Today America is fractured due to an ever-increasing political divide. Revelation 2 and 3 remind us the prevailing cultural environment can seep inward and hinder our personal and collective spiritual development and witness. In this challenging time, what is the role of the United Church of God in speaking up and speaking out? Are we, as a religious entity, to maintain our historical apolitical role that favors neither man or party? Beyond that, what are the uniting values of the promised platform of godly governance enshrined in the Word of God?
[Robin Webber] The question has risen of late: Has the church changed its stance on political endorsements? Or, Has it taken sides in the current fray? And/or, Does it – and by meaning the church as an entity – maintain its historic stance of being apolitical – above the politics of this world at any given time and/or person?
We are taught at an early age that, if you want to be friends with others and/or remain friends even within your family, there are two topics that you are to avoid. One is politics and the other is religion. But, have you ever noticed that since our parents told that to us – or our grandparents – we don’t really heed that too well, do we? – that so often, any conversation you plunge into, you move right into discussing and/or religion? It’s never hindered our words. It’s never hindered our actions. We probably gained as many friends as we have lost them at the same time.
Why do I bring this up today, friends? Because today we live here today in America in what can only be described as a polarized society – polarized society. Think of North Pole, think of South Pole, and how much there is between them. And it seems today, more than ever, of recent date that very few citizens linger around the equator of thought. The middle has disappeared. Many have stopped talking to one another. Many have stopped listening to one another and they are just shouting. Many mouths are open. And when the mouth is open – have we ever noticed? – then the ears close. I would suggest, with my history/background, that America has not experienced such a terse and a tense environment since Jeffersonian times and/or that time of prelude before the great Civil War.
Nations alone – nations alone – are not alone when dealing with the subject of being fractured by politics. Churches – religious organizations – also fall prey, and they also fracture, and they come to naught, because of spiritual partisanship – even churches that teach to avoid voting and being involved in politics. It is so very amazing how often that the spirit of politics can enter. Both nations, and religious organizations, and our church need to reminded of the words of Jesus Himself – a house divided cannot stand, lest if fall.
If we think about the scriptures before us, we go back, and we remember and recall that the covenant people of God – whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament – have never been immune from politics – since the time of Saul and David, since the reign of David, when you think of Joab and Abner going at one another, when we think of Absalom – who was sitting at the gate of the city politicking and trying to win people over to his party…. We think of Nehemiah as he came back to Jerusalem and was trying to build a wall and do something protect the city of Jerusalem – all of the naysayers, and all the complainers, and all the party spirit that was occurring there in 5th century BC. We can even go to the time of the examples that we find surrounding Jesus, with the story of even the disciples, on the night of His suffering, how they were vying for power and vying for opportunity, and wanted to be those to lead the charge, and be the ones that would be on top at the end of the day. We can go to the book of Corinthians, and we notice how Paul wrote the book of Corinthians to challenge that church about party spirit – those that said, “Well, I am of Paul,” “I’m of Christ,” “I’m of Apollos.” So, it’s always been with us. And it was even there at the end of the 1st century AD when John, the apostle, wrote 3 John – what has come to be known as 3 John – where he spoke of Diotrephes – the man in the church – that had been amongst the church – been one of us – and yet, he wanted the preeminence – to be above all – so much so, that when John, the apostle, came to speak, he barred the door of the church – would not even let one of the twelve disciples participate in a church that, most likely, either he or Paul had raised up.
With all of that spoken then, as your pastor and as your friend, I want to address the subject today and answer the question. The question is simply this: Has the church changed its stance on political endorsements, or has it taken sides in the affairs that are here on earth? I’m going to break the rule today. In this message, I’m going to talk about both politics and religion. How about that? So bar the door right now, deacons! Don’t let anybody out! We’re going to discuss it. We’re going to look at it from a biblical manner. We need to recognize that, if you think of the book of Revelation, where the Spirit of God talks about the sins – or Christ talks about the sins – of the seven churches. The seven churches that were in Asia Minor could not be helped but be affected by the culture and society that was around them. It just simply seeps in, if you’re not careful. And we don’t want that to happen within the body of Christ.
When you think of the book of Revelation, there are three things that the Christ shared with John to write down. With each of those churches, number one, He gave a commendation , then, number two, He gave a concern , but whatever that concern was, all of those churches wound up with a message of encouragement and of hope – that they could even be better vessels in the service of God the Father and Jesus Christ. So allow me to give you the title of the message. Here it goes. The title of the message is simply this – so that we will stay on track – The Politics of the Kingdom of God . And we are going to find, by the end of this message, that there are politics within the Kingdom of God. And I’ll define that as we go along.
