Politics and Religion

I’m old enough to remember when politics was a season, returning from time to time to disabuse us of our comfortable obliviousness. Now, primary, general, and runoff elections link local, state, presidential, and mid-term elections in a continuous stream of consciousness polluted by fear narratives.

Don’t get me wrong. Politics matters. Do your duty and vote! Support your candidate and your cause! It’s a citizen’s responsibility in our democratic republic. That said, let’s touch the third rail and mix politics and religion.

If you think about it, both politics and religion address change – what should or should not change. Political consultants and modern media use fear of the wrong kind of change to get more eyeballs, clicks, or votes. Here is my caution: Do not give in to political fear or go all in for political hope.

French philosopher Jacques Ellul warned denizens of the 20th century about politics becoming the ultimate source of power, hope, and change. Anyone who disagrees “is the true heretic of our day,” he writes. “And society excommunicates him as the medieval church excommunicated the sorcerer…This shows us that man in his entirety is being judged today in relation to political affairs, which are invested with ultimate value.” Today the culture still values political identity, but also looks for an “intersectionality” of multiple identities all used to measure your worth.

For the believer, the totality of your identity is Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). That is something that does not change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). The cultural and political ground may move beneath you, but “on Christ the solid rock I stand” the hymn says.

Remember the providence of God and His eternal perspective. “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will perish but you remain” (Heb. 1:10-11). Our hope is in God who accomplishes His eternal purposes for this world and its nations, despite elections. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord. He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1).

Jesus said you are in the world, but not of the world (John 17:11,14). You are a citizen of heaven, so you have no reason to fear the outcome of earthly politics. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?” (Psa. 27:1). Elections happen and you might be stunned at what’s changed, but the Lord is neither surprised nor deterred.

There you have it – politics and religion. Elections matter, but heaven’s citizens have other ways to catalyze change. Now join me in praying, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

Thanks for Everything

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes. 5:18).

The “Reader’s Digest” chronicles the stories of random people who shared a life-changing experience.  Holly Winter was planning a reunion trip with some of her friends. They planned to surprise a college classmate in his office. But Holly’s mom decided to visit her on the same day, disrupting Holly’s plans. Crystal Brown-Tatum was engaged and accepted a job in her fiance’s city. When things took a turn, she broke the engagement and decided not to move.

George Keith’s story is about his car, which was too new to have transmission trouble. He made an appointment at the dealer for the next morning. After waiting for an hour for a simple repair, he rushed toward the office hoping not to be late for his morning meeting. At least he had a job. Laura Gelman lost hers. Her usual morning commute would have taken her through a certain subway station, but not on this day.

All four of these people would have been in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. That is the life-changing experience they share. They live to be thankful for an imposing mom, a broken engagement, new car troubles, and a lost job. It’s sobering to realize that life’s disruptions can actually be a blessing, though we may never know how. But that is one reason to practice what the Bible says, “In everything give thanks.”

Consider some of Jesus’ encounters with people. From the perspective of eternity, the one leper from the ten is thankful for the disease because he experienced Jesus’ saving power. The man blind from birth is thankful because the works of God was displayed in him. Lazarus is thankful that he endured death because many witnessed and believe in the Resurrection and the Life. And there we are at the foot of the cross, witnesses to the horror and injustice of Jesus’s death, with hands raised in gratitude because it means “that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4).

“The giving of thanks to God for all His blessings should be one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ,” writes Billy Graham. “We must not allow a spirit of ingratitude to harden our heart and chill our relationship with God and with others.” For the believer, life’s disruptions cannot change the ultimate truth that we are meant for another place, which Jesus went to prepare for us.  And we know the Way. That thought chases away the spirit of ingratitude.

You have much to be thankful for, including eternal life by faith in Christ. Knowing this world is not all of reality is the eternal perspective that makes giving thanks in everything our distinct privilege.

Clear Thinking

Do you consider yourself a thinker? Be careful with that because neuroscientists say your brain processes far more unconscious thoughts than conscious. So, you may not even be aware of what you are thinking or why. You may not be thinking clearly.

