Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lesson #1: The Christian and Politics

Who’s in charge here?
Rom 13:1-2; Dan 4:17

These next several weeks in my sermons I will be dealing with a sensitive and dangerous topic, politics. It is dangerous because people’s emotions and feelings run high during times like this. We are told this is a monumental election but then we are told that every four years. The hype, the excitement, the anxiety have been building for months and essentially each party, each candidate tries to make you believe that voting them will change the world and their opponent winning will bring the apocalypse. This series will not be about me telling you how to vote in the up coming elections but we will be looking at a Christian perspective on this process. We will be discussing how we should act toward our government and others who disagree with us.

I. God’s Purpose
As we look at the concept of governments we see something of God’s purposes. Scripture tells us, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33) We see this in creation with its order and predictability. There are basic laws that govern nature and our ability to learn those laws have improved our lives.

The same is true in how we organize ourselves as human beings. As we study scripture we see increasing complexity in government. We see tribal cultures and rule by kings. That is very different than how we organize governments today. Nation states control every part of the world. Some are democratic republics, some have monarchies, and some are theocracies. But the basic tasks of government are the same, to provide a safe environment for their people to live their lives with a measure of security and safety.

While there are many examples of this let’s use one that impacts everyone here, traffic laws. People complain about the speed limit, long traffic lights and on and on. And we are free to complain as long as we obey and for good reason, the laws are there to make the roads safe for all. Have a close call at a stoplight as someone disobeys the law and you will be shouting for stricter enforcement. Those laws and the process of enforcement are part of the role of government and a good role it is. Without the law, without the police and courts our streets would become chaos. I’ve lived in places like that and it is no fun. The stress of driving becomes unbelievable.

This is just an illustration of the God ordained role of government in our lives. Government is the way God works to bring order to the world. God wants us to have good government but we also live in a world afflicted by sin and so bad government is also present. At times we see corruption, greed and arrogance among those who rule. So how does this impact our relationship to government?

II. God’s Hand
Daniel lived under a completely totalitarian government. King Nebuchadnezzar had total power over his kingdom and millions of people. As free Americans we bridle at the thought of living under such conditions and yet Daniel and thousands of other Jews discovered ways to live out their faith. In the process Daniel helped King Nebuchadnezzar to come to know a little bit about Yahweh who made the heavens and the earth. The king wrote concerning a vision he received, “The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.” (Daniel 4:17) The picture here is one common through much of history as a king grants position and territory to those under him. No matter what King Nebuchadnezzar thought, God had given him his kingdom and God was going to take it away from him for a time to teach him a lesson and then give it back to him again. God does this within his will and purpose.

Paul wrote during his day, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1) Pagan leaders led Rome, some who demanded to be worshipped as gods yet Paul wrote these words to Christians. I don’t think Paul was indifferent to those leaders but he recognized that they were fulfilling God given responsibilities even though they did not know God.

Who chooses our president? The media will tells us this group or that group was key in helping the president win. But as a Christian I believe God is sovereign and “gives them to anyone he wishes.”

III. How Do We Live?
This brings us to a real dilemma; does God put evil leaders in place? Here we come up against a problem that may make us angry with God. Why does a Hitler, or a Stalin or some other dictator come on our world scene to produce such evil? Were they worse than Nebuchadnezzar whom Daniel faithfully served for decades? Paul called on Christians to submit to a Roman authority that put Jesus to death and would eventually put Paul and many other Christians to death.

This stuff gives me a headache and it will you too if you try to figure it out. One of the wisest people who every lived wrote these words, “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.” (Ecclesiastes 8:17) I hate to admit it but this beyond me, beyond people a lot smarter than me too, even it they won’t admit it.

So do we become apathetic fatalists in the face of God’s sovereignty? I don’t think so. God has given us the responsibility of living and choosing in the area of politics. We live in a country and society where we do have a voice, one that was not available to people of earlier ages. So we vote, we make choices that I hope are honest and informed. We should be doing that right now and I don’t mean through the junk emails that unfortunately get forwarded to us. I’m not even sure how helpful TV news is. I suggest you read what the candidates are saying about what they hope to do with the understanding that it rarely gets done as they state they want. Don’t allow their opponents to tell you what the other person is saying or believes.

But we also need to calm ourselves. God is in control of our election. The world will not end if your candidate loses and the world is not necessarily going to change for the better if your candidate wins. While we try to elect good people to rule us our trust and security is not in the president or congress or the courts or the military, it is in God, the maker of heaven and earth who is sovereign over the nations.

Let us pray for our nation and this election.

Livonia Church of Christ September 14, 2008

Lesson #2: The Christian and Politics

How Would Jesus Vote?
Matt 4:8-11; Jn 18:33-37; 19:7-16

A few weeks ago I was reading an editorial in one of the papers. This person was making the argument that if Martin Luther King Jr. were living today he wouldn’t vote for Barak Obama. I thought the whole thing was rather strange, to think that you could know the mind of a person dead for forty years. Of course they are not around to contradict you either.

