The Election Diversion

With less than 24 hours left until our nation elects a new president, there is much talk of election weariness. And no wonder, not only are we media-saturated, but our media is saturated with partisan bickering, accusations, and unthinkable rudeness. Statesmanship seems to have disappeared from the planet in the nastiest campaign season anyone can remember. More disturbing than the focus of American politics, however, is the focus of the American church, because the church is focused on politics. We seem to think our fate hangs in the balance of the presidential election of 2016, and our righteousness will be determined by how we cast our vote. Based on the number of diatribes on all forms of media, expounding why Christians must or mustn’t vote for a particular candidate, we seem to think we can determine our future by preserving our rights and controlling our circumstances. The church seems to have forgotten that God alone is the sovereign ruler of our times and circumstances, that we have surrendered our rights to Him, and now our responsibility is to trust and glorify Him in whatever circumstance He chooses for us. We are so bent on avoiding persecution and suffering that our hand-wringing rhetoric belies our declarations of faith in a loving, trustworthy, Almighty God.

Sadly, there is more to lose from a wrong perspective of suffering than our witness to the watching world. While we are working feverishly to protect our rights and reputations, influence our friends’ votes, get the “right” candidates in office, and control our uncertain future, we are failing to prepare for the one thing we know our future holds: suffering. Jesus was very clear in John 15 when He told His disciples, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” And again in the next chapter, Jesus warns of the need for patient endurance in suffering, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Please do not interpret that to mean we shouldn’t discuss the issues, pray earnestly for God’s hand to be at work in our nation, and vote. Those aren’t just rights they are privileges, given by God, and should be stewarded with the utmost care. What I am saying is that elections and issues should not distract us from being prepared to suffer, and to suffer well. What does it mean to suffer well? Let’s look at some inspiring heroes of the Scriptures.

Jesus told the apostles that they would have opportunities to share the gospel with governors and kings, and their entrance into the halls of government would be by arrest and flogging. He reassured them that when they were arrested, they had no cause to worry about what they would say because they would be given the words to say when the time came, it would not be the apostles speaking, but the Holy Spirit speaking through them. Stop right there. Worry about what to say? Really? My ears would not have heard anything Jesus said after the word ‘flogged’. What I was going to say would be the furthest thing from my mind if I had just been informed that I was going to be flogged. But Jesus completely bypassed the issue of flogging and how much pain they would have to endure, because the main point was the opportunity to preach the gospel. Persecution and suffering don’t even get a mention. They’re just useful tools to get an audience.

Paul’s request for prayer from the believers in Ephesus never mentions relief from suffering. Instead, Paul asks for fearlessness and words from God that he may make known the gospel (Eph. 6:19-20). In his letter to the Philippian church Paul seeks to reassure his friends that though he is under house arrest in Rome, he is rejoicing because his imprisonment has served to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. The entire palace guard has heard of Paul’s faith, and in spite of the obvious dangers of preaching Christ, other believers have become emboldened to fearlessly speak the Word of God. Paul seems to have no concern about his fate, only that he not fail to preach Christ with courage. Paul is also concerned for the well-being of the church. He does not once express hope that they will not suffer, rather his primary concern is how his beloved friends conduct themselves when suffering comes. He encourages them not to fear those who oppose them, but keep their focus on God’s saving hand. Paul wants them to imitate the humility of Christ in suffering while complaining about nothing, putting no confidence in human ability but looking forward to the resurrection of those who belong to Jesus Christ. He tells them they will find peace by fixing their thoughts on the truth of God, and sets the example of contentment in any and every situation.

That message is as shockingly counter-cultural, and contrary to human nature today as it was in Paul’s day. But by now, it shouldn’t be. At least not in the Church. We have had two thousand years to read, study, and digest the riches of God’s Word, and its inspiring accounts of those who were gladly willing to suffer for the advancement of the gospel and the glory of the God they so dearly loved. We have access to the biographies of countless saints who have gone before us, declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ while being tortured and martyred. The American Church should, by now, have a solid understanding of suffering to the glory of God, but we don’t.

What kind of response do you think you might receive from your Christian friends if you responded to their difficult circumstances with a promise that you would pray for them to suffer well? That’s not how we pray in America! We want suffering to end now, and that is the outcome for which we ask our friends to pray. The Church in America has such a reputation for praying to escape persecution, that our persecuted brothers and sisters in other countries sometimes fear asking Americans to pray for them. If they do ask, it is with the request that we please not pray that God would stop the persecution, but instead ask that He would give them faith, boldness, and courage to be His witnesses in the persecution. Their perspective is that the persecution is working perfectly to display the joy and peace and grace of Christ’s followers, to the glory of God. They just want to display Christ more clearly, pray for that.

