Friday, February 26, 2016

Very old wine

Dear ones, Followers of the Way, Fellow travelers in Christ:

I have watched the latest election cycle with a mixture of amazement, anxiety, anger and amusement. I have been voting for more than forty years and have never, ever in my life seen a cycle like this one. But my friends, as the rhetoric and hand-wringing rise to a crescendo, the time has come to encourage one another; to say some things that need saying.

First, we have to know that this election is about so much more than who will be elected President. I believe it is a test—not to pass or fail, but a test given to throw a light on what we're trusting. The world is in terror about the economy and our future, but this is not a time to let fear rule us. It’s time to take a breath…a step back and remember that God is in control, whether we end up with a distasteful Republican or a distasteful Democrat. Even if we elect the candidate we love, the problems America faces cannot be fixed through the political process. We must cry out for the remedy only God can bring, which is much bigger than a particular party proving victorious in November.

I don’t know that God is wanting to “Make America Great Again.” I don’t know that He is concerned about our comfort zone. I don’t know that He cares very much whether democracy triumphs or our pensions are intact. I do know that He cares deeply about the world…the world which only exists because of love. I know that a new heaven and a new earth are coming in which love reigns supreme…but first the old, broken world must go. I do know that God’s plan is to save as many people as will come to Him, before the end arrives. And the end will eventually arrive, because it would not be loving for God to allow evil to go on destroying forever.

Could it be that God is allowing this troubling election in order to shake us awake? To splash cold water on us? To break the soul-tie evangelical Christianity has forged with American politics? Is our allegiance to a political party, or to Democracy, or to the American economy, or to maintaining our comfortable lives? Or is our allegiance to God and His plan…even if that plan means the overturning of everything, everything with which we are familiar? What does “shaking everything that can be shaken” look like? That is not punishment; that is love and kindness. After all, what good does it do me to gain the whole world and lose my soul? If the American dream has become an idol to American Christians, what might God do about that?

Second, It is only a matter of time before our economy will suffer another calamity. That is not prophetic alarmism or negativity, it is a fact. Every rational adult knows that you cannot consistently spend more than you earn without ultimately facing a dire financial consequence. Yet we have an entire block of voters clamoring for free college, free healthcare, free whatever they can get. It matters not to them who will pay for it. And the other side is just as guilty…it has its own pet projects, its own play for power. America is going bankrupt, because no one on either side of the aisle has the moral fortitude to close the candy store. No one has the courage to tell the American people, “No.” No one, from the politicians in DC to the man on the street, wants to lose their goodies. So we continue down a political and bureaucratic path that cannot help but end in disaster for us all.

But friends, for Christians this is only a disaster in the ‘we like our lives to be as undisturbed as possible’ sort of way. For Christians, this is an exciting (though scary) chance to adjust our reliance from a government system to God’s provision. Zephaniah 1:12 speaks of a time in which men became complacent…so undisturbed that they grew dull and stopped believing that God was active in their daily lives either for good or evil. God compared them to old wine settled on its lees (dregs). Wine which sits too long becomes soured and bitter and undrinkable. To maintain its goodness, it must, from time to time, be poured off its lees and into a new container.

Could it be that God pouring us off our lees; preparing us for a new season for which we need new containers? It is very easy in a country that permits great freedom, to begin to trust and rely on that freedom, instead of God. It is easy to become comfortable and complacent and protective of our pleasant way of life, instead of accepting what God has for us. It is easy to expect that comfort to continue, instead of rejoicing whether in abundance or lack. It is easy to make plans for ourselves and ask God to rubber stamp them with His approval, forgetting that He may have something else in mind entirely. When we’re dependent on ourselves and regular paychecks and the rule of law it’s easy to see God more as a vague spiritual influence rather than a dynamic force, actively involved in every detail of our day to day lives. Like wine set aside to age, we have been settled, undisturbed for a long, long time.

If Jesus is my everything, that must affect my role in this election. A choice based on fear of ‘what ifs’ is an exercise in vain imagination. Especially if we worry that we might waste our vote by voting for someone “who can’t win.” If we glorify God with our choice in this election, leaving the consequences to Him, then our vote counts in the only court that matters.

I’ve been reading about a young girl named Sophie Scholl. Only 21 when she died, Sophie was a Christian, raised in the Nazi dominated society of Germany during WWII. She and her brother Hans and a small group of friends were troubled when they learned about the atrocities Hitler was committing. So they formed a group and, knowing the cost, created and mailed out protest pamphlets, which were passed from hand to hand at the University of Munich and many other places. Did their protest make a difference? Did the atrocities stop? Did everyone listen to them? No. Sophie, her brother and another friend were arrested and beheaded only five days later. Why did they bother? It seems such a waste. But not in God’s economy. They were seeds sown on our account, and her story has been reverberating in my soul for two solid days. Weeping, I ask that God raise up more like Sophie and Hans…that God make me like Sophie and Hans. So that when faced with any choice, I would not think of results or waste, but only what God is asking of me.

Whether or not my guy wins, It matters how I vote because it’s one more indicator that I am different than the world. It signals my choice to do what I believe is right, not what’s popular. It demonstrates my confidence that God is in charge, whether our government continues as before or becomes something else entirely. It declares that whether or not my rights are upheld, my finances increase or my faith is permitted by law, I stand with Jesus. If that stance brings me pain in this world, then I rejoice that I am in the company of a tremendous cloud of witnesses like Sophie, waving me on to the finish line.

So resist the whirlpool of fear and be encouraged! Run hard, my friends. Run hard after Jesus, our coming King. Focus on Him, knowing that He has conquered; trusting that He knows that we need shelter and clothes and food. Run hard, knowing that He is worthy, that He is better than all our worldly goods; better than Democracy; better than the American way. Whether this election ultimately makes you happy or horrified, God is on His throne and it will be well with those who call on His name. 

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