Monday, May 20, 2019

The Person in Front of Me

I can be impatient, and I am usually in a hurry. These two facts are a deadly combination, especially living in a country like Guatemala.

Before moving to Guatemala, we lived in Troy, Ohio. My ideas of a traffic jam were rooted in my regular trips to Dayton. During rush hour, the amalgamation of roads known locally as “malfunction junction” could cause a traffic jam that could delay you for up to (gasp) 45 minutes. Until I encountered traffic in Guatemala City, I had no idea what a real traffic jam could be. Now I know that if I leave for the airport at 4:00 am it will take me 55 minutes. If I leave at 5:00 am, it will take me two-and-a-half to three hours.

Guatemala is crowded. If you go to most restaurants over lunch time, you will have to fight for a table. And don’t even think about going to a mall’s food court during a heavy traffic time. A trip to Walmart in the city on a Saturday can look like the last shopping day before Christmas in the States. And a simple visit to the bank can leave you standing in a line that extends out the door and down the street. In other words, this is not a good place to be either impatient or in a hurry.

And God, with His infinite sense of humor, sent me to live and serve here. I can picture Him laughing so hard He has to wipe tears as He watches me in another line of traffic. And I think He especially likes it when I, the guy who refuses to leave my house on Black Friday, find myself pressed into a massive crowd at the Pricesmart checkout area. He enjoys highlighting my weaknesses to keep me humble and reliant on Him.

But the big problem with my whole impatience/hurry problem is the way it causes me to see people. In those moments when I am looking impatiently at the time on my phone and then looking at the people in front of me and calculating how long it will take me to get done or arrive, the people in front of me become an obstacle. They become “things” that are standing in my way. And I just want them to move and let me through. After all, “I have ministry to do.” 

In 1991, when I was in one of my first youth ministry positions, I was preparing for our annual winter retreat. It was a big deal that attracted lots of teens and required lots of work and planning on my part. There were lessons to plan, activities to schedule, youth leaders to coordinate, and more. I had set aside a full day to work on just the retreat, but I was constantly interrupted. The parents of one of the teens who was dealing with depression stopped by to ask for counsel. A teen who was struggling to fit in at school stopped by to just visit. My phone was ringing frequently with questions about the retreat and other events (this was before the days of e-mail and texting). And I was feeling the pressure of another short night of sleep due to my “unproductive” day.

So, I went down to complain to the Senior Pastor, Clark Miller. I leaned against his doorway and explained how lousy my day was going and how little I had gotten done. I told him about all the people that had interrupted me and kept me from my important ministry work. He smiled and nodded, even as I did the same to him. Then, as I turned to go back to my office, I heard him yell out, “Yeah, Fulp! Ministry would be great if it weren’t for all the people!” I returned to his doorway with a pained expression and mimed pulling an arrow from my heart. 

His words were true and powerful. The very people who I had seen as a barrier to ministry were, in fact, crucial ministry

I have had to re-learn that lesson many times over the last 28 years. And it seems I have to re-learn it daily here. These people that crowd me in traffic and lines and stores are not obstacles on my way to do ministry, they are my ministry. In fact, God is showing me that my most important ministry is whoever is in front of me right now. No person is an obstacle, they are someone created in the image of God for whom He died. And yet, I often fail to even notice them on my way to “ministry.”

I shudder to think of how many times I have likely rushed past a person whom God has led into my path. Even worse, how many times have I frowned or rolled my eyes at them in frustration? He put them next to me and slowed me down so that I could acknowledge them, engage them, listen to them, and extend love to them. But I was too busy checking the time and calculating an exit strategy to notice them. One of my great sins is that I am often so far-sighted that I fail to see the person right in front of me. Jesus, please forgive me!

Busyness and rushing is the enemy of love and ministry. Which means, all too often, I am their enemy, as well.

I keep reminding myself of some basic truths: 1) I have no control. I cannot control the traffic, crowds, or lines. 2) God IS in control. He is sovereign over all those things, and uses them for good all the time, even when I don’t see or understand that good. 3) I do have control over my response and attitude in the midst of them. When my attitude goes south, I bring harm instead of the healing and hope God intended. 4) Every person that God puts in front of me is my most important ministry in that moment.

