it can be dangerous when we allow it to get a foothold in our heart. It causes us to ignore God’s loving ministrations toward our attitude. Sin can then use our bad attitude to drive us to some evil, or it will let our resentment take root, grow deep, and turn us into a miserable wretch. Our attitude has distorted our perception of God if we begin to think that God deals with us unfairly. This is very similar to the deception Satan used on Cain’s parents, Adam and Eve.

It’s all about that moment of truth and choice when God points out our flaw and offers a solution to help us fix it. We all can do what is right and receive a blessing from God. (Good thing I don’t have any siblings.)