Before I go any further, sometimes you have to state your credentials when you mention the word politics . And you say, “Robin, well, what do you know about politics. You have, basically, been in this way of life since you were twelve years old.” But allow me to give you some background of politics and how this subject affects me. When I was growing up – like many of you – I came from a very politically charged family. My father – and many of you know Jack Webber, my dad – was actually the president of a men’s club of one of the parties for a large metropolitan area. My mother actually worked for a political office. She actually worked toward the election of a President. Robin Webber – little Robin – was busted in fourth grade for passing out political balloons. I think I was just doing everybody a favor – and they were really kind of cute balloons – but then I got called to the side…it’s all right to be called to the side, but it’s when you’re called outdoors that you get a little worried. And I was told to stop and cease. Back in those years – in the early 60s…you remember all the dynamics that were happening in the 60s – you go back and I remember my household – just like today in America – we thought that half the nation didn’t get it – was not about American values. In fact, myself, even at that age, I didn’t really think too much of the other side. In my little mind – even though we were all Americans – my mind was fractured between parties. I’m not going to mention what party my parents were.
But the point was this, the great awakening – at one of those snapshot moments that occur in one’s life – happened when we were invited to a Church of God service in 1963. You have to understand that my family lived in the suburbs, and the place where we met was downtown San Diego. And of all things – and please hear me where I was coming from – we were going to be meeting in a union hall. That may as well been Mars to my family – to be meeting in a church service in a union hall. But, as we approached that old building – the Carpenters’ Local down there in San Diego – I will forever remember, as I was following my mom and my dad up the stairs – there was a big, large, black gentleman. He was so warm, and he was so wonderful in his welcoming us to the first time that we would enter the church, and he shook each of our hands. I had never – up to age twelve – shook the hand of a black man – much less, I did not have to worry about what everybody else was thinking in the other half that was in the church. We were all together there to learn about the gospel – to learn about the good news of the coming Kingdom of God.
All fear, all thought, all separation left my mind. It was the first time, at age twelve – and I was a very active, thinking person at age twelve – I said, “This is it!” – especially when everybody pulled out their notebook, which you didn’t really do in the Lutheran Church a lot, you know, back then – pulled out a notebook, and they were writing, and some of them even had colored pencils. The last time I had seen colored pencils was in fourth grade. And all these people were out there, and they were marking…. And I said, “You can’t do that.” In the Lutheran Church, you never pick up the Bible in front of you, and you sure don’t color in it! But there we were and there they were, and I said, “You know something? They’re a little unique, but you know what? They’re really serious about what they’re doing.”
So I want to give you a background that I’m not speaking out of turn, or not knowing what I’m talking about when it comes to politics. So I wanted to share that with you. And I always remember that when – in San Diego…. For those of you, that are a little bit older, that have ever seen Casablanca , where Humphrey Bogart is talking to Claude Rains, and Rick says to Captain Louie – he says, “Louie,” as they’re walking into the fog, “I think this is the beginning of a wonderful friendship.” And that’s how I was when I came into the Church of God. We were united. And that was a beautiful thing.
Today we look at the things that are happening to us around, and we recognize that many of our fellow Americans are not feeling…one another at this point. And many of them have latched onto a person – this man, this woman, this figure – whoever it might be.
One thing that we talk about, when we look at history, is to understand that God above is sovereign, and His purpose is going to stand, no matter who is in Congress, no matter who is in the White House, no matter who is in the Kremlin, no matter who at number 10 Downing Street. Recognize that His purpose is going to stand. And even though we, at times, know that we have given and surrendered our lives to God the Father’s calling through Jesus Christ, we get hooked, and we get attached to a man. We have a champion – a new champion – as much as in ancient Rome, there was a new gladiator, or there was a new charioteer that caught the attention of the crowd, and they began to support him.
Join me, if you would, in Psalm 146. In Psalm 146 – let’s take a look at this – these are the words of David from the Psalms – in Psalms 146:
Psalms 146:1 Psalms 146:1Praise you the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
American King James Version×– Praise the LORD, o my soul. While I live, I will praise the LORD. I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. And that’s how all of us, but then sometimes, we slip into a mode in verse 3: Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs and he returns to his earth, and that very day, his plans perish. What David is saying is that men will come and they will go. And as politicians today – kings back then, over city-states or over different cities along the Mediterranean – they would make promises. And they would have a following. But they come, they go. Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, who keeps truth forever. You do not have to fact check God. He keeps the truth forever. …who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD gives freedom to the prisoners. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD raises those who are bowed down. The LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers. He relieves the fatherless and the widow. And the way of the wicked He turns upside down. This is speaking, in a sense – which we will cover later – of Jubilee – of Jubilee, of a turning over one day of the government – the dominion, societies – of this earth. The LORD shall reign forever, even your God, O Zion, to all generations.
