In my latest blog along the Uttermost Road, I share some observations and concerns surrounding the recent election, and then suggest a path forward from out of the smoke and rubble of the political battlefield and the lingering cloud of uncertainty. I'm aware of only one certainty in life. If you know me at all, then you probably expect that my observations, concerns, and suggestions will be filtered through the grid of my understanding of the Gospel. That would be a correct assumption. I’m bound to disappoint some of you because I didn’t vote for the same candidate as you did. You might even wonder how I can consider myself a "Christian" and vote otherwise. You might very well share similar concerns, or might look at things quite differently, or disagree entirely.
Now that it's been nearly a month since the election, and before you settle back into your normal routine, I want to say something. It's a word especially for those of you who either find yourselves disturbed by the divisive political climate, or for those of you, if you are brutally honest with yourselves, find a measure of pleasure in "disparaging" those on the "other side." So, at the risk of offending you or lessening your opinion of me, continue reading.
One of the things I’ve come to expect along the Uttermost Road are the unexpected curves, twists, and turns. Such has been the case once again over the past several months. I can’t go into all the details about each curve in the road (some quite glorious), but one such curve led me like an onramp onto this year’s presidential election. I was rather silent on my blog and Facebook prior to the height of the presidential race, and even now during the post-election period. I tend to tread lightly when it comes to politics. Like the subject of religion, very few topics can raise the hackles on the back of a neck and stir stronger emotions in the pit of a stomach than can political sentiment.
One reason for remaining silent is that I’m simply tired of the rhetoric and disunity that has come to define the political climate in Washington DC. Like many of you, I've been frustrated by the increasing gridlock over the past several decades. The ruling parties appear to be so entrenched in ideology, so closely bound to big money and aligned with special interests, that any hope of moving forward and working together for the common good of all Americans seems virtually impossible.
And that's just it. Where is the hope? As I see it, herein lies the quintessential question:
In who or what do you place your hope?
It’s not my intention or purpose to rehash the main arguments as to why people voted for Trump or Clinton, or chose not to vote at all. My observations and concerns hopefully go deeper than politics. For I’m of the mind that politics does not go deep enough. In fact, mere policy and legislation are incapable of penetrating and transforming the most fundamental realm of human existence; the innermost being. I believe, as many of you, that it's within our deepest core that dividing walls between races and strife between genders exist. It is also the realm where the walls and strife will be shattered, where justice and righteousness will flow like rivers (Amos 5:24). All other “solutions” are external…mere bandages at best. For there is only one source of real healing and transformation of the human condition; the relentless, unconditional, indiscriminate, and self-sacrificing love of God.
Love alone is it. Period.
If I'm going to choose a side, then I'll side with the love of God any day of the week.
Does that mean we don’t engage at all in the political process? Of course we should engage. Love is always active in finding ways to bring about peace, justice, and equality, be it as easy as voting, or as demanding as getting involved in your community and in the lives of people different than yourself in order to form a more “perfect union.”
But keep in mind that political systems, governments, and human institutions (including the institutional church) are not perfect...not even close. Nor can they lead to perfect unity. Union is a matter of the heart. Authentic unity is not achieved by enforcing external laws. The “kingdoms” of this world, all human institutions of governance, are founded on the use of force through fear, power, manipulation, and the rule of law. By the way, that would be external rule of law.
But this stands in stark contrast to what Jesus said about the subject: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).
External laws can curb behavior, but they can’t transform the heart. And it’s ultimately from the heart, from the innermost being, that rivers of compassion, mercy, and justice will flow like rivers of living water (Ezekiel 36:26). Such virtues as these describe the essential atmosphere and nature of the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of and inaugurated (through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension). In this kingdom, the only "law" is love. But it's not a law as we typically define it. It's not a mandate imposed upon our will from the outside.
The apostle Paul refers to what I'm calling the "law of love" as the "fruit of the Spirit," for there really is no law against walking in the attributes of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). This "fruit," the character of Christ, wells up from within (John 14:4). The Message Bible words verse 23 this way:
"Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way."
Aptly and profoundly put, Eugene Peterson (translator of The Message). You can't legislate the character of God from the outside. It takes a heart transplant! We partake and walk in a new nature, a divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The mystery of the gospel is "Christ in you" (Colossians 1:27). No amount of religious legalism or civic legislation can release unending rivers of justice and righteousness.
The law of love that characterizes the kingdom of God is entirely different than the rule of law that typify the kingdoms of Adam (the human race). The image I posted with this blog of the lion and the lamb beautifully illustrates the way of the kingdom of God and the nature of Jesus: He is like a lion (Revelation 5:5), a conquering king. But his conquering weapon is sacrificial love, like a lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:9).
Now that we’re entering the holiday season, I want to make a connection with one of the most significant meanings and realities of Christmas as it relates to leadership and “politics.”
