Voting for Nero

Emperor Nero

I don’t envy American voters right now. As much as I covet the perks of citizenship, the responsibilities of having to choose a President in this years’ election feel a bit like a bad meal on the show Survivor: a choice between roasted scorpion and BBQ’d slug for dinner… awful, but a girl’s gotta eat.

That the presidency has been so closely tied to identifying as Christian in the past makes things that much more complex. Certainly, at this stage I’m not persuaded that any of the leading candidates for either party have anything close to an authentic faith (not that I think being a Christian is necessary for public office. Character and competence? Yes. Christ-follower? Not necessary. Church and state are separate, after all.)

My heart goes out to Christian voters who are grieving their choices. These are less-than-ideal options, and as someone who will live under the reign of one of these officials, I know that I will also experience the effects of their policies in a tangible way. I’m more than a little concerned about what the future may hold for me as an immigrant, and a tax payer, and as a parent of American citizens.

But I can’t help feeling, too, that while this election spells trouble for the America, maybe it will also be really good for American believers. This election no longer allows us to draw a line in the sand and say “my faith says I should vote this way”, because the issues are so complex. Our faith says we should vote (be an engaged citizen, do our civic duty), but exactly HOW to vote is far more nuanced.

I think (I hope! I pray!) that this political climate could have some really healthy spiritual consequences. I just finished reading Mark Labberton’s short-but-powerful book Called, in which he explores the crisis and calling of Christians in our world today. What does God want from us? Why is our faith often so ineffective? How do we figure out what our priorities are, or should be?

Labberton argues that part of the reason the church is in crisis is that, in America, we have positioned ourselves in the wrong place theologically: we live and teach and pray as if we are living in the Promised Land (A place of blessing! We’ve arrived! We have been faithful and rewarded, and if “my people would just humble themselves and pray” He will pour out His blessing!) Consequently, we expect this country to be one with Christian institutions, Christian laws, and Christian leaders: a whole gamut of Promised Land blessings. I’ve seen more than one article comparing Trump to King Saul, and while the similarities are fascinating, it is also fascinating that the position of President of the USA is being compared to the role of King of God’s Kingdom.

Labberton says (and I agree) that we’re not in the Promised Land. Not yet, anyway. A better way for us to situate ourselves theologically is to see ourselves as believers in exile: we are Daniel in Babylon – honoring God, and serving within a system that is not our own, and seeking to exert godly influence there. We are the exiles, seeking the peace of the city we are in – for we will be here a while yet before we finally make it home to the place He has prepared for us. So settle down: plant a vegetable garden, figure out how to be faithful to God in a land-not-yet-your-own, seek your neighbors’ welfare and trust that here and now is not the end of God’s story.

I found reading Called to be surprisingly comforting. The absence of a godly leader does not mean that God’s plan is thwarted: we are not Israel living under a King. We are Kingdom exiles living under a foreign ruler, and while believers may occupy positions of influence and power in that realm– the fate of God’s promises doesn’t depend on these institutions.

The words of the New Testament are all the more salient to believers in these days when it feels like governments are populated by people like the Emperor Nero was: self-serving politicians with significant mean streaks. Nero famously “fiddled while Rome fell”: his cruelty and indifference to people’s suffering so pointedly demonstrating the moral decrepitude which characterized his reign.

This years’ election lineup looks like a bunch of Nero’s (or Nera’s?) to me. The South African government looks much the same, and it is disheartening sometimes to think that behind them are a long, long line of Nero-wannabes waiting to take their place should the head honcho tumble.

But we know that God’s purposes never depended on godly leaders being at the helm. It was to people under a hostile and indifferent government that the apostles wrote their letters about citizenship: honor the leader. Obey the laws. Pay your taxes. Show love to your neighbor. Pray for peace that you may live a quiet life and get on with what God has called you to do.

For it’s not as if we need a new Messiah to come and fix the mess of a system we’re in. We have a perfect King, already installed on the throne, and one day His Kingdom will be revealed. But for now? We live in exile, and no matter who is in power – NO ONE is stopping us from doing the work we were called to do right now: loving God, loving our neighbor. This post is not saying “our hope is not in politics, so withdraw withdraw withdraw!” This post is saying “our hope is not in politics, so engage engage engage… in the Kingdom work right in front of you.” 

