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 ourgodreigns-picThe history of the world is full of critical moments, moments when the fates of nations seem to dangle by the thread of a single decision, a sole ballot, a solitary soldier, most often by some seemingly random act. Lawyers and insurance companies call these “acts of God,” trying to describe events that we humans have little or no control over.  But what if these unique moments really are acts of God!

As I was reading Israel’s history along with the prophets that spoke into those times, the undeniable involvement of God in history was no surprise, but it did strike me differently this time how much God was also involved in the affairs of many other nations, raising them up, bringing them down, punishing them for their sins, and rewarding them for righteousness.

Has God withdrawn from human affairs? Is he no longer concerned about good and evil, about justice and mercy? Does he no longer use nations to accomplish his will?  I’m convinced that the King of All Nations is as present in world affairs as ever.

The current U.S. national election, especially the presidential election, has presented many Christians with challenges that don’t seem to have good answers.  I have no intention of advising you for one candidate over another; rather, what I would like to do is share with you the Word of God, especially those passages that speak about choosing leaders and about the nature of God’s interaction with nations, in order to help you discover perhaps a divine framework within which you can act and find peace about this national election as well as the international events of our times that affect all of us.

Each day, I will share with you a text, some short and others longer, from the Word. My hope is that the Word will not only instruct and inspire you, but also challenge you to apply what you hear to our own election. Unless otherwise stated, all of the texts are taken from the New Living Translation.  Some of the longer passages are abridged, which I have noted so that if you want to read the entire passage you have the citation and can do so.

The Word is followed by a few thoughts of mine on the passage which I present to you, not as exegesis, not as a homily, but rather as initial stimulation to your own listening and thinking about what God is saying to you.

Lastly, we end in a brief prayer, acknowledging that we can neither know nor obey without divine help.

On September 29, I hope many of you will join me in 40 days of prayer and meditating on God’s Word as we move toward the national election on November 8.  I am including a preview today so that you can know what to expect.  If you would like to join us, just subscribe to this blog and it will automatically come to you each day.  My prayer is that we gain clarity and respond to the current political situation in a way that pleases God.

PREVIEW

 

THE WORD OF GOD:  from Isaiah 8

 11 The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, 12 “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. 13 Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. 14     He will keep you safe.

. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

19 Someone may say to you, “Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead?

20 Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark. 21 They will go from one place to another, weary and hungry. And because they are hungry, they will rage and curse their king and their God. They will look up to heaven 22 and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair. They will be thrown out into the darkness.  (NLT)

 

During elections or times of national tension, everyone seems to be telling everyone how to think! Persuasion bleeds over into defamation; rational arguments become disingenuous distortions of the truth. All parties have their polls to tell us how everyone else is thinking.  Turning to our national sources of information becomes hopeless.

The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does.  Isaiah was directing his audience, not to a political alternative, but rather to God for their truth.

If you are going to be afraid of what could happen, then don’t create or believe every conspiracy theory, don’t shudder at the dire consequences that talking heads predict, rather look to God’s instructions and teachings and ask God for guidance.  Exchange the polls for prayer; choose to fear God rather than the opposing candidate.

And how do you know which you have chosen?  Isaiah says that the people who ignore the Word of God will rage and curse their king and their God. They will look up to heaven and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair.

Don’t despair; look to God’s teachings and instructions.

 

Prayer:  O Father, we are surrounded by voices of despair and contradiction.  Turn our hearts to you so that we can walk in the light of truth and not be afraid.  Teach us to trust your word above every other message. AMEN

Last week I announced that on September 29, I would begin publishing a daily meditation and prayer for forty days in preparation for our national election on November 8.  I want to encourage you to plan on joining in asking God to speak to us through His Word about how He chooses national leaders, whom He chooses, and why countries are both raised up and brought down.