Recently I began to pray a prayer each morning as I walk out of my bedroom door to face the world. I am making it into a little sign to post next to the door to keep it in the forefront of my thoughts each morning. It goes like this:

Lord, with your help, today I will be last and least. I will not demand my rights, but will lay them aside to bless and help others. I will be a servant, and expect no one to serve me. I will remember the mercy I have received and extend it to others. I will notice the person in front of me, and I will honor and love them in Your name. With your help, I will be more like you than yesterday. Jesus, please help me. Amen.

As soon as I finish typing these words, I will leave this place and head to another in order to minister. But every step and mile along the way, there will be lots of ministry waiting in the form of people. Please pray that I will notice and minister. And I will do the same for you.

Every person we encounter every day needs more of Jesus. Let’s slow down and give Him to them.

Blessings from Guatemala!
Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew


Friday, May 10, 2019

Grief and Grieving

We lost another child last week. It was not a surprise, but it still felt like a kick in the stomach.

Little Edy had been struggling for most of his time with us, which was over three years. He was missing a large part of his brain, and his brain stem was damaged. As a result, he would stop breathing on a regular basis. At some point, he stopped swallowing, so he had to be put in an NG tube. We never bothered having a G-tube installed because we were told that he did not have long to live, and we did not believe he would survive the surgery.

But day after day and month after month, Edy continued to fight. Many times we thought the end was near and we would say goodbye. But, in typical Edy fashion, he would turn a corner and improve, moving from near death to laughter in a few hours.

Over the last year, he had declined significantly. His bad days outnumber his good days, and we all began to pray that Jesus would take him home. But he continued to fight.
Wanda and I flew to the States on April 25th. The night before we left, I said goodbye to each of the children, and when I came to Edy I stayed with him a little longer. He was looking bad, and I wondered if he would live out the week. But, since I had thought he was dying so many times before, I shook it off and told myself he would fight through it, as always. But, as I said goodbye, I told him, “Little buddy, I will either see you in eight days, or when I get to heaven. Either way, I will see you soon.” It was the last time I saw him.

Wanda and I flew into Pennsylvania and participated in a family wedding that Saturday. On Sunday, we drove to Ohio to see our daughter, Ashley, and her family, including our new grandson, Sonny. We also visited with friends and spoke at a church. And on Thursday we drove back to PA. Before we left, I received a message from Katie Riley saying that Edy was not doing well. He had not been conscious for three days and was bloating badly, a sign that his internal organs were shutting down. While in the States, our Guatemalan cell phones do not work, so we rely on WiFi for communications. We committed to connect every time we stopped to check for updates.

At around 11:00 am we stopped for gas, and Wanda’s phone connected with someone’s WiFi. The message arrived then. Edy had passed away at around 10:25 am.

I had listened to his struggling breathing for the last two years. I had seen him worsen, and I had prayer that he would go to Jesus. Many times I held him and comforted and told him to stop fighting. Yet, when Wanda told me he was gone, it felt like a ton of bricks hit me. The grief of losing him, combined with the reality that we were not there and could not make it back by his funeral, completely overwhelmed me.

We stopped shortly after for an early lunch and to use WiFi to connect, comfort, and make sure the details were covered back home. Then we drove to get back to PA so we could fly out the next morning.

The next 36 hours until we were home with family was a blur. Grief, traveling, concern for those back home, thoughts of the funeral…they all came together in a fuzzy ball. When we were finally able to enter our home and hug our children (by blood, adoption, and internship) I finally felt like I could breath again.

For our family, grief can be difficult, because we are not allowed the same space to grieve that others are given. We have lost nine children from our two homes. Each time, the grief threatened to overwhelm us. And, in some case, the grief was accompanied by the trauma of sudden death and the frantic activity of CPR. And, each time, our family and interns grieved deeply.

But, in many cases, there is a failure to understand our grief. While it is never spoken out loud, the attitude is regularly conveyed that it is not as hard for us when we lose a child because they are not really our children. They are just children in our group home, and we signed up for these kinds of things. So we are not given space.