So God tells us, “Don’t go to the bank on a man.” Now, at the same time, God will choose whom He will choose, and He will use whom He will use at times to further the gospel – to make things happen for a covenant people, whether in the Old Testament or in the New Testament. And allow me to use this phrase: at times, He will , and has used the most unlikely vessels down through history, to serve and to promote His plan.
Let’s think about that for a moment. You might want to jot some of these down. You can do your own study a little bit later. What about Pharaoh? Pharaoh was an unlikely vessel. And yet it says that God divinely hardened the heart of Pharaoh. “Well,” you say, “that’s an awful thing to do to somebody. How could a good God do that?” Thank you for asking that question. Pharaoh’s heart was already hardened. God just allowed it to slip into further gear. But by that hardening, God was able to show that He alone is God, and that He had power over the Hebrews, not Pharaoh, and that God alone would hold the answer to Moses’ plea to Pharoah, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh was used of God to create the environment for the people to go out of Egypt in exodus.
What about Nebuchadnezzar? Nebuchadnezzar – another unlikely vessel – a man that was used of God – a pagan, a warrior, a man who decimated multiple societies in antiquity – and yet Nebuchadnezzar was used of God to bring up Daniel and Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. He even, in a sense, had a relationship with this man – this wise man, called Daniel. And God even used this most unlikely vessel – hear me, please – one that, when you go to Daniel 2, built a big hundred-foot-tall image – a man that built an idol – yet, He used that same pagan man to promote that the God of Daniel was above all gods. And he made a proclamation that went out to Mesopotamia, to Syria, down to Egypt, which he ruled.
Think of Cyrus. Cyrus, again – if you think of the image of the beast – that second part of the image – that, speaking of Persia – and Cyrus was the one that created the Medo-Persian Empire. And yet it was this unlikely vessel – this pagan man – that was used of God to sustain His purpose. God had said that after seventy years, “You will go back.” And Cyrus allowed Ezra and Nehemiah, and – but, when you think about it, not all of the Jews – only one out of ten Jews went back to Jerusalem. But nonetheless, God used the pagans to fulfill His purpose. Isn’t that interesting?
And, if you want to move beyond pagans, you’ll recognize probably the most unlikely vessel of all was Balaam’s donkey. God spoke through a donkey to promote His purpose and to do His bidding. Interesting.
With all of that said, and with all of the ruckus that is occurring right now around our nation, every night we go home, and we wonder what’s going to be on the news tonight – either with this party or with this party. And it’s tempting to plunge in and rally around a human leader. But we do it at our own risk, brethren. We do it at our own risk. We need to heed the wisdom of God spoken through Gamaliel in the book of Acts, when he said, “Be cautious,” when they were about to jump into action – the church of that day – the Jewish church in that day – and they wanted to take the disciples. He said, “Look, if it’s not of God, it will fail. But, if it is of God, you cannot fight against it.” Sometimes we all live in the immediacy of the moment in this fish bowl of time and space, and we think we have to do everything right now. We think that we have to make judgment calls right now. Sometimes we think we have to make judgment calls on our Presidents in the United States, whether it be the former President or our current Commander-in-Chief.
Let us understand that a historian does not really make judgments for 20-25 years after a President is out of office. I have a historian and a professor nodding his head. The play is not played out yet. Those that are in power right now – as those who have recently been in power – they have contributed a verse, in their sincerity and all of their means, but the play is not played out and the judgement is not done.
One thing I want you to understand, though, is the Word of God and what God about the people today in our nation. Join me, if you would, in Isaiah 1, because sometimes we can say, “Well, this party is better than that party,” or “ This party is better than that party,” or “I won’t go to any party that that party is putting on.” But let’s notice God’s commentary about the present state of our nation – a nation that was founded on the principles of God Almighty and yet, has gone astray. In Isaiah 1, let’s take a look at what it says.
Isaiah 1:2-7 Isaiah 1:2-7 2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD has spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel does not know, my people does not consider.
4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger, they are gone away backward.
