Steve’s Letter – January 2013
JANUARY 1, 2013
This is not political, so don’t send me letters. You’re reading this in January; but since I write this weeks before you receive it, I’m just now getting over the election. And, no, I’m not that happy. Okay?
I’m so conservative and opinionated I don’t “get” the political views of my friends who disagree with me. And I’m quite sure God agrees with me. After all, I’m ordained, teach in a seminary and write religious books. I’m an expert in the things of God and what he wants for the political process.
I didn’t even watch the election returns because I was so sure my candidate would win; and, frankly, I kind of like our president, have a modicum of compassion for him, and even if I didn’t want him as president, knew it would be a difficult time for him and his family. I just didn’t want to watch so I went to bed…quite sure that God was a Republican and he, of course, would vindicate my views.
I woke in the morning to discover that something had gone seriously wrong. God caused, allowed or maybe permitted the reelection of President Obama. How could God do something like that? My worldview doesn’t allow for screw-ups from God. I have always believed he was in charge of this mess. I am sure God has a special place in his heart for America and its leadership. And given my own views, turning on the television the morning after the election was not dissimilar to walking into a Kafka novel.
If you’re not a conservative or if you’re even politically to the left of me (almost everybody is), you don’t have a problem. “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.” But this election has “messed with my head,” caused me to think the unthinkable and forced me to reevaluate. In other words, I’ve had a “come to Jesus” talk and an attack of sanity.
You’ve changed your views?
Are you crazy? Of course not. One doesn’t change one’s views if one is right. What is irritating to someone like me who is right are the great number of people who don’t think I am.
That morning after the election George Bingham (Key Life’s president) came into my office. We’ve been friends for a whole lot of years and “complete each other’s sentences.” We share theological, political and social views. He’s one of the few people to whom I can say what I think without using any “filter” or causing offense.
It was like the story of the man out on a building’s ledge and getting ready to jump. The police tried to talk him down. They tried to get him to talk to his friends and family. He refused. Finally, they got him to agree to talk to his pastor. His pastor climbed out on the ledge and they talked for about an hour at the end of which they joined hands and jumped together.
Frankly, I figured George and I could “jump” together.
“Steve,” George said, “I’ve repented of politics.”
“Repented of politics?” I responded. “What’s with that?”
“I put way too much stock in politics and it has consumed me. Only God should be in that place and I’m not going to do it anymore.”
It’s now a few days after the election and my head has cleared. I’ve joined George in his repentance. In fact, this election has been good for me even if I don’t like the outcome.
I don’t know about you but for me it’s easy to get so caught up in politics during the election season, “stuff” during the Christmas season, and a million other things the rest of the year. If I don’t watch myself, all of that can become an idol. I start forgetting what is really important and give other concerns the focus they don’t deserve. Once I start going down that road, it’s hard to see how far I’ve gone. It took this to open my eyes.
I may have already told you about my former student who preached a sermon after the first election of President Obama. He wrote the sermon before the election and planned to say the same thing regardless. He said:
Too much faith in a man
“Today all across America there are Christians dancing in the aisles, rejoicing and celebrating. At the same time, all across America there are Christians who are weeping, depressed and so afraid of the future. I have one message for all of you: Repent! Some of you have way too much faith in a man and the rest of you have way too little faith in God.”
There are some things that are easy to forget. As Wordsworth wrote, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…” It’s not just getting and spending either. It’s politics, the empty promises of commercials and politicians, and the attractiveness of things that will never last or satisfy.
(Hair-restoration and anti-aging pills don’t work. Just thought you would like to know.)
So here at the first of the year, I’m making three resolutions.
I resolve to remember who God is.
Almost all of Scripture was written in the context of a less than accommodating and pleasant political atmosphere. Isaiah wasn’t the exception when he wrote, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God;…I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:5, 7). The Psalmist wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7). Paul’s experience with Rome was not altogether pleasant and yet he wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
I can remember how upset and confused a lot of people were when George W. Bush was elected president…twice. Now it’s the other side upset and confused…twice. I checked both times (once my head cleared). There wasn’t any perspiration on God’s upper lip. I need to remember that.
I resolve to remember who I am.
Paul put things in perspective: “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20). Seems to me that post-election is a time to remember the difference between the “Molder” and the “molded.” God doesn’t give me a vote. He lets me say anything I want (even stupid things); but in the end, he makes the decisions and tells me—albeit not unkindly—to deal with it.
If I can’t fix it, change it, reverse it, enhance it, make it better or make it worse…it’s not mine. Elections (and a lot of other stuff) are way above my pay level. What is well within my pay level is my calling—loving God and loving people. Actually, that’s above my pay level too, but God said he would fix that if I paid attention. He reminded me (George too) that I haven’t been paying much attention as of late.
I’ve been too busy deciding our national election.
And I have one more resolution: I resolve to remember the back story.
God may not be as concerned as we are about our “great concerns.” His ways really are circuitous and whatever we think he’s doing—personally, in the world and in our all-consuming elections—he probably isn’t. Who expected a group of nomads in the middle of the desert to develop the highest form of ethical monotheism in history…for God to choose the Jews? Where did God get the idea of taking a killer of Christians and using him to write much of the New Testament? What’s with a coward like John Mark writing a major biography of Jesus or a poor and uneducated weakling like Peter becoming the “rock”? Who expected a baby born in a stable in a town so small that nobody ever heard of it being the Savior?
When I was a young pastor and made what I thought was a horrible and unwise decision, I opened my Bible and read Ezekiel 14:23 (a verse I’ve often gone back to over the years): “‘They will console you, when you see their ways and their deeds, and you shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, declares the Lord God.’” At the Last Supper, when Peter wasn’t all that happy with what Jesus was doing, Jesus said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7).
So whether you’re pleased with the election or not…wait, watch and listen. God may be doing something far different than any of us think.
Bottom line, election night God told me to go to sleep…he would stay up the rest of the night.
He told me to remind you too.