Monthly Archives: November 2016

Our Better Angels

 

The man’s face was contorted in rage.

He was yelling and screaming – except when he was chanting.

He was protesting, I suppose, the marvels of democracy. He didn’t like the results of the presidential election. His candidate didn’t win and he was protesting the one who did – President-elect Donald Trump.

More than 120 million Americans cast votes for either Trump or Clinton on November 8.

It was an even split – actually Clinton won slightly more votes. The Electoral College, which our founders gave us to help prevent mob rule, delivered its clear majority to Trump.

Every day since, people have taken to the streets in protest.

The peaceful transfer of political power – a hallmark in this democratic republic – continues. Secretary Clinton delivered a gracious and eloquent concession speech. President Obama welcomed Mr. Trump to the White House for their first meeting. The President was also gracious – as was the President-elect.

All three called for acceptance of the results, a chance for new leadership and a healing of the country’s deep divisions.

The man who was so angry waved a sign. It said Love Trumps Hate.

I noted the irony. The man seemed anything but loving. Unexpected defeat seldom brings out the best in anyone.

Yes, the supporters of Hillary Clinton are stunned, bitter, heartbroken and in anguished disbelief.

A presidential campaign fueled by division in a country already historically divided could not have ended any other way: a close result, with the losers angrily unwilling to recognize the winners.

The divide now suddenly widens and deepens, were it possible.

After I spoke about the election at a men’s morning Bible study, one of the men said that the divisions are more than national – they are often very personal. He told the group of 40 men that his mother-in-law is so distraught she has refused to speak about it.

Then he suggested that here was an opportunity for Christians to show the love of Christ in how we responded to those we know who stand on the other side of this cultural ravine.

Some may be in our families. Some are in mine.

It was a great point.

In the darkness of recriminations and despair, you and I must let our light shine.

The sign is right: love does trump hate.

It’s the only thing that does.

In his life and in his death, Jesus Christ proved that.

Jesus has given us his teachings. He’s also given us his example. He has told us to be meek and humble and to be peacemakers. He said people would hate us and mock us for following him. He told us not to retaliate in kind but to turn the other cheek.

This doesn’t mean we apologize for our convictions or try to draw out a compromise on uncompromising principles. Churches and pastors – eager to win the world’s approbation – do that too often. Charles Spurgeon was correct:

“To hold with the hare and run with the hounds is a dastard’s policy”.

Sometimes the only ground between right and wrong is battle ground.

May God help our leaders to remain strong in the face of growing opposition to our faith.
But if we say we follow Jesus, we must act like it and talk like it and think like it. We must never succumb to hate and bitterness or view our fellow citizens as enemies instead of adversaries.

There is a difference.

Even if we are led to believe we have enemies among those who disagree with us – even then we are left with the example of the One we call Lord. He offered not a word of accusation or defense at his bogus trial. On the cross, among his final words was a plea to his Father to forgive those who had murdered him.

This country is not facing its greatest division.

One hundred and fifty-five years ago, Abraham Lincoln, the nation’s new president, spoke to a country torn asunder and on the precipice of a literal civil war. He had been elected by a hair under 40 % of the popular vote against three opponents. Seven Southern states had voted to leave the union following his election.

It was the greatest crisis in our nation’s history.

As he closed his inaugural address on the steps of an unfinished U.S. capital building, Lincoln made an eloquent plea to his countrymen. It’s worth remembering, taking to heart and putting into practice.

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature”.

The Apostle Paul told us that you and I have been given by Jesus Christ both a message and a ministry of reconciliation. (II Corinthians 5:18-20).We must not be conquered by evil, Paul told the Roman believers. We must overcome evil with good (Romans 12: 21).

In these contentious times, may we resolve to answer this call and let God touch our hearts and minds – and the better angels of our nature.

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Here We Go! Hang On!

I remember when we took our daughters to the amusement park.

They begged me to ride the roller coaster.

