Monday, February 29, 2016

Primary Decisions: Seeking The Leader We Need, Not Deserve

Super Tuesday is tomorrow. The Presidential Primary season is in full swing as candidates try hard, and more raucously than I can remember, to make their best case to the American people. This campaign season is a sad state of affairs. At stake is not only the highest office in the land or the most powerful position in the world but the future of our country, or so we are told. 

While candidates of the past have represented a myriad of positions and policy platforms they have usually presented, at least to some degree, a viable option depending on your politics. Well then again, maybe not. The saying that “picking the lesser of two evils” seems to be a maxim of our Presidential elections since I started voting in 1980. 

This year however the leading candidates, in both parties, leave us with less than decent options as both leaders lack the character that should be required for the Oval Office. The lesser candidates lack the experience needed, which is not uncommon, and while some of the other 'also rans' might be better options they will inevitably end up as, well, 'also rans.' It’s a sad state of national governing affairs. 

While it is said that God gives us the leaders we deserve, we can and must now, desperately, cry out for the leader we need and appeal to and travail for God’s mercy. Maybe the Lord will relent and give us the leader he supports, with the character he desires. Nothing is too difficult for God, not even our politics. 

What might the leader with the character God supports look like? 

Consider Josiah. Josiah became king of Judah at the age of eight, after the assassination of his father, King Amon, and reigned for thirty-one years, from 641/640 to 610/609 BC. Apparently, God isn’t concerned with age but character. 

Josiah is however only known through biblical texts. No reference to him exists in surviving texts of the period from Egypt or Babylon, and no clear archaeological evidence, such as inscriptions bearing his name, has been found. Perhaps that indicates this is a simply an inspired story about the ideal leader God would prefer, if only his people would repent. But we can trust God’s Word concerning Josiah. 

Josiah’s example can serve as a good voter guide this Presidential Election season. Consider these qualities of Josiah as outlined in 2 Chronicles 34: 
1)      Josiah was committed to a righteous lifestyle

  "He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and followed the ways of his father             
   David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.” 2 Chronicles 34:2. 

            Josiah was a wise leader, not given to ideological swings.

2)      Josiah was committed to prayer 
       "in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father     David. In his twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles and idols.” 2 Chronicles 34:3. 

Josiah understood leadership wasn’t about him. 

3)       Josiah was committed to fighting against sin 
       “…in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images…” 2 Chronicles 34:3b. 

Josiah stood for the right things. 

4)      Josiah was committed to building up the worship of God
     “Then they gave it into the hands of the workmen who had the oversight of the house of the LORD, and the workmen who were working in the house of the LORD used it to restore and repair the house.” 2 Chronicles 34:10. 

Josiah honored God with his leadership. 

5)      Josiah was committed to reverence for God and his law
     “When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Abdon the son of Micah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, ‘Go, inquire of the LORD for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book which has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD which is poured out on us because our fathers have not observed the word of the LORD, to do according to all that is written in this book.’” 2 Chronicles 34:1-21. 

      Josiah understood that God’s ways are best. 

6)      Josiah was committed to brokenness and humility before God

      “Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD.” 2 Chronicles 34:27. 

Josiah was a servant leader. 

7)      Josiah was committed to God’s Word and its importance to the whole of his Kingdom

 “Then the king sent and gathered all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. The king went up to the  house of the LORD and all the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the Levites and all the people, from the greatest to the least; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD.” 2 Chronicles 34:29-30. 

Josiah knew were his power and authority came from.

8)      Josiah was committed to covenant action with God in thoroughly mobilizing his sphere of influence 
     “Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant written in this book. Moreover, he made all who were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand with him. So the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.” 2 Chronicles 34:31-32. 

Josiah led by the example of his life not mere words.

The Hebrew name Josiah literally means "supported of Yah" (or God). The story of Josiah’s life outlines the character of the leader that God supports. The Lord will appoint lesser rulers and allow evil rulers in his sovereignty but has given us this example to consider. 

How does your candidate do in comparison?

I am not going to suggest any candidate meets the Josiah model. Granted, these metrics represent the ideal, according to God’s standard, and there has never been an American President, or other earthly leader, who has come close to the Josiah model...except Jesus. Some have certainly done better than others. Sadly, as a nation we keep drifting further away from the leader “supported of Yah.”

What should alarm all Biblically minded and sincere Christians, is that it is doubtful that Josiah would gain a Primary victory in the current state of our electorate. Today, many Evangelicals, allegedly the most Biblically minded of our populace, are favoring the one candidate who has done more to perpetuate the antithesis of Biblical values than any other candidate in our history. 

No, we should not expect a Josiah. Our national sin cries out from millions of unborn against God’s mercy. Our national condition demands God’s judgment. Perhaps that is why we may end up with such poor choices for our next national leader. God does give the people a leader they deserve. Sometimes to bring revival like Josiah. Other times to bring judgment. 

I pray we have not reached a place where the Lord will declare, "Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress." (Jeremiah 11:14). 

Thankfully, God's mercy triumphs over judgment.

Tomorrow, I will vote in the Primary for the one man I think comes closest to the character of Josiah. For 2016 however I am weighing my decisions even to cast a vote, for the first time in my 10th general election, depending on how the Primary goes.

Should we simply vote for the “lesser of two evils" come November, because we fear what the other party might do? Paul urges, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Paul asks good questions to prayerfully contemplate, if you're a Christian, as we consider our vote and for Living Sent Today.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Challenge of the God vs Allah Debate: Need to Go Deeper!

It seems that the 'God vs. Allah' debate is not losing any of steam, now more than 6 weeks old. That may be a good thing, if the results of this debate bears lasting Kingdom fruit. For that to happen however we will need to think deeper about why this question is important. 

