Praying for the President

By this time, you are probably familiar with Laurel and Yanny.

Didn’t expect me to start there, did you?

If you aren’t familiar with this maddening sound byte, just know that some people hear Laurel and some people heard Yanny when the audio clip was played. For me, I heard Yanny consistently for two weeks and now can only hear Laurel.

What gives.

Anyway, just google it, listen to it with your friends, and then let the arguments begin.

But how we perceive the same stimuli differently doesn’t just happen with audio memes.

Have you seen the picture of the gray and teal (or is it pink and white) sneaker? This meme is continuing to divide everyone on the internet. Half of the people swear the shoe is gray and teal, while the other half are absolutely convinced it is pink and white.

Perception, or what constitutes perception, is absolutely fascinating. Two people can literally listen to the exact same sound clip, or see the exact same picture, and interpret it two entirely different ways. And these differences in perception may be influenced by our upbringing, our unique culture, our life experiences, or our individual biology.

All of these factors taken together may help us see things from a certain perspective, but may also keep us from hearing or seeing something from a completely different perspective, as well.

None of this makes us bad people. It simply means that we see and interpret the world a certain way, because of our own unique inputs that influence our own unique biology. That then molds and shapes us into the person that we are and then influences how we perceive the world.

Of course this can be seen in any area of life, but one place where our diverse perceptions are significantly evident, for better or worse, are in faith communities. But instead of the differences being as trivial as hearing Laurel or Yanny, or seeing the color of sneakers, the differences in how we perceive and interpret faith actually impacts how we see ourselves, other people, and the purpose for which we exist in the world.

For example, there is a biblical passage that has become increasingly prominent over the last couple of decades, but has kind of gone viral over the last few weeks since Franklin Graham asked the country to pray for the president and since the president unexpectedly showed up at David Platt’s church to be prayed over during their Sunday worship service.

The passage is from 1 Timothy 2 and reads like this:

First of all, therefore, I encourage petitions, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings to be made on behalf of all human beings, on behalf of kings and of all who hold preeminence, so that we might lead a tranquil and quiet life in all piety and solemnity.

How have you always understood that passage? Is it possible for two people to perceive that passage in two completely different ways?

Before answering those questions, let me offer my standard disclaimer. I despise politics. I am not a Democrat, nor a Republican, nor a representative of any other political party or persuasion. When I make commentary on the adulterous relationship of religion and politics, I am not trying to prop up one political side or the other. To me, the way of Jesus ought to speak to power rather than be in bed with power, or interested in becoming the power. Focusing on the way of Jesus, as it subverts power, is my only concern.

So with that being said, you may be thinking that 1 Timothy is pretty straight forward in what it is saying- That we ought to pray for those in authority, including our President, so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives.

But our unique history and background as Americans have significantly influenced how we perceive and interpret that passage.

For many Evangelical Christians, the United States was once a Christian nation that has now turned from God. They believe that God wants to restore America as a godly nation through the guidance and leadership of godly leaders in the Church and governmental system. But they also believe that there are “enemies” who are trying to keep that from happening.

With this background shaping the Evangelical perception, it is easy to see why they interpret 1 Timothy as the reason why they need to pray for the president. Because from their perspective, he is the godly man who God is using to restore a Christian nation and push back the enemies, both foreign and domestic, that are trying to keep this restoration from happening.

And for the vast majority of Evangelicals, this is the straight and honest reading and understanding of 1 Timothy within an American context.

But before we dig deeper into this Evangelical perspective, there is another way that this same passage can be read by those, like me, who perceive it differently.

Being that the author of 1 Timothy was likely the Apostle Paul and that this letter was likely written after he had been imprisoned in Rome, most scholars date its authorship at 65 AD or later. This is interesting and sheds a bit of light on how the passage could be read differently based on the historical context in which it was written. At that time, Christians were being persecuted and martyred by the Roman Emperor, Nero, who blamed the Christian community for the Great Fire of Rome, which destroyed two-thirds of the city.

And as you can imagine, in this context, “praying for those in authority that we me live peaceful and quiet lives,” takes on an entirely different meaning. Paul was encouraging Timothy to pray that those in authority might change their hearts and posture toward Christians so that the Christian community would no longer be tormented and killed by the governing authority.

But while the historical context in which Paul was writing was different than 21st century America, I am certain that Paul would still want the Church praying for the governing authorities, so that their hearts and posture may be more like Christ-like.

But, he would absolutely not be encouraging the Church to get in bed with the governmental powers or to use the government for religious purposes.

To be really honest here, Paul’s invocation to pray for the governing authorities is a far cry from the carte blanche prayers many Evangelicals offer for the president. Paul’s was a plea to the Christian minority group to pray for the powerful and hostile aggressor to change heart. He was literally instructing them to pray for their enemies.

