Church Politics

For Politics Monday today I will talk about the politics within the church.  This is a topic I am intending to touch on more often.

Some people undoubtedly will be offended just by the phrasing.  Please bear with me, my definition of politics is the normal flow of relationships whenever people interact with each other, whether these relationships are local, global or somewhere in between.

By this definition, the only church that does not have politics is the church where the people fail to interact with each other at all. This would mean they fail to form friendships, fail to produce teamwork and never experience fellowship.  All of these things are produced by the synergistic power of relationships.

Most often, whether a church is a good church or a bad church, whether it is a church that does lots of good in the community or a church that barely manages to pull off worship, is ultimately determined by the strength of the relationships within the church.  A church that ‘works’ is a church that has good, strong relationships. When something breaks the fellowship of a church, the church will lose its strength.

Unfortunately, everywhere there are relationships, there are also relationships that go wrong. In the church, relationships gone wrong have different degrees of disruption to the overall congregation. For example, a couple living together will have a minimal impact in the strength of the group when they are non-serving attenders. On the other end of the scale a pastor who lies, cheats and steals will totally dismantle his church’s effectiveness.

The takeaway for this discussion is every church member, especially serving church members, should take care to protect the fellowship of the church. The primary tool for accomplishing this is to live right, because living wrong on any level disrupts that fellowship.  A secondary method is to extend grace to your fellow church members when they fall short, so that problems are not escalated after they develop.

Philosophy of Effort

What do you believe about human effort?  Should we, since we are not saved by works, therefore not put any effort into getting work done?  Or going just a little bit further, perhaps all human effort is inherently tainted by sin and therefore we should never do anything for God, but instead expect that all of Christian living and God’s kingdom on earth should be accomplished by Him without our participation?

It seems like the opinion that everything we do is sinful and worthless is very strong today. In this philosophy, humanity must allow God to build His church. The idea is that we are not able to help, and when we try we simply mess it up. For those who proclaim this message, I have this question.  Are you not doing a work by proclaiming this ideology?  Isn’t teaching, preaching, and instruction in practical application, tasks which require some degree of labor?

We need a better understanding of human effort in the kingdom of God. Consider 1 Corinthians 3:14, here quoted from the NASB.  “If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.” You will want to open your own Bible and explore the context of this verse, but the general idea is that God expects us to work, will test our work, and that those whose work survives the test will be rewarded.

So let me suggest a philosophy of effort.  We should work to do our best as Christians. This is not for the purpose of being saved, because we are all saved by grace. Instead our efforts are for purposes of bringing glory to God, most notably by building His kingdom.  Our efforts in this regard are only successful when done in cooperation with Him. Because He empowers these efforts, He gets all the credit for any success.

The Immorality of Not Voting

This is a very unusual presidential election. In many ways it seems as if the candidates are the least likely individuals that each party could possibly find.

One individual brings a long stream of controversial episodes to the table. The most recent of these is the handling of classified information in such a way that made it more accessible to the Russians and Chinese than the US government officials who subpoenaed it.

The other is a brash attention seeking businessman who also has a history that generally would not be called suitable for politics.  This candidate subjects the American people to an outlandish set of promises as to what will be changed under their guidance, and how fast.

For many Christians, the question has become, how can I vote for either candidate in good conscience? I am bothered by how many of my friends in ministry have decided that there is no way to cast a moral vote this election year.

To these individuals I ask this question, have you considered the immorality of not voting? Not voting strikes me as the equivalent of folding your arms, sitting back in your chairs, and saying to the secular society around us – you made this mess, now you fix it.  Lowering that to a more common denominator, it is Christianity packing up their toys and going home.

I believe that a part of our Christian living is to be responsible citizens in our society. In this society that means praying for our president. In this society that means casting a vote to try and bring in the best possible candidate.  In the current election, as in all recent elections this includes two primary parties with opposing views as to how the country should move forward.

I disagree with the platform of one of those parties in several major ways.  I agree with the platform of the other in several major ways.  I will vote.  I will vote for a candidate whom I do not totally trust fulfill their promises, or even to keep the priorities spelled out in the platform.  I will cast this vote because voting for the other would support someone guaranteed to go in the wrong direction. And I will not abstain from voting because to me, that is the most immoral choice.

Salvation’s Promise

It was right at a year ago that a story of mine was published in Splickety. I believe this was the second story I had published with them. The rights to the story reverted back to me after the contract time, so I thought I would publish it here.  I hope to take up blogging again more regularly when life slows down.  Which might not take place soon, but in the meantime enjoy this story.  If you have never read Splickety, you might look them up. Some of the best flash fiction you will ever read.