What I have noticed is that many of those who are of the “No” (totally different Gods) camp support their argument on some favorite Bible verses. One of the favorites being used is John 14:6, as one commenter from my post last week kindly offered: 

 “Jesus said I AM THE WAY I AM THE TRUTH..NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THRU ME. ANYTHING other than that is false teaching (ISLAM) and you being a supporter of that faith makes you one as well.”

Of course Jesus is the way, the truth and life! Amen! And Halleluiah! 

Yes, no one comes to the Father except through the Son!  Amen!

But is that really all there is to this argument? A simple "No" suffices here. We’re dealing with a complex reality in the answer to this core question because we are dealing with real people’s lives not theological constructs. Therefore, the answer to this debate is not as simple as many would like it to be. We need to go deeper.

To rest this debate on one verse, or some others that speak of Jesus’ divinity and soteriological uniqueness is lacking in depth. No Christian leader or thinker dealing with the core question, at least that I have read, is arguing that Jesus is not the only way to the Father or is not God incarnate.None are suggesting that Muslims do not need to come to faith in Christ. No one in the “Yes and No” or “No and Yes” camp is suggesting a multi-faith path of salvation.

The “No” arguments tend to miss the deeper points of this debate, and its importance, as does my new 'fan' above. That is the problem. 

The argument being offered by the “No” camp is like thinking that all there is to math is arithmetic. Nothing changes the basic truth that 2+2 = 4, although proponents of Common Core may disagree. But that is a rudimentary lesson and we need to move on to deeper ideas like Trig and Calculus before completing our education. 

Nothing changes the biblical truth that Jesus is Lord and God. That’s a basic lesson of Christianity 101, even IF Muslims and Christians ‘worship’ the same God though understood differently. We, as Christians, understand this truth however only by the revelation of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3), repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10) and confession (Romans 10:9-10). 

Muslims are ignorant of the truth of Christ as God, crucified and resurrected, or deny it because they lack this revelation. The revelation that Jesus is the way, the truth and life is the Good News and a great gift. Muslims do not have a proper perception of God because they have not received the Holy Spirit to enlighten their understanding.

We must move on to deeper ideas (Hebrews 6:1) for the sake of Christ’s global glory. 

Simplistic argument also do not change the fact that God has and is revealing himself in general revelation (i.e. nature) to all mankind and requires a response to what is known (Romans 2:15). But no one can rightly respond to something we are ignorant of (Romans 10:14-15). The Gospel is the power unto salvation as it removes the blinders, by the power of the Spirit, to whom Christ is for all peoples. 

The "Nos" also do not address the real world experience of many Muslims, not all, who have come to faith in Christ who believe they did not change Gods but now understand God more fully. Our perception of God doesn’t make God who he is, otherwise God is simply a human idea. God is the great “I am” unchanged by our ideas about him. We only come to understand more fully who God is as he works in our lives and reveals himself more deeply.

Here are a few things that may help in going deeper in understanding this question beyond a few favorite Bible verses:

1)  Be a learner: Learn to live as a 'World Christian.' Doing so helps you to see the world as God sees it. The best way I know to become a 'World Christian' is to take the Perspectives Study Program. There is not a more robust study available today to inform your thinking about the Mission of God in the world and your place in it.  Being a Jesus follower is about being a learner.

2) Be a story-teller: Start with God as Creator. It does make a difference in how we understand our world and our story. Click here for a video that is widely used in Muslim evangelism, as it starts with a common bond.   The Gospel is not a formula for salvation but the greatest story ever told and it starts in the beginning. Learn this story so you can share it. 

3) Be an intercessor: Pray for the Unengaged and Unreached People Groups of the world, many of whom are Muslims and for the Gospel to penetrate the darkness where it has not yet reached. Jesus is not only the way of salvation but the truth and the life for all peoples.  Billions still live without this knowledge. Learn more and join the movement toward Finishing the Task 

4) Be a Friend: Talk with a Muslim. Don't assume that you know what a Muslim believes because you have some knowledge of Islam. Like Christianity there are some core tenets, five pillars of Islam, but like Christianity there is also great diversity in what is understood by Muslims. Muslims, even in the U.S. may have no relationship with a Christian, statistically few do, so they probably don't know what you believe either. Love compels to relationship and an effective witness. 

And, learn to appreciate that God, even as he has provided only one way of salvation, has also created rich cultural diversity. Muslims understand their story differently and have a much different worldview, which gives rise to different beliefs and cultural understanding. Muslims need a proper understanding of Jesus, not more barriers. 

The debate isn’t really about whether Islam is a 'false religion.' All religion is man-made and therefore erroneous. Islam has both elements of truth (some similar attributes of God including a shared creation account, plus some right ideas about Jesus) and much falsehood, as do all religions. Islam lacks the revelation, Light, of Jesus and therefore Muslims live in darkness and we should not expect the darkness to be anything but dark. But the Light shines in the darkness and God is already working there.

It is informative that those who actually have ministry to Muslims, like the Zwemer Institute and Global Gates, along with experienced missiologists, are on one side of this debate. What can their experience teach us? 

Finally, this debate should lead us to consider our own hearts for the least, last and lost. Are we willing to sacrifice our presuppositions, at least, so that more people, of very different cultures, are reached for Christ? The Apostle Paul did when he said: 
“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)
Now that’s deep! 

We need many more Christians going deeper, filled with the love of Christ, properly trained to share the Good News in a culturally relevant way, praying for and reaching the millions of Muslims now calling the U.S. home and the nearly two billion globally. 

May that be the result of this debate, for Living Sent Today!