The Evangelical prayer, however, is a prayer of protection for a man who represents a fallen system that they are trying to Christianize. And “praying for those in authority” has come to mean praying for a political party (and a president) to carry out their moral agenda without interruption from the enemy.

So should we pray for the president?

While I believe it is essential that we pray for all of humanity, including our president and governmental leaders, it is for the transformational peace and love of Christ. And to that end, I will unapologetically pray for anyone at anytime (yes, even when it happens unexpectedly onstage during a church service), because each of us, even the vilest offender, need prayer for that kind of peace and love. For it was Jesus who, again, said that we should pray for our friends and enemies alike. So to the extent that Progressive Christians will not pray for the president, so that his heart might change and, at a minimum, be more peaceful toward all people, they are mistaken.

But let me be clear.

What Jesus initiated was a kingdom, not made of buildings and laws and governments and politicians, but of people who have abandoned the inferior and limiting values of those systems and entities.

What Jesus initiated was a kingdom that, does not try to control or legislate a person’s behavior through laws, but transforms hearts, minds, and souls through the Spirit.

What Jesus initiated was a kingdom that, is not a divided and fearful hierarchical system that opposes people, but a loving movement that unites nationalities, ethnicities, races, genders, and orientations into a united Body.

What Jesus initiated was a kingdom that, does not minimize, dehumanize, belittle, or bully people, but that loves and serves all people, even those who oppose and fight as enemies.  

What Jesus initiated was a kingdom, not dependent upon a single man or a certain political party, but comprised of a people, a new humanity, that is rising up to show the world the way of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

And it is only this kingdom that will help us see and perceive clearly, despite our past experiences, our histories, and our unique wirings.

So yes, I pray for the president. But I pray that his heart would be transformed into the likeness of Christ. And until that happens, and so long as his, or any other president’s, actions and behavior oppose Christ and his kingdom, my prayer will be one of speaking the truth of Christ to power.

Peace…

Brandon

This Is How We Move Forward…

The irony of this post is that the following words could just as easily been written to Conservative Evangelicals who, over the last eight years, had become wildly fearful of President Obama and his policies. For they became a people professing to follow Jesus, while becoming obsessed and entrenched with the politics of our country, abandoning the peaceful, loving, non-fearful way of Jesus.

And while this has been wildly apparent, in an ironic twist, after witnessing Conservative Evangelicals continuing to abandon the way of Jesus and live in a state of fear, many Progressive Christians have done the exact same thing. They have been consumed by a fear of President-elect Trump and have resorted to attitudes and characteristics that look nothing like the Jesus they profess to follow.

Listen.

It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you are on- This country is not your hope. This political system is not your hope. This government is not your hope. This president is not your hope.

Each one of them will continue to fail you because they are comprised of broken and sinful people. And despite the political leanings of our leaders and the vision they have for this country, our country exists to increase wealth and power in the world. And the means by which our country achieves those ends at the very foundation, at the very core, can be nothing but antithetical to the way of Jesus.

This is the way it has always been and the way it will always continue to be- A country cannot follow Jesus.

This is not a lament. It is a reality. And we are wildly mistaken if we ever hold our politicians, government, and country to that standard.

Now with that being said, we can use our voices, we can cast our votes, we can try to influence it to be more equitable and just, but it will always be a monster that exists for it’s own wealth and power. It will always be a monster that exists for it’s own self-interest. And it will always be a monster that devours anyone who stands in it’s way.

That is the inherent nature of governments. That is what they have always been and that’s what they will continue to be until the very end.

Yet somehow, so many Christians still try to redeem it or have expectations that it ought to be inherently moral or just. But the truth is that, not only can a government not be redeemed, it cannot be wholly moral or just. A government may, on occasion make a moral or just decision or implement a moral or just law, but we are sadly mistaken when we believe it can be cleansed and made whole. No matter your governmental idealism, a government will always work to perpetuate it’s own wealth and power, and in the process will create victims, casualties, and collateral damage.

This is the predictably destructive path of every single man-made government in the history of mankind. Our leaders, our government, and our country are no different.

That is why Jesus did not waste time trying to reform governments, because they are interminably broken. They will always operate out of self-interest. And they will always leave a trail of devastation in their wake.

Jesus stepped outside of the fractured, divided, oppressive systems of the world and invited people into an entirely different present reality that, despite the wreckage around us, exists as a refuge to those who no longer put their hope, faith, and trust in these broken systems and to those who have been victims and casualties of the system.

The invitation is to come out of a hope, faith, and trust in broken governmental leaders and systems and into a hope, faith, and trust in Jesus and his kingdom of wholeness and healing.

The invitation is to come out of political division and animosity and into a Kingdom of diverse unity and graceful brotherhood and sisterhood.