To better understand why I have felt compelled to write these meditations and prayers, I’d like to share with you a note that I received today from a European friend who shares his concerns about US Christians during this election season:

Hi Mark,

 I really think your blog-article to read from God’s wisdom during the coming 40 days, concerning the American elections is a great idea. Several christians in Europe do not understand all the comments that are being made especially on facebook mainly about _______. They understand that ______ is probably not the best candidate (ethics etc.). What does bother several christians here though are the often downright attacks on ________, also the way they try to ridicule him/her on facebook. A lot of these comments and pictures are placed by christians, even by some that we know. It seems to us that politics in the US at the moment is overtaking God’s Word of loving others, even your enemies, not wish them harm, treat another with respect, not tear them down nor ridicule them, etc.

I think that some people could even be questioning their relationships by all this outpour of negativity, made by other christians without them even realizing this. I think they do not realize how this can come across. Most Europeans seem to avoid talking about this [with Americans] because they sometimes find out it can be a touchy subject to discuss (at least with some people).

 That’s why I really welcome your plan to let yourselves above all be guided by God’s Word/Wisdom and His principles.

 

Mark your calendars for September 29 as Day 1 of Forty Days of the Word and Prayer–and share this with your friends.

Both the intensity and the ubiquity of the political conversations in this election year may be unparalleled, at least in recent history.  What has troubled me most has been the number of Christians whom I have overheard saying, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to vote!”

I feel a bit like Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate, when they had no silver or gold to give to the lame man. I have no silver bullets or golden answers,  but as they did, so I would like to also offer you what I do have.

I am writing and preparing 40 days of meditations for all who need a word of guidance in this election, not my words (much) but words from God.  I am not going to tell you whose name to mark on your ballot in November, but I do plan to share with you insights from Scripture into God’s activity and will for the nations of the world.

Beginning September 29, I will publish each day for the next forty days, a series of short meditations and prayers under the title King Of All Nations. Each meditation will contain a chosen word from God, sometimes a story, sometimes a psalm, sometimes a prophetic word, but always His Words. After hearing from God, I will try to stimulate your thinking about that text with a few thoughts and questions, then I will offer you a prayer to pray as you seek clarity.

If you are interested in this 40-days of seeking God’s will and plan for our nation, you might want to subscribe/follow to this site, or you can just visit each day.

I promise that you will be challenged by the Word regardless of your current political position!

Watch for further information.  And share this with your friends. They are as concerned as you are.

Alan_Alda_Hawkeye_MASHSherrylee and I lived in West Germany from 1971-1979. Our years outside of American culture meant that we missed out on some of the cultural changes that took place during the tumultuous seventies. By the time we returned to the States in 1979, a quite apparent cynicism toward government had set in, likely the result of Viet Nam and Watergate.  The sexual revolution of the sixties was pretty mainstream by the end of the 70s. Women had been liberated; African Americans were much more prominent in television and movies; and the extreme individualism of what some called the “Me Generation” had been legitimized in conservative politics.

Shortly after our return to the States, I accepted a position on the faculty of Oklahoma Christian University—a dream job for me.  Not only did I love the classroom, but the comradery of the faculty and staff, such a wonderful, intelligent, interesting group of people, filled a deep need that we had for friends and fellowship in our new home.

Every day after chapel, many faculty members would gather in the little room set aside as the faculty lounge on the backside of the Learning Center. After a while, I realized that one of the aspects of American culture that had changed was the way colleagues and friends discussed ideas, especially when they disagreed.  I had never been around people who obviously liked each other, but who poked at each other so sarcastically or at the ideas of a third party quite so cynically!  Often it was disguised in humor, but, in fact, to me it was barbed!

As a new and very junior member of the faculty, I usually just listened and tried to keep my mouth shut, especially when the more vocal ones pontificated and sarcastically dismissed those who tried to take them on.

