Why I’m not voting for either Trump or Clinton

I protest the 2016 presidential election
I protest the 2016 presidential election

My dilemma

Most people I talk to are agreed — this is the worst presidential election that they ever remember. People aren’t for a candidate, they just hate one less than the other or think one less dangerous than the other. How is a person to decide what to do in this sorry election? Personally, I have decided to protest by not voting for either one. Here is why.

My reasons

1. I recall John Maxwell saying, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Conservative Christians like me are being urged to vote for Trump because the Republican platform is more to our liking, etc. But if the leader cannot be relied upon to carry out the agenda, the platform is useless. Trump reminds me of a salesman with empty words. He says himself that he tells people what they want to hear. I can’t vote for a man like that.
2. It is time America returned to an emphasis on character in leadership. Neither Clinton nor Trump are people of high character. They are the most distrusted candidates I ever remember. From the moment Trump opened his mouth in debate 1 with a modus operandi of slander, I knew his character was suspect. Normally I am a pragmatist, able to go for the better of two choices. But in this case, neither leader meets the minimum standard of good character.
3. I am not inclined to vote for Clinton to begin with because the strong pro-abortion values she espouses [among others] are not my values. I have great sympathy for immigrant rights, traditionally seen as a Democratic value, and also with the value of helping the poor, but I’m not convinced Clinton would actually work on either one.
4. It is time the parties received a protest vote. It is a protest against the lack of a viable political middle ground in 2016 American politics. It is a protest against the idea that a party can put up some reality show star who has name recognition and expect thinking people to vote for him. It is a protest that says, there is not a candidate offered that I respect enough to vote for them. As a voter, my vote has to have some integrity—some correspondence, some kinship between the values I espouse, the vision I have for my country, and the candidate I vote for.

My protest vote

So what will I do? To not vote, to not participate in the election at all, I consider irresponsible. As a citizen it is my duty to vote. So I will be at the polls, God willing and cast a vote of some kind. I will vote in all the races too. But for the presidential race, I will be writing in the name of a candidate that I consider qualified and of high character. It will be an act of protest against the quality of the two candidates we are offered by the major parties this year.

Debate impressions

I watched the last 90 minutes or more of the Republican debate tonight.  Who impressed me as I watched?   It was not exactly the ones I thought would impress me.   My top three were John Kasich of Ohio,  Jeb Bush of Florida and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.    They were running on solid records as governors.  They measured their words well, a trait I believe speaks for the wisdom, maturity and self-awareness of a candidate.  Each handled a challenging question very well.  My least favorite was Trump.  He is full of himself and of empty rhetoric.  He has no experience in government and said nothing of substance that I heard.  Frankly, he could not be trusted.   I could not give Rand Paul a chance because I have been familiar with his positions and he is way too libertarian for me, even though I thought he debated well.  Ben Carson is a delightful person who seemed out of his element, he should be running for Surgeon General.  He’s probably running for VP, but he would make a weak campaigner.   Huckabee is probably the best public speaker in the bunch but his rhetoric is divisive.   Both he and Cruz seem to harbor plenty of political rancor.   Rubio said some divisive things too.  He is still young.   One wonders if he is running for a VP spot.  Christie I dismissed because of the news out of New Jersey while he has been governor.

The danger in this campaign is that the conservative base is very angry at the state of the country.  Candidates like Trump, Huckabee and Cruz are great at tapping into that ground swell of anger in the Republican conservative base.   Voters in general vote their impressions and their feelings rather than looking for a strong leadership record.  Today we tend to like brash, flash and attitude.  But none of these make a good president.  I pray that voters will have enough maturity this time to look past impressions and rhetoric and look for solid positions and elect people with wisdom, steadiness, and good character, people like John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.

A wise article about church evaluation

One of the difficult things church leaders must do is evaluate how the local church is doing.   It is not as easy as it sounds and our tendency as leaders is to fall off on either side of the middle path; either by emphasizing quantity at the expense of  discipleship or by emphasizing quality at the expense of outreach.    Here is a wise article that will help us to keep a balance.

http://www.churchleadership.com/leadingideas/leaddocs/2015/150128_article.html

 

I vote for congregational engagement

Should worship planning and leadership be done to create a great performance or primarily to help the congregation be involved in what is happening?

http://worthilymagnify.com/2014/09/30/worship-at-a-crossroads-congregationalism-versus-performancism/

This excellent article explains a conflict that exists in the Christian church today.  As the author says, a performance orientation in worship services that focuses attention on what happens up front can describe either a traditional service or a contemporary one.   But I actually think what has brought the contrast the author describes into sharper focus is the modern trend to place church congregations literally in the dark as in a theater.    This trend, I believe, decreases interaction and is culturally set up for a performance mindset.  It makes the congregation feel more like an audience.