The Christmas message is so simple, yet so incredibly amazing and profound. The One through whom the cosmos was made and holds it together (Colossians 1:16-17) became a human being . And not because he had to; because he wanted to...from before the foundation of the cosmos itself. And this One did not come as an exalted leader to rule through earthly might and force. No, he came as a suffering servant (Phillippians 2:4-11).
Think about it . . .
. . . Creator became a creature to demonstrate the love of God for ALL people, for every race, tribe, tongue, and gender. He became a human baby, then grew in ever increasing humility as he aged, and bowed his knee in service and love to the "least of these." He laid down his life for all to see who God the Father really is.
He came to us as a vulnerable babe. “For unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given...and the government shall be upon his shoulder...the Prince of Peace...there will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace." (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Then we killed him.
His "government," his rule, his kingdom of peace and love is a present reality; in the innermost being. It's not some distant reality we await on the great calendar of human events. His kingdom has come and is established in the deepest region of human existence. This is the realm of his reign and of his peace.
Do you want to know greatness? The Greatest became the least; the King became a servant. Follow his way and change the world. This is what will "make America great again" as well as every tribe and tongue around the world.
Now back to recent events. Whether or not you voted for Trump, he will soon be the President of the United States of America. I personally did not vote for him. I could site my reasons as to why not, but much has been written and said by others as to why, and I’m inclined to agree with many of those reasons (feel free to ask for my reasons).
We’ve been informed from exit polling that about 80 percent of “white evangelicals” voted for Trump. Though that’s a voting block into which I probably fall, I didn’t vote for the next president. I’m white (and a man), and I theologically consider myself to be “evangelical.” But it grieves me that in recent decades the term “evangelical” has been politically hijacked and readily identifies a near monolithic voting block. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to be labeled an evangelical because of the socially and politically defined meanings connected with the term, most of which don’t resemble the Jesus we read about in the New Testament and the kingdom he set in motion.
Jesus does not have an R or D attached to his name. He attached his name...and his body...to a cross.
“Evangelical” is taken from the Greek New Testament word “evangel” = “giver of good news.” If you consider yourself to be an evangelical, then what is your good news these days? It grieves me deeply to know that for many of my evangelical brothers and sisters, the last chapter of the good news story ends with Jesus coming back wielding the very same force and weapons of the kingdoms of this world. With power and violence he will punish and destroy his enemies. Call that "good news?" It’s as if the point of his second coming is to finish the task of his first one in order to get the job right this time with the use of violent force.
“It is finished!” Jesus cried out from the cross (John 19:30). Obviously, violence was the method to victory and freedom, but it wasn’t this king’s weapon. Sacrificial violence was wielded against him! He submitted himself to the powers and governments of this world. He bore our pain, fear, and lust for revenge.
And the human race murdered the only innocent human being who has ever walked Planet Earth; Emmanuel, God with us, the Word made flesh.
With what “weapon” did this king use to fight for our freedom and liberation?
Love . . . of the divine kind that is relentless, indiscriminate, unwavering, and self-sacrificing. The kingdom of God is led by a king who “rules” with this kind of radical love. His way stands in stark contrast to the ways of every principality and power ruling over the systems of this world.
Our systems are broken and flawed, as are those who control them. Think about it:
No political candidate is spotless. What candidate or person in a leadership role have you ever met or heard about who was totally flawless? In fact, have you ever met any human being who was “without sin?” Of course not. Sadly, we can all agree on this point.
Yet, there was One.
If Jesus could be found guilty, then it would be guilt by association, for he associated with the lowest of society. They called him a "glutton" and a "drunkard" (Matthew 11:19). He associated with the down-and-outers, the “druggies” of his day, the homeless, prostitutes and the poor, the disadvantaged, outcasts, and children. And he was a friend to women. Sexism was alive and well in his day when women were considered second class, and Jesus crossed that barrier, too. He referred to all these beautiful daughters and sons of God as “the least of these" (Matthew 25:40).
Yes . . . guilty as charged!
But this is no flaw. Jesus was like us in every way and identified with us in all things, yet "without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), without ever breaking perfect fellowship with the Father. I believe that such associations and relationships with the most disadvantaged and despised of society make up the foundation, the living stones of the kingdom of God that Jesus set in motion (1 Peter 2:5). God reconciled the whole world in Christ, even when we were enemies with God (Romans 5:10).
That's radical love . . . and it's the only law in the kingdom of God.
This is the "redemptive genius" of God, as some have called it. He took the very sacrificial violence and fear by which we murdered Jesus, and God did away with it forever! Contrary to popular theological opinion, God has never been against us. The "dividing wall" has only existed from our side of the relationship with God and other people, in our own minds...in our pain, fear, darkness, and confusion (Ephesians 2:13-16).
