Once again election season is upon us. While America is already deeply divided between blue and red, democrats and republicans, Trump and non-Trumpers, these various factions are finding themselves even further divided as they squabble over who to vote for in the upcoming the primaries.
As has been the case for more than a decade, I’ve been getting asked about who I might recommend in some of the races. In the past, I tended to have strong opinions about who was the “better” or “right” candidate and I was never hesitant to share when asked. This year is different, for a number of reasons. But that’s for a separate and upcoming post.
In Tennessee there are a couple men who are running to replace Senator Lamar Alexander: Bill Hagerty and Manni Sethi. I have many good friends who are staunch Hagerty supporters. And perhaps an equal number of vocal supporters for Sethi. There are no doubt points that each group of supporters could make to elevate their guy and throw stones at his opponent.
When I see people do this though, I’m completely turned off. So many politicians, and their supporters as well, act as if the only way to win is to trash not only the other guy, but they also must lob bombs at the supporters of the guy as well. We’ve all heard the saying that we should disagree without being disagreeable. If there was a time when we need to show mercy and grace to others, it’s today.
In most primaries, while the candidates may attempt to illustrate the differences between themselves, at the end of the day, when they go to Washington, it’s unlikely they will vote that much differently from each other, particularly these days. As the battle lines have drawn deeper and deeper in our nation, and between democrats and republicans, we have seen that both parties more often than not vote as a bloc. It’s as if there is little to no individuality.
Washington is basically just two big machines. A blue one. And a red one. And those machines gobble up the members of their party, demanding absolute fidelity.
So, if you are listening to the policy differences of Hagerty and Sethi, it’s unlikely anything they say will matter, since the party will ultimately dictate how they vote. I know even as I write this that many will want to take issue with my perspective here. And if so, that’s fine. This is the conclusion I have come to after a couple of decades of political activism and engagement. Of course there are exceptions, but as a rule, this is the case.
So, if you’re asking me who you should vote for, Hagerty or Sethi, my answer may surprise you. I have personal feelings about both men, and have found myself leaning in one direction. But at the end of the day, and after much study and writing on the topic of voting, there is a greater principle at play than simply who I will vote for. While you and I may vote for a candidate, there is a greater Power who holds the final sway in who will win. Yes, God ultimately will determine who will win, since His Word is clear in passage after passage, and story and story, that God:
“… controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” Daniel 2:21
Interestingly enough, Jesus affirmed this same principle moments before His crucifixion when He declared to Pilate, the appointed Roman ruler, that:
“You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” John 19:11
Notice that Jesus said that Pilate’s power, his position, was not given to him by Rome, but rather from above. So likewise, while you may think that your vote is effectively electing the next Senator of Tennessee, there is a greater One who holds sway over the outcome. While you and I may not fully understand this concept, it is true nonetheless.
So you may ask, then what’s the use in voting if God’s going to decide? I believe there are several reasons we should vote, which I intend to answer before the November election via a separate article. But one reason is simply because we are called to be stewards of the resources God gives us. So when you vote, it’s not about electing someone, but it’s about honoring God and trusting Him with the outcome. Truthfully, if you fully understand and embrace this Truth, it will totally free and transform your mind, and you’ll no longer fret over the outcome of an election.
So vote your conscience. Vote for the guy you feel led to. But respect the other guy who will vote for your guy’s opponent. And don’t sweat the outcome. There’s Someone who can see the heart of both men, He knows the end from the beginning, and every day in between, and He knows the right guy to elevate at this time. Trust Him, even when you may not understand, or agree, with Him.
Nehemiah was a great man who accomplished amazing things for God and his Jewish people. Billions of men and women since his time are aware of his success of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in just 52 days.
But Nehemiah’s success would have never been realized without one trait, that is relatively unknown. Note this phrase from Nehemiah 5:15:
“…because I feared God, I did not act that way.” Nehemiah 5:15
Fear. Did you notice that? This great man who seemed fearless in tackling the monumental task of rebuilding a wall of protection lying in ruins, understood the importance of fearing God.
While we are often encouraged to interpret the word “fear” as “respect” when reading it in the Bible, it’s clear here, and in many other passages, that this is literally FEAR. And this fear of Almighty God, led to changed behavior.