One day a couple of months into my first semester, however, one of the leaders of the conversation started saying something about socialism in Europe, something which I knew to be completely absurd from our experiences in Germany, so I responded to him.  Well, in his own pompous way, he acknowledged my existence, but sarcastically dismissed my uninvited contribution.  He was not mean spirited; he was just humorously . . . dismissive.  I did not respond.

One of the other faculty members picked up on the fact that I might not be up to that kind of verbal combat, so he tried to draw me back into the conversation with a respectful query as to whether I wanted to respond to the One.

I don’t know where it came from, but I remembered something my Dad had said once, so I offered it as my own attempt at humor:

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I do.  My dad taught me once that you can’t outpuke a buzzard!”

I don’t know whether it was the unexpected response or the outlandish idea that this young nobody just off the boat from Germany might actually join the skirmish, but the whole room burst into appreciative laughter—even the One who had dismissed me–and from that day on, I never felt on the outside of the faculty again. I had won a place in the room.

In spite of my minor victory, I really never became comfortable with this mocking kind of conversation that had surfaced in the seventies.  I called it M*A*S*H humor because it seemed to be the predominant mode of Hawkeye and BJ. Their irreverence, their disregard of authority, their cynical and self-serving approach to most relationships had first entertained Americans, then became American.

Thirty-five years later, now much of what was humorously sarcastic and cynical has become vicious and uncivil. We do not make fun of our opponents with respect; we demonize them. Even worse, we mock them.

Let me conclude with some biblical wisdom about mockery and mockers. I will let you draw your own political and cultural conclusions from these God-inspired words:

Proverbs 21:24   The proud and arrogant person—“Mocker” is his name— behaves with insolent fury

Proverbs 21:24    Mockers are proud and haughty; they act with boundless arrogance.

Proverbs 9:7   Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults . . . .

Proverbs 15:12   Mockers resent correction, so they avoid the wise.

Proverbs 29:8   Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.

Proverbs 22:10   Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.

Psalm 1:1   Blessed is the one who does not . . . sit in the company of mockers

 

 

 

 

 

Crown of righteousnessI do not believe in coincidences.  That my daily Bible reading has been in the books of Kings and Chronicles for the last several weeks, books which vividly describe God trying to lead a nation through prophets, judges, and kings, but being constantly thwarted by the people’s desire to lead themselves, judge themselves, and rule themselves, this does not seem like coincidence.

We Americans find ourselves in a time of national indecisiveness, national dissonance, and national disunion, not the first time in our history, but certainly in extraordinary proportions for recent memory. It is no coincidence, I believe, that fewer Americans are committed to following God.

People who do not believe in God nor confess Jesus are not reading this blog, so I am not addressing them; rather, what I have been reading seems to speak to the People of God, to those confessed and committed, but who have forgotten Who calls nations into existence, Who decides whether they prosper or suffer, Who causes them to rise and fall.

“From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall. . . . “ (Acts 17:26, NLT)  The ancient nation of Israel kept forgetting who called them into existence, so the prophets over and over again remind them that it was God who made them a nation, who called them out of Egypt, and who expelled stronger rulers and bigger nations to give Israel its place in history.  Read Psalm 105, but notice especially this passage:

For he remembered his sacred promise to his servant Abraham. 43 So he brought his people out of Egypt with joy, his chosen ones with rejoicing. 44 He gave his people the lands of pagan nations, and they harvested crops that others had planted. 45 All this happened so they would follow his decrees and obey his instructions. (emphasis mine, mw)

America has its William Bradfords, George Washingtons, and myriad others who built America—just like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David are early founders/builders of ancient Israel, but these people did not create nations, nor cause them to rise.  God did—and He alone. If we forget this, we forget so much more!

God blessed the descendants of Abraham with all that He had promised. Once the nation started prospering in the promised land, they quickly began to forget the One who created them, so God allowed conflict with foreign kings to remind them whose they were. In His love for them, he listened to their repentant prayers and raised up judges to lead them in battle and relieve their suffering.  In spite of his Goodness, the story of the judges ends with one of the most accusatory verses of Scripture (Judges 21):  25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.  Do we recognize our own times here; how important in our country that everyone has the right to do what they believe to be in their own best interests?

