Saturday, November 26, 2016

Let's Value the Team…and Our Opponent

Today is Saturday, but not just any Saturday in November.  Today is “Game Day” in one of America’s greatest football rivalries.  To the Michigan Woverines and Ohio State Buckeyes, and their fans across the nation and world, this is “the Game.”  The Michigan-OSU rivalry is immense not only because of the yearly anticipation but because of the long history that includes great coaching on both sides of the Michigan-Ohio border.  Who can forget the days of Woody Hayes (OSU, 1951-1978) and his former assistant coach, Bo Schembechler (U of M, 1969-1989), who became archrival head coaches when Bo crossed the line into Michigan to coach the Wolverines, in 1969?

Bo Schembechler, Michigan Head Coach,  1969-1989
On this Game Day, 2016, less than an hour to kickoff, Buckeye Head Coach Urban Meyer, and Wolverine Head Coach Jim Harbaugh are each probably giving their last minute challenges to their respective teams.   This morning, our son, Brad reminded me of another great motivational speech, now called “The Team Speech” given by Coach Schembechler to his Michigan Wolverines during the 1983 football season.  Here is an excerpt:

No man is more important than The Team. No coach is more important than The Team. The Team, The Team, The Team, and if we think that way, all of us, everything that you do, you take into consideration what effect does it have on my Team? Because you can go into professional football, you can go anywhere you want to play after you leave here. You will never play for a Team again. You’ll play for a contract. You’ll play for this. You’ll play for that. You’ll play for everything except the team, and think what a great thing it is to be a part of something that is, The Team.

As Brad noted, Schembechler’s words still ring true and valuable to us not only for sports teams, but for success in every human endeavor including marriage, family, the corporate world, government, and the military.  One of the great values of competitive sports is that it prepares men and women to be “team players” for life.

But there is a second great value from rivalries such as the Michigan-OSU rivalry.  There can be no rivalry without a team—and its rival opponent.   It’s “the Team, the Team, the Team,” for team success; but, each team and its fans must also respect the rival team and its fans.  Just as each individual player on a successful team must surrender his or her individual rights to the good of the team as a whole, so each of the rival teams and fans must recognize and defer to the hopes and dreams of the rival players and fans.

With son, Brad, and gandson, Caleb, 2009
One of the great memories I have shared with Brad was when we walked to the Big House, in Ann Arbor, to watch the Michigan-OSU game, in 2009.  We were accompanied by my grandson and Brad’s nephew, Caleb Salyers; and, by our mutual friend, Brian Flora.  What made it so special was not who won (OSU was the victor), but the fact that we as Wolverine fans could stand (Who could sit down?) next to Buckeye fans and treat one another with respect and have enjoyable conversation during an exciting game.

There is a lesson we can learn from respectful engagement between strong rivals in sports.  Just as healthy rivalries make better teams and better individuals, so respectful disagreements can strengthen marriages, family, the academic world, the corporate world, and the realm of politics.  Those who disagree with us are to be valued, not silenced, rejected, or destroyed.  We need to learn from the sports world how to have respectful disagreement in our homes, at work, at school, and in politics.  Those who respectfully disagree in a democratic society make is better citizens.

When we forget the importance of civility in political discourse.

University administrators who are providing “safe zones” for their students to protect them from “hate speech” may need to revisit the mission statement of their institution.  Of course "hate speech" ought to be addressed, but unfortunately many administrators seem   to be ignorant of even basic biblical principles like "love thy neighbor." Most mission statements will include words like community, commitment, exploration, ideas, critical thinking, academic, and freedom.  However, it seems that political correctness has overtaken polite consideration of differing opinions and ideas raised in a spirit of civility.   The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5: 15,

See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.

In conclusion, I thank Brad for “tossing me the morsel” about the importance of “the Team concept” in sports, but also in our respective marriages and in other areas of life. Thanks, Brad, and with that I will conclude lest I follow my tendency to write a too-long blog. 

It’s time for kick-off!   Go BLUE!  And to my Buckeye friends, I hope you enjoy the game.

Related Article:   Sports without Spirit

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Transformation of Trump…and All of Us

Thank you very much, everybody.
Sorry to keep you waiting.
Complicated business.
.              – President-Elect Donald Trump

With those words, the man who will likely become the 45th president of the United States publically greeted his staff and supporters in the early morning hours following Election Day, 2016.  Donald Trump’s acceptance speech signaled the end of one phase of his “complicated business” of leading what he calls a “great movement” to “Make America Great Again.”  Meanwhile, his opponent, Sec. Hillary Clinton, her many supporters and many others across the nation were in stunned amazement at the reports of what Trump had just accomplished with no prior experience in public office.

