Posts tagged ‘Barack Obama’

President-Elect Donald J. Trump

trump-obama-oval-office

Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

Whether you love him, despise him, believe in him, are distasteful of him, are worried about him, or are indifferent to him, Donald J. Trump is the President-Elect of the United States.  Regardless of which one of these categories you may occupy (or, perhaps, you’re in another category I missed), as Christians, there are a few things we are called to be during the transition from the end of Barack Obama’s presidency to the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency.  Perhaps you already know these things, but a little reminder never hurts.

Be prayerful.

The apostle Paul writes to Timothy:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Paul is clear that we, as Christians, ought to pray for our leaders.  But there is something I think we often miss in this passage.  Before Paul exhorts Timothy to pray “for kings and all those in authority,” he urges Timothy to pray “for all people.”  The category of “leaders” is a subset of the category of “people.”

Though this may seem painfully obvious, it is important to remember that our leaders are, in fact, actual people.  I say this because sometimes it can become far too easy for us to paint the leaders we don’t care for as soulless cartoonish villains, not worthy of even basic respect.

Regardless of what you think of President-Elect Trump, he is a person, made in the image of God and loved by God.  He is also a husband, a father, and a grandfather.  We should pray for him not only as a politician, but also as a person.

Be supportive.

Every person is sinful.  And yet, as Jesus puts it, even evil people “know how to give good gifts to [their] children” (Matthew 7:11).  In other words, just because no one is perfect doesn’t mean that everyone does everything wrong.  Instead, we are all mixed bags.  We do some things right and some things wrong.  We do some things that are good and some things that are evil.  Donald Trump, no doubt, will do some good things for America.  For instance, his promise to support the cause of life and minimize the scourge of abortion is vital not only to our national wellbeing, but to our human decency as well.  In cases such as this, Christians ought to graciously, thoughtfully, and humbly support that which is good and just. 

Be skeptical.

Even as sinful people can do good things for which they should be commended, they can also, obviously, do sinful things for which they must be confronted.  Christians should be willing to call sin for what it is regardless of the political party out of which it comes.  Certainly, President-Elect Trump has said some things that are not only not befitting of the office of President of the United States, but also defy basic decorum, decency, and truthfulness.  The warning of Jesus’ brother should ring in our minds: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).  Reckless words may be legal in a society that has enshrined free speech, but legality does not equal morality.  Christians should continue to call President-Elect Trump, and all of our public officials, to account when their behavior turns ugly.

Especially because of the rancorous nature of this year’s election cycle, I would add that we should be careful not to allow a healthy skepticism to turn into a bitter cynicism.  Skepticism is honest that sin is constantly afoot and must be confronted.  Cynicism, on the other hand, finds a certain schadenfreude in another’s sin because it can sanctimoniously condemn it and boast over it.  Skepticism is wise.  Cynicism is hateful.  Let us not fall prey to the latter.

Be faith-filled.

Our nation is deeply divided, as even the statistical outcome of this election demonstrates.  Donald Trump won in the electoral college and, hence, has secured the presidency, while Hillary Clinton bested Mr. Trump in the popular vote.  As Christians, we have a uniquely unifying message because, in the midst of a division as deep as ours, we can point to a God who made us all and to His Son who sacrificed Himself for us all.  Christ is the One who can break down what separates us.  Now is the time to share Him.

Ultimately, whether you are satisfied with the outcome of this election or fearful because of it, remember to guard your faith.  Fear can lead us to lash out in anger as we try to forcefully and artificially rectify something we think is wrong.  Satisfaction can lead to gloating and glibness as we trust in a set of comfortable circumstances that will, finally, prove to be fleeting.  Both of these reactions can lead us away from Christ rather than toward Him.  A reaction of fear can refuse to trust in the peace Christ wants to give as it stews in its own self-righteous anger.  An enshrinement of comfort can minimize the provision Christ wants of offer as it lounges in its own self-sufficiency.