If we read the context of chapter 5 of Nehemiah, we see that the behavior of the culture, government officials, and the citizens, was one that was ungodly, uncaring, and lacking in love for those struggling under oppressive policies and practices.
But Nehemiah was like a fish swimming upstream. He resisted the pressure of the elite and the culture, and instead he forged a different path. But his reason for doing so wasn’t simply because he possessed extraordinary inner strength. Rather, it was because he feared God.
Having studied history, Nehemiah knew that his God was not only the God of love and mercy, but that his God also administered justice. Just as God held Israel to account for its wayward behavior, with devastating consequences, so too Nehemiah believed God would hold him accountable for embracing the cultural norm and status quo, when that behavior was at odds with God’s standards.
Nehemiah’s acts would not escape “El Roi” — the God Who sees. So this belief led Nehemiah to act differently from the rest of his culture. Nehemiah feared the justice of God were he to oppress and mistreat his fellow citizens, as was the norm for his culture.
So what about you and me? Do we fear God? And if so, does that fear result in our own changed behavior? Do we contrast what is accepted universally by our culture with what is taught singularly by God in His Word? Or do we we just follow the fish swimming downstream, because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Studying God’s Word will consistently expose the disparities between the masses and God, between our norms, and God’s standard. So may we be like Nehemiah, who feared God and acted differently, according to God’s Word.
“‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’” Numbers 14:18
As I’ve contemplated the continuing and extensive societal upheaval that is permeating our nation, the above verse came to mind, which affirms the following:
➖God is love. ➖God is slow to anger. ➖God is merciful. ➖God is forgiving.
But… we also know that:
➖God is just. ➖God does not excuse the guilty. ➖God punishes our sins.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see example after example of a wayward people and nation being disciplined for their sinfulness. God’s discipline came in all shapes and sizes, but it was always certain, even though at times the punishment might be delayed for years, or even generations.
In a sense, God was and is predictable. He could be and still can be relied on. We are told this is because He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” (While this quote from Hebrews 13:8 references Jesus, we can apply it to God the Father as well.)
So you might ask, what does this have to do with us, as Americans? I say everything. Since God is unchanging, the same attributes that He displayed, both in living example and also in written word, thousands of years ago, can be relied on today. And so when we read that God “lays the sins of the parents… to the third and fourth generations” it’s not too hard to surmise that the national upheaval we are seeing is a direct consequence of a national sin.
One of our current national sins, that is again erupting onto center stage, is the sin of racism. At its core, racism flows from pride. We reckon ourselves better or more deserving than someone else, based on an external characteristic: skin color. It is pride, plain and simple. And evil. It’s a superior vs inferior attitude that will permeate every part of our being, and nation.
How God must have been grieved:
➖when He witnessed white people abusing and devaluing black people, using them as slaves to enrich their own white lifestyles;
➖when He saw an entire portion of a nation rise up to defend the sin of slavery via a civil war;
➖when He witnessed politicians, representatives of their constituents, pass evil legislation we refer to as Jim Crow laws;
➖when He witnessed, and continues to witness, systemic racism cooked into a nation’s attitudes and policies, and more.
But perhaps what is most grievous about these realities, all the way through 2020, is how the church has enabled and embraced these many sins. Yes enabled and embraced.
When we study our nation’s history we see that “Christians” were every bit as responsible, as unbelievers, for these racist sins of America’s past. Christians owned black slaves. Christians fought to preserve their right to own slaves. Christian politicians and their Christian constituents voted for Jim Crow laws that affirmed their belief that men and women, boys and girls, were lesser then themselves, because their skin color was darker. Christians even donned white robes and pointed hats, thinking they were disguising their identities, not realizing that God saw their hearts, with or without their hideous outfits.
How evil. How un-Christian. How grossly wrong. How unbiblical. And how horrible that there was no difference between the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians.
These sinful and evil attitudes were mainstream with Christians. They were pervasive. And yet, the Bible, the Book every Christian maintained in their homes, and carried with them to church each Sunday, was replete with teachings, truths, and stories against racism, pride, and prejudice.
How obvious to so many of us now. How blinded so many were then. But we should not miss another important point. While Christian’s may have been blind to Scripture, unbelievers were not. They saw the attitudes and sins of Christians were incongruent with the Bible those same believers claimed to follow.
It’s sad when those who reject the Bible, can understand it better than those who claim the Book as their own.
