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My Day After Election Day Prayer

Our church happily participated in Election Day Communion, sort of. We decided to offer (Day After) Election Day Communion because we have a regularly scheduled prayer and communion service every Wednesday at noon. We offered communion the day after the election for the same reason churches offered communion the day of the election: we feel partisan politics are dividing Christians and we believe this division deeply grieves the Holy Spirit. I certainly understand that Christians deeply committed to Christ are simply not going to agree on who they vote for. I accept this. What I do not accept is the hate, mockery, acrimony, and hostility experienced in the church over political ideologies. When we enter the voting booth (or sit at a table with our ballots as I did at my polling station), we may divide into categories: blue/red, liberal/conservative, Democrat, Republican, but we cannot bring that division into the body of Christ.

The solution: communion.

At the Lord’s Table, when we come to partake of the body and blood of Christ, we are united. We leave all of our distinctiveness behind when we come to the table. We come to Jesus’ table to find our unity, which is in him. We do not divide into righteous and sinful people, when we come to the table. We come as sinful people to the only Righteous One. At the table we find what unifies us is not policies, candidates, or political platforms, but Jesus Christ himself. In receiving communion we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes; we proclaim our true hope is in the Crucified King who is ruling now and will come again.

In our (Day After) Election Day Communion service, I was asked to read John 17 and pray a prayer in response to this reading. I was planning on praying something spontaneous, but 10 minutes before the start of the service I wrote the following words. I offer this as a prayer for Christians the day after the 2012 Presidential election:

A Day after Election Day Prayer

Holy Father,

We are grateful to be your children, invited into your family, called by your name. We believe you have sent your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ who has defeated sin, death, and principalities and powers through this death, burial, and resurrection. We thank you that while Jesus humbled himself in his incarnation and remained obedient even unto death that you raised him up and have exalted him to a position of power and authority over the nations.

May his rule and reign by known here and now among all of us who are baptized into his name. May his prayer for us be answered by you. May we who live in this fallen world be made one, just as the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are one. May we no longer be divided by race, gender, class, or political ideology  but may all of those who put faith in Christ be made one, united in faith and love, that the world may see the glory and beauty of King Jesus.

For the glory of God the Father, by the power of the Spirit, and in the name of Jesus we pray.

Amen.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Life, Ministry

 

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Thoughts on a Christian Nation

I am happy to be a part of a Christian nation. It has become my sense of identity, my place to belong. I didn’t choose to be a part of the nation, I was born into it. It was not my choice, but I am grateful that this Christian nation is my home. I pray for this nation to reflect the image of its Architect. I pray that this nation will demonstrate faith, hope, and love to the world. I pray that this nation will transform culture.

And by the way, the Christian nation of which I speak is the Church.

Today is the “National Day of Prayer” and I am joining people of various faiths in praying for our civic nation. As a follower of Christ, I am asked to pray for those in authority, to pray for those with delegated authority. I will stand today and do so, but my prayer may be different than other Christians. I will be praying: God, let your kingdom come, let you will be done on earth and it is in heaven. Sadly, I assume others will be praying: God, our nation has forsaken you, help us to return to you, so that you can bless us again.

I believe the second prayer is lifted up in sincerity and devotion. I do not doubt the ones praying it love Jesus and America too. But what is implicit in that prayer is a bit troublesome to me. “Help us return to you”—does this mean our nation once was “with” God or faithful to God or a community of people who once worshiped Jesus? Were we once a “Christian nation?”

I think we can all agree, things have changed. The Christian faith once had a dominate place in our culture and now it does not, but does this imply that we were a “Christian nation” that has lost its Christian identity? I don’t think so.

First of all, nations (i.e. political nation-states) cannot be Christian; people are. The only Christian nation is the “nation” of Christ followers. This is a trans-national, multi-ethnic nation of people who worship the Jesus of the New Testament as the Son of God and the one true reigning ruler of the planet and all the political nations in it. We believe he died for our sins, was buried, and rose up from the dead, vindicated, and proven to be the King of God’s kingdom and creation. It is Jesus that we follow. It is to Jesus that we pledge our allegiance. This “Christian nation” is a community called “the Church.”

So why do some want to call the United States of America a “Christian nation”?

