Why I May Not Vote (part 2) – If I Don’t Do What the Bible Clearly Says to Do for Members of the Government, What Business Do I Have Voting for Them?

[I have been doing some political and theological soul searching  over the last couple of years. I want to share some of my thoughts with you. I find that forcing myself to write out my thoughts adds clarity, and posting them online adds accountability and feedback.]

I once heard a pastor say that my greatest responsibility as an American who is a follower of Jesus is to vote. His thought was that my vote was the greatest influence I could have on the direction of our nation.

I disagree.

When it comes to the place where my Americanism and my Christianity intersect, the Scriptures are very clear about where my greatest responsibility and greatest amount of influence lie:

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV 2011)

We are to pray for those in government. The Bible is clear on that point.

I will confess that I rarely pray for those in government. I don’t pray for them in private. I don’t pray for them with my family. I don’t recall ever praying for the government in church except maybe once or twice. However, the Scriptures tell me that I should pray for them.

Did you catch why? So that we can live a tranquil and quiet life.

We all have witnessed over the last couple of decades as followers of Jesus have tried to influence those in government. I still see it happening today with Christians on the right and on the left who want to see “good” done by their favorite candidate. After all, if we can only elect ________________ then finally __________________ will happen.

And I suppose there might be some truth to that idea. Clearly good has come about in the world at the hands of governments. I see it in America and I see it here in Mozambique. Governments can do good. Governments can help make the world a better place.

However, the purpose of my reflection on voting is not to question whether or not governments can do any good. Even Nero had some effective policies. My question is whether or not I can or should vote as a follower of Jesus.

My conviction is that since I spend little to no time praying for those in government, as a follower of Jesus, I really have no business voting for those in government.

Still to come…

Why I May Not Vote (part 3) – How Can I Vote for This Government While Working for That One?

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Why I May Not Vote (part 1) – The Two-Party System and The Idea of the Lesser of Two Evils

[I have been doing some political and theological soul searching  over the last couple of years. I want to share some of my thoughts with you. I find that forcing myself to write out my thoughts adds clarity, and posting them online adds accountability and feedback.]

I just finished Edmund Morris’ excellent 3-part biography on Theodore Roosevelt. It was a huge endeavor to read (each volume was over 550 pages) but it was a wonderfully written profile on the enormous life and accomplishments of “Teddy”.

As I was reading, I was struck by how different the Democrats and Republicans of the early 20th century were from the Democrats and Republicans of the early 21st century. Some platform elements were the same, but most were very different. As I pondered how I would have voted in the early 1900s, what struck me the most is that I couldn’t in good conscience have voted for either party.

In the early 1900s, the Democrats were still a party of the South (still stinging from the end of the civil war), and much of their platform was downright racist. The Republican platform, on the other hand, was imperialist in its desire to expand and conquer more territories in the name of the United States.

I couldn’t in good conscience place a vote for racism or for jingoism. So I think, as a follower of Jesus, I would have had to abstain from voting.

Then upon further reflection, I asked myself what is so different about the choices of 100 years ago than my choices today. I won’t bore you with my full laundry list of grievances against today’s Republicans and Democrats, but suffice it to say that each list is long.

Some questions I am currently asking: Can I in good conscience vote for a candidate that is for abortion? Can I vote for one that is for the death penalty? What do I do when both parties are for drone strike assassinations that kill an “acceptable” number of civilians? What about both parties willingness to hold prisoners indefinitely without a trial?

In the past, when I have aired these grievances to others, they have told me that I need to choose the lesser of two evils. But today I am going to ask: why? Why must I choose? Why must I stand before my God one day and say that I helped put in office a candidate who was for the killing of unborn children? Why should I try and defend my vote for a candidate who felt they had the right to assassinate others without a trial, especially knowing that the assassination would kill innocent bystanders?

Does God really want me to vote for a candidate that is the lesser of two evils? Does God want me to vote for someone who opposes what is right, to prevent someone else who is even worse from taking office?