I. Jesus and Politics
How would Jesus vote? The question is of course ridiculous. The modern concept of elections and voting, while based in ancient Greece was extremely limited even in Greece. But besides that point is the fact that Jesus had a particular view of worldly powers.
Jesus first experience with political powers took place around his birth. A group of philosopher-mystics called magi came looking for Jesus as a result of their study of the heavens and possibly Jewish prophecy. Their search so upset a paranoid King Herod that he murdered dozens of innocent baby boys in an attempt to kill Jesus.

While Jesus would not have remembered the incident his parents surely did and he probably was told the story as he grew older. How would it make you feel to know a powerful king tried to assassinate you and that only intervention of angels saved your life? That was an early lesson in how politics works. People in power will often do almost anything to protect that power. The death of innocents is often the price paid for power.

The second incident where we see Jesus dealing with the political system is before his ministry begins with the temptation in the wilderness. We read, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” (Matthew 4:8-9) It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t dispute the devil’s power to do this. This really does mix things up when we consider what we studied a couple of weeks ago that God raises up rulers and casts them down as he pleases. This whole thing about government is more complicated than we realize.
But what is Jesus being offered? It is a way that didn’t include a cross for one thing. What would you choose? Power, wealth, glory, a name in the history books or a horrible tortured death on a cross? Jesus was also being offered authority to rule. No need to persuade people, no rejection because if you have the power people can’t reject you. No need for people to love you, they just have to respect and obey you.

I could think of a lot of reasons to say yes to this offer but it required disobedience to one, just one command, to worship only God. I wonder how this temptation worked? Was it visions about what existed or what could be if Jesus said, “Yes”? Did Jesus see what awaited him if he chose the cross? I don’t know but I do know Jesus rejected the offer and so set his feet on the path to the cross. Jesus knew how tempting the path of power was but he also knew where that path ended and it was not with the Father.

Not too long into Jesus’ ministry he received another lesson, his cousin John the Baptist was arrested and later killed on the whim of the King. There is every indication that Jesus was upset by this murder. I don’t think it was just the death of John but the senseless killing of a man of God. The reality is that when you live and speak for God in opposition to the world and its powers you will face persecution.

Jesus later faced a political question when asked, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17) The question was trap to destroy his credibility with the people or paint him as a rebel against Rome. His answer, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's,” (Matthew 22:21) was totally unexpected as Jesus recognized the authority of Rome but also our obligation to God.

Jesus last interaction with the political structures of the day took place on the day of his trial. Jesus stood before Pilate to be judged and either live or die. I don’t believe Pilate was necessarily a bad person but whatever his personal feelings he followed the road of political expediency. Pilate asked Jesus a number of questions, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “What is it you have done?” “What is truth?” “Where do you come from?” “Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus knows how this dialog is going to turn out. He even shows some sympathy for Pilate by telling him his sin in this matter is not as bad as those who handed him over. Eventually, in spite of Pilate’s maneuvering Jesus is condemned and crucified.

Jesus says several things in this dialog but two are important concerning government and politics. First, Jesus is a king but his kingdom is not of this world, meaning the physical world. Pilate seems comfortable with this statement and is ready to release Jesus. Jesus presented no direct threat to Roman power. Jesus’ kingdom was not a political kingdom.
Second, Jesus recognized that Pilate’s power and authority was given from above, that is from God. I don’t think this is an endorsement of Pilate himself as it is of the position of authority that Pilate occupied.

So how interested was Jesus in the political dealings of his own people and Rome? He was aware of his world and what was going on but Jesus was focused on other things, things that had eternal importance.

II. How Would Jesus Vote?
How would Jesus vote? I don’t know and I suggest we need to be cautious of anyone who says that they know. Would Jesus vote? I don’t know, I suppose he might but then again he might not. His attention was on a kingdom that is not of this world. Would he be any more interested in our political shenanigans that he was in his own day?

Jesus walked lightly through this world. He didn’t own any property. He never had much money. He didn’t hold any office religious, political or otherwise. He never married or had children. In terms of what the world finds important Jesus should be a forgotten man except for one thing, he changed the world like no other person has ever done.

What does all of this say to us? We live and work in a physical world and so we own homes, have jobs and families, we might even hold political office or work for or be those in authority. But Jesus tells us to hold these things lightly because they will all pass away. We love the United States but some day, if Jesus does not return, the United States will be no more. People will study about us like we study about the Romans. We cannot imagine such a day but people of Jesus’ day could not imagine a world without Rome.

Paul wrote this to a church that probably had a number of Roman citizens in it, “Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:19-20) So live, work, have families, vote, participate in our communities and our nation but remember what is really important, what is eternal.

Livonia Church of Christ September 21, 2008

Lesson #3: The Christian and Politics

How Do We Decide?
Rom 13:8-10

We are about a month away from our election. There will be more and more media vying for our attention trying to influence our vote. There are a lot of things I don’t like about this time of year, the incessant phone calls, and the attack ads by both sides, and every attempt to influence how I will vote. But this raises an important question, how do we decide? It is not just who to vote for but what to vote for. Every election has issues that call for us to vote.

