We the People

Yesterday and today mark two important milestones in North America. September 16 is Mexican Independence Day, and September 17 is Constitution Day in the United States. On these days, people in our two countries celebrate some of the great things that can be accomplished by “we the people.” The founders of our nations were not perfect, but they fought and worked and came together to make “a more perfect union,” and a brighter future for their citizens.

All around the world, governments are instituted to protect the rights and lives of people– to protect them from danger, to allow them to interact in peace and safety, and to provide for “the general welfare” of all. But governments– even the best–are run by fallible people.

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The Bible tells a long and complex story of the ancient nation of Israel. Tracing its origins to a single patriarch (Abraham), the family grew to be a powerful nation, ruled first by priests and judges, and then by a series of kings. The nation split into two distinct countries, before being scattered and sent into exile. The story of the nation is chronicled (literally) in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. In the books of the prophets, the same message comes from God again and again–Israel and Judah have both fallen into the same idolatry and corruption that doomed the nations they had conquered in former times. Instead of seeking justice for all the people, and providing order and protection, the leaders had become drunkards, liars, thieves, and murderers. They betrayed their allies, made foolish treaties, oppressed the poor and helpless, and celebrated their own cleverness. “We the People” had devolved into “us versus them.” Worship of God had been replaced by worship of a pantheon of foreign gods–worship that involved ritual prostitution and human sacrifice. Family members and fellow citizens were sold into slavery, robbed and beaten, used and abused, and slaughtered–without remorse or fear of retribution. God’s warnings were followed by His justice and punishment, and the demise of both nations, as well as punishment for their neighbors.

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Israel’s story, while very detailed, isn’t unique in history. Instead, it is a case study of what can happen when the people abandon unity and the rule of law for division and corruption. It is what happens when “who we are” becomes more important than “whose” we are; when “we” are more important than anyone else–even God. Israel and Judah continued to be religious right up to the point where they were dragged off to exile. They brought offerings and sacrifices, sang songs, prayed, and memorized scripture. Their leaders assured them that God would protect them and continue to let them prosper as their enemies marched up to the gates of Jerusalem. They had not abandoned the worship of God– they had just added idolatry to it. They worshipped their own prosperity, they worshipped gods and goddesses of the harvest, of war, of wealth, and wisdom. They still thought God was great– but not necessarily Sovereign.

Who or what are we worshipping today? What “new” and additional principles have we added to our own Constitution? To the laws of the land? To our way of being good citizens in our respective countries? To the eternal Word of God? When we hear the phrase, “We the People,” does it bring to mind people who look and live differently than us? Does it bring thoughts of justice and unity? Does it humble us?

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King David, the second, and one of the greatest of Israel’s kings wrote: “Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:3 NKJV) “We the People,” by ourselves, will scatter and fall into destruction, like sheep without a shepherd.

Prayer and Politics

At the risk of alienating several family members and friends, I feel I need to make the following statement:  The United States of America is not, has never been, and will never be a “Christian Nation.”  I am not saying this in disparagement of my homeland– I’m not suggesting it is an irreligious nation.  But I think the term “Christian Nation” gets used presumptiously to suggest that America is uniquely righteous, or immune from criticism or judgment.  America is not a theocracy, and it is not a bastion of Christian virtue.  We are a nation “under God”, but not a nation that recognizes God as its supreme ruler.  Our government, while based on principles handed down through centuries of Judeo-Christian practice, is built around documents written by and for the people of this nation, independent of their adherence to that practice or to those doctrines.  1st Amendment and Religion

Our government does not sponsor Christian churches, nor does it require its citizens to belong to a particular religion or religious group in order to enjoy its rights, freedoms, and protections.  We do not have federal laws that punish those who believe other tenets or practice other faiths that do not fall under the Judeo-Christian umbrella.  Our courts may limit the practice of religion (including Christianity) when it conflicts with a “compelling”  governmental interest, such as public safety.  And our citizens who are practicing Christians are not united in how they apply Christianity to politics, and vice-versa.  Our members of Congress are not elected based on their adherence to a religious practice, and our leaders are not required to be clergy (the very thought is pretty laughable to most of us in today’s political climate!).  America is designed to be a nation that practices one of the most basic tenets of the Bible–that humans have the gift of Free Will, and the right to use it.

Having said all that, I also want to be clear that the Judeo-Christian tradition has played and (for now) continues to play an enormous role in our laws, societal construct, and civilization.  I’m not here to ignore that or dismiss it as unimportant.  My goal is to point out that prayer and politics should not be conflated or equated–prayer is not and never has been the equal of political thought or action–prayer is always superior!

As Christians, not only in America, but anywhere in the world, we are called upon to live worthy of Christ and his Gospel.  That doesn’t mean burying our heads in the sand or staying silent in the face of evil and injustice– we should be engaged in our communities, and in our civic responsibilities.  But it also doesn’t mean that we protest, promote, plot, and proceed politically in our own power or wisdom.  We are commanded to pray for those in leadership and authority– those we voted for and those we didn’t!  We are commanded to submit to those same authority figures, to show them honor and respect, even if we are opposed to their policies and seeking to reverse those policies.  We are commanded to live (as much as it depends on us) in peace with our neighbors, to love our enemies, and bless those who curse us.   Our patriotism and our political expression must be in line with, and submit to, our commitment to follow Christ.  To show contempt or hatred for our nation and its leaders is to show contempt for the God who is sovereign over them.  But that same God will not excuse us for turning a blind eye to sin and corruption, or worse yet, covering it up or calling it righteousness.  Our prayers, both personal and political, need to be based in truth and love.

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Even as we live in tumultuous times, we are commanded to pray.  In relation to our nation and our society, I think there are at least four important things to keep in mind:

  • Our real citizenship is in Heaven.  Praying for our nation, its leaders, its laws, etc., is in line with Scripture; worshiping our nation, its leaders, its laws, etc., is idolatry.
  • Our neighbors, our nation, our world– they won’t change because we enact a new law, win an election, change the economy, or wipe out war.  People, nations, and societies will change because they have had an encounter with Jesus Christ, and they have been transformed by his Grace.  Are they seeing HIM in our actions, our Facebook and Twitter feeds, our interactions on the street; are they hearing HIM in our conversations; are they overwhelmed by HIS grace when they meet us?  Pray that God will help us be faithful in the small things.  Our actions speak louder than our words– and that includes the words of our prayers!
  • God’s ways are not our ways–we need to be careful that we are not praying for (and demanding, and offering on our part) a quick compromise, a superficial spirituality, and a cheap grace that substitutes for a deep and lasting revival.  Don’t ask God to “fix” the world and then wonder why he sends the repairman to your door, or recruits you to scrub toilets!
  • We are in a battle, but it is not with people and it is not going to be won by playing politics–we must learn to identify the real enemy, so we can put on the correct armor and reach for the right weapons.  Our shield is not the flag– it is Faith.  Our sword is not a clever argument– it is the simple truth of the Gospel.  Victory has already been declared.  Remember to rejoice when we pray for our nation and our world– the Lamb has Overcome!

Prayer connects us to the power of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, whose banner over us is Love.

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