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I had a brilliant idea the other day to teach my kid four square. I have a stress that he will grow up on a playground and not know foursquare, or worse, I don’t pass down the legacy and he finds himself in the middle of the playground and it’s go time and he’s all “WHATT IS THISSS??” And then never, ever can I forgive myself for not setting him up for success.
So I went to taping. We live in a one bedroom so picture that I basically turned the entire living room into a foursquare match and taped the squares on the floor with this green painters tape. While I was taping, he’s asking all these questions: “What is this? What is the game? How do you play? Who goes first? What ball do we need?” And in my intense concentration all I can say back with great enthusiasm is: “If you can master this game, you will survive on ANY PLAYGROUND in America!”
Like a total psycho.
But isn’t that IT? I mean aren’t there things that we feel like are vital to success no matter what arena we find ourselves in? To be a successful business, then a good leader is key. To have a successful marriage, communication and love and trust are essential. To be healthy we eat right and we exercise. And here we are at election season, and we’ve all got this list of things that we think makes a good President. We are all sort of stumbling around this playground right now, aren’t we? Kind of scouting it out and deciding who should be team captain, what game we should play first, and the lines between leaders and bullies are being crossed in every debate and in our language to one another.
The biggest lie of the enemy isn’t that he is the anti-god, it’s that he’s almost god. And this is how idolatry comes into play. We set our hearts on things that are almost true, instead of the whole truth in God and then that becomes the god in our lives. And for America? Our problem, our idolatry is that we think everything is about us. And it only matter s that its about us. See if we read Scripture as being about us revolving around our lives, jobs, families, and work and only these things, then we are settling for something that is beautiful and almost true. It is almost true that this is what God is about because surely we are beautifully and wonderfully made, and surely we are unique created and we have gifts and talents and God cares about our sorrows and our joys and He provides and safeguards, and protects His people. Certainly. But it doesn’t end then, and when we make that the whole thing, then we are idolizing ourselves in God’s story instead of making God the King of our story.
So elections. Here’s the thing. This is not the first time nor the last, that Presidents and Kings have been elected. It’s happened all over the history of the world and it’s a huge part of the story of God and how He works in the world to bring out His purposes. Let’s start with Genesis 11. Babylon, the seat of civilization and political power for ancient Mesopotamia which was translated to mean “the gate of the gods.” It was the epicenter for many political movements, and it was a powerful city, which clearly had in mind that due to their power and might, the gods were on their side. Isn’t that always how it goes? I remember when Katrina struck awhile back and a few Christians went on live television saying that God was judging the United States. We only get views like this when we think that we are the Babylon, the seat of God. We only look at things through this lens when we think that we are the biggest, the wealthiest, the most powerful, and therefore, we are the epicenter of what God is doing.
Babylon. Everyone in the world spoke the same language, and the all decided to get together and make their own bricks and build a tower to”make a name for themselves” (v. 4). The irony of making bricks here is insane. These people, they are free and they are seemingly alive and things are going their way and they decide to make bricks. Later in the book of Exodus, making bricks was the exact job that the Israelites were assigned to as slaves. It’s as if God is saying to us: Anytime we spend our day and night building empires, building wealth and fame and security, we are actually slaves. Building walls and empires is, indeed, it’s own form of slavery the difference here is that in Egypt they were being forced under Pharaoh while in Babylon, it was their own idea.
The Babylonians, they wanted to build a tower, a city, something large and big and beautiful to make a name for themselves.
And as history shows us, it’s not just a large building that makes names for people, makes them known. It’s everything that comes out of that city and that empire, and so that is what they want to do. They want to become the center of civilization and they want others to look at them and have some sort of reaction. I went to a high school that had t-shirts for all of the sports teams that read: “Loved or hated, the best are never ignored.” They wanted people to look at them and say: let’s do what they are doing, they are in charge, they are bigger and better than us, and they are at the top of this thing we call life.
Kings and rulers and empires work that way. That is the goal, isn’t it? To be on top, to be the best and to be recognized. And it’s alluring and it works. After the Israelites were rescued out of slavery, they often grumbled about not having enough food or being chased by enemies and they cried out to God that they would rather be slaves than be free. They would rather be building Pharoah’s empire than be out in the wilderness. Because at least when they were slaves, they were seemingly a part of something big, and beautiful and lustrous and important.
Making bricks and building empires has always been the temptation of all of us. Being a part of something that is coveted and big and in the spotlight has always been the American Dream and the bench mark as to if we are successful and if we aren’t. We would rather be putting in long work weeks and not seeing our families, worrying about money rather than enjoying our lives, and seeking to be made known rather than knowing others. The pull to be a part of an empire is strong, and we can often find ourselves saying “yes” to it’s demands even when we don’t feel like it and even when we don’t agree. That is slavery. Our trouble is that we would almost always, rather be slaves if it means that at least, we are a part of something important. That at least we are in the majority instead of the minority and that we feel safe and secure.
