Posts tagged ‘President’

Why This Thanksgiving Should Be A Happy One

In what has become a tradition on this blog, this is the week I like to look back on a presidential Thanksgiving proclamation and take a moment to reflect on its significance. Thanksgiving may be a uniquely American holiday, but it is a universally needed and spiritually beneficial practice. This year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1941 stood out to me:

I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate and set aside Thursday, the twentieth day of November, 1941, as a day to be observed in giving thanks to the Heavenly Source of our earthly blessings.

Our beloved country is free and strong. Our moral and physical defenses against the forces of threatened aggression are mounting daily in magnitude and effectiveness.

In the interest of our own future, we are sending succor at increasing pace to those peoples abroad who are bravely defending their homes and their precious liberties against annihilation.

We have not lost our faith in the spiritual dignity of man, our proud belief in the right of all people to live out their lives in freedom and with equal treatment. The love of democracy still burns brightly in our hearts.

We are grateful to the Father of us all for the innumerable daily manifestations of His beneficent mercy in affairs both public and private, for the bounties of the harvest, for opportunities to labor and to serve, and for the continuance of those homely joys and satisfactions which enrich our lives.

Let us ask the Divine Blessing on our decision and determination to protect our way of life against the forces of evil and slavery which seek in these days to encompass us.

On the day appointed for this purpose, let us reflect at our homes or places of worship on the goodness of God and, in giving thanks, let us pray for a speedy end to strife and the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice for enduring time.

There are lots of good thoughts in President Roosevelt’s proclamation. His recognition that there is a “Heavenly Source of our earthly blessings” reminds us that everything we have ultimately comes from God. His thankfulness for “opportunities to labor and to serve” reminds us that we can be thankful not only for what we have, but for what we can do. And his invitation to “reflect at our homes or places of worship on the goodness of God” is certainly well taken. Thanksgiving, at its heart, is an act of worship.

But it is the historical context that surrounds this proclamation that was especially remarkable to me. President Roosevelt issued this proclamation on November 8, 1941. A month earlier, on October 6, the House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving Day. Up to this point, the day of Thanksgiving was not officially set and different presidents chose different dates. Two months later, on December 9, the Senate amended the House resolution to fix the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth – rather than the final – Thursday of November to account for those occasions when November has five Thursdays. President Roosevelt signed the resolution into law on December 26. What makes all this so interesting is what happened in the midst of this legislative history on Monday, December 7, 1941. The United States was plunged into a second world war. And yet, even while our Armed Forces began fighting and our nation was reeling from that “date which will live in infamy,” Congress and the President still found it important to declare a time for our nation to give thanks. They recognized that giving thanks is not only important when times are good, it is also critical when times are terrible.

Though we are blessedly not embroiled in a world war, 2020 has nevertheless been a difficult year for many. This is why it is so important that we pause to give thanks. Giving thanks is not and cannot be based on how well things have gone. It must be a recognition of how gracious God is. As the Psalmist says:

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1)

God’s goodness and love remain steadfast even when this world’s brokenness shakes us to our cores. Indeed, God’s goodness and love are so steadfast that God steps into the brokenness of this world in His Son to suffer with us and for us. This is why we cannot only give thanks to the Lord, we can give thanks for the Lord, for the Lord has come for us.

This Thanksgiving, may that be our thanksgiving.

November 23, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Election Day 2020

Credit: Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels.com

Election Day is one day away. And what an election season it’s been. In what has become a quadrennial ritual, campaigns have been waged, accusations have been leveled, statements that have very loose associations with the truth have been uttered, and our nation has become even more divided over politics than it already was.

It can be difficult for Christians to navigate through what feels like an exponentially increasing number of political landmines all around us. So, as we head into another Election Day fraught with fights and frights, let me remind you of two things.

First, Christians live as dual citizens. In his famous fifth-century work The City of God, the church father Augustine spoke of how Christians belong both to the City of Man and the City of God. Sadly, the City of Man is deeply disordered because of sin. Those who care only for the City of Man often gladly and unrepentantly operate in ways that involve much deception and transgression. Thus, though we may be among the City of Man, we cannot be in league with the City of Man. Our first, highest, and final allegiance must be to the City of God. This does not mean that we run away from the world, but it does mean that, in many ways, we refuse to operate like the world.