President-Elect Donald J. Trump and VP-Elect, Mike Pence
A very cheery Donald Trump addressed positive words of assurance to our wounded and divided nation following the bitter campaign.  As if he was speaking into the heart of every American, he promised to serve well as their president, saying,

I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.

With a much smaller budget for his campaign and with a much less elaborate “ground game,” Donald Trump accomplished what few believed he could do.  Trump’s key to success was that he understood the outcry of many Americans who want less government and a humble, servant spirit from those in Washington.  Trump addressed this fact with the following words:

As I've said from the beginning, ours was not a campaign but rather an incredible and great movement, made up of millions of hard-working men and women who love their country and want a better, brighter future for themselves and for their family.

Having witnessed the lack of hope and the frustration on so many faces of Americans across the country, and now this night suddenly realizing that his shoulders will soon bear the weight of presidential responsibilities, Trump renewed his commitment to the American people (emphasis mine),

It is a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds, and beliefs, who want and expect our government to serve the people -- and serve the people it will. … I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me.

This afternoon when I heard these recorded words from President-Elect Trump, I was much encouraged by his vision for the federal government—“a government to serve the people.”  My immediate response was to ask myself whether this often brash, unpredictable man can be a “servant leader” or “steward-leader”—one who can exercise stewardship of the power and privilege entrusted to him by the citizens he serves, and ultimately entrusted by God to Whom all power belongs.  Only time will tell.  But for now, we should thank God for allowing the uncontested selection of our next president, and for allowing the respectful acknowledgement of Trump’s victory by his opponent.  Both of these processes will aid in the reuniting of our country.

If Donald Trump is to be an effective steward leader he will need the prayers of Christ-followers across our land and the world who acknowledge that all power comes from God.  Christians should remember that true steward leadership grows from humility.  A humble leader serves the people well and does not abuse his power.  He or she remembers his own puniness and depravity in the presence of Almighty God.  Or in the words of Vice President-Elect Mike Pence whom I respect as a proven servant leader we must regularly “bend the knee and bow the head” in prayer to God.  We can continue pray that God will spiritually transform Donald Trump through his association with godly men of proven character like Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, and Ben Carson.

In a 2012 article, Character Qualities of a Steward-Leader, I referred to President Ronald Reagan as an example of one whose leadership was successful because he acknowledged the sovereignty of God in the affairs of nations.  Reagan also demonstrated godly character in his dealings with others and through his respect for the spiritual heritage of America.  Speaking at a prayer breakfast shortly after his election as governor of California, in 1967, Reagan said,

Faith in God is absolutely essential if a person is to do his best.  Sometimes we’re afraid to let people know that we rely on God.  Belief in the dependence on God is essential to our state and nation.  This will be an integral part of our state as long as I have anything to do with it.

King Solomon also recognized the supreme authority of God over his rule and acknowledged his desperate need of God’s wisdom and strength.  At the beginning of his administration, Solomon prayed,

Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in…So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?  It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord. – King Solomon (1 Kings 3: 7, 9, 10)

Could it be that God has bestowed the Presidency of the United States upon Donald Trump so that, in the words of pagan King Nebuchadnezzar,

…the living may know
that the Most High [God] is Ruler
over the realm of mankind,
and bestows it on whom He wishes,
and sets over it the lowliest of men
. – Daniel 4: 17

Neither Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, or King Solomon were born with exemplary moral character.  However, throughout history God has graciously worked in the lives of men and women to prepare them to be godly leaders.  The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2: 10 writes,  We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

If you are a Christ-follower, please pray that God will transform the life of Donald Trump as he senses the full weight of responsibility that is about to be on his shoulders.  Pray that Trump will humbly respond to God’s call in his life through circumstances, through godly mentors, and through the prayers and encouragement of God’s people that we will recognize and exercise our responsibility to pray for our next president, his family, and those he will choose to serve with him.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Help and Hope for Weary Voters

Election 2016 is tomorrow, and the presidential race is neck-and-neck.  Polling suggests that Americans are divided in their choice of whether to support Clinton-Kaine or Trump-Pence.  This division in voter choice mirrors the ongoing division that exists in America regarding a host of moral and socio-economic issues.  But most Americans on both sides of this divide agree that the choice is between two of the most undeserving, unqualified people that have ever run for the presidency of the United States.  How then should Christ-followers1 exercise their freedom and responsibility to vote in this presidential election?

