What Would Jesus say to Stephen Harper

I discovered as a teenager that if I wanted to begin a conversation with my father I only had to bring up politics, he has very definite views on the subject and isn’t afraid to share them.

So if the conversation was turning toward subjects that I didn’t want to discuss like perhaps my behaviour I could comment on what a fine job Prime Minister Trudeau was doing and we’d be off to the races. Dad still thinks the last decent PM this country had was John Diefenbaker.

Now let me state that I love politics and the entire process. I don’t understand people who don’t vote my time in Australia was horrible at election time because I was unable to cast a ballot. But understand I am basically nonpartisan in my politics. I have voted for virtually every federal party at one time or another.

My father on the other hand, well Dad is what you might call a dyed in the wool Tory. Born a conservative he has lived a conservative and he will no doubt die a conservative. I suspect that if you cut dad that he would bleed blue. And ever since I was old enough to realize just how passionate he was about that it gave me something to start conversations about. Teenagers rebel in many different ways I hung a four foot poster of Pierre Trudeau in my bedroom. And today if I find the conversation lagging at some point I can still look at Dad and say “You know I think Justin will make a great Prime Minister some day.” And we are off to the races.

I enjoy politics and I enjoy politicians. I have had the opportunity to at least shake hands and introduce myself to Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark and Stephen Harper. I have had either shared a meal or coffee with each of the representatives who are here today I have a lot of respect for our elected officials.

As I was getting ready for today I asked myself; What would the most powerful being in the entire universe, God almighty in the person of Jesus Christ, what would Jesus say to the most powerful man in Canada? Stephen Harper.

We invited the Prime Minister to our service along with you gentlemen and received a lovely note from an assistant with his regrets, but I had already started the message. I’ll email him a copy.

Now let me start by saying that there are some things we aren’t going to do in this message. The first is we are not getting into partisan politics, Cornerstone has been very careful to steer clear of the entire party thing over the past fifteen years and secondly I’m not going to second guess Stephen Harper’s relationship with God.

Harper was brought up in a Presbyterian home, but for the past twenty years or so he has made the Christian Missionary Alliance Church, both in Calgary and Ottawa his spiritual home. And the CMA shares many of the characteristics of Cornerstone. And it was interesting to learn that when he was sworn in as Prime Minister he used his personal bible for the ceremony.

And so we are not going to comment on his faith or try and second guess his relationship with God. The third thing I’m not going to do in this message is to spend this time critiquing Stephen Harper and his policies. You want to talk politics I’ll meet you at a Tim’s but we aren’t going to do it here.

What I want to do instead is to focus in on a few of the many things that Jesus might say to Stephen Harper on a broader scale, to look into the wisdom that is given from the Bible for leaders, Harper in particular and to each of us who has a leadership position. Perhaps you’re a leader at work, either an employer or union leader, or a leader in the church, or a community group, or school, or a leader in your family.

Or perhaps like our guests here today you are a leader in government. And so for each one of us who rises to the challenge of leadership, there is a message here.

And so I think the first thing that Jesus might say to Stephen Harper would come from the Old Testament, from the book of Psalms, Psalm 78 in particular. This is a very long psalm, a psalm that chronicles some of the rebellion of the people of Israel, and some of the problems they had through their history. At the very end of the Psalm though it talks about a leader that God anointed for Israel and some of his characteristics. And I would think that these would be characteristics that God would want for leaders today as well, and so in the 72 verse of Psalm 78 we read Psalm 78:71-72 He took David from tending the ewes and lambs and made him the shepherd of Jacob’s descendants— God’s own people, Israel. He cared for them with a true heart and led them with skilful hands.

And so the very first thing that I think Jesus would say to the Prime Minister would be to

1) Lead With a True Heart The word that is translated as “True” in the original language was the Hebrew word תֹּם or Tawmam and it is often translated as Integrity. As a matter of fact in the NKJV this verse says Psalm 78:72 So David shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.