Second, the City of Man matters. For all its brokenness, God can still use what happens in the City of Man for His glory and the world’s good. This understanding of the City of Man was key to the success of the apostle Paul’s ministry. Paul, for instance, was not afraid to appeal to his Roman citizenship in the City of Man to protect himself from being mobbed (Acts 22:22-29). He also seems to have preferred his Roman name Paul to his Jewish name Saul. This is why, in the many letters he wrote to churches in the ancient world, he introduced himself as Paul rather than Saul, though he retained both names throughout his life (cf. Acts 13:9).

Why would this apostle prefer introducing himself using a pagan-sounding Roman name instead of his more traditional Jewish name? Because he fashioned himself as an apostle to people who were pagans in the City of Man – people who did not yet believe in the God of Israel and the Messiah He sent in Jesus. “I am an apostle to the Gentiles,” who were pagans, he wrote, and “I take pride in my ministry” (Romans 11:13). His Roman name – and his status as a Roman citizen – helped him reach pagan Roman citizens he may have not otherwise been able to reach with the gospel.

Some Christians can too often be tempted to leverage the resources of the City of Man primarily to win against others – political enemies, cultural contraries, and socioeconomic opposites. Paul, however, leveraged his citizenship – a gift bestowed on him by the City of Man – and his Roman name to win over people. He used what he gained from the City of Man to point people to the City of God.

In a recent article in National Review, Kevin Williamson wisely cautioned his readers: “There’s more to citizenship than voting, and partisanship is not patriotism.” Sometimes, I think we can be tempted to fall into the trap of believing the sum of our citizenship in the City of Man is winning an election through partisanship and voting. But being a good citizen in the City of Man goes so much further than that. Like Paul, may we use our citizenship in the City of Man not only to protect and further our interests, but to love and reach others.

That’s something we can all choose to do on Election Day – no matter who we vote for.

November 2, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The President Tests Positive for COVID-19

Disease doesn’t discriminate. Anyone – high or low, rich or poor, powerful or powerless – can fall ill – sometimes mildly, sometimes seriously. This reality was brought forth in stark relief early Friday morning when the President of the United States tweeted that he and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19. Blessedly, their symptoms, so far, have been relatively mild and, according to his physician, the president is doing well.

But all of this has not quelled the barrage of questions that inevitably comes at news as big as this. People want to know: What is the fuller picture of the president’s health history? When, exactly, did the president first suspect or know that he had contracted the virus? Should the people in his inner circle have been more cautious in their meetings and interactions? From whom did the president contract the virus? What will happen if the president falls seriously ill? Will a second presidential debate be possible in a week and a half? And, how will all of this affect the 2020 presidential election?

Just as the brokenness of sickness can affect anyone – no matter who they are – the promises of God are offered to everyone – no matter who they are. As the Psalmist writes:

Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike. (Psalm 49:1-2)

God wants to speak to everyone. This is why, in the Scriptures, we read stories of God speaking to kings and to peasants, to the wise and to the foolish, to the righteous and to the depraved. Disease doesn’t discriminate. But neither does the Divine. He calls all to repentance and He promises all those who trust in Him salvation.

At a moment where so many are in danger of contracting a dangerous virus, I take comfort that even those who are high risk have a Most High God. He rules over these uncertain times and He will see us through to what will hopefully be better times.

I pray for the President and First Lady’s speedy recovery and I praise God that, even if many of the questions we have during a time like this are still unanswered, the God we serve is faithful.

October 5, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Disagreement and Division

In his book Love Your Enemies, Arthur Brooks argues for the often-overlooked value in disagreement using a template drawn from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:

Aristotle wrote that there were three kinds of friendship: The first and lowest form of friendship is based on utility, wherein both people derive some benefit from each other … The next level of friendship for Aristotle is based on pleasure; both people are drawn to each other’s wit, intelligence, talent, good looks, or other attractive qualities … The highest form of friendship – the “perfect friendship” in Aristotle’s telling – is based on willing the good of the other and a shared sense of what is virtuous and true.

In the first two levels of friendship, Brooks explains, we carefully avoid disagreeing, because we don’t want to lose whatever it is we’re gaining from the other person. In the third level of friendship, conversely, we heartily engage in disagreement because we want what’s best for the other person, and, if they are heading down a path that is harmful or unhealthy, we are not afraid to call it out. In other words, disagreement can be helpful because disagreement can be revealing. Disagreement can be refining.