I am not trying to complain, just making an observation. More is expected of us than would ever be expected of other parents and siblings that had just lost a son or brother. Whereas other parents who had just lost a child would be visited, comforted, receive food gifts, and be encouraged to grieve and talk about their loss, we are not. Brief words are exchanged, and the conversation moves on.

We moved to Guatemala to be a family to children without a family, not to be an institution. Ever child in our home calls us mom and dad, and we call them our sons and daughters. Our biological and adopted children call the kids in our home their brothers and sisters. We love them as our own family, because they are. Yes, our family is way bigger than most, but the size makes us no less of a family and does nothing to diminish our grief when one of them leaves us. It does not make it easier when we prepare their little bodies for burial and place them in little coffins. It does not diminish the grief of standing beside their tomb. It wounds us to the core of our being.

When this happens, I want to be able to take a week off to be with my family and grieve. I want to be able to talk with friends about it instead of receiving a cursory condolence and moving on to the next topic. But I don’t have that freedom. Nor do Wanda and our children.

My friend, Drew, helps me a lot. He listens and understands my need to grieve. He keeps encouraging me to talk and let it out. I met with him two days ago and told about my fear. I am afraid that if I let down the spill gate on the dam that is holding back my grief of all the children we have lost that the flood would drown me. That, once it starts, it might never stop.

At the same time, I realize that holding back my grief is ugly, as well. It bottles up inside me and comes out in the form of anger and impatience. I lose my joy and begin to isolate myself. Even small tasks seem overwhelming. So, I have to let it out. But I have to find people who understand and will give me room to grieve. Drew is one of those people. Wanda is another. Dick is another. And I am learning that they have to be enough.

People often tell Wanda and I how strong we are. They really have no idea how weak we are. If they could see us in the privacy of our room as we struggle to figure out how to keep going, how to keep our marriage and family healthy, and how to get up the next morning…they would not call us strong.

So, we can only throw our tired and discouraged selves into the arms of Jesus and trust God’s promise that in our weakness, He is strong.

A song that has ministered to me over the last week has been “See You In a Little While” by Steven Curtis Chapman. I will leave you with the lyrics.

I hold your hand and watch as the sun slowly fades
Far in the distance the Father is calling your name
And it’s time for you to go home
And everything in me wants to hold on
But I’m letting you go with this goodbye kiss and this promise

I’ll see you in a little while
I’ll see you in a little while
It won’t be too long now
We’ll see it on the other side
The wait was only the blink of an eye
So I’m not gonna say goodbye
‘Cause I’ll see you in a little while

And just one more thing before I let you go
Please tell my little girl I love her
Though I’m sure she already knows
And ask the Father to please tell the Son
That we’re ready and waiting for Him to come

I’ll see you in a little while
I’ll see you in a little while
It won’t be too long now
We’ll see it on the other side
The wait was only the blink of an eye
So I’m not gonna say goodbye
‘Cause I’ll see you in a little while

Maybe you’ll teach me all the songs they sing in heaven
Maybe you’ll show me how you can fly
And I’ll hear you laugh again
And we won’t remember when
We were not together and this time it’s forever

I’ll see you in a little while
I’ll see you in a little while
It won’t be too long now
We’ll see it on the other side
The wait was only the blink of an eye
So I’m not gonna say goodbye
‘Cause I’ll see you in a little while
I’m gonna see you in a little while

Blessings from Guatemala,

Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Dangerous Prayers

I have been thinking a lot about the prayers we pray and how dangerous they can be. I want to take a few moments to pour out my heart about those dangerous prayers, but first I want to tell you a few stories about our lives and ministry that have occurred recently and apply to those prayers.

Story 1:
About 6 weeks ago I was contacted by my friend, Dick Rutgers, regarding a child with whom he had been working. He found little Kevin some months before, lying in his home alone and covered with urine. He was horribly malnourished and suffering from cerebral palsy. Immediately, Dick found sponsorship for him, and we began providing him with formula.

But he did not improve. We questioned if his family was feeding Kevin the formula or if they might be selling it for money. The answer was unclear, but it was clear that he was getting worse, not better. Dick called me because he had, once again, found him alone in the house and soaked in urine. He was also sick with fever and a respiratory illness, later diagnosed as pneumonia. His mother had agreed to take him somewhere for treatment.

