November 5, 2008
The End of Politics
The day after the great American election of 2008 there is momentary jubilation in half the population and jaundiced disappointment among the other half. Politics promises much, delivers little. After the longest and most expensive presidential campaign in history, many of us are just tired.
Politics is necessary and our democratic brand is probably the best form of politics this present world offers, but it is messy. Since politics offers control and power over people it attracts all sorts of characters from a Karl Marx or Adolph Hitler to an Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill. Politics offers control of government, economies, and armies and that attract both the benign and the malignant. Religion, the other great arena of power, exercises strong influence upon the hearts and minds of people. Often these two arenas of power are in conflict.
Jesus famously said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)–or more precisely, “My kingdom is not of this system [Greek kosmos= the total world system].” The “world” as a godless and rebellious system is under the judgment of God, but at the same time God loves the human species which is victimized by the system.
The gracious Divine plan is “to rescue us from the present evil age [Greek aion=epoch], according to the will of God the Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever” (Galatians 1:4). In these contexts the words aion and kosmos both convey the same reality of a corrupt culture and governing system that holds sway in this present age.
“If anyone loves the world [kosmos], the love of the Father is not in him…. The world (kosmos) and its desires pass away but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15, 17).
Jesus promised to be with his people always, until the end of the age (aion) (Matthew 28:20). At which time: “The kingdom of the world [kosmos] has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). He advised his followers to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Mt. 6:33), while reminding them that it has not yet arrived to put an end to the politics of this world.
He put praying for the Kingdom of God right at the top of the list: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:9). The apostle Paul reminded Christians that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). The Greek word translated “citizenship” is from the noun politeuma which bears relationship to two Greek terms (polis=city; polites= citizen) from which we get our term “politics.”
Since our real political engagement should be oriented toward God in heaven we are free to keep the politics of this present world in proper perspective. Politics as we know it will soon end. In a sense the Church of God is a “colony of heaven” much as Philippi was a Roman colony when Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians.
Politicians often offer utopian visions to solicit support. We witnessed this in the past election. Lofty notions of “change” and “hope” and a “new world,” while lacking specific substance, were laced with lavish promises of more this and better that. One enraptured citizen exulted she would no longer have to worry about filling her gas tank or paying the mortgage. She could see her vision of utopia on the horizon if her man won the election.
History is full of messianic leaders who promised utopia (ideal state or perfect place), but delivered instead dystopia (an extremely bad place, like George Orwell’s 1984). One should take the promises of our political pied pipers with a block of salt.
Concerning politics, a spiritual rule of thumb should be that voiced by the psalmist in Psalm 117:8-9 (vs 8 just happens to be the exact middle verse in all 66 books of Scripture):
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.
Or Republicans or Democrats, I might add. –Ken Westby
October 29, 2008
Are We Making Progress?
In so many ways the answer must be "yes." To list the progress in the past 200 years within American and Western culture would require a very thick book. Many, of course, are matters of technological progress with its resultant comforts, efficiencies, bringing near universal prosperity. We also enjoy freedom, equality, and opportunity at unprecedented levels. Much credit for the unusual exceptionalism of the American people must be given to the God-inspired documents our founders set to guide our nation. Perhaps the greatest acknowledgment must be given to God whose Word so inspired our founders to set America on that new course. I believe America and our fellow "Christian" democracies are also reaping the promises God made to the children of Abraham whose offspring we are (Genesis 12:3; 22:17-18). God keeps his promises. America and its closest allies have been a blessing to the entire world.
But "progress" in moral areas is another question. In Western culture there is a growing secularism obsessed with materialism, humanism, hedonism, and paganism. There is an increasing intolerance of the Christian religion, which formed the philosophical and moral foundation of the American republic and Western democracies. That intolerance often becomes outright hostility. Recently the New York Times opined that it is a deeply concerning thing that Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was once in a prayer group of "prayer warriors." Yes, we should be gravely concerned at the implications. People praying to God on behalf of each other. How dangerous. But we're told that deep concern over the destruction of traditional marriage, the killing of the unborn, and the promotion of the homosexual lifestyle indicates bigotry and religious intolerance. Well, by many measures our culture has become coarse, corrupt, degenerate, licentious, and paganized.
One illustration comes to mind of the founding of the YMCA by George Williams in London, England, on the evening of June 4, 1844. The YMCA is the Young Men's Christian Association and was conceived of as a place where young men could assemble for prayer. George Williams was the youngest of eight children of farming parents but at 13 went to the city of Bridgwater to apprentice as a draper. His employer insisted that all employees attend the morning service of his church, Zion Congregational Chapel. This changed young George's life. He wrote in his diary: "I entered Bridgwater a careless, thoughtless, godless, swearing young fellow."
At age 16 he made a commitment to God and asked for forgiveness of his sins. Three years later he went to London to work as one of the 140 draper's assistants at the large firm of Hitchcock and Rogers. Now as a Christian he was concerned about the spiritual well-being of the fellow young men with whom he worked. They lived crowed five-to-a-bedroom in cramped, Spartan quarters offering no privacy. He had to ask his roommates to occasionally leave so he could pray in privacy. As he shared his faith more young men became Christians and soon they were using bedrooms for small meetings and group prayer. At one such meeting of about 12 of his fellows he conceived of the YMCA, a place where young men could assemble to share their faith and pray. The YMCA began.