Even though the election is over, I still sense a wall of division in our country. It's an ugly division between "us and them." In Christ, that wall is forever gone. While some talk about building physical walls to adorn our nation's southern border, I'm going to do what I can to remove the walls that already exist in the hearts of my fellow patriots, including walls in my own.
Choose to walk in Christ's completed work, express his kingdom reality in all your relationships. Dare to open your heart to a "them," to someone on the “other side” of a wall. And begin by listening with your heart, not your head.
Listening is a big deal, especially before we open our mouths (Proverbs 18:13). I think empathic listening reflects a kingdom attitude of humility and compassion. Some were crying out long before the election, many of whom had life experiences and points of view much different than mine. Who was listening? Were you? It’s not too late to listen now, even though the election is over.
Regretfully, I wasn’t paying much attention to those voices early on in the election process. I was at home comfortably coddling my discontent with divisive politics, retreating into a kind of "laissez-faire" attitude. This is certainly not the forementioned kingdom attitude of empathy and compassion. Not even close.
I knew early on I couldn’t vote for Trump. The reasons were obvious for some of you. Policies aside, the disturbing and divisive rhetoric surrounding race and gender was more than enough to base my decision. Seems to me the spokesman for America should unite and represent all Americans...sounding a "trump" that encourages and lifts the most disadvantaged, the most discriminated against, the most abused in our nation. You might disagree. Perhaps you're a policy/issues voter. No matter what politicians might say in order to get elected, hopefully in the end, campaign rhetoric gives way to a real sense of humility that stirs compassion in the hearts of our elected officials.
Regardless of how you go about determining your vote, I was leaning toward a no vote, what some call a “protest vote.” Being a white guy, the ramifications of election results typically has little personal affect, no matter who's in office. I can go on my merry way wearing the same comfortable shoes I've always worn my whole life and get back to life as usual. But that's not the case for those who have walked a path quite different than my own, those who have experienced discrimination because of the color of their skin, those who have experienced horrible abuse because they were born with two X chromosomes. It wasn’t until I was confronted by those with life experiences much different than my own that I began to listen in earnest. Humble yourself and try to walk a mile or two in someone else's shoes. It's the beginning of compassion and wisdom.
Please forgive me for not paying attention and listening sooner.
My perspective changed when the experiences of an amazing friend moved me from the safe confines of ideas and opinions into the frightening reality of flesh and blood. It was an incarnational shift, you might say.
The Word that was in the beginning with God and was God (John 1:1), made an incarnation shift as well, a shift that has forever changed all of creation and the entire universe, changes that are in motion and some yet to be realized.
I’ve always been concerned about issues of justice and equality, especially for the disadvantaged, for those who seem to have no voice in our society. Seems pretty in line with what Jesus taught, to say the least. But when it came close, when it stood before me in flesh and blood, it brought me into a realm that goes far beyond parties, policies, and politics.
It brought me into the realm of the innermost and made me ask the question as to what is uttermost.
The way of the kingdom of God, the way of following the Way, is absolutely antithetical to the kingdoms of this world. It turns everything on its head . . .
. . . love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44); the greatest among you shall be your servant (Matthew 23:11). It's all about laying your life down for others rather than clinging to power for reasons of self-interest and preservation (John 15:13 and Mark 8:35). "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me," Jesus said (Luke 9:23). I don't think this was a call to religious calisthenics or spiritual exercise. It's not about striving to be like Jesus. It means if you're going to follow Jesus, put others first. See them as he sees them...created in divine likeness, of ultimate worth and value. He gave his life for all, including his greatest enemies.
"Real religion” is defined by mercy and justice, by taking care of widows and orphans (James 1:26-27), feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting prisoners. "Whatever you do to the least of these, you’ve done it unto me.”
Huh? How can that be?
In one Man, all humanity was embraced. Christ took us into himself on the cross…all of us…everyone…no exceptions! We are all included in him. There is now one new race in Christ Jesus. No walls of separation. The apostle Paul profoundly proclaims how he saw a new creation and a new human race when he said, "From now on I consider no one according to the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
There's a line from a simple chorus that says, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, open the eyes of my heart. I want to see you, I want to see you.”
Then see his face in the face of another, even in the face of your enemy.
Jesus said to "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar"(Mark 12:17). So pay your taxes, in other words. For whose image is stamped on the coin? He followed that by saying, "Give to God what belongs to God." For whose image is stamped on the face of every human being? Only love can see this and go there.
"Whatever you do to the least of these, you've done it unto me."
This is how dividing walls come down, us vs them, in-or-out mentality…when we recognize the indescribable worth of God’s children in the face of every human being, even in the faces of those we despise or of those who despise us.
