Trump, Clinton, and The Cyrus Effect

clinton_trump_splitLike many God-fearing believers around the country, I have struggled to make sense out of this election cycle. After suffering the radical progressive policies of the past 8 years, I long for someone to take the helm of this great nation who has the spiritual and leadership credentials to bring restoration, healing, security, and prosperity back to our country (you know, someone with the moral and spiritual depth and maturity of a Billy Graham mixed with the economic, policy, and communication prowess of a Ronald Reagan).  After a long and contentious primary season that feels like Alice in Wonderland, we seem to be left with Tweedledee on the right and Tweedledum on the left.

I realize there are some Christians and Christian leaders who will exhort us all to just preach Jesus and stay out of the political arena altogether, but that position is out of sync with our nation’s history and inconsistent with God’s demonstrated concern for the nations as indicated in the prophecies to the nations in Isaiah. No, God is very much concerned with the governance of nations and He uses the nations throughout time as instruments of his purpose and plan.  I believe He still has a great plan for our country. The truth is we have a Scriptural, moral, and civic responsibility to participate and not in a LBJ IRS amendment “churches keep your mouths shut kind of way.”  We as Christians are citizens of the United States and we did not forfeit our citizenship or constitutional rights when we joined a church or accepted the call into the ministry.  We simply cannot stick our heads in the sand while our national fabric is unraveling, our country is being drained morally and financially, our future is being held hostage, and our people are being slaughtered around the world with no clear champion to defend them.

Between 597 B.C. and 581 B.C. the Jewish people were exiled to be held captives in Babylon where they cried out to Almighty God for their deliverance: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).  If you were to gather the rulers and elders of Israel together in that captive place and asked them what their deliverer from captivity would look like, I’m sure they would be thinking of a Moses or a David like historical and biblical figure to execute that deliverance. Shockingly, Isaiah prophesied that Israel’s help would come from a total pagan ruler, Cyrus, and worse yet, God would have the audacity to use messianic terms to describe him: “This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him…so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.  For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen…though you do not acknowledge me” (Isaiah 45:1-5). Cyrus came to power 170 years after the prophecy, captured Babylon in 539 B.C. and two years later decreed Israel’s return to their homeland, the rebuilding of the temple, and that the treasury of Cyrus would pay the bill (2 Chronicles 36; Ezra 1).

I mentioned to my sister back in January of 2016 that I believed something is going on in this nation that transcends normal politics, political parties, and political alliances.  By the millions, born again Christians have been crying out to God on behalf of our nation for years, a country being held captive philosophically and spiritually. God’s dealings with man throughout history reveal one important lesson that may have some application to our nation’s current election cycle – we have the right and liberty to cry out for deliverance, but just like the Jewish leaders in Babylon, that does not mean we get to choose through whom that deliverance will come.  Too many Christians are looking for a president that would qualify for a deacon, Sunday school teacher (Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher), or pastor in their church forgetting that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9).  

I believe we are experiencing our own Cyrus moment in the United States this year.  My candidate of choice in the primary did not survive the process (and considering his behavior at the RNC I’m glad) so it looks like I have a choice between Tweedledee (Trump) and Tweedledum (Clinton).  Despite the misgivings and ambivalence I may have toward both candidates, the question is simply who is most likely to be an agent of that deliverance?  Who appears to have the favor of God?  To me, Tweedledum has demonstrated failed leadership as a Senator and Secretary of State, she holds policies and values that are completely contradictory to mine, and she does not possess a clear moral compass as indicated by the never-ending ethical issues.  Tweedledee, a recently born again believer, is a brash, blunt, bold, and successful businessman who lacks the polish and couth (but also lacking the veneer) of a seasoned politician, but says things that resonate with many disillusioned and alienated Americans.  

I have concluded during this election cycle given the enormous stakes, including the fact that the next president will most likely appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices, to put away my grocery list of likes and dislikes and attempt to discern God’s big picture agenda and his Cyrus for this moment in U.S. history.  At the risk, well, of alienating everyone, and although as distasteful to some Americans and Christians as Cyrus was no doubt to the Jews who benefited from his political, military, economic, and human rights policies, I believe the mantle of Cyrus is on Tweedledee during this turbulent and unprecedented election season as an agent of change, not based on his spiritual or political credentials, but based simply on God’s sense of humor, penchant for irony, the prayers of his people, and directional sovereignty. Of course, time will shortly tell.



