It was November, 1976, and I was very excited by the election results. Our new president was a “born-again Christian”! Having become born-again myself at the age of 16 late in 1971, this was the first election where the religious beliefs of a candidate really caught my attention, and Jimmy Carter’s open Christian faith helped put the born-again term on the national map. Four years later, he was (quite literally) swept out of office by Ronald Reagan, the darling of the religious right.
Rev. Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority, which was founded in 1979, had famously declared, “We have a threefold primary responsibility. Number one, get people saved. Number two, get them baptized. Number three, get them registered to vote.” And although Reagan was not known as a deeply religious man, he was a strong conservative and a consistent opponent of abortion.
As one report observed, “For the Moral Majority, Ronald Reagan was a modern-day prophet whose rhetoric on family values, school choice, muscular patriotism and personal morality echoed their own view. Both Reagan and the Moral Majority saw American culture as a cesspool filled with sludge by ’60s-era hippies, immoral Hollywood directors, civil-rights radicals, abortion-loving feminists, the media and liberals.”
Eight years later, despite the many good intentions of the Moral Majority, despite the clear voice Reagan provided on a number of important moral issues (including abortion), and despite some of the very positive things Reagan accomplished (nationally and internationally), America was still stuck in a deep moral quagmire and the abortion industry continued almost unabated. In fact, according to the Alan Gutmacher Institute, there were at least 1.5 million abortions every year from 1980-1988, the years of the Reagan presidency, showing increase rather than decrease.
Of course, religious conservatives are not the only ones who have looked for a political savior. Need I mention our current president, he of the Greek pillars at the Democratic National Convention, treated like a rock star and hailed as “the one,” as if a quasi-Messianic figure? And need I mention the extreme hostility expressed towards President George W. Bush in the last years of his second term by those looking for “hope and change”? Now the Tea Party has risen up, angered over what they perceive is happening to America, grieved over what they claim is a systematic seizing of our liberties, and determined to see radical change come to our nation.
Not surprisingly, many Tea Party members, along with many other Republicans, are people of conservative Christian faith, and most of the Republican candidates campaigning for the presidency are known for their strong (and, it appears, genuine) faith. There is Rick Perry, who called for a prayer convocation attended by 30,000 before announcing his presidential bid. There is Michelle Bachman, who will now be joined on the campaign trail by her “personal pastor,” Mac Hammond. There is Herman Cain, who was recently quoted by the Christian Post as saying, “My faith plays a very big part in all the decisions that I make. . . . I’ve been involved with the church since I was young.” And always looming in the background is Sarah Palin, baptized in a lake in Alaska after getting saved at the age of 12. Perhaps one of these individuals will be our next political savior? Perhaps one of them will ascend to the presidency and bring about dramatic, national changes?
I would suggest we take a more pragmatic approach and not set ourselves up for disappointment yet again. First, the American political system is both complicated and convoluted, totally different than, say, ancient Israel where the right king could bring about national transformation, especially over the course of his lifelong reign. Here we have two major parties (at least), often at war with each other, often fighting for what is politically expedient rather than what is best for the country, sometimes internally divided as well. And then there is the ever-present “good old boy” syndrome, with its coalitions and deals and favors. We would be naïve to think that one charmed leader will be able to overcome all this in the short period of time he or she serves as president.
Second, America is a nation of more than 300 million people, and much of the change we need must be grassroots change, from the bottom up more than from the top down. In fact, it is hypocritical to criticize big government and its overreaching arm while at the same time looking to government to save us. Third, our presidents are not superheroes, and once we get past the political panegyric, we are reminded of their humanity.
We would do well, then, to remember the Paul’s exhortation to pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-4), to vote or campaign for those we believe are best suited for the job (even with conviction and passion) without simplistically thinking that the next person we elect will somehow save our nation.
Can we hope for positive change? Absolutely. Can we expect national transformation? That will come from the nation (ultimately as people turn to the Lord) not just from the president.