Thus, what we need now as the presidency of the United States shifts parties and hands is what we have always needed and will always need:

Faith.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.  When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God. (Psalm 146:3-5)

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November 14, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Who’s Afraid of Election Day?

U.S. Citizens Head To The Polls To Vote In Presidential Election

Credit: Darren McCollester / Getty Images

Tomorrow is the big day.  Tomorrow, we the people turn out to vote for the next President of the United States.  Though literally thousands of other politicians will be on the ballots that are cast tomorrow, the presidential election is the one that looms largest in the minds and hearts of most people.  Indeed, I’ve heard it repeated over and over again throughout the course of this political season that “this is the most important presidential election of our lifetimes.”  I honestly do not know whether or not it is.  I do know that Walter Mondale told a crowd in 1984, “This is the most important election of our lives.”  I would argue that history has probably proven him wrong.  And history, eventually, may prove today’s claim about the importance of this election wrong – or, perhaps, right.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

But whether or not voters and pundits prove to be historically correct in their estimation of the weightiness of this election, I do know that the immediate perceived importance of this election is enormous and is engendering deep fear in the minds and hearts of many.  I have had conversation after conversation with people who are scared of what has happened and what will happen to our political system and to our nation.

This past weekend, I listened to a sermon on the topic of this year’s election.  The pastor who preached this sermon argued forcefully, powerfully, and, at times, eloquently for what he believed about this election and even for whom he believed we, as Christians, should vote in this election.  But what struck me most about this pastor’s sermon was its closing.  He ended by talking about two fears that he has for the future of this nation.  First, he explained his fear that there may be too many of “them” and too few of “us.”  He sees postmodern secularism winning over the masses and driving Christianity to the fringes and he is worried that there is nothing we can do politically to beat it back.  Second, he expressed his worry that we may simply be too late to make any difference.  He thinks too many Christians have been too silent for too long, and now a day of reckoning has come.

Politically, this pastor seemed very knowledgeable.  Theologically, however, if I can be so bold to say this, as I listened to his sermon, I became more and more convinced that he missed something very important.  Here’s why I say that.

First, if anyone thinks that there are too many of “them” and too few of “us,” I would encourage that person to read the story of Gideon.  When God takes the army Gideon has mustered to fight the Midianites and reduces it in force from 32,000 men to 300 men – a reduction of over 99 percent – it looks like there is no way Gideon and his tiny army can defeat the massive army of a whole tribe of people.  But God specializes in doing great things when there are too many of “them” and too few of “us.”  God made a whole nation out of one man Abraham.  God redeemed a whole people from slavery through one man Moses.  God changed the whole course of human history through twelve men He deemed “apostles.”  And God brought salvation to our whole world in one man He calls His Son.  God can do a lot with a little.

Second, if anyone thinks it is simply too late, I would point that person to the story of Jesus’ friend Lazarus.  When Jesus learns that His friend has fallen ill, rather than rushing to see him, He waits for him to die.  Why?  Because, as Jesus says to Martha, He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).  Even death is not too late for Jesus because He can snatch life from the jaws of death.  When the hour on our clock strikes eleven and we begin to struggle and scramble, Jesus can bring forth a new dawn that we never saw coming.

What struck me most about this pastor’s sermon is that although he issued a clear call to his congregation to get out and vote, he never explicitly reminded his congregation to have faith – to trust in the One who holds everything from your house to the White House in His hands.

Politics has a bias toward action.  Legislation gets passed when deals get made.  Public officials are elected when votes are cast.  Social change can be engineered when Supreme Court verdicts are rendered.  Action is important to politics.  But as Christians, we must remember that the centerpiece of who we are is not in what we do, but in whom we believe.  “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).  Faith is the centerpiece of our life in Christ.

I think it’s this that gets to the root of our fear.  Because if we get so stuck on the action of our vote and the action of our legislators and the action of some guy or gal who sits in an office that is shaped like an oval that we forget that our hope is nothing that we have done, are doing, will do, or can do, then we’ve missed what’s most important.  Because we’ve missed Jesus.  And you don’t get Jesus by action.  You only get Jesus through faith.  There’s a reason the Psalmist says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You” (Psalm 56:3).