5 Why should you be stricken any more? you will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
7 Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
American King James Version×– Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth – verse 2 – for the LORD has spoken, and I have nursed and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. An ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not consider. You know, sometimes, if you’re over in the great cities of India, where…. Maybe, Frank has seen this before. Frank’s probably been to India – he’s been everywhere else. Frank, have you been to India yet? Okay, we’ll take up a collection…. Anyway, over in India, you can say, “What do all these cows do at night time?” They go back to their owner. They know the streets better than a London cabbie driver knows about London’s. They make it home. You know, when I lived in Monrovia for twenty-six years with Susie, we raised chickens all those years. And sometimes a chicken would go out. I wouldn’t worry about the chicken, because you know what the old saying is, “A chicken will always come home to roost.” Now Ward’s nodding his head, because he’s an old farm boy. He understands that principle. The point is this, though, the nation – the people – no longer remember how to get back to God. Alas, sinful nation, a people with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters. They have forsaken the LORD. They have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel. They have turned away backward. Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. Now notice this. The whole head is sick and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot, even to the head, there is no soundness in it. But wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores, they have not been closed, neither bound up or soothed with ointments. Your country is desolate. Your cities are burned with fire, and strangers devour your land in your presence.
Now why do I say this? What is the relevance today? Sometimes people will look at it – even those that are in the body of Christ – and will say, “Well, this party is a little bit better than this party,” or “This guy is a little bit better than this guy.” No, God is saying, “This is not just about political leaders.” People want to pick on political leaders. Those leaders would not be there – in whatever time, whatever term – if the people did not put them there. The leaders reflect the people. One plus one equals two. And what God is saying, “It’s not just whoever inhabits Congress or the White House at this time, it’s the whole body that’s sick!” – that we’ve lost our way! Oh yeah, sure, people can go to church, and they can nod, and they can say, “Nice sermon, Mr. So-and-so,” and then they go home and they go do their own thing, which, in their life today, if their grandmother were still alive today, she’d turn every turn every shade of pale – faint! And no amount of artificial respiration would put her back again. We have changed that much over the years as a society. This may be an inconvenient truth to all of us, because we look at champions. We only have one champion in the body of Christ. And that is One that the Father has given us, Jesus the Christ.
Now, to answer the question again, “Has the church somehow changed its stance on politics in the world?” I’d like to read briefly from a church paper. It’s called, Voting and Involvement in Political Politics . It’s a study paper from 2003. We recently reviewed this in the Council of Elders just last year. And after much discussion, this current paper stood. Let me read for just but a brief moment: “The United Church of God, AIA maintains its traditional teaching that a Christian should avoid voting, and participating in political elections, and running for public office. The church does not declare voting…” – hear me, please. “The church does not declare voting itself to be a sin. However, this does not change the teaching and the judgment of the church regarding what is in our collective best interest. Even if one does not vote, division can still result, if one brings his political preferences to church. The act of not voting in the elections of this world, in agreement with the principles given above, is not an end in itself. Even more fundamentally important for members of the church, and serving as an underlying reason for not voting or running for a public office, is promoting peace within the church – not division over vote-related issues. There is also the clear issue of coming out of this world,” circa – and I’ve added this – Revelation 18, and verse 4.
Now, are you with me? Let’s talk. While the entity of the church has put this out for your consideration and encouragement, and a judgment upon the part of the church, I also realize that some of you vote. And that’s your decision that’s based upon your conscience. And so we understand that. I’ve also found that some of the most voracious advocates of personalities and parties are those who don’t vote – in discussions that I’ve had with them. For those who choose to vote or not to vote, I’m not asking you to check your brain in at the door and be a robot, but politics should be left at the door, along with our attitudes.
Discussing politics and being political are two different things. You can discuss issues that are occurring in the world. You can discuss issues that are impacting us as citizens of this nation. But, discussing politics and being political are two different things. You know it when you see it and hear it and experience it up close and personal. Thus, to answer a question that I share with you of being a minister for over forty years, and also currently on the board of the church, “thus the entity of the United Church of God remains a political” – the entity – the body of this organization remain apolitical. “It doesn’t support persons, but it does certainly support our privilege to speak about values that are God-sanctioned and biblically based.” With that stated then, let’s go to the next question.
Thus, what do the politics of the Kingdom of God look like, and what are some of those promises? Because, as I mentioned, the Kingdom of God is involved in politics. You say, “Really?” I didn’t say, “Politicize,” but politics. Let’s do a little Greek study here for a moment. Some of you will be familiar with this. Let’s, first of all, take the word polis – P-O-L-I-S. You might want to jot that down. It’s a Greek word and that refers to a Greek city-state of antiquity, generally speaking. And the definition for that is “a state or society, especially when characterized by a sense of community.” Thus we find – stay with me, please – are you with me? We’re going to go from here to there – a polis , like metro polis – city – a polis is a community. A polis is a community. Church is a community of believers that have responded to the call of the Father and have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and King. Allow me to stretch that one step further. Therefore, the word politics , or in the Greek, politicae , comes from that same root. And that means “that which governs the community.” Now stay with me, because we’re going to build a scriptural jigsaw here for a moment and create a clear picture.