Disagreement can be good. Division, however, is something quite different.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul practically begs his readers not to fall prey to division:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

The Corinthians were divided over a whole host of things, including which spiritual leader they liked the most:

One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:12)

For Paul’s part, he finds the notion of division dangerous, asking, “Is Christ divided” (1 Corinthians 1:13)?

This past week, the deep political divisions that have long plagued our nation reared their heads in obvious and astounding ways. When the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, tore up her copy of the State of the Union address the President had handed her at the beginning of his speech, she – even if inappropriately – perhaps unintentionally acted out physically a deeper relational reality in our nation. There are certain groups of people who cannot stand – and indeed hate – other groups of people. There are parts of us that are torn apart.

I will not pretend that I can even begin to fix the partisan hatred that ails us. But it is worth reminding ourselves that, for those of us who bear Christ’s name, even if we can’t fix our world’s divisions, we can model a holy communion.

A holy communion does not just arise when we all agree with each other. Instead, it is also forged in how we disagree with each other. Do we truly listen to what a person is saying, or do we quickly move to caricature their comments? Do we assume the best in each other rather than the worst? Do we celebrate places of agreement, even as we hash out points of disagreement? And, most importantly, is our love for someone contingent on their agreement with us, or does it flow from the grace that God has first given us? If we disagree without love, we are left only with sore division. If we disagree with love, we can retain devotion to each other even as we dispute with each other. If we disagree with love, we can keep and reach people, even as we question their opinions and positions. And this is not just a way to avoid division. This is the Church’s very mission. May we carry it out faithfully by God’s grace and under His guidance.

February 10, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Celebrating Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Each year, in keeping with a personal tradition, I like to read one of the Thanksgiving Proclamations issued by one of our presidents. This year, I turned my attention to the Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1961, issued by President John F. Kennedy:

We have, as in the past, ample reason to be thankful for the abundance of our blessings. We are grateful for the blessings of faith and health and strength and for the imperishable spiritual gifts of love and hope. We give thanks, too, for our freedom as a nation; for the strength of our arms and the faith of our friends; for the beliefs and confidence we share; for our determination to stand firmly for what we believe to be right and to resist mightily what we believe to be base; and for the heritage of liberty bequeathed by our ancestors which we are privileged to preserve for our children and our children’s children.

It is right that we should be grateful for the plenty amidst which we live; the productivity of our farms, the output of our factories, the skill of our artisans, and the ingenuity of our investors. But in the midst of our thanksgiving, let us not be unmindful of the plight of those in many parts of the world to whom hunger is no stranger and the plight of those millions more who live without the blessings of liberty and freedom.

Like many presidents before him, President Kennedy is not short on his list of things for which he and the nation can be thankful. But what I appreciate especially about President Kennedy’s proclamation is that while he calls on the nation to be thankful, he also calls on the nation to be mindful of those for whom blessings may feel as though they’re in short supply. While many Americans gather around lavish feasts, others live with hunger and under oppression.  And these problems are not just international problems. They are domestic as well. A new study published by Dig Deep and the U.S. Water Alliance found that some two million people in the U.S. lack water and basic indoor plumbing. There are blessings that flow. But there is also need that is real.

President Kennedy concludes his Thanksgiving Proclamation with this admonition:

Let us observe this day with reverence and with prayer that will rekindle in us the will and show us the way not only to preserve our blessings, but also to extend them to the four corners of the earth.

The president wanted the nation to give thanks. But he also wanted the nation to give away some of the blessings it had received. He wanted the nation to embrace the “giving” in “Thanksgiving.” Indeed, giving is how we can demonstrate our thankfulness to God. In the words of the preacher of Hebrews:

Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)

I pray that this Thanksgiving, you found many reasons to be thankful. I also pray that this holidays season, you’ll find many ways to be giving. These two things go together. For when you are thankful and giving, you provide others with the opportunity to be thankful and giving, too.

And our world could use more of both.

December 2, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Victory, Truth, and Politics

Trump Mueller

When there’s the potential for dirt on everyone’s hands, it is easy to turn that dirt into mud to sling against your political opponents.  This is what we are learning from the ongoing saga of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.  News broke last week that Mr. Mueller has interviewed some of the most powerful officials in Washington, including former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Many are speculating that Mr. Mueller is close to asking for an interview with the president himself, and is moving beyond his initial collusion investigation and is now building a case for obstruction of justice against the Trump administration.

