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Your Vote. Just One More Test

Your Vote. Just One More Test

All of life is a test. From the first moments of creation, God gave Adam an infinite number of wholesome choices, and only one restriction: “you shall not eat…” This was man’s first test. Likewise, today you and I face numerous choices that confirm that God still uses tests. These tests prove to us, to others, and to Him, what it is we believe, we trust, and we value. Will we choose right?  And how do we even know what is right?  Read on… 

As we approach another election season, there perhaps is no greater encapsulation of what you and I value, what we embrace, and what we trust, than how we will vote, or whether we will even vote at all. This is the subject I’d like to briefly address via four biblical principles.  

🔹God Elevates 

— “God controls the course of world events; He removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars.” Daniel 2:21 

— “It is God alone who judges; He decides who will rise and who will fall.” Psalms 75:7

No political leader/ruler is ever elevated to their position unless God desires or allows for him/her to be. There is nothing any voter can do, or not do, that can thwart God’s will in this regard. The Bible is abundantly clear about this truth. It is God that elevated Obama as well as Trump, and every President before them.  Once we understand this truth we’ll understand that it was not any one person’s vote for, or against, Trump (as I did by selecting a third party four years ago) that was the ultimate reason for the outcome in 2016.  Your vote will not thwart God’s preordained plan, and the man He will place in the Oval Office in 2021.  

🔹”We the People” are not sovereign  

— “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” Proverbs 19:21 

Sadly, Americans have come to believe the deception that we are our own sovereign masters and that it is “we the people” who control elections and our destiny. This has led to a grossly mistaken belief system, particularly amongst those who claim to be followers of Jesus and the Bible. It has led us to believe that we can know God’s political will, and that God is just waiting on us to determine the outcome of an election. So it leads activists to embrace political activism because, without such, they believe their future is dire.  

But as the verse above affirms, you can make all sorts of plans, and you could even rally millions to vote for your preferred candidate, but there is no overriding God’s purpose. It will prevail. Does this mean you should not vote?  That’s up to you to decide, based on what Scripture informs. But should you obsess over a political campaign?  Absolutely not. Sadly though, we only need to peruse the headlines, the rallies, and social media, to see that millions of professing followers of Jesus are in fact obsessing over this current political season and their preferred candidate, whether Trump or Biden.  

🔹The “Vote” test  

— “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 

At the end of the day, our singular vote is not about “electing” someone but more importantly it reveals what is in our hearts and what we value the most. I have come to understand that our vote is merely a test, nothing more and nothing less. It’s highly possible one might be led to refrain from voting, whether for a season, or even permanently. But, if you feel led to vote, will your vote honor God, and the values He teaches, or will your vote value something lesser, even if the end which your vote seems to achieve might appear to justify the means?   

This I believe is the greatest test for believers living in a system that lures them to believe that they are in control. Nothing could be further from the Truth. The enemy is a master of deception and he has done one of his best con jobs when it comes to the role evangelicals believe they are to play in any election.  Does our vote honor Jesus?  Do we glorify God in the way we vote or do we simply achieve a short term win? Further, do we believe we can bend what we claim to believe, in order to “help” God gain a “victory.”   

🔹The “End Justifies the Means” Deception 

As short-sighted, temporal minded creatures, it’s easy to justify our actions, regardless of how contrary to God and His clear principles they might be. Sadly, we can seldom see when we have succumbed to an “end justifies the means” philosophy. But the approach to voting and elections by many Christians in America is a prime example of such a philosophy.  

There is a story in 1 Samuel 15 about the first king of Israel that reveals how wrong it is to justify bad choices based on a self-determined “good” outcome that might be orchestrated. King Saul had been commanded to utterly destroy the nation of Amalek, including not just the people, but also the “cattle, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys.”  

