January 11, 2023
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The Gospel really is upside down. When Jesus lived on Earth, He lived radically counter-cultural. He dismissed the norms of both power and religiosity, while teaching and modeling a life aimed at seeking, saving, and serving. (Mark 10:42-45, Lk. 19:10). This new approach to life took hold among those who followed Jesus while He lived, and carried forward to those who believed in Him after He died and was resurrected. (Phillip. 2:4, Gal. 5:13, Acts 20:35).
Maybe even more amazing is that we also see this posture demonstrated by heroes of faith who lived before Jesus. Perhaps my favorite example is in Gen. 18, when Abraham appeals to God six times on behalf of a people God was determined to judge. Abraham’s heart, while cognizant of the judgement God had deemed worthy, was deeply inclined toward seeking, serving, and even saving those who were lost. Here’s the most amazing part: each of the six times Abraham asked God to grant more mercy, God said yes! In fact, the extension of God’s mercy only found a limit at the place Abraham ceased to ask for more.
Our world—and indeed each of us—deserves judgement. But the Gospel is upside down! What if you and I together endeavored to be people who call on God to extend His mercy into places it is most undeserved? What then? I have a feeling God just might say yes! After all, He did it for us when He sent His son for the upside-down purpose of bearing a punishment we deserved. He did it for us; Let’s be the ones who ask Him to do it for those around us.
Fifteenth Time's a Charm
After a most-since-the-Civil-War 15 rounds of balloting, Rep. Kevin McCarthy was elected as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The contentious and drawn-out nature of the proceedings was largely based on two factors: 1) The very slim majority voters gave Republicans in the midterm election, and 2) A desire by rank-and-file Republican Members to decentralize power in the chamber.
In the end, now-Speaker McCarthy prevailed and wields the gavel (at least for now) in the House, but only after numerous decentralizing concessions were made. It remains to be seen what impact these changes will have on the operations of the House, as well as whether Speaker McCarthy’s tenuous hold on the Speakership will last for the duration of the 118th Congress.
Analysis: Our bicameral system is designed to promote open and vigorous debate in the U.S. House, and a more cerebral and consensus-building process in the U.S. Senate. While both chambers should strive for civil debate, our system would be strengthened if the House moved away from the top-down, Leadership-dominated process it has more recently embraced, and back toward the more open, decentralized, and vigorous process the Founders envisioned. To the extent the recent Speaker’s election process produces that result, it will have been a healthy and worthwhile exercise. If, however, it proves to have been mostly a personality-based power struggle, the chamber is unlikely to benefit from last week’s drama. Like so many things, only time will tell, and much hinges on whether elected officials seek to wield power or truly be public servants.
Election Protests Turn Violent in Brazil
Thousands of protestors rioted in Brazil after a hotly-contested presidential election. Supporters of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro attacked several government buildings, including the presidential palace. Demonstrators questioned the legitimacy of incoming President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s election, and expressed concerns that he will move Brazil in an authoritarian direction.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro traveled to Florida shortly before his term ended, from where he encouraged peaceful protests but conceded that entering government buildings “crossed the line.” It is currently unclear whether or when Bolsonaro plans to return to Brazil, or whether the U.S. will continue to permit his presence in the country.
Analysis: Governments of men will not last forever. However, it is worth learning from history which types of government best promote an environment reflective of the Creator’s character. History also tells us a lot about how our actions either strengthen or weaken those governments and environments.
History paints a very ugly picture of life under authoritarian regimes. It also suggests that violent reactions to an unsatisfactory democratic process ultimately strengthens the grip of authoritarians. As we have now seen violent reactions to democratic processes both at home and abroad, followers of Jesus should maintain a sober mind and a clear voice about both the dangers of an authoritarian rule and the folly of abandoning a democratic process when it produces a result we dislike.
More Executions in Iran
Iran executed two men this week in connection to the ongoing nationwide protests against the government. The total number of protest-related executions now stands at four, which is in addition to the more than 500 protestors who have been killed since Iranians took to the streets in September 2022. The original protests began after Mahsa Amini died after being arrested for allegedly violating Islamic dress code laws for women.
Numerous human rights groups agree the executions follow a judicial process that was woefully lacking a sufficient right to mount a reasonable defense. Despite this heavy-handed brutality, the Iranian people continue to demonstrate.
Analysis: Modern day Iran is a good case study for what ensues when basic democratic structures and individual God-given liberties are discarded. It is a reminder to stand with those who do not enjoy the protections of rule of law as we do, and also underscores the value of a legal framework that is based on the inherent value of the individual soul rather than the perceived wisdom of the collective government.
Beauty out of Pain
We all want to experience beautiful things and beautiful moments. It is surprising, however, how often beauty emerges from a place of pain and difficulty. That has certainly been the case recently for a young man named Damar Hamlin and his family.
By now, most of you are familiar with the sudden pain and suffering Damar—a vibrant, world-class athlete—experienced when he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while playing in an NFL game on January 2. Medical personnel performed life-saving care on the field for several minutes, and Damar was rushed to a critical care unit, where he required life-sustaining support. On the surface, this was the opposite of a beautiful moment. It was every bit tragic and devastating.
But even in those first moments, glimmers of beauty began to shine through. Players from both teams comforted each other, and prayed together. Fans of both teams in the stands, who moments before had been bitter football rivals, joined in prayer and even gathered outside Damar’s hospital to pray. Spontaneous donations to Damar’s charity toy drive quickly grew into the millions of dollars. Even a week later, when NFL play resumed, players around the league chose beauty, unity, and especially prayer in the midst of pain.
We all have pain in our life, and some of it is intense. Let’s make a point of seeking out the beauty that can emerge from it. How do we start? Maybe this week we should heed Damar’s advice: “God [is] using me in a different way today. Tell someone you love them today.”
The "news" can paralyze us with fear, but the Good News is liberating and transcendent! As we work to stay aware of the times, let's remember to do so in a way that does not captivate us, but rather with an aim to offer that which will redeem those around us!
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