Political Influence

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Political Influence

President Trump and Jerusalem

Each morning at 9am I get a very short news brief from NPR and an update on the weather for the day. One of these days I may switch it up to another news source just for fun. Regardless, I just listen for the highlights and take everything with a grain of salt.

This past week those news highlights have all focused in on President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel with a bit of NPR’ish concern about what kind of affect this will have on life in the Middle East and across the world. Please understand me… I do not think the conflict in the Middle East is funny or trivial. If there is any particular humor to me in this situation, it is that President Trump, who has never been shy about making waves in the media, has apparently stumped them on one subject for a week. 13 months in and everyone ran out of material… who would have thought?

This has undoubtedly created great waves, both among those working on President Trump’s impeachment proceedings as well as those who will use this as leverage to rally to his defence. Once again, Israel is being used for the political agendas of the rest of the world. This is not a new problem either God warned Israel about being manipulated by the multi-stringed forms of support the rest of the world would throw at them. Major passages in most of the Old Testament Prophets warn Israel not to put their faith in the support of other nations, but instead to keep their faith rooted in God Himself.

I’m not a citizen of Israel or Palestine, nor am I Jewish or Muslim, so I really don’t have a dog in their fight. My understanding of the Bible though gives Israel two main options in dealing with their status as God’s chosen people in the world today.

  1. They can continue their long history as God’s chosen people. Should they choose this route, they really cannot seek aid, or perhaps even accept it when it is offered from other nations – especially when there are strings attached to that aid. Treaties are forbidden because they are a form of covenant, which Israel is only to have with God. If they are going to remain God’s chosen people and faithful to their own scriptures, they must remain utterly independent of the rest of the world.
  2. The second option is much more difficult. If they recognize Jesus as Messiah and the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the world, they can recognize that God’s chosen people are no longer only the citizens of Israel or descendants of Abraham. God has opened the door to all the nations to give Him their trust and obedience and be grafted into the chosen family of God. I think this is a much more Christian viewpoint of Israel, but it also recognizes that Israel is not God’s chosen nation, nor Jerusalem His chosen city anymore. The covenant promises God made with Israel are being fulfilled through the people, not the land. If this is the case, then Israel has no more right to call on support from other nations than any other nation, as God’s people have spread across the entire world.

Would I feel differently if I were Jewish? Yeah, I probably would. As it is, I’m mostly European immigrant and a little bit Native American… one part of my family having stolen the birthright of the other part, like Jacob and Esau, leaving me in a conflicted mess and knowing that at the end of the day nobody deserves any of it… It’s all a gift from God that we cannot earn. No, I’m not talking about salvation. I’m talking about land. There are enough homeless refugees in our world that those of us who “own” land are a blessed minority and we probably ought to be more grateful, and better stewards of it.

Circles of Concern

Stephen Covey has been a proponent of identifying two distinct areas in our lives. The first is called the Circle of Concern. This is the circle that identifies what things in life we spend our thoughts, energy, and worry on. It is likely different for each of us. Some of you have the nation of Israel squarely in your circle of concern, while others may never give them a thought at all. Some of you have President Trump in your circle of concern and others may only worry about him when he addresses topics which are more rooted in your circle of concern. Regardless of what it covers, each of us has a circle of concern and we typically spend a significant portion of our life dealing with the issues within them.

Circles of Influence

Somewhere inside our circle of concern is a smaller circle that is called the Circle of Influence. This is the area of topics that we can actually do something about. We may have direct control over these issues, such as, how we spend our money, what news station we listen to, who we vote for… or we may have indirect influence over them such as what kind of food our grocery store stocks (based upon our purchases), what businesses succeed in our community, how well our children do in school, how healthy our families are, etc.

It is likely that there are many things in your circle of concern that you have no real influence over, either directly or indirectly. It is possible that there are things in your circle of influence that is not inside your circle of concern… in other words, there may be people or things that you influence that you just don’t care about. Both of these outliers can be problematic if they get too extreme.
When we spend our energy worrying about things we have no control over, we waste our time, energy, and life.
When we neglect to care about the things we do have influence over, we are poor stewards of the influence we have been given.

Our culture has actually locked us into a reactive pattern when it comes to political influence. We may be following after the political culture of Mexico. I was once told in a Political Science class that the people of Mexico were more likely to blow up the ballot box than to actually vote. It is easier to just get mad about things you cannot change than to actually work to exert political influence in the areas you actually have responsibility over. We may not blow up the ballot boxes, but our whole nation loves to blow up Twitter and Facebook with ridiculous posts about subjects far outside their area of influence. When was the last time you saw a post about someone taking action to be a responsible parent and raise up the next generation of leaders in our world? When did you last see someone picking up litter in their own neighborhood? It’s just easier to get online and complain about it rather than take action and make a difference.