In the past I have bought into the lesser-of-two-evils argument, and held my nose while pulling the lever in the voting booth. Today I am much less sure.

Still to come…

Why I May Not Vote (part 2) – If I Don’t Do What the Bible Clearly Says to Do for Members of the Government, What Business Do I Have Voting for Them?

Why I May Not Vote (part 3) – How Can I Vote for a Government While Working for Another One?

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Good vs. Great

As a missionary/consultant here in Mozambique, I have the opportunity to meet with a number of people in the world of ministry. Some are national pastors or ministry leaders. Others are expatriates (foreigners).

The longer I live here, the more I have realized a disturbing trend among expatriates who want to start a ministry. They feel crippled by their inability to execute the ministry with the same level of “excellence” they would have been able to in their home country. Many people are simply crippled by their idealism for their vision, and the lack of resources and infrastructure available to them to execute the idea.

Jim Collins wrote a brilliant business book called “Good to Great” in which he compared the very best business in a particular field with a business that didn’t measure up but was started about the same time. One of his observations about why the second-place organizations didn’t achieve the same level of excellence is that “good” is the enemy of “great”. In his opinion, too many leaders and companies settled for an organization that was simply good instead of pushing ahead for one that would be great.

I believe the reverse might be true in developing countries. I wonder if great is the enemy of good here. I wonder if so much good could be done, but because the conditions in which execution must take place are so difficult, the good never happens. In other words, because a project can’t be “great” in the mind of the ministry leader, it isn’t worth doing.

You with me so far. Good ministry doesn’t happen because in someone’s mind, it can’t be “great” ministry. But here is the secret: national pastors and leaders don’t seem to have this problem. It’s only the expats. National pastors want anything better, even if it doesn’t meet up with the ideals held in some missionaries vision.

And so although we heavily invest in ministries that have a significant amount of expat involvement, we love the one’s that are led by nationals the most. And really, when a national ministry leader is doing their best to expand the Kingdom of God in their country, with their people, and God Spirit shows up and transforms lives, I triple-dog-dare you to tell me that our Father in heaven doesn’t think that is GREAT!

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Remembering my grandma

I have tried unsuccessfully to write a quick facebook post to let people know that my 93 year old grandmother died today. But I found it too much of a challenge to try and fit my thoughts into the couple of sentences required by facebook etiquette, because I want you to know more than just that little bit of information.

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be touchy-feely. That wouldn’t really be appropriate since neither my grandma or I are touchy-feely kind of people.

Grandma was born in the Netherlands and her fist name is Jacoba. However, she just shortened it to Coba. My mom told me that when she first met my grandma, when she and my dad started dating, she thought her name was Cobra. That’s funny.

Grandma has the fastest mind of anyone I’ve ever known. She could think and speak so quickly, most of us didn’t know what hit us. I remember on my wedding day, when I brought her a piece of wedding cake, I asked her how long Amy and I should wait to have kids. Without waiting a heartbeat she was responding, “Oh, about 9 months.”

She is the only person who can consistently beat me in an argument. She is just so fast. And even when she “lost”, she still won by ending what she had to say with a “huh”. (This is not actually the word “huh”. It is two beautifully intoned Dutch gutturals created in the back of the throat which a phoneticist would write as ʕuʕ. Ask my brother to do an impression for you sometime. He’s mastered it.)

My grandma always ran a tight ship. She worked hard. Her house was always clean and well organized. This could sometimes be intimidating for other people when she came to visit. Although it was never a problem for my mom, I remember once visiting a family friend for a party they were throwing. My grandma was going to be arriving later and the friend was frantically cleaning the house repeating the phrase “Coba is coming! Coba is coming!” She was just the sort of lady you wanted to impress with a spotlessly clean house.

My grandpa and grandma came to visit Denver for my graduation from seminary. While I was giving them a tour of the campus, a student flung open a door and knocked my grandma into a bench. She broke her hip. We didn’t know she had broken her hip but I could tell she was in pain. As she was pulling herself into my parents car, I was wincing on her behalf. She grabbed her leg that was still dangling out of the car and yanked it inside! Then she gave me a wink and a smile. My grandma was tough.