This is what I’m trying to remember as I read all the heartbroken and angry reactions on my social media feed. We are in exile, living in the times of Nero. But Jesus is still on his throne, and he says that Greatness is about service and love to the least of these:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your servant— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28)

If nothing else, maybe this year’s elections will remind the church which leader we’re ultimately putting our confidence in. Come what may, my vote’s on Him.

That’s Not My Name

Please welcome Bobbie Schaeperkoetter to the blog!

Maybe I’ve let myself be defined by the wrong names for long enough. And maybe you have too.

Unworthy.  Unloveable.  Unattractive.  Selfish.  Spoiled.  Out of touch with reality.  Irresponsible.  Snob.  Untalented.  Liar.  Cheater.  Judgmental.  Failure.  I’ve been called these names and many more.  These, and others, are words that I’ve heard spoken about me nearly all of my life.  They are words of hurt and pain.  They are words that cut deep.  They are words that I’ve felt have left a scar on my poor tender heart.  Sometimes those words were spoken by others.  Sometimes I just felt them because of a person’s attitude of actions.  Most often though, the words that have cut me the deepest, are the words that I’ve spoken to myself.  The worst names are the ones I gave myself.

This isn’t the regular state of my heart, but I have been my own worst enemy at times.  I’ve doubted my heart, my worth, my skills, my actions, my looks, my motives, and my talents.  I’ve focused on my negative qualities far more than my positives.  I have let fear and doubt rule me for so much of my life.  I have I’ve stood in my own way far more than anyone else ever has.  I’ve let my past, my failures, my mistakes, and especially my sins define me for far too long.  I’ve been a slave to the names.  I’ve often felt locked in the prison of these words.  I’ve let myself believe them.  I have believed that I am unworthy and unloveable.  I have believed that I am a cheat and a liar and a failure. 

And for some reason, I’ve never fought back against those names.  Maybe I kept letting myself be defined by those names because a small part of me believed each one of them for one reason or another.  Maybe it is because no one knows me like I know myself.  No one knows every detail of my past and every struggle that I have walked through or every mistake that I have made.  But just maybe,  I have listened to the lies that the enemy has whispered into my ear for far too long.

Maybe I’ve let myself be defined by the wrong names for long enough.  And maybe you have too.

This morning, I woke up to a text from a dear friend who is in the middle of a very difficult situation.  She is feeling defeated.  She is feeling defined by her circumstances and her situation.  She is believing the names.  She is believing the names that others have called her, but most often, she is believing the names that she has called herself.  

And my heart broke for her.  And it broke a little for myself because I have done the same thing so often.

I have so many friends and family members who are in the middle of very difficult situations.  Some are there as a result of their own choices but some are just a victim of circumstance.  Regardless of how they got to where they are, many of them have one common bond.  They’ve let the names they have been called define them.  

They have believed the lies too.  They’ve believed the lies that they are their circumstances or their situation or their mistakes.  They’ve believed the lies that they are their sin or their faults or their failures.  They’ve believed the lies that they are what other people have said that they are.  They have let those names define them just like I have.

That is not the case for them, it is not the case for me, and it is not the case for you sweet friend. 

                I am not unworthy, unloveable, unattractive, or untalented.  That is not my name.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a Heavenly Father who specifically designed me for a purpose and with a plan.   (Psalm 139:13-14)

I am not a cheater, a liar, or a failure.  That’s not my name.  I am redeemed and forgiven.  I am a child of my Heavenly Father and I am loved beyond measure.  He has taken my past and nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 1:14, Colossians 2:13-14, John 3:16)

 I am not selfish, judgmental, out of touch with reality, spoiled, or a snob. That’s not my name.   I am learning to walk in newness of life.  I’ve laid aside my old self and have been given a new heart.  The road may be a little bumpy and I may fail sometimes, but my Father is patient and loving.  (Ephesians 4:20-32, Ezekiel 36:26)

I am not those names that others have called me.  I am not those names that I have called myself.  I am not those names that the enemy has whispered in my ear.  I am not defined by my past or even my current situation.  And neither are you.  If we are a follower of Jesus, then those names do not define us.  His name does.

