Saturday, November 08, 2008

Learning from the Past

I am more and more loving whatever is old, more specifically, centuries old.

In following Jesus, I'd rather hear accumulated wisdom rather than novelty.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in Northern Africa in the 4th Century is such a person for me. He is probably the most influential theologian in the history of the church--we are still feeling the effects of his thoughts--good and bad (for instance, his views on sexuality were extremely mixed-up and the church is just now getting over them).

Some of his well-know one liners:
  • You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in You.
  • Love the Sinner, hate the sin.
  • Heart speaks to heart.
  • To sing once is to pray twice.
  • An unjust law is no law at all.
  • Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. (Maybe that inspired Obama?)
And one of my favorite longer quotes about how Jesus captured his heart and imagination:
Late have I loved you, O beauty so ancient
and so new. Late have I loved you! You
were within me while I have gone outside
to seek you. Unlovely myself, I rushed towards
all those lovely things you had made. And
always you were with me, and I was not with

All these beauties have kept me far from
you--although they would not have existed
at all unless they had their being in you.

You called,
you cried,
you shattered my darkness.
You sparkled,
you blazed,
you drove away my blindness.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Thoughts on Voting

In the middle of a nice case of bronchitis, I took advantage of my privilege as an American citizen and voted today. I voted for the man I thought was the best leader and whose vision for America seems to me to have the most potential to do the most good. Maybe my vote was wrong, maybe it was right. History will be the judge (plus, he may not even get elected!).

Regardless, I'm glad the election season is winding down. It's been a flurry of opinion-shaping rhetoric and fear-mongering in an attempt to get people to vote "right."

Let me go on record as saying that politics is important. Here's why. The root word, polis, means "city." In other words, we need to know what the "city" we all live in will look like and how best to order things so that it goes well with people. Being human beings with opinions, we often have vastly different visions of what our "city" should look like and how we will make our vision reality. That's the challenge (and benefit) of living in a democracy. Everyone gets a voice through their vote. We can't ignore how to structure our "city." We need to think as intelligently as possible, then vote.

What's more, I know the issues on the table this election are important and that exactly how our faith intersects with our politics isn't something that gets explicit attention in evangelical sermons (except as it relates to a handful of issues). So perhaps the majority of us feel a bit confused about how and why to vote for this or that issue or this or that candidate. But it frankly has felt like an awful lot of energy has been expended trying to convince us that if we don't elect the "right" person, the nation will slide into moral decay (a rhetorical flourish I would bet both sides of the political aisle would freely employ).

As a result, it's sounded an awful lot like our final hope is in who gets elected next.

As a follower of Jesus, I just can't stand for that. Jesus' followers have a political persuasion. It is "the Kingdom of God", a political vision that is of another order of things.

Here's how Mark Driscoll ably put it. Half the time what he says does nothing but raise my theological temperature, but I think he's right on:

BlockquoteThis election season which has dominated the cultural conversation for many months has been particularly insightful regarding the incessant gospel thirst that abides deep in the heart of the men and women who bear God’s image. Without endorsing or maligning either political party or their respective presidential candidates, I am hopeful that a few insights from the recent election season are of help, particularly to younger evangelicals.

First, people are longing for a savior who will atone for their sins. In this election, people thirst for a savior who will atone for their economic sins of buying things they did not need with money they did not have. The result is a mountain of credit debt they cannot pay and a desperate yearning that somehow a new president will save them from economic hell.

Second, people are longing for a king who will keep them safe from terror in his kingdom. In the Old Testament the concept of a peaceable kingdom is marked by the word shalom. In shalom there is not only the absence of sin, war, strife, and suffering but also the presence of love, peace, harmony, and health. And, this thirst for shalom is so parched that every election people cannot help but naively believe that if their candidate simply wins shalom is sure to come despite sin and the curse.

The bottom line is obvious to those with gospel eyes. People are longing for Jesus, and tragically left voting for mere presidential candidates. For those whose candidate wins today there will be some months of groundless euphoric faith in that candidate and the atoning salvation that their kingdom will bring. But, in time, their supporters will see that no matter who wins the presidency, they are mere mortals prone to sin, folly, and self-interest just like all the other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. To help extend naïve false hope as long as possible, a great enemy will be named and demonized as the one who is hindering all of the progress to atone for our sins and usher in our kingdom. If the Democrats win it will be the rich, and if the Republicans win it will be the terrorists. This diversionary trick is as old as Eve who blamed her
sin on Satan rather than repenting. The lie is that it’s always someone else’s fault and we’re always the victim of sinners and never the sinner.

Speaking of repentance, sadly, no matter who wins there will be no call to personal repentance of our own personal sins which contributes to cultural suffering and decline such as our pride, gluttony, covetousness, greed, indebtedness, self-righteousness, perversion, and laziness. And, in four years we’ll do it all again and pretend that this time things will be different. Four years after that, we’ll do it yet again. And, we’ll continue driving around this cul de sac until Jesus returns, sets up his throne, and puts an end to folly once and for all.

In the meantime, I would encourage all preachers to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and repentance of personal sin. He alone can truly atone for our sins. He alone can deliver us from a real hell. He alone is our sinless and great King. And, he alone has a Shalom kingdom to offer.

Lastly, for those preachers who have gotten sidetracked for the cause of a false king and a false kingdom by making too much of the election and too little of Jesus, today is a good day to practice repentance in preparation to preach it on Sunday. Just give
it some time. The thirst will remain that only Jesus can quench. So, we’ve still
got work to do….until we see King Jesus and voting is done once and for