Take Me To Your Leader

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flagsIn the old Sci-Fi movies and comic books of my youth, every time an alien stepped out of their spaceship, their first words (inexplicably in English) were, “Take me to your leader.” Since there’s never been alien actual landing of space aliens (my apologies to Roswell and X Files fans), we really don’t know what an alien would say.

The old Sci-Fi writers told us told us nothing about aliens, but the did tell us a lot about ourselves. The told us what we would ask if we landed on another planet. They reveal to us just how obsessed we are with power. We want to know who’s in charge. This is is our constant obsession.

“Who is in charge around here?” It’s the first question we ask when something happens we don’t like. It’s obvious on Reality TV. Just think of Survivor, which is still on by the way. As soon as people form groups they select a leader to resent and resist. We call it politics and it’s everywhere. It is the constant negotiation of who gets their way. We believe in power. We must have a leader, boss, president, or king.

This is a strange belief for people who know their Bibles and story of Israel. Israel’s experience should’ve taught us that no King or human government can save us. No ruler can make us secure or prosperous over time. By the time of 1 Samuel 8, Israel has existed as a nation over 300 years without a King. They escaped Egyptian slavery without a king. All they needed was a prophet who spoke for the heavenly King. They conquered the Promised Land without a king. All they needed was a simple man named Joshua through whom God could work for a brief time.

For 3 centuries, Israel lived in Palestine as the only nation without a king. At times, they lived in peace and prosperity. At times, invaders overran and oppressed them. The difference was never about their government structure but about whether people trusted God or not. When people cried out in faith to God he would raise up an Ehud, Gideon, or Samuel to turn people back to him and lead Israel against their enemies. But as soon as leader’s work was done, he faded into background. Things went along well until the people forgot God and stopped trusting him as their King.

After 3 centuries, Israel decided it was time to copy the other nations and get a hereditary monarchy. They grew tired of the roller coaster ride of good times, bad times, repeat. They thought things would go better if they had a better leadership model than God as King.

What they didn’t get and we often miss is that a good people produce good leaders more than good leaders produce a good people. The best leaders among evil people can do very little to turn things around. The worst leaders among good people can do a fairly decent job.

Remember, when Jesus came, Israel didn’t recognize him and rejected him. Bad cultures don’t develop, recognize, or accept good leaders. Good cultures create and support good leaders. It is the character of the nation that determines it’s fate, not it’s leadership model. That is why some sports teams stay near top while coaches and players change. Others can’t succeed with a bench full of imported all stars. The same thing is true in business also. Leaders never make as much difference as we think. Few leaders can take people where they don’t want to go. Most nations have the leadership they deserve – especially democracies.

But Israel doesn’t understand its own history and thinks the path to enduring prosperity, national security requires a human King like other nations. Samuel is offended, not because they’re rejecting him and his weak sons, but because the people think the critical issue is in government instead of faithfulness to God.

God goes along and lets the people have a king. Often God’s punishment is giving us what we want. But, the problem isn’t with a king, per se. God can work with a king. The problem is people who don’t trust God for security and life. God could forbid Israel a king, but that would fix nothing because the problem is not with the form of government. Even monarchy works well with a just king and righteous people of faith. But, before God let’s Israel have a King, he has Samuel warn them what Kings do. It is summarized by the word “take.” He will take your money, crops, children, fields, all you have to enrich and empower himself. Israel will be trading freedom and blessing for illusory security and prosperity. All governments take more than they give and waste much of what they get.

Of course Israel would not listen and got what Samuel described. When Israel listened to God and obeyed him, things went well with a King. Most of time, Kings just accelerated Israel’s slide into faithless greed and sin. Israel eventually was undone by the kings they just had to have for prosperity and security. The monarchy left Israel conquered and in exile. So much for security and prosperity.

We would laugh at Israel’s foolishness if we were any wiser, but are we? Perhaps it is hard for us to learn from Israel’s story because we live in a democracy and haven’t had a king for over 200 years. We’ve bought the propaganda of Western democracies and believe our form of government isn’t just best, it is the only acceptable form (though it is not mentioned in scripture). We have even believed it worthy dying and killing to bring our form of government to other nations, whether they wanted it or not.

Most of us lived through Cold War and threat of global communism. We have some reasons to believe in our form of government. It has worked relatively well for us at times and I don’t know of a better model. But, saying our government is as good as its gets in this world isn’t much a compliment and may not be true even if I can’t name a superior alternative.