We are defined by a God who loves us more than we can even begin to fathom.   We are named by the one who calls us chosen, loved, redeemed, beautiful, precious, forgiven, and new.  Let go of those old names and embrace the name that Jesus has given you.

 

bobbie schaeBobbie Schaeperkoetter makes her home in Jefferson City, Missouri, with her high school sweetheart-turned hubby and her two handsome boys. She is a wife, mom, homeschooler, the Director of Ministry and Creative Branding for The Women In My World, and a part of the The Genesis Project Development Group’s production team. Bobbie blogs at bobbieschae.com.  Her writing can also be found at Grace Centered at http://www.gracecentered.com/.  and at Faith Filled Family magazine  www.faithfilledfamily.com .  She would love you to stop by for a virtual cup of coffee and a chat.

What God Wants From You

He is carving new words into the contours of my soul_ %22Come.%22

A few friends have chosen a theme word for their year: thrive. rest. courage. knock. I chose one last year: anchor, and given the horrendously stormy start last year had, an anchor was just what I needed.

I’m not usually a person who limits herself to one, or even a handful, of words – but I do see the value in sometimes boiling something down to one essential truth to meditate and mull over. This morning I was thinking about some specific words to try and nail down what was on my heart for a couple people, so I could pray for them.

For one, the word striving came to mind: always reaching, working, on the go-go-go, and as I prayed, I found myself asking for rest for her, and that she would hear God’s invitation to sit with him and just be.

For another, the word lonely was there, and I found myself praying that she’d know God as Emmanuel: the one who is with us

For another, even though I’ve prayed for this person for years, it was a completely unexpected thing to find the word Fatherless coming to mind, and so I prayed that they would know God as their Father, even though I’d never seen them as an orphan-in-need-of-a-parent before.

And, as I thought about these (and more), it struck me how much my understanding of what God really wants from us, and for us, has changed. My one-word prayers were no longer “help them to do better”, but “help them to draw near.”

I don’t know if I would have put it quite like this, but I think for the longest time I thought God’s message to us—in a nutshell—was this: “Repent and toe the line.” Yes, he loved us enough to make a way to forgive our sin; and yes, he was gracious and all that… but I think I had absorbed a belief that unless I was making an effort to toe that proverbial line, the love and grace was out of reach.

It takes waves a long time to carve contours into rock; and I think the contours of my soul have had to have God’s truth wash over me again, and again, and again (sometimes crashing! sometimes just rinsing out debris with a gentle tide), but I see a new contour, and I see God’s handiwork in this. For these days, if I had to summarize God’s message to us—in a nutshell—I think it would be this: “Come.”

He is a Father waiting with open arms. A Lover who can’t wait to see the face of his beloved. A Shepherd who sees us when we are harassed and helpless, and has compassion.

Come, he says.

More than anything, I believe that’s what he wants from us, and what he wants for us, because he knows that rest, and joy, and life-to-the-full, and meaning, and purpose are all found in him.

Image credit: Bill Richards/Azure Window (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea using Canva.

He Tends His Flock (Nicole T. Walters)

sheep

He Tends His Flock (Isaiah 40.11)

The sun is fading behind the trees now

And there’s a place I’m supposed to be

But the fog is rolling in like waves,

Slowly covering and drowning me.

Somewhere is the familiar path

That leads to safety, leads me home.

But in the descending darkness

My tired legs begin to roam.

 

Somewhere not too far from here

The gate is closing for the night.

He is counting every head to see

That each one made it home all right.

But tonight there’s one wandering lamb

Who forgot to watch for His lead.

Now I find myself alone and scared.

I find myself in desperate need.

Against the briars and jagged rocks

At first I begin to grope,

But the world spins around me

As I lay down my head, give up hope.

 

I lay down in defeat to die,

Unable to keep up the fight,

Until in the darkness of despair

A familiar voice breaks through the night.

Could this really be the one I love,

Come to carry me back home?

But isn’t he angry at my mistakes,

At my tendency to always roam?

Why would he leave the ninety-nine

For one alone I cannot see.

Why would He risk His own life

For a worthless lamb like me?