I suppose it is because of the undeniable influence the Christian faith and worldview had on the formation of our nation. Colonial America of the early eighteenth century was filled with pilgrims and passionate Christ-followers who fled Europe in a desire to worship without the interference of Government. Those leaving Europe for Colonial American had experienced centuries of bloody violence between Catholics and Protestants. Many of them crossed the Atlantic to live out their Christian faith in peace and purity.

The Mayflower Compact, written by those traveling on the Mayflower in the early seventeenth century to establish their new colony, states their desire:

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic...

I believe these were people of authentic Christian faith who wanted to organize themselves into a new civic body for the “glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” It was people like these in the early seventeenth century who helped frame the creation of a new nation, a union of the thirteen original colonies, into one new civil body politic, the United States of America.

The big question is this: Did the founders of this new nation, desire for the United States to exist for the “glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith”?

Historians more astute than I will need to help us sort this out, but from my reading of history, I would have to say no. If this was the intent of the founders then why is it not recorded in the founding documents, i.e. “the Declaration of the Independence,” “the Constitution,” or “the Bill of Rights”? The Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the Senate and signed by President John Adams in 1797, explicitly states:

…the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

When we read documents like “the Declaration of Independence” we see references to “Creator” and “Nature’s God,” but these are not references to the Christian God/Creator. These are the gods of deism, the religion produced by the Enlightenment. While the founding of the US included the influence of the Christian faith, it also included the influence of the Enlightenment, a revival of Greek philosophy, with an emphasis on the supremacy of reason, individualism, and cultural optimism. So if we want to claim that the US is a “Christian nation” because it were influenced by Christians, then shouldn’t we also claim that the US is a “Greek nation,” because it were influenced by the Enlightenment?

[Side note: For all you fans of Church history, I am not denying the fact that Christian theology was also influenced by Greek thought, i.e. Platonism, particularly in the first few centuries of Church history. I think it is crucial that we weed out Platonism when reading the church fathers as it is antithetical to the true gospel. But for the church fathers, these were Christian men writing Christian documents for the Christian church and so the influence of Plato is different than in the case of men like Thomas Jefferson who was a Deist, writing a political document for a political nation. The influence of the Greek thought on Jefferson was much greater than it was on somebody like Origin.]

I do not think it is helpful to consider the US either a “Christian nation” or a “Greek nation,” because the US is something altogether different. The US is a democratic nation, a republic, a political nation where the citizens have a voice in the government. This brings us back to the issue of the dominance (or the lack thereof) of the Christian faith in American culture. Christians, like all citizens, have a voice both politically and socially, but let’s choose a voice that sounds like Jesus.

Let’s choose a voice that sounds like Jesus speaking to the Roman Empire (my kingdom is not of this world) instead of Jesus speaking to Israel (How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings).

Let’s choose a voice that sounds like forgiving love instead of disrespectful hate.

Let’s choose a voice that sounds like peace instead of hostility, grace instead of rhetoric, faith instead of propaganda.

Let’s speak into the public and political arena with humble words, subversive words.

Let’s speak and then put our hope in the three branches of power: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Let’s speak and pray and put our hope in the kingdom of God and not the governments of men.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2010 in Life, Theology

 

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I Am a Patriot

I have a song in my head tonight.

It could have been a normally night tonight, but it is the eve of the elections. The “most important election of our lifetimes” as I am told by an email sitting in my inbox. Certainly a historic election, no doubt about it. We are about to elect either the first female vice president or the first African-American president. We can pretend that gender and race have nothing to do with the presidential election, but gender and race have never been more of an issue.

With all of the issues swirling tonight, I have a song on repeat in my mind.

I’m silently singing in my time of conflict. Never before has the political process presented itself with so much conflict for me. And so I have been asked, “Who are you voting for?” Of course, they do not mean who I am voting for in the race for Coroner in Sumter County. (Yeah…the Hancock vs. Harris race hasn’t drawn the attention of the McCain vs. Obama race.) My reply has been consistent. I am undecided.

I have been surprised at the reaction I have received when I tell people that I am undecided. It has bought both shock, dismay, and concern…undecided?!?

I am undecided.

Too be clear, “undecided” doesn’t mean I am pro-Obama and anti-McCain. Nor does it mean that I am pro-McCain and anti-Obama. I am undecided.

I am undecided and I am still a patriot. This is where the song (and the conflict) comes in.

The song I have been singing in my head today is “I Am a Patriot” written by Steven Van Zandt recorded by Jackson Browne and made popular by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. (Here is a good cover by Michelle Branch.)