But Saul did not completely obey God. While he destroyed the people, note that the king preserved what he deemed would benefit himself and his people: 

— “Saul and his men spared (King) Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.” 1 Samuel 15:9

But when the prophet Samuel confronted the King about his obvious disobedience to God’s command, Saul easily justified his actions as follows: 

— “When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!” “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded. “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”” 1 Samuel 15:13-15 

So Saul blatantly disobeyed God, and was even proud of it. When confronted about it, Saul justified his disobedience by suggesting He was honoring God with his rebellious actions. Samuel however did not accept Saul’s flimsy excuse for his disobedience. Rather, the godly prophet had this to say: 

— “But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”” 1 Samuel 15:22-23

Finally, only after Samuel’s bold reproof did King Saul admit the following:  

— “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded.” 1 Samuel 15:24 

So clearly, while Saul would have achieved what he believed to be a “good” outcome through his disobedience (sacrifices to God), God was testing Saul to see if the king would simply obey God.  Sadly Saul failed the test, and Samuel called his disobedience rebellion and stubbornness, suggesting his sin was as bad as witchcraft and worshipping idols.  Clearly an “end justifies the means” mentality was not only wrong, it ultimately cost Saul the kingdom, and his life. 

🔹Conclusion 

There is much more we could write and learn from Scripture relating to our vote, but I hope the above four principles are thought provoking as you mail in your ballot, or walk into the voting booth during this election season.   

So remember, God does not need your vote or mine. Rather, He wants us to simply obey clear Scriptural principles rather than our trying to “help” Him.  When we obey God, even when it contradicts our “common sense” and peers, we demonstrate our trust in God and His sovereignty.  But to obey Him requires that we study His Word, to discover what it has to say about what we should value, and how we should or should not vote. Rather than preserving a temporal nation with our vote, we are called to glorify God, not align with evil, and trust God above all else, even when following God might result in a short term political “loss.” 

— “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.” Ephesians 5:10-11 

— “Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they?” Isaiah 2:22  

— “What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 31:1 

— “He said, “Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. 

— “But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!” 2 Chronicles 20:15, 17 NLT 

— “Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” Jeremiah 42:6 

When Bullets Litter our Streets

When Bullets Litter our Streets

This last weekend I was volunteering at a church being used as a #COVID testing site, in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Chattanooga. I’m grateful to my friend Bill Ulmer, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, and the many healthcare workers and non-medical volunteers who have given of their time, resources, and hearts, to administer thousands of tests to needy people over the last couple months.  

As I was standing at the street directing traffic into the church parking lot for the drive-thru testing, I felt a lump under my shoe.  I looked down to see what it was and to my dismay, I saw the spent shell of a 9mm bullet. 

My mind went to the various homes I’ve lived in throughout my adult life, and the churches I’ve attended.  Never have I ever considered that I would find a bullet shell lying outside my home, church, or place of business.  It’s a reality that most of us do not have to deal with.  But while that may be true for many Americans, bullets are all too much a reality for many of our citizens, who live in Chattanooga and cities across our nation. 

Because we don’t see or experience something though doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  It simply means it’s not a part of our bubble.  But if we are going to be people who care about the needs of others, and the fears they deal with, we must be willing to burst our bubbles, and step outside our insulated world, to better understand the ugly realities that too many others live with every day. 

So what if you stepped outside your home, or church, or business, and it wasn’t that uncommon for you to find bullets littering your street?  What if your neighbor’s windows, or your own, were shattered by a drive-by shooting?  What if violence was something that regularly visited your neighborhood?  Would your life be different?  Would you wish that others cared?  Would your outlook on life change? 

I believe that’s part of the message of Jesus when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And it’s also what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” (I Corinthians 10:24) 

In Chattanooga there are no shortage of churches.  We often proudly declare we are the “buckle of the Bible belt.”  In fact, approximately 220,000 individuals claim to be followers of Jesus in our county.  A “follower” suggests one holds to and seeks to live by the teachings of Jesus.  If this is true, then is it too far fetched to believe that the problems of violence, poverty, depression, broken families, inner city dysfunction, and many of the other societal struggles could be better addressed by those who claim to, above all else, 1) Love God, and 2) Love others? 