Before long most of the firm's employees had become Christians. Later he married the daughter of the firm's president and became parents of five sons and a daughter. He later became a partner in the firm and by age 65 had amassed a fortune in business and given a fortune to charity. The scope of his YMCA ministry expanded over time to include lecture courses, libraries, reading rooms and sports facilities, but Williams and the other pioneers regarded evangelism of proclaiming the Gospel as the foundational and indispensable mission. In June 1884 Queen Victoria took advantage of YMCA's 50th anniversary to offer George Williams the honor of knighthood in recognition of his "distinguished service to the cause of humanity."
A great and venerable institution created for the purpose of fellowship and prayer. A place where young men in cities away from home could associate in a wholesome environment and consider the spiritual purpose of their lives. What would the New York Times say today of Sir George Williams' motives for creating the YMCA? "Disturbing," "dangerous," "discriminatory"?
Sir George's youngest child and only daughter, Nellie, died suddenly at age 19. He said that her death "almost blotted out the sunshine of 70 years." But with time and God's mercy he emerged with an even greater compassion and empathy for those who suffered. He devoted the remaining 11 years of life to his Christian service to the glory of God. When he died at age 84 his funeral procession proceeded to St. Paul's Cathedral. Despite a steady rain, crowds lined the streets of London in silence as the city seemed to come to a halt. --Ken Westby
October 7, 2008
The Day of Purgation
On the ninth of this month is the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur (yom=day; kippur=covering, purging, rubbing off), the holist and most solemn day of the Jewish/Hebrew calendar. Observant Jews accompany this day with fasting underscoring the seriousness of what is symbolized by this day. In ancient Israelite religious tradition this was the one day in the year that the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, that inner sanctum containing the Ark of the Covenant representing the presence of Yahweh, the creator God. There offering was made for the removal of the nation's sins. The ancient Israelite priesthood, tabernacle and temple no longer exist but the day is still observed for the spiritual truth it enshrines. The New Testament teaches that Jesus became the great High Priest that has entered the presence of God in heaven and has been appointed to take away the sins of mankind. All people of all nations would do well to observe Yom Kippur.
Sin is the cause of the anguish, suffering, pain and death people experience. Picture a world where all people practice obedience to God, keeping his 10 commandments, loving neighbor as themselves and what does your picture look like. It is not the picture of the world the way it is. Sin is defined as disobedience to God. Doing what is against the goodness and righteous nature of God. It is sin that is at the root of every evil, every tear of sorrow, every crime, every injustice. God offers to forgive our sins if we but repent of our sinful attitudes, lusts and actions. He will forgive nations and individuals upon sincere repentance. This Day of Atonement pictures how he purges sin and makes his people clean.
"As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us" (Psalm 103:12). Let us participate in the Day of Purgation. --Ken Westby
September 11, 2008
Jesus the Community Organizer?
Sen. Barack Obama's resume prominently touts his three-year stint as a community organizer in a south Chicago neighborhood. Just what that job entails depends on who is telling the story. Obama's supporters see the job as a self-sacrificial ministry to heal the ills of a downtrodden neighborhood. His opponents suggest his job was that of an community agitator doing the political bidding of a left wing non-profit organization, and that he can point to nothing that changed the plight of the people he was supposed to be helping.
Today, the discussion of his community organizer
position was ramped up when Obama was likened to Jesus Christ on the floor of
the U.S. House. In the same speech Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Republican V.P.
candidate was compared to the Roman governor responsible for ordering Jesus'
Both comparisons came from Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., a supporter of Obama for
"If you want change, you want the Democratic Party," Cohen said during his one-minute speech. "Barack Obama was a community organizer like Jesus...Pontius Pilate was a governor."
Jesus, a community organizer? Not hardly. Jesus said he was sent to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. He, like his predecessor John the Baptist, preached repentance from sin. Jesus' miracles manifested God's power and love for people and underscored the fact that God's blessing and power were upon Jesus, his message, and his mission.
The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1:14-15)
Sin is resisting and disobeying God's will which is plainly set forth in Scripture. Jesus organized a small group of disciples to join him in preaching the Gospel. He said to some employed fisherman:
Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. (verse 17)
Jesus did have an organizing job to do and he did it by preparing a small band of disciples to continue his mission and build a community of believers (the spiritual body of Christ, the church) to continue his ministry into the future.
He wasn't sent to fight the oppression of the Roman overlords that ruled Judea. Judea was no democracy. Jesus stayed wide of politics which in an occupied nation could be seen as subversive. He critiqued the attitudes and behaviors of contemporary Jewish religious sects, but didn't try to reform them. There were many patriotic Jewish nationals (called Zealots) who had as their goal throwing off Roman rule. Jesus, because of his popularity and the huge crowds he was drawing, was under frequent pressure to lead a political organization to confront the Romans. The pressure grew to the point where a delegation of five thousand men were sent to crown him a king behind whom Judea could then be organized to war against Rome.
"Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world."
Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force,
withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:14-15)
Jesus wasn't a community organizer and he did want the job of king to be a national organizer. Nevertheless, his religious enemies accused him to the Romans of sedition and managed to get him crucified. The wholesome words of Jesus were twisted and his ministry lied about.
Jesus realized that the root of the pathetic human condition was a selfish, sinful heart. His program was to change the heart of a man to become new and akin to God's heart of love, kindness, mercy, and justice. If you want to change a community for the better, begin by changing hearts individual by individual. This is God's method and the one Jesus used so successfully. --Ken Westby
September 9, 2008
Election 2008 and "The End"
The next two months will overflow in hot debate as America picks its next leader. We’ve heard many times how “this is a most dangerous time” or even “this is the most dangerous time” we have ever faced. It is a dangerous world and America is at the crossroads. We can’t take chances on an inexperienced leader. These and similar sentiments are voiced in virtually every election cycle. But because they are routinely voiced, some no doubt being political hype and rhetoric, it doesn’t hold that this time such warnings may not be entirely appropriate.
Russia is flexing its muscle and resurrecting old dreams of empire. Islamic Nazis, some seeking nuclear bombs, are plotting the destruction of America, Israel, the West, and Christianity. The world’s economy is precariously perched atop a rotted tree. Oil, the lifeblood of the modern world, oscillates up and down. Bankruptcies, housing crisis, weather, etc. There is much to worry about.
But there is also much to rejoice in. If one could pick any time in which to live it would be hard to argue against this present moment. There have never been so many people in all history that have enjoyed such freedom, prosperity, opportunity, and knowledge. I think that holds true in most nations, but not all. Unfortunately, some places have always been hell holes—not because of geography but because of degenerate rulers, cultures, and religions.
Every election cycle also brings out fresh religious predictions of the end times, revised scenarios for Armageddon, and a new roster of beasts and false prophets. I don’t object to such musing as long as they are not dogmatized or claimed to be “what the Bible plainly teaches.” Such musings are pure speculation, but there is nothing wrong with speculating about the future based on the facts you have at hand. The key is to get the best data from which to speculate. This is a step many skip either because they are too lazy to research the facts, or too in love with their own opinions, or too confident that they have special revelation from God.
There is no question that we are getting closer to “the end.” That is the nature of the clock and time. It is healthy to realize that our time is daily growing shorter and embrace a certain sense of urgency. There is no time to waste and we must be “about our Father’s business,” as Jesus said. Prophetical urgency should awaken us as we witness events step toward another world crisis situation. Evil exists and because of it ours is truly a dangerous world and is likely to become more. Thankfully, this "present evil age" (Galatians 1:4) will one day end.
The only hope the future holds for the race of men is the coming rule of Yahweh — the Kingdom of God. Even more important than when “the end” of the present age will come, at least for us personally, is when will your/my end come. This is the real prophetic clock we are up against. And the answer is unknown...at least to us.
is a question which seems to dominate much of our thinking and it is voiced
repeatedly in Psalm 13:
Lord, how long?
It is a question that God alone can answer. It is proper that we direct it to him. Amid our fears, doubts, troubles, and afflictions we cry out “how long,” what does my future hold? How long will be my days? From deep within his troubled world David understands the answer and writes in Psalm 31:15-16:
My times are in your hands;
deliver me from my enemies
and from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
Our future, including our length of days, is in God’s hand. He has committed himself to work with us to make our days count. As with Jesus, his face will shine upon us and we will grow in grace and knowledge of him. Our goal is to follow Jesus into the presence of God and assume our responsibilities in the eternal Kingdom of God.
We may not know the exact time of the end or our own end of days, but we know what we need to be doing with the time we have. We also know how the entire story of our world “ends.” It is a tear jerker. But the tears will be tears of joy as the lion and lamb lie down in peace.
Elections matter, but the real action that determines the future is being performed by Christians and their God.
September 2, 2008
Harry Truman: “I am Cyrus! I am Cyrus!”
Those were President Harry S. Truman’s words after being introduced by his friend Eddie Jacobson to an assembly of theologians. Old army buddy and business partner Jacobson said of Truman: “This is the man who helped create the State of Israel.” Truman retorted, “What do you mean, ‘helped to create’? I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus.”
Paul Charles Merkley writes in the current issue of Christian History & Biography (issue 99, summer 2008):
“Truman’s self-identification with Cyrus had nothing to do with self-glorification. It followed from his understanding of history and of the Bible. His Sunday School teachers had taught him that someone, someday, would be called upon to be a second Cyrus.”
Truman never went to college, but he was an educated and well-read man grounded in classical literature and the Bible. He knew his history and what Cyrus II (“The Great”) did for the Jews six centuries before Christ. Cyrus was the Persian king who overthrew the Babylonian empire that 70 years earlier had taken the Jews captive. For 70 years the Jews languished in Babylon praying to Yahweh in repentance and seeking his hand in being returned to their ancient land of Judea.