 

When he finds me at last,

Shivering in the cold night air

I see joyful tears in his eyes

And I understand why he is there.

I am not just another lamb

In a flock of nameless sheep.

I am like a precious child

He promised he would always keep.

He gathers me into his arms,

Forgetting all I have done wrong

And he carries me close to his heart,

For it is to him that I belong.

by Nicole T. Walters
Illustration by Corrie Haffly

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The Lord is my Shepherd: this poem gave me a fresh glimpse into what that means for us. Perhaps these words were just what you needed today.

God, Thou Art Love (Robert Browning)

God thou art love

God Thou Art Love

If I forget,
Yet God remembers! If these hands of mine
Cease from their clinging, yet the hands divine
Hold me so firmly that I cannot fall;
And if sometimes I am too tired to call
For Him to help me, then He reads the prayer
Unspoken in my heart, and lifts my care.

I dare not fear, since certainly I know
That I am in God’s keeping, shielded so
From all that else would harm, and in the hour
Of stern temptation strengthened by His power;
I tread no path in life to Him unknown;
I lift no burden, bear no pain, alone:
My soul a calm, sure hiding-place has found:
The everlasting arms my life surround.

God, Thou art love! I build my faith on that.
I know Thee who has kept my path, and made
Light for me in the darkness, tempering sorrow
So that it reached me like a solemn joy;
It were too strange that I should doubt Thy love.

by Robert Browning
illustrated by Corrie Haffly

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It’s Thanksgiving in the USA today: my favorite of the American holidays. Today, as on thanksgivings past, this day is attended by worries, but in the midst of it: we breathe our thanks.

Above all, I am thankful to be held in the hands of a good and faithful God. I don’t know how I would cope with the fear, injustice, uncertainty and evil in the world. To know that “I tread no path in life to Him unknown” makes all the difference.

I am more thankful for God sending Jesus than anything else this Thanksgiving, and every other day, too. He makes all the difference: I have known his light to “find me in the darkness, tempering sorrow so that it reached me like a solemn joy”. I hope you have, too.

 

As The Ruin Falls (CS Lewis)

as the ruin falls

As The Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains. 

by CS Lewis
illustration by Corrie Haffly

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I don’t feel competent or qualified to comment on most any of the poems I’ve shared this month, least of all one by CS Lewis.

But, these two thoughts come to mind:

  1. Like CS Lewis, God worked through the Anglican liturgy profoundly to shape my faith, and there is something for me in about starting worship in confession which focuses my attention on the magnitude of God’s grace. That Lewis starts with a recognition and confession of his own self-centeredness (and imprisonment in it) resonates deeply with me.
  2. “the pains you give me are more precious than all other gains”…. I see this poem as Lewis’ Philippians 3 proclamation: “I consider everything rubbish (crap!) compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.” For once we start to appreciate what it means to know Him, only then can we bless him as the ruins fall.

Staying Power (Jeanne Murray Walker)

phone

Staying Power

In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the International Convention of Atheists, 1929

Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts   
outside to the yard and question the sky,   
longing to have the fight settled, thinking   
I can’t go on like this, and finally I say   
all right, it is improbable, all right, there   
is no God. And then as if I’m focusing   
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.   
It’s the attention, maybe, to what isn’t there   
that makes the emptiness flare like a forest fire   
until I have to spend the afternoon dragging   
the hose to put the smoldering thing out.   
Even on an ordinary day when a friend calls,   
tells me they’ve found melanoma,   
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.   
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.   
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,   
wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,   
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire   
again, which—though they say it doesn’t   
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit.   
Oh, we have only so many words to think with.   
Say God’s not fire, say anything, say God’s   
a phone, maybe. You know you didn’t order a phone,   
but there it is. It rings. You don’t know who it could be.   
You don’t want to talk, so you pull out   
the plug. It rings. You smash it with a hammer   
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbery   
metal bits. It rings again. You pick it up   
and a voice you love whispers hello.
by Jeanne Murray Walker, Source: Poetry (May 2004)
illustration by Corrie Haffly

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My friend Aleah sent me this poem. It took her breath away when she first heard it, and it it did mine when I read it.