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Last week I voted. At least I thought I did. I voted by fax, and apparently the bottoms of all the faxes got cut off because either my fax machine or the voting office’s fax machine can’t handle paper as long as the Florida ballot (8.5×17). So yesterday I mailed it in from Canada, which means my ballot will count but won’t get there for over a week after the election. I have few illusions that it will swing the vote or that they will still be counting votes ten days after, but crazier things have been known to happen in Florida elections.

I’ll admit I wasted my vote. After all, a vote for any but the two main candidates is a wasted vote, right? Perhaps living in Canada has given me the strange idea that other parties are legitimate votes, and that if you don’t like the two main candidates, you simply vote for someone else. A true wasted vote would have been for my favorite candidate, Evan McMullin. Apparently Florida got tired of counting votes for Mickie Mouse (who will likely have another strong year), and now doesn’t count any write-ins that are not officially registered. McMullin missed the cut, so I decided I couldn’t in good faith cast my vote straight into the circular file.

But I did vote, and I didn’t have to close my eyes and hold my nose as I did it. If enough of my countrymen did the same thing, today could get very interesting.

So why did I vote for someone who has no chance of winning? It comes down to leadership, so I thought I’d explain myself on the Back Row Leader. A few quick factors I considered, and then my primary concern:

  • You cannot be a leader without curiosity. Leaders are readers, and safety is found in an abundance of counsellors (Prov 11:14). Trump has an appalling lack of curiosity.
  • Both candidates are strategic and calculating, and they have a long record of getting ahead in either the political arena or the business arena by negotiating, compromising and telling parties what they need to hear. We don’t often see the real Clinton behind her carefully-scripted responses, and Trump has strung along a lot of dissimilar supporters by the use of innuendo and vague platitudes that they can freely conclude that he is one of them. This includes evangelicals.
  • Thanks to wikileaks and the many investigations, we know more of Clinton than we want to. But the lack of knowledge about Trump scares me. Why won’t he release his taxes? Why won’t he say anything negative about Putin? He hasn’t established any reason for me to give him the benefit of the doubt.

To be honest, all of these are minor factors. My primary concern is character.

In every leadership development program I’ve run, I’ve started with the premise that if you develop someone with bad character, you enable their abuse of power. How much bigger a concern when you’re talking about the most powerful office on the planet!

We know both have failing marks in morality, but there’s one distinction for me. Character is particularly important if there is no track record or experience to tell us how someone is going to lead or make decisions.

And character is critical when one candidate so clearly relies on instincts. That kind of leader can be erratic, wear out followers who jump at his whims and build dependence on him as the sole problem solver. With no clear ties to either party, Trump will chart his own course, whether it was what he said in his campaign promises or not.

That’s why character is my number one factor. A president with bad character who goes with gut instinct is a scary proposition.

Let me close with a word to my fellow evangelicals. It’s one thing to recognize the flaws of both candidates but pragmatically decide you need to cast your vote for one or the other in spite of the character issues. It’s another to change your beliefs because of the candidates. If you spoke out against Bill Clinton’s morality, then you need to do the same with Trump. To decide that character is no longer important because this time the candidate is in your party is disingenuous hypocrisy. I was sickened to see an article in Christianity Today online that says evangelical Christians have been doing just that. Evangelicals are now the single group least likely to vote based on morality! As Ed Stetzer points out, that’s the textbook definition to selling your soul.

I’m praying for our country today, but I’m also praying for fellow believers who are facing an agonizing decision.

The video footage everyone is talking about since Friday has been a tipping point in more than one way. Setting the political mess aside, it has been encouraging to see many Christian leaders wake from their slumber and silence. I pray that this will be a turning point in the life of the Church – the death of Christendom and a move to embracing our status as a church in exile. It’s a rude awakening to have no candidates that represent our position. Canada experienced it last year; now it’s America’s turn. The good news is that the Church thrives in situations like this.

The first step in awakening is repentance. I recently rediscovered Job 31, near the end of a frustrating discourse where Job’s friends were convinced that he had brought his immense suffering upon himself; surely it was because he had sinned in some area. So in chapter 31, Job searches his heart with an inventory of sins he had perhaps committed. His list provides a plum line for today’s culture and for us:

  • Did I walk with falsehood and deceit?
  • Did I covet or stray into sin?
  • Did I conceal my sin and guilt as a hypocrite?
  • Did I look lustfully at women?
  • Did I commit adultery in thought or deed?
  • Did I deny justice to employees?
  • Did I defraud or mistreat my laborers?
  • Did I take resources or land without payment?
  • Did I ignore the needs of or fail to share with the poor, homeless, widow or orphan?
  • Did I use influence to take advantage of the unfortunate?
  • Did I put trust in money or boast about great wealth?
  • Did I worship anything but God?
  • Did I rejoice at my enemy’s misfortune or curse a rival?
  • Did I fail to provide hospitality for strangers far from home?