But it’s not just the Trump administration that is the subject of severe suspicion.  Mr. Mueller and the FBI are too.  Recently uncovered texts between two FBI agents who once worked for Mueller’s team seem to reveal a manifest “anti-Trump” bias.  Coupled with the fact that some of the texts between these two agents seem to reveal that the FBI intentionally tempered an investigation they were conducting at the time into Mr. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, many people are becoming worried that something foul is afoot.  Calls are now coming to appoint a special counsel to investigate the special counsel.

None of this, of course, is good.  But neither is any of this particularly surprising.  Politics, after all, is a dirty business and can often evolve into nothing far short of outright combat.  It is also not surprising that, depending on your political convictions, you may find yourself rooting for one of these stories to overtake the other.  Democrats are hoping that the Mueller investigation will reveal something that will discredit and perhaps even destroy the Trump presidency while Republicans are hoping that the Mueller investigation itself will be discredited and destroyed by the anti-Trump bias that was apparently harbored by some of the FBI agents connected to it.

Sadly, in politics, there seems to be an ascendant attitude that victory over an opponent is more important than the truth about an issue.  Thus, overlooking shady dealings in the president’s administration if you’re a Republican, or ignoring serious questions of integrity in the FBI if you’re a Democrat, is simply an expedient necessity to achieve what many believe to be “the greater good” of their particular political party’s continued empowerment.

Christianity knows that real victory cannot be gained without a commitment to truth.  The two go hand in hand.  This is why, for instance, the Psalmist can implore God: “In Your majesty ride forth victoriously in the cause of truth, humility, and justice” (Psalm 45:4).  The Psalmist knows that victory from the Lord is inexorably connected to the truth of the Lord.

As Christians, our hope and consolation are that what has been written about Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil is actually true!  If it’s not, then there is no real victory.  Thus, in a culture and in a political landscape that can sometimes love victory more than truth, let’s love both.  Otherwise, we just might wind up with neither.

And that would be a tragedy.

January 29, 2018 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Persons, Nations, and Immigration

President Trump Meets With Bipartisan Group Of Senators On Immigration

What a week it has been in politics.  Immigration took center stage this past week with President Trump first holding a meeting with both Republicans and Democrats in front of the cameras, discussing everything from the DACA to a border wall to chain migration to comprehensive immigration reform.  This televised meeting, however, was quickly eclipsed by some comments the president allegedly made behind closed doors, where he expressed, supposedly in vulgar terms, dismay at accepting immigrants from places like Haiti and Africa and wondered out loud why the U.S. was not more interested in encouraging emigration from places like Norway.  The president has since denied that he made the disparaging remarks attributed to him, tweeting:

The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made – a big setback for DACA!

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018

Whatever the president’s actual remarks were, his alleged remarks, predictably, ignited a firestorm of a debate over how we should view other countries and the peoples from those countries.  Some found the president’s alleged remarks to be simply a realistic diagnosis of the awful living conditions that plague third-world countries.  Others decried his remarks as racist.  Is there any way forward?

The famed poet Dorothy Sayers once wrote:

What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person.  A certain amount of classification is, of course, necessary for practical purposes … What is unreasonable is to assume that all one’s tastes and preferences have to be conditioned by the class to which one belongs.[1]

In the midst of a white-hot debate over immigration, Sayers’ insight is a good one for us to keep in mind.  The problem with making or defending disparaging remarks concerning whole countries with regard to immigration is that whole countries do not immigrate.  Individual persons do.  And individuals ought to be treated as unique, precious, and worthy of our consideration and compassion.

But, as Sayers also notes, this does not mean that we should dismiss any and every classification.  For instance, the Scriptures themselves use the classifications of “image” and “child.”  “Image” is a classification that applies to creation.  Every person, Scripture says, is created in God’s image.  “Child” is a classification that applies specifically to redemption.  When one believes in Christ, they are adopted as God’s child.  And though these two classifications are certainly not comprehensive, they can be instructive in that they remind us that the classifications we use, first, should be generous.  Disparaging classifications are generally not helpful or productive.