But are we still guilty? Could it be we are still blind? Do we simply point to laws, facts, and stats to “prove” that we’ve rooted out racism in America, as we lull ourselves into believing that it does not exist within the church? If that’s our approach as Christians, have we ever left behind the “sins of our fathers?”
It’s always so easy for us to point out the sins in the lives of others, but there has never been an instance in history, where one person was able to resolve a sin in another person’s life. Never. Sin can only be addressed by the person sinning. Perhaps that’s why Jesus gave us this command:
💡“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” Matthew 7:3, 5
So, if the sin of racism possibly resides in our own life, we should look inward vs outward and begin to grapple with our own hearts. As we do, here are a few more questions to help us in our examination:
➖Are we defensive when someone raises these issues, particular when that person’s life story is completely different than ours, and they assert they’ve been the victim of systemic and lifelong racism? ➖Do we raise objections based on political arguments? ➖Have we checked our hearts? ➖Have we allowed the “perfect law of liberty” we know as God’s Word to shine its penetrating light of conviction into the secret recesses of our hearts? ➖Are there attitudes in those corners that bear exposing? ➖Have we intentionally sought out brothers and sisters in Christ who are different than us to listen to and develop relationships with, which will enable us to begin to identify areas in our lives to which we might be blind?
Racism is a cunning enemy because it’s tied into our pride, which flows from the father of lies, Satan himself. So we must be intentional in our desire to expose it. Then we must humble ourselves by acknowledging it, if God convicts us of this sin.
In closing, there are consequences to sins. Both individual and national. As such, I truly believe that the rapid disintegration of our nation economically, socially, politically, and more, is flowing from the seeds we have planted for centuries. True, some of the seeds of racism were at the founding of our nation. But sadly, we have continued to sow the same seeds, and cultivated them from the outpourings of our heart. And we are now reaping a horrible harvest of all we have sown.
But all is not lost. Whether or not America can recover from this national sin, is irrelevant to whether you and I can address any seeds of racism that might be found within us. So as God has once again elevated this deep national sin to center stage, may Christians across our nation, humble ourselves and do as the guilty Psalmist confessed:
💡“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Psalms 51:1-3, 7, 10, 17
The year was sixty, The lines were drawn T’was 1860 And hate lived on
The forces were firm Convinced with pride That truth and right Was on their side
The war did come And bodies torn Six hundred twenty Thousand mourned
But many more Did bear the wrong From wounds so deep And hurts still strong
One hundred and sixty Years came and went And laws were embraced With such great intent
But wounds from years Too many to count Still surface again As generations mount.
And so 2020 Moved in as a cloud God’s plan was unclear For a nation so proud
Unyielding and firm We placed ourselves first We each sought our gods And ignored such a curse
Whether wealth or power Or glitz or fame Or whatever else Our desires did claim
Our pride we wore So good and bold The red white and blue Was ours to hold
But God would not dare Bow down to our flags Or yield His glory To all of our rags
And so our pride Was on full display When COVID hit And God halted play
Wall Street did stumble And Main Street shut down Our leaders confused In town after town
God had pressed pause To get our attention But soon the division Became more dissension
Our views so sure Were all that mattered The pride displayed Left friendships shattered
But then that virus From Eden born Of pride thru racism Did rise with scorn
The cry “I Can’t Breathe” Was heard by all Those final words A rallying call
But rather than bow And confess our sin We rallied and chanted Our views once again
The anger was seen In cities and streets And felt so deep In hearts and tweets
So today we repeat What’s happened before When lines were drawn And all kept score
But should we resign To another cruel end Where sisters and brothers And neighbors won’t bend?
Should we just assume That all is now lost And what we do see Will be gone with great cost?
There still yet is Hope But it will not reign When we will not see Injustice and pain
No, this Hope demands We turn from our pride And humbly accept What we have denied.
Our God above all Is able to heal But not on our terms Let’s submit and kneel
When Pride is torn down And God is restored Then black and white Will walk in accord
So will we defeat This virus of old That continues the hate And maintains status quo?
The time is now The choice is ours Will we turn to God Or let pride devour?
Our path to heal These wounds so deep Begins each new day As I awake from my sleep
I am the one I must seek to control My desires submit To a much greater goal
And like Son of Man Who left heaven above And humbled himself To show us true love
May each of us look To love and to labor For God our Creator And the one we call neighbor.
