The Political Divide, 11 October 2020

The Political Divide (Jesus for President)
Series—The Great Divide

Series Big Idea: Our world is filled with division, yet Jesus prayed that we would be one as we share faith, hope and love.

Big Idea: Every leader has good and bad qualities and our allegiance must never be to a candidate or party, but to Jesus the Messiah.

The Great Divide video by Dan Stevers

You are loved!

In a world of division, controversy, cancel culture, us versus them, perhaps the most important message for our times is “You are loved.”

What did you think of that video? I found parts of it disturbing, others heart-warming. Every person—black, white, blue, citizen, immigrant, conservative, progressive, young, old, gay, straight, rich, and poor is a masterpiece…a broken masterpiece…an imperfect, sinful masterpiece. We exist to proclaim that simple message: you are loved. Period.

Today we begin a series called The Great Divide. 2020 will be remembered for two things: COVID and division. What began as “we’re all in this together” has become a raging war over face masks, political candidates, racism, …and the real battle between Michigan and Ohio State isn’t until December 12!

Our world is filled with division—even in the Church—yet Jesus prayed that we would be one as we share faith, hope and love. In fact, the only time I believe Jesus prayed specifically for us in 2020 was in the seventeenth chapter of John:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

LORD, make us one! That was Jesus’ prayer for us. It’s one of the four prayers I pray for First Alliance Church: direction, protection, passion…and unity. By unity, I don’t mean uniformity. In fact, harmony might be a better word: different notes played together creating a beautiful sound. My favorite metaphor for the Church is a mosaic—broken, diverse pieces assembled together so light can shine through and reveal beauty.

The goal of this series is simple: build bridges. It’s easy to build walls. Staying with your team in the echo chamber of thoughts—and villainizing “those people—is the way of the world. But the way of Jesus is love, grace, invitation, mercy, forgiveness, and hope.

In one of the most popular illustrations of the gospel—or good news—God is on one side of a chasm or canyon that we call sin. God is allergic to sin, we all sin, and therefore this is a space between us and God dating back to the Garden of Eden, the rebellion of Adam and Eve. Religion is the human quest to get to God, to earn God’s favor, to receive His blessing. But nothing we can do can bridge the great divide. It’s as if the best we can do is try to jump across the Grand Canyon. You can practice. You can train. You can get better, but no human could ever jump across safely.

This is called the bridge illustration because Jesus comes along and his death and resurrection create a bridge, a way to God. It’s not forced, though it’s available to everyone. We choose to ignore it or walk across and experience restoration, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a relationship with our Creator. It’s truly amazing!

In a similar—but far less significant—way, we are going to attempt to build bridges throughout this series. These bridges are valuable between the Church and the world, but also within the Church. We may all claim to follow Jesus, but our family of origin, geography, education, ethnicity, culture, and experiences make unity—and harmony—challenging.

We’re going to tackle three softball topics in this series: politics, racism, and generation gaps. Today, we begin with politics.

Once upon a time, God told a man named Abram that he would be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4). His grandson, Jacob, was renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28) and his offspring became known as the twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis 49:28). Generations later when they were slaves in Egypt, Moses was called by God to lead the people out of Egypt to the Promised Land, what we know today as Israel. God was the faithful leader of the Jewish people, yet as time passed, they wanted a human king like the other nations. Samuel urged them to follow God and God alone, but they said, “No! We want a king over us” (1 Samuel 8:19).

Ever since, virtually every human on earth has been ruled by kings, queens, presidents, and prime ministers. All have been imperfect. All have had agendas. All have had mixed motives. Some have sought wisdom from God. None have been able to provide the perfect leadership of the Almighty…which is why we’re in the political mess we’re in!

Let me set some expectations to either ease or heighten your anxiety!

You will not hear me endorse a candidate today. Many of you wish I would. Others just breathed a sigh of relief.

You will not hear me endorse a political party today. Again, that will make some of you happy, others upset.

I will say I think this is a great yet flawed nation. As individuals and as a society, we’ve done good and evil. I’m grateful for our founding fathers and those who have sacrificed for our freedoms. I pray for God to bless the USA…and every nation on earth. Next month we have the privilege of expressing our voice through voting. If you don’t vote, don’t complain. But while voting is an important choice, we make choices every day which are often far more significant.

As an example, I consider myself pro-life. Like most labels, “pro-life” has multiple meanings. To some, it simply means overturning Roe v. Wade. To others, it is a recognition that all life is precious, from the womb to the tomb, including the disabled, the refugee, the minority, the unborn, the mentally ill, the incarcerated, those with dementia,…and yes, even politicians!

