(This is the 22nd installment of a series of blog entries. You are encouraged to read the series in order, as much of the material in each entry builds on information and illustrations in earlier segments. You can click here to go to Part 1 and start the series.)
Back in 2009, I went to get my hair cut at a local WalMart hair salon in a very small town in Georgia. I was the only customer in the shop at the time. The only hair dresser on duty was a young woman who was less than six months out of beauty school—probably no older than 19.
In making chit-chat with her, she asked if I was getting the cut for a particular “event” of some sort. I told her “Yes,” I am an inspirational speaker, and travel around the country at times to present seminars. My husband and I were getting ready for a trip in which I’d be doing some presentations, and I wanted to not have to fuss much with my hair—thus the fresh haircut.
She asked what sort of seminars, and the first thing that came off the top of my head was “Christian.” I didn’t go into any details, just made it clear that I didn’t just do general motivational talks but came from a basically religious, biblically-based point of view.
I was startled at her response to that—she didn’t ask what specific subjects I talk about, didn’t ask my “denomination,” didn’t ask how I got into the field of public speaking.
Her immediate response was … “Do you think Obama is the Antichrist?”
Rather than wade into those murky waters right away, I promptly responded, “Do you?”
She explained that she didn’t know very much about religion or the Bible, and only went to church (this is the South—so it was no doubt a Baptist church) for a while with her grandmother when she was much younger. But she had some friends her own age who were more “into” religion… and particularly prophecy … than she, and they had been insisting to her that indeed, Obama was the prophesied Antichrist and his election was a huge step toward the fulfillment of terrifying Bible prophecy.
This discussion took place in Obama’s first year in office, when speculation in some conservative evangelical circles was running high that indeed, the man was the Antichrist (“Beast”) figure of the Book of Revelation and would be ushering in the Great Tribulation.
It was never quite clear to me what their basis of this was—the usual complaints about the man’s policies were that he was a “socialist” at best and a “communist” at worst. I didn’t remember seeing anything in the Book of Revelation about the political ideology of the Beast! That seemed a bit like wondering if Nebuchadnezzar was a Democrat or Republican.
That little interchange was one of the things that started me pondering how odd it was to see such an intermeshing of religion and politics in our era. Religious topics have of course come up in some past elections. Many rabidly anti-Catholic Protestants were very upset in 1960 at the idea of having a Roman Catholic as President if Kennedy won. There was some concern that he would institute policies that were somehow against the interests of Baptists, although just what was never clear.
But few protests back then rose to the level of thinking the US election was of huge prophetic significance to the whole world as a result of this religious issue. And, as a matter of fact, Kennedy’s term in office up to his assassination made it clear that his handling of the presidency was pretty much “business as usual” in a basically secular way, and not influenced at all by his connection to the Pope in Rome.
We are approaching the 2012 election as I write this blog entry, and I am even more amazed now at how swirlingly intermeshed many folks’ politics have become with their religious … and particularly, prophetic … convictions.
Some right-wing conservative evangelicals are more convinced than ever that Obama is the Antichrist, and is just holding back until a second term in office to unleash his Antichrist policies and powers. Others seem to think he’s not really the Antichrist—just a tool of the Devil with the responsibility for bringing down the United States to a position of third world power. Some seem to think he is only getting away with this because God Himself is so disgusted with the nation that He wants it destroyed, and thus there will be no holding back the inevitable.
More, however, seem to think that either the Devil or God’s plans can be blocked or delayed if we can only vote in the right man and return total Congressional power to the right political party in this upcoming election. As I have repeatedly noted in this blog, and in particular in this current blog series, the idea seems to be that God created the United States as His Most Favored Nation in 1776/1789, shepherded it throughout its history as it basked in His never-ending blessings of prosperity and nobility, and only in the most recent generations has become disgusted with it because of the prevalence of immorality and ungodliness among the population. Somehow, it seems from what I have read, all of this is connected with the alleged godliness/biblical endorsement of Capitalism (preferably Laissez-faire Capitalism?) and the Republican party.
If you have read the previous installments in this series, it should be abundantly clear by now that I do not accept this interpretation of American history. There is abundant evidence from throughout the past 250 years that, regardless of what party was in power in the presidency or the Congress, the American culture as a whole was no more totally moral or totally immoral, no more totally godly or ungodly, than it is in our own era. I don’t intend to belabor this topic with any more documentation—instead I hereby submit to you that I am fully convinced that it will not make the slightest bit of difference which party “wins” in this upcoming election in the long run. Forces far beyond the power of the electorate have been converging for generations … not just from the restless 60s or hippy-dippy 70s…to create coming troublous times, confusion and chaos in many aspects of life from economics to international relations, from severe underemployment to severe problems in delivering health care to the population, from racial tensions to “class warfare.”