Integrity is one of those words that we are hearing used more and more, you ever wonder where it comes from? It comes from the Latin integritās, which is also the root word for integer. You all remember your high school math? Do you remember what an integer is? It’s a whole number, 1, 5, 32, 111, 1,324,567. That is an integer as contrasted with a fraction like ½ or 1/3. And so integrity suggests a wholeness, a completeness, an entirety.

Another word that shares the same root is integrated. And so we could say that integrity is when all aspects of your life are integrated, that is they working together as a whole.

You see God wants his people to function as whole people. That’s why Jesus says that nobody can serve two masters, you can’t serve two masters with integrity. Why not? Because if you try to do that your loyalty will be fragmented.

So as a Christian, integrity means a wholeness between your beliefs and your behaviour, between your creed and your character. A person with integrity has consistency, how he believes is how he acts. What he says is what he will do.

And so a leader who is committed and who is a Christian doesn’t just believe in the biblical value of truth telling they are committed to the concept of truth telling. So when they have to decide to keep a promise or break a promise, to cover up a mistake or to come clean about a mistake that their faith will influence their decision.

The leader of integrity doesn’t talk about how they have a faith but it’s a personal faith. In politics the concept of a personal faith is very convenient, you see when their personal faith is in line with public policy they trot it out and show it off, but when they come to an issue that is at odds with their faith they retreat into the shelter of it being a personal matter.

I don’t want to suggest that leaders need to be standing on rooftops proclaiming their faith or quoting bible verses every other sentence, not even Jesus did that. What I am saying is that a faith that’s just a faith in the interior of your heart is a faith that’s too small. If a person takes their belief seriously then that faith should have an impact on how they live.

And so I think that Jesus would say to Stephen Harper and all leaders to lead with a heart of integrity.

And then from the same verse in Psalm 78 I’m sure that Jesus would say “Stephen, it’s important to lead with integrity, but it’s equally important to 2) Lead With Skilful Hands. If you were to go back into the original language here you would discover that skilful hands was an Hebraic euphemism, you know what a Hebraic euphemism is right? It’s a euphemism in Hebrew. It was an euphemism, or a figure of speech, in this case for discernment or wisdom.

It was Samuel Johnson who wrote Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.

Why do leaders need this wisdom? Well first of all it helps us to know when it is legitimate to compromise and when we need to stand firm. Compromise has become a dirty word but it doesn’t have to be. All too often when we think of compromising we think we lose. I remember on “Everybody loves Raymond” and Raymond makes the comment “Compromise is the word the loser uses to explain what happened.” But compromise is also about winning. As a matter of fact in a perfect compromise everyone wins. Politics has actually been called the art of compromise. And often in order to achieve anything of consequence in politics it is a give and take, you do this for me and I’ll do that for you. Wisdom gives us the ability of knowing when to bend and when to stand and say no more. When to say “I will not compromise on this issue, I need to stop here because the compromise that you’re asking me to make is a violation of everything I believe in, and is a matter of my soul”

And then there is the wisdom that is needed to govern as a Christian in a pluralistic society. You see Canada isn’t a theocracy. It’s not governed directly by the bible it’s governed by a constitution and even though it may have been based on Judaeo Christian principles we live in a country made up of people of all different beliefs and backgrounds.

And so what do you do when you are a believer? There are certain principles certain moral certainties from the bible that apply in all cultures things like a respect for the sanctity of human life, those are non-negotiables, but there are certain other things that the Bible calls sin that aren’t against the law, that in a pluralistic society you can’t directly outlaw and send people to prison for. Adultery, martial unfaithfulness, the Bible calls that a sin, the Bible says it’s a sin against God. But can we send people to jail for it? What about private consensual homosexual behaviour? The Bible says it’s wrong, it’s called a sin against God and it’s condemned in God’s word, but should we prosecute people in a pluralistic society for private consensual homosexual behaviour? But where do you draw the line? And there are lines that need to be drawn but where do they need to be drawn. And that’s where the discernment, the wisdom comes in.

