Tag Archives: faith

A Biblical Case for Political Engagement

faith-and-politics

*never you mind that these are the two things we are NOT supposed to talk about.

You may have heard it said “Let’s leave the politics to the politicians and the believers to the gospel”, or something like that.  

To the extent that we as Christians should not be enslaved or beholden to politics, I agree.  To the extent that one thinks the gospel (the good news of Jesus) doesn’t intersect with political realities or that it is somehow more Christian to disengage from the political sphere, I will have to disagree.  

On a practical level, it seems naive to insist there is no overlap.  Even to disengage from politics (activities associated with the governance of a country or other area) is a political choice.   On a spiritual level, God sees love for Him and love for others as interconnected. It is a human thing, not a God thing, to separate the two (doesn’t Jesus surprise us when he is asked of the greatest commandment, that he responds with two?).  

So why should we as Christians engage with politics?  And if so, to what extent?  

Loving ones neighbor does not happen in a vacuum divorced from politics and the governance of peoples.  The American mindset automatically goes to loving my neighbor as meaning solely loving individuals, when that is not the mindset of most of the world (which are of more collectivist cultures), and certainly not of the biblical witness.  The bible recognizes group, not just individual, responsibility.  It even recognizes systems, not only individual players.  Therefore, we are not just to do good to individuals, but as we are able, to do good for the larger community

The Apostle Paul, in Gal 6:10, exhorts us “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The passage states “as we have opportunity” to “do good to everyone”.  Yes, the priority of care ought to be for the family of believers but this DOES NOT mean the exclusion of all others.  

First, let us look at do good to everyone”:  

Too much evil has been done in the name of “good” / “God” that He is NOT about, and, unfortunately, we even see this playing out in these times by people claiming to be Christian.     

We cannot be clear enough on what it means to do good FROM THE BIBLE.

Yes, we are not saved BY good works.  But we are saved TO DO good works.   So what is the good work we ought to do?  The Apostle John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, believed that God’s love lives in a person through action on behalf of the ones in need (1 John 3:17-18). James, most likely the half brother of Jesus, taught that true religion is caring for those in need (James 1:27).  He even goes so far as to make the outrageous claim that a faith that is not accompanied by works, and the notable example he uses is caring for those in need, is dead and no better than demonic (James 2:14-19)!  Jesus himself dropped on his disciples that to care for the least of these was to care for Jesus himself and was the litmus test of eternal salvation (Matthew 25:31-46).  The common thread of what it means to do good is to care for those in need…to do justice.  Even, and maybe we need to be reminded especially, those we do not consider as “us”.  

Lastly, let us look atas we have opportunity”:

We must remember that during the time of the writing of the epistles most folks were not people in power but were people without the right of Roman citizenship (Jesus himself did not have citizenship status) or at least not in positions to affect direct political change.  Their opportunities to do good for larger society, at the policy level, was limited.  Even from that context of the new testament the case has been made for political engagement. 

But if you want more scriptural models it is helpful to go to the Old Testament when Israel was once a Theocratic nation state.  There we get some frames for what God’s government could / should look like.  I won’t get into all of that here (check out the books of the law for that) but suffice it to say that the laws of the government were about personal purity as well as just relations, with special considerations for the more powerless of society (and gasp! even provisions in the government for taking care of the poor!).  God took seriously not only individual actions but political actions.  When Israel strayed from His way the prophets took them to task.  Isaiah makes a scathing rebuke to the lawmakers of his day declaring “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,  and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil,  and that they may make the fatherless their prey (Isaiah 10:1-2)!”  Amos warned “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate (5:15a).”  The gate was the central place of political exchange.   It was Israel’s job to engage in politics…for good.  They did not take that seriously, and so God took the kingdom away from them.  

But we’re not a theocracy anymore so why engage in godless politics?  

Remember also that Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah were not priests or part of the theocracy of Israel either, but they affected policy of the pagan government for the good of those in need.  

If you are a citizen, and a citizen in a democratic country no less, you have more opportunity than most to do good that affects a great number of people.  And as Uncle Ben famously said, Jesus had said before him “to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” 

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From Chola to Christ

i realize a lot of my posts on this blog have been theological in nature, especially as of late.  I do see the great need for more holistic theology but i also realize there is a need for more concrete examples of what that theology looks like played out in the lives of real people around me.  in my study of the Kingdom of God, i see that in scripture there is not only a proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom of God but a demonstration of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  the world is hungry not for more people who “talk the talk” but for more of those who “walk the walk.”  