Let me be clear.  The ultimate goal of a follower of Jesus is to honor and glorify God.  One of the ways we do so is by sharing the Good News, we call the Gospel.  That good news is both eternal and immediate.  If it’s real in our lives, it will have a transforming affect on how we live, how we treat others, and the Hope we share with them.  While we may be able to address many of these temporal needs referenced above, ultimately the greatest need we all have is a spiritual one.  But oftentimes the best way to share a spiritual message with others is to first demonstrate that message through tangible physical means. Hence, the Church should be one that ACTS:  Advancing Christ Through Service. 

So if bullets litter our streets, they are simply symptoms of a deeper, spiritual need by the one who fired that bullet.  May we as believers not close our eyes and ears to the needs that are so abundantly obvious.  May we not be like the priest and levite, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who walked by the man lying in the ditch, even though they looked directly at him.  Rather, let’s be like the Good Samaritan, who saw the need, and stopped to help.  This is the true message of Jesus.  Let’s love others and by doing so, we are demonstrating our love for God. 

Jesus, Peter, Paul, & Masks

Jesus, Peter, Paul, & Masks

Pandemics are nothing new. They’ve been around throughout the history of this globe. How we respond though has differed, as we’re seeing in 2020.  

From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen fear as an overriding emotion, along with anger, distrust and division. And unlike other national crises of the past, America has not united as one family.  

Nineteen years ago, when terrorists attacked our nation, we saw both politicians and citizens come together as one. We recognized that when the planes hit their targets, thousands died, regardless of their politics, ethnicities, gender, or faith. Granted, it wasn’t long before that unity began to crumble, but it did occur initially.  

Today though, there is no national unity on anything. None. If Trump says yes, the media says no. If scientists say no, Trump says yes. If stats indicate X, vast armies of opinions state Y or Z, with their own set of stats. And the lines of division grow deeper and deeper.  

While this division has been growing for some time, historically we’ve seen that times of crises resulted in a warring family putting down its weapons, since the members understood that blood was thicker than water.  

Not so today. Rather than laying down its arms, this American family is picking up more arms to wage war even more aggressively. Before I hear the response “Yeah but they…” let‘s remember that “it takes two to tango” and all sides of the growing conflicts in this nation are trigger happy.  

➖There’s a kind of blood lust for those on the other side of every argument. Sadly though, this blood lust even flows from professing followers of Jesus. Imagine that! 

So you may ask, what does Jesus, Peter, Paul and masks, have to do with the national “civil war” we are witnessing?  Everything, at least it should for those who claim to look to these three men for authority and direction in their lives.  

Every decision these days further divides.  Masks has been one of them.  There are those who listen to certain authorities who admonish the value of masks for both their own protection and that of their neighbors.  Then there are others who refuse to touch a mask, since it’s a restriction on their “freedoms.”  They quickly cite this nation’s founding documents, or some other argument.  Some may not disagree with the idea of a mask, but they resent being forced to wear one.  

As I was thinking about this, I wondered what Jesus, Peter and Paul would do today if they were present for this controversy?  Would they gravitate toward one side of this argument, or another?  Would they rally and chant?  Would they take to social media to shout down those who differed from their position?  I think not, in answer to all these questions.  

At the heart of the attitudes of many believers today is an unwillingness to submit to authority. This flows from a belief that freedom trumps all.   

This demeanor reminds me of a chaotic time during the early years of Israel, as chronicled in the book of Judges. There we read that “every man did what was right in his own eyes.”  If you want a recipe for chaos, division, and ultimately anarchy, embrace that philosophy. It’s this spirit that rules today in America, including in the hearts of many believers.  

But Jesus and the Apostles were always respectful to authority. During the three years of Jesus’ ministry, as He instructed His disciples, we saw numerous instances when Jesus modeled submission to and respect for earthly authority.   

Recall the instance when Jesus instructed that we should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.”  There are several truths wrapped up in this short command, but one is that we should respect and submit to earthly authority. 

In another instance, Jesus also taught his disciples to pay the temple tax. Likewise there are many truths to learn from this short passage in Matthew 17:24-27, but one key point is found in verses 26b-27: 

“…Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.” 

Clearly Jesus was teaching that, despite their freedom to chose whether to pay the tax or not, they should pay it, so as to not offend the temple tax collectors. 