A Christian leader also needs to know when to stand up and say, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it right, doesn’t mean it’s moral, doesn’t mean it’s desirable, doesn’t mean our society should embrace, promote it, or give special privileges to it. Sometimes as a leader you need to have the wisdom to know when to stand up and say this is where I stand on this issue, it may not be against the law but it’s wrong.

Wisdom also comes in handy when you have two opposing moral views colliding. Happens everyday in Ottawa, the Legislature and City Hall. It isn’t’ always a great good versus a horrible evil, as a matter of fact in life it is very seldom that clear cut. The provincial Government is finding that out right now.

It is a good thing to rid the province of the deficit. No one would argue with that, but how do you balance that against the loss of jobs, if you could balance the budget with the loss of one job would that be good? Probably not to the person who lost the one job. How about with the loss of 10 jobs? 100 jobs? How about 1000 jobs? And so how do we balance the dignity of employment with the responsibility of a balanced budget?

In a country where abortion is legal and government sponsored how as a leader would you balance a reverence for life with the benefit that foetal tissue transplants bring to sufferers of Parkinson’s disease? On one hand we need to say it’s wrong to destroy the life of the innocent but would you deny hope to those whom foetal tissue might help? And we don’t want to cover the horror of the holocaust of abortion with the veneer of scientific discovery and compassion. It’s tough isn’t it?

Earlier I spoke about the issue of consensual adult homosexual activity. How do you balance respect for people with the scriptures condemnation of their behaviour. And hatred is wrong, whether it directed at homosexuals or heterosexuals. And so we struggle with the morality of love your neighbour and all that implies along with the fact that God’s word, the bible condemns homosexual behaviour, in that same way by the way that it condemns heterosexual behaviour outside of marriage.

And so I’m sure that Jesus would say to the PM: “Stephen it’s not enough to lead with integrity, as important as that is, you also must lead with wisdom.” And probably Stephen Harper would ask the same question that most of us would, “Ok, how do I do that, where do I get that discernment, that wisdom?”

Jeremiah 7:23 records the words of God, Jeremiah 7:23 This is what I told them: ‘Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!’

3) Listen To My Voice I’m sure at this point Jesus would tell the Prime Minister, Stephen, listen for me above the clamouring crowd. Leaders are being barraged constantly by the voice of the people, who in a democracy needs to be listened to, and by lobbyists who to a certain degree need to be listened to as well. It was Winston Churchill who said “Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

But if we are going to lead with a heart of integrity and wisdom we need to keep our ears attuned to God and what he is saying to us. The danger of listening to the lobbyists or the crowd is demonstrated in an ugly incident recorded in the New Testament. It involved Pontius Pilate, who was the governor of Judea when Christ was alive. And into his neatly ordered world came some lobbyists looking for a favour. They were leaders of the established religion of the day and the favour they wanted was to have Jesus killed, he was rocking the boat and they wanted him stopped.

Now Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, he knew that Jesus had done nothing wrong and he told the people that on three different occasions in the book of John, but then to the voice of the lobbyists was added the voice of the crowd. And they clamoured for the crucifixion of Christ.

And so now the Pilate had to decide, should he follow his conscience or should he follow the dictates of the crowd? Maybe he should have read Harper Lee, but then again Lee wouldn’t be born for another 1900 years, but if Pilate could have looked ahead he would have discovered that Lee said “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

And if Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, what went wrong? How did Jesus end up on the cross? Pilate listened to the wrong voice; he listened to the voice of the crowd instead of Jesus. The Crowd spoke, and the lobbyist spoke and then Jesus spoke, he said in

John 18:37 . . . All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

And Pilate’s response was so cynical because he just looked at Jesus and said, “what is truth” and with a wave of his hand he had Jesus killed or more accurately with the washing of his hands he symbolically said, “I’m personally opposed to killing Jesus, It’s my private personal belief that he’s done nothing wrong, but the majority has spoken.” And so he let the roar of the crowd and the whining of the lobbyists drown out the voice of truth that was coming from God.