The invitation is to come out of a life slavishly glued to politics and political news hour-by-hour and into a Kingdom of ever-present liberation and shalom.

The invitation is to come out of lives consumed by verbally demeaning and destroying people or candidates who disagree with your politics and into a Kingdom working and praying for the healing and restoration of people and the reconciliation of relationships with all people.

The invitation is to come out of hatred toward political leaders, political foes, their followers, and every group of people you are told are your enemies and into a Kingdom of self-sacrificial love for every political leader, political foe, and every single group of people you are told to hate and stand against.

The invitation is to come out of lives utterly ravaged by the fear of political leaders, their politics, and their followers and into a Kingdom that will fearlessly move forward as peace emissaries, hope ambassadors, and a light in the darkness.

For it is only light that will drive out darkness. And we can not be the darkness.

We are to be a light constantly demonstrating this radical love of God, and inviting everyone into this abundant life. That is our only hope. And that is the only hope for humanity.

But we let politics, political leaders, and governments make us angry… and fearful.

And it is an absolute understatement to say that FEAR has a massive death grip on so many Christians, regardless of political persuasion. So many Christians are more obsessed with politics and governments than embodying and extending the Kingdom of Christ.

They are afraid of instability, afraid of tyranny, afraid of “losing freedoms,” afraid of opposing ideologies, afraid of the government, afraid of presidents, afraid of “losing their rights” or “losing their civil liberties,” afraid of the government “taking their guns,” afraid of the government taking their religious liberties, afraid of their money becoming worthless, afraid of losing their jobs, afraid of “new world orders,” and afraid of Anti-Christ figures.

It’s exhausting.  And it’s not who we are to be.

Don’t miss what I am saying here.

I am not saying that we ought not work peacefully, prayerfully, lovingly, and creatively to oppose those things (and people) who work against the extension of the kingdom of God in the world. We will always stand beside and work peacefully, prayerfully, lovingly, and creatively for the marginalized, the victimized, and the oppressed.

But as a people who live in the perfect love of God, we fear nothing.

And as we extend that perfect love to others, we will fear nothing.

It’s not too crazy of an idea to believe that if we aren’t living like Christ presently, when times are relatively good, then we will never live like Christ when times get really difficult in the future.

We can’t simply be a people content to only receive the love of God. We have to be people who fearlessly and sacrificially extend the love of God to everyone… even when times are difficult, even when the politics of our day are amoral and unjust, even when the world is crazy and chaotic.

That may be hard to swallow because it confronts the fear in which we have been residing and exposes how insufficient and negligent we have been at extending the love of God.

Think about it.

Do you hate the President of the United States and his policies – or – are you praying for his heart to change, for him to know the way of Jesus, and then loving him despite what actions he takes?

Do you hate the leaders whom we have been told are our enemies or whom we have been told are working against us- or- are you ignoring these voices and choosing to love our enemies the way Jesus Christ loved his enemies.

Do you find yourself getting angry with other people or people groups when you listen to right-wing or left-wing talk radio, when you watch news programs, and when you read the newspaper – or – are you tuning out and learning how to mercifully and gracefully love all people and all people groups despite their situation or circumstance?

Do your actions, when standing for a position on an issue, make you hurt, minimize, and wound individuals and people groups – or – do they heal, lift up, mend, and restore individuals and people groups in the loving, graceful, and merciful love of Christ?

Are your words and attitude toward others divisive, angry, hostile, demeaning, and devaluing when you disagree with their position or the way in which they live their lives – or – are your words and attitude always full of life, love, kindness, encouragement, and the building up of others?

We are just scratching the surface with these questions.

Let the world only know us for our all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

Nothing less.

Jesus is calling us out of the divisive, political spectator crowd and along the narrow pathway with him.

To surrender every ounce of our lives to follow him and his way.
To walk away from a life that is easy.
To walk away from a life that is predictable.
To walk away from a life that is comfortable.
To enter into a life of risk.
To be willing to suffer pain and alienation.
To be willing to die.
All for love.

And he is asking us to not just receive God’s love, but to also be willing to surrender our lives in order to fearlessly give it away.

Let us be a people who are not stressed, anxious, or worried in our present lives or at the first sign of turmoil, but rather let us be a people who put our entire hope, faith, and trust in God.

Let us be a people who do not let the light of righteousness burn out in our present lives or as the world continues to grow darker around us, but rather let us be a people with a renewed sense that we are to have a unified purpose together extending the righteousness of God in the present, even as things become increasingly complex and chaotic.

Let us be a people who are not just announcing a watered-down Good News message with our lips presently or becoming even more silent in the face of opposition, but rather let us be a people who understand fully and unequivocally the life-changing, world-altering reality of the Good News of the kingdom and let us be a people who invite everyone in the world with our words, our lives, and our all.