Scripture cautions us against both an arrogant individualism and a dismissive collectivism.  It is important for us to remember that we are not solely individuals who have only ourselves to thank for who we are.  We are who we are due in large part to our cultural backgrounds, our experiences with others, and the help we receive from others, among many other factors.  All of these things collectively shape us.  At the same time, we are still individuals, specially and preciously created and redeemed, one at a time, by God, and we are always more than the sum total of our cultural backgrounds, our experiences with others, and the help we receive from others.  This is why, in Christ, we come to realize that so many of the classifications we once used to define ourselves, and that others use to define us, are not ultimate or unabridged.  As the apostle Paul writes:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:26-28)

In the middle of a debate over what does and does not constitute appropriate classifications for nations, let us never forget who we are as persons.  And, by God’s grace, let us treat each other accordingly.

__________________________________

[1] Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 24-25.

January 15, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Charlie Gard and the Tenacity of Hope

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Credit:  Independent

There is a hardly a more compelling example of the ravages of disease warring against the hope for life than that of Charlie Gard.  Charlie is almost a year old now, born last August in the U.K.  Shortly after his birth, it was discovered that he had a rare genetic condition known as mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, which affects vital internal organs such as, as in Charlie’s case, the kidneys and brain.  At present, Charlie is being kept alive by a ventilator, but the hospital at which Charlie is staying asked a judge back in March to rule that life support should be discontinued, which the judge ruled in support of in April.  Charlie’s parents appealed the ruling, but did not get it overturned.  Both President Trump and Pope Francis have signaled their support for Charlie, with the pope even offering Charlie a spot at the Vatican pediatric hospital for continuing treatment.  Charlie’s parents have asked to have their son transferred to the U.S. for an experimental treatment, which has had some limited success, but the U.K. hospital has refused to do so, citing legal hurdles.

The issues in this dispute are legion.  Should a judge have the ability to trump parents’ wishes with regard to their own child, provided that the parents are seeking the genuine welfare and, in this case, the continued life, of their son?  Are Charlie’s parents seeking the correct course of action, considering their son is not able to live, at least at this point, apart from extraordinary and continuous medical intervention?  And what are the hopes for some sort of improvement or change in Charlie’s condition if he is moved elsewhere to receive treatment?

It is the last of these questions that is most captivating to me because it is the question that sits in the background of the first two questions.  The U.K. believes there is no real hope for Charlie’s recovery.  Charlie’s parents believe there is enough hope for, at minimum, some sort of improvement that they want to continue his life support and investigate an experimental treatment.  This battle royal, then, boils down to hope.

Over the course of my ministry, I have known more than one person who was terminally ill and, when presented with an option for an experimental treatment, declined and instead chose to go into hospice because they did not see any real hope for healing, even with the treatment.  This does not mean, however, that these people did not have any hope.  Their hope was simply located in a different place – not in a treatment, but in a Lord who can call even the dead to life.  Whether it is a temporary stay on death by means of a medical treatment, or an eternal resurrection on the Last Day by means of a trumpet call and a returning Christ, hope for life, it seems, will not be squelched.

Theologically, the irrepressibility of hope for life makes sense because, in the beginning, death was not part of God’s plan.  Contrary to Yoda, death is not a natural part of life – and we know it, even if only intuitively.  Death, Scripture says, is an enemy to be defeated.  And though Charlie’s parents cannot conquer death like Christ, they do seem voraciously intent on confronting death through the very best that medicine has to offer their son.

It does unsettle me that a judge would arrogate to himself the prerogative of telling two parents whether or not their son can receive a potentially life-saving treatment.  I will confess that, according to the information at hand, the hospital is probably correct in its estimation of Charlie’s recovery prospects.  But hope has a funny way of looking beyond the information at hand to divine intervention.  And that is a hope that is worth holding on to.  Indeed, as Christians, we know that is the hope Jesus died to give and rose to secure.  I hope the hospital and the British legal system can respect that hope.

July 10, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

An Executive Order and an Immigration Debate

trump-executive-order

When President Trump issued an executive order two Saturdays ago putting a 90-day moratorium on all foreigners entering the United States from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen and a 120-day ban on all refugee admissions, the reaction was swift and splenetic.  Protests erupted at airports across the country.  Democratic politicians decried – and, quite literally, cried at – Mr. Trump’s executive order.  And now, a federal judge in Washington has temporarily blocked enforcement of the president’s immigration stay.

Though much could be saidand has been said – from a policy standpoint about the president’s executive order and the heated debates that have ensued, it is worth it for us, as Christians, to use this moment as an opportunity step back and consider how Scripture frames the broader issues involved.  After all, long after the embers of the fight over this particular executive order have cooled, the contentious disagreements that have bubbled to the top in this debate will remain.  So here are a few things to keep in mind.