Often leaders will use the will of the people as an excuse for doing something they know they shouldn’t do, you hear the phrase, the majority of Canadians feel, and how do they know that? They didn’t ask me, did they ask you? And even if the majority does feel that way does it make it right?

How do you stay in communication with God, not just being a churchgoer but by having a relationship with God, a personal living relationship that keeps you in communication with the King of the universe. Not just reading the bible but by having it shape your world view. And by going to God and asking him to lead you, James 1:5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

4) Remember You Are Being Prayed For

And I think that fourthly Jesus would tell the Prime Minister, as a way of encouraging him, “Stephen there is something you need to know about, something you need to be aware of and that is that all over this country I have asked my people to pray for you. My people are praying for you, all over this country they are on their knees and they are praying for you, for your family, for your cabinet and for this country, Stephen I have told, no I have commanded my people to pray for you.”

1 Timothy 2:2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.

 
And the Bible tells those who call themselves Christians very clearly in Romans 13, the passage that was read this morning to respect and to honour and to submit to the civil authorities who rule over us. And there are lots of Christians who I know are doing that. There are Christians who support the Conservative party who are praying for him, and Christians who support the Liberal Party and the NDP and the Bloc who are praying for him.

 
That is our responsibility as believers. To pray not only for Stephen Harper, but also for Geoff Regan, and Peter Lund and Mat Whynott.

 
So where are you at?

 
A lot of the ideas in this message were borrowed from a message by Lee Strobels “What would Jesus say to Bill Clinton”

Keeping in Real

Penn of Denn

Do you remember Steve Fonyo? He was the one-legged athlete who ran across Canada, to raise millions for cancer research in 1984. Fonyo was awarded the Order of Canada in 1985, when he was 18 years old, making him one of the youngest recipients of the order; he said that he had been inspired by Terry Fox.

Well, it seems that they want their medal back; a notice stating that the award has been terminated, appears in the current Canada Gazette. The reason? His behaviour. It seems that Fonyo has a number of convictions, ranging from assault with a deadly weapon, to fraud, to possession of a stolen vehicle. Not to mention, the number of times he’s been charged with impaired driving.
The council that grants the award, felt that Fonyo’s behaviour was at odds with the title he carried, so they took the title away.
Interesting. I wonder what our behaviour says about the title we carry? You know, the title of Christ Follower.

And I wonder what we should do about it? You can be assured that in the long term, changing your behaviour would be better than relinquishing the reward. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Say What?

Interesting.  I remember reading an interview with Observer Music Monthly Magazine where Elton John stated, “From my point of view I would ban religion completely. Organized religion doesn’t seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings and it’s not really compassionate.”
Wow, that stings but I wonder if Sir Elton is blind or just stupid?
During the two weeks I spent in West Africa I saw wells that had been dug by organized religions, hospitals and orphanages that were operated by faith based organizations and schools that were funded and operated by various churches. But in all my travels I never saw anything being done by “once were” rock stars, or for that matter “now are” rock stars. Funny that!
I wonder what the world would be like if the compassion of organized religion was replaced with the rhetoric of people like Elton John?   I’m not sure that it would be a world I would want to live in.
Think of the difference that could be made if Elton and his ilk matched every dollar given by believers for world relief. But then again what do I know? I’m just another hateful lemming.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Africa Here I Come

Penn of Denn

In three days, I will be in Africa.  I will be on a different continent and in a different culture, but I will be doing the same thing I’m doing here and for the same reason. Because, like Bill Hybels, I believe that the local church is the hope of the world. And I believe that the local Church, will rise or fall on the strength of its pastoral leadership.  So, the most exciting part of the trip for me, will be the time that our team will spend working with national pastors in Ghana.  For most of our time there, we will be in a classroom setting teaching these pastors, so that they will be able to return to their villages and more effectively lead their local churches and see change in their world.

nd each of you will be a partner in the change that will happen.  Through the financial help you have provided to make the trip possible and the prayer support that will make the trip safe and effective, you have helped do what I couldn’t do alone.  So thank you for helping to change the world, one life at a time.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.