As I heard more about his illness and the severity of his malnutrition, it became clear that he would die soon if he did not get out of his house. We had wanted to welcome him into our home, but we were full. Yet, when Dick called me this time, I asked him to give me a few minutes to talk with my wife. I spoke with Wanda, and we agreed that we would find a way to fit him into our family, even though we did not know how it would work. We had no more room to put a bed. Our staff and interns are stretched thin. And our finances are thinner still. But we prayed and said yes.

It was decided that Dick would find a hospital that could admit him and treat his respiratory illness while he worked with the mom to get him placed in our home through the courts. Dick spent days driving, waiting, and talking with courts, social workers, and the judge. Due to his heroic efforts, they finally got the necessary court order and he came to our home.

It has been around five weeks now. Kevin has gained around five pounds. His face has a pleasant roundness to it, and baggy skin has been filled in with fat. The little guy that would not smile when he arrived now gives a beaming smile to those around him, and even laughs. His high tone spasms have lessened by around 60% and he can sit upright with support comfortably.

In order to make room for him, we moved little David out of the boy’s room. He does not sleep well many nights, so we now put him to bed in the playroom in a crib that allows our night nanny to respond to his needs without waking the others. God is providing financially one day at a time. And, thus far, this story is a happy one.

Story 2:
Last week I was awakened from a deep sleep by a phone call. I stumbled to the phone and mumbled a bleary “Buenos noches.” It was a social worker from the local PGN asking us to take an emergency placement. I was able to wake up enough to activate my Spanish, and the details unfolded. A little boy...severe special needs...severe malnutrition...abuse and neglect...very sick and weak...may not survive. “Can you please take him? He will die in any other home.”

My heart sank. No more room. No more staff. We can’t say yes. So, I gave told them that I was sorry but we had no more beds and no more places to put a bed. They would have to find another home for him.

I hung up and went back to sleep...two hours later. It is hard to sleep after calls like that.

The end of this story is unknown. I likely will not know until eternity, and I fear to learn it.

Story 3:
We have been dealing with numerous malnutrition cases in our rural village ministry. In two cases, the children have recently gotten sick due to their weakness and compromised immune systems. In both cases, the illnesses were serious and resulted in hospitalization.

In these cases, we work hard to monitor the children as closely as possible. In one case, we arranged for the child to be seen by one of our nurses weekly to monitor his health. But a malnourished child can move from stable to sick and from sick to critical in 24-36 hours. We just cannot monitor them closely enough.

At the same time, the choice to place the child in a malnutrition center has its own drawbacks. If you can find space available in one, the family is usually limited in their ability to visit the child. In some cases, they are only allowed to see their son or daughter for a couple of hours once a week. This makes is difficult on both the child and their parents.

So, what can we do? One of our staff offered a creative idea. We should rent a house in our town and open it up to children who are malnourished. They can live in the home with their mom and a director and receive daily check-ups and supervision. The moms would be in charge of their care under medical supervision. Our doctors and specialists would be close by and readily available when needed. Such a great idea.

But it has costs. There is the money (about $3500 of start-up costs and about $1500 a month in operations, based upon 4 mothers with their children). And there is the manpower issues. But it would have the potential of saving many lives.

Again, the end of this story is unknown. We need God’s wisdom to know if we should proceed.


What do these stories have to do with dangerous prayers? The answer to that question is found in Wanda’s and my journey.

Back in 2004, I began to pray my first truly dangerous prayer. It was simple. “Lord, break my heart for the things that break yours.”

This prayer sounds noble, even romantic. You picture yourself being sensitive to and responding to the things that make God sad. But that is a shallow understanding of the prayer. And it is ignorance regarding what it truly means to have a broken heart.

The result of that prayer was I found myself being exposed directly to human suffering that had previously been limited to news stories or distant anecdotes told by missionaries. I was not prepared for the reality of the world, and my heart broke. It shattered. I was not prepared for the dreams or the tears. I would experience weeks where I could barely function because of the grief. I was broken.

And, in the midst of that time, God gave me a shocking realization. The grief that I was experiencing was just one drop of the ocean of grief that my Jesus carries. Every orphan without a home...every starving child...every grieving mother and father...every abuse and injustice...my God sees it, knows their pain, and feels it in His being. “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows...”