So, if you are afraid of the outcome of this election and the future of this country, go ahead and vote, but don’t expect your vote to calm your fears.  Because your fears cannot be calmed by electoral majority.  Your fears can only be calmed by a Savior who died for you and me.

Trust in Him.

 

November 7, 2016 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Nation Divided

The headline I saw the day after last Tuesday’s election says it all:  “The Divided States of America.”  It’s true.  We are a nation deeply divided.  For evidence of this, I simply had to peruse my Facebook news feed.  Wednesday morning, some people were ecstatic and even gloating.  Other people were somber and even angry.  What made the difference as to how these people felt?  Two letters:  “R” and “D.”  The “D’s” won.  And they were happy.  The “R’s” lost.  And they were, well, you get the picture.

The division in our nation unsettles me.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Remember e pluribus unum?  Before 1956, when “In God we trust” was adopted, this was the de facto motto of our country.  If only the Latin rang true.  But it doesn’t.  Partisanship prevails.  When I survey our country’s political landscape, I see not e pluribus unum, but e pluribus plures.  “Out of many, many.”  We are many.  And we act like it.  We can’t seem to agree on much of anything.

I suppose it was bound to happen.  Trying to unify disparate constituencies with such dissimilar ideologies is no small feat.  And even if such a conglomerate of communities is unified for a time, such unity never lasts.  For humans, thanks to sin, have a proclivity to fracture from each other rather than to walk with each other.

There is an old story about a man who is marooned on a desert island for nearly a decade. One day, mercifully, some rescuers finally come along.  Upon arriving, the rescuers find two shacks.  Thinking there is another castaway on the island, they ask the man, “Why are there two shacks?  Is someone else with you?”  “No,” replies the man.  “I sleep under the stars.  The shack is where I go to church.”  “What about the other shack?” inquire the rescuers.  “What’s that for?”  “Oh,” replies the man with an edge of indignation, “That’s where I used to go to church.”  E pluribus plures.  It seems humans will always find a way to fracture from each other – even when there’s only one human.

Our nation wants unity.  Our unofficial motto preaches it.  But it continually eludes us.  So what do we do?  Where do we go from here?

As Christians, we go to Scripture.  For like our nation, the authors of Scripture held unity in high regard.  Consider the apostle Paul’s admonition:  “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  Paul wants us to have unity.  The difference between Scripture’s call to unity and our nation’s motto of unity, however, is that whereas our nation takes the many and in vain tries to make them one, Scripture begins with One – God – and looks to Him to unify many.  Paul continues in Ephesians:

There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Paul uses the word “one” seven times in these verses.  For Paul knows that God’s dream and desire for us is that we would be “one” – that we would be unified.  But rather than taking disparate, dissident factions and striving to unify them by human effort, Paul knows that God unifies people by beginning with Himself – the perfectly unified Godhead who can bring even the most dis-unified people together.  True unity is found not in politics, but in our Lord.

Rally around Him.

November 12, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Election Day 2012 – It’s Almost Here

Election Day is tomorrow.  I am, as I’m sure you are, praying for our country and for her leaders.  I am also praying that much of the fear that surrounds this election will be calmed by the peace of God that transcends all human understanding (cf. Philippians 4:7).