I. Influences
This past week I read about a number of church leaders who are coming out very publicly for a particular candidate. Those church leaders are trying to influence how people in their communities vote. One pastor even said that to vote for the opposing candidate is to question whether you are a Christian or not. I am not going to tell you whom to vote for so you can quit asking. I do want us to think about how we will decide how to vote.

Where you stand in the world has a lot to do with how you view an election like this, what influences you to vote in a particular way. So what will influence you? For some it will be the race of the candidates. Some will vote for Barak Obama because he is African-America and others will refuse to vote for him for the same reason. It is amazing that in a country that has in its declaration of independence that “all men are created equal” (and women too) that race is such a large issue to many. If you don’t think it is a factor then ask the person who had his Obama signs spray-painted with swastikas. Hopefully this is not a factor for Christians but I confess it probably is for some.

Another big influence that raised its head this past week is the economy. Dire predictions of doom and gloom filled the airways this past week. People have always considered economic factors in whom they vote for. Will this person raise or lower my taxes? Will they help or hurt my business, my job? Those are important questions but we need to remember what people say and what people do are often not the same. But still people vote for those who promise to help them economically.

In this election the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is big for many of us. What should the nation do? Should we try and disengage from these conflicts or continue to pursue them? No matter who is elected the issues raised by this conflict will continue for a long time.

There are also social issues that for some are the controlling factor. Where do the candidates stand on the pro-life or pro-choice issue? That is a big one and yet I have observed there doesn’t seem to be much difference in what happens whatever the party. Then there are issues such as poverty and hunger around the world or the devastating AIDS epidemic in Africa that are the focus of some voters. What about the environment?

The media is always trying to influence our votes it seems. In this I include not just news programs but also comedy programs and the like. We could also include the Internet and political blogs, Youtube, and political emails.
All these different appeals are made to our prejudices, our pocketbooks, our emotions, our faith, and in the end our self-interest. What is in it for me? What is good for me?

II. Another Perspective
It is tough deciding how you will vote, no doubt about it. But I would like to add one more voice for our consideration. In Romans 13 Paul wrote about the Christian’s relationship to government. But before and after this passage Paul writes about how we should live in the world. “Love. . . Honor one another above yourselves . . . Bless those who persecute you. . . Don’t take revenge. . . Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21) Then after the government passage he wrote, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8) And, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9)
I want to suggest that maybe this needs to have a place in our decision-making. Maybe we need to consider voting with our neighbor in view rather than ourselves. Of course this give rise to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

That question is answer directly by Jesus with one of the most well known parables, The Good Samaritan or as one person said the Parable of the Good Neighbor. The parable is familiar to us. A person is in terrible trouble, beaten, impoverished, totally unable to help himself. Two religious type people see him and ignore him but finally a third person, an unexpected person stops and helps him. In fact he does more than help, he puts his life at risk, he uses his provisions, and he pays for the man’s upkeep until he is able to go on. Jesus asked, “Who was the good neighbor?” It was an interesting way to answer the question. You will notice Jesus really didn’t answer the man’s question instead he asked him and us, are you a good neighbor?
What would it mean to vote hearing this voice? I’m not sure exactly but I think it would begin by asking who is lying wounded by the road? It might be the poor and dispossessed in our society. Would our vote help or hurt our neighbors in Detroit? What about our neighbors who are unemployed or working minimum wage jobs? Are we going to elect people who will pay attention to their needs? As much as we are hurting from all this economic mess it really is a lot worse for those who are poor. What about people who can’t afford health insurance and are forced into bankruptcy? Are those who are suffering in Africa or Asia our neighbors? What do we do about environmental issues because those affect our neighbors also?

You might have been thinking I was going to make it easier for you to decide how to vote today; instead I have made it more difficult. I don’t think there are any easy answers or and perfect candidates. All of us will cast our votes and then pray for whoever wins to be guided by wisdom and justice. But I do want us to think, to consider that maybe God wants us, even in our voting, to consider our neighbor.

Ultimately being a good neighbor comes down to how we treat those around us, those we see in need because that is how we would like to be treated if we are ever wounded and helpless. It is easy to walk through the world oblivious to those around us. But God has called us to be his children and that means looking at the world through God’s eyes, God’s concerns, and God’s love.

Livonia Church of Christ October 5, 2008

Lesson #4: Being Christian in a Political World

Being Respectful in a Disrespectful World
Romans 13:6-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-3

We only have a few days to go before our election and I know we all want it to end as soon as possible. You have probably already decided whom you will vote for and I am not going to try and influence your vote one way or the other. Instead I want to focus on our actions and attitudes as Christians. We are Christians aren’t we? And that means acting that way even in elections as difficult as this one.

I. Disrespect
Our text today is about showing respect, honoring people who are in the political system. It is important to realize whom Paul is writing about. They were pagan people, unbelievers who ruled with the authority of the Roman empire. Let’s jump ahead to today and ask, “If McCain and Obama were pagans how should we as Christians talk about them and relate to them?” What if they were both Muslims? What do you thing Paul would say to us about how to treat our public officials?

Whom do you respect? We could all name several people whom we have respect for. We respect people for many reasons. Sometimes it is the life that person has lived. It may be how successful that person has been in business. We may respect a person for their education and knowledge about a particular area.