Safety and Sojourners

One of the roles of any government is to protect its people by punishing wrong and standing up for what is right.  This is part of the reason Joshua led a conquest through the land of Canaan.  This is also why the apostle Paul writes:

For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  (Romans 3:4)

The preamble to our Constitution echoes this sentiment when it explains the very need for such a document thusly:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Likewise, President Trump, when his executive order was met with fiery backlash, defended it by saying that his order was about “terror and keeping our country safe.”

Safety is indeed a noble goal.  But Scripture also has much to say about welcoming and helping sojourners.  God commands the Israelites:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

One of Jesus’ most famous stories – the Parable of the Good Samaritan – has as its centerpiece a call to be kind to foreigners.  In this day, for a Jew to talk about a “good Samaritan” would have sounded oxymoronic.  The Samaritans, after all, were the ones who broke into the Jewish temple during Passover and desecrated it by scattering human bones through it.  Jews did not consider Samaritans “safe.” But in Jesus’ story, a Samaritan ends up saving the life of a Jew.

As Christians, then, we are called to be concerned both with the safety and security of our families and nation as well as with the plights of others, such as Syrian refugees, doing whatever we can to welcome and care for those who need our help.  A concern for safety and a love for sojourners are to go hand in hand.

Local and Global

Donald Trump’s short tenure as president has been marked by the theme of putting America first.  In what was perhaps the most memorable line of his inauguration address, the president declared, “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”

Addressing concerns and challenges close to home is important.  Charity, the old saw says, begins at home.  Scripture echoes this theme when the apostle Paul encourages believers to take care of those closest to them: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).  In this same letter, Paul also wonders out loud how a pastor who “does not know how to manage his own family…can…take care of God’s church” (1 Timothy 3:5).  At issue here is a principle of subsidiarity, which encourages a focus on local affairs first.

But once again, as important as local affairs are, they are not the only concerns we should have.  President Trump’s call of “America first” must never become that of “America only.”

Rodney Stark, in his seminal work The Triumph of Christianity, notes that Christianity is unique not only because it is:

…the largest religion in the world, [but because] it also is the least regionalized.  There are only trivial numbers of Muslims in the Western Hemisphere and in Eastern Asia, but there is no region without significant numbers of Christians – even in the Arab region of North Africa.[1]

Christianity is decentralized because the faith’s founder gave His disciples a global mission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  In the book of Acts, Christ encourages the Church to have both a local and a global vision for mission: “You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

As Christians, then, though we are to tend to the affairs of our families, communities, and country, these cannot be our sole concerns.  A world that is hurting is a world that needs our compassion, interest, and engagement.  We are called to have eyes for both that which is local and for things which are global.

Government and Church

As Christians, we must remember that the affairs of the government are not always coterminous with the mission of the Church.  Governments have a specific role to play.  They are God’s servants, on a civic level, to promote and defend that which is right and to dissuade and punish that which is wrong.  Likewise, the Church has a specific mission to carry out – to reach the world, in both word and deed, with the gospel on a personal level.  Thus, while a government may seek to protect a nation, the Church continues to go forth to reach the nations.

As Christians, then, we live in two worlds.  We are both members of Christ’s body, the Church, and citizens of an earthly nation.  In such a politically-heated environment, however, it can be tempting to exalt the partisanship of politics over the community of the congregation.  Indeed, one of the saddest aspects of our current crisis is that the millions of Syrian refugees who have been displaced from their homes and families have become, in the words of Pete Spiliakos:

…footballs in our partisan scrimmages. We insist on certain standards of hospitality to refugees, making those standards a test of “who we are,” opportunistically – when it is useful to our side.

In other words, we do not charitably welcome refugees while carefully stewarding our own national interests because it is right thing to do, we pick either the reasonable concerns of our nation or the sad plight of international refugees and turn one into a cause célèbre at the expense of the other because it is politically expedient.  This is wrong both civically and ecclesiologically because it reduces people to pawns in a game of thrones.  We are less concerned with doing justice and more concerned with wielding power.