This week, my blog is a simple one.  Yesterday in Adult Bible Class, I talked about Mark 12:13-17 with a special emphasis on what Jesus says about paying taxes and honoring God in verse 17:  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  I wanted to put into transcript form (with some slight editing for the sake of readability) my conclusion from Adult Bible Class.  For as we head into voting booths across our land, I think it’s important to reiterate what we talked about – that no matter who occupies the Oval Office, there is only one Occupant on the throne of heaven.  And that alone should be enough to quell our fears and give us hope.  Here is what I said:

I’m going to go on the record today and say that I think it’s time for us to have a smaller government.  But when I say that – before you get too excited or too angry depending on your political persuasion – I’m not talking about tax policy and how we’re going to pay for this or that government program.  I’m not talking about what social programs we should or should not keep.  I’m not talking about whether we should be for or against the Affordable Health Care Act.  I’m not talking about the size of government in Washington at all.  I’m talking about the size of government in our imaginations.  For government – and its attendant greatness or ghoulishness – has captured far too large a place in our hearts and minds.

Here’s what’s happened:  whether Republican or Democrat, many people have bought into this myth that if the wrong guy makes it into office – which always happens to be the guy they’re not voting for – that’s the end of the line.  That’s the demise of our nation.  That’s the disintegration of everything good and moral and noble and righteous in our world.  And people get all revved up and riled up, determined to save what is most important to them by getting their guy into office.

Folks, when this happens, you’re not voting for a president, you’re seeking a Messiah.  And that job has already been filled.

I love what a New York Times columnist named Ross Douthat writes about this:

The party in power claims to be restoring American greatness; the party out of power insists that the current administration is actually deeply un-American – heretics in the holy temple of the U.S.A., you might say – and promises to take our country back…And the country keeps cycling through savior figures, hoping each time that this one will be the One that we’ve been waiting for.[1]

Folks, the One we’ve been waiting for has already come.  And His name is not Barack Obama.  His name is not Mitt Romney.  His name is Jesus Christ.  And, by the way, not only has He come, He’ll come again.

So cast your vote. Be a good citizen.  But remember that even if Caesar gets the coins, Jesus holds your heart.

And that’s what matters most.


[1] Ross Douthat, Bad Religion:  How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York:  Free Press, 2012), 269.

November 5, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Pastoral Statement on Israel

On May 19, 2011, President Obama delivered a speech in which he called for Israel and Palestine to return to their 1967 borders with “mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”  The reaction to the president’s proposal was swift and fierce.  Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, declared, “The viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israel’s existence.”[1]

Because of the long-standing and good relationship between the United States and Israel, many are wondering, “What is our obligation to Israel?  Should we support a return to the greatly diminished Israeli borders of 1967 or should we demand the greatest amount of land possible for this democracy?  What should our position and policy be?”

People are asking these questions not only out of political concern, but out of theological concern as well.  Because God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever” (Exodus 32:13), the question naturally arises:  Does this land still belong, by divine right, to the Jews?  And if so, should we, as the United States, support Israel over the Palestinians in an effort to respect God’s promise to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Because this question is multifaceted, several things need to be addressed.  First, it is important to note that there is a difference between an “Israelite” and a “Jew.”  In Scripture, the term “Israelite” refers to an Old Testament believer who worships Yahweh, the God of Israel and the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and who trusts in His promise to send a Messiah (cf. Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, Micah 5:2, Zechariah 11:12-13).  The term “Jew,” on the other hand, refers to a person of either a certain race or of a certain faith or both.  There are Jews who are of the Jewish race, but are secular, while there are also Jews who are not of the Jewish race, but who practice the Jewish faith.  There are even Jews who are the Jewish race and trust in Christ as their Savior!  Thus, to equate ancient Israelites who had a specific and clear faith commitment to modern-day Jews who may or may not have a particular religious commitment perhaps misses the point from a Biblical view.

The distinction between Israelites and Jews becomes all the more important when one realizes that God makes His promise to Abraham and his descendants in light of Abraham’s faith and not of his race (cf. Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3).  Faith, not race, appropriates the promises of God to the people of God.  Consider the following verses:

  • Abraham…is the father of all who believe. (Romans 4:11)
  • Through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6)
  • You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

Again and again, the apostle Paul makes the same point:  It is by faith in Christ that one becomes a child of Abraham.  Just because one is a genetic descendant of Abraham does not mean he is an heir to God’s promises.  Indeed, when Abraham’s descendants prove faithless in the Old Testament, they are exiled from the land of Israel (cf. Jeremiah 3:6-10, 2 Kings 17:3-23, 25:8-21).   In the New Testament too, faithlessness is judged harshly.  Consider these verses:

  • John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Luke 3:7-8)
  • Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. (Romans 9:6-8)

Abraham’s true children are those who trust in God’s promise of a Messiah, fulfilled in Christ.  Thus, modern day biological Jews, if they do not trust in Christ, cannot be said to be heirs to God’s promises.