In applying this list to today’s context, it’s clear that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both have much to repent of. No doubt Gary Johnson and Jill Stein do as well. Likewise for Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair and Rona Ambrose in Canada. No politician measures up.

For that matter, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have much to repent of. No party platform is “Christian;” none align with this plum line. Both embrace what the Bible calls sin.

But God doesn’t call nations and leaders to repent as much as he calls believers to repent. The U.S. and Canadian Church have much to repent of. One of our sins is ranking sins and assigning weights to certain ones as if all don’t fall short of the standard (Rom 3:23). This list is obviously not exhaustive, but it is pretty thorough, and it is a scathing rebuke of America’s view of culturally-acceptable sins.

Another North American sin is to put our trust in anything but the Lord our God (Ps 20:7). No political party or leader is our hope. God alone is our saviour, anchor and confidence.

Yet another is to fail to stand in the breach for our nation. In Ezekiel 22:30, God finds fault with the believers of the day when none advocate for mercy for their nation. God is therefore not dissuaded from destroying them. Job was a righteous man who offered sacrifices every day for his kids, in case they had “sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5). Likewise, in the first chapter of Nehemiah, this cupbearer and soon-to-be-governor confessed the sins of his people and then owned his own part in the nation’s sin (Neh 1:5-7).

As Martin Luther put it in the first of his 95 theses,

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Christians, we need to repent, plead for our nations and stand in the breach for them.

As you pray, I encourage you to use the Scriptures listed above, or any of the following:
2 Chronicles 7:14
1 John 1:8-9
Exodus 32:32, Psalm 106:23


Part 1: A void of leadership

Part 2: A time for repentance
Part 3: An opportunity for Millennials

In April we passed the point where the largest generation alive in the United States is no longer the Boomers. For some time, Millennials have been the most influential generation for marketing, television and shopping. Now you Millennials are the largest generation, and you have a power you haven’t really embraced.

I understand that there are at least 75 million of you. I understand that 51% of you voted in 2008. This year, for the first time, all of you are of voting age.

ballot-2It takes about 60 million votes to get a majority in a presidential election. That means that, if enough of you engage, whoever the Millennials vote for will likely win this election. You have clout you haven’t taken advantage of in presidential politics.

I understand from the surveys that you’re not crazy about our two candidates, either of which would be one of our two oldest presidents. You’re repulsed more than average by the corruption and scandals on both sides. You’re savvy enough to question campaign promises, hidden agendas and the power of the parties.

You are also the social media generation. It’s your first language. I’ve watched social media campaigns rally huge support behind a meme or hashtag or initiative. What if you were to direct that energy to Presidential politics?

You have an opportunity. There are only two candidates on the ballot that have a real chance of winning, but the record disapproval rates of those candidates likely mean a record number of write-in votes. But without coordination, those votes will be distributed.

Bottom line: with a little social media coordination, you Millennials could pick the next president and get him or her into the White House. Who’s willing to step up and get your generation behind a new candidate? You’ll have my vote, and I suspect a lot of my fellow GenX voters will follow suit.

There’s not much time, as almost 500,000 votes have already been cast.

Part 1: A void of leadership
Part 2: A time for repentance
Part 3: An opportunity for Millennials

I inherited from my father a love for word play. I love palindromes, Spoonerisms and contronyms and I love verbing nouns. At this time of year, I like to verb the word “Christmas.” In other languages, it’s easy. For instance, the Germans verb Weinachten. The famous German poem that I memorized in High School, “Christkindl`s Weihnachtsgedichte,” includes the line, “es Weinachtet sehr,” which literally means, “It Christmases a lot.”

The English language has always been adaptive, ready to embrace new words. If you look online, English uses of the verb form today include towns getting Christmased-up and people getting Christmased out. Perhaps it’s catching. But it’s not just a new phenomenon. I found this fantastic poem from 1887:

The Verbing Man

“Oh, yes I Christmased,” says the man,
Who skips from verb to noun;
I dined and turkeyed à la mode,
And curry sauced in town.

I restauranted everywhere,
I whiskyed, beered and aled;
Cigared I on Havanas rare,
And on Regalias galed.I

New Yeared, too, on viands rich
And I champagned myself;
Or Tomed and Jerryed — can’t tell which,
Expenditured my pelf.

I resolutioned on that day,
As spirits throbbed my head;
But when the pangs next panged away,
I just cocktailed instead.