In recent weeks, I have been blogging about the presidential election in Oikonomia (See links below).  Here are my final pre-election points to consider before voting. I am writing this within 48 hours of the time when my wife and I plan to cast our votes.  I hope and pray that you will interpret my words as coming from a spirit of humility, respect, and careful thought, soaked in prayer over the past few months—prayers for the candidates and for our country at this crucial time.  At the risk of being too simplistic or confusing, I will be brief and invite comments in reply if you wish to question or add your thoughts.

1.   Pray – Spirit-led, Scripture fed prayer2 is the most essential lifeline for the voting follower of Christ.  By prayer, we offer to our Father in Heaven our adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (A-C-T-S).  In return, God assures the Christ-follower that He (God) is the Ruler of the Universe Who is in sovereign control, and that we can trust Him for wisdom and guidance.  Our most fervent prayer and study of Scripture will not reveal all that God knows about the election and all the candidates. But as we pray in the spirit of “The Lord’s Prayer,” Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, we are supplicating God to align our thoughts and decisions in such a way that they reflect the principles of His emerging kingdom on Earth.  More basically, if God’s kingdom is to be evident on Earth, we as Christ followers must heed the Apostle Paul’s command to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love…(Ephesians 4: 1-2).  Above all, as Christ-followers we must exercise humility and respect for brothers and sisters in Christ and toward those who do not yet walk in newness of Life daily with Christ, regardless of whether or not we agree on how to vote or even whether to vote.

2.   Participate in the democratic process of the election.  There are multiple reasons for the Christ-follower to vote.  First, voting is a privilege of very few nations on Earth.  Our privilege has been earned and protected at the cost of the lives of many Americans and the friends of America.  Second, many wise evangelical pastors and leaders have been urging eligible Americans to vote.  However, other evangelical leaders such as Albert Mohler have refused to vote for either major presidential candidate for the sake of conscience. In the blog, Bereans @ The Gate, my colleague, Dr. Tom Mach, Professor of History at Cedarville University, addresses the matter of “conscience voting” in light of the moral failings of both candidates:

I appreciate the talk I hear from Evangelicals about the problem of conscience.  I get that and would not want to squelch it.  I would provide a few cautions, however.   First, we should not fall into the cultural practice of ranking sins.  Sin is sin, and frankly I do not see how anyone can argue that one candidate in this election is more pristine than the other.  Second, we do not have the luxury of standing aloof, washing our hands of this mess, or saying, “well, at least I kept my conscience clear.”  I would like to be able to do so, but we cannot for the reason… [that]… Evangelicals not voting or voting for a third party candidate are, in effect, providing benefit to Sec. Clinton’s bid.

Dr. Mach is saying that we ARE, in effect, “voting” whether or not we cast our vote.  Not all readers will agree, but there is evidence that the low participation of Christian voters in the past has had a large negative impact.  
Senator Ted Cruz has claimed that as many as 50% of born again Christians did not vote in the 2012 presidential election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  If this is true, over 29 million votes were not cast, in 2012!  Based on the known distribution of the Christian vote between the Republican and Democrat candidates in recent presidential elections, approximately 75% of these, or at least 21 million would have gone to Mitt Romney, in 2012--enough to have allowed him to easily defeat President Obama.  We can further speculate that, like it or not, the resultant level of discontent with President Obama’s leadership since 2012 is at least partly responsible for the emergence of the “Trump Train.”  I will address another reason for voting in my third point.

Beyonce and Jay Z--Voices for "Black Lives Matter"
3.  Promises of candidates Trump and Clinton should weigh heavily into how a Christ-follower votes.  Specifically, their campaign promises suggest that they have very different visions of the role of the Supreme Court.  Trump promises to appoint justices who strictly interpret the U.S. Constitution, while Clinton envisions a Supreme Court that will more closely represent (legislate?) the will of the people.  Therefore, we must consider which vision for the Supreme Court we wish to be in place when it rules on moral issues like the sanctity of human life, sanctity of marriage, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, immigration and border control, health care and end of life rulings, and the future of our free market economy.  It seems clear to me that a Christ-following voter has no choice but to vote in favor of human life, sanctity of marriage as defined in Scripture, and the fundamental freedom of speech and religion.  I have personally decided that I want no part in the “promise” of further moral decline in America.  I acknowledge that some refuse to vote because of the untrustworthiness or unpreparedness of either candidate to lead as president.