As for the election, no matter what “side” you landed on, my challenge to you is to be a lover, for perfect loves cast out fear (1 John 4:18). Journey deep inside and discover the One who sides with no one, yet identifies with and loves everyone.
No exceptions! All are included!
If you're so inclined, pray for your elected officials that we might live in peace and dignity as civil people (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Pray for president-elect Donald Trump. But again, the big question is where do you place your hope? Is your hope in human leaders, institutions, or governments?
I’m convinced there is only one kingdom and one Person in whom you’ll find no flaw or scandal. Yet this One is referred to as the “scandalon,” a stumbling block, an offense (1 Corinthians 1:23), to those who can't fathom victory in his crucifixion. Sacrificial love is an offense to those who refuse to perceive the image of God in the face of another on the other side, the truth and beauty residing in the innermost being of every person on the planet.
Go find Jesus, even in your enemy. Then justice, mercy, and love will begin to flow like rivers, even if but a trickle...beginning in you!
As mentioned, one way to start the river flowing is by listening. Take off your shoes, because it's holy ground, and walk in someone else's different than yourself, yet created in the same image and likeness of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
Yes . . . holy ground. For God chose you in Christ to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
You = everyone
But not everyone votes alike. Though some minorities and women voted for Trump, many did not. Why? Did you ever stop to listen to their concerns prior to the election? If not, have you made a sincere effort to listen to their concerns in this post-election period? If this past election was mostly about winning and losing, parties and politics, power and privilege, then I suspect trying to understand their fear and concerns probably wasn’t a high priority.
Maybe it should be now. It is for me.
Though the election is over and the results are in, it’s not too late for those of you on the “winning side” to try to understand the “losers.” But the whole country loses in the long run if we don’t stand together so that all might win. Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand" (Matthew 12:25).
The past presidential election cycle has been described by some as the most “hateful” in US history. Whether or not this is true, I think it is sadly safe to say that the tension of disunity is on the rise post-election. You might choose to shrug off the dismay and fear being heard around the country (and around the globe) as an expression of bad political sportsmanship, the mere whining of poor losers. Perhaps for some, that might be the case. But for millions of women and minorities, it’s a heart-felt cry of real sorrow, pain, and yes, fear.
It touches on something more essential and deeper than mere politics.
For my friends and readers out there who are in a state of great concern, perhaps even fearful, of what the future might hold, let me try to encourage you with the following:
"You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!" (Isaiah 26:3)
Peace is exactly what we need in every facet of life; in our personal lives, in our relationships, in our homes, in our communities, in our nation, and around the world. Let's certainly work for peace "externally," i.e., through bettering and improving community systems and governmental structures designed to form a more perfect union. But real peace comes from within. It's internal from an eternal source.
I don't know about you, but this is the kind of peace about which I'm passionate. This peace is so much more than an agreement, much more than a "peace accord." This peace is a Person...a leader upon whom we can absolutely depend to lead us down the uttermost road into the future. (Isaiah 9:6)
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John14:27)
Jesus called us to join him in his kind of peace-making...the kind that embraces the other. Become a "peacemaker," as Jesus called it. He said those who do will be called "the children of God" (Matthew 5:9). Of course they'll be called the "children of God" because they act just like him!
The apostle Paul said we've all been called into the ministry of reconciliation because we've all been reconciled to God through Christ. We've been given this message of reconciliation, this word of peace, as ambassadors who represent the Prince of Peace. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
What an amazing honor to be his ambassador, his messenger and conveyer of reconciliation and peace to a broken and divided world! Nothing moves me more than to play a part in announcing the arrival of the Prince of Peace and his kingdom of peace. I'm committed to announcing the good news about this Prince and following him all the rest of my days.
It's a peace that only the Prince can provide in communion with him, for peace is a person. Peace is relational, not intellectual. Policies and politics are entertained within the realm of ideas. Feel free to argue and debate them in that arena. But pain and fear exist in the realm of the heart. They cannot be debated or argued out of existence. Such realities exist within the core self, within the innermost being. Unless we are willing to travel deep into that realm and connect with our "neighbors" from the inside, nothing of real depth and eternal value will occur on the outside.
There will be no peace without making this journey.
Only love can heal the pain and calm the fear. And not a mere sentimental, warm-fuzzy kind of love, but the God-kind of indiscriminate, unwavering, relentless, self-sacrificing love that we see demonstrated in Jesus. This kind of love transcends politics. It's the only "policy" that can set people free and transform the world.
Choose to travel this road and pledge your allegiance to the King of Kings. Place your hope in Him, for this kind of hope is not mere wishful thinking. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for" (Hebrews 11:1). This is real hope, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. And there is another Son on the rise and the boundaries of his kingdom have no end. This King has already won and his kingdom of indiscriminate and sacrificial love is here . . .
. . . inside of you!