If you are a Christian, I have no intention to attempt to dissuade you from voting in the upcoming election in 2012, or in the future. My intent is to persuade you that, AS a Christian, there are a number of things that you can do that will yield eternal fruit, that are a whole lot more important than your involvement in partisan politics. There are ways you can prepare to be a light in a world that, no matter the party in power, is going to be going through periodic darkness.
Perhaps you won’t even believe what I am writing until later. Perhaps you are holding your breath, just waiting for YOUR chosen hero in the election to be given his mandate by the people—and, you may even believe, by God. If he does win, it will likely be a few months or a year or two before you realize that he was, ultimately, impotent to turn the tide.
Or maybe you are one of those who are just absolutely sure that Jesus is going to insert Himself into history in the next year or two, and put an end to all the struggle. And thus it may take you a year or two to face reality. But whatever is distracting you at this point in time, whatever you have been pouring your efforts into—whether drumming up votes for Your Man, or sending sacrificial offerings to help some prophetic guru get out the word about the imminent Second Coming—sooner or later you may begin to have that feeling of unease that you’ve been putting all your hopes in an illusion.
Perhaps at that point, you may have in the back of your mind what you read on this blog about “preparing for the unthinkable.” I invite you to come on back at that point, and give this material a second look.
But I’m convinced that some readers of this blog will be ready to move on right now, ready to take some steps of preparation and get on with being a part of “making a difference” in what really is going to be an era of continuing change and scary challenges.
If that describes you, then this is the point at which we start putting together an action plan.
Setting the stage
My daughter Ramona is 41 years old now. Back about 20 years ago, when she was a young mother of a toddler, she lived for a short while in a government subsidized apartment complex that catered particularly to young families like her own. With families moving in and out all the time, she never really made any “friends” there that she spent time with. But with many moms of babies and toddlers out with strollers every day, she often passed by “familiar faces” and said, “Hello.”
One day a young woman with a familiar face stopped her as she passed by. She knew the person’s name, but little else about her. She had never visited in her home, or spent any extended time in conversation with her, other than a little chit-chat while watching their little ones play. But with a puzzled tone in her voice, the young woman mentioned that she had a dream the night before, and that Ramona was in it. She described the dream—she found herself in an environment that was chaotic. She didn’t know exactly what had happened to bring about the turmoil, but the impression she got was that society was somehow breaking down, and she felt a sense of dread and fear. And suddenly in the middle of her dream she saw Ramona.
And as best as she could explain it, Ramona’s mere presence made her suddenly feel safe. It was, she said, almost as if Ramona was an angel or something! She felt a sense of peace. And then she woke up.
Ramona never forgot this simple, odd encounter. Just as I, from the time she committed her life to God she has always felt that she had a calling to administer the peace of God to others, in both regular “daily life” and in circumstances of crisis. As a matter of fact, it is our conviction that the teaching of the New Testament makes it clear that this should be one of the goals of all Christian believers. The young woman’s dream seemed to be just a gentle confirmation that Ramona was on the right track.
So what about you? Is this one of your goals? Can you see that in coming days there may be more and more opportunities to be that “refuge from the storm” that others may need? Of course it is ultimately God Himself who is to be our refuge. It is Jesus who is, after all, the “Good Shepherd” who hunts for lost, fearful, perhaps even injured sheep and cares for them tenderly. Yet it is clear from His teachings, as well as the admonitions of other biblical writers, that in many situations Christians are to be “His hands and feet” to do the actual work out in the physical world.
So—are you ready to be a “shelter in the storm” for others? In the rest of this blog entry, I will be suggesting the first step in being ready:
You can’t give what you don’t have. So you need to
be sure you have inner peace yourself
if you are to help others
to find a sense of peace in the midst of chaos.
I recently sat down to watch a DVD of Kung Fu Panda 2 with my teenage granddaughter. I’d seen it (and enjoyed it very much) in the movie theater last year. But at the time, I was just taken with the beautiful artwork and the exciting action sequences. It wasn’t until I saw it again that the main theme really popped out at me. Bumbling Po the Panda (voiced by actor Jack Black) has really polished up his Kung Fu martial arts moves since the first movie. But Kung Fu Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) makes it clear to him that the one thing he still lacks which would make him a true Kung Fu warrior is “Inner Peace.”
By the end of the movie, Po has succeeded in finding this inner peace.
