baltimore protestYou’ve seen the riots. You’ve heard the news conferences. The past week in Baltimore has been marked by the tragic death of a 25-year-old man triggering protests that have been building for decades. And now the marches are spreading across the nation. Disenfranchised communities are speaking out and have a large megaphone available with hundreds of microphones and cameras pointing directly at them. They’re angry and everyone seems to be trying to put their collective fingers on the reason why. But, as is so often the case, fingers are landing on the wrong answers.

We need more jobs. We need better schools. We need economic opportunity. We need the police to stop profiling.

In other words, our government has failed us.

The political solutions are complex, there’s no question about that. But the conclusion that government is the ultimate answer fails to go deep enough. But going deeper for answers will cost us something as a society.

  • It will cost time – The real solution will not happen overnight. Actually, since we have rejected the real solution for so long, the time to undo the damage would take years. How many? I don’t know, but many.
  • It will cost will – We (by that I mean a lot of us who want positive change) would really have to want this. Enough to accept a major shift in thinking and action.
  • It will cost submission – People would have to subject their natural inclinations to the will of someone else.

I see news reports that show churches and faith-based groups trying to serve during these protests. Prayer circles are forming. Food and water are being shared. This is good, but a larger message, a deeper message must also be sent. Not a temporary message of help during a city’s outrage, but a life-changing message that will last for eternity. Baltimore, and everybody else, needs to hear:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.   – Psalm 118:8, 9 –

Quit looking to government to ultimately help with all our problems. Turn to God and His ways. His Son, Jesus, offers the answer to our most foundation need of forgiveness and acceptance.  His Word holds answers to solving the confusion and chaos in our world. Submitting to Him and His plans will heal families. Parents will be more likely to stay together, kids will be happier, families would be stronger and communities healthier. That would immediately alleviate some of the economic woes, but again, the political answers would still have to be grappled with. But if citizens and lawmakers were committed to God and His path first, better answers would be found by our leaders.

Statements like this one by New Orleans Saints’ tight end, Benjamin Watson, must be heard and embraced. I hope you’ll read it. And keep praying for Baltimore (and everywhere else).

benjamin watson

frustrated guyA frustrated friend and I were speaking not long ago about influence. Specifically, his influence (or lack thereof). He tried to convey how impotent he feels in the current culture to bring about any real change to his world. It’s a world that is increasingly headed in direct opposition to his beliefs and he wondered out loud, “What can one person do? What platform do I really have?”

He’s not the first to feel this way or ask those same questions. Even the Psalmist said, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)  For centuries well-meaning people have looked around themselves, despairing at the condition of society and their inability to change it.

I tried to encourage him the best I could but have taken a few days to think more about his statement. Then I came across these words from Solomon, no lightweight when it came to wisdom:

I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard. The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:13-18

The “powerless” person in this tale had the true power and teaches us several key lessons:

1)  Wisdom is required – In a world devoid of true wisdom, the Word of God is still the source of answers for what plagues our culture or any other. The keys, then, are to know it, apply it, share it and spread it.

2)  We all have a platform – No one is entirely without influence regardless of our situation or how powerless one may feel. Size of the platform is irrelevant; seizing the available opportunities is what counts.

3)  The platform may seem insignificant – Wisdom, while never powerless, could appear like small weapon but still overshadows public boasting of a foolish ruler. This passage says the audience of wisdom “heard in quiet” is better off because of the content of the message, not the size of the crowd.

4)  Start with your sphere – What do you think this poor, wise man did? I doubt if he took to the local airwaves to get his wise message out. Did he organize a community to deliver the city? With his connections? I doubt it. He probably had a very small circle of listeners, but somehow his wisdom caught fire and the city was eventually saved from the siege.

Who is in your sphere of influence? Thousands or a handful? Friends? Children? Grandchildren? Your wisdom passed along by your life and words can take hold in them and inflame their hearts to do the same thing as they gain wisdom. You are not without a platform.

5) Prepare for obscurity – Maybe we’ve watched Braveheart once too often then bemoaned the fact we aren’t all clones of William Wallace. Our heroes are the william wallaceones who get things done in a major, sweeping way. They are hailed, revered, famous. When they die there are processions, ceremonies, monuments. We don’t naturally default to peaceful, patient wisdom as a solution to oppression, but Solomon says it carries the day against foolishness – and we live in a world awash in foolishness. If you have to be stroked or feel gratified about getting the credit, learn to embrace disappointment.

It’s past time to stop decrying the voluminous foolishness in our world and start addressing the dearth of God’s wisdom.

Huge, loud problems met with huge, quiet solutions. What would happen if followers of Jesus spread wisdom this way? The sooner we accept God’s (seemingly) backwards plan and act on it, the better we all will be.

So get wise, identify that platform and save the city.

 

Recently, Paul Meinsen, my Capitol Commission colleague in Missouri, had a strange experience. It is recounted in this article.

If you had been Paul, would you have had an answer? How pathetic that a professing follower of Jesus would have such an attitude, but it is possible that you or I might come across something similar, especially with the current political turmoil and upcoming elections. We should be ready with an answer. What would you say?

The shootings in Tucson last weekend left long-range, huge philosophical debates in its wake – unintended consequences far beyond the evil imagination of the twisted shooter.  He is now in a cell.  We are all now left to wander through the morass of opinion, doubt and confusion that inevitably arises when a senseless tragedy occurs in a society where absolute answers have long been rejected.  The main call right now is for civility in our public discourse.  Funny how we’re more concerned about what people say in public than what they are thinking in their hearts.