Salvation’s Promise

“Grass Head, get back to work, useless one.”

Janie’s Cheyenne mistress called her Grass Head because her hair was the color of dried grass. She’d been the woman’s slave for two years. Long enough to learn the language, but not long enough to forget her name was Janie—not long enough to accept her circumstances.

She turned her attention back to scraping a buffalo hide and prayed God would let her die, or at least show her His plan. The hide’s smell made her gag. A sharp slap bloodied her lip, and put her back to work.

A war party returned to the small circle of tents in the grassy valley. A warrior showed his prize, a stallion still saddled with cavalry tack. But the frightened horse reared back, stomping up a cloud of dust.

Villagers gathered to stare at the animal. The brave reached out to steady the horse but received a bite. The stallion slipped free and turned tight circles. Its kick splintered a pole supporting a teepee. The spectators backed off, but not Janie.

She stepped inside the circle of onlookers. The stallion’s brown eyes locked onto her. Janie could feel him pleading with her, begging without words, to the only kindred heart in the camp.

The horse stilled. Janie reached out and gently touched his muzzle. The stallion didn’t bite or pull away. Instead, he sniffed her arm, then backed up, drawing Janie toward the center of the clearing.

“Grass Head, stupid girl.”

The familiar scolding broke Janie’s trance, and she shrunk back. The stallion positioned himself between Janie and her owner, hiding the cruel woman from Janie’s view. His gentle nuzzle reassured her. Janie understood; the stallion loved her. They shared the bonds of loss and bitter treatment.

He swung the reins into her hand, and she obeyed. She hadn’t ridden in a long time, but with his help, she mounted.

“Grass Head, get down, you ugly child.”

Janie looked longingly to the grasslands outside the camp. The horse responded to her feelings, and effortlessly cleared a path through the crowd.

As they rode away, Janie leaned down and hugged his neck. She was certain he understood her pain, and she began to understand and share his. His army training had been harrowing. Learning to endure gunfire and the bloody sights of the battlefield had been difficult.

They galloped over the golden foothills of early fall, speeding and turning and exploring at Janie’s whim. She dismounted by an old oak tree, knowing what would happen next. The braves would come looking. They would return her to her mistress and the stallion to its captor. But her parents had died in the raid. No one would welcome her back to civilization.

She searched the hills for a solution. Her eyes fell on a rock face dropping hundreds of feet. She formed a plan to end their shared misery. He understood and encouraged her to mount. They worked their way up the hills, to the top of the cliff, and stared down. Each longed for relief. She decided and the horse pulled around, got a running start toward the cliff, and then for the first time, disobeyed her.

He was willing to die; he wasn’t willing to carry her with him. She pleaded. He refused. He loved her too much to do this. She realized her selfishness. She had only thought of herself and not of the horse that loved her, the horse she loved. Then the stallion begged her to dismount so he could go over alone. She refused. And slowly they negotiated a compromise.

He would live for her sake, and she would live for his. It was a sacrifice each one would make for the other. Living would take courage, but they would each choose it. Returning to the village, she would take her punishment from her mistress, and the stallion would serve its new owner.

“What will you name him?” she asked the brave as she returned his pacified horse.

“Suicide’s Ride,” he said. “Or do you have better?”

“Salvation’s Promise.”

The brave answered with an admiring glance, and the stallion nodded and whinnied his approval.

Voter Disillusionment

Am I the only one that thinks this is the craziest election year ever?

On the Democratic side there are two candidates.  One of whom would normally be un-electable because he advocates socialism.  The other of whom has violated the law and endangered national security.  But despite the obvious disqualifying factors of these two candidates, the Democratic Party is confidently moving ahead with the process of choosing between their two contenders.

On the Republican side, the story is remarkably similar.  One candidate would normally be considered un-electable because of his wild eyed statements about, well, everybody.  Not only that, but he seems to change his stand on key issues rather frequently.  Another candidate has a knack for not pleasing anybody.  He is disliked by moderates, for being too conservative and disliked by conservatives for being too moderate.  There is a third candidate for Republican’s, but nobody I know understands why there is a third candidate. And yet surprisingly few people are pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

It seems like every election year there is a contemplative period as the primaries wind down and before a candidate is selected, a time when all of America gasps in amazement and asks, “Is this really the best we could do?”