Perhaps though, the greatest illustration of submission from Jesus to earthly authority was when He stood before Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem. He did not rebel, challenge or resist. Rather Jesus submitted to an evil earthly ruler, even unto death.  

The disciples were slow students at first, as they clung to their old way of life, fought amongst each other, and regularly failed in the lessons Jesus was teaching and modeling for them. But their three years of intense study under Jesus profoundly transformed them, to the core, particularly after Jesus ascended back to heaven, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  

The men they used to be, the attitudes they displayed, and the things they once valued were all changed, like a caterpillar into a butterfly. The metamorphosis was like nothing the world had ever witnessed. A dozen ordinary men changed the world, because they where wholly transformed in their hearts, and obedient to Jesus.  

So let’s quickly look at the attitudes and teachings of just two of these Apostles, Peter and Paul.  

➖Regarding submitting to authorities they said this: 

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished… give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” Romans 13:1-2, 7b 

“For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right… Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.” 1 Peter 2:13-14, 17 

“Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.” Titus 3:1-2 

➖Peter and Paul also had this to say about not offending others and respecting their needs: 

“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.” Romans 14:1 

“So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.” Romans 14:13 

“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” Romans 15:1-2 

“But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble…. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:9,13 

“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:24 

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” Galatians 5:13-15 

“…for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?” 1 Corinthians 3:3 

➖Key Takeaways 

While there are many other verses we could point to, in summary, these are the key takeaways, that affirm that Jesus, Peter and Paul would unquestionably wear a mask because: 

1. They taught and modeled submission to governmental authority.

2. They desired to be good neighbors, as they followed the teaching “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

3. They were willing to give up their own freedom and rights, if asserting them would offend another brother, or cause them to stumble.

4. They prioritized humility, gentleness, and service to others, above their own needs and desires. 

So today, where are you on the mask issue?  If you’re willingly wearing one, good for you. Do so in humility, not in pride. Pray for your fellow brother and sisters who are struggling with this issue.  

But if you’re not not wearing a mask, or if you’re doing so begrudgingly, seek God and His Word. Ask Him to speak to you and to give you the strength to follow His example and that of His disciples. And then remember this final admonition from the Apostle John: 

“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6 

Hagerty v Sethi:  Who to Vote For?

Hagerty v Sethi: Who to Vote For?

Once again election season is upon us.  While America is already deeply divided between blue and red, democrats and republicans, Trump and non-Trumpers, these various factions are finding themselves even further divided as they squabble over who to vote for in the upcoming the primaries. 

As has been the case for more than a decade, I’ve been getting asked about who I might recommend in some of the races.  In the past, I tended to have strong opinions about who was the “better” or “right” candidate and I was never hesitant to share when asked.  This year is different, for a number of reasons.  But that’s for a separate and upcoming post. 

In Tennessee there are a couple men who are running to replace Senator Lamar Alexander:  Bill Hagerty and Manni Sethi.  I have many good friends who are staunch Hagerty supporters. And perhaps an equal number of vocal supporters for Sethi.  There are no doubt points that each group of supporters could make to elevate their guy and throw stones at his opponent.   

When I see people do this though, I’m completely turned off.  So many politicians, and their supporters as well, act as if the only way to win is to trash not only the other guy, but they also must lob bombs at the supporters of the guy as well.  We’ve all heard the saying that we should  disagree without being disagreeable.  If there was a time when we need to show mercy and grace to others, it’s today. 

In most primaries, while the candidates may attempt to illustrate the differences between themselves, at the end of the day, when they go to Washington, it’s unlikely they will vote that much differently from each other, particularly these days.  As the battle lines have drawn deeper and deeper in our nation, and between democrats and republicans, we have seen that both parties more often than not vote as a bloc.  It’s as if there is little to no individuality.   

Washington is basically just two big machines.  A blue one.  And a red one.  And those machines gobble up the members of their party, demanding absolute fidelity.   