Grandma suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and her health has been slowly declining since then. When we said goodbye to her before we left for Mozambique, we knew it was likely we were saying goodbye for good.

I will miss getting to visit her when we come home in a couple of years. I wonder if there will still be Dutch windmill cookies in my grandpa’s cupboards and 7up in the fridge. No one is left to complain about my long hair or to tell me to take off my hat. The world isn’t the same without my grandma, but I know she is excited to be out of body that stopped working well, and that she is happy to be with the God she loves.

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Moving Target

One of the great difficulties of following Jesus, is that Jesus never tells us where we are going.

If I were to stop by your house tomorrow after work and ask if you want to come with me, you would of course ask me: “Where are we going?” The strangeness of the Christian faith is that our Lord says follow me, and then just keeps moving. He never really arrives anywhere.

And I think that our need for a destination is one of the reasons that Christianity has become so unattractive to many people over the years. We try and insert a destination into Jesus’ instructions: Follow me… to a better life. to holiness. to a stronger family. to the Holy Lands to destroy the Moors. to spiritual enlightenment. to personal happiness.

But the only destination that Jesus seemed set on during his life on earth was the cross. And although he led his disciples there, they didn’t follow him. So he went alone with his mom and a couple of others there to watch.

It is hard to hit a moving target. It is hard to follow Jesus because Jesus doesn’t stand still. So often we just want to know where we are going so we can take the 3 easy steps to get there (regardless of whether we would walk with Jesus). But Jesus doesn’t tell us where we are going. He just asks us to follow him.

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Books for Life

I like to read. I like to read a lot. I normally read about a book a week. Sometimes a lot more. Sometimes less, but not very often. For example, last month, when I had a couple of weeks off from normal responsibilities I read 14 books. It was a good month.

So at the end of 2011 I came to 2 important realizations. First, I need to reread more books. I have read too many good books to think that just because a book is new it is better than one I have read. And my second realization is that I need to ensure a good balance to the books that I read to make sure I am reflecting on different roles in my life.

So I have compiled a list of 12 different “roles” that I have and have assigned at least 1 book I would like to read each year for that role. Although I am fond of many of these books, I am always up for a suggestion on a better book for any particular category. Let me know what you think.

Human
Power of Full Engagement
Ordering Your Private World

Christian
The Critical Journey

Man
From Wild Man to Wise Man

Husband
Love and Respect
His Needs, Her Needs

Father
Parenting with Love and Logic

Leader
Lencioni
Collins

Businessman
Getting to Plan B

Teacher
Teaching to Change Lives
Made to Stick

Missionary
Spiritual Biographies
Oswald Chambers
Hudson Taylor
Jim Elliot

Clergy
The Soul of the Apostolate

Investor
Payback Time/Rule #1 Investing

Landlord
Accidental Landlord

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Jesus and Election Years

Like many (maybe most?) other Americans, I am deeply disturbed by the current state of the political climate in America. Yet, I can’t help but think that we are reaping what we have sown. As a follower of Jesus, I need to step back and not simply critique but to actually construct the sort of culture and climate in which I would like to live.

Jesus had something very pertinent to say to all of us who would engage in political dialogue: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This rule should guide EVERY political conversation we find ourselves in, and every political statement we would make. Here’s a couple of applications I thought of, feel free to suggest others. I am simply listing the way I would like to be treated, and so these are my pledges of how I will treat others.

1. I will listen, without interrupting to what other people have to say.
2. I will read, thoroughly, what a candidate has written, not just what the media chooses to share about them.
3. I will try not to be sarcastic.
4. I will critique ideas, not attack character.
5. I will give people the benefit of the doubt.
6. I will not believe elaborate conspiracies.
7. I will not pretend that a bumper sticker or facebook post can properly summarize my political thoughts, and I will not hold others to their summarized rants and raves.
8. I will pray for all my elected officials, whether or not I voted for them.
9. I will focus on the positives of my thoughts, not the negatives of others.

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