But this year sets a new record in the ‘What were they thinking?’ category. So much so, that I really wonder what the average voter is going to do.

Most voters will be forced to vote for a candidate they don’t like, but they still earned the vote by being the least objectionable option. Yet these same voters likely have some absolutes. Something they believe so strongly, something they find so offensive, that they would never vote for a candidate that crosses those absolutes.

So what will happen when the majority of voters identify that every viable candidate has not only crossed the line of their absolutes, but have done so as flagrantly as possible? I don’t know. We will all find out together, come November.

The Candidate Blues

It has been a while since I have posted on this blog.  The reason for that is two fold. First I am a full-time pastor. Second I have felt called to start a men’s retreat for churches in my denomination in my state. But I expect as time moves along I will post a little more.  Now on to today’s topic.

One statement I have heard frighteningly often is that after the candidates for each party are resolved, there will not be a candidate on the ballot that is supportable. The two choices will be so bad, that the best option is to not vote rather than to vote for one of the options.

I understand what the individuals mean, of course. I watched the first debate with surprise realizing that I could enthusiastically support several of the candidates. Mostly I am referring to those who are gone now.  As I see it, Donald Trump is quite likely to become a nominee, and if you have seen my previous posts you know that I see him as having all the greatest weaknesses that Obama had.

Despite this, I will vote for him in the final election if he becomes the candidate. It is not unusual that voting for me is an experience of choosing the lesser of two evils. Why should this year be any different?  But if I choose to not vote at all I would be making several mistakes. First I would be giving away a right that this country has fought for. I refuse to dishonor my dad who served a long career in the army, and every other person who has risked their life to earn me this right.  Second I would be handing the mantle of leadership to someone who would be far worse in my estimation.

I get it when I hear there is an anger in our country. I get it when I hear that people don’t believe their vote counts. I get it when people say that politicians are corrupt. But the answer to all of these things is in the political process. If we had been more faithful earlier on in the process, then the candidates would more accurately reflect our values.  Third I would be a part of moving this country into the apathy that empowers others to rule over us instead of being accountable to us.

Voting is both the foundation and the pinnacle of this political process. It is the pinnacle because voting is our greatest privilege, it is the foundation because not voting is the quickest route to destroying our country.

Concerts: Pain and Grace

“The first time you hear the screams is always the hardest; it gets easier to ignore them with time.”

We used these lies to try and console each other, and we said these words to the few visitors who came to our house. None of them ever returned. The ear-splitting shrieks were too much for children our age to endure.

But it was alright, because we came to dislike having company. You see, we had to ignore the sounds, since we were there all the time. After a while your brain doesn’t register the cries, even though your ears still hear them. You can’t help but hear them. When a visitor lifted their head to listen, it called our attention to the sound again. It would remind us of the terrible nature of where we lived. So maybe we were better off without visitors.

I was seven when we moved into that shack. My brother was an older, wiser ten. He had seen more of the world, and he knew of what was happening on the other side of that tall fence. But our mother forbade him to speak of it to me. She didn’t want me to know what the noises made plain enough. What was she protecting? My innocence? My sanity?

So every night we listened to the concert. The clatter of machinery formed the base notes. Shrieks of terror mixed with—so much more—formed the tenor. We could never quite picture what it was in between, that formed the alto in the nightly concerts of our pain and injustice.

It was a horrible thing to experience as a child, but the other locations we might have afforded were even worse. That was the reality our mother faced. She was the one who had to work to pay the rent. We would live here, where the rent was low, because no one else wanted to live, under the shadow of the bedlam, trying to sleep through the cacophony.

Five years later I could no longer claim apathy or innocence to what was taking place. I had peeked through holes in the fence. I had asked a million questions of those who had ventured where I could not. My sense of injustice was boiling over.

It was about that time that a man began coming round, paying attention to momma. The year I turned fourteen, they married and we moved away from there.

We no longer live in poverty. Our new home is large, safe, and quiet. At first we thought we would never hear those sounds again.

Our new daddy bought us season tickets. We went to the amusement park at least once a week. We found the alto voices, which had been so indistinguishable from the shack, were barkers on the midway. We felt the rumble of the bass as the machines lifted us up, and we threw our voices into the tenor parts of the nightly concert, on the way down.

For us, it was no longer a concert of hopelessness, but of fulfilled dreams.

From the top of the Ferris wheel I could see they were tearing down the old shack.

I was glad to see it go.

I was sad to see it go.

I want to always remember what it was like before. Before we were able to add our voices to the concerts of grace.