Love God and love others These simple commands Are what Jesus modeled And our God demands.
💡“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.“ Matthew 22:37-39
Politics. It is deeply divisive, even amongst family and friends, including God’s family. Even these fallible thoughts on my part could be divisive, although they are not shared in order to do such.
So why do I share them? I suppose it may be the same reason you share yours. Because we both think that our thoughts have merit. And they do, both yours and mine. But ultimately, I want thoughts to not merely be human-inspired, but God-aligned, both yours and mine.
So recently, as I was reading The Book, Jesus’ words jumped off the page of Scripture when He said this:
“Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”” John 18:36
Before we analyze the thoughts above, let’s set the context. Jesus, the very Creator of all there is, including what we see and don’t see (earthly kingdoms and rulers as well), was standing before an earthly ruler, Pontius Pilate. This governor was no spotless man. He was ruthless, corrupt and evil. A few weeks earlier, Jesus had commented about Pilate killing some Jews worshipping in the Temple (Luke 13:1), but notice that Jesus did not render an opinion about what was likely a ruthless act by a guilty ruler. (But that’s a whole separate discussion.)
So here Jesus is, standing before a miserable man. Think for a minute of the most immoral American President in your mind. Pilate was worse.
Now consider that the God of the universe is being judged by this man, and God does not delve into a litany of accusations or pronouncements about Pilate’s sins and evil actions. Rather, Jesus (God in the flesh) simply bears witness to the Truth, to a power that is greater than any earthly one. Jesus simply points Pilate to that which is this man’s only Hope and Salvation: Truth itself, as Jesus asserted of Himself previously (“I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.”)
Now, back to the statement Jesus made to Pilate, when the Roman governor asked Jesus why he was being put on trial.
Jesus simply answered with these facts:
My Kingdom is not an earthly one
If it were, my followers would fight an earthly battle on earthly terms
Again, My Kingdom is not of this world
So Jesus had the ultimate opportunity, to simply educate Pilate and all the hypocritical religious leaders observing this kangaroo court, about His rights, His authority, and His greater power. But Jesus had an even greater audience than those in attendance that day at His death sentencing. The entire Christian world for the next 2,000 years would read and witness how Jesus responded to an unjust ruler and religious establishment. And what did Jesus do?
Jesus humbled Himself to the temporal earthly powers, that could never transform the heart. And instead, Jesus pointed billions of men and women since that day, including you and me, to a greater calling: to The (eternal) Kingdom versus a (temporal) kingdom. The former offers heart transformation. The latter offers little to nothing, except possibly political frustration, feuding, dissension, and heartache.
But this is not the end of the story. The first followers (the disciples who became apostles and the Founding Fathers of our Faith) learned well the lesson Jesus taught in that brief exchange with Pilate. They finally understood that there was no need to fret over their earthly rulers, or to dedicate their hopes and dreams to establishing a government to their personal liking. Rather, they committed their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to the only Constitution that truly mattered, the living Word of God. And for the rest of their days on this little temporal globe, they resisted the temptation to go back to their former lives where they grumbled about the political realities of their day. In place of that, they pursued the spiritual Truths that Jesus had taught them, and lived before them, for three years.
And the rest is history. We don’t have a record of a great government that was established by these men. Nor do we have an example of kingdom victories and great political movements. But we do have a record of a world transformed through a simple message, and strategy:
Share the gospel, one life at a time. And as the heart is transformed, souls are saved for eternity, marriages are healed, families are reunited, communities reinvigorated, and at times, entire nations are awakened (if God wills).
But it starts with “The Kingdom” instead of a kingdom. And it results in permanent transformation, in place of short-term “wins” that are quickly lost with the next political skirmish.
So, if you ask me, perhaps this is the lesson Jesus was teaching as His life hung in the balance. He could have “won” the political battle that day, but an entire world would have lost. So He challenged us to:
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33
Unchartered waters. This is where I would suggest America is as a nation and people, as we continue to sail onward into the stormy waters ahead. While our world has previously faced pandemics and world wars, which took many times more lives, never before have we found ourselves facing such an overwhelming set of problems, with such a lack of wise leadership to solve them.