It’s easy to vote once every four years for a person who says they are against abortion, but the decision to adopt, be a foster parent, volunteer with Water for Ishmael, serve at the Pregnancy Center helping new parents, participate in Kairos Prison Ministry, tutor students at the After School Club, give to Cherry Street Mission, …those decisions are pro-life!

Psalm 139 says,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

I believe God is pro-life. He creates life. He should determine when and how it ends. It is our job to love well. Always.

Loving well means respecting those who disagree with you.
Jesus went as far as saying, “Love your enemies.” That sounds absurd. In fact, I dare say it’s impossible…without God.

Family, we will have disagreements about politics—and other things. It’s okay to dialog, but let’s be careful about debates. I don’t even want to think about the first presidential debate, but typically in a debate two people talk at one another, refuse to listen, and try to win at the expense of the other. Dialog begins with, “Help me understand.” It involves listening.

In our day, I believe listening is one of the greatest things we can do to show love and respect. It’s so rare in our culture to actually hear someone. Jesus’ half-brother wrote,

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1:19-21)

We could spend all morning on these three verses! Most of us are quick to speak, slow to listen, and quick to become angry. We’re easily baited by social media posts or angered by cable news. People are making millions out of keeping us in silos, portraying the “other” as the enemy, and creating doom and gloom scenarios if our team doesn’t win.

Every four years we are told this is the most important election ever! Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but the sun will rise on November 4, regardless of who wins. We’ve survived four and even eight years under Republican presidents and Democrat presidents.

My first sermon here five years ago was simply entitled, “Fear not. Fear God.” The most common command in the Bible is “fear not.” The media feeds on fear. It’s their fuel. Go vote, but realize that’s the extent of your control over this election. You have far greater control over how you live your life every day, how you love, how you give, how you serve.

God has created three institutions: family, government, and church. They are all important. Each has the capability of promoting human flourishing…and each can be dysfunction and destructive. Simply put, families, government, and churches are filled with people who have the potential to do great good and great evil. That includes you and me. How are you living your life? How are you using your influence?

A few years ago, I was at a church function talking with an international worker with the Alliance. I mentioned how passionate many at First Alliance are about politics. As if on cue, someone came up to us and asked, “Pastor, how could a Christian ever be a Democrat?” Allow me to take a quick stab at that!

In Larry Hertado’s book Destroyer of the Gods, he writes about the early church social project. In the first century, the Church was a minority. It didn’t have power. It was looked upon with disdain. Hertado describes five traits of the early church:

  • 1. Multi-ethnic (first multi-ethnic religion)
  • 2. Oriented to the poor (economic justice)
  • 3. Conciliatory (forgiveness, bridge-building)
  • 4. Pro-life (against infanticide and abortion)
  • 5. Believed sex was only between a man and woman in marriage

  • 1 and 2 sound Democratic.
    4 and 5 sound Republican.
    3 is found in neither!

    There is no perfect party or politician, not matter what you’ve been told. We simply live in a fallen, broken world with a real enemy who is out to destroy our unity, our joy, our love, our witness, and our peace. He loves to divide and conquer…and we can’t let him win!

    If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. (Mark 3:24-25)

    My great concern is not the binary, polarizing, cancel culture in our world. That’s the world. The kingdom of darkness is always filled with wars and conflict. When I see it in the Church, that’s when I become alarmed. There has never been a better time for us to extend grace, to seek to understand the other, the show kindness and gentleness.

    We are not to act like the world! Jesus set forth a different agenda, a different path, a different way.

    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

    Unless Jesus returns and runs for president, we will probably have differing opinions on election day…and that’s ok. What’s not ok is attacking, condemning, judging, disrespecting, hating, or arrogantly seeking to overpower one another.

    Fortunately, I haven’t witnessed much of that around here lately…and I hope I don’t! I like a healthy, robust discussion as much as anyone, but it must always be done with love, humility, and a commitment to the relationship. I’ve witnessed this with our staff. I’ve experienced it with our elders. We are different. We think differently, vote differently, and even behave differently, …and that’s a good thing so long as we love well.

    Jesus said,

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

    Life. A full, abundant life. No politician can deliver that, but Jesus can.

    A Vision for Kingdom Living

    We live in the United States of America. But we are citizens of heaven. We’ve been sent here on a mission, not to win an election or gain power, but to serve, to restore God’s masterpieces. We’ve been given authority from God almighty to go and make disciples, to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourself.

    It’s fine to have political preferences, but our focus must be on the Lion and the Lamb, not an elephant or donkey.

    The answer to the problems in our world is not a politician, but the only One who is a prophet, priest, and king. His name is Jesus. He is Lord of lords, King of kings, and President of presidents. He will rule and reign for four years? No! For eight year? No! Forever!