So, at 4:30 in the morning after a particularly painful dream of a dying little girl, I cried out to God with my second dangerous prayer. “Okay! I understand! The world is broken and suffering! I get it! I can’t take anymore! I will do anything you ask me to do, JUST HELP ME MAKE A DIFFERENCE!”

Just help me make a difference.

If I knew then what that prayer would mean, I am not sure I would have found the courage to pray it. This simple prayer that I began to pray many times a day would completely wreck my life, and then rebuild it.

I did not recognize the cost of making a difference. To stay where I was then would have been easy. No uprooting my family. No trying to speak a different language or learn to relate to an entirely different culture. And no excruciating decisions. I did not realize that, in order to make a difference, I would have to put myself in a situation filled with choices that really mattered. Overwhelming decisions. Scary decisions. Crucial decisions.

I did not realize that, in order to save some children, I would have to hold other children while they died. I did not realize that it would mean nine instances of performing CPR in five years, and losing seven of them. I did not realize that making a difference would mean treating maggot filled bedsores or holding a teenager while he cried out in excruciating pain.

And I certainly did not know that making a difference would mean deciding to let some people die. I did not know that opening a home would mean saying no to so many dying children. (I have stopped counting how many because the pain was too great.) I did not know that I would be faced with decisions of whether a good ministry that can save so many is the right decision.

But that is exactly where I live and exactly what I do.

One of my favorite books is “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken. I am reading it for the third time as I write this. It resonates with me, because the author gets it. He understand. He writes the following:
“I was often forced to choose which villages we would go to, and where we couldn’t go because of limited staff and resources. Many of my daily decisions determined who lived and who died. These decisions were weighty and terrifying. It was an overwhelming responsibility.”
Those two prayers have led me to where I am today. It has also led my wife and children to the same place. My children have watched children die repeatedly and then wept at their graveside. Those prayers have assured that my children will never be safe or comfortable or callous to the suffering of the world. Our teenagers and young adults have experienced suffering in a way that few people ever will.

I had no idea at the time, but those two prayers are two of the most dangerous prayers we could ever utter.

So, living where I live and doing what I do, am I glad that I prayed them? The short answer is, “Yes.” The longer answer is, “Yes, most of the time.”

I won’t lie. There have been times in which I have regretted it. I regretted it as I held Thania’s lifeless hand in an emergency room after a frantic fight to save her. I regretted it the next morning as the morgue handed me her corpse wrapped in a garbage bag. I regretted it when little Maggie died on Christmas Eve after a 35 minute battle to save her life. There have been brief moments when, given the chance, I would have turned back the clock and stopped myself from praying them.

But 99.9% of my life is filled with a quiet thankfulness that I prayed those prayers. Even with the life-and-death decisions. Even with the grief. Even with the overwhelming need that surrounds us. I am glad that I prayed those very dangerous prayers. Because, at the end of the day, I really do want to be broken by the things that break God’s heart. And I really do want to make a difference. I want my life and my family to matter, not just for this life, but for eternity. 

And for that purpose, I will leave behind comfort and easy decisions for the things that really matter. I will do it imperfectly and will regularly fall short. But I will do it with an incredible wife and children around me.

Will you? I hope so. Pray dangerously!

Blessings from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Why?

Why?

That little three-letter utterance is one of the most powerful words in the English language. Within it lies the cause that affects. Therefore, it contains the first step toward real solutions.

I have been asking that question a lot recently. I live surrounded by brokenness, suffering, and injustice, and I desperately long to address the systematic issues that cause them. So, I find myself asking it repeatedly. Why?

It is easy to jump to quick conclusions and nice packaged answers. I find myself doing that at times. Why does suffering exist that could be prevented? Pre-packaged answer: Because people don’t care! But is that really true?

Most people I know do care. They care about orphans and will cry readily at their plight. They care about the unborn and are vocal about their opposition to abortion. They care about the poor and will send a check to help. They care about the displaced and pray daily for the refugees.

Most of us care, to one degree or another. The cause of injustice is not an absence of care, but the level of it. We care. We just don’t care enough. We care enough to do something, but we don’t care enough to sacrifice. So, we only scratch the surface of the need.