Few of us want to go back to a monarchy. It’s just too easy to abuse power in that model. But, just because Americans have given up on kings doesn’t mean we’ve given up thinking government can save us. We still believe we can fix things if we just get the right people in power. If you doubt me, just listen to the campaign rhetoric in our current election. But what evidence do we have any government will deliver on our hopes? Samuel warns us that our future will not be determined as much by who is in the White house as who is in our houses.

Into a leader-obsessed world, Jesus came preaching about a new government. Jesus basic message was about who will rule Mark 1:14-15 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Jesus’ message is not about how to go to heaven, but how to live under God’s reign, which happens to be eternal. Jesus called people to new way of life in God, not a renewed country or human government.

Israel did not need to get rid of Rome, it needed to trust God. When the true King arrived, he did not challenge the government directly and try to take over. But, Jesus was not understood in his day and is rarely understood in ours. He was killed because both Jewish and Roman rulers thought he wanted to be a earthly king and saw him as a threat. They did not get him at all. He wasn’t trying to change the government. He was trying to change the people. If that happens, the government will follow.

What Jesus said was very political, just not in the way people expected. Jesus did not come to fix human government—a top down solution. He came to teach us how to live under God’s reign now—a bottom up solution. Accepting Jesus invitation means we stop seeking solutions in the old way. It’s called repentance. We may love our country, but we shouldn’t trust it. If people draw near to God, our country and leaders will have to change to survive. That doesn’t mean we ignore our world and refuse to participate in political process, but we do so differently than the rest of the world. We speak truth to power and work for justice and righteousness where we can, especially speaking for powerless.

Godly rulers are better than godless, but both are greatly limited. As followers of King Jesus we don’t live under illusion any human ruler or president can save us. They are just as broken and human as we are. Despite their best intentions, they will misuse their power to serve themselves and their buddies. They all eventually resort to the abuse of power to get things done. They always take more than they give and are owned by the forces who financed their rise to power.

That’s why Jesus did not come to establish a human nation, not even the USA. God has something bigger and better in mind. God wants to reign over all our countries as king of kings. If you want a truly blessed life, stop looking to get it from people who can’t deliver it. No human system or leader is up to the job. Hillary can’t save us. Trump can’t save us. The T-party can’t save us. The democrats do not have the answers and the republicans are no better. Neither democracy nor free market economics will save us. No party deserves our trust because all of them care about power more than justice.

There is no one (male or female, black, white, brown or green) we can put in office who will fundamentally change the world in which we live through politics. We can adjust a policy here or there or try fix the laws which is good and needed. But in a country where 1 in 99 people are in prison, we should know better than to think we can fix what’s wrong with laws and law enforcement. You can’t make people love each other by power. If you could God wouldn’t have sent Jesus to the cross. The USA is not hope of world and we are not God’s chosen nation like Israel in OT.

I love our country–dangerously so. I especially love it when I’ve been outside it, which I am with some regularity. I miss our big cars, big plates of food, big highways, big drinks, and air conditioning. But our country, constitution, and form of government will never save the world. A nation of laws with checks and balances is worthless if its citizens do not embody the virtues that inspired those laws. While I pray for a president that loves Jesus and listens to his voice, I won’t be calling on the White House, state house, or any house to save me, bless me, or grant me life.

While I wouldn’t trade our country’s government with that of any other nation, neither do I confuse the USA with the Kingdom of God. I am weary of Christian leaders who talk like the most important thing the church can do to save America is manipulate the political process. I may be naive, idealistic, or just plane wrong, but I believe what Paul said in Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. I don’t think Paul was just talking about how to go to heaven, but about how to experience abundant life anywhere, any time, on either side of eternity.

If you want to help save America, don’t put your hope in a party or a candidate. They’ll only let you down when they get in power and show foolishness, arrogance, and corruption over time like their predecessors.  Instead, pray for your nation, obey our God, and invite others to join you in a love relationship with the only true King. Speak truth to power, defend the vulnerable, and work for justice regardless of who get’s elected. But don’t ever buy the lie that we can win at the ballot box what we’ve lost on the street.

The only hope for any nation is Jesus, regardless of what continent we are on, what language we speak, or who our leaders are. Salvation comes from confessing Jesus as Lord of Lords, King of Kings, and bowing to him only. It is in living under God’s reign now and refusing to give ultimate allegiance to any other ruler, king, or nation.

Thousands of Christians who faithfully prayed for their Roman rulers and obeyed all other Roman laws, were put to death because they refused to worship Caesar as a god or divinize the empire. Rome is gone but God’s people endure. While we wait for Jesus to return and finalize his kingdom, we can live now under the reign of God and enjoy abundant life regardless of our political situation. For those who follow Jesus, we have only one King and he alone deserves our trust and our allegiance. I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ and his one kingdom, under God, invisible but with grace and justice for all.

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