I resisted their entreaties. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it – in fact I suspected it might be a rather unpleasant experience. I didn’t like the prospect of sudden jolts – or steep climbs or speeding descents.

Finally, I relented.

As I was sitting in the small seat, the steel bar shut tight. Then the roller coaster started slowly moving down the narrow track. I had this sudden feeling of panicked regret. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea.

What would this ride be like – really?

Too late – I was on and locked in.

I had a similar sudden apprehension at around 2:30 Wednesday morning when I first saw the words flash across the television screen – words I never once expected to ever see – “President-elect Donald Trump”.

A nation divided by the most contentious presidential campaign in our lifetime was suddenly united by shock.

The watching world was stunned.

I had gone to the polls and bought my ticket on the Trump Train – with some serious misgivings. I was forced into it by my convictions, and even more serious reservations about the other candidate.

As I settled in to watch the returns of an election I’d followed closely, there was nothing that told me this would be anything other than a comfortable win for Hillary Clinton.

I was not alone.

While some predicted an upset, I’d seen too many elections to think tonight would be one. Trump might run closer than expected – that’s the best anyone could hope for.

Voters could at least send a message.

I don’t think Donald Trump thought he would win – though he put on the requisite brave face in the closing days. He predicted a big surprise, said he’d sweep the industrial Midwest, spoke of a massive movement of voters who would rise up and elect him.

It had crossed my mind that maybe there were enough angry voters out there willing to take a chance on Trump. This might be the year. But it would be the “miracle” a Trump aide said they needed.

The media elite and pollsters were unambiguously unanimous. It wasn’t going to happen.

Then it did.

Slowly, through the evening, Donald Trump held onto his early lead – in popular votes and, more critically, in the Electoral College.

The big states were close – Florida, North Carolina, Ohio. But he carried them all. Then Trump grabbed a lead in states that should have been hers – Wisconsin, Michigan, even Democratic Pennsylvania.

The blue collar revolt was in full angry swing. Donald Trump was the chosen instrument of its wrath – delivered upon an arrogant and unresponsive Washington establishment in both parties.

Take that!

And so it was that you and I witnessed extraordinary history this week.

Donald J. Trump is as unlikely a president as we’ve ever elected. His victory is the biggest upset since Truman beat Dewey in 1948. Culturally, it’s a much bigger upset – it’s an earthquake.

Our country’s never seen anything like this.

It’s surreal.

Donald Trump is the first person to enter the White House with neither political nor military experience. The Ship of State sails into uncharted waters. The most erudite experts are of no help. They’ve already been totally wrong and blindsided.

Nobody had seriously pondered this because nobody took it seriously. President Trump? Seriously?

Now we all must. And we’d be naïve not to be a bit concerned.

We tend to be polarized in our reaction to a new president. It’s either the end of the world or the beginning of utopia. Neither is true of course.

Upon assuming the presidency, a young and untried JFK said he was surprised to discover that things were as bad as he had alleged during the campaign. “In the final analysis,” he later observed, “it’s easier to make the speeches than it is to make the judgments”.

It’s easier to promise than to perform; to campaign and market than to govern and lead.

Perhaps that’s why Donald Trump was uncharacteristically subdued when he went to Washington this week. He’s now getting the daily security briefings. Soon he’ll know how tough this job is.

President-elect Trump needs our prayers. May God grant him wisdom, compassion, humility, courage, and integrity. May this new and entirely unorthodox leader – who will be sure to lead in unorthodox ways – help to heal the deep divisions and unite our nation.

That won’t be easy.

President Trump’s going to make mistakes and we are sometimes going to disagree with him. He will disappoint. Leaders do that. May God help us to be hopefully realistic and prayerfully patient.

This is going to be quite a roller-coaster ride.

God knows the end from the beginning. He knows every moment of the next four years.

“Be still, and know that I am God,” he reminds us. “I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world” (Psalm 46:10, NLT).

God is our trust. May our new president look to Him.