But what about the land which God promised to Abraham and his descendants?  Is this the property of today’s Jewish people?  It is important to keep two things in mind as we seek to answer this question.  First, Israel, the modern-day democracy, is not the same as Israel, the ancient theocracy.  Israel, the ancient theocracy, is portrayed by the Biblical authors as ruled by God Himself.  This is why, for instance, King David is anointed by the prophet Samuel (cf. 1 Samuel 16:1-13) rather than elected by Israel’s general population.  Conversely, in Israel, the modern-day democracy, officials are elected by the people and not anointed by the prophets or trumpeted as divinely appointed leaders.  Thus, ancient Israel and modern-day Israel are not the same.

Second, it has already been noted that, apart from faith in Christ, the promises of God cannot be appropriated to human beings.  Thus, for those who do not trust in Christ, the promises of God – including the land of Israel – are not theirs.  But what about those Jews who do believe in Christ?  Does this land of Israel still belong to them by divine right?

Ultimately, all land belongs not to people or to a people group, but to God:  “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).  God, in turn, entrusts His world to His people to steward faithfully.  Indeed, this theological truth is stated explicitly in the commission God gives to the Old Testament Israelites:  “When the LORD your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you – a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).  From the outset, God warns His people not to forget that it is He who entrusts the land of Canaan to the Israelites.  God expects His people to steward this land well and according to His commands.  If the Israelites do not, God warns, “I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 8:19-20).  Notice that if the Israelites fail to follow God, He will destroy them “like the nations the LORD destroyed before.”  What sets Israel apart is its faith, not its land.  Without faith, Israel is just like all other faithless nations.

Finally, we must remember that the land God promised to Abraham was only a foreshadowing of an even greater land to come.  The preacher of Hebrews explains:  “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10).  Indeed, all of God’s Old Testament faithful “were longing for a better country – a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).  Earthly Israel was only a shadow of a greater heavenly Israel.  Thus, in the New Testament, Jesus does not make promises concerning the land of Israel.  Instead, He makes promises of a heavenly Kingdom (cf. Matthew 5:3, 10, 6:33, Luke 22:29).  This is why, in Revelation, John sees “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).  The earthly land of Israel, then, cannot be said to belong, by divine right, to biological Jews, or even to those Jews who trust in Christ.  For Christ did not come to bestow an earthly kingdom.  Indeed, Christ never drove out the Romans from Israel, contrary to first century expectations (cf. John 18:36), and, when a Samaritan woman asks Jesus where people are to worship, whether that be on Mount Gerizim according to Samaritan expectations or on Mount Zion according to Jewish expectations, Jesus responds, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:21, 23).  The earthly land of Israel was only a foreshadowing of a much greater heavenly inheritance, which is ours through faith in Christ.

So what does all this mean for the United States’ position on the nation of Israel?  Theologically, we are under no specific divine mandate to support any particular borders for the nation of Israel.  Politically, there may indeed be good reasons to support expanded borders for Israel such as the fact that this nation is one of our close allies and is a thriving, lively democracy in a part of the world which is largely devoid of such governments.  The democratic freedom Israel enjoys and promotes is a foundational value of our American union.  And as such, our citizens generally desire to see the cause of freedom spread far and wide.  For these reasons, many Christians and Americans can and do support Israel.


[1] Matt Spetalnick, “Obama and Netanyahu face tense meeting on Mideast,” Yahoo! News (May 20, 2011).

June 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm 1 comment


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