—Texas Siftings
[reprinted in the Los Angeles Times, Feb. 3, 1887, p.9]

Let me get to my point. We’re well into the Christmas season, and the annual grumbling has begun. One thing you can count on every December is the Christians complaining that nobody’s recognizing Christmas anymore. Cashiers and waitresses won’t say, “Merry Christmas.” Cards opt for “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays.” Now we have Holiday trees, Holiday spirit and Holiday blend coffee.

One song probably grates on these Christmas defenders more than any other: “Holiday Like You Mean It.” The CBC has been running it on radio and TV this month. (If you haven’t gotten the song stuck in your head yet, you can find it here.) Rob Wells captured the essence of the Holiday season: festive, jolly and merry; presents, lights and bells. The fact that the Holiday has reached the point of verbing tells me the culture has crossed a line. December is the month to Holiday as we used to Christmas. And I for one am grateful that we’ve finally gotten to this point of honesty.

As I was wandering around the Eaton Centre in Toronto at the beginning of December (with that jingle stuck in my head), I realized I’m happy to tease this mashup season apart. Let’s let Holidaying refer to the rampant consumerism and materialism, the hustle and bustle and general busyness of the season, even the Santas and reindeer and elves.

As believers, I say we let them have the Holiday and we take back Christmas. Rather than defend the label, let them move on to new terminology for the season they’ve co-opted while we return to the real reason for Christmas: God coming to earth to be with us and live among us. Let’s redeem the term and let Christmas be a reflective and joyful time, centred around Christ and the fact that he gave. Then let’s renew our commitment to His mission: to be light in a dark world.

The well-known conclusion of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol says of Scrooge that, “it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!” In other words, after his transformation, Scrooge Christmased well. How did he do that? He took on the joy of generosity, his heart laughed, and “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them.”

Let the world Holiday while we Christmas. As we do that as a minority Church, we’ll stand out against the culture rather than fighting to conform the culture to our ideals.

Christians, let’s Christmas like we mean it.

God has been working on me in the area of contentment recently. As I’ve considered the issue, I’ve begun to appreciate just how counter-cultural it is, flying in the face of every marketing campaign and our own ambitious natures.

When we were in Atlanta this summer, a few family members gave our kids some money. Instead of spending it immediately, their eyes got big as they pooled their new-found wealth and realized they had enough to buy one of the bigger Lego sets. My immediate reaction was, “How much Lego is enough?” They have so much Lego already. Why do they feel they need any more? Can’t they be content with what they have?

Like so many Christians before me, I can weaponize Scripture. I can sharpen 1 Timothy 6:6-10 and thrust it like a dagger:

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

It took a few weeks before I felt my own conviction. I do the same thing, but not with Lego. At some point, my greed transferred to other, more adult fare: ambition, for instance. Ambition lacks contentment with current circumstances. Ambition always wants more.

Picture for a minute a tethered dog, or one contained within a fence. Where will the grass be well-worn? There will always be a well-worn track around the limits. I’m the same way; I always want more, I’m always looking beyond the space God has defined for me.

Psalm 131:1-2 pricks right to the heart:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

How do we quiet our souls? How do we find contentment? Hebrews 13:5 recommends shifting our desires.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

In other words, God tells us, “All you need is me.” David agrees, as he closes out Psalm 131:

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.

I hear David crying to my soul: “O Roy, hope in the Lord.” Yearn for Him, be content in Him. He never gets rusty, He never breaks down, He never goes out of fashion, He will never let you down, He will never leave you.

[This post republished from my President’s blog on Wycliffe.ca]

It’s human nature to scramble to be on the side of the majority. We will always try to find connections with others that form cliques and create a power base. Put a diverse group of people in a jury room or a lifeboat, and they will attempt to clump. If there are obvious connecting points like skin tones or gender, majorities will form and subtle biases set in. The women will gather against the men. The tall versus the short. The brown eyes versus the blue. But the same phenomenon will happen even if there are no obvious majorities. The introverts will mobilize against the extroverts. Or the morning people versus the night owls. No one wants to be the minority, and no one wants to be oppressed.

Mark Twain, never afraid of being in the minority himself, observed,

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

I believe he’s talking about more than cheering for the underdog. He’s saying that being a member of a power-based clique is reason enough to question how we got there and what we are doing to stay there. What am I doing to oppress the minority? Do I believe that a winner requires a loser? Where am I vulnerable to group thinking? How am I silencing other voices? These are the kinds of questions commonly asked by the Old Testament prophets.

In My Problem with the Bible, Brian Zahnd says we in the West have been reading the Bible incorrectly. We love to identify with David versus Goliath, or Moses versus Egypt, or Israel versus Babylon. Our Sunday School curriculum is built around that idea. We think we are the minority or the underdog, but we’re not. Instead, Zahnd says,

I’m an ancient Egyptian. I’m a comfortable Babylonian. I’m a Roman in his villa….
I’m a citizen of a superpower. I was born among the conquerors. I live in the empire.

