My first national election disappointment happened when Gerald R. Ford lost in 1976. With the help of candy and comics, I got over it within 24 hours.
But then I grew up and found out it’s not so easy to recover from a political loss when you’re an adult.
In more recent times after a couple of lackluster conservative candidates came and went, America sat under Barrack Obama’s administration for two terms. I mean no disrespect when I say I didn’t much like it. I felt his administration pushed a number of moral and social issues that directly opposed biblical values. That made it tough for me to communicate the gospel to the ideological young adults who needed it so badly.
I felt marginalized most of the time, and mildly threatened the rest. Political correctness exerted a certain constant pressure. I felt the anxiety of being a minority not in terms of race, but on account of my deeply held faith.
Then there was the frustration of self-styled crusaders for tolerance who showed me no tolerance, and threats of violence from people who claimed to stand for love. Of course I can’t blame all of this personally on President Obama, but the cultural milieu that flourished under his administration certainly helped to make it possible.
During this time period, I began to learn a couple of significant things:
I Need to Trust Jesus to Fight for Me and for His Church.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt. 5:5). That means the happiest, most blessed people are those who don’t chase the rabbit of ego and pride. They’re not energized by anger, nor do they need to be, because their turn is coming. Jesus said the meek get it all.
Meekness shouldn’t be confused with helplessness, idleness, or irresponsibility. “Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3), but nobody thinks of him as a passive weakling. Jesus was prophesied as one who would not engage in angry rants or “not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street” (Isa. 42:2), yet the effective impact of His words endure forever. Concerning His coming, we are told,
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Such an ignominious entry, yet no king has more absolutely ruled the hearts of men than this one.
Meekness describes a mild and gentle bearing, but even more it points to where we place our trust. The meek place their trust in God. The proud look to their own resources. Many men have lived on this earth and sought to gain the entire world for their kingdom. None has succeeded. They expended munitions, exhausted diplomacy, plotted, maneuvered, and failed.
But Jesus gave up His life for others in an apparent show of weakness (1 Cor. 1:24-25). He placed his obedience and trust in God the Father, whom He said was, “greater than all” (John 10:29). He laid down everything, but received the entire Kingdom of God, becoming King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Jesus promises to share the whole earth with those who follow Him in the same way.
Meekness Doesn’t Appear to Satisfy
I just read of an elderly woman in New York who started a dead pet disposal service. In a concrete jungle like the Big Apple, places to bury pets are not abundant. She charged $25 to take the corpse away. Her disposal method was a bit eccentric. She would buy a junk suitcase for a few dollars, put the dead pet in it, and then place it on a subway platform. Invariably, some thief would see the bag sitting unguarded. He would steal it, and run off, only to open it later and find the undesirable loot inside.
I’m not sure about the long-term sustainability of the business plan involved here, but it says something about the way people of the world are always fighting for an edge, snatching, grabbing, manipulating, and apparently getting what they want. Until they sit down later and open up their “prize.” Meanwhile, the meek seem to just sit there, allowing the dog-eat-dog ethos to play itself out. They trust Jesus to control the outcome.
Do we really believe the meek will inherit the earth? Hardly. Everything in our world says street fighting will get you what you want. Let the meek inherit the leftovers. Winning strategies don’t involve trusting God. Nor does meekness satisfy our need for instant justice.
Our world is now a place where outrage can be made public immediately, without filter on social media. Against this backdrop, the humble carpenter from Nazareth seems an alien figure. Our democracy, in fact our very attitudes about personal rights, often proves how little we have to do with Him.
I have certainly not been without my own challenges. In years past, I frequently found my hands lingering over a keyboard, feeling I must win, that I had to have the last word or else I would brood upon it for hours. But questions repeatedly asked of me in the Holy Spirit’s winsome way, forced me into a deepening cycle of discovery:
What kingdom are you in? Where are public leaders lampooned in the New Testament? Where is the extended political analysis? The profanity? Do you believe your reward is now or future? In whom do you trust? Must you “win” to be happy, or are the meek truly blessed?
If the pollsters and analysts got it wrong in this recent election because they were blinded by their politics, you can believe people will lose big when they think Jesus won’t make good on His promise to the meek.
Let the world fight over an old suitcase with a dead cat in it. I’m holding out for something better.
I Need to Give the people of God a Clean Drink of Water
Philemon was a slaveholder who had come to faith in Christ. Paul’s letter to him dealt with the issue of a runaway slave, named Onesimus.
Twenty-first century readers would quickly see this as a no-brainer—Philemon should have freed all his slaves, and become a social advocate for everyone else to do the same. Yet slavery in ancient Rome was deeply embedded in the culture, interracial, and by no means challenged from any quarter. Abolition would have seemed as peculiar as advocating today for getting rid of automobiles.
The book provides a live demonstration of the freedom we all have in Christ, and provides the seed bed for peaceful social change in future generations. In this case, the truth freed both slave and master.
Whatever momentous shifts transpired in Philemon’s mind as a result of his faith and the apostle’s gentle persuasion, it triggered no polarization in the church, no hatred or divisions. Far from it, Paul could say,
7 I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
Philemon was in the habit of leaving believers in his wake refreshed, encouraged, and happy. Even as he found himself suddenly confronting what would become a tinderbox issue for others, he contributed no darkness to the conversation. His faith flowed out like spring water from a clean source.
