Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Politics and Christianity

Recently, a friend of mine argued strongly against Christians getting involved in politics.

He said Christians should not try to impose their views on others in what is a non-Christian society.

He noted that the vocal Christian right in the United States has prompted a backlash among Americans.

His view is that Christians should focus their attention on the poor and the downtrodden and steer clear of politics.

I agree that Jesus avoided politics and spent his time helping people spiritually, physically and emotionally.

But I don’t think this means we Christians should stay away from politics.  Christians can do a lot of good in politics as in any other career.

I believe the guidelines for Christian participation in politics are the same as for any other walk of life – loving others, righteousness, integrity.  God should be at the centre of every believer’s work life.

When I look at the scriptures, I see that God worked through all kinds of people – carpenters, prophets, fishermen, kings.

It is true that politicians are much more in the public eye than most of the rest of us.  A vengeful act or a broken marriage can be used against Christian politicians.

But Christians would not be more popular because they dropped out of politics. Despite the wonders of grace, Jesus warned early believers that they would face opposition.

I was a reporter on Parliament Hill for 12 years and observed a number of Christian MPs in various political parties.  Most were exemplary human beings although they held different political views.

One person stands out in my memory – Jake Epp, a cabinet minister under Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney.

Everyone knew Jake Epp’s Christian faith.  He was clear on where he stood on spiritual things, but he was also compassionate and kind.  He did not force his views on anyone, but he was not afraid to share them.

I remember him sharing with a number of people on one occasion that we, as believers, should be helping and compassionate with people suffering from AIDs, even though some may have a sexual lifestyle that is contrary to Christian tenets.

The friend I mentioned earlier agreed with me that there is a place for Christians in political action – although he is against party politics.  For example, Christians can resist efforts to undermine family life.

In my view, our society changed radically in the 1960s and afterwards because Christians were largely absent from the debate about key social issues.

Again, the approach we take to politics is important.  We must present our views winsomely – not with a hammer and angry words.

Jesus and the prophets spoke out against injustices in their societies.  We can do the same in ours.

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Prayer and war

I have long struggled with the subject of prayer and spiritual warfare.

Part of the problem for me is that I am not the fighting type.  Another issue for me is that I have felt some people put too much emphasis on spiritual warfare.

But I have been reading and thinking about this for a while.  And I am convinced that it is biblical and significant.

For one thing, the apostle Paul speaks about it in the famous passage in Ephesians 6 about the spiritual armour we should put on to battle “the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6: 11).  At the very end of this section, Paul tells us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6: 18).

If Paul says Satan must be resisted actively through prayer, who am I to object?

In reading scripture, I see a good deal about fighting Satan.  Jesus and the apostles cast out demons.  Jesus defeated Satan in the wilderness when Satan sought to bring him under his rule.  Jesus saw Satan at work through the words of Peter who had gently rebuked Christ for talking about his upcoming death.

In the Old Testament, I read about Daniel praying and an angel coming to him in response, telling him that he had been delayed for 21 days because of Satan’s minions fighting him (Daniel 10).

And there is the story of Job whose faith was tested and tried by Satan.

I know that Satan was defeated finally on the cross by Jesus’ sacrifice.  And I believe that celebrating this victory is an essential part of spiritual warfare.  When Paul and Silas were praising God in a Philippian jail, an earthquake shook the prison, freeing prisoners and leading to the conversion of the jailer and his family.

But I realize that Satan is still very active in attacking believers and trying to thwart their efforts.  I am not as effective a believer as I should be because I do not stay alert to the Devil’s schemes.

So, how do I pray?

Part of the answer is praising God.  The more I praise God for who he is and what he has done, the more the Devil is silenced and thrust away.  He cannot stand praising God.

But I must also speak from the authority that God has given me through Jesus Christ.

There is the great passage in Matthew 16 where Jesus is talking about the church which he says will not be overcome by Hell – Satan.  He tells us that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16: 19)

I understand this passage to mean that, as a believer, I have the authority to “bind and loose” which includes power to oppose the efforts of Satan.  Of course, there are conditions to this power – being in tune with God’s will which implies an intimate relationship with my Lord. (1John 5:14)

This is all familiar to most believers but it is something I have skirted for most of my life.