one thing i have learned by living amongst the urban poor in LA is the power of stories to draw people into an experience of a truth. it is something that those of us who are “educated” or from a middle or upper class background can come to underestimate when we are too much in our own heads, experiences, and theories.  with this in mind, moving forward and as i am able, i hope to share more stories of God working in and through the “least of these.”  or, if you will, for these truths of God’s kingdom to “take on flesh” (adapted some from the monthly updates i send to my supporters.  feel free to email me at david dot kitani at servantpartners dot org if you’d like to receive these monthly updates).  with that said, i’d like to share with you a story of a sister in Jesus from “the hood” that i’ve gotten the pleasure to get to know more through the discipleship school that i help run at our church.  she inspires and challenges me in fresh way.  

ls

 

irene* was basically raised by the streets of los angeles. she was a hardcore “chola” gangster that has been notorious in our neighborhood.  she has been in and out of prison and has had multiple near death experiences.  she swears like a sailor, she’s straight up, and she is known to instill fear in people (and strangely enough she’s found my wife to be a kindred spirit ;).  but God’s hand is on her life.  she’s been wanting to join our discipleship school for a while.  we had our reservations but it was clear God was directing her this way.  

and it’s been amazing.  

she’s talked about Jesus to friends and family a lot before but now she is starting to submit her life to Jesus’ Lordship.  people are noticing.  in the middle of a family birthday party her hardened adult niece, struggling with leukemia, challenged irene to pray her.  irene reluctantly did.  then irene “got touched” (her word for crying when she feels the presence of God, because she rarely allows herself tenderness) and her niece was moved.  so moved that she dragged irene to pray for her mom too.

irene was baptized this past april along with her daughter who has been moved by the change she sees in mom.  irene, me, the rest of the d-school, and some of our children are going to head to the dominican republic to our sister church there (the same one we went to last year) to see and participate in His Kingdom come across the sea in a couple weeks from 6/16-6/23/17.  we need to raise $31,000 as a team of 21 people.  

once irene heard the challenge for us to fundraise for the mission trip (and in her case not just for her but for two of her own children she is bringing along), this former gang member stepped out with incredible faith.  she randomly asks folks that she comes across to “sponsor” her mission trip…she’s gotten donations from her husband’s supervisor, the pest control man in her building, and even a random person from georgia that she emailed through craigslist (please, i didn’t tell students to do this)!  last week she asked her insurance agent to support the mission trip and he broke down and asked for prayer for his twin brother (who was standing right next to him) who is going through health issues.  she prayed for them right there in the office.

this past tuesday we went out in the neighborhood to offer to pray for folks at a local park.  she challenged me with her boldness to offer to pray for people and even reminded me to “go for it” when i was hesitant in approaching some.  through our time praying for people together a women felt the “warmth” of God as irene prayed for her breathing issues and another woman was completely healed of knee pain from her chemotherapy (from pain level 8 to 0!).  this woman was so shocked and full of joy as she was moving her leg back and forth.  irene found herself hugging these strangers, something she would never have done before!

irene’s faith, and folks such as these in our working class community, puts me to shame.  irene not only knows the King but is now submitting herself to His Kingdom…and its awe-inspiring!  

 

if you want to join in on this work God is doing in and through the urban poor donate here toward their mission trip and don’t miss out on the Kingdom breaking through right in our midst!

 

*name changed to protect privacy

why we’re afraid to pray for healing

too often we find our prayers infrequent and frail.  when we hear that someone is ill or not well our automatic response is more “that’s too bad” rather than “let’s pray.”  if we actually do pray for healing for another person we keep it general and not too specific.  and we are sure to add on to our prayer “if it is Your (God’s) will” to get God off the hook…or ourselves.

why is that?

it may be that we’re not sure what his will is, especially when it comes to healing.  yes, there are certainly inscrutable things about the Lord’s will in specific cases.  however, there are things about God’s will that are relatively clear.  healing, surprisingly, is one of them.  again, there are instances where he may not provide healing for some reason but in general it is reasonable to think healing is his will.

  1. when Jesus inaugurates his kingdom he proclaims the gospel AND demonstrates the gospel through healing. (matthew 4:23, 9:25)
  2. when Jesus sends his disciples on their short term mission trips he sends them out, commanding them to proclaim the kingdom AND to heal (the 12 in luke 9:6, the 72 in luke 10:9)
  3. we never see an account of Jesus in which he turns people away from healing or says it is not the Father’s will
  4. Jesus instructs us to pray for “His kingdom to come and His will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.” if heaven is where God’s kingdom and will is fully established and in heaven there is no sickness or pain, then we ought to ask for healing to be unleashed here on earth.
  5. lastly, our actions betray us. when we do not see healing then we conclude it must be God’s will that we not be healed…but then we continue to pursue medical treatment.  aren’t we disobeying God then if we truly believe that?