Israel begs for a king—stronger leadership, greater national defense, more international influence, greater wealth for the nation.  God tells the prophet Samuel to anoint their king, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer (I Samuel 8:7). They wanted Him as their God, but not their king—clear separation of church and state, not in a constitutional sense, but in the minds and hearts of the people of the nation.

So ancient Israel has some good years, then they experience Civil War and divide. The North completely abandons God, not becoming irreligious, just putting their own creations first; the South experiences an occasional revival, but over the course of time also forgets the God of their Fathers.  Both lose God’s protection, so they are utterly defeated, their nation as created was destroyed, with only a remnant surviving in an almost unrecognizable form, but enough for God to fulfil his promise to never forget those few who never forgot Him. A once flourishing, wealthy, powerful nation forgets God and dissolves into schism, political intrigue, unholy alliances, and self-indulgence, so God who had raised them to their zenith now lets them fall.

The cause of the downfall of ancient Israel was their turn from complete dependence upon God to a dependence on their own wisdom, their own might, their own rights, their own chosen leaders, their own military, their own alliances, their own wealth, their own . . . .

As we move through our time in history, as we struggle with political choices, as we experience the effects of dependence upon military force, as we witness moral turmoil and attempts to redefine integrity, it is not our vote for a particular candidate that will determine our destiny, it is whether we choose God as our King—and I don’t mean that metaphorically.Crown of righteousness

 

Yesterday was my last day in the office as Executive Director of the ministry my wife and I have led for 36 years. I’ll write more about that later, but my successor Scott Lambert called to check on me, and asked if I would publish here in this blog his open letter to Sherrylee and me.  I’m a bit embarrassed, but I promised him that I would–he is my new boss now, you know!

Scott LambertDear Mark and Sherrylee,

Today is the last day in your roles as Executive Directors for Let’s Start Talking.  Tomorrow I step into those shoes.  I have a few things to say to you both.

Mark and Sherrylee, no one will step fully into those shoes.  Ever. 

 Mark and Sherrylee, God called you to something very special 36 years ago.  Thank you for listening to and following God.

 Mark and Sherrylee, thousands upon thousands of people around the world have been drawn closer to Jesus because of Let’s Starting Talking.  I’m surmising that there will be a reunion corner of heaven for LST people someday.  It will be party with many languages, of course.  English may be just a louder than anything else.  Our gospel writer friend Luke may be there signing autographs.  And Jesus will put all of us in His arms.  Thanks for enlarging heaven. 

 Mark and Sherrylee, thousands upon thousands of people in America have been changed by LST.  We have been transformed by sharing our faith, the spiritual formation you modeled and the community LST provided us.  Thank you for embracing this stream of God’s people and tugging us outward and not inward. 

 Mark and Sherrylee, you might know many of the people touched by LST.  To the glory of God, you empowered others to share faith and not just keep LST to yourselves.  That you will meet so many for the first time in heaven someday is truly a credit to your passions, vision and leadership capacities.  Thank you for seeing and serving people that you’ve never even met. 

 Mark and Sherrylee, thank you for believing in Kim, me and my entire family. By investing in all of us, the Kingdom of God has been changed.

 Mark and Sherrylee, what I just said in that last sentence could be repeated by so many others.  Thank you.  

 Mark and Sherrylee, Kim and I are personally glad that we aren’t using the “R” word to describe this season of change.  I really like “transition”.  You both still have too much to do for God to R.  It’s exciting to continue serving God together.

Mark and Sherrylee, I speak for the multitudes today.  Thank you for serving the Lord and all of us. 

Scott Lambert

Thank you, Scott, and we will pray for wisdom and vision as you lead LST into the future. 

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