The reason I am focusing on it now is that I believe I have been too complacent about what Satan is doing in my life and in the life of the church.

He must be resisted – and defeated.

The importance of hanging on

I have been thinking about the importance of hanging on.

The Bible calls it “perseverance”.  As I read the scriptures, I see that the spiritual giants persevered – they hung on when things were bleak.

Like many believers in North America, I am easily disappointed and even discouraged.  Why don’t things happen the way I think they should?

My area of ministry in our church is prayer.  I have some preconceived notions about what should happen when people pray.  I look for instant results.

When things don’t happen the way I think they should, the thought springs to mind that I should move on to something else.

But then I look at Hebrews 11 – the great faith chapter – and I see that answers to prayer are not always immediate.  Sometimes, these dedicated followers of God did not see what God had promised in their lifetimes.  But they hung in there.

That is what God is asking of me: “Be faithful.”

I am convinced that God is moving no matter what the outward circumstances are.  I believe that no prayer is in vain.

It may be that I am blocking communion with God through my own attitude.  In effect, I may be consciously or unconsciously rejecting what God is telling me.

It may be that God has answered “yes” but the answer will arrive later as it did with Daniel in Daniel 9.

Or, it may be that God is answering in a way that is different than I planned – perhaps an even better answer than I could imagine.  Or, it may be that God has answered and I don’t even see the answer.

I am encouraged by the stories of the believers in Hebrews 11.  And I am encouraged, too, by quiet answers to prayer that I see around me.

I think of a church leader I know whose son was going through a rebellious period and he and his wife were heartbroken.  His son has returned to the Lord in a remarkable way after fervent prayer by family and friends.

I think of a friend – a non-believer – who is seriously ill.  My wife and I and some other believing friends have been praying for him.  And today he told me in a phone conversation that he is reading the Bible and thinking about what really matters in life.

God answers prayer.  He is telling me to hang in there.

My job

The apostle Paul says I am a “minister of reconciliation” – that’s my job.

He says in 2 Corinthians 5: 17 -21 that God took the step to reconcile us to himself.  Now, I am to go out as an “ambassador” appealing to people to be reconciled to God.

The great thing about this passage is that God was the one who was offended and yet he takes the initiative to bring peace between him and me.

And now he wants me to tell others about what God has already done to bring peace between himself and us.

It’s all God’s work.

I have to admit I am not good at sharing this message.  I tend to think of all the objections that people will raise.

And yet, someone did share the glory of the gospel with me and I did become a believer.  It is a powerful message.

Perhaps my problem is that I think too much in terms of a “canned” approach – reciting a particular formula for becoming a believer.

When I think of my own conversion, the person who spoke to me about Jesus first noticed that I was interested in English literature.  He got me interested in the Bible as literature and then drew me into studying the gospel of John.

A relative of mine was going through a difficult time and was burdened with guilt.  He read a book by the Christian psychiatrist Paul Tournier called Guilt and Grace and that was one factor on his road to faith.

I have read – or heard – of other conversion stories which are more unusual.  For example, the apostle Paul’s conversion was dramatic – a direct word from God.

Jackie Pullinger, whose ministry in Hong Kong is a modern legend, tells of a number of instances where people had visions of Christ.  They did not understand the full gospel story but God’s Spirit touched them and drew them to himself.

The interesting thing about my conversion and my relative’s is that we were both struggling with life at the time.  And some people came into our lives and shared something.

This is not a new story.  God prepares our hearts and someone cares enough to tell us something from the gospel that will meet our needs.

As Paul says in Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”

The world

My son and I were talking last night about society’s influence on us as Christians.

Sometimes it is a good influence, especially when we see needs around us and the love of Christ drives us to help.  My wife and I had an interesting conversation with some visiting friends from Halifax last week who talked about volunteering among the poor in their city.