I have always taught that the most important thing that happens on Sunday morning is not what happens on the platform, it is what happens in the hearts of those in the pews.  The job of worship leaders and pastors is to suggest/guide/facilitate those responses in the congregation.    But that job cannot really be accomplished unless the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in people’s hearts.   Every Sunday morning, what the pastor and others leading worship are trying to accomplish cannot be done by human beings.  The transformation of lives, the healing of souls, the conversion of wills, the sanctifying of lives–this is all God’s work.  Whatever happens up front has as it’s only purpose to help those who are attending to connect with God and his truth and respond to it.  Focusing on performance first will not get this job done.   Being aware that congregational involvement individually and collectively in the service is essential is basic to being used of God in worship.

I need to say though that focusing on congregational response in no way means that those leading worship should settle for less excellence in what they do than those who might have a performance mindset.  Absolutely not!    God’s work is worthy of our best efforts!    God uses excellence by his servants to affect the lives of others.   Those who minister show their heart for God in their excellence.

Top Ten Books Challenge

One of the first Bibles in English
One of the first Bibles in English

My wife challenged me on Facebook to list the top ten books that have influenced my life. I don’t necessarily take up every Facebook fad. But this one I consider a very thoughtful and potentially helpful exercise. One of the proverbs I heard along the way is “Leaders are readers!”   I agree totally. This challenge is also in keeping with one of the goals of my blog, to record the books I have read and comment on them. So here goes:

 

The Holy Bible – KJV Thompson Chain Reference.   I was given this for Christmas by my parents when I was about 12 years old. It represents the Bible-learning culture in which I was raised. It was my earliest textbook for studying the Bible. I still treasure it and use it occasionally.

The Holy Bible – NIV 1984. This version of the Bible became the translation that I read day after day, the version that molded my mindset and helped me communicate the Gospel to a generation that had never heard of King James of England, nor did they understand his language. Now I read and use the 2011 NIV since I follow the Reformation principle that the Bible must be in the language of the people. But the 1984 version will always be in my heart.

Growing Spiritually – E. Stanley Jones. I was in seminary, I think, when I read this devotional classic. I was captured and challenged by the practical Wesleyan theology, poignant illustration from life, and excellent thinking by one who has become one of my favorite devotional writers. This book prompted a definite step forward in my own spiritual growth.

Developing the Leaders around You – John C. Maxwell.   During my first pastorate I began to be mentored by the speaking and writing of John Maxwell. I didn’t know how much I needed it. I now have a dozen of his books that I have read and I still consider this one among his very best. I also have a shelf full of others on the topic of leadership. This book started me on a whole different journey of not just doing well myself, but enabling others to do well. This intentional focus as well as trying to teach church leaders to do the same has added untold dimensions to my ministry and extended its effectiveness many years. It has enabled me to be a factor in launching or enhancing the ministry of many others too.

Communication: Key to Your Marriage – H. Norman Wright.  With this book there was a companion volume The Pillars of Your Marriage.  They were not deep, but they were practical. They were intended for class use and included discussion questions too. I interacted with these books and other similar ones at a time in our marriage when I desperately needed to learn more about how to have a successful marriage. They were very helpful both to me personally and in my ministry over the years to others.

Secrets of the Vine – Bruce Wilkinson. Sometimes you are looking for books that will prod spiritual renewal in your life. This is such a book. I have now read the book at least three times. The first time I read it, I wrote in the cover, “I finished this book today…it was a life-changing experience.”

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – John C. Maxwell.   This is John Maxwell’s classic. It has helped me immensely to understand leadership and learn to practice it. I am still learning and growing.   This book confirmed for me that leadership is one of the three most essential areas of understanding/preparation needed by pastors. (The other two are preaching/teaching and counseling/personal work.)

Fresh Faith – Jim Cymbala. One of the areas I needed to grow spiritually as a pastor was faith. Reading Jim Cymbala’s testimony-laced books is one of the ways God has helped me to do that. It is challenging and inspiring to read what God is doing at Brooklyn Tabernacle and it makes one pray for greater faith.

