God Is Not Dead, Nor Doth He Sleep..

It was almost 160 years ago, during the darkest days of America’s Civil War, that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem “Christmas Bells” that would become the Christmas Hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” His son had been badly wounded in battle; his wife had died just a few years earlier, and the nation was in ruins and chaos. No one knew how much longer the war would continue or what the final outcome would be; Longfellow did not know if his son would live, or if he would be paralyzed for life. As he listened to the bells of Christmas ringing from church towers, he poured out all his doubts and fears in verse. Yet he concluded, “The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Christmas is not just a celebration of “comfort and joy” that comes from tinsel and lights, cozy fires, or gifts under brightly lit trees. Christmas is about Hope in times of darkness. It is about promises kept; prophesies fulfilled, victory assured, even when it looks as though the Enemy has the upper hand.

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It is horribly tempting in troubled times to wonder and question God’s ways– does He hear? Does He see? Is He asleep? Does He exist? How can a “good” God allow such suffering and pain? And like Longfellow, we listen to our circumstances, and they seem to drown out the message of Christmas– “For Hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men.” The cannons of yesteryear may have been replaced with 24-hour news cycles or Facebook news feeds, with protests and lock-downs, COVID counts and contested elections, but the noise is still the same. There is hatred, deceit, destruction, and doubt in our world–it was present during the Civil War; it was present during the Roman occupation at the time of Christ’s birth. But that birth brought a singular hope– one that has become so familiar, and so casual as to be almost forgotten amidst the immediate urgent noises of the day.

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The trappings of Christmas sometimes hide the very Glory of Christ’s Advent. God CAME. He LIVED AMONG US. He was humble. He felt the cold and heat of long days and nights; his feet got dirty from walking. He laughed and cried. And, He DIED. He felt agony and shame and fear as he gasped for breath, naked and bloody and facing sneers and anger from the crowd. But God IS NOT DEAD–He conquered death; He rose again victorious. And He did it so that our suffering is not in vain– our suffering is not the end of our story.

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GOD IS NOT DEAD. Hope is not in vain. Nor does He sleep–even in the silence of our lonely nights, even in the noisy chaos of life in 2020–God has not stepped off His throne; He has not turned His back on mankind. “The Wrong shall fail–” though it may seem strong and strut arrogantly through the streets, shouting and threatening–God is the final authority. Nothing is hidden from Him. He sees every injustice, every secret sin; He hears every lie, every twisted truth, every deceit. And He has no favorites– there is no excuse, no “religious” exemption– ALL have sinned, and all will be held to account.

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EXCEPT– because of that one birth and death and resurrection–the debt is already paid. “The Right (shall) prevail with peace on earth, good-will to men.” For those who listen beyond the noise of battle, the bells of Christmas ring “more loud and deep” with the hope and joy and strength that overcome our pain and struggle. Longfellow found that truth– and I’m so glad he shared it. I hope his words will continue to remind us to listen through this season for the true message of Christmas.

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What’s Next?

As I write this, votes are being counted in our Presidential/General Election. I don’t know what the final outcome will be, but it looks like the election will be close; it may even be contested for days or weeks to come.

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There are consequences to this election– consequences for our legal rights and freedoms– consequences for churches and Christians businesses and services, and the individual free exercise of speech and religion. And the consequences reach beyond just my city or state or even the U.S. This election may impact how (or if) I can continue to write about prayer and Christian living. It may impact how my local church continues to operate. It will impact how mission organizations and religious services continue.

But there are several things that will not change as a result of any election: God is still sovereign; the Bible is still true; I will still be a follower of Christ– committed to living for Him and sharing His Gospel.

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In that sense, “what’s next” is exactly the same today as it was yesterday or last year– I am to trust in God’s plan; God’s provision; God’s timing. And I am to obey His word. I am to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God” (see Micah 6:8); I am to “love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, and soul, and my neighbor as myself” (see Matthew 22:37-39).

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Yesterday, I did my civic duty; I voted my conscience. Today and going forward, I will do my civic duties– I will pay taxes, I will obey laws and guidelines that do not contradict God’s commands. And I will work to make a positive difference in my community and my country. I may have to make changes and adjustments in the way I serve and work and interact with other people. But “what’s next” in my Christian walk doesn’t depend on what happened yesterday, or what will happen tomorrow. My eyes have to be focused, not on any political race, or its immediate consequences, but on the race described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus...17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

–Philippians 3:12-14; 17-21 (NIV via biblegateway.com)

Of course, I hope that outcome of this election will honor God and preserve the freedoms I hold dear. But God’s purposes and plans may involve hardship, persecution, and judgment on this nation. I must still run my race, and rejoice in my Heavenly citizenship– one that doesn’t change with election cycles or depend on politicians.

God Doesn’t Vote

Tomorrow is election day in America. People have been “early” voting for weeks; many will be voting tomorrow, myself included. And then we will watch and wait.

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Pundits and professional pollsters have been trying to predict the outcome for months. They will go at it for the next several days (if not longer), trying to analyze, synthesize, and dissect the voting patterns in various regions to explain why this candidate won, that one lost, or why this race is “too close to call.”

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Meanwhile, many Christians will be doing the same thing in their living rooms, Bible study groups, and neighborhoods. Is America under God’s blessing or His curse? Is this election God’s judgment, or a second chance?