In a debate that has become increasingly either/or, we, as Christians, have a message that is both/and.  We can both seek the safety of our nation and be hospitable to sojourners.  We can both address our local contexts and keep an eye on global crises.  We can both live as responsible citizens and work as members of Christ’s body.  One thing does not need to trump the other thing because, ultimately, over everything is Christ.  He is the One who ultimately both keeps us safe and welcomes us into His kingdom as sojourners from this corrupt age.  He is the One who both loves each of us locally and dies for the world globally.  He is the One who both rules all rulers and is the head of His body, the Church.  He is the One in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

As we seek to process today’s troubles, then, let us never forget who we are.  We are not merely useful political plodders.  We are the children of God in Christ, which means that we trust in Him, live with Him, and love like Him – both those who are near and those who are halfway across the world.

___________________________

[1] Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 2011), 392.

February 6, 2017 at 5:15 am 3 comments

The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump

inauguration

Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

It’s official.  As of last Friday, just after noon Eastern Standard Time, Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States.

Though our nation has a new president, old partisan divides and rancor remain.  Representative John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Trump’s election and promised to boycott his inauguration, which prompted a fiery response from the president via his Twitter account.  Project Veritas uncovered the aspirations of a radical protest organization to detonate a butyric acid bomb at the inaugural ball.  And then there were the protests just blocks away from the inauguration parade that erupted into riots.  Indeed, there is no shortage of division in our society.

At this watershed moment in American history, it is worth it to take a moment and remind ourselves how we, as Christians, are to conduct ourselves in a world full of violence, threats, political infighting, and social media rants.  So, as a new man settles into the world’s most powerful position, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Rulers come and rulers go.

Last week, a friend sent me a picture of the “Donald Trump Out of Office Countdown Wall Calendar.”  It extends to 2021.  Apparently, the calendar is not only counting down Mr. Trump’s term in office, but making a prediction about the next presidential election.  Whatever you may think of the new president, and regardless of whether or not you hope he is elected to another term, this wall calendar provides an important reminder:  Mr. Trump’s presidency will not last forever, just like all the presidencies before his did not last forever.  Indeed, it is always interesting to hear discussions of how “history is being made” every time a new president is elected and inaugurated.  We seem to know, even if only intuitively, that the present is only the present for a split second.  It quickly becomes history – a past that is no longer pressing.

If you are concerned about Mr. Trump’s presidency, then, remember:  it will not last forever.  And if you are ecstatic about Mr. Trump’s presidency, remember:  it will not last forever.   This is why the Psalmist instructs us not to put our “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” (Psalm 146:3-4).  The reign of any earthly ruler never lasts.  Every reign ends; every ruler dies – that is, except for One.

Rulers have limited authority.

No matter who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, a contingent of the electorate is always apoplectic, convinced that whoever happens to be president at the time will surely spell the end of American democracy, if not world order, as we know it.  The reality of a president’s – or any ruler’s – authority is much less impressive.  Scripture reminds us that every human authority is under God’s authority.  The prophet Daniel declares that God “deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:21).  The apostle Paul tells masters of slaves in the ancient world that One “who is both [your slave’s] Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Ephesians 6:9).  No matter how much authority one person may have, no human authority can match God’s ultimate authority.

This should bring us peace and give us perspective.  Leaders, ultimately, do not control the world.  Instead, they simply steward, whether faithfully or poorly, whatever little corner of the world God has happened to give to them for a brief moment in time. It is never wise, therefore, to put too much faith in leaders we like or to have too much fear of leaders we don’t.  Their power is not ultimate power.

Rulers need our prayers.

When we no longer put too much faith in our leaders or have too much fear of them, this frees us up to pray for them according to Scripture’s admonition: “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).  I find it especially striking that making it a common practice to pray for our leaders – no matter who they might be – is commanded by Paul not only because of the effects these prayers have on our leaders, but because of the effects these prayers have on us!  When we pray for our leaders, Paul says, this leads us to peaceful and quiet lives even when the world around us feels troubled, and godly and holy lives even when the world around us seems to be careening into moral rot.  When we pray for others, God strengthens us.

As Donald Trump assumes the responsibilities of the President of the United States, he needs our prayers.  So keep President Trump and his family in your prayers.  And while you’re at it, keep other leaders, be they on the national, statewide, or local levels, in your prayers as well.  As a practical admonition, perhaps consider writing a note to one of your public servants asking how you can pray for them.  Your note just might be a big blessing to them and encourage them to become a better leader.  And that’s something our nation can always use.

January 23, 2017 at 5:15 am 5 comments

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