Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Gospel, the Church and Politics

I have watched with great interest as Christians have interacted and responded to another round of presidential elections in our country. I have seen ultra-passionate responses all the way to complete disinterest on the part of my fellow-believers. As a pastor, I am very careful about expressing my thoughts about the upcoming election. Some might be tempted to think that I am fearful of offending someone or fearful of what the ramifications might be for myself and the flock that I pastor. While those are legitimate concerns, my greatest concern is how my comments portray the gospel. **Disclaimer** I graduated from college in 1989 with a major in Accounting and a minor in Political Science, I love politics, my political views are very much shaped by Ronald Reagan being president during my first years of interest in politics. That being said, I am a follower of Jesus first and foremost, which is of far greater importance than political ideology. In fact, being a follower of Jesus should shape and mold our political ideology. I am troubled by what I am seeing and hearing coming from the hearts of fellow believers.

I will begin with the one extreme that I see, that I shall call the “Uncaring Dual-Citizen”. This is the person that sees themselves as solely the citizen of heaven and does not care about exercising their citizen stewardship as a citizen of our great country. My major problem with this kind of person is that they are not using all that God has given them to be salt and light in a culture that desperately needs the influence of followers of Jesus. The gospel, the glorious news of redemption, reconciliation and restoration found in Jesus Christ, would dictate that we should use our rights as citizens to influence and affect our nation toward the gospel. The person who does not exercise his citizenship rights of voting and of speech for the good of the gospel is missing a tremendous opportunity to be salt and light. We are called to submission to our civil authorities in Romans 13, and we have a say in who is given that authority by the way that we vote for candidates who support biblical ideals (note that I did not say conservative agendas…).

Perhaps, even more troubling to me are the excessively passionate Christians on the opposite extreme who jam our Facebook feeds with political diatribe, who demand that pastors practically campaign for certain candidates or parties (from their pulpits!), and who think that American Democracy is as “Christian” as a King James Bible or a hymnbook in a pew! (Note to the grammar police… I know the previous sentence broke about 14 rules!) The Bible does not view one form of government as better than another, the Bible does not teach that capitalism is the preferred view of economics. What really bothers me is that many of my fellow followers of Jesus seem to lose their sensibilities when in the political debating fray. There is never a good reason for a Christian to be rude, to be pugnacious, to be “holier-than-thou” in their defense of their ideology and candidate. I find this to be true especially in the area of pro-life proponents (which, by the way, I am).  The Bible DOES indeed teach us to value human life, but to do it in a way that is rude and unloving in many ways robs from the message and diminishes the gospel that we are trying to uphold. I saw this kind of rudeness, sharp dialogue and lack of love this past year when our state of Ohio wrestled with Issue 5. When it comes to politics, it seems that we, as believers, forget our words (written and spoken) reflect on the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we would only be as passionate about our Savior and about other believers, could you imagine what our churches would be like?

So, I have ranted and yes, I do feel a little better. The question is, “What would I do to fix the problem?” I am so glad that you asked!

  • First, I would remind us all, as followers of Jesus, that our first allegiance is to Christ and not a political party, an ideology, a candidate, our wallets, and I could go on…
  • Secondly, I would ask that followers of Jesus would vote like Jesus would vote. (I can see the “VLJV” bracelets coming off the production lines!) How would Jesus vote? Jesus would vote for ideas and candidates that upheld gospel principles. Jesus would probably not vote along party lines for the sake of the party. Jesus would engage in conversations regarding politics, but would do it in a way that magnified the gospel rather than diminishing it.
  • Third, I would counsel fellow followers of Jesus to utilize all the citizen rights given to them for the sake of furthering the Kingdom of Heaven. Too often we vote to improve our wallets, or to advance our own causes. This year, I would ask my fellow Christians to vote through the lens of a biblical worldview.
  • Last, pray, pray and pray some more! We are to pray for those in authority over us, we are to pray for that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and we should be praying for this upcoming election.