This has always been a problem with the world-at-large. However, over the last century it has become a significant issue within the church. The Kingdom built on sacrifice has opened itself to the American Dream of comfort and prosperity and confused it with the Gospel and discipleship. As a result, our picture of the church has been blurred, distorted, and stained. And so has our vision of a godly man, woman and family.

We expect and demand more for ourselves. As a result, we have less to give. We care, but we don’t care more for others than we do for ourselves. And real sacrifice has become rare.

Why are their so many children without families? Because we don’t care more about their fates than we do for ourselves. There are way more than enough Christian families out there that have room for another child or two. Every child could have a family. But that might be messy. We can’t foster or adopt. We might expose ourselves and our children to icky stuff. We care, but not enough to act. So nearly 150,000,000 children will go to sleep tonight without a mom or dad to tuck them into bed. We care, just not enough.

Why will so many children suffer and die alone? Because we care, but not enough to expose ourselves to grief and pain. “It would kill me to love a child and see them die!” Our Jesus “took up our grief and carried our sorrows,” but we think He would not want us to do the same for others. So thousands of children will die alone today without ever knowing loving arms around them. We care, just not enough.

Why will so many babies die in their mother’s womb today? Because we hate abortion, but not enough to move beyond political activism. We don’t care enough to intentionally leave behind comfort to form relationships with struggling young ladies. We don’t care enough to love them before the pregnancy so that we can walk with them during the pregnancy. We don’t care enough to make family-wide sacrifices so that we can help support a pregnant girl and, soon, a young mother so that she feels that life is an option. We care, just not enough.

Why will so many displaced people have no safe place to sleep tonight? We care about refugees, and will even share that support online, but will not translate that concern into action that provides answers. We want them to be safe, but not enough to risk our own safety to make it a reality. We won’t risk the hostility of others who don’t care or agree in order to sponsor a family and help them find belonging and hope in a new land. We care, just not enough.


Why will so many die today apart from a knowledge of Jesus? Because we care about the lost, but not enough to go. That is for others to do. God wouldn’t want us to uproot our family. He wouldn’t want us to put our children at risk. The God who gave His only Son so that we might have life would never want our children to sacrifice for His Kingdom. Would He? We care, just not enough.

Millions live without hope today, not because no one cares, but because not enough people care enough. And that is the overwhelming cause that affects our world.

On a regular basis we have people visit our homes and ministry. They will hold our kids, hear their stories, visit families in rural villages, learn about the children we have lost, and they will cry. They will be broken by the plight of those with disabilities. They will be moved by the work we do. And they will shed tears and leave. And quickly their normal lives resume and nothing changes. After a few touching posts on Facebook or Twitter, they return to complaints about the weather, irritations with customer surface, or the same tired political arguments. Nothing changes.

I have come to understand how worthless tears are, unless we quickly wipe our tears and get to work. Caring is useless unless it drives us to action that produces change.

Every day I face a battle, and that battle is with myself. Will I care more about myself or about others? It is not just a daily battle, it is a moment by moment battle. Will I put my own comfort, safety, resources, and emotions first, or will I be a servant?

All too often, I fail this test. When I am done posting this, I will stand up from my desk and make decisions that will affect others. What will I choose? And what will be the effects of those choices?

The Gospel is powerful, and the world is watching. For far too long, we have spoken of the love and sacrifice of Jesus without living it. And the results of this have been devastating. The world sees the church as irrelevant and uncaring because we have not cared enough to act in relevant ways. But it is not too late. And there is no better time to start than right now.

What breaks your heart? It is time to care enough to act.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3:18 NIV

Blessings from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Elections and Kingdoms

Today is election day. The midterm elections are happening as I type, after weeks of acrimony and turmoil. In about 14 hours it will all be over, thankfully. Then we can begin treating each other badly in anticipation of the 2020 election.


Every election cycle, I see the words repeated. They are spoken, typed on Facebook, and broadcast on Twitter. It has become a part of Christian culture, like the words “amen” and “after-church potluck.”

"It’s our Christian responsibility.”

“This election is crucial. It’s our Christian responsibility to vote.”
“The future of our nation is at stake. It is our Christian responsibility to be politically engaged.”
“The fate of the church is at stake. It is our Christian responsibility to elect leaders who will defend it.”