For most of us respect is a mixed bag. We may be respected for certain things and not others. We may admire and respect an athlete for skill and ability to win but have little respect for how they conduct their personal lives. I have known people I loved and respected but I wouldn’t loan them my car because they seemed very accident-prone.

Then there are people we show respect to even though we may know nothing about them. A police officer is one example. I may know nothing of his or her personal life, what kind of father or mother or husband or wife the officer is but I will show him respect because of his position and the authority of government he represents.

This is what Paul is writing about in Romans. It doesn’t matter if the person is a pagan who lives a morally reprehensible life; we show that person respect for their authority.
Of course in our society where free speech is protected by law people don’t have to show respect and in fact there are probably more reasons not to respect a person than to respect that person. A person may have lied and been caught in a lie. Or maybe an official has not been faithful to their spouse. The list is endless. People can disrespect others for the length of their hair or the clothes they wear.

Jesus faced this kind of thing. He was disrespected because of the people he associated with, people who could easily been called traitors to the Jewish people or collaborators at best. He was criticized and disrespected because he didn’t follow the social customs of the day such as how to wash his hands. He said things that offended people. How do you think Jesus would do in our electoral process?

It is possible to criticize a person without being disrespectful. Diane has at times had to point out some things I needed to change in my life. As difficult as that is to accept I appreciate it because I know she loves me. Disrespect or dishonor of a person is aimed at destroying the person and that is at the heart of this lesson. As Christians we are called to something different. We treat people, saint and sinner, Democrat or Republican, male or female, black or white, Muslim or Jew, we treat them with respect.

II. Respect
Why do we show a person respect? Why should we show respect to the person who bags our groceries? Why should we show respect to a homeless person or someone who has made a lot of bad choices in life? To answer those questions we need to go back to the beginning.
The respect we show any person is the fact that they are created in the image of God, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27) At heart this is why murder is such a terrible crime; it destroys a person made in God’s image. It is also why verbal slander and lies about a person are an abomination to God (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Every person we meet is made in God’s image no matter how terribly deformed that image may be. And because of God’s grace the potential is there, no matter how remote, for that person to be changed and transformed into a glorious child of God.

So how should we show respect? The first area is in our speech. We need to guard how we talk about public leaders. Is our speech respectful of who they are as human beings as well as the office they occupy? We can be critical of positions they hold or even things they have done but we should never devalue them as human beings. The former mayor of Detroit is a good example. Was it wrong for him to lie under oath? Yes. Was it wrong for him to be unfaithful to his wife? Yes. Does God love him less than you? Have you ever lied to protect yourself? Have ever broken a promise, been unfaithful to a friend? Are his sins worse than yours? We need to guard our language so that we don’t put less value on a person than God places.

Another area is our actions. Is it ever right to be rude? Unkind? Do our actions show contempt rather than respect? Sometimes we allow our emotions to direct how we act toward others rather than the spirit of God. Jesus words to us are applicable here also, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

What do we believe about others? Someone forwards an email or a link to some web page and if it is about a politician we don’t like we accept it as truth. Why is that? The thing about so much of this even when it is partially true is that it always skewed to the worst about a person.
The devil speaks a language. Jesus told us in John 8:44 that the devil’s language is lies. When we believe a lie we listen to the devil and when we spread a lie, even if we think it is true, we speak with the devil’s voice. This is why we need to be discerning in what we believe and what we say.

We live in a world that constantly pulls in directions away from God and his will. We are called to be a different people, to talk different, to live different, to act different, and to be different. Let us do our best to be God’s people this week.

Livonia Church of Christ October 19, 2008

Yes, we survived Bolivia

I've had several people ask whether we survived the second week in Bolivia since I haven't posted since the first week. Yes, we survived and had a great time. Since then we have been busy with church stuff as well as having Josh, Julie and the girls in our home for about a month during the summer while they were on furlough. We had a week of vacation with the whole family at a rented cottage up on Lake Huron and that was great. It was a great summer and has been a busy fall.

My reason for posting now is that I want to post a series of sermons I just completed that have to do with the Christian and politics. When I started the series several people asked if I knew what I was doing. When I finished many commented that it was very helpful. Part of the impetus for the series was how unchristian ways so many people act during this political season. The series is nonpartisan so if want to know how I voted you will be disappointed. However, I have tried to deal with how we as Christians should act in a time like this. I hope you find the sermons helpful.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Our First Week in Bolivia

We had an eventful week in Cochabamba that ended with our newest granddaughter coming home from the hospital.

We arrived in Cochabamba on January 30th about 2 PM, right on time. On our trip last year both Diane and I experienced altitude sickness in La Paz which is over 13,000 ft elevation just sitting on the plane. This time we didn't get sick so that was a plus. Last year they were also having riots in Cochabamba and three people were killed the day before we arrived. This time everything was peaceful. So a good start to our trip.

Diane and I were tired after traveling for about 24 hours but we unpacked all the gifts and goodies that we had brought. We loved being with Michaela and Eliana and seeing how they have grown and changed over the past year. Of course we were all anticipating the birth of Jana and we thought she would already be here before we arrived but we had a week to wait.