The persecuted church today is gracefully following in the footsteps of the Apostles, who “went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame [and flogging!] for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42). No fear, just trust in their Lord. Are you, am I ready to gracefully join them when the opportunity comes? Let’s back up several paces from the large-looming spectacle of our national elections, and consider our lives in the canvass of the even larger picture of redemption and restoration that God is now creating through His bride, the Church. I have been convicted to do less fretting and more preparing, both for myself and those to whom I have the responsibility of guiding, teaching, and shepherding. I have some work to do, and I pray you will do the same, because the opportunity to suffer for our Lord is coming sooner than we think.


On Being a Light Follow

c86101ab950fae5adb4c803590345e46 (2)It is marvelously exciting to see God at work in my life, though sometimes I’m a little slow to catch on.  From my limited perspective, it appeared that sending me to Kenya to encourage my Christian sisters this spring was God’s present focus for me, and one that would provide plenty of practice in dependency on my Lord. So I sought to arrange my schedule into blocks of time for study and preparation. In addition to needing material for extended teaching time, I would be speaking through translators to people in a very different culture than mine. Knowing that being well-prepared makes adapting to changing circumstances much easier, I intended to apply myself diligently to preparation.

No sooner had I set my course, than the distractions started. Not the worthless, empty distractions that I was prepared to dispatch post haste, these were true ministry needs among friends, family, and the body of Christ. Clearly, I was not to ignore the needs of those closest to me for the sake of study time. After two months of interrupted study time, I was beginning to worry a little about having to depart for Kenya without adequate preparation, and every prayer request I made was focused on this issue. While stuck in traffic one morning my mind was suddenly flooded with the Scriptural foundation and direction for one of the Kenya messages. Speaking directly to the topic and congruent with the culture of the audience, it was perfect! God had obviously interrupted my impatience with the traffic jam and done in seconds what I could have spent hours searching out. Clearly, God was perfectly capable of managing my schedule and my study without adhering to my best-laid plans.

As I was thanking God for His provision, I remembered a specific request I had made of the Lord several months ago. I had read an article by Laura Riva on being a responsive follower while dancing. She wrote, “Being a light follow does not mean being disconnected – in fact, it means quite the opposite.  It means that when led, your reaction is nearly instant without sacrificing quality or connection. It means that your responses are fast – but not ahead of the lead. You do not need force or strength to lead a light follow – you simply need to guide them. It means that their frame and attention is so sensitive that it feels like the lead is directly connected to their mind.”

What a magnificent picture the author painted of the delicate partnership between a skilled leader and a trusting, responsive follower. Learning to respond with quick sensitivity to one’s dance partner without anticipating his next move and taking over the lead is a highly valued skill and one not easily mastered. I clearly recall dance lessons that consisted exclusively of lead-follow practice, using only half of the normal connection to one’s partner, and just being led in an aimlessly meandering path around the floor. It seems like a lot of time and money to spend on such minutiae. Surely learning actual dance steps would be more useful. Would this exercise really make that much difference in one’s dancing? The answer is, unequivocally, yes! A dancer can lead a highly responsive follower successfully through steps the follower has never even learned. More crucial than the perfect execution of steps, is the ability to follow. The author’s beautiful description captivated my heart not just as a dancer, but as a Christian. Here was a brilliant illustration of the way I want to follow the Holy Spirit.  And I prayed so earnestly that God would give me this kind of responsiveness to His leading.

Now, feeling torn between the desire to minister to family and friends in need and the desire to be fully prepared for ministry opportunities in Kenya, it dawned on me that my gracious heavenly Father was answering that prayer. All these apparent directional changes were just lead-follow practice! I could only shake my head and laugh at myself. Laughter soon gave way to deep gratitude that God was developing in me the very thing I had asked for. He had continued to thwart my efforts to lead until I surrendered to Him in desperate dependence. Now that we had arrived at that point, God’s faithfulness was evident, and relief flooded in. I no longer feel the need to tell Him what my study time should look like. Oh, I still  schedule time on my calendar for due diligence. But I am learning to rejoice when God adds appointments to my well-laid plans. My days all belong to Him, anyway, and He is perfectly qualified to arrange them to fulfill His ultimate purpose. My infinitely wise Teacher can give me an entire outline in just a few minutes if that is His plan. I am free to enjoy being in the moment, responding in trust to whatever appointments He puts on my calendar today. Serving Him has gone from a stressful juggling act to a graceful waltz with my heavenly Father. Yes, Lord, I would love to dance.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:21