But is it really our “Christian responsibility?” Or is that simply a product of cultural Christianity instead of biblical discipleship? (And with those two questions, I have just touched the third rail of US evangelicalism. To question that core belief can get you excommunicated from some churches and cause many to call into question your very salvation. I know, because I would have been outraged by those questions not that long ago.)

But can we lay aside what we have always been told for just a moment to ask the questions? What can it hurt to check make sure that what we believe and live is actually true to the Word of God?

So, allow me a moment to give you the following arguments again a Christ-follower’s political involvement:

1) There is no Scriptural basis for it. 

Jesus stepped onto a first century scene that was a political incubator. The Jewish nation was living under an oppressive Roman government that had stripped them of their rights and was taxing them into poverty. They were no longer allowed to practice some of the Torah commanded practices, and the people wanted political change.

In fact, as they anticipated the coming Messiah, they were looking for a political one. They believed the Messiah would enter Jerusalem, establish an earthly rule, and place Israel at the top of the pecking order. Over time, many who had heard Jesus’ teaching and had seen his miracles believe that He was that Messiah, which explains their jubilation when He entered the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. They believed He was getting ready to establish the new kingdom. And He was. But it was not the kingdom they expected. So, when He died five days later, most of His followers walked away. 

We know now that Jesus did not come to be a political savior and establish an earthly kingdom. He came to establish a spiritual and Eternal Kingdom. And He had told them that repeatedly through His teaching. But they were so blinded by their own opinions of what they needed that they could not see what they really needed.

Twice we see religious leaders asking Jesus politically charged questions. But maybe you missed those:

1) Should we pay taxes to Caesar? There was a political movement afoot in which some Jews wanted to arise and refuse to pay taxes to the Roman government. After all, they were corrupt, wicked, and using the funds to oppress the people paying them. They wanted that movement to gain enough critical mass so that the people would rise up as one and refuse to pay. The endorsement of this popular teacher would go a long way in achieving that critical mass.
But notice Jesus’ response: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s.” In essence, He told them to give to the temporary government the temporary things it asks for. But give to God the eternal things that really matter. They wanted political answers, but He used the opportunity to turn the question around to address the spiritual issue that would really make a difference.

2) Should we stone this woman? - You have heard it countless times. The story of the woman caught in adultery, dragged into public with angry men holding stones. And they ask Jesus the question. 
The question was not a spiritual one. It was a political one. The Roman government had stripped the Jews of the right to dispense capital punishment, and they were angry. Again, they were seeking an uprising to overthrow Roman rule. They wanted political solutions. Plus this question would give them opportunity to accuse Jesus, no matter His response. 
And, again, Jesus took the political and turned it to the spiritual. “Let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And suddenly those men were not looking a Roman law or the sins of the lady, but were instead examining their own hearts. 
Jesus, and the first century church that He established, had a disregard for the politics of their day. Believers were arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and put to death for their faith, but you do not see them complaining about the oppressive government that did it. You do not see them seeking to change earthly rulers or kingdoms. You instead see them obsessively seeking to bring glory to Jesus under whatever rule they found themselves. They understood that the endorsement and protection of the government was not important, because God was in control. Their only concerns were making disciples and honoring God with their lives, regardless of who ruled the earthly kingdom in which they lived. Why should it be different for us today?
2) We do not know what is best.

Each election cycle I hear it spoken: “We need to elect godly leaders!” And we advocate, endorse, and defend the ones we believe fits that description. And, if they appear to be losing or lose, we panic and wail. And if they appear to be winning, we rejoice (and often gloat). But here is the problem: We actually have no idea what God wants.
The Bible makes it clear that God raised up and tears down leaders at will. They wither and fade under His breath. And they rise to power just because He thinks it. 

We also know that, at times, He raises up good and noble leaders. He also, at other times, raises up wicked and corrupt leaders. Both serve His purposes and accomplish His will. And both will quickly fade when that purpose is complete.

So, how do we know who God wants in power? Many times, we have actually fought against the will of God and have done so with passion. How do I know? Because “our guy or girl” lost.