Join me, if you would, in Psalms 33 – Psalms 33, and verse 12. In Psalms 33, and verse 12, we take a look here, and it says:
Psalms 33:12 Psalms 33:12Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance.
American King James Version×– Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.
Now, again, when David was speaking this in the Psalms, he was thinking of Israel of old. But let’s go to the New Testament for a moment. Join me, if you would, and let’s go to the New Testament and let’s look at 1 Peter 2, and verse 9 – 1 Peter 2, and verse 9 – because God is dealing, today, with more than just one nation. He is dealing with a spiritual nation. In 1 Peter 2, and verse 9, notice what it says:
1 Peter 2:9 1 Peter 2:9But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;
American King James Version×– But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood – and notice – a holy nation, His own special people. That sounds like community, doesn’t it? That’s a polis – P-O-L-I-S. And what are they doing? They’re proclaiming the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. In a sense, we were all inculcated, we were all immigrants, we came into this… who once were not a people, but are now the people – or the community – of God – who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
Let’s go one step further. Are you with me? Let’s go over to the book of Hebrews – Hebrews 11. In Hebrews 11, let’s pick up the thought here in verse 10 – speaking of the patriarchs. And even in their own time, at first, they were unlikely vessels, until they each, in their time, surrendered themselves to God. Hebrews 11, verse 10:
Hebrew 11:10 – For he – speaking of the patriarch, Abraham – waited for the city – waited for the polis – which has foundations whose builder and maker is God. God is developing a community. And then it talks about how Sarah – and he – by faith conceived and that, from one man, as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore – in verse 12. They all died in faith, not having received the promises, but seeing them afar off, were assured of them – embraced them – confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly – now listen to this – that they seek a homeland. And truly, if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return, but now – now! – desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for – notice now – stay with me – for He has prepared a city for them – a city – a polis – a community – that is governed by His practices and by His ways.
We follow in this line of believers in chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews. The question with all of this, dear friends, is simply this – I ask you to ask the question: Who, then, do we endorse and give our vote to on a daily basis? See, in this nation, we vote every four years and/or every two years, for those that might vote. But God asks us to, in a sense – by our words, by our thoughts, by our actions, by our deeds, and by our motives – cast our ballot every day – that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives. He is sovereign. And what He brought from His Father, and brings to us, is the constitution of our lives.
Join me, if you would, in Revelation 11. In Revelation 11, this is who we glorify by our actions, by our words, by our deeds. This is whom we look to. This is the Lord of our lives. And this, one day, will be the King of all in all. Revelation 11, verse 15:
Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
American King James Version×– Then the seventh angel sounded, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world” – notice – “have become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign – for all of four years, and He will come and He will go – no, it says – “forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who sat before God on their thrones, fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord, God Almighty, the One who is, who was, and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned.” These nations were angry all around us, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged – that You should reward Your servants, the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth.
Today, as Christians in the body of Christ, yes, indeed – and I have no problem ever saying that – Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the Lord of my life – the Spirit of the Father and His Spirit rule my heart – they govern that community that they have called me into and called you into. And we give Him sole allegiance – a God whose promises are going to come true more than that sun that is going to set in the west tonight. And that’s who we give our allegiance to.
Thus, as an apolitical entity, the United Church of God does have a mission statement – as being a part of the community of the body of Christ – that city that is being made now, without hands, for the future. Here is our mission statement. I know that different political parties have different statements, but our statement – at least within this organization – is very simple. It’s what we’re about. I know all the candidates – both the one on the left, and the one on the right, and all those who also joined in the fray – the smaller parties – they all had slogans, they all had sayings. Some even offered you some clothing. But this is what we are about – and it’s in the mission of the United Church of God. And I presume that’s why you’re here. You are a part of a campaign. You are a part of something bigger than you are singularly. We are here to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. We are here to make disciples in all nations. And we are here to care for those disciples that God places in our charge. Not only that, but join me over in Colossians 1, verse 27.
In Colossians 1, and verse 27, let’s notice what it says here. This is speaking to us, not only those who were at Colossae or Laodicea at that time – because it’s often thought that this was actually written to the Laodiceans as well. Let’s make this inclusive and think of ourselves.