So the characters we should be identifying with are Nebuchadnezzar and Caesar. When’s the last time you put yourself in Pharaoh’s or King Saul’s sandals? Suddenly the shepherds Moses and David become “pesky” and “annoying.” We find ourselves, like King Ahab (1 Kings 22:8) muttering that we don’t want to ask the prophets because they always give us bad news.

The problem is that we, as majority, wealthy English-speakers in the empire try to identify with a Hebrew slave, an exile or a shepherd, and it’s a bad fit. More than that, Zahnd says it’s dangerous.

What happens if those on top read themselves into the story, not as imperial Egyptians, Babylonians, and Romans, but as the Israelites? That’s when you get the bizarre phenomenon of the elite and entitled using the Bible to endorse their dominance as God’s will. This is Roman Christianity after Constantine. This is Christendom on crusade. This is colonists seeing America as their promised land and the native inhabitants as Canaanites to be conquered. This is the whole history of European colonialism. This is Jim Crow. This is the American prosperity gospel. This is the domestication of Scripture.

History is usually written by the victors, but the Bible is history written by the conquered, the oppressed, the exile, the occupied and the enslaved. Unless we come from that vantage point, the Bible is not good news. It challenges our power, it asks what we’re doing for the minority. It questions our subtle oppression. It attempts to reveal the blind spots of the majority.

The article is well worth reading. But it also calls us to pause and reflect.

A few weeks ago, a little phrase from Luke 9:51 (ESV) jumped out at me, and I’ve been reflecting on it this Easter week:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

Jesus set his face, resolutely determined to go to Jerusalem. Of course, this was no vacation trip he was planning. He spoke often to his disciples in those days about how the Son of Man was going to be lifted up, the shepherd was going to be struck down and the Son of Man betrayed into the hands of sinners. He fully knew the pain and sacrifice that was going to be required of him; he’d known it since he came to earth. But as the moment grew closer, both his anxiety and his courage grew. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the moment close at hand, Matthew described Jesus as anguished and distressed, his soul crushed with grief to the point of death.

In that moment, I see the distinct humanness of Jesus. As Hebrews says, he was tempted in all ways as we are. Can’t you relate to a moment like that? Perhaps not to the same degree, but a time when you absolutely dreaded what you were going to have to do? As the moment grows close, your steps get heavy, your breathing laboured as if you’re carrying a huge weight. At some point, you face a moment of decision. Will you shrink from your responsibility or set your face and move forward?

I remember the first time I needed to speak in public. I was a grade 4 student in Atlanta, and we were in the middle of a mock election. As campaign chair for a candidate, I had to give a speech to a group of students. I dreaded that thought. If I absolutely had to, I resolved to only do it in front of people I knew. Instead, I was selected to speak to a group of students in another class. I remember waiting in a little room between the classrooms, balling because I didn’t want to do it and looking desperately for someone else to appeal to. Embarrassed by my tears. Wanting to quit. Finally I screwed up my courage and summoned enough resolve to do it. It seems funny now, given the role I’m in today, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had run away from that decision point.

I’ve never faced a situation bad enough to create a physiological reaction like sweating blood, but in some small way, I can relate to Jesus’ Gethsemane moment. It’s worth looking at how he approached it.

First, he begged God for a way out, three times. I don’t think it’s wrong to ask if there can be some other way. The point is that Jesus didn’t go in the direction of defiance and refusal. When I face a difficult decision or task, I find incredible strength in sharing it with God, even if my prayers are repetitive or lack words.

Second, he sought companionship. Though he knew they would soon abandon him, he brought his closest friends along to pray with him. Like the disciples, our friends may not be able to relate to our crisis, but even having them near is some level of comfort. I often think of Job’s friends in moments like that. To their huge credit, they got together and sat with him during his misery. Seven days they sat in silence. The only mistake they made was in opening their mouths.

Then Jesus surrendered to a greater authority. He knew he’d been heard, and he gave himself up to the greater plan. Having made his decision, he didn’t shrink or pull back from it; he turned to face it. I love the way he collected himself, pulled his disciples to their feet and faced his betrayer. “The time has come,” he said. No longer did he have any doubt about what he needed to do. He found tremendous courage once he got up from his knees.

Isaiah described this “Good Friday” hundreds of years before that moment (Isaiah 50:5-7 NLT):

The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
and I have listened.
I have not rebelled or turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me
and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
from mockery and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,
determined to do his will.
And I know that I will not be put to shame.

That’s my Saviour, Redeemer, Rescuer and Passover Lamb! And that’s my model for leadership.

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