That is why the only clear instructions we as the church have regarding earthly leaders it to 1) honor them and 2) pray for them. We are not instructed to celebrate their rise or their fall. And we are not instructed to endorse or attack them. We honor them, we pray for them, and we do the important work that this world’s rulers cannot do.

3) It is not our kingdom.

At the moment of our transformation through faith in Christ, we become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We suddenly find ourselves living as foreigners and strangers in a temporary and fallen land, while our citizenship is in an eternal and infallible Land. And we are ambassadors of the Kingdom. And that new Kingdom should have our loyalty and allegiance. And our focus should become expanding that Kingdom.

We, as followers of Jesus, should be consumed and obsessed with His Kingdom. Our mission is to make disciples for that Kingdom. Our hearts are to long desperately to see that Kingdom come. And we know that we cannot serve two masters.

And so, while we may have gratitude for the earthly nation in which we live and the benefits of that residency, we know the true Kingdom for which we live, fight and die. And it is a Kingdom that is built on love, mercy, grace, service, and sacrifice. We fight in an entirely different way using entirely different weapons. And it directly conflicts with the way earthly and political battles are fought.

We know that every earthly kingdom and nation is destined to fall. It will happen, sooner or later. So we focus on building the only Kingdom that will last. And we certainly should not engage in any earthly battle, political or otherwise, that will cause us to compromise the love, mercy, grace, service, and sacrifice of our true Home.


4) Politics are a symptom, not a cure.
I often hear believers discussing politics and the need to change the government. This has become a focus of the evangelical church over the last four decades, beginning with the Moral Majority of the late 70’s. The idea is that if we want a godly nation we need to elect godly leaders. And the idea is completely false and equivalent to trying to make the tail wag the dog.

In a democratic republic such as the United States, the politics of the nation are simply a reflection of the hearts of the people. Fallen and unredeemed people elect godless and corrupt leaders. And, as the church has focused more and more on political solutions and less and less on disciple making, we have seen the nation decline, along with the quality of our leaders. Increasingly we find ourselves holding our nose while we vote because the quality of the candidates of both parties have declined horribly. We tolerate words and actions from our leaders (and even defend them) that would have been absolutely intolerable 30 years ago. Yet the church continues to insist on political solutions and engagements even as it makes itself increasingly inefficient at reaching people for Jesus.

The only hope for our nation is Jesus Christ. And not Jesus Christ dictated from congress or the White House, but Jesus alive in us and our neighbors. And the only way for that to happen is for you and me to focus on making disciples by loving and reaching to people of all walks of life and background, regardless of their lifestyle, choices, or political opinions. And, in order to do that, we have to tone down our politics and turn up our Jesus.


5) It is robbing us of our love.

Recently I sent private messages to 10 of my friends who are unbelievers. I chose them because I believe them to be rational people with genuine skepticism about God, the Bible, and/or Jesus. And they are all people with whom I can have authentic conversations without hostility. I asked them, “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘church’?" Every one of their answers related to politics. Every one.

Not one of them answered loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, or self controlled. Several of them did use words such as “angry”or “harsh.” Two mentioned political double standards. Three mentioned that they would never be welcome in the typical evangelical church because of their politics. Two mentioned being recently attacked by professing Christians on Facebook because of their political opinions.

On a regular basis, I see professing believers attacking non believers on social media. Sometimes it is directly, sometimes indirectly. If a politician, athlete, musician, or actor expresses an opinion we don’t like, we feel free to demand a boycott and delight if their careers suffer. We see them as enemies and we go after them. Which is a direct contradiction of the commands to love, forgive, reach, and make disciples. And it is destroying our ability to build the one eternal Kingdom. It is destroying our ability to love.

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So, there you have it. My arguments for why a Christ-follower should not be politically involved. Am I saying that a Christian should not vote? No. As long as you can do so with love, humility, a spirit-led conviction, and without alienating the ones you are called to reach. 

But I will say this…if the church, as a whole, continues to engage in politics the way we have in recent decades, the nation will continue its decline. And we will one day answer to God. And I believe we will not be happy with His response.

Okay, I have dug my grave deep enough. More importantly than whether you vote today, I pray that you will love God, love your neighbors, love you enemies, and make disciples.

Blessings!

Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew