We are prone to division. So prone, in fact that we often identify and label others by the ways they agree or disagree with us. If you are anything like me, sometimes you so begin to identify others by certain points of disagreement, that you begin to wonder if you can trust their opinion on anything at all. This same sinful mindset is very present when it comes to our political views.
This often makes it difficult to discuss politics as a Christian. As believers in Christ, we are to root our identity in Him, not in our political ideologies. Yet all too frequently, we conflate our politics and our gospel. This leads conservatives to view liberals as having a low view of Scripture and being guilty of inventing a Jesus who is nothing more than a good example. It leads liberals to see conservatives as compassionless Pharisees who wouldn’t recognize or even like Jesus if he appeared to us today.
So where do we go from here? How should our faith influence our politics? How can we discuss politics in a God-glorifying way with those who share our faith but not our political views?
It is questions like these that a new blog, The Body Politic (www.bodypoliticblog.org) tackles. With posts bearing titles such as My Conservative Idolatry, and The One Community Where Fear-Mongering Shouldn’t Work, the site is run by two friends from different sides of the political spectrum who are committed to serving the Church by sharing their own experiences and struggles in their journeys to glorify God in the way they approach politics.
The blog will also feature regular contributions from other individuals and organizations, including a monthly post by Ministry to State on praying for those in government. We hope that you will take the time to visit this site and that what you read will both strengthen your faith and challenge you to examine the areas in your own life where your approach to politics may be inconsistent with the gospel.
As summer approaches and thousands of interns begin to descend on Washington, hoping to gain valuable experience and connections that will further their careers, one intern is coming – not for what this city can offer him, but for what he can offer this city. Will Clark is a recent graduate of Furman University and is coming to Washington for an internship with Ministry to State. Over the summer, he will serve alongside MTS Associate Director Casey Bedell, seeking to build relationships with some of the many interns who will be interning around the city.
To this end, some of Will’s responsibilities will be to assist in leading a weekly Bible study and dinner for summer interns, spending time on Capitol Hill getting to know the culture of those to whom he is ministering, and building relationships with those who attend the Bible study over a meal or coffee.
We are excited to have Will with us this summer, as these months are some of the busiest for us as a ministry. His presence will greatly increase our ability to meet the needs of the many people who will be interning in Washington.
Will has expressed his excitement for this summer, saying “I’m really looking forward to joining the Ministry to State team for the summer. I’m excited to see the many ways that the Lord is at work on Capitol Hill, and to be encouraged by what He is doing in and through the folks at MTS. I’m thankful for the opportunity to share the love of Jesus with interns this summer, to build meaningful relationships with interns and MTS staff, and to be a part of the ongoing advancement of God’s Kingdom in our nation’s capital.“
Please remember Will in your prayers as he makes the transition to a new city in a different part of the country, as he continues to raise funds, and as he begins to develop ministry in this city. Our prayer is not only that others will be blessed by Will’s presence in Washington, but that this internship will also be a time of deep spiritual growth for Will.
If you are interested in supporting Will financially during his internship, you may do so here.
Debby and l first met Mark Meynell a few years ago at our friend Andrew’s dinner party here in Washington, D.C. Andrew knew Mark from London, where Mark was on the senior leadership team of his church, All Souls, Langham Place. Before that, Mark had served as the academic dean and acting principal of a theological school in Kampala, Uganda. Currently he is a writer and associate director for Langham Partnership (Europe). When I learned that Mark’s new book A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World was coming off Zondervan’s press in late spring, I invited him to speak at to our May MTS Dinner Forum and a gathering on the Hill. These were good ministry opportunities that provided a means of hearing more about his book and perspective.
During the dinner forum, Mark addressed the western world’s breakdown of trust. He said, “We’ve been misled by authorities and institutions, by businesses and politicians, and even by those who were supposed to care for us. The very cohesion of society seems tenuous at times.” Yet the evening was more than a depressing, hopeless critique of our cynical world — throughout Mark’s talk and a subsequent Q&A session, he outlined a gospel-based reason for hope.
Both gatherings resonated well with those in attendance. Be sure to check out the new book, Wilderness of Mirrors, which “calls Christians to rediscover the radical implications of Jesus’s life and message for a disillusioned world.”
In his investigative book, Intern Nation, Ross Perlin notes that the intern culture of Washington stands out in our society as one of the more exploitative worlds for young adults. With roughly 40,000 interns showing up each year, Perlin notes that these young adults line up to do menial work with no compensation, little recognition, and no guarantees. And the most interesting fact of all is that the government would not run without them.
As a minster of the gospel, this is the world I seek to minster to and understand. It is fast paced, competitive, and transient. College students from all over the country come to Washington in hopes of establishing their name. Through internships on Capitol Hill, the administration, NGO’s, and think tanks, these young adults have one thing in mind – their careers. Because internships typically rotate every few months, this makes it incredibly challenging to develop any sort of relationship with depth. Our ministry to these interns is in many ways a ministry to “strangers.” Yet as I have thought about these dynamics more and more I have come to realize that while this is no doubt a challenging place to develop ministry (some days I wonder if its worth it), it is also an absolutely essential part of the church’s ministry.
In the Old and New Testaments whenever we encounter the realities of strangers, we also encounter the corresponding reality of hospitality. From Abraham and Sarah with the angels (Genesis 18), to the widow of Zarepheth and Elijah (I Kings 17), to Jesus’ identification with the welcomed stranger (Matt. 25), we see that hospitality to strangers has always functioned as a pillar of the people of God. Christine Pohl states in her article Hospitality, a Practice and Way of Life that, “Hospitality to needy strangers distinguished the early church from its surrounding environment. Noted as exceptional by Christians and non-Christians alike, offering care to strangers became one of the distinguishing marks of the authenticity of the Christian gospel.” Pohl goes onto say that Christian hospitality became so distinguished because it stood in such stark contrast to the culture’s understanding of hospitality. Whereas ancient cultures built hospitality around their family, friends, and those of significance, the early church built hospitality around the “least of these”. By welcoming those with little social and cultural capital, the early church built one of the most attractive witnesses to the saving power of the gospel. And in the most ironic way, the church made its greatest impact on culture not by pandering to the strong and influential, but by welcoming those culture deemed not worthy of their time.
When I first moved to DC the challenges of ministering to interns was realized very quickly. I was used to ministering within the context of the local church and having ongoing relationships, not relationships that ended as soon as they began. Yet one day when I was having lunch with an Anglican friend and venting my frustrations, he told me a story about a young man who had come to DC after having gone through many challenging circumstances. Eventually, he said this young man found himself within his church’s community and had conveyed to the community that without the body of Christ there was no way he could have survived Washington. My friend was reminded that this experience accurately reflected the very heart of God, as he is the one that seeks to establish the solitary in a home (Ps. 68:6). And this reminded me that the church is fundamentally a community in exile, one that is called to offer a generous welcome to all those who are hungry and lost.
As we give ourselves to serve the intern community in DC we are committed to making biblical hospitality one of the key dynamics of our ministry. And like the early Christians, we believe that table fellowship is an important way of acknowledging the equal value and dignity of all people (Pohl), as it is a visible expression of our common humanity – created in the image of God. But so too, we believe that Jesus is the ultimate host and through his greater hospitality he has welcomed us – undeserving and estranged as we are. So each week this summer we will be welcoming interns into our home by sharing a meal with them and reflecting on the Scriptures together. These are all strangers to us and we are strangers to them. But as Pohl notes, the mystery of hospitality to strangers brings untold blessing, for it “is a lens through which we can read and understand much of the gospel, and a practice by which we can welcome Jesus himself.”
From creation to consummation the Bible understands vocation (from Latin vocare, meaning to call) as central to its story. Corporately, Christians share a common vocation that unites their individual stories into the larger story of what God is doing in the world. Yet before any discussion on our work begins, we should begin with God’s work, past, present, and future.
The story of Israel is the story of us all; it is the story that Jesus recapitulated through his own life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ mission was to reconcile heaven and earth, and to reverse the curse that came as a result of Adam’s sin. As the eternal Son of God, he became man “in the fullness of time” in order to live for, suffer for, rise for and comprehensively represent the new Israel. As the true Israelite, Jesus was covenantally faithful in all respects, loving God and loving neighbor with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. He is the one for the many. His mission was to rescue the world from sin, death, and the devil. His incarnation was the invasion of heaven to earth and thus the beginning of the new age. His miracles of healing, his exorcisms, and his authoritative teaching, were all signs that the long awaited kingdom had finally arrived.
A believers, we enter to this cosmic, redemptive story by faith. Jesus’ story becomes our story. Creation, fall, redemption, and consummation become the primary chapters of our life. Essential to this four-part drama is to recognize that we live in what theologians call the already/not yet. Already the kingdom has come and is mysteriously being advanced through the preaching of the Gospel, pouring of water, eating of bread, drinking of wine, and showing mercy and justice to the least of these. Not yet, the kingdom of glory awaits us, where every tear will be wiped away, the healing of every disease complete, and the full eradication of sin, death and the devil. The kingdom of glory will definitively push back the kingdom of darkness and history will move forward to a more glorious tomorrow. As believers, we are caught up in this end-time renewal programs with all of its tensions. Recognizing that there are many difficulties with believing in Christianity in our post-enlightenment world, we do not try to sort out all the apparent contradictions of believing everything will be made new, when in fact, everything still seems so bad. By faith we live with questions, even if we don’t have all the answers. This tension is essential to our vocation.
When it comes to our callings in life, our primary calling is to imitate Jesus’ work of loving God and loving neighbor by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through this high, yet mundane, calling we live out our original callings of bearing the image of God. The importance of this teaching was recaptured during the time of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. The Reformers understood every Christian to be a priest and thus they believed that each Christian by virtue of Jesus’ mediation had direct access to God and was being remade in his image. Like Adam in the garden and the Levites in the tabernacle, Christians were called to work and keep (Hebrew verbs used both in the garden and in the tabernacle) the place that God assigned them. This truth is equally important for us today in the 21st century.
And it is here that the idea of our particular callings comes into focus. As holy priests, we are called to work out our salvation in the context of real, mundane jobs. These become places whereby we can express love to God and love to neighbor. These become places where God sanctifies us and mortifies our sinful desires, as we learn to serve him from a pure heart and not by way of eye service. These become places where we seek the common good, the peace of our office, neighborhood, and city and live out the vocation of peace making. There is so much more that can be said about vocation, but important to any discussion is to remember that our primary calling is that which God has called us to as His new creation.
It may seem like a typical Friday on Capitol Hill with everyone completing their final tasks before the weekend, but for one group of congressional staffers, every other Friday at noon marks a time of rest and refreshment. On these days, staffers representing many different parts of the country and both houses of Congress come together to share a meal and study God’s Word.
These lunches, called Capitol Conversations, provide an outlet for people who work on Capitol Hill to think about relevant topics of the day in light of Scripture. The discussions, which are oriented around a recent news article, help staffers develop a biblical world and life view and encourage them to think about how the topic reveals a need for Christ in the Capitol Hill community. Aside from this, the study also allows people to build genuine friendships based on trust, something that is not easy to come by in Washington.
Over the past year and a half since the group began, we have seen it grow from one or two staffers to an average of eight to ten! Over many meals, we have discussed a variety of topics — ranging from poverty and immigration to busyness and suffering — always seeking to understand the material in light of the gospel and our need for Christ.
While some may have read Ross Douthat’s recent New York Times article on President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast remarks as an accurate analysis of the president’s failure to be self-critical, our group took it a step further. We turned to Romans 2 and learned how the humility that comes from a proper understanding of our own sin and God’s grace is the only context in which we can properly point out the sin of others. We saw that it was not only President Obama and our spiritual ancestors being discussed in the passage as self-critical, but it was also us. This recognition of our own sin enabled us to reflect on our need for Christ and his grace.
I am always humbled by the depth of insight that these friends have during our discussions. It is encouraging to spend time with people who are so thoughtful about their faith and its implications on their daily lives. Following our study, these staffers return to their offices where they have the opportunity to live out the gospel in front of their co-workers.
It is no small thing that we are able to host a Bible study and advertise for it openly in a building owned and operated by the federal government. We are thankful that the Lord has allowed us this freedom as we minister to the government community. We expect this group to continue to grow and change as we welcome new friends and see others leave Capitol Hill. Our prayer is that the Lord will continue to use this study to meet the needs of all who attend and that He will allow our group to become a place where people who don’t yet know Him can come to learn more. Please join us in praying for this group and those who will attend in the future. Please also pray for us as we deepen the friendships the Lord has given us through this study and as we seek to point people to Christ.
It was a cold February evening in Washington, D.C., but the home of Chuck and Debby Garriott was filled with warmth – chili on the stove top, cornbread in the oven, and over 35 guests crammed into the living room waiting for dinner to be served and an evening of fellowship and learning to begin.
Gatherings such as this one – dubbed “dinner forums” – are put on monthly by Ministry to State to encourage the formation of community and Christian worldview among those who live and work in Washington, D.C. The invitation is open to anyone in the city, whether they work on Capitol Hill, in the White House, or in any one of the numerous agencies, think tanks, and media organizations around town. The goal is to bring people from different circles of the city together with the gospel – it is not uncommon to have a Republican chief of staff, a political appointee, and an analyst for the CIA sitting side by side for these events.
While a shared meal is always a dinner forum fixture, the particular theme changes with each month. Sometimes dinner is followed by a guided discussion. For example, in November, after feasting on a meal of chicken tiki masala, over 35 guests gathered in the Garriott’s living room to answer the question, “What is God doing among Christians who work in government?” During the following hour, Chuck facilitated a discussion around the topic and dinner attendees were given the opportunity to share their thoughts in an open, organic way.
The November dinner forum made it clear that God has blessed Washington, D.C. with a number of thoughtful, intelligent Christians who are actively trying to integrate their faith with their life. But the forum also made it apparent that this community of people has many struggles – lack of trust, loneliness, fear of failure, division across political party lines.
While the discussion at the November forum was fruitful, perhaps one of the biggest blessings of the evening was the sense of community that grew among dinner attendees. Several guests remarked that the forum felt like a “safe place” for them to express their thoughts, that it was refreshing to be surrounded by like-minded people, and that they enjoyed interacting with those they wouldn’t normally cross paths with in the city.
Sometimes dinner forums are oriented around a guest speaker rather than a guided discussion. For the February dinner forum called “5 Tips to Survive D.C.,” Ministry to State invited five veteran civil servants to briefly share on calling, community, rest, mentorship, and cynicism. After these five friends of the ministry gave advice, there was time for more informal discussion over dessert. Again, dinner attendees remarked that they were encouraged by not only the content of the dinner forum, but by the community they found therein.
As Ministry to State continues to plan dinner forums for the coming months, the goal is to get deeper into topics that have only been briefly touched on in the past. Beginning in March, we are excited to host five separate dinner forums around the themes of calling, community, rest, mentorship and cynicism, where guest speakers will help dinner guests work out the gospel in the particulars of their lives.
As with most programs of Ministry to State, we expect dinner forums to grow and change organically our ministry develops. The nature of the topics, the number of attendees, and even the types of food will evolve as the needs of the Washington, D.C. do the same. We are excited to see what God does with these dinner forums, and we hope that you, as our community of support, will continue to pray for our work in this area. Pray that hearts – including our own – will be opened to the gospel during these dinner forums, that spiritual formation will occur, that relationships of grace will be created and maintained among different groups of people who live and work here in the Federal City.
By Eric Tracy
Every two years, election season comes around and Washington becomes particularly tense as uncertainty fills the air. Around this time, both members and staffers are reminded more clearly than ever that their jobs lie in the hands of the people, and that they have little control over the future. As someone who has experienced firsthand the loss of a job due to elections, I can identify with the frustration and anxiety that accompanies this time of year. I often felt myself praying the words of David in Psalm 13:1:
David is a good example of what it looks like to trust God in the midst of uncertainty and change. He was anointed, or hired, by God to be king of Israel, yet there were many days he must have wondered if he would live long enough to see this promise fulfilled. He had to rely on the Lord to provide his most basic needs like food and shelter. Interestingly, this Psalm ends before God responds to him, yet David still finds peace in the midst of uncertainty. How? He finds it by remembering God’s love and faithfulness. David says:
David reminds himself that he trusts in a God who loves him – whatever challenges and trials he faces, he knows that God never has evil intentions toward him (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). This should comfort us as well – that the sovereign creator and sustainer of the universe loves us so much that He was willing to send His only Son to die in our place (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10). This love is sure; nothing can ever take it away (Romans 8:32,38-39). The only safe strategy in life is to place all your hope in Jesus.
2014 is now well under way and we have several events planned this year as a way to reach out to our Washington, DC community. While we have many plans for this year, we would like to take a few moments to share about a new study called Capitol Conversations.
Capitol Conversations is a lunch time discussion group that began in December and meets about twice a month on Capitol Hill. The group focuses on reading news articles on current events and discussing them through a Biblical worldview. Our goal is to reflect on issues that are so commonly seen in a partisan manner though the lens of the Bible. The conversation topics can range anywhere from the current state of our welfare system to the leadership style of Pope Francis. Our hope is to provide fellowship and encouragement for all who attend and to discuss biblical principles that have direct implications to our lives and careers.
We hope that this young group will grow into a gathering where people from both sides of the aisle can gather together to learn more about Christ and to be encouraged in their faith. Please remember this group in your prayers, asking the Lord to guide our discussions as we seek to know Him better.
Our next meeting will be on Friday, January 24 at noon and Ministry to State will provide lunch. We would love for you to join us! For information about the room location please contact Eric Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2011, MTS Director, Chuck Garriott wrote Obama Prayer: Prayers for the 44th President. The book explores the Biblical call to pray for our leaders, and more specifically our president, through the book of Proverbs. Often, the partisan nature of politics in Washington, DC, does not promote the idea of specific prayer for the President of the United States. The thought of praying for things like favor and direction for a political leader with whom you may not always agree is not easy. Obama Prayer contains twelve different petitions of specific prayer for President Barack Obama, including wisdom, family, protection, and mercy.
The idea for the approach used in Obama Prayer was adapted from a then work-in-progress entitled Solomon’s Jingle Bells. This book, written by Steve Estes, a longtime friend of Chuck, has recently been published under its new title, A Better December. A Better December was written back in 2008, but not published until fall of 2013. Estes had shown Chuck his manuscript on the day of President Obama’s first inauguration. He took certain themes in Proverbs that pertained to greed, contentment, perfectionism, longings, and disappointment among others and fashioned them into 13 petite chapters for today’s Christmas consumer year round. Consider the chapter on “Gifts” that concludes with Proverbs 30:7-9.
We can all use such a reminder from the ancient writer inspired by the Holy Spirit. With black Friday sales beginning before Thanksgiving dinner has ended, we can see more clearly than ever, the impact our materialism is having on the way we view our lives. If there is ever a time of year that we need to turn our focus away from ourselves and back to Christ, it is at the Christmas season. Christmas is not about what things we can get, or even about spending time with our families; it is the day we pause to remember when our Redeemer, the Son of God, Jesus Christ left the majesty of heaven and came into our world in order to carry out God’s magnificent plan of redemption. It’s the time of year we realize that Jesus’ death on the cross was not the only sacrifice He made on our behalf.
This little book and its author have had a profound impact on our work at Ministry to State. It can also have a lasting impact on the way you celebrate the birth of Christ. We highly recommend reading A Better December this Christmas season.