Regardless of your belief about the cause or response to COVID-19, the reality is that we are facing dramatic challenges, involving public health, rising deaths, political dissension, racial unrest, economic crisis, overbearing debt, collapsing businesses, and so much more. Voices are competing to describe the varying explanations for these challenges. But with each viewpoint comes armies of opinions who line up against those with alternative perspectives. The further we navigate into these murky waters, the deeper the lines are drawn that separate us from our fellow citizens, neighbors, church members, and even our families.
So who is right? What is true? How can we know? Who has the answers?
As I’ve considered all this, I was reminded of a story from ancient times where an answer was being sought by a once great king. This king had a dream that greatly troubled him, but for which he had no explanation. All of his advisors and political allies could not interpret the dreams. Yet there was one man, held unjustly in the king’s prison, who possessed supernatural abilities, enabling him to interpret the dreams of others. This man we know to be Joseph. And the king was Pharaoh.
The time that the dreams predicted would be unprecedented: a season of great prosperity, followed by another season of even greater famine. But without Joseph, the king would never have understood the warnings that were mercifully offered by God Himself to the pagan ruler.
In the years before the sovereign appointment between Pharaoh and Joseph, God had taken Joseph through his own season of trouble and turmoil. This season took him from being the favored son of his father, to being sold into slavery and ultimately ending up in prison, stemming from a false accusation. But all these personal trials were in fact preparing and refining Joseph for what would be his time on center stage.
Joseph responded with humility and trust to the God who allowed, or caused, his dire circumstances. As a result, God elevated Joseph to a position that was second only to the king himself, and blessed Joseph beyond measure. But the blessing Joseph received was not only for his own good. Rather, because of Joseph’s response, his humility, in the midst of great injustice, brought blessings to literally millions of men and women and their families, as the famine descended on the land.
Now fast forward several thousand years to the present. Consider that our nation is facing challenges and struggles that are not only existential to our nation as we know it, but to date they have resulted in the tragic deaths of 100,000+ of our citizens. While we search for answers to the COVID-19 virus, there are no answers for all the other societal ailments that COVID continues to expose.
So the question I am led to ask is “Where is America’s Joseph?” Is God preparing someone to come to the aid of our nation or to our community? Is God still in the business of humbling men and women so that, as we come to the end of ourselves, God can use us as instruments to bless others?
While we as Americans love to focus our attention at the highest levels, beginning in Washington DC, I believe we may be casting our focus in the wrong place. We tend to prefer big solutions to big problems. Thus we start with a top-down approach.
But while Jesus walked this earth, He did not prioritize his efforts in reforming from the top-down. Rather, Jesus’ approach was generally one person at a time. He called his twelve disciples, one person at a time. Jesus healed the sick, one person at a time. He raised the dead, one person at a time. And so on. Yes, he did teach to multitudes, even 5,000 or more at a time. But that was not in the hopes of seeking to bring political reform for Rome, or even Israel. Jesus was always focused on an inside-out solution. He focused on the hearts of people, one at a time.
So is God preparing you to serve Him in a manner that will bring blessing and the message of salvation to others? If so, it may include struggles, even monumental unjust ones. It may require refining that can only happen in the crucible of life’s fiery trials. But if you respond as Joseph did, maintaining your trust in the One who stands with you in the midst of those trials, you can be certain that God has greater works ahead for you. And who knows but that He may be preparing you “for such a time as this.”
Recently I was watching a video where Pastor Tony Walliser recounted his own testimony of personal struggles and doubt that he had growing up. They continued on as an adult, even as he became pastor of Silverdale Baptist Church here in Chattanooga. Because of these struggles, Tony would regularly default to a feeling of inferiority and doubt about his ability to serve God. Yet, God used the story of Moses to teach Tony that it wasn’t about him and his limited abilities, but rather it is about God, and His infinite abilities. The following verse was the one that God used to confirm this truth to Tony:
“The Lord replied, “Listen, I am making a covenant with you in the presence of all your people. I will perform miracles that have never been performed anywhere in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people around you will see the power of the Lord —the awesome power I will display for you.” Exodus 34:10
I cannot answer the question “Where is America’s Joseph?” I hope God is preparing him for us today. But whether God is or isn’t, you and I can still learn from the story of Joseph, and how he responded as God used difficulties and trials to prepare the shepherd boy for one of the most powerful positions in the world at that time.
So whether God is preparing you to “save America” or simply to stand ready to serve your family or community, we can know this about our God: “Little is much when offered to the Lord.”