Your Ministry Might Not Be Safe for Consumption
In the news some years back, folks from a certain town got into the habit of filling their water jugs at a local spring. Health department officials tested the water and found contaminants in it, including raw sewage. Hoping to avoid an outbreak of bacterial disease, they declared it unsafe, and concreted the source. Some infuriated residents though, came back and broke up the concrete shield with sledge hammers, so they could continue drinking from it. Their logic dictated that as long as the water wasn’t discolored and didn’t smell and was in a scenic area, that qualified it as safe.
This is the same “test” many Christians use to judge the quality of what they pour into others. If their communication contains nothing overtly crude, that must mean it’s safe enough for a baby’s bottle. However, people with a political or social axe to grind, always dispense a certain kind of mixture. You never know when it’s safe to drink from their heart.
James wrote, 3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?”
Though I might have learned not to go public with unfiltered political displeasure, I was still tempted to find like-minded cronies in the church, and establish a sub-fellowship of old, angry, conservative dudes. We’d be easy to spot, hanging out in the corner and trash-talking the President. But if I wanted the applause of heaven similar to what Philemon got from Paul, I didn’t have the option of buddying-up with church folk to release alternating torrents of political-spiritual-political-spiritual commentary.
While I often wanted to float in that direction, again the questions from the Holy Spirit: What are you feeding my people? What image will they be transformed into while under your care?
Before I left my house and ran into anybody, I needed to make sure a river of grace was flowing in me, first. That meant I needed more Bible than news programs, more prayer than political talk. When I did find folks in the church who shared my political persuasions, I had to learn to keep the conversations brief and at room temperature. I didn’t want to be the guy who wore the label of preacher, but actually exercised a gift for leading people from the Good Land to the wilderness.
You could do a lot worse than the footnote Apollos gained in the book of Acts: 24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures…When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed (Acts 18:23, 27).
I Must Recognize all authority comes from God, including those I don’t like and didn’t vote for
Rom. 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
This verse always attracts philosophical concerns, as one wonders if it might mistakenly validate the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, or any other brutal regimes. Yet at precisely the time Paul wrote it, he himself was a citizen under a government that in a travesty of justice had killed Jesus Christ.
In a similar way, Roman persecutors would later hold a kangaroo court, sentencing Paul himself to decapitation. Successive emperors also would think it good to gut the church by burning Christians alive, or feeding them to lions. In the face of such hostility, “Let every person be subject” may sound like a call to suicidal obedience.
And yet, Rome for all its foibles, maintained a bordered world through which the gospel efficiently traveled and touched a great diversity of people. Several times, Roman military attachments came to Paul’s aid, offering protection from hostile mobs.
Those interventions added the few precious extra years when the apostle would write most of the New Testament. In the often uncomfortable, sometimes homicidal basinet of Rome, the church survived and grew into such powerful grace that it eventually proved more enduring than the empire itself.
Perhaps we should be subject to “good” Rome, but not “bad” Rome. Yet human government doesn’t offer us idealized versions of itself. The reality is governing authorities are never as bad as they could be, and never as good as they ought to be. Still, God uses them all for His purpose in the ongoing work of redemption. Sometimes that plan involves preservation. Sometimes discipline. Sometimes as an incubator for revival.
I’m Not Sure I Agreed with God’s Pick for the Oval Office
In a democracy where people choose their rulers, you’d think being subject to government would come more easily. But as a sometimes disappointed voter, I’d have to say, No. We still feel a strong urge to reject the person we didn’t vote for. I felt President Obama was “Not my President,” but God had to remind me on many occasions over the years, I put him in office. No, I would parry, “Voters put him there.” Then the reply: Correct, those voters are precisely how I put him there.
It became clear to me that I had acceptance issues when it came to God’s choices. And if I had problems with God’s authority dimly represented in the White House, odds were that I had problems with it in my own house. This realization helped initiate soul-searching in a number of personal issues.
Ultimately where I had no freedom to reject the President, I had no freedom to avoid teaching the entire counsel of God, either. Subjection to government was not supposed to equal political correctness. This put me in an awkward, but interesting middle zone that taught me to honor both the intermediate authority as well as the One who appoints it.
I must forgive and Love those who don’t share my opinions
“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3).
These verses are especially surprising given their commands to “Speak evil of no one…avoid quarreling…be gentle…show perfect courtesy…” Notice that all of these injunctions follow after the main directive to submit to rulers and authorities.
What My Disappointment About Your Vote Actually Suggests
In the current post-election climate, graceless responses crop up in cyberspace with more regularity than cat videos. Bald-faced allegations of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and ignorance have become almost formulaic. In this short amount of time we have already become accustomed to expect the anemic qualifier: “Of course not everyone who voted for this candidate is racist, etc., but it shows how otherwise good people are sometimes thoughtless and selfish.”
This barely concealed judgmental rhetoric has at its roots the simple fact that we cannot forgive others for disagreeing with us, for failing to grasp those things we find most important and vital to our personal interests. It is therefore acceptable to suspend loving one’s neighbors and to accuse, insult, and threaten them because we have decided those neighbors are somehow lacking in love for others.
I’ve experienced the same sentiments myself in the past, wondering how a real Christian could vote this way or that way without jeopardizing their entire faith position. Such considerations never took me into any happy place.
The irritation I felt toward folks who “voted ignorantly,” (a.k.a. Not the way I voted), revealed that I had a spiritual problem. Especially challenging was the fact that the composition of my church was youthful. Some of the members had voted opposite the way I had. Could I afford to dislike them? Could I afford any other attitude than to lay my life down for them? Politics had to yield. Otherwise, I would find myself passing the days in malice.
The tenuous dance between us and our own government will continue until Christ returns and renders all political intermediaries superfluous.
In the meantime, the dance lessons must go on.