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But God doesn’t “vote.” God is sovereign; He can direct the outcome of elections. He can raise up rulers and bring them down again. He can raise up a nation from nothing or tear down empires. But God doesn’t act on our whims or even on our fervent beliefs about politics, economics, social action, or social issues. He acts on HIS plans and in His wisdom. He asks us not to vote for Him, but to trust and obey Him!

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I will vote for candidates and issues based on prayer, research, and hopefully, with God’s wisdom. But my vote is not the same as my everyday witness of how God is working in His world. I can vote for the “right” candidates or principles and still disobey God’s commandment to “love my neighbor as myself.” I can vote for the “wrong” candidate, because I am focused on what she says, and not how she treats the people around her, or how she honors God by her actions. I can not vote at all, and still work to spread the good news of the Gospel.

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God wants His people to live “in the world.” He wants us to be good citizens, interacting with those around us, even getting involved in causes, movements and social issues. But He also wants us to seek His Kingdom first and foremost (Matthew 6:33). Whether we live in a nation that has free elections; whether we vote red or blue (or purple or green); whether we take an active role in politics or sit on the sidelines– we should act in a manner that honors Him above our own ambitions or preferences. And if our candidate(s) should lose; if our nation adopts policies that continue to devalue life, denigrate families, and dishonor God– that does not give us the right to seek violence, retribution, endless recounts, or haughty isolation. We must continue to DO the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons. We must continue to pray for our enemies, and bless those who curse us. We must continue to tell the truth– IN LOVE–and be ready to joyfully explain the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).

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God doesn’t vote. He does love ALL those who do!

I Pledge Allegiance..

The U.S. is getting ready for a national general election. We’ll be voting for officials, from local commissioners all the way to the office of President. There are campaign ads and political conventions– banners, slogans, hats, t-shirts, and lots of American Flags. And, while many of the normal rallies and “whistle-stop” campaigns have been cancelled due to Covid-19, the conventions have been marked by people reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to our Flag and all it stands for.

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“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Much has been made recently about just two words of this pledge–“under God”– which were added more than 65 years ago. Interestingly, between 1892 and 1942, there were at least two versions of the pledge being used. One version stated: “I pledge allegiance to my flag, and the republic for which it stands. I pledge my head and my heart to God and my country. One country, one language and one flag.” Another version (which was altered and officially recognized by Congress in 1942), originally read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance.

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There are Americans who are using the Pledge of Allegiance, the U.S. Flag, even the words, “under God,” to cause division, chaos, and ill-will to flourish in the weeks leading up to the election. Some are trying to redefine what it means to be an American; what the Flag stands for. People on “both sides” are trying to rewrite our history–denying that it contains both good and bad; triumph and tragedy, promises kept and promises broken.

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As an American, I seek to live and act in such a way as to honor this nation and those who live here. Part of pledging allegiance to the flag (for me at least) is a promise to uphold those principles upon which this nation was founded: the conviction that all people are created equal (not just here, but around the world); that they are endowed by God with the right to live, to think and act according to the free will God gave them, and to pursue those dreams and activities that will bring hope, goodness, prosperity, and general “happiness” to themselves and to others. That does not mean that all people will use their free will wisely, or that they will all achieve equal outcomes and equal success regardless of their skills, resources, or efforts, however. Governments are instituted to protect the opportunities and rights of all, not to ensure that everyone gets the same life, the same will, and the same definition of “happiness.”

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I also pledge to defend and protect and preserve this land–figuratively and literally. It is my duty to care for the trees and rivers, lakes and meadows, wildlife and even the air. It is my duty to encourage my neighbors, to vote on local ordinances, and cast my ballot for local, state, and federal offices. It is also my duty to speak out, to write, to act in the cause of justice. Finally, it is my duty to obey the laws that govern this country–not because I voted for them, or because they are convenient, or because I see an immediate benefit from them, but because they are justly enacted laws. If I don’t like a law, I pledge to see if it can be amended or repealed. I may use civil means to protest injustice– sit-ins, peaceful marches, legal suits, petitions, etc.. But my allegiance to this nation and its people means that I pledge not to put others in danger, or to deprive them of their lives or livelihoods in my pursuit of change. I will, however, defend myself and others from anyone who would try to take away these sacred rights.

I love my country. I love the world God created and the unique and diverse people He designed to fill it. But ultimately, my highest allegiance is not to America. It isn’t to my neighbors, or my family, or to the planet. My heart, mind, soul, and spirit belong to God. My allegiance to Him comes before any other. If my nation turns away from God; if it denounces all that is sacred, and demands that I do the same, I can no longer pledge my allegiance to its flag. If I am asked to destroy innocent lives, or deny God’s existence, or forced to speak lies in the name of patriotism, I must follow my first allegiance.

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In times like these, it can be very easy to get “wrapped up” in the Flag, and the patriotic speeches, and the political rhetoric. Candidates paint themselves in the best colors, and attempt to make their opponents look evil, uncaring, and incompetent. But I have not pledged my allegiance to any candidate. I will choose to vote for the individuals I believe are best suited to bring about changes or preserve policies that honor both God and our founding principles. And I will pray for all elected leaders, whether I voted for them or not. But my hope, and trust, and allegiance, is to God above all, And all else, even the United States of America, is “Under God.”

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