The next day we went out to lunch at very nice restaurant. However, I ate some local salsa and that night was sick and laid up the next day, Thursday. On Friday we went to town to buy some postcards and stamps and Diane had her wallet stolen out of her purse. She didn't have a lot of money in it, just her debit card and drivers license. Her biggest regret was losing the pictures she carries. Because she lost her money I got to go to the post office and buy stamps. For those of you who gripe about our postal system in the US, get over it! We have the best, most efficient postal system in the world and if you think otherwise come to Cochabamba and buy stamps. There is a certain entertainment value in the experience if you have the time and the patience. The next day Diane accidentally plugged her curling iron into a 220v outlet and melted the curling iron. Oh, well.

This is also the season of Carnival, the celebration coming up to Lent, and so there is a lot of activity including lots of firecrackers and the like. The custom here is to soak each other with water balloons or buckets of water. People stand on the side of the road with water balloons, buckets, and super soaker water guns. The favorite places to wait are the speed bumps, of which there are many in Cochabamba, and toss water balloons into the car. Women are especially targets of choice for some reason but no one is safe from getting wet. Monday, on the way to the hospital to visit Julie and Jana, our car was hit several times with water balloons and one bucket of water. Josh drives with the windows up and the AC on so we didn't get wet. This is not just kids who do this either. I saw mature women and men down to little children all getting in on the fun.

Sunday I preached and that was enjoyable. It was great to see how the church had grown and matured in the last year. Sunday night we watched the Super Bowl. The commentary was in Spanish but the game was the same one you saw. We had to get on-line to see the commercials but that was okay. We have even been following the election coverage since the US election has grabbed the attention of the world. And I thought we were going to escape that for a while.

You might think that after these minor disasters we are not enjoying our trip and that would be wrong. We love being with our children and grandchildren. They are gracious hosts and we feel very much at home. It is also beautiful here. This is the rainy season so things are very green. It has been cooler than normal. The temperature on Sunday only got to 59f. Both Diane and I wish we had brought warmer clothes. The last couple of days the weather has been perfect so things even out. We are having a great trip. The little disasters just make it interesting.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Good News

Diane and I arrived in Cochabamba, Bolivia on January 30th to see our newest grandchild. We had thought she might arrived before we got there but Julie was still very pregnant when we arrived. Today, Feb. 4th, Jana Faith Marcum made her arrival. She weighted seven pounds and has reddish blond hair like her sisters. Diane and I stayed home with Michaela and Eliana while Josh and Julie went to the hospital in the morning about 8:30. Jana arrived at about 12:30 and everything went very well. We are so very pleased that we could be here for Jana's birth. Here are a some pictures

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Situation in Kenya

Many people are aware of all the problems going on in Kenya at this time. It is a complex issue and one that is difficult for Americans to understand. The report that follows is from Shawn Tyler, a form coworker in Kenya and a good friend. Shawn is a missionary in Uganda and I thought his analysis was quite good. I hope you find it enlightening.

A Comprehensive Report on Kenya

Letter 357 from Uganda – 10 January 2008

The following pieces of information have been pulled together from Internet News Sources and mixed with a little personal insight.