Just Walk Across the Room – Bill Hybels. Another of the great mentors for pastors today is Bill Hybels. This book is among his best. It is such a practical and everyday approach to reaching other people for Jesus.   I think it is evangelism as it was meant to be. It has helped me to look for opportunities daily to be a blessing for Jesus’ sake.

The Purpose Drive Church – Rick Warren.   I had already been a pastor for 15 years when I read this book. I immediately said that it was the best book on how to do church that I had ever read. As far as I am concerned, it has not had a rival until Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide came out in 2012.  Warren helped me to understand that discipleship was crucial and that I needed to help people step by step to move closer to the church as a part of their spiritual journey.

I’ve read so many books over the years that I can’t be sure I haven’t missed one somewhere. I reduced my library by more than half when I moved in 2013 and I still have four floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full in my office. I have tried to choose books for my top ten that represented important areas of reading. The best books often prompt us to read more by the same author or more in that subject area. All of these books have done that. And I keep buying new books and reading more.    I admit that the time I now spend on social media has cut into my reading time, but it has not eliminated it. I am still completing new books! How about you?

 

 

We love Houghton College – Reflections on completing my term as trustee

JoAnne Jones with her Grandma and parents at her Houghton graduation
JoAnne Jones with her Grandma and parents at her Houghton graduation

Houghton is special

JoAnne and I returned yesterday from the fall trustee board meeting at Houghton College.   I have had the wonderful privilege of serving the Central New York District of the Wesleyan Church as district representative on that board for the last six years.   Even though the decisions to be made have occasionally been difficult, I have relished this opportunity and served with great joy.   The reason I am no longer serving is that when I semi-retired, I moved out of the district from which I was a representative.   I thank District Superintendent, Wayne Wager, and the DBA for the opportunity to serve.

As I was driving home yesterday, I was reflecting on the reasons why I have so much enjoyed serving in this capacity.  It was fulfilling, stimulating and exciting.  I will miss it greatly.   But why is Houghton so special?

Houghton has a transformative vision

Houghton has a vision, not just for education, but for the maturation and transformation of the lives of students.  This is something I strongly believe in.  So much of American higher education has abdicated its responsibility for character formation and settled only for increasing knowledge and technical prowess.   That is a badly flawed concept.   The result of it has been an atmosphere on many secular campuses that actually contributes to moral turpitude.   In contrast, the evidence of Houghton alumni shows that Houghton grads have a highly developed character for service, leadership and faith. You can check out the mission statement at http://www.houghton.edu/about-us/.

Houghton practices excellence

Houghton is a place of excellence.   From musical performances to scholarly presentations, from board business procedures to landscaping the already beautiful campus, the Houghton way is excellence.   This is why Houghton is in the top tier of liberal arts colleges in the nation and is the highest ranked Christian college in the Northeast.  http://www.houghton.edu/about-us/national-recognition/.   Because of this, Houghton is well recognized by graduate schools.  I can be proud to be associated with Houghton.

Houghton is a place to meet leaders

It has been a stimulating opportunity personally to serve among so many great leaders.   In the course of my six years, I have come to know denominational leaders, college leaders, businessmen, prominent lawyers and doctors, persons of wealth and expertise in various fields.  Our college president, Dr. Shirley Mullen, was recently recognized on the cover of Christianity Today.      http://www.houghton.edu/news-media/recent-news/houghton-president-shirley-mullen-named-one-of-christianity-todays-top-50-women-you-should-know/162/.   This has been growth-producing for me and a very helpful networking experience as well.   I have also gotten to know Harriet Olsen, the president of United Methodist Women, with whom I have had the distinct privilege of working on the Academic committee for these six years.  But this idea that the company we keep either strengthens us or drags us down, is a principle of life too.  When we seek out company or have opportunity to interact with people of greater experience, wisdom, expertise or character maturity than ourselves, it will raise us up.    I have experienced that in this season of service at Houghton.

We highly recommend Houghton

And, by the way, if you know a good student looking for a great college, do them a life-time favor and recommend they check out Houghton.  http://www.houghton.edu/

 

 

Guiding congregational prayer

Over the last several weeks, there has been more than one occasion for our church to join in united prayer as a congregation in various different ways.   Some of them have been ways that we do not see very often.  I thought it might be helpful for me to address in a blog article some of the practices that were in evidence as we prayed together.