But God, He has a little aversion to power, and a huge aversion to slavery. And in verse 5 we see that God comes down and sees this city and says “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
God realized that there were no barriers of power here. That these people, they were a threat to themselves and they built and schemed together and had nothing in their way. They had limitless power. He also sees that they are enslaves to their own worth. They want to build and seek approval, to make their name great, and this would be the first time of many. So he confused their language. Not as a punishment for them, but because he loved them so much, he knew that power would ultimately destroy them. God’s provision of these people speaking different languages was an act of grace, it was God stepping in and putting a cap on a power that would ultimately cost people their families, their lives, and their dignity.
God put a stop to something that created idols and slaves and instead made communication something to work for. He set up barriers as a form of love and made building impossible so that people may set down their bricks and pick up something else. Something smaller, something else rather than the empire and they would begin to form tribes where people spoke the same language and had similar thoughts, and out of those tribes would come smaller movements and ideas and creativity and creation. People would stop looking toward buildings and power for support and hope but instead towards one another.And this, is how communities of like minded people, living life together, began. It’s how cities that were known for fishing and art and farming and hospitality and cooking and craftsmanship, how they came to be. Because small groups of people came together and started working together, for the good of their small group. And then they reached outside of themselves and they began offering things they had to help those in need and in exchange for something they needed and people began to learn little phrases of “thank you”and “how are you” in other languages, and slowly, people began to share in what it means to be human. They began to relish in the excitement of learning new skills instead of working for the man, and taking pride in their crafts rather than building idols, and looked inward to families and village sand towns and looked out for one another instead of just making the Empire bigger.
Their cause began bigger as they became smaller.
We vote according to what President will give us the most power. We personally want our own power to be preserved. We want money in our pockets to stay in our pockets, and we want more of it. Globally, we want this as well. The United States is on top and we want to stay that way.
Now hear me when I say this and please don’t miss it: there is nothing wrong with wanting security for your family or for your country. Nothing. The problem isn’t security, the problem is when security becomes a greedy, wretched thing that creates a world where we are the center and no one else matters. The problem is when we start viewing the United States as Empire: as god’s gate and that His main purposes and plans in the Gospel revolve around the United States of America. And we begin to rely on the people in leadership to get everything done.
The Hebrews, they refer to Babylon as “Babel” or the city where God dispersed. See because of the Hebrews it wasn’t about Empire. It was about that time that God came down and dispersed and changed the face of what it meant to be a neighbor and that communities and relationships were more important than an Empire. It all depends on our outlook, doesn’t it?
A few verses later, in Genesis 12 we find God calling Abraham out of his land and into a land unknown, Canaan, and then when a famine hits, he has to go to Egypt where again, he is displaced. Do you see that Abraham is a refugee?
God chose a displaced man, coming out of the Empire to start His covenant of peace and redemption. He skipped directly over the Empire and called Abraham out, made him refugee and then said “Ok, you are ready.”
Here’s the thing: God is not interested in advancing His purposes through power and empire. He is and always has been, interested in unequivocally using the unexpected, the grass roots, the lowest, quietest, and humblest members of society to create change. He chooses those who have ties to nothing, who are not making bricks and building empires to usher in new hope and redemption. Abraham and Sarah were refugees, Noah and his wife were lone survivors, Moses had a speech problem yet was the mouthpiece of God, and Jesus came in the form of a baby.
Jesus grew up and He continually healed and sought change through face to face communication, twelve disciples at a time that they may go out and make disciples, that they may go out and make disciples and so on.He didn’t invade Rome like many wanted and expected the Messiah to do. He chose death over triumph. He rebuked Peter for choosing violence in the Garden. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. He elevated the poor to be equal with the wealthy. And he brought healing and love and redemption and forgiveness with no regard to race, religion, economic status, or empire.
Jesus was and still is about the whole of God’s people, from all the nations, all over the earth. “Go and make disciples of all nations” He said. Go, to your neighbor and make a disciple. And then do another one. Neighborhoods change because one or two people decided to meet and come together. And then neighborhoods come together and that’s how cities change and then cities come together and that’s how nations change. It starts small. It starts with people learning new phrases to communicate, it starts with people putting down their bricks and picking up something else. It starts when people choose relationship and discipleship over empire and power and making a name for themselves. Jesus is not just about the country that is the wealthiest or most powerful, and how the people in that country can stay that way. That’s just not his agenda.
He still is about dispersing people, choosing the unexpected and about ushering in redemption and revolution through the creation of relationships, community and disciples.
So what does this have to do with us? No matter who is elected President, our call as disciples does not change. It means we vote with Babel in mind: our mission as the church is to create change by making disciples. It is to seek out the people in society that are forgotten and marginalized and know that God has an affinity for working through them, and the types of relationships that come together to figure out how to communicate and work together. He is constantly working, on a grass roots level, and uses his every day, ordinary people to carry it out.
By all means, give Caesar what is due Caesar and vote. We need you, because God does INDEED work through leaders, and believe me if America does in fact stay the wealthiest and most powerful then we have a responsibility to use that for good. But we aren’t in control of the government, we are only in control of ourselves and our citizenship to God and His kingdom . Because even with the best governmental systems and political agendas rolling out of Washington, nothing replaces relationship, community, and the amazing things that can happen when all the confusion of languages, races, cultures and religions come together and figure things out.
If we can start making Babel our political agenda, rather than Babylon, then the Church will survive at any political playground we find ourselves.