One news agency reports that the decision to return Kenya's 76-year-old incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, to office was not made by the Kenyan people but by a small group of hard line leaders from Mr. Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe even before the result was announced, perhaps even before the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, had opened up a lead in early returns from the December 27th election. The news agency called it “a civil coup”.
The planning was meticulous. All that was needed were the extra votes to squeak past Mr. Odinga in what had been among the most closely contested elections Africa had ever seen. That was why returns from Central Province, Mr. Kibaki's fiercely loyal Kikuyu heartland, were inexplicably held back. It was why, in some constituencies, a large number of voters seemed mysteriously to vote only in the presidential race and ignore the parliamentary ballot—despite waiting hours in the blazing sun. But the real damage was done in Nairobi, by simply crossing out the number of votes as announced in the constituency and scribbling in a higher number. Election monitors were turned away while the tallying went on. Monitors from the European Union saw tens of thousands of votes created in this way.
Mr. Odinga's supporters were not innocent either. There were irregularities in his home province of Nyanza. Still, it was the meddling in Central Province that was decisive. Officially, Mr. Kibaki won 4.58 million votes to Mr. Odinga's 4.35 million. A third candidate, Kalonzo Musyoka, won 880,000 votes. Unofficially, Mr. Odinga may have won, albeit by a similarly narrow margin.
The tragedy for Kenya, and what threatens to rip the nation apart, is that no one will know for sure. The EU's preliminary report on the election was scathing. Although the parliamentary election had gone off well, the European observers said the presidential one had fallen short of “international standards”.
The role of the electoral commission was particularly dodgy. On the afternoon of December 30th its head, Samuel Kivuitu, was announcing the results of several constituencies, when he was interrupted by representatives from the Molo area. They argued that his numbers were not correct claiming more than 30,000 votes had been added for Mr. Kibaki than the official report gave. They produced the official report along with the chairman overseeing the tallying. Mr. Kivuitu became so angry that he left the room without commenting on the accusations. Less than a half later, he declared Mr. Kibaki president. The news went out only on KBC, the state broadcaster. Other camera crews were led out of the building. The security forces sealed off the city center against the angry poor, most of whom had voted for Mr. Odinga. A few minutes later, in the twilight, Mr. Kibaki was sworn in as president at the State House. In contrast to Mr. Kibaki's first term, when the inauguration took place in a stadium heaving with jubilant supporters, there were no dignitaries or diplomats, just a few dozen loyalists and civil servants. Some questioned whether in fact the whole event had been staged earlier and pre-recorded.
The reaction to Mr. Kibaki’s swearing-in was immediate. Nairobi's slums exploded in rage. The poor killed each other. Across the country came a swelling up of tribal violence, sometimes Kikuyu against Mr. Odinga's Luo tribe, more often Luo and Kalenjin tribes against Kikuyu. The official figure given is that more than 700 have been killed so far in clashes through out the country and 500,000 have been displaced. Unofficial estimates place the number killed as much higher. Gang rapes and mutilations have been reported in numerous places. Police had orders to shoot to kill. There has been looting in Kisumu, riots in Mombasa and pitched battles in Eldoret. Kikuyu hiding in a church near Eldoret were burned alive by a mob.
Taken together, this amounts to a pulling apart of Kenya's rich national fabric. Some 97% of Kikuyu voted for Mr. Kibaki. Everywhere else he was soundly defeated. Muslims, for instance, voted against Mr. Kibaki by 70% or more. The Kikuyu highlands encircling the glaciers of Mount Kenya increasingly feel like a state within a state. The division is even more troubling when the parliamentary vote is taken into account. Mr. Kibaki lost half his cabinet, including his vice-president Mr. Moody Awouri, as well as a large number of seemingly unassailable members of parliament including Nicholas Biwott, Moi’s three sons, the finance minister, foreign affairs minister, agricultural minister, etc. This government may find it impossible to pass a budget. In fact there is the possibility that the first act of the opposition in Parliament is to seek a vote of no confidence in the President. Since the opposition party holds 101 of the 210 total parliamentary seats but way more than Mr. Kibaki’s party which holds only 35, Mr. Kibaki will have a hard time fighting it off.
The hardliners' instincts will be to use the security services to reverse the freedoms of Mr. Kibaki's first term—anything to avoid power slipping into Mr. Odinga's hands. One example of this has been the government’s takeover of the radio and television stations. Heavy censorship, no criticism of the government and no live broadcasts of demonstrations were allowed. Kenyans may not stand for this. The government pressured the country's mobile-phone operators to suspend text messages for “security reasons”, without success. The army's strong apolitical tradition, with staff officers drawn from several tribes, looks to be holding though some claim plain clothes military men used machine guns in the streets of Eldoret to repel street gangs.
Mr. Odinga has demanded Mr. Kibaki's resignation ever since he was secretly sworn in as president. Mr. Odinga is calling for a campaign of civil action, peaceable, but determined. On January 3rd, thousands of opposition supporters tried to converge on the center of Nairobi for a protest rally but were dispersed by the police. Attorney General Amos Wako called for an independent probe into the election. Later the same day Mr. Kibaki said, for the first time, that he was willing to talk to the opposition “once the nation is calm”.
The EU had at first been reluctant to send observers, arguing that resources for Africa were slim and Kenya was “too stable”. During the orderly voting, the mission did indeed look like an extravagance. A week later the country was teetering on the brink of civil war. A chastened Mr. Kivuitu now says he is not sure Mr. Kibaki won the election. The Americans and the British have been twisting arms, as has the African Union's head, John Kufuor. Well-connected Kikuyu business leaders are trying to persuade Mr. Kibaki to give in and form a government of national unity. In the meantime, Kenya burns.
Just this past week, the chairman of the Kenyan Electoral Commission (ECK), Samuel Kivuitu, has said he announced the presidential election results under pressure.
When asked if indeed President Mwai Kibaki won the elections, Kivuitu told journalists at his Nairobi residence on Tuesday night: "I do not know whether Kibaki won the election".
Kivuitu continued with his stunning revelations when he said he took the presidential election winner's certificate to State House, Nairobi, after "some people threatened to collect it while I'm the one mandated by law to do so. I had thought of resigning, but thought against it because I don't want people to say I'm a coward," he said. The embattled chairman made the revelations shortly after meeting with 22 ECK commissioners. "We are culprits as a commission. We have to leave it to an independent group to investigate what actually went wrong," the chairman said.
The 2007 general elections have fallen short of key international and regional standards for democratic elections. Most significantly, they were marred by a lack of transparency in the processing and tallying of presidential results, which raises concerns about the accuracy of the final result of this election.
In a large number, almost a third, of polling stations visited, party agents were not given a copy of the result sheets. Furthermore, in more than a third of polling stations visited, the results were not posted at the polling station level, fundamentally undermining transparency measures in the process.
In Central Province (Mr. Kibaki’s home area), the majority of EU observer teams experienced difficulties in obtaining the results for each polling station from returning officers during the tally process.
In several constituencies, including Mathioya, Koleleni, Mvita, Kisauni, Changamwe, Likoni and Central/North Imenti, the returning officers refused to provide constituency results to the EU observers before these results were confirmed in Nairobi. The constituency results form in Kangema showed to EU observers was only signed by a party agent of PNU (Mr. Kibaki’s party).
Serious inconsistencies and anomalies were identified in the results announced by the ECK. For example, in Molo and Kieni, there were significant differences between presidential election results reported by EU observers at the constituency level and results announced by the ECK at national level.
Additionally, at the ECK headquarters, the EU Chief Observer was shown forms on which the election results for constituencies 205 (Lari) and 96 (Kandara) had been changed. Furthermore, for Kerugoya, EU observers reported a discrepancy of more than 10,000 votes in the official turnout given for presidential and legislative elections.
While the result of the elections were announced, the official figures for all the constituencies are still not available and adequate measures have not been taken at all levels to ensure the results can be correlated in the public domain.
Mr. Mwai Kibaki on January 8th, appointed half his cabinet minutes before an African Union mediator landed in Nairobi, enraging the opposition and ending hopes of a swift end to the country's political and social crisis. Kenyan law demands that ministers of parliament be sworn in first before they can be appointed to cabinet post. Mr. Kibaki named cabinet members even before parliament has opened. This raises serious questions about the legality of his cabinet and his own actions.
Protests broke out immediately in the opposition stronghold of Kisumu and in Nairobi's slums, where hundreds of people have already been killed over election rigging charges. Western diplomats, who on Monday had persuaded the opposition leader Raila Odinga to call off his campaign of mass action, were angered by Kibaki's decision to fill all the key ministries as peace talks were about to begin.
Jendayi Frazer, the top US diplomat for Africa, who is in Nairobi trying to encourage a power-sharing deal between Kibaki and Odinga, immediately sought an audience with the president at his State House residence to register her disapproval. "This is a complete reversal of what the government had led us to believe would happen," one western diplomat said in Nairobi last night. "The level of tension is going to be ratcheted up instantly."
Kibaki appointed 15 ministers, including finance, defense, internal security and justice, from within his own party. Kalonzo Musyoka, leader of a third, smaller opposition party, ODM-Kenya, was named vice-president and minister for home affairs, while his fellow party member Samuel Poghisio was made minister of information. Mr. Kalonzo came in third in the national elections as president, but his agreement to become vice president has angered many of his own supporters.
Mr. Kibaki signaled his intention to ignore attempts for outside help earlier when a government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, told the Standard newspaper that there was "nothing to be mediated".
Salim Lone, Odinga's spokesman, said last night: "This is simply another attempt to undermine the mission of John Kufuor (the African Union Mediator and president of Ghana). It's not only a blow to the peace process; it shows that Kibaki has no intention of even starting the process."
On January 9th, Mr. Kibaki flew by helicopter to camps of Kikuyu in Molo, Burnt Forest, Eldoret, and Cherengani. Instead of speaking words of conciliation, Mr. Kibaki promised protection to his fellow Kikuyu while he sought punishment on those who had initiated the violence. He also promised that the government would restore their land and rebuild their houses. Such defiance and bold promises angered even more the opposition because Mr. Kibaki is putting all the blame on them for the country’s current situation.