Religious Cons

“He brought out Israel, laden with silver and gold, and from among their tribes no one faltered” (Psalm 105:37, NIV). “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it” (Proverbs 10:22, NIV).

After twenty years as a senior pastor I think I’ve seen just about everything under the sun when it comes to the behavior of people (Christian and otherwise). Not much surprises me these days – not the loose living, the life-changing decisions that are made without so much as even consulting God or spiritual leadership, not the trashing of sacred covenant in Christian marriage, not even the elaborate length individuals will go through to con the Lord or His Church to get some kind of support or help “in their time of need.”

Don’t get me wrong. As a ministry we have compassionately provided assistance for many genuine needs through the years. It’s a blessing to make a real difference in the lives of hurting people and the sacred and holy giving of the people of God makes that possible. We will always do whatever we can to encourage others and support them in practical ways. Through the years we have kept food on the table for families, helped them get to an out-of-town hospital to be with loved ones, kept power on when electric bills were past due, prevented young families from being evicted, helped the ill purchase medication, filled propane tanks in the middle of a harsh winter. We even helped a little to reduce the final funeral costs for a widow in need. I love sowing and I love seeing how God’s people collectively can make such a difference in so many lives. Praise God.

But as a pastor it is also my responsibility to make sure that the resources of the ministry stay out of the hands of the “religious cons” of the world (although whatever we do in Jesus’ name is a blessing regardless of their motives). I have witnessed every kind of lame excuse and con game but three styles of cons are most memorable (and disturbing). Consider the outcome when Simon the Sorcerer tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit (see Acts chapter eight) or when Ananias and Sapphira, wanting the accolades given to Barnabas, conspired to appear to make a substantial offering but in reality kept back a portion of the funds (Acts five). It seems from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is seriously down on religious con games.

The first con revolves around a manufactured problem con like “my spouse is dying and we need help” or some other fake crisis. We actually had a couple come to the church (any several other churches we understand – cons tend to be a mobile lot) requesting assistance declaring that the wife was so sick she was literally urinating parts of her bladder (that’s code for we are Meth addicts and get really creative when we are coming down from a high and need the next fix).

The second type of con is the spiritual con: “I want to submit to your leadership to be mentored by you.” This always begins with an apparent hunger for the things of God, faithfulness to the ministry, and attempts to get close to senior staff or pastors. Of course after you substantially help the family to the point of preventing utilities from being shut off or preventing eviction the enthusiasm for mentoring (and church attendance) just disappears along with the family.

The third type of con is the “speak for the church” con where the con tells a vendor, employer, landlord, or utility company that such and such church has promised to take care of this. Unbelievable you say? Actually, it happens quite often. Recently, unbeknownst to me or anyone else I can find, the church “promised” to pay back rent to a frustrated landlord on behalf of a needy tenant (it’s amazing what we promise when we are asleep). The landlord wasn’t buying the story and contacted us for confirmation. Of course we provided documentation for the landlord proving the religious con.

As I said, we are always going to be sowers – sowers into communities, churches, ministries, missionaries, church members (whose needs come first), and legitimately hurting families in the communities we serve. It’s a privilege to be “his hand extended.” The sad thing for the con is that if they would get into the Word (for real) and search out the fine print of their covenant with God they would discover that they have a God that longs to meet their needs and prosper them. Instead of taking or conning the Lord and His Church they should be tapping into his deep provision by learning to believe, give, and speak the blessing over their lives.

I want to encourage you that you don’t have to resort to games or cons to get your needs met. He promises to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Spend your time coming to church to sit under the Word, reading the Word, confessing the promises, and listening for the wisdom of God. One word from God can change your life (and your financial life) forever. The problem is that one con can change your life forever as well – just ask Simon, Ananias, and Sapphira.