Colossians 1:27 Colossians 1:27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
American King James Version×– To them God willed to make know what are the riches of the glory this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you – the hope of glory. It’s Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. And to this end, I also labor, striving according to His working, which works in me mightily.
We’re speaking of salvation offered by God Almighty through His Son, Jesus Christ. Is there a warning element in that message? Oh, absolutely! Jesus Himself, the head of the church, when He came to this earth, He did not speak soft things. He did not mollycoddle the Sadducees and the Pharisees. He poked them. He got at them. He challenged them! He asked them questions. He answered their questions – sometimes, like a good Jew, with another question – “Who, then, is neighbor?” Today, where we are in this church and in this organization, we take it very seriously – what God has given us to do.
Now I want to read a few things to you, for a moment, about what you have elected – out of free choice – you’re here – the doors aren’t locked (I was only teasing beforehand). But this is, in a sense, where God is taking this polis – this city that is made without hands – what we are a part of. We are not here just simply to make a “one nation great again.” We are preparing the way for the great God and His Christ to come back to this earth – to cry aloud, yes, and spare not – and to cry aloud and give messages of joy and understanding and hope to those that have never had hope, that have never had a friend, that have never had a champion – that Jesus Christ has been provided by the Father to be exactly that to him, to her – whether they’re in Tallahassee, whether they’re in Topeka, whether they’re in New York, whether they’re in the Bay Area – that each and every one of us can identify with the One who – very interesting – was looked over, the One that nobody thought was going to be the Messiah, the One that His pre-cabinet, that He was working with and molding, abandoned Him on the very night that He needed them the most. And yet, He is the One that God the Father has given us – not an earthly prince, not a head of nation, but Jesus Christ Himself – to be the One, to be the Good Shepherd.
What is the platform of this entity called the United Church of God? How do we take the message that this community within the body of Christ has been allowed to give? I just want you to relax for a moment and I want you to hear what I say. I’m reading from the guiding principles – the guiding principles that are found in the Strategic Plan. Boy, that sounds boring. That sounds like a bunch of office work. No, I’m just going to read it. I want you to hear what you’re a part of – of why you are here today to hear a message like this, why you support the efforts of the ministry of the church, why you come amongst the brethren of this church, and why, also, you give yourself to brethren that are in other churches of God, and you give to your neighbors, and you give to your schools, and why you are that light which is set not under a bushel, but on a hill that all might see. This is what we are about. Remember how Jesus said, “I will build My church?” Right? Matthew 16:18 Matthew 16:18And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
American King James Version×. And He is building it. I am but the pastor. Jesus Christ is the living head of the body of Christ. He’s the Lord of our life. And He’s doing something down here. And we have an opportunity to be a part of that. Allow me just to read it for a moment.
Speaking of what we’re about: “A church led by God’s Holy Spirit” – see this…you know how every politician has a platform – every party – Democrat, Republican or in-between – has a platform – this is what they stand for, this is what they promise, this is what they say they’re going to deliver – this is the platform: “A church led by God’s Holy Spirit, joined and knit together by what every member supplies, with all doing their share, growing in love to fulfill God’s great purpose for humanity – to bring many children to glory. The mission of the Church of God is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God in all the world, make disciples in all nations, and care for those disciples. We believe that our Father has given us the opportunity to build a relationship with Him, with Jesus Christ, and with one another, and with all mankind. We believe the immutable Word of God shows us how to build those loving relationships” – and also to become more like Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, we will strive to live by every word of God, led by His Holy Spirit in humility, enabling those relationships” – whatever relationship God has called you to in this lifetime – “to grow and to flourish. We believe God has a plan of salvation for every individual who will yield to Him and His Son, Jesus Christ. That plan includes the calling and the perfecting of those who are being converted now, as well as those to be converted in the ages to come. Therefore, it is the duty of the church to proclaim a message of hope and a call to repentance, to teach all things Christ has commanded, and to prepare members of the body of Christ to teach, to lead, to serve under Him now and in the future.” Hear this now, please, with some of the ruckus that is going on. “We believe every individual of every race, nationality and gender will indeed, in God’s time, have the opportunity to hear the testimony of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, and the good news of the Kingdom of God. We believe that the gospel” – and we do believe, brethren – that’s why you’re here. And as your pastor, and as your friend, I’m here to invigorate you and to encourage you not to be sucked into the ways of this world, not to be sucked into the spirit of this age, not to go down the cauldron or the quicksand of partisanship – whether in the nation or in the church – but always to look up.