    If we spent as much time reading the Bible as they do political news, our world would be a different place.

    If we spent as much time talking about Jesus as we do the presidential candidates, our world would be a different place.

    If we spent as much time listening as we did talking, posting, and arguing, our world would be a different place…and we would be different people!

    Some of you are going to be happy on November 4—or whenever they tally the votes—and others will be disappointed. But we need to come together. We need to love and respect one another. We need to show the world there’s a better way to live than on opposite sides of the great divide of politics.

    After RBG’s death, the stories of her and Judge Scalia were widespread. Two very different human beings with opposing political and ideological views were able to maintain a close friendship. They didn’t tolerate one another, they had genuine love and respect for each other.

    First Alliance, I want us to model that kind of humanity, decency, and dignity. We need to honor one another, serve one another, and get beyond our external differences to see each other as brother and sister, related by blood, the blood of Jesus. We have far more in common than we will ever have different.

    Let’s take the next month or so to pray, to listen, to learn, to love. Let’s remember Romans 13 which begins,

    Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

    God will not be surprised on November 4. He’s already been there! He is in control. Not you. Not even the president.
    God is in control!

    I’m glad my eternal destiny is not in the hands of any candidate. Truthfully, I think every president in history has made some good decisions and some bad ones. Whoever gets elected, we need to pray for them. My prayer for past, present, and future leaders is simple: LORD, may they humbly seek Your will, Your Kingdom.

    Family, don’t buy into the lies that the election will save or ruin your life. We’re only here for eighty or so years, but what awaits us is eternity with God.

    A president before I was born said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” You can vote, which is important, but it’s far more important to share faith, hope, and love every day. We can never put our faith in politicians. We can never put our hope in political parties.

    Our faith, our hope, our future, our life is in Jesus Christ, the Lion and the Lamb!

    PRAY for the election
    PRAY for our current leaders
    PRAY for our future leaders

    Remember, you are loved! You are a masterpiece…and so is everyone you encounter this week. Let’s build bridges and love well…in Jesus’ Name.

    Recommended Resources

    NAE For the Health statement
    Not in It to Win It by Andy Stanley
    The Church of Us vs. Them by David Fitch

    You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

    King Jesus, 13 November 2016

    King Jesus
    Romans 13:1-7

    Note: these are the original sermon notes. The actual sermon is quite different and available here.

    Big Idea

    We have elected a new president…but King Jesus is Lord!


    Good morning, church! My name is Kirk and I want to personally welcome you to First Alliance Church—not the building, but the family, the community of people in this room and beyond. We are a part of a larger family, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. One of the things I love about The Alliance is its diversity. Approximately ten percent of Alliance members live in the United States. About ninety percent of our family is scattered all over the globe.

    Speaking of the globe, our world was taken by surprise this past week. For a variety of reasons—largely due to the decreasing use of landline telephones for pollsters—most, if not all, of us woke up to surprising news on Wednesday morning. Some of you were concerned or even scared at the election results. Others were relieved or even celebrating.

    “For some people the savior has come, for others the sky is falling, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle.” So said someone after election day…in 2008.

    Regardless of your political persuasion, I have some encouraging news for you. No more campaign ads for four years! Actually, there is reason for great hope…and it has nothing to do with Washington or Columbus. God is on the move!

    Jesus Is LORD

    In Jesus’ day, religion was extremely popular. The Jews practiced their faith amongst the polytheistic Roman and Greek gods. Temples to these gods were common. Governmental leaders were even thrown in the mix, some treated as deity and others demanding such attention. It may sound odd to our ears, but a popular declaration was “Caesar is Lord.” To refuse to honor these gods was akin to sabotage. Some early Christians were blamed for famine, plagues, and earthquakes because they refused to worship the various gods.

    At age eighty-six, Polycarp, the second-century bishop of Smyrna and disciple of the apostle John, was brought to the Roman authorities and ordered to confess that Caesar is lord. By refusing, he was murdered, inspiring others to remain faithful.

    Just as “King of the Jews” was viewed by some as threatening to the establishment, so also “Jesus is Lord” was considered by many to be a revolutionary declaration. In fact, “Jesus is Lord” is the shortest credal affirmation found in the New Testament, a statement of faith for those regarding Jesus as fully God and fully man. Today it is the motto of the World Council of Churches.

    How did you feel on Wednesday morning when you heard the election results?

    If you felt anxiety or fear, King Jesus is Lord.
    If you felt joy and relief, King Jesus is Lord.

    The role of church and state has been debated for centuries. How are followers of Jesus supposed to relate to human leaders? Written in the midst of the Roman Empire, the book of Romans says…

    Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 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. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)

    Let’s take a moment and unpack this.

    Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

    Twice in one verse it says God has established governing authorities. He has established rule and order. He established positions of power such as kings, presidents, and judges. It was never His plan for humans to narcissistically run around and pursue their own agendas in anarchy. Everything God does is carefully designed. He is the Author of systems, whether it is the solar system or your digestive system. Even the most outspoken atheists admit the universe has an order to it, making life on this planet incredibly unique.

    Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. (Romans 13:2-3)

    Obey the law. Although there are exceptions—especially among our African-American brothers and sisters, tragically—you usually only need to fear authority if you do what is wrong. If you’re going the speed limit on I-75, you need not slam on the brakes if you see a police car hidden behind a bridge.

    By the way, if you routinely speed, you might want to take the fish off of your rear bumper! Christians are supposed to obey the law. Is speeding a sin? Yes. Is cheating on your taxes a sin? Yes. Obey the law and you won’t find yourself in jail.

    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. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:4-5)

    There’s a lot in these two verses. First, the authorities are God’s servants—for our good. I know, I don’t like to drive under 70 on the expressway, either, but our authority thinks it’s for our good! And have you ever thought about our mayor, governor, or president as being God’s servants? That’s what it says!

    Throughout the Bible, leaders are responsible for their followers. This is true in the home, in the church, and in society. We all will stand before God someday and give an account of how we lived our lives, but leaders must also answer for the way they influenced others. So when you believe an authority figure is misguided, remember they will be judged for their behavior.

    This is not, of course, to say we should never break the law when doing so breaks God’s law. No single sermon could adequately address the nuances of such a response. Clearly Daniel was honored for praying to God against the decree of King Darius. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the image of gold established by King Nebuchadnezzar and are commended.

    Personally, I’ve been deeply impacted by movies such as
    Selma and The Butler which depict the non-violent civil disobedience of African Americans in their quest for equality and civil rights. It sickens me that such oppressive laws—to say nothing of slavery itself and our violence against Native Americans—ever existed in this land.

    Yet today it’s against the law to talk about Jesus in the streets—and even homes—of Russia. You can be arrested for possessing a Bible in North Korea. You can go to jail in many countries for praying in the name of Jesus. And while persecution of Christians may be on the rise in the west, very few of the 70 million plus martyrs have been in the United States.

    We must pray for our brothers and sisters in other nations.
    We must pray for our brothers and sisters in this nation, too.

    This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:6-7)

    I admit, that first sentence is difficult for me to swallow! We pay taxes because God’s servants give their full time to campaigning—I mean, governing! For all of the complaining we can do—and I do!—I’m grateful for men and women who protect us (police and firefighters, stand up). I appreciate our mayor and city council who must balance the budget and make policies to guard against hunger and violence. I’m glad roads are paved, our food and water are safe, and we have freedoms of speech and religion, among other things.

    When asked about paying the imperial tax to Caesar, Jesus said

    “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21b)

    Despite threats to move to Canada every four years, this is still a great place to live. Would anyone like to move to Iraq or Sudan?

    The Kingdom of God

    While the scriptures tell us to pay taxes and submit to authorities, our ultimate allegiance is not to a nation or to a flag, but to a King.

    In Greg
    Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation, Boyd contrasts Caesar's kingdom with Jesus' Kingdom, the Kingdom of God/heaven. Caesar's kingdom is based on the 'power over' model, which uses force, coercion, and social pressure to ensure conformity. Jesus' Kingdom by contrast uses 'power under', which is based on the example of love and sacrifice.

    Jesus says "
    Whosoever will, let them come..." He does not demand, overpower, threaten, coerce, or manipulate. He doesn’t use guilt or shame. He doesn’t hate, scream, or disrespect. He simply displays and invites us to follow him.

    It’s important to realize, too, the Kingdom of God is not about individuals. It’s about community. We are a family. Peter said,

    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

    He continues

    Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

    Our lives are to glorify God.

    Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

    Respect everyone.
    Love one another.
    Fear and reverence God.
    Honor the emperor. The mayor. The governor. Yes, the president.

    Good News

    Brothers and sisters, when George Washington became our first president, King Jesus was Lord.

    When Abraham Lincoln led our nation, King Jesus was Lord.

    When JFK was elected, King Jesus was Lord.

    When Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were inaugurated, King Jesus was Lord.

    And when Donald Trump becomes president next year, King Jesus will still be Lord.

    Hope in Jesus

    The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From his throne he observes all who live on the earth. He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do. The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory— for all its strength, it cannot save you. But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone. (Psalms 33:13-22, NLT)

    I’m glad I have a USA passport,

    But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

    Paul wrote 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)

    Prayer for city, state, and nation.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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