Praying Circles

Mark Batterson takes the idea of circles of concern and influence and applies the concept of prayer to it. Instead of focusing all our prayers on things outside our influence (which is not bad) he teaches that we should start in our area of direct influence – ourselves, and pray that God would work in us first, fixing us, remaking and redeeming ourselves, before we take on the rest of the world. If we will not allow the peace of God to lead and guide us, how can we honestly pray for God’s peace and guidance in the Middle East? It is kind of hypocritical.

Something amazing happens when we take Mark’s approach to our lives. We become better stewards of what God has given us influence over, and then our influence suddenly begins to grow out into that circle of concern… and beyond. It works very much like a story Jesus told His disciples.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ” – Matthew 25:14-30

The question that Jesus asks us is:
What are you doing with what you’ve been given?

The political implication of that question is:
What are you doing with the political influence you already have?
I’m content for you to be supportive of Israel as a nation, or any other nation as well – for their good and the good of the world. But how are you supporting them? If you are claiming to be supportive of one leader or another… how are you supporting them? Facebook and Twitter posts only go so far. Those means of support probably do more to support Facebook and Twitter than they do for the particular leaders. As a writer, I know from working with publishers that Facebook friends are an ok sign of a following, but they are much more interested in email and phone number lists as a sign of potential sales than Facebook and Twitter.

What is even better though is actual, physical, real involvement in issues. Are you in support of helping the poor? What impoverished person have you personally helped this week? Have you bought meals for anyone or provided a home for someone without housing? It is more than putting your money where your mouth is… are you putting your time and your actions where your mouth is? Are you leading by example?

Jesus never was given an opportunity to vote, but people tried to figure out what leaders He supported. Instead of giving away His political influence to politicians, He used it to make a difference in the lives of those around Him, leading by example.

What are you doing with your political influence?

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Big News!

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Big News!

Just over two years ago, while I was teaching New Testament at Campbellsville University, I was encouraged to publish one of my lessons on the four gospels and four different types of Jewish groups in the first century AD. A year and a half ago, in the middle of the last presidential campaign, I got very irritated and motivated to do just that. Two and half weeks later I had the first draft of Jesus Politics. Today, some eighteen months later, that book has been published and is available to purchase through Parson’s Porch. (Part of the proceeds of this book go to care for the homeless in Cleveland, TN.)

You can purchase your copy today here.

Why should you buy this book?

Are you frustrated with politics? Do you wonder what Jesus would think of our nation today? More importantly, do you know what He would do about it?

This book gives you a clear look at what the political arena looked like during the time of Jesus, how they got that way, and how Jesus challenged the political values of all of God’s people with his own values of grace, self-control, sacrifice, and incarnation. The book itself is about 5 pages of picture/charts showing a simple interaction of those values and then several hundred pages that examine how these values appear in some of the unique portions of each of the four gospels. Too often we skip right to the political values without learning any of the spiritual foundation beneath it. The focus of this book is on spiritual values with political implications.

Jesus Politics will give you some specific questions to ask of all our leaders, from the global and national level, down to the authority figures within your own family, and these questions will help you discern whether your leaders or your own leadership is in alignment with the values of Jesus.

A clear articulation and understanding of these values is needed even more today than two years ago when the I first began the writing process. When President Trump gives the State of the Union Address will you know what values to look and listen for in the speech? Will you know where to find God in the media’s response? Will your own response be in line with the values of Jesus?

This book was not written primarily to our own political leaders. It was written to every Christian leader in the world. While many of my examples are drawn from the United States, several come from outside our nation. The political values that Jesus exhorted were not specific to one nation or another, so I strongly encourage those outside the U.S. to read this as well to find applications within their own politics.

It is time for Christians to take responsibility for their own leadership and politics, measuring what we do and see by the standards of Jesus, rather than waiting for a secular world to tell us what and who is Christian or not.

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Fourth Priority- Leave Each Place Better Than You Found It

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“And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”

Mark‬ ‭1:29-45‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There was a lot that Jesus did during the course of His ministry that may not have fit right into His mission of delivering us from the spiritual bondage we were held under. For example, Mark tells us that the second challenge He faced in His ministry, after facing down the evil spirits that approached Him, was helping relieve the physical sickness and injury that the people faced.