 

it is not a matter of IF healing is God’s will, it is just a matter of WHEN.  this leads us to the second reason why I think our prayers may be so weak willed.  as americans, we’re terrified of disappointment.  we’ve twisted our theologies of prayer to protect ourselves and limit God.  we’ve found believers in other countries, especially those not cushioned with wealth, to be of tougher faith who don’t give up on God and prayer at the first sign of disappointment.  often they do not have the luxury of health care so they go after God in ways that we can learn from.

in fact, Jesus teaches us, through the story of a widow who keeps going to an unjust judge to get justice (Luke 18:1-8), that perseverance in prayer IS faith (v.8).  when full healing didn’t come to a blind man after Jesus laid hands on him, Jesus just did it again (Mark 8:22-25).  He was fine to acknowledge that healing is a process.  if Jesus had to pray twice for the same healing we could surely pray twice (or more).

just so you know that the kingdom of God isn’t just a matter of talk, i’ve experienced more breakthrough as i’ve kept asking of God in my life.  one night a couple months ago at our discipleship school, right after a teaching on healing prayer, we prayed for anyone who was feeling any physical ailment.  each person we prayed for was not healed instantaneously.  however, when we pressed in to pray a second time, without fail, people felt a significant decrease in their physical symptoms.  i took the teaching challenge to enter into any opportunity to pray for people’s physical healing for the following week.  again, when i didn’t stop with one prayer, i witnessed healing.   one sister with chronic pain in her knees went from barely being able to walk to me to joyfully walking down the stairs.

even if the answer does not come right away he may be shaping us for the better in the asking.

let us persevere with God beyond what we’re comfortable with.

 

*special thanks to chris rattay for many of his insights concerning physical healing

believe

believe
all i see is a desert /
thirsty no water no response /
where youth are the walking dead /
sweat and tears no gain /
put out my heart to have it rejected /
again and again /
i long to see new life /
youth hungry for eternity /
not falling to what the haters say /
stepping up in courage /
going after what God came after us for /
feel His rain in my soul /
Jesus, if you can, please bring us life!

“if you can? anything is possible for the one who believes!”

one saturday morning in january /
God rains down /
FIRE! /
Your intimate music opens up ears /
Your word cuts to the quick /
opening up the father wound /
revealing how we’ve put our baggage on You /
our Heavenly Father can’t be put in a box /
His love breaks through every boundary /
He calls His angels over to rejoice over us /
there’s a river coming that you can’t stop /
a new generation full of the Spirit of the Son of God /
inviting all who’re open to a turnt party for eternity /
where the wine only gets better and better /
believe

my work and God’s work

it has been quite a busy month.  there’s a lot that still needs to be accomplished.  but it’s good to know God is always at work…if we just stop to notice.

being away on paternity leave a month ago opened my eyes up to my own insecurity and identity wrapped up in the work that i produce.  although having plenty of time with my family and newborn son was full of windows of joy, there was a gnawing sense of not feeling “productive” being unable to do all the work i’m usually a part of. why is it that if there isn’t visible exciting results of my labor, there’s a part of me that doesn’t allow myself to enjoy God and what he has given me?  isn’t it God’s will that i am joyful and thankful in ALL circumstances just as much as that i do good?

as i returned back to work there was still that sense that i needed to catch up for the lost work at best and at worst haunted by what i imagined was people’s disapproval that i wasn’t doing enough.  many of the people i am reaching out to were struggling or unresponsive.  the focus of the work was just on maintaing.  one night at youth group i gave a teaching on our Heavenly Father’s commitment to love us and was challenged to, along with the youth, listen to what God wanted to speak to us.  as i looked out into the group of people present, i saw in my mind’s eye kernels of wheat sprouting and i sensed God say to me “don’t focus only on what you see…I am at work.”          

later that week, through a facebook post of all places, God led me to this stunning passage in scripture:

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

– Jeremiah 17:5-8

here i was wearing myself out with what i could do and the results of MY work when i was not trusting what HE could do with what is ultimately HIS work.   if i looked back in the past months he had been leading me through chapters 40s-50s in the book of Isaiah…the constant theme is how HE is God and we, or anything else we set up to focus on, is not.  i just hadn’t been making the connections to work.

