2016 Elections: Hope or Despair?

Sunlight Through Trees

On Monday, The New York Times released a brilliant piece showing that only 9% of Americans voted for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in this year’s primaries.  No wonder the other 91% of us are a little upset.  Although, I do have to say that if you didn’t even bother to vote, Mark Zuckerberg should find a way to prevent you from posting about politics on Facebook until the election is over!  Nonetheless, voter apathy isn’t really my point for today.  Except that it kind of is because I want to write about despair.

It’s not hard to come by in this election.  Bad candidates.  Bad coverage.  Bad policies. Bad voters. Bad, bad, bad…  It’s left many of us wondering if there’s any hope to be found.  I know because I’ve been there.  I’ve been dismayed by how things are going in our country and in this election.  I’ve feared for the world my kids will inherit.  I’ve wanted to throw my hands up in futility.  Cynicism is so convenient at times like this.

But I’ve gotten to the point where I really do believe there is hope in the mess.  Light is breaking through.  But we’ll never see it until we’re able to correctly diagnose the problem and the solution.

The Problem

Let’s get one thing clear.  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not the problem.  They are a symptom of America’s problem.  We need to stop being surprised that a country with a weak moral compass has nominated two leaders with seemingly weak moral compasses.  When we look in the national mirror, we see Hillary and Donald.  Being appalled at them is useless.  Dealing honestly with the fact that they reflect our broader culture will actually get us somewhere.  It’s a hard pill to swallow.  It’s far easier to mock, grumble and whine.

The Solution

If I’m right, the solution isn’t getting better candidates – there were plenty of other qualified men and women who ran this year and plenty of qualified men and women who made the decision not to run.  The solution is a cultural resurgence in America – the restoration of a shared morality, a shared civility and commitment to the common good.

This is where we need to have a hard conversation as the church.  In recent decades, Christians have looked for the government to do what God looks for the church to do.  This is why so many followers of Jesus are feeling so much despair in this election – it’s the despair that comes when an idol is exposed in our heart.  And for far too long, far too many evangelical leaders have turned right wing politics into a functional idol as if the well being of the church rests on the Supreme Court or the hope of the world is in the halls of Congress.  Don’t get me wrong, government is a good and noble calling.  We need more Christ honoring, gospel shaped public servants.  But we also need to repent of our political idolatry. 

There is hope in our country.  It’s the same hope that’s been transforming lives for thousands of years.  It’s the hope that echoes from an empty tomb outside of Jerusalem.  It’s the hope that reverberates in every church that loves Jesus and preaches His gospel.  It’s the hope that changes us at the heart level.  It’s a hope unhindered by laws, politicians or even persecution.  It’s a hope so real and so eternal that can hold it back.

So, I’m tired of grumbling that the government isn’t doing a better job with what the church should have been doing all along.  We’re the ones called to shine light in dark places.  We’re the ones who offer hope to refugees, immigrants, the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the lonely.  You want to do something truly worthwhile with your life?  Devote yourself to knowing Jesus and making Him known.  Find a local church that loves its city and then roll up your sleeves and get involved.  Don’t settle for the life of an armchair political pundit – make your life count.  Do it for the glory of Christ and the good of our country.

Hillary, Donald & Division

Flag in Field

Well, it’s official. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the major party nominees for the Presidency of the United States of America. What seemed like such a joke a year ago has become reality. And, like most Americans, I find myself fluctuating between disbelief, horror and embarrassment. If you happen to be a genuine fan of either one, fine, but it seems like the nicest thing I ever hear about either one is that they’re the lesser of two evils.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a political junkie. I was a government major in college and follow politics the same way others follow sports. I care about this stuff, it fascinates me and I believe it matters. So, I’m a guy with strong political opinions. But I do my best to keep them out of the pulpit and off social media. That’s partly because I believe the gospel is the central issue for all of our lives and the message God has called me to proclaim. And it’s partly because I pastor a church in Washington, DC made up of people with a wide range of political beliefs. But, increasingly, I’ve felt the need to say something. Not in spite of the two factors I just mentioned but because of them.