“We believe every individual of every race, nationality and gender will, in God’s time, have the opportunity to hear that testimony of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, and the good news of the Kingdom of God. And we believe the gospel explicitly provides every individual an opportunity when called for membership in the family of God.” You know, we talk today, in national politics about inclusion, about y’all come. This is inclusion. But in that inclusion, as Mr. Shemet was mentioning today, there are also guidelines. There is law. And there are rules to adhere to. “Therefore, in order to maximize the effectiveness of the gospel message, we endeavor to reach all people” – all people – “in a way they can understand with a balanced mix of doctrine, prophecy and Christian living, recognizing that any lasting fruit is produced with the power of God’s Holy Spirit.” Sorry to mention it, but we believe more.
“We believe that, as we near the end of the age, humanity is in urgent need of the gospel message in advance of the events surrounding Christ’s return.” You and I believe, literally , that Jesus Christ is going to come back as He left – touch down not in Houston, not at Cape Canaveral, but on the Mount of Olives. We believe that. We’ve given our life to that. We have wagered our existence on that and look forward to that day. “We believe Jesus commissioned His church to declare what is to come – to warn of the consequences of sin, to preach repentance, and proclaim the hope of eternal salvation. Therefore, we take very seriously the church’s responsibility to boldly preach the gospel as a witness to the world with zeal and a sense of urgency.” And we’re doing that, brethren. We’re doing that on the Beyond Today program. We’re doing that in the Beyond Today magazine. Yes, we deal with the issues of Christian living. Yes, we deal with the issues of biblical doctrine. And yet, we are also speaking out, brethren!
We speak to the issues of the day of sanctity of life – not just only of the unborn, but of children and how to educate them, of young adults with the challenges that they have today, with the sanctity of life when it comes to the issues of war, and that we are not to take another person’s life. See, some people, they want to compartmentalize where the sanctity of life is. And you and I do believe that life begins in the womb, and that in the womb, which should be the most secure place on God’s green earth, there should not be violence, there should not be disruption of life. So while we do not speak to party or to person, we will stand up and we will speak to value. And that message is going out every day around the world by your prayers, by your faithful tithes, by your encouragement, by what you add. And that is very important.
We believe in a very inclusive message. When you think of the Declaration of Independence itself, it says this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights” – the very founding, sacred – if I can use that phrase – document that precedes the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence recognized that there is a Creator of all humanity – one Father over all. “…certain unalienable rights, that among these” – the first is – “life” – the second is – “liberty” – and the third is – “the pursuit of happiness.” What did Jesus say when He came amongst us as a man? He said in John 10, and verse 10:
John 10:10 John 10:10The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
American King James Version×– I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.
And that day is going to be coming for all humanity one day. And it’s going to be a wonderful, wonderful time.
Now I want to share something with you right now. I’m going to begin concluding some. I’m going to skip over a page. We’ll make a sermon out of that another time. We’ve been talking about the nation around us. Let’s talk about the church. Let’s talk about the body of Christ here for a second, because that’s just as important. Join me, if you would, in John 17 – in John 17, and verse 21. Let’s notice Jesus’ prayer for the body of Christ down through the ages. He prayed to His father:
John 27:21 John 27:21
American King James Version×– That they – that means, we – that they all might be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You have given Me I have given them, that they – notice – may be one, just as we are one.
Do you know what God’s favorite number is? One. It’s about unity. As we see the nation and society going the way that it is going, brethren, we have to become even more dogged, more determined spiritually – that we will not let the environment of this age – and we know who the god of this age is – with a small g – to creep in amongst us. That’s one of the reasons why God did establish pastors and teachers.
I have two very important responsibilities as a pastor. Number one is to makes sure the gospel of God and Jesus Christ is preached amongst you, whether I’m here or somebody else speaks on my behalf. The second function that a pastor has is to protect the righteous from the unrighteous. And I have always taken that very, very seriously. Brethren, more than ever, as we are infiltrated by the wavelengths and the attitudes of this world, I want each and every one of us to take responsibility that nothing will come between us – that we will be one, as Jesus prayed to His Father that we might be one.
The apostle Paul felt, some years later, felt that this could be a challenge. Join me in Ephesians 4 for just a second. In Ephesians 4, here is Paul, who is man who was a Roman citizen. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Jew. And he also spoke the Greek language. He traveled the world of antiquity. He was a very – do we dare say, a very, very Renaissance man? – he was very cosmopolitan. And he recognized that God was going to be calling everybody from all sorts of different directions. And there was a challenge in the church then, as it is today, that our differences might surmount what we have in common, and that people would begin to major in the minors – major in the minors – rather than to remember what we have in common. Allow me to read this for a second in Ephesians 4.