don’t get me wrong, we shouldn’t just throw our hands up in the air and neglect our responsibilities with the work God’s entrusted to us.  it’s just that at the end of the day who or what are we really trusting in to get things done?  for me, in my heart of hearts, that trust was not in God.  if you’re unable to sleep at night stressing about all that you need to do maybe it’s not God that you’re trusting but yourself.  so i kept doing what He put in my care but i threw my weight into prayer to God for the results.  i got a little bold in asking God to do what He promised he was about in His word.  it’s been pretty sweet to see Him at work now that i’m looking at it with fresh eyes.  one of the people i’ve been i’ve been investing in who had been ignoring my calls/texts initiated with me and has been coming to church after a long absence.  through an urban leaders conference we went to last weekend, i got to witness God softening and ministering to the hearts of a number of young leaders that had been distant but God’s been opening them up to His goodness again. God has been exciting me with visions of things to come…that still haven’t happened yet.

we still got a ways to go.  i still have a ways to go.  but let’s not be like shrubbery in the desert.  let’s be fruitful trees planted in His Living Water.

trees water better

God can do our work better than us

“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” 

This month we had a big fundraiser dinner we were planning for the non-profit I work with.  I was just focused on what I needed to do, which was to work on a video slide show.  As time progressed I knew that there were very few people who signed up to attend the event, an event which would be critical to outreach to donors to continue this important work of investing into the people of our community in need.   If we don’t get pledges for support our non-profit cannot continue to exist.  Yet, in my selfishness I didn’t take time to really think of the impact to our community of having this event flop.  I made a video.  One of the advisors gave me detailed feedback to make it better.  I bristled in response with what I had put my time into.  My pride was hurt.

“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’

Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”

The night before the event, I was frustrated, we were under pressure to finish many things still, still less than half of our expected numbers of guests, and, to make matters worse, we were having conflict amongst ourselves.  Around midnight, I texted a number of friends to pray for us and the banquet that would be happening in less than 24 hours.

“When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.”

My advisor initiated a conversation with me and we resolved our issue around 1:30am.  I showed up at the banquet hall an hour prior to the event at 5pm to meet with the rest of the team.  Once there I began to realize I had forgotten about a speaker for the video, a screen for a projector, and a power strip.  All things I needed if we were going to show a video.  Even the one thing I was entrusted with I failed to completely follow through with.  Phone calls were made by my advisor.  Different people from our community came through with each item.   People came trickling in, many as last minute additions, and before we knew it all 50 seats was taken.  In fact, more people kept on coming.  We had to squeeze in two more tables!   Different people in our community shared about how they had been affected meaningfully by the existence of our non-profit.  Even someone who does not live in our community stood up to speak and challenged everyone present to consider supporting this non-profit to become an institution that could spread its positive impact beyond just our community.   Needless to say the event was a success.  People were encouraged.  Our community worked together…all in spite of my shortcomings.   God stepped in…and it made all the difference.

“Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”

net-fishing-sea-of-galilee-thomas-r-fletcher

do you trust me?

it has been difficult to persevere in loving and praying for these young ones i am investing in…to follow my own challenge from this past month.  and i haven’t even been doing it for that long.  i feel like when i see one step forward there are two steps back.  honestly, its been discouraging to hold onto His Word to keep on going to Him with my heart.  I don’t want to be let down.

yet, He keeps on persevering with me.  He keeps on speaking to me.  He keeps on encouraging me to pray.    to trust Him.

–       through my quiet time in malachi 3:13-16 He has reminded me how my complaining spirit grieves Him and belies a mistrust in the goodness of His character.

–       through my quiet time with sergio in luke 9:37-42 i saw again how the disciples couldn’t drive out a demon with their lack of faith

–       through the book, transforming society, that I was reading for my internship i was reminded i need faith to extinguish the arrows of the enemies discouragement

–       through a friend of mine who finally got to experience the salvation of his sister i recalled his YEARS of heart-break and prayer.

– through quiet time with galatians 3:5 i was encouraged that God’s power on our behalf has nothing to do with how good we are but with if we believe Him

–       through caesar’s sharing with the youth from matthew 7:7-11 i was reminded to ask, seek, and knock on God’s door because He wants to give us good

–       through pastor chris’ word to the leadership team from mark 8:31-38 i was reminded that if i seek my own immediate comfort over His path of suffering, like peter, i will find myself on the wrong team.

over and over again i’m being reminded that faith is a big deal to God.  why?  i’m still not entirely sure.  one thing He is showing me, though, is that my choice to persevere or not reveals what I really think of Him.   to the extent that I begin to think he is cruel and doesn’t care, my prayers are tiresome things.  to the extent that i think (like His Word shows me) that He is much smarter (like He showed me by bringing ji into my life), bigger (like He showed me by taking me around the world), and better (like He showed me by giving me the gift of His Son and my son) than I realize, my prayers take wings.

I don’t know why i am not seeing the positive answer to my prayers right now.  maybe i will see the answer in this life, maybe i won’t.  but the question still remains:   who is this God that I serve and will I trust Him today?