Praying for Eric and Magda

This last Sunday, we had the privilege of praying for Eric and Magda and family as we commissioned them for short-term mission service in Romania.   As pastor, I asked for many to gather around them in front at the altar rail as we laid hands on them and prayed for them.   One might ask, “Why do we lay hands on them?”   The short answer is simply that it was done that way in the book of Acts.  For example, when Barnabas and Saul went on their first missions trip the Bible says that the church at Antioch laid hands on them.   “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Ac 13:2-3 NIV).   IN the NT, the laying on of hands is also done in conjunction with prayers for receiving the Holy Spirit and prayers for healing.    Since a successful missions trip can only happen as the Holy Spirit empowers, it was natural also to lay hands on them as we prayed for the coming missions trip. 

As we prayed for Erica and Magda I suggested that we all pray out loud at the same time.  Continue reading “Guiding congregational prayer”

The Power of a Celebration

 

Our Celebration Theme and Logo

After our fun celebration, I began thinking, “Why is it important to celebrate?  Are there good reasons besides the fun?”   I remembered immediately that God must have thought it was important as he taught the OT people to set aside time for feasting and rejoicing.   Now, in the glow of our big weekend, I can see some of the reasons.

Celebration motivates people to volunteer and identify with the cause.

The energy of the occasion is catching.  People like to be a part of a good purpose in a way that is immediate and tangible.  Helping out at a celebration provides a positive emotional feedback to the volunteer, especially when coupled with appropriate appreciation from those being helped.   Volunteering in turn helps the volunteer to feel more a part of the organization that they helped.  

Celebration generates creativity.

We found that the combination of workers thinking together and the challenge of a focused task that they strongly believed in generated much creativity.   All kinds of new ideas were spawned in the past few months and many of them were used.   One of the biggest examples was the sanctuary makeover.  The idea of preparing for the future helped set a climate for change.   The creative idea of dividing the front wall between paint and paneling instead of all paneling was accepted by a huge majority.  The new design’s decorative flexibility became evident at the 50th as the background of the cross became purple to complement the purple and gold color scheme of the celebration.  Enlarging the vestibule and moving the doors to the center created an entrance so natural that it seems like it always should have been like that.   For another example, we had done slide shows before on the big screen but never with the music embedded and narration overlaid.   Anne Kipping and JoAnne Jones went as far as they could and then called in Josh Basile to put it all together.  A third example was the spontaneous recreation of the church sign landscaping by Cindy Centner and Vicki Hilliges.   All these examples made it obvious that creativity just happens as we celebrate.

Celebration calls forth profound praise to God.

Sometimes our praises seem rather ordinary, habitual and dutiful.   That’s certainly much superior to a lack of praise, but there is more.   Continue reading “The Power of a Celebration”

How to make the most of a church’s 50th anniversary

This year Community Wesleyan Church is celebrating its 50th Anniversary.   With God’s help, we have worked hard to use this event, not just to celebrate the past or have a party, though we will do those too, but also to launch our church forward into its next decade with momentum and clarity of vision.   Our aim is not only to celebrate God’s faithfulness in the past, but also to look forward with faith to his future acts through and on behalf of his people.

Since we have been complimented on how well this celebration is going so far, I thought I would write a couple articles about how it has happened.   What have we done right that helped it happen?

Set a precedent at lesser anniversaries

As I reflect, the first ingredient of the success of this celebration plan has actually been the precedent that we set in previous anniversaries.   No one argued, as sometimes happen, about whether we should celebrate; it was a given.  The only question was how.   We had in varied ways marked every five year anniversary since I arrived as pastor 21 years ago.   In fact, as I look back, the variety in itself was a helpful part of the precedent we had set.  Many of the activities for the celebration had been tested before.  For example, for the 45th anniversary, we had decided to send a short term missions team to Romania.  It was a big goal for us.  But it was a success and so it was natural to decide a few years later to include sending another missions team as one of the ministries that would mark the 50th.      As a part of the 40th we had a great feast.  That idea will be part of this celebration as well, though it will be carried out a little differently.    If we had not set a precedent by celebrating lesser anniversaries, I do not think we would have been ready to create the excitement and energy that have gathered around this celebration.

Start early

Continue reading “How to make the most of a church’s 50th anniversary”