Ephesians 4:1 Ephesians 4:1I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called,
American King James Version×– I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called….
We have been called, brethren, to be citizens of the Kingdom of God. Our citizenship, as it says in Philippians 3, and verse 20, is, even now, in heaven above. We just have to catch up with it – or have it brought down to us, as we know. That’s our citizenship. We have one Father, no matter where we have come from. We have one Father. We have different mothers, but we have one Father. We come from different bents, and different races, and ethnic groups. We come from different countries. We come from wealthy backgrounds. We come from poor backgrounds. But the whole story of the Christian message is simply this: It’s not where you come from. Once you have accepted the call of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it is where you are headed. It is very much as America was 200 years ago. It wasn’t who your daddy was. Because, if you were over in England, and if you were the second, or third-born son, you never got the land. That’s why so many second-borns and third-borns came over to America – because it wasn’t who your daddy was. It wasn’t about the past. It was about the future. Isn’t that what we said when we were Christians – that we were going to give up our past, we were going to give our God our present, and we were going to look to Him to guide us to the future? That’s not just simply the American way. That’s what God intended all along.
Notice where Paul put his emphasis.
V-3-6 – Endeavoring – in verse 3 – to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body – it’s a spiritual body, not an organization – not just simply one religious entity. There is one body, one Spirit – just as you were called in one hope of your calling – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all – all! – who is above all, through all, and in you all. Paul is kind of making that same kind of point here, like he did with, “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” You know, he just keeps on going, and adds a paragraph, and adds a paragraph. He just wanted us to know that God wants to saturate us with His unity through His Spirit, and to make sure, in our discussions with one another, and our thinkings and our talkings with one another, that we major in the majors, rather than majoring in the minors. That’s a beautiful thing.
Why is this so important, brethren? I’ll tell you why, as I conclude. Right now we have challenges in our nation. And we’re going to have to give that one to God. We, as the people of God, are, as it says in Peter, to honor the king. We are to offer due respect to whoever might inhabit the office of the Presidency at this time. We are to, indeed, in that sense, honor the king. We are also to pray that the gospel might have free course – that we might have time…because even Jesus Himself said, “I must work the works of My Father while it is day , because the night does come.” We are also to pray for our nation. We are to ask that our people might turn. We need to be in the footsteps, in that sense, of Jonah. Yes, we must preach a warning message. We must preach repentance, as Jesus did. But pray that that repentance might fall on fertile ears and fertile hearts, and that God would say, “Oh, if only My people will turn.” Let’s not give up hope for that.
And lastly, how can we, as a people that say that we are one with God the Father and Jesus Christ, and point to a Father and a Son, in whom there is no division in their love and their purpose towards us, and then, if the world sees us divided? That’s not the polis . That’s not the city that is made without hands. That is not the politica that God has for those that are in His community now, but to be united.
I want to conclude with this thought – talking about politics and history – that we need to be galvanized in unity sometimes, and remember that we, as the people of God – and we, as Americans – have more in common than we have apart. I’d like to rehearse the words of Thomas Jefferson – that he spoke in 1800. This was after two really disruptive elections – very much like the one we just went through. But Thomas Jefferson said this in his inauguration address in 1800: “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have been called, by different names, brethren, of the same principle. We are all Republicans and we are all Federalists.” And a more recent quote – one that, maybe, you’ve heard before, but maybe it puts it all into context – Ronald Reagan, during that surgery – during the assassination that he experienced – he was very, very close to death – more than we even realized at that time. But when he was wheeled into the doctor’s office there, he looked at the doctor, and with that Irish sense of humor said, “I hope you are a Republican.” And the doctor – the surgeon – looked back at him, and he said, “Mr. President, on this day, and at this time, we are all Republicans.” Hmm. Hmm.
Brethren, let us understand why I gave this message – that the church has not changed its outlook or its approach. The entity of the United Church of God remains apolitical. We are not here to extol people, for they will come and they will go, but we are here to extol values – values that Jesus spoke of, Moses codified, and that we have in our hearts. We will do that. So let’s move together, united more than ever. Let us watch and guard our hearts, our mouths, our tongues to remember that the existence of a Christian is always to allow those that are within earshot not to be deterred, not to be demeaned, but to be edified, just as all of us are being edified by the Spirit of God in us. Let us be one. Let us pray for God’s blessing on our nation. Let us pray for God’s blessing on our leaders. And let us pray that our fellow citizens might repent and come to know the fullness and the abundance of the gospel message of Jesus Christ and the coming Kingdom of God.