Bringing people together has been a desire for years in America and we look to our leaders to somehow pull it off.  To save us all some unnecessary frustration, let me just suggest that the sooner we let this “dream” go, the better off we’ll be.  We will never come together and be completely civil and unified because to get what we want in this world, we need power.  Power doesn’t come from civility or unity.  It comes from ripping it away from whoever has it – not a very civil process.

It’s an old problem.  Look at political cartoons from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Read about campaigns for office in which candidates were called every name in the book and family members weren’t off limits.  Incivility is our American birthright – a nation born in rebellion.  Adams, Jefferson and Jackson had to take it and they dished it out along with just about any other public figure who felt they had to “take a stand” or “take back their country”.

The problem really goes back much further.  One tree was forbidden in the Garden of Eden – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It was the tree that represented independence, of walking away from God’s plan. 

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.  Genesis 3:6

When Eve, then Adam made that break from submitting to God and His design, they declared themselves as gods.  In grace, God provided redemption, but the damage was done and humans have spent the rest of history up until today trying to be god.

But when many little god-declarers start to disagree on what should happen in society, there is nothing left but a power struggle and the way to gain power is to do whatever it takes.  Through the years, mankind has found that civility is a desperately ineffective means to achieve power.  Don’t expect it to happen now.  Don’t look for unity.  When we as a people gladly tossed God aside, we chose our fate – we want our independence from Him and what has been the price?

We pay for it every day in our relationships.  We pay for it in our economy.  We pay for it in our media.  We pay for it in education.  45 million murdered babies (and more) have paid for it while Americans with the most power approved.  We’re paying for it in Tucson.

We have to start with ourselves to place ourselves under God in obedience to Him.  Then pray for others’ hearts to change, not words.

Christian protestersThe following is an excerpt from a reply I posted to a comment on the recent entry “Counter-Cultural Anger”.  Since media reports are still filled with accounts of Americans outwardly expressing outrage to their leaders, I thought I would publish this response to a thoughtful reader of this blog:  

I don’t deny that it is great to live in a representational system of self-governance (as America is, ostensibly). I also don’t deny that we have a responsibility to speak up for right thinking and living in our world based on biblical principles. I also think it is important to let our voice be heard, from the ballot box to the letter or phone call to our representatives’ offices. It can be a great witness to them and their staffers why we hold certain views and values. I just think the way we convey the message says as much about us as it does about our opinion on policy.

If Christians are expressing outrage in the same way as the world, I believe we lose the effectiveness of our witness because there no discernable difference to their actions, regardless of our motivation for seeing a godly policy enacted. Christ turned over the Temple tables and angrily confronted the religious leaders there, but we could never say it was “rather unkind” since He was without sin. The reasons for His outbursts never had to do with public policy, but a holy anger that God was not being worshiped as He should be. As a matter of fact, the examples of Jesus, Peter, Paul and others show an amazing indifference to the politics of the day, with the exception of the souls of these leaders.

The church is indeed called to be in the world, but not of it. How that looks is guided by many Scriptures that are unchangeable and applicable to all time periods and forms of government. My concern is that many believers spend more time, energy and resources trying to impact the temporal facets of this passing world rather than pour themselves into Christ’s command to make disciples as we should. Many are more invested in leaving a better earthly culture for their children rather than investing in the higher prize of leading others to a heavenly kingdom.

Can we do both? As I read the Word, talk to more folks, and reflect on my own experience, there’s no question we can carry out the Great Commission while expressing our values politically, if we keep these in the right priority.  Honestly, though, the more I think of these issues and work in ministering to people in the political field, the walk is not all that complicated. When we are commanded in Scripture to make disciples, pray for authorities, be salt and light, be filled with the Spirit and reflect His fruit, submit to governing authorities, trust in God’s sovereign control of our world, love our enemies, expect (and even rejoice in) persecution, seek to live quiet and godly lives – and many others, the walk is pretty straightforward.

angry manHave you been watching the news the past few days? I have, and I’m seeing some irate Americans out there at these town hall meetings. I suppose we can expect more of the same through the summer break for Congress, but what are we to make of such outbursts? If you agree with the tirade of the protester, do you smile a bit, vicariously living through them to express what you wish you could? Does your heart share in the anger and silently cheer them on?

I received a good quote from a friend today. He related these words from Vance Havner: “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.”

What provides the combustion, the energy, the explosion? “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).  Take part in the rantings against your government if you want, in the privacy of your living room or out at your local TEA party.  You’ve got the right to do that as an American, but before you do, consider this:  You are exchanging the true power to change this world for an inferior, pathetic method.

It’s the difference between the H bomb and a firecracker.  It’s internal versus outward change.  It’s lasting versus superficial change.  Eternal versus temporal.  Your anger may be assuaged by winning some key seats in the next election, but you and I know what’s going to happen – those seats will be lost again sometime. 

Also consider that if you are a follower of Christ, you don’t have the luxury of deciding how you will impact your world.  You’ve been given your commission:  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you...” (Matthew 28:19, 20).  If the church would just focus there, even to our elected officials, we would be following Christ’s mandate.

Consider one last thing.  Our anger does not bring about eternally beneficial results: “This you know, my beloved brethren, but everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19, 20).

Did Jesus get mad?  Sure.  Did Paul get outraged?  No question.  Did Peter disobey his rulers?  Yes.  But why?  Righteous indignation is borne from a desire to see God magnified and made known.  In all biblical examples of righteous anger, the motivation is always centered on God and following His mandate to teach His truth to all nations.  Is that the motivation of angry American Christians today?

Christianity is meant to be counter-cultural, but we Christians in America are blending in pretty well when it comes to our political involvement.  Havner was right.  Criticism and conformity will not only fail in changing our world,  they will keep us distracted from the very power we’ve been given to make that change.

If we’re going to get hot under the collar, we’d better have the right reason behind it.