Several rumors are floating around Kenya that give rise to speculation and may reflect national turmoil. The first suggests two of Mr. Kivuitu’s sons have been killed in mob violence. The second rumor suggests former president and close friend of Mr. Kibaki, Mr. Daniel Arap Moi, is said to have left the country and is currently in either America or Australia.

My Analysis
While political parties were mostly formed along tribal lines, the protests, burnings, and violence has been more politically targeted than tribally targeted. It is too simplistic to say that this is tribal violence only. Prominent Kikuyu leaders are in Odinga’s party and some of the violence reported was against fellow tribesmen who were PNU supporters especially in south Rift Valley Province. Additionally, Kikuyu critics such as Professor Wangare Mathai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2002, said Mr. Kibaki had lost the elections and he should accept them as she had accepted her own loss of a parliamentary seat.

My Projections (best guesses)
I am not an expert on Kenya, but based upon the advice and insights of Kenyan friends and my own personal experience, I give the following projections:
1. Mr. Kibaki is not going to step down easily.
2. Mr. Odinga is not going to accept Kibaki’s presidency.
3. Neither will accept a power sharing plan for government.
4. Kikuyu (Mr. Kibaki’s supporters) in areas outside their home land will continue to move into camps for protection in numbers.
5. Economic difficulties will continue if not increase. Remember that Kikuyu hold a large portion (perhaps up to half) the business interests in Kenya including many of the taxis, trucking, vegetable supplies for Nairobi, small businesses, and many government held positions of authority. Continued violence targeting Kikuyu will undermine all these sectors.
6. A power sharing government will be almost an impossible option. The opposition party has too large of a voice to remain inactive and feel they have been robbed of the presidency. They will work to undermine the president and his supporters.
7. Kikuyu leaders may ask Mr. Kibaki to step down in order to diffuse hostility toward them. If this happens, Mr. Kibaki’s power base will crumble.
8. If Mr. Kibaki continues to push hard against the will of the people, Kikuyu in camps may be targeted for killing as well as other PNU supporters.
9. Prolonged tension may create food, fuel, and basic commodities shortages throughout Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan, and parts of Tanzania.
10. There is a possibility that parliament will refuse to convene until the issue of the presidency has been decided.
Shawn Tyler