But often the influence is negative.  I accept things as normal today that were unheard of when I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.  Divorce, for example.  A few years ago, I read that the divorce rate among evangelical Christians in the United States is as high as it is among Americans as a whole.

How do we deal with the pressures of society around us?

We can try harder.  The Bible does give us good guidelines on holy living.  Most of us know what to do.

For some people, that may be enough.  It isn’t for me.

The world’s attractions capture my attention and desires.  As I have said before, self-denial is not a strong point with me.

Certainly, I know I need to follow the guidelines of scripture.  Some are easier for me to follow than others.

But, above all,  I think it is my attitude of mind and heart that needs to change.

I was listening this morning to a preacher who was talking about giving thanks every day.  The audio link is:

http://media.whchurch.org/2009/2009-11-29_Polk_Everyday-Is-A-Day-Of-Thanksgiving_64kbps.mp3 .

The preacher, Dwayne Polk, said that he even began thanking God in the midst of a tense discussion with his wife in which she was criticizing him on some financial issues.  While ready to fight, he began inwardly praising God for his wife’s qualities and his attitude changed.

Evidently, Dwayne Polk practices praise and thanksgiving as a regular part of his life.  He praises God as creator and as redeemer and he thanks the Lord for the people around him – even his enemies.

As he said, it takes practice.  But it works.

The best example I know is the apostle Paul.  His letters are full of praise and thanksgiving to God.  And he led a life of constant trouble and persecution.

In Ephesians 5, he tells us that we should not indulge in sexual immorality or greed, “but rather thanksgiving” (verses 3 and 4).  Then, he goes on to say in verse 19 that we should sing and make music in our hearts to the Lord, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”

Paul is saying we should offer thanks to God constantly.  In any situation, we can thank God even though we are going through pain and temptation.

When we have that mind, God can work in us.  God will strengthen us and help us resist the bad influences of the world.  Indeed, God may use us to influence others for good.

Self-denial

I am not very good at self-denial.

Like many people, I tend to do what I want, sometimes at the expense of what I ought to do.

Self-denial seems harsh – opposite to the gospel of God’s grace and mercy.

But I can’t deny that Jesus said in Matthew 16: 24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Experience teaches me that telling myself not to do something immediately makes it more attractive.   So, is self-denial worth attempting?

I realize the answer is “Yes” because Jesus says so.  Still, I find myself wrestling with this question.

The apostle Paul dealt with this issue in Romans 6: 1-14.

In chapter 5, he had just finished talking about God’s gift of grace which was sufficient to cover any misdeed.  He then poses the question: “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?”

His answer is “No.”  He goes on to offer a positive reason for denying ourselves: We are new people and have the freedom to give ourselves to God.

I must admit that, when I am tempted, I don’t feel free.  But Paul is saying: “You are free!  Your old self has died with Christ on the cross and your new self is Christ within.  Seize hold of this truth no matter what you feel.”

What Paul seems to be telling me is that I need to soak in this truth.  And, then, I need to offer myself – continually – to God.

But, like many modern-day believers, I need a big carrot, a reward.

I think the answer is that I will find joy in a closer relationship with Jesus.

When I sin, I am wilfully turning away from God – like the prodigal son who left home to spend his inheritance in wild living.  But that leads to unhappiness if I indulge it for long.  I feel far from God.

Of course, it is not true that God is far from me when I sin.  He is yearning for a close relationship with me as the father did with his prodigal son in Jesus’ story.  But I feel there is a barrier.

When I cultivate my relationship with God, I often feel freer, lighter and happier.  Feelings are not a true measure of my relationship with God – but they help.

More important than feelings is the truth.

The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus endured the shame of the cross because of the “joy set before him” (Hebrews 12: 2).  He denied his own fleshly desires in the Garden of Gethsemane because he knew overwhelming joy awaited him.  Many would enter heaven because of his sacrifice and the Father would honour him.

So my reward for denying myself is greater joy now and in the future in my relationship with my Father.  I need to hang on to that.