This song says so much. Downloading it in iTunes has been the best $0.99 I have spent this month. Here are my thoughts:

“I Am a Patriot”

Performed by Jackson Browne

World in Motion (1989)

And the river opens for the righteous

And the river opens for the righteous

And the river opens for the righteous

And the river opens for the righteous

And the river opens for the righteous someday

This is the prophetic message of the song that most people miss. There is a river of life which we all want to tap into. We all want to experience life, real life. The alternative is death and everything within us says that death is an enemy. Life is available, but it opens for the righteous. More on this later on…

I was walking with my brother

And he wondered what’s on my mind

I said what I believe in my soul

Ain’t what I see with my eyes

And we can’t turn our backs this time

Here is the conflict for me, because “what I believe in my soul ain’t what I see with my eyes.” What I believe in my soul is that my citizenship is in heaven. Honestly I have dual citizenship. I have been created here on earth and this world is my home. I am a citizen of this planet (and specifically the United States). But I am also a citizen of heaven, because I have been born by God’s created act and born again by God’s redemptive act in the sending of his Son.

What I believe in my soul is…the kingdom where I pledge my allegiance is not of this world.

What I believe in my soul is…this world is passing away.

What I believe in my soul is…the kingdom where I pledge my allegiance is not of this world.

What I believe in my soul is…the King is returning to bring heaven to earth.

But I “can’t turn (my) back (on) this time.”

My times are in God’s hands. This time is in God’s hands. This time requires my involvement. I cannot turn my back on this world and it’s systems of government. I can’t put my head in the political sand and hope it all goes away, even if I am wearied by all of the campaign talk. After all I am a patriot…

I am a patriot

And I love my county

Because my country is all I know

I want to be with my family

The people who understand me

I’ve got nowhere else to go

I am a patriot. I do love my country. I am thankful for the freedoms I experience, particularly the freedom of religion. A freedom I hope my Christian brothers and sisters in India soon get to experience. I love my country and I thank God for the prosperity we have experienced. I don’t assume these things or take them for granted. I thank God for them.

I love my country, but I love it without loving it.

I love it without idolizing it.

I love it without worshipping it.

I love it without putting too much faith in it.

I love it without putting all my hope in it.

I love it without loving it.

And the river opens for the righteous

And the river opens for the righteous

And the river opens for the righteous someday

The prophetic hope is for rivers of righteousness to be opened…someday. That day is coming. More on this later.

And I was talking with my sister

She looked so fine

I said, “Baby, what’s on your mind?”

She said, “I want to run like the lion

Released from the cages

Released from the rages

Burning in my heart tonight”

Later covers of this song replace the word “sister” with “girlfriend,” but I like the original. This is sister in a biblical sense, “sister” as in a fellow child of God. It is ok to say that your sister “looks so fine.” What is own her mind is what is on all of our minds…freedom. To run free of cages and rages, to run free from those things that debilitate. The Righteous King says he came to set the captive free…

And I ain’t no communist

And I ain’t no capitalist

And I ain’t no socialist

And I ain’t no imperialist

And I ain’t no democrat

And I ain’t no republican

I only know one party

And it is freedom

This is why I am undecided, because I claim no ideologies of the empires…not communist empires, not capitalistic empires, not socialist empires, not imperialist empires, not democrat empires, and not republican empires.

My hope is no longer in the empires.

My hope is no longer in the policies of man, but in the kingdom of God.

My hope is not with the donkeys or the elephants, but the Lamb.

I am, I am, I am

I am a patriot

And I love my country

Because my county is all I know

And the river opens for the righteous

And the river opens for the righteous

And the river opens for the righteous

Someday

I am a patriot and I love my country…both of them, both the country of my birth and the heavenly country of my rebirth. The prophetic hope is in the King, in his work, past, present and future. King Jesus came to set people free. He died, was buried and rose up from the dead to set us free and make us righteous. The river does open for the righteous, but none of us our righteous, no, not one. Jesus was totally righteous and he took our place. He took on our unrighteousness in his death so we could receive his righteousness through his resurrection.

He has sent his Spirit to continue his liberating work and someday he will return to set up his heavenly kingdom in his good creation. I will walk into the voting booth and cast my vote, but in my heart I will be crying out to the King saying, “Come Lord Jesus!”

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2008 in Life

 

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