Mbale Mission TeamNew Testament Churches of ChristPO Box 1790Mbale, Uganda E. Africa

int+256-772-441504 Shawn cellint+256-772-537533 Linda cell

Monday, December 24, 2007

More than Friends

Curtis, Sandra and Hayward Burton
One of the great things about the Christmas season is getting together with old friends and that is what we did last Sunday just before Christmas. We invited the Burtons over to share a traditional (for our family) pre-Christmas dinner of lamb. Hayward is an elder at the Livonia church and has been for over thirty years. He was also the elder over missions most of the time I was in Kenya and he and Sandra visited us several times over the years. They have a big house and everytime we came back on furlough we stayed at the Burtons. Our kids looked at the Burton's house as our home in America and still have many fond memories of our staying there.
Hayward and Sandra were more than friends to Diane and me, they were often sources of wisdom and advice when we faced various challenges in Kenya. They were our advocates at the Livonia church and were staunch supporters of missions. One summer while we were on furlough they came and took a course at the ACU Summer Seminar in Missions with us. It is hard to describe how much they mean to Diane and me and our life and ministry with and in the Livonia church but we are very thankful to the Father for their love, support and influence in our lives. Every missionary ought to have someone like them here in the States and yet so many that I knew didn't and their lives were harder as a result. It is great to have friends, it is even better to have friends in the Lord like the Burtons.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What to Preach

One of the challenges that preaching presents is the continuing question of what to preach. I've been at Livonia for seven and a half years and that means over 300 sermons preached during that time. There are always several issues to deal with. One issue is balance. It is fairly easy to neglect parts of scripture such as the prophets in the Old Testament. The narrative parts are usually easier to prepare lessons from but I have also done series from the Psalms and Proverbs. I have been looking at Zacharia and asking, "How would I preach from that book?" I still don't have an answer so I probably am not doing anything from there any time soon. But I'd like to. For me the prophets present maybe the biggest challenge for preaching. I will preach at least one series from the Old Testament this next year but I'm not sure what it will be or when.

The second challenge is preaching to the needs of the congregation. There are always various problems certain people face. Some issues are simply life issues that we all face such as sickness or why bad things happen to us. Some needs are things I see that the congregation does not see. Certain idols that we construct that we are not even aware of present one of the biggest challenges to preaching. For example in this country security has become an idol both individually and nationally. The desire to be secure causes us to avoid the very areas where we should be ministering and serving. Nationally our leaders make decisions that put security above justice and basic human rights. This is just one example of an area where preachers need to speak but often people don't want the listen.

There is also an even more important question, what does God want to say to the church? I am constantly aware that when I preach I don't speak for myself but I am God's spokesperson. What a privilage and responsibility that is. As I prepare a series of lessons this is the one question I pray the most about. So I read and study and pray that God will give me a message for his people at Livonia. I love what I do but the challenge is always before me.

Memphis Trip

This past week Diane and I traveled to Memphis for me to work in the library at Harding University Graduate School of Religion (HUGSR) and also to spend time with Laura, Rusty and Alex. We had a great time and actually stayed with Evertt and Ilene Huffard. The Huffards are long time friends from our first stay at HUGSR from 1972-75. Diane and Ilene are friends from our Lubbock Christian days. Evertt is now dean at the school and has been a friend and mentor to my two sons-in-law as they have prepared and entered into ministry. I always come away from time with Evertt encouraged.

We spent as much time as possible with the Campbells. Alex broke his arm a few weeks ago but it didn't slow him down. Grandkids are a blast! Rusty and Laura have a two bedroom apartment on the HUGSR campus. Diane stayed with Alex while Laura and Rusty worked and I was in the library. We had a lot of fun.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Couples Retreat

We had Dean's funeral on Tuesday and then Friday Diane and I led a couples retreat for the Livonia church. When we started planning the retreat we hoped to get eight couples, we ended up with sixteen so we were very pleased with the response. We met at a retreat center just a few miles from the Livonia building. Since it was a Catholic retreat center the rooms had no TVs which was a shock for several who came. I mean, a couples retreat and no TV so what do you do? I think most figured it out.

Even though we were tired the reteat was a real blessing for us as it helped to take our minds off the sad events of the previous weeks. We had a great time laughing and talking about how to understand our mates better. This was the third time we have led this particular retreat. The first time was for the team in Cochabamba, Bolivia and then again for the church in Windsor, Ontario Canada.


While the funeral was stressful one blessing was the chance to see Rusty, Laura and Alex. They came up for the funeral and then stayed a couple of days with us before driving back to Memphis. We really appreciated their presence and support and of course the chance to spend some time with Alex is always special. Here are a few pictures.
Here is Alex with his cousin Ashley and in his Halloween costume dressed as a lion .

Pictures from the Funeral

Here a few pictures from Dean's funeral on November 6th. These were taken a Custer National Cemetary where Dean was laid to rest.