Let us be a people who are not easily swayed by propaganda, talking heads, political leaders, or any other thing that could lead us astray presently or as times become increasingly uncertain, but rather let us be a people resolved to know Jesus so intimately, his kingdom so thoroughly, his voice so specifically, that we could never be misguided.
And let us be a people who are not sucked into the national news headlines, the talk-show venom, the political mudslinging, the divisive rhetoric, and the cultural instigation presently or in times when it will be easier to blame and hate others, but rather let us be a people so overwhelmed and full of the love of God that we would rather give our lives than not give that love away.

Peace and love…

Brandon

The Parable of the Two Managers

The owner of a vast and abundant vineyard with hundreds of workers was soon planning to hand over the daily operations and responsibilities of his vineyard to two managers, each of whom had been working with him for quite some time. The managers knew the owner’s love for his vineyard, the care he took in growing the fruit, the daily satisfaction he enjoyed working with his hands to keep away weeds and harvest the grapes, and the perpetual joy he found in sharing the choice wine it produced. Even more, the vineyard had become a place of life, community, and festivity for everyone in their small town. Each evening, people would share table, tell stories, and dance into the night. The care each person had for one another was extraordinary and unique. This was the owner’s heart and dream for his vineyard community.

The two managers knew that taking over the vineyard would be a tall order, but each believed he deserved the privilege of managing it.

The first manager had a vision for expanding the reach and influence of the vineyard. He believed that a great partnership between the vineyard and one of their town’s powerful, influential, and wealthy businessmen would be beneficial. Despite the fact that the businessman was a prideful, judgmental, unforgiving, and crass man, who had values completely opposite of the vineyard owner, the manager thought that this partnership would, not only increase the status of the vineyard in the community for generations, but would also allow the vineyard to become even more powerful and influential throughout the town. Despite the fact that the businessman had never been to the vineyard himself, or experienced the depth of community and vibrancy that made it an essential part of the town, he knew that the vineyard had hundreds of workers who could strengthen his position in the community.

The other manager had similar aspirations. He believed the culture that had grown in this vineyard community, of treating everyone with dignity and caring for each other’s needs, was something that could also be instituted and modeled by the local government, so he partnered with the town’s head official. Despite the fact that this town official was a well-known liar, manipulator, and corruptor, untrustworthy to the core and completely opposite of the vineyard owner in every way, this manager believed the that town official would be a great partner in extending the values of the vineyard through governmental initiatives and programs. While the town official had been to the vineyard in the past, it was only to solicit the support and votes of the workers and community members who gathered there each evening. The unique beauty and quaintness of this special community was lost on the official.

One evening the two managers brought together the businessman and town official to the vineyard community and began to explain to those who were eating together, sharing stories, and dancing with one another, that they had great visions of how the businessman and town official could make the vineyard more influential, more powerful, and how the government could begin using the vineyard model to take care of the entire community. The workers and townspeople listened and considered what was being proposed by each manager and a clear rift began to rise among them. Some heard about the perverse character of the businessman and preferred the town official. Others knew intimately about how corrupt the town official was and preferred the businessman.

Fractures in the vineyard community grew. And each evening afterward, the fractures widened as animosity swelled.

While the managers and workers gathered to debate and argue for their vision of the vineyard and their positions on the businessman and town official, the townspeople slowly began to turn away from the divisive and hostile vineyard community.  It wasn’t the community it once was.

Differences of opinion led to voices being raised, accusations being made, and feelings being hurt. The tension escalated when some of the workers got in the face of other workers and began to belittle and dehumanize them with their words. Before long, tables were being turned, bottles were being broken and wine spilled, and the people began to intensely hate one another.

And it was at that point when the lights went out and the entire place went quiet.

When the lights came back on, the vineyard owner was standing in the divided room between the two managers amidst the wreckage and calamity.

What have you done to my vineyard community? What have you brought into this life-giving and hope-filled place? The work of my very own hands and my very own heart have been trampled under the feet of self-interest, power, and corruption. The shared table of brotherhood and sisterhood has been overturned in division and animosity. The life stories of each person have been silenced by political positioning and arguing. The celebratory dance of freedom and joy has been shackled by your belief that what I created in this vineyard community was not enough. This has been my heart and dream for this community- to have a place of invitation and refuge, life and love, and the breaking of bread and sharing of the wine in celebration. Yet, this community of life has become a place of death.

And the fruit of the vine that was crushed and perfected into the choicest wine, has been poured out and spilled, once again, by the hands of greed and power.

Oh you wicked managers, who then can be trusted?

For those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear…

Brandon

Special thanks to my friend Herb Haile for advice on this post.