So, if you are listening to the policy differences of Hagerty and Sethi, it’s unlikely anything they say will matter, since the party will ultimately dictate how they vote.  I know even as I write this that many will want to take issue with my perspective here.  And if so, that’s fine.  This is the conclusion I have come to after a couple of decades of political activism and engagement.  Of course there are exceptions, but as a rule, this is the case.   

So, if you’re asking me who you should vote for, Hagerty or Sethi, my answer may surprise you.  I have personal feelings about both men, and have found myself leaning in one direction.  But at the end of the day, and after much study and writing on the topic of voting, there is a greater principle at play than simply who I will vote for.  While you and I may vote for a candidate, there is a greater Power who holds the final sway in who will win.  Yes, God ultimately will determine who will win, since His Word is clear in passage after passage, and story and story, that God: 

“… controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” Daniel 2:21 

Interestingly enough, Jesus affirmed this same principle moments before His crucifixion when He declared to Pilate, the appointed Roman ruler, that: 

“You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” John 19:11 

Notice that Jesus said that Pilate’s power, his position, was not given to him by Rome, but rather from above.  So likewise, while you may think that your vote is effectively electing the next Senator of Tennessee, there is a greater One who holds sway over the outcome.  While you and I may not fully understand this concept, it is true nonetheless.   

So you may ask, then what’s the use in voting if God’s going to decide?  I believe there are several reasons we should vote, which I intend to answer before the November election via a separate article. But one reason is simply because we are called to be stewards of the resources God gives us.  So when you vote, it’s not about electing someone, but it’s about honoring God and trusting Him with the outcome.  Truthfully, if you fully understand and embrace this Truth, it will totally free and transform your mind, and you’ll no longer fret over the outcome of an election.  

So vote your conscience.  Vote for the guy you feel led to.  But respect the other guy who will vote for your guy’s opponent.  And don’t sweat the outcome.  There’s Someone who can see the heart of both men, He knows the end from the beginning, and every day in between, and He knows the right guy to elevate at this time.  Trust Him, even when you may not understand, or agree, with Him. 

Fear God. Act Differently.

Fear God. Act Differently.

Nehemiah was a great man who accomplished amazing things for God and his Jewish people. Billions of men and women since his time are aware of his success of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in just 52 days.  

But Nehemiah’s success would have never been realized without one trait, that is relatively unknown. Note this phrase from Nehemiah 5:15: 

“…because I feared God, I did not act that way.” Nehemiah 5:15 

Fear.  Did you notice that?  This great man who seemed fearless in tackling the monumental task of rebuilding a wall of protection lying in ruins, understood the importance of fearing God.  

While we are often encouraged to interpret the word “fear” as “respect” when reading it in the Bible, it’s clear here, and in many other passages, that this is literally FEAR. And this fear of Almighty God, led to changed behavior.  

If we read the context of chapter 5 of Nehemiah, we see that the behavior of the culture, government officials, and the citizens, was one that was ungodly, uncaring, and lacking in love for those struggling under oppressive policies and practices.  

But Nehemiah was like a fish swimming upstream. He resisted the pressure of the elite and the culture, and instead he forged a different path. But his reason for doing so wasn’t simply because he possessed extraordinary inner strength. Rather, it was because he feared God.  

Having studied history, Nehemiah knew that his God was not only the God of love and mercy, but that his God also administered justice. Just as God held Israel to account for its wayward behavior, with devastating consequences, so too Nehemiah believed God would hold him accountable for embracing the cultural norm and status quo, when that behavior was at odds with God’s standards.  

Nehemiah’s acts would not escape “El Roi” — the God Who sees. So this belief led Nehemiah to act differently from the rest of his culture. Nehemiah feared the justice of God were he to oppress and mistreat his fellow citizens, as was the norm for his culture.  

So what about you and me?  Do we fear God?  And if so, does that fear result in our own changed behavior?  Do we contrast what is accepted universally by our culture with what is taught singularly by God in His Word?  Or do we we just follow the fish swimming downstream, because that’s what everyone else is doing.  

Studying God’s Word will consistently expose the disparities between the masses and God, between our norms, and God’s standard. So may we be like Nehemiah, who feared God and acted differently, according to God’s Word.