In the context of the movie, this concept of inner peace seems to mean, in particular, that Po is troubled no longer by nagging doubts and feelings of rejection caused by events and experiences of the past, confident in who he is now, and ready to face challenges without a bunch of, as the saying goes, “hang-ups.” Finding this inner peace equips him to defeat “whatever life throws at him.”
There is certainly nothing wrong with this definition of inner peace, as far as it goes. I know a whole lot of people who would psychologically benefit by having this sort of inner peace in their lives. But it got me to thinking: What sort of inner peace does a Christian need to have? And the biblical implications of the answers to this question are somewhat different from—or at least more extensive than—the kind of inner peace Po found. Here are a few scriptures that describe this “peace of God.”
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3
So the Bible clearly says that there is an inner peace that comes from God. The next question is—do you have that kind of peace in your own life? Are your mind and heart free from guilt or regret about things in your past? Are they free from anxiety about what the unknown future may bring, in your own life and in conditions in the world? When you got up this morning, was it with a calm assurance that God is fully in control of the destiny of your nation, the whole world… and you personally? I realize that in every life there are short terms of crisis in which our emotions can be on a roller coaster for a limited time, such as during and after a serious accident or illness we or a loved one experience. And we may rely on those around us to “remain strong” for us and lift us up. But when such times are past—do you return to a state of true inner peace?
I must confess that there have been many times in my life when my answer to all the above questions would have been “NO!” And as I look around at my friends and acquaintances, it certainly would appear that the answer for many of them would be no also … right now. I’m not speaking of my “non-religious” friends, mind you. I’m speaking of people who identify themselves strongly as Christians, many of them long-time Christians of 10, 20, 30 or more years! Actually, they might give lip service to having some sort of inner peace… but if they are honest, it is something so way down deep inside that it doesn’t seem to affect how they react to the real world.
Many exhibit evidence of lack inner peace just in general, regarding such personal issues as family relations and jobs. I’ve seen a real lack of evidence of inner peace in particular among those who have immersed themselves in various speculative prophetic scenarios. Their paranoia often is related to what might happen to them and their families if they don’t somehow “figure out” the perfect way to “qualify” for God’s protection in the Tribulation that they expect to begin soon.
I’ve also particularly seen evidence of a lot of lack of inner peace related to the national political scene in recent years. Some folks seem to have almost an uncontrollable paranoia about who might win the next presidency, as if God Himself might be “foiled” in His plans if the “wrong” man gets elected.
But the reality is that the first century Christians in Philippi to whom Paul wrote were living under the heel of the Roman Empire. They had no say over who might be the next Caesar. They had no input into the laws of the land where they lived. Why, their only recourse was to just trust that God was in control of their lives, and would see them through to the end! Imagine that.
Can you see how ridiculous the “modern” approach of many Christians is in light of that reality? There is nothing wrong with sensibly exercising any rights you may have in your country, including the right to vote and express your opinions on governmental matters. Paul used his citizenship as a Roman to deal with his own circumstances at times. But to be obsessed with the concept that only you and your comrades in “The Tea Party” or whatever group you may identify with are standing between God’s plans for the US and their fulfillment…is nonsense.
I know folks who seem to be in a perpetual state of anger over politics, who seem to spend much of their free time ferreting out nasty stories about “the opposition” and posting them on Facebook and CCMailing them to all of their Internet contacts. They seem to lose all sense of proportion when doing this, being willing to pass on material that can be easily shown to be erroneous, just because it agrees with their partisan position. And in the process they may well be unnecessarily alienating good friends, who find it difficult to be around them when they are so narrowly focused on the situations that anger them. I have personally found it necessary to temporarily eliminate a significant proportion of my “Facebook Friends” from my Facebook “news feed” for this very reason. The torrent of nasty, angry, belligerent, harsh, in-your-face, downright snotty political posts washing over me every morning left me with a bitter taste in my mouth and a negative attitude for facing the day. (I’m hoping that, no matter which man wins the presidency, these friends will finally get on with their regular lives and drop the narrow focus on partisan politics after the election! I’d like to be able to add them back to my news feed. I miss them.)
From what the Bible says, all these folks should be able to have inner peace no matter who is in the White House. If they don’t, they may need to think through their priorities.
Meanwhile, back to the central issue: No matter what aspects of your life give evidence that you are lacking inner peace, if you are indeed lacking it you need to deal with that reality if you plan to be prepared to be a source of “peace in the storm” to others in the coming years.
As seen in the scriptures above, the Bible does promise that such inner peace is accessible to you. You just have to know how to appropriate it. We’ll explore some ways to do that in the next entry in this blog series.
Meanwhile … start telling yourself—