Posted in Law & Politics, Lead Article Tagged with: carter, political savior, politics, reagan, revolution, trust, vote
Perhaps it’s the holiday season–perhaps it’s just the excitement in the air over the election that’s come and gone, and the dreams people have of “something more” about to come (almost the feeling children have in dreaming about what they’ll find on Christmas morning), but as I write this article, my thoughts are drawn towards the question: “What are we hoping for and waiting on and dreaming about as we look at the world around us?” There are so many things that people hope in. People hope that their insurance companies will rescue them financially if an accident, or fire, or other tragedy occurs. Some people hope in the national government to send them a pension check, or welfare stipulation, or military benefits each month, and rest knowing that the government will keep its promises and all will be well each month. Other people rest in a paycheck, and promises of promotion, and natural skills, abilities, ambition or talents that help them move up the ladder quickly so that they can earn more money for themselves and their families. Still others hope in people around them–perhaps children who live at home and depend on their parents to provide, or friends who step in to take care of one another, but the truth is that all of us hope in something or someone. In other words, even the most dogmatic atheist who claims not to believe in anything is still trusting in something: even if it’s themselves.
Have you ever asked yourself why? Where does this faith come from? What is it deep inside of us that causes us to reach for something that we can hold onto? Again, even if you read this statement and say, “I’m not looking for anything to hold onto. I have everything that I need,” you are still trusting in something or someone. Ask yourself, “What am I holding onto?” Is it someone or something that could be taken away someday? Recently, I received the news that a friend I loved like a brother passed away at a very young age leaving behind a young wife. No one knew the news was coming. Just like that, my friend is gone. He spent his whole life believing in a God that never goes away, and in the end, he died knowing that he will spend eternity without sickness, or fear, or sorrow, or pain. He knew that he would immediately slip from this life into the arms of a God who has carried my friend from the day that he was born. His wife has the same assurance, and that faith is what’s carrying her through. Again, what are you resting on?
Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes unto the Father except through me.” You might read that and see Jesus’ statement as arrogance or narrow-minded, or say to me that a loving God would not require every person in the world to believe in only one thing as an access into Heaven. Or, you can read that statement as it was intended in the way that Jesus meant it when it was first spoken: that we can choose to give Him all our cares, our worries, and our burdens, and let Him make a way for us. He chose to come, and give His life out of love for us in such a way that, if we will let Him, He will take away all the fear, and sorrow, and worry that can come from living in this life. He said, “In this world, you will have trouble, but don’t fear; I have overcome the world.” He paid the price for us, and took the responsibility upon Himself. That doesn’t mean that we won’t go through heartache or difficult times but wouldn’t you rather let the weight of those times rest upon the shoulders of a God who loved you enough to come and stand with you in the darkness until light shines again, rather than carry the burden of it yourself? Again, what are you believing in to carry you through?
The Christmas message is not a foolish one–or just a cute story of a baby lying in a manger–it is the ultimate testimony of a God who never wanted us to have to build our lives on a shaky foundation or live even one day alone. He came in our loneliness, our “lostness,” our questions, and worry, and fear, and said, “Come unto Me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” He came so that we could lean against a strong, sure Foundation that can never be shaken. What love He gives to those who choose to come! It is not a narrow-minded, spiteful, religious message, but a message born of hope , and joy, and peace in whatever season you might find yourself. You can rest knowing that Jesus will never leave you, or forsake you: that He will stand with you in all the ups and downs, and joys and tears if you will choose to let Him love you. You might say that He is not real, or that He doesn’t care, or that He doesn’t know what you are going through. Nicole Nordeman sings a song that says:
“What if you’re right? He was just another nice guy. What if You’re right? What if it’s true? They say the cross will only make a fool of you. What if it’s true? What if He takes His place in history with all the prophets and the kings who taught us love and came in peace, but then the story ends? What then? But what if you’re wrong? What if there’s more? What if there’s hope you’ve never dreamed of hoping for? What if You jump? Just close your eyes. What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise? What if He’s more than enough? What if it’s love? What if you dig way down deeper than your simple-minded friends? What if you dig? What if you find a thousand more unanswered questions down inside? That’s all you find? What if you pick apart the logic and begin to poke the holes?
What if the crown of thorns is no more than folklore that must be told and retold, and retold? But what if you’re wrong?…’Cuz you’ve been running as fast as you can. You’ve been looking for a place you land for so long. But what if you’re wrong? What if You jump? Just close your eyes. What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise? What if He’s more than enough? What if it’s love?”