So who am I going to vote for? Do you REALLY think I am going to answer that one here?  I am going to vote for candidates who value life and will defend the lives of the unborn, I am going to vote for candidates who will use their influence and position to serve rather than be served (I know, I am very idealistic!) I am going to vote for imperfect people who are elected in an imperfect system and I am going to leave that in the hands of the perfect God Who gives them the authority to govern. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Headed to Haiti

Happy First Day of Spring! As I looked at my calendar this morning, I was floored by the reality that in just over a week I, along with 7 others, will be getting on a plane and flying to Haiti to spend a week ministering to the children of southern Haiti. This trip is the fruit of the vision and planning of a man in our church and good friend of mine, David Stelzer. I admire David so much because he had an idea, he prayed about his idea, presented his idea and then pursued it with energy and enthusiasm. I see this trip as an extension of the people of our church, it was the people of our church who supported this idea, who made it possible for me to go, who provided and prepared over 600 pillow case dresses for young girls in Haiti, who gave and gave tennis balls to be given to the young boys in Haiti.

Next Friday, March 29th, we will board a plane in Columbus to fly to Miami (yes, I am taking my talents to South Beach… for a night!). Early in the morning on Saturday we will fly from Miami to Port au Prince, Haiti. We will travel by van from Port au Prince to Les Cayes. On Sunday, we will help our host family, the Wray’s, serve approximately 1,000 children a meal and work with their Sunday School. We will be acting out the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water. I have been thinking of this story and thinking about what one can accomplish as long as they keep their eyes on Jesus. I pray that this trip will be about keeping my eyes on Jesus. Monday through Thursday we will be leading soccer clinics at this camp… http://harvestinternational.org/cmhome.html
I am looking forward to interacting with the Haitian children and helping them to learn Luke 10:27. For those not familiar with the verse, it says,          “And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
(Luke 10:27 ESV)
This is why we are going to Haiti, because we love the Lord and we love His children in Haiti. We will also be teaching them the story of the Good Samaritan also found in Luke 10. I pray that our time in Haiti will make me less and less like the priest and the Levite in the story and more like the Samaritan.

I am looking forward to attending a prayer meeting on Thursday night in the town of Torbeck. I cannot wait to worship with brothers and sisters in a different culture. This is the church where our missionary, Beth Newton, attends. I am especially looking to spend Friday with Beth, to see her ministry firsthand, to meet her co-workers, see what she faces daily, just to get a feel for what her life is like in Haiti.

On a completely unrelated note… This coming Sunday, March 25th, a man who I love and admire will step down as the pastor of a church where he has served faithfully for 35 years (I think it is at least 35 years…). This is the only pastor that this church has had. What a model of faithful, dedicated, loving service to the Lord and the people of his church Dr. Roger Vogel has been. I am sure that he had no small part in my preparation for God’s call on my life. I am thankful to be able to attend an afternoon service that will be held in his honor this Sunday.

On a much less important but fun note… How is your NCAA bracket looking? Mine is in disarray, but my final four of Ohio State, Kentucky, Carolina and Michigan State are all alive and kicking! I wouldn’t be surprised if OSU makes the final four and the championship game… Why? Because I will be out of the country and unable to see them! If it takes me leaving the country for them to win a championship, so be it. GO BUCKS!

Keep on pressing!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Being a Servant