Cognitive bias is another term for fast-thinking shortcuts. The human brain is lazy and prefers to seek patterns rather than doing the hard work of processing new information and re-evaluating prior conclusions. Modern neuroscience seeks to understand this phenomenon, but it’s always been part of the human experience. We can see it in Jesus’ ministry 2000 years ago.

Jesus encountered confirmation bias. This is when you interpret information in a way that supports your prior beliefs. Demonstrating His divine power Jesus made a blind and mute man see and speak. The crowds were amazed. But despite this new information, some still refused to believe Jesus is God the Son. They reinterpreted what they saw with their own eyes. “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul, ruler of the demons.” Jesus pointed out the illogic saying, “Any house divided against itself will not stand” (Matt. 12:22-29). What evidence would change your doubt about Jesus into faith? Think about it. You have everything to gain.

Jesus also encountered the anchoring bias, which is relying only on the first information you receive. After He fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fish, some followed Him because they were anchored to the free food. “You seek Me,” Jesus said, “because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” He tried to get them to move beyond that. “I am the bread of life,” He said. “Everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6). Are you anchored to incomplete first impressions? There’s more to truth than the pain a Christian might have caused you. There’s more to God’s love if you have yet to accept His offer of a new identity in Christ.

The third cognitive bias I’ll mention is the bandwagon effect. That’s finding comfort in believing what everyone else does, going along with the crowd. In His home synagogue, Jesus read a powerful prophecy about the promised Messiah (Isa. 61) then said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled” (Luke 4:21). They all became enraged that He claimed to be the Messiah and led Him out intending to throw Him down a cliff. Just because lots of folks agree doesn’t make it true. “The way is narrow that leads to life,” Jesus said, “and few find it.” (Matt. 7:14).

Honest thinkers analyze their thoughts for biases and incomplete conclusions. They don’t mind being in the minority. When it comes to answering ultimate questions about God, faith, eternal destiny, and yourself, use your God-given ability to think clearly. Don’t be victimized by cognitive bias.

True Empathy

Cringeworthy.  That’s one way to characterize the statements of certain people in the news.

Kanye West (now known as “Ye”) is a wealthy rap artist. During the last election he announced a presidential bid, naming Kim Kardashian and Elon Musk as his chief advisors.  This month he tweeted he was “going death con 3 on Jewish people.” He has publicly disclosed his bipolar disorder, but that doesn’t make his statements less cringeworthy.

John Fetterman is clearly not well yet. He is the current Lt. Gov. of Pennsylvania, running for U.S. Senate. Five months after suffering a stroke, he’s on the debate stage on live TV despite his auditory processing issues. He opens with, “Hi, goodnight everybody.” Despite his previous support of a moratorium on fracking he says, “I do support fracking. And I don’t, I don’t…” I admire his courage. His doctor says he’s fit to serve, but…cringeworthy.

Make no mistake. To cringe at verbal gaffs is not the same as empathy, an emotional competency the world could use more of these days. Empathy figures large in the Christian worldview. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said. The good news is you can learn empathy.

Empathy is connecting with someone’s feelings and thoughts and being willing to intervene. Jesus shows us how it’s done. When He encounters the widow from Nain in the funeral procession for her only son, he connects with her grief. He touches the coffin and gives her a reason not to weep (Luke 7:14). You may not raise the dead, but you can raise your awareness of what someone is feeling in the moment. Only then can you know if there more you can do to intervene. The mistake is to make it about you. “Yeah, I’ve been there. Here’s what happened to me…” is not the best way to connect.

You may be less familiar with cognitive empathy, an awareness of someone’s thoughts. It didn’t take a miracle for Jesus to know his disciples’ thoughts. Each wanted an important role in Jesus’ earthly ministry and were openly arguing about it. He calls over a child to make his point. “The one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48). Empathy connects thoughts to truth. But first you must understand what someone is thinking. Empathy removes the shade of deception from the light of truth.

Finding something cringeworthy takes no investment of energy. But empathy is personal, and it costs something to care and take action. It certainly cost Jesus to have empathy for you. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). He didn’t just cringe at your predicament. He committed the greatest act of love ever recorded in history. To sacrifice for others, friend, is true empathy.