Posted in Life & Family Tagged with: depend on, faith, hope, Jesus, live for, Nicole Nordeman, trust
With fall in the air, gas prices on the rise, and elections in the news, change is prevalent in everyone’s minds and hearts. Things that once seemed certain are no longer a constant reality: from the sporadic availability of gasoline to the faith that leaders will maintain their integrity and not shift with the changing political tides. From mudslinging in political campaigns to attention being brought to sin in certain leaders’ lives in various large ministries, confusion and feelings of betrayal can seem to outweigh feelings of hope and consistency. An inability to buy gas or even, at times, to pay for food, housing, and continued education can raise the question: “Is there anything that is dependable in this day and age?” Desktop computers are thrown out and traded in for smaller, faster laptops; cell phones and iPods are traded in for iPhones and Skype, and jobs, friends, cities, and even spouses and children are tossed out, at times, in the quest for something better. Still, in the trading of one thing for another, an emptiness remains, and the restless search continues for something to hold onto as the world around us spins breathlessly into change beyond our control.
It is clear that there is a shaking—a shifting going on—and a call to press into a new season or be left behind paralyzed by our fears. It seems that, world-wide, things are shaking, and in the shaking, God is asking us to answer the biggest question of our lives: “Who do we say that He is?” If we say He is good, we will trust Him no matter what things look like around us. If we say He is able, we will rest knowing that He will deliver us, and come through for us, and provide for us no matter what our hearts or circumstances say.
Years and years ago, Jesus faced His disciples and asked them that same question. Have you ever wondered why He did that? Why was it so important that they knew at that moment who He was to them? He started by asking them who others say that He is. They answered that some said He was John the Baptist; some said He was Elijah. In other words, in the world around them, the people were ready to accept Jesus as a Voice that could speak into their lives sometimes, or a great Prophet who could perform miracles at their request. But Jesus needed His disciples to go one step further than that. He wanted them to know Him as the Son of God: the only One greater than any need and who cares for them in the midst of any circumstance. Why? Because everything around the disciples was shifting and shaking, and because Jesus Himself was about to move in a way that they had never seen. The world was asking for a sign, and crying out for God to come in a way of their own design, but Jesus was asking His disciples to believe in Him and trust in Him, and to know Him so their own identities would be secured.
Have you ever tried to receive directions when you are in a strange place—perhaps, out of town at a friend’s, or visiting another country calling from the hotel lobby, or having just moved into a new home where you are learning your way around? You call up information for the number and then dial up the place you wish to visit, or perhaps, you look up Mapquest on Internet Explorer and type in the desired location. You will quickly realize your task is impossible if you do not know your starting point. You can’t get where you are going if you don’t know where you are coming from. Quickly, you’ll look around for someone—anyone—who can tell you where you’re at so you can then find out where you need to go. It is the same with knowing who we are. We can’t know who we are and where we’re going (what our purpose is in life) until we first find a starting point. For that reason, Jesus gave His disciples their starting location. He spoke comfort to them in the midst of a changing world: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going…” He finished by saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Why did Jesus say all of these things? He was reminding the disciples of who He’d called them to be: His. He came as the Son of God and secured our hope; He made a way back to the Father’s heart, and He BECAME for us THE Way; THE Truth; THE Life. Now, in knowing Him, we will not be troubled when trouble comes. We will know that He is for us and that He will continue to give us life—long after this life is over—if we trust in Him. As a result, we aren’t afraid when changes come. Jesus as the Truth becomes greater than any lie: “You’re not going to make it. This is hopeless. There’s no way out,” becomes instead, “He cannot lie. He is good. He will not leave. I am His. If I trust Him, and know Him, and put my life in His hands, and know Him as my Lord—the One over every area of my life—I know that I’m okay. My identity is sure. No one can take away my worth or steal my future. He will be there through each season.”
Once Peter spoke up and called Jesus Lord, Jesus answered that, “Upon this rock,” He would, “build [His] Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Mat 16:18). Knowing Jesus as He is gives us a confidence that no power of hell can shake. In naming Him Lord, we name ourselves as “His”, and we can know that He takes care of His sheep. He will never desert us. Once we see Him as THE Way; THE Truth; THE Life, we see who we are in Him and nothing can shake us from that place of standing firm…not even when all the world changes around us. We can let Him move in our lives and remove what we once held so tightly to, because we’ll know that we can trust Him. He is God, and He is able, and He is good.
Posted in Life & Family Tagged with: change, God, Jesus, Life & Family, trouble, trust