Yesterday we were so blessed to have the Director of Skyview Ranch in Millersburg, Ohio, Jeremy Hales with us for the morning at our church. He preached from 2 Timothy 2 on the subject of the seven choices a servant of Christ must make. It was very interesting timing in my life to hear the message. About a 45 minutes before Jeremy preached I was sharing with my teammates who are going to Haiti about “Going with the Right Heart” and my thrust was that we must go in the mindset of Jesus. By that I meant that we needed to adopt Jesus’ mentality that Paul shares with us in Philippians 2. Jesus chose to take on the form, the role of the bond-slave. It didn’t get any lower in that culture than to be a bond-slave. Thinking about this reminded me of John 13 (the passage of Scripture that we will come to this coming Sunday (3/11) at we continue our journey through John at JIBC.) In thinking about what Jesus was trying to accomplish, I do not think Jesus was trying to “show up” the disciples or embarrass them… that wasn’t Jesus’ way. No, Jesus clearly stated what His intention was, it was to set the example for His soon to be “leader-less” followers. The way they would best function would be to learn to serve one another. That still holds true for us today, the way we function best as the body of Christ is to learn to serve Christ and to serve one another. This is accomplished by giving up our rights, our dreams, our agendas for the sake of another, for the sake of Christ. Servants do not get to choose what their tasks will be, when they will get to perform them or how they will be done. Servants do what they are told to do, how they are told to do it and they do it when they are told to do it. In Jesus’ case, feet needed to be washed. They needed to be washed before dinner, they needed to be to be done by a servant. I can only imagine how the disciples, who had just earlier done their best to avoid be the “one” to have to wash feet now must have thought as they saw Christ, the Messiah, their Lord, take off his outer garment, wrap a towel around His waist and start to wash the hard, dirty and most likely gross feet of each disciple. Jesus knew this and we need to know this too, the way up is to go down, the way to rise is to serve… I think it is hardest at times to serve the ones we spend the most time with, our families, our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ. In my case, I can get pretty motivated to go and serve in Haiti, but I do not get nearly as excited to wash the dishes for my wife or go and visit a shut-in, or I could go on, but you get the idea… It all comes down to my motivation. Am I motivated by a sense of duty? Duty can be a pretty hard motivator. Am I motivated by pride or a desire to be known as a servant? That completely undermines my service… Or, am I motivated by love, yes, love… A love for God that motivates me to love others, including the others closest to me… Love will motivate you and me to pick up a towel, move toward the dirty feet and imitate our Savior… Happy washing!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Has it really been that long?

So, I was bumping around on our church's website and noticed it had been almost 2 years since I have blogged. If the website is going to have a blog, shouldn't someone be blogging on it? So, here goes... no promises on how many posts will be added per month, per year, per whatever!

Things rolling around in my dome...

1. I am afraid of spiritual lethargy. I am afraid of it for myself (I know its devastating effects). I am afraid of it for the church that God has called me to shepherd. It is a scary thing to realize that you or ones that you love have become lethargic. So, what does one do when he/she senses that they have become lethargic? The short answer is to cry out to God and beg Him to "restore the joy of His salvation". After we do this, then it is up to us to shake the lethargy by getting up and getting going! Get going in His Word, get going by seeking Him through prayer, get going by looking beyond ourselves and living beyond ourselves by showing His love to the ones around us at home, at work, at school, wherever our journey takes us...

2. I am intrigued by Jeremy Lin. I do not watch too much NBA, I guess I am more of a college basketball "purist". I find myself glued to his highlights on Sportscenter and I even watched a whole half of the Knicks playing the Mavs yesterday. I love this kid's humility, his grit, his desire to glorify His Heavenly Father. You don't have to look too far on the internet to find that Christ in completely interwoven in this young man's life, his speech and the way he conducts himself. (And he has a nifty crossover dribble too...)

3. In less than six weeks, I, along with 7 others, will be in Haiti. I can't wait! This past weekend our church (mostly the ladies of our church, but a few brave men, too!) gathered on Saturday and Sunday to make over 330 pillow case dresses to hand out to young girls in Haiti. I can't wait to see the looks on their faces when we hand them a dress and a Bible story book! I can't wait to teach them the stories of Jesus walking on the water and the Good Samaritan through drama. I can't wait to spend the week leading soccer day camps for kids who are happy to just have a tennis ball to kick around. I imagine that I will leave Haiti a much "richer" man than I entered it. I can't wait to see another region of the Kingdom of Heaven!

4. One last thing... I am currently wrestling with this coming Sunday's text as we travel through the gospel of John on Sunday mornings. In John 12 we are told that God has "blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them." To have a heart of unbelief is a dangerous, deadly thing. The answer is to believe in the Light, Jesus Christ!

Oh, and one more thing, it is good to be back after a LONG time away from the land of blog...