So hang on! We take this uncertain ride together. There will be steep climbs, sharp turns and speeding descents. Whatever happens, it won’t be boring.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah” (Psalm 46:11, KJV).

Amen.

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Fate of the Union

“Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light”.

James Russell Lowell, Boston Courier, December 11, 1845

It’s finally here.

Election Day.

It marks the end of the most amazing, unpredictable, unprecedented and deeply controversial presidential campaign of the modern era.

Never in our history has this nation been forced to choose between two candidates like these.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are profoundly unpopular. Nearly 70% of the American people believe they both are dishonest and untrustworthy. Nothing these two candidates have said in recent weeks has done anything but deepen that distrust.

Let’s face it. This presidential campaign has been a fascinating but uninspiring event.
There’s been nothing uplifting about it. It’s been almost painful to watch.

We could say this campaign’s been beneath the dignity of a great and free people. Or we could be honest and admit it’s a mirror reflection of our declining culture.

Trump and Clinton have been nominated by the two great political parties of this country.

They are us.

They represent the poetic justice of our larger choices and values. We don’t like these candidates. But in our hearts we know we deserve them.

“Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34, KJV).

That reproach has fallen upon America this year.

The vultures of moral decay always come home to roost.

On the evening the FBI was announcing it was re-opening its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, the TV news ticker was scrolling that the Supreme Court would hear the appealed case of a transgendered youth.

The announcements belonged together. They’re connected.

This is post-modern America. This is the new day. This is the present morality. This is restraints cast off.

We could end up next week with a president-elect under FBI scrutiny; an administration hounded by scandal and distrust from day one.

Put in office by a country of jaded voters who increasing can’t discern and don’t care.

Some of you have voted. Most of you have not.

Now “comes the moment to decide”. Each of us must determine what’s right in this year-long “strife of truth with falsehood”. It may not be so easy to discern “the good or evil side” when neither candidate is admirable.

Still, for each of us, this is a “great decision”.

The stakes are high. We dare not walk away.

Christian leaders have been all over the political map. It’s hard to find the safe middle ground this year – there isn’t any.

Each side fears the abyss if the other wins.

As a follower of Jesus, I struggled with my own morality as I tried to assess the morality of my choices.

My vote mattered and I couldn’t throw it away on a write-in or a candidate with no chance to win.

I don’t know what Donald Trump will do as president. I do know what Hillary Clinton will do. That was my first hurdle – I know her. I know her party platform. I know her agenda. I know her character.

She has said repeatedly that she will place on the Supreme Court justices who will “uphold marriage equality [homosexual marriage] and a woman’s right to choose” [abortion on demand].

Trump released a list of his potential court picks – all of them conservatives committed to the meaning of the Constitution rather than an ideological agenda.

The Supreme Court could be the next president’s lasting legacy – a court able to shape American law and life for generations.

On economic policy, health care, immigration, defense and foreign policy, I found my own thinking at odds with that of Hillary Clinton and her party.

Donald Trump’s sins of the flesh are vile and despicable. His temperament seems undisciplined, his manner obnoxious. His language is often careless and mean-spirited; his positions sometimes ill-considered.

He’s not presidential; she’s a seasoned and experienced politician.

He’ll try and change things; she not so much.

In the end, I decided that his personal weaknesses pose less of a threat to the Republic than her pervasive corruption and lust for power and money.

My vote was cast in faith – not in Trump but in God. I did my best.

You must reach your own decision on these candidates. Like a flu shot, it will only hurt for a moment.

King Saul was removed by God from the throne of Israel because of his deceit, greed and disobedience to God’s commands.

He misled his nation.

King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, repented and was forgiven by God and restored.

He led his nation to greatness.

No leader is perfect. That can’t be our expectation.

The outcome of this election – as all else both great and small – rests in the mighty hands of our sovereign God. His purpose – whatever that may be – will be fulfilled when the votes are counted.

Whether we cheer or bemoan next Tuesday, let’s not forget this.

Our God reigns. That is our best hope. It’s our only hope. It’s a firm hope.

“Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own”.

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