I’m determined to avoid three traps in this election cycle: division, distraction and despair. By God’s grace, I would like to lead our church away from these traps as well. So, I’m going to blog about avoiding those traps this week and then I’m going to move on and do my best to avoid them for the next 97 days.

Trap number one is the one I’m most concerned about: division.

I’m talking about division in the church based on which candidate we support. I believe Satan would love nothing more than to use this election as one more issue to divide the bride of Christ. And I believe a lot of Christian leaders are taking the bait. We all do it anytime we say something along the lines of, “I can’t understand how a real follower of Jesus could support Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump/a 3rd party candidate/a write in candidate/not voting.” We have got to understand that well meaning, Jesus loving Christians are going to differ with one another in this election. Just last week, Wayne Grudem wrote an essay advocating for Donald Trump and Randy Alcorn wrote against him. Over the last months, Thabiti Anyabwile has written in support of Hillary Clinton. Russell Moore has written extensively about voting 3rd party. And the list goes on and on.

In recent years, it’s become increasingly difficult to find an obvious candidate for Christians to support.  That is certainly true this year.  Hillary Clinton’s positions on abortion and same sex marriage but her on the wrong side of Scripture. Donald Trump’s positions on immigrants and refuges do the same. Both have alarming character flaws. Both have long track records of questionable judgment. To pretend that one is the obvious choice is to misunderstand just how inadequate they both are. So, come November, there are going to be people so horrified by Donald Trump’s ineptness that they vote for Clinton to keep him out of office. There are going to be people so concerned about the future of the Supreme Court that they vote for Trump. There are going to be people so fed up with both that they vote 3rd party, write someone in or don’t vote.  And there will be some who enthusiastically vote for Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump.

We’re all going to have to figure it out for ourselves based on one simple question, “Who is going to do the most good and the least harm to our country over the next four years?” We’re not all going to answer that question the same way and that’s ok.

I’m not saying the decision doesn’t matter. It does. But it shouldn’t divide us. The real tragedy in all of this would be allowing two candidates to divide the church. We can disagree politically, especially this year, and stay united in Jesus and the mission He’s given us. So, maybe it’s time to tone it down on social media. Maybe it’s time for thoughtful conversations with friends. Maybe it’s time to ask the Lord for wisdom. Maybe it’s time to ease up on each other just a bit.

And we have to if we’re going to avoid the trap of distraction. We’ll tackle that one tomorrow.

Young Preachers, Pay Attention To Donald Trump

donald-trump-abc-news

If you want to learn something about longevity and effectiveness as a preacher, keep your eyes on Donald Trump.

Love him or hate him, the Donald is on quite a roll these days.  He’s surging in the polls and his face seems to be everywhere.  It almost seems like the more outrageous his statements become, the bigger his brand gets.

He has become the poster child for a culture that rewards shock value, at least in the short run.

His rise is emblematic of a trap that snares so many young preachers.  It’s one I’ve fallen into from time to time.  If you say some outrageous things, tell some borderline stories and use some edgy language to “keep it real”, you’ll probably get some attention for yourself.  It’ll feel great in the moment and you’ll laugh at voices that urge you to build your ministry on something deeper.  After all, your numbers are soaring.

That’s where Trump comes in.  He’s headed for an implosion.  His campaign is a lot like spring break – short, raucous while it lasts and filled with regret afterwards.  You don’t want the same thing to be said of your ministry!

Don’t settle for short term notoriety when God wants you to have long term impact.  Real impact is rooted in years of faithfulness, humility, work and grace.  It doesn’t come through one killer illustration.  It comes through dozens of faithful sermons.  Real impact requires a deep foundation in the Word of God.

It’s the Word of God that revives souls (Ps. 119:25), is living and active (Heb. 4:12) and is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16).  The gospel doesn’t need gimmicks, only faithful heralds. Yes, tell the story of grace creatively, authentically, engagingly, winsomely and with every ounce of strength God provides.  Great truth deserves a great presentation.  But keep Christ the center, feed your sheep the eternal words of God, root them in the gospel and pray God would be pleased to bear fruit.  Teach them that good theology and the abundant life go hand in hand.

Don’t be the Donald Trump of preachers.  Learn patterns when you’re young that pave the way for decades of effective, gospel shaped preaching.