Physical brokenness often seemed to go hand in hand with spiritual brokenness, and many people believed that they were intrinsically linked. If you were sick, it was because you were a sinner. If you got hurt, it was because you were not good enough for the blessing of God. This has been a perennial belief that keeps coming back like a bad patch of weeds. Jesus had healing for the asking and He rarely gave any behavioral stipulations to those He healed. On and individualistic level, it may seem perplexing and contradictory to say that spiritual problems and physical problems are closely related, but one does not necessarily cause the other. If they do not share a causal relationship, how are they related?

The truth is, they do share a causal relationship, but not on and individualistic level. We live in a world full of billions of other people and their spiritual problems reach out and touch us causing us problems as well, both spiritual and physical. Likewise, our own sins have consequences for more than just us. They touch everyone. We all live in the same mess, no matter who or where we are in this world. So, when you look at the big picture, across the entire world, and across all of time, then yes, there is a causal relationship between sin and physical brokenness – but it’s all wound up like a wad of string the size of our world that we will never be able to fully unravel.

Jesus didn’t try to unravel it all. He started at the heart of that mess, dealing with the spiritual malady we all are affected by, and then He began to untangle one small piece at a time. Jesus did not finish the job, nor did He intend to. Instead, He showed us how we too, once we find the origin of our own sin problem, can begin unraveling the consequences around us, in the lives of those whose own lives connect with ours. Like the old Boy Scout motto, Jesus taught us to leave each place a little better than we found it.

We rarely can find the root sin cause of suffering in the lives of those around us, but we can be a witness to our own, when we find those links… But even then, our own sin is the the root cause of our suffering. The root cause originated in the Garden of Eden and had multiplied and compounded over time, long before it ever reached us. Again, it is not our job to unravel the whole thing. Jesus has dealt with the root cause and as we receive healing in our lives from the consequences of sin (whether or not that sin was of our own doing or not) we can pass that healing along to those around us. Jesus didn’t heal everyone and neither does He expect us to, but I think He will hold us responsible for those He brings into our lives. Our fourth priority is to work to clean up this collateral damage that sin has caused in our world, wherever we find it, and leave this world better than we found it.

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Third Priority – Find the Root

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“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” – ‭‭Mark‬ ‭1:21-28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

It is only after preparing yourself (Priority #1) and recruiting a team to help you (Priority #2) will you be ready to start making waves in the world. So, once you get yourself ready, how do you go about bringing about the change the world needs?Jesus faced many oppositions in the course of His ministry, but Mark proposed a particular order of priority in which Jesus engaged those foes. The first foe He faced was spiritual oppression.

Moses, in the days of the Exodus from Egypt, faced many challenges in trying to lead the Hebrew people from a place of slavery in Egypt to being faithful servants of God – a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They had lots of changes to make to get to that point, but the first and foremost was freedom from the oppression of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Not much else could be done before that was accomplished. Jesus faced a similar foe in his attempts to bring Israel (and through His disciples, the rest of the world) back into that role of kingdom of priests and holy nation. He was not facing a foreign king and army though. Jesus faced Satan and all of his fallen angels that had the people in another kind of bondage – sin.

A person who is truly enslaved has no ability to choose for themselves. Not only is it impossible for them to change themselves, it may actually be rather cruel to ask them to do so. The standards to which Jesus was asking His people to live by were, and are, impossible for those who are slaves to demonic spiritual oppression. So, whenever his teaching was challenged by those under spiritual oppression, Jesus did not chastise the challenger – He delivered them from bondage. More than simply asking people to change – Jesus made change possible for them.

Jesus looked at all the mess in this world and located the root of all of it and cut out the root first before trying to clean up the fruits of evil. As we work to make a difference in this world, if we have not discovered the root of the problem, we need to do more digging before we start cutting things down. If the experience of Jesus is any kind of guideline for us, we may have some spiritual battles to win before we can make any lasting change in this world.

This may drive us right back to Priority #1 if we find ourselves unprepared and unequipped to handle the root cause of the problems we face, and that could be quite frustrating. Think though of the cost of moving ahead while leaving the root of the problem to fester. The same problem will only crop up again somewhere else, perhaps somewhere nearby. How many political rebellions against tyrant dictators have resulted only in a new tyrant dictator on the throne? What is truly saddening is the number of times those who raise up the revolt end up being as bad or worse leaders once they win. If you truly want to bring change into the lives of others, sin must be factored in, and until you can give people freedom from it, any change they experience will be short-lived at best.