4.  Prideful and Power-Hungry describe the two choices for president in Election 2016.  I respect those who refuse to vote for either candidate because of their character flaws even thought Clinton and Trump promise very different visions for America. Given their flawed character, how can we trust either one to keep their promises?   I have decided to vote for the Trump-Pence ticket with two considerations that add much comfort in spite of Trump’s flaws.  First, as I have previously written in several articles (links below) including ”Pondering and Praying, then Picking a President,” I believe Christ-followers should pray, then participate, and then trust not in the “promises” of a candidate, but in the Promises of God that He is at work in the affairs of nations and in the hearts of rulers.  God can transform the heart of either candidate, and with my vote for Trump, I’m banking that Mr. Trump’s heart is already responding to the sovereign call of God at work through the godly men in his inner circle—e.g. Mike Pence and Ben Carson.

 God is already speaking to their hearts.

Second, even if the life of a “President Trump” is not transformed by God’s Spirit, I can trust that God will still work through Trump’s vision for America as he is held accountable by the checks and balances of the legislative branch and the Supreme Court.  Those who don’t trust Donald Trump to make good on his promises, including those noted above, may be right in the end.  And they’d be in good company because our Founding Fathers, under the influence of a biblical view of the depravity of mankind, also placed little trust in elected officials.  Marvin Olasky paraphrased the words of James Madison who studied at Princeton under Presbyterian minister and signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon:

Since men aren’t angels, we need government. Since governors aren’t angels, we need tight controls over government. We are, in two words, intrinsically disordered.

Donald Trump is no angel, and who among us really knows what he would do as president?  But the same has been true of any past president or elected official.  Yet, in the past several decades, well meaning Christ-followers have sought to assume control of a whole political party, the Republican Party, and have tried to offer “Christian candidates” and a “Christian platform” as if a political party, not the Church, is God’s ultimate plan for the redemption of society and the world.   Dr. Bert Wheeler, Professor of Economics at Cedarville University, writes in “Donald Trump--Poster Child”  that Christians have been mistaken in assuming that our nation is like a local church.  Instead of realizing that everyone in the United States is a person created in the image of God to be treated with respect and dignity; people on the religious right acted as though everyone...was also a Christ-follower.  Wheeler outlines a correct model for participation of Christ-followers in government:

Rather than relating to the political arena as a being populated by people created in the image of God…to be treated with respect and dignity…the Religious Right treated the political arena like it was a local church.  We attempted to use political means to create behaviors that ideally come from believers being conformed to the image of Christ.  The nation is not our church.  Human behavior is influenced by laws and regulations created by government…[whereas] …Christian behavioral change happens when transformation leads to the fruit of the Spirit…. [Christ-followers] …should be salt and light, but should not expect non-Christians in the United States in general to believe or behave exactly the way we would expect fellow Christians to believe an behave.

I must remember that I am not electing angels or pastor-shepherds, but sinners like myself to serve in a government that is “intrinsically disordered” and needs “tight controls.”  Therefore, it is my duty to vote—not only at the presidential level but just as importantly, for candidates down the ticket who will hopefully provide accountability to the president and to one another.

5.  Prayer and Providence will triumph regardless of the outcome of Election 2016.  If you haven’t already done so, plan to vote on Election Day.  If you are a Christ-follower, give attention to your daily walk with Christ so that you are ready to be good salt and light toward your neighbor (Matthew 5: 13).  Stay informed even after Election Day and do your part to participate in government, holding elected officials morally and fiscally accountable at every level.  In the words of pollster Scott Rasmussen (emphasis added), …it’s that self-governing step of recognizing that the actions you take as an individual, the actions you take in contributing to your community, are more important in terms of where our society is going than any of the things we do in the political sphere.3

In summary, please pray, participate wisely as a voter, and then trust in God’s providence to revive and unite America again as one nation under God where Christ-followers can be salt and light who sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, being always ready to give an answer to those who ask for a reason for the hope that is within us, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3: 16).

1  Definition of a Christ-follower (Christian):  A person who responds to the “call” of God’s Spirit through God’s Word (Romans 10: 17), and who is convicted of his or her spiritual poverty in light of God’s holiness (Matthew 5: 3), and who dies to his or her own works (efforts to meet God’s standards), and is “born again” in Christ (Romans 6; Ephesians 2: 8-9), and who now “dies daily” (1 Corinthians 15: 31) by allowing their own wills to be conformed to God’s will, and their minds to be renewed by God’s Spirit and His Word (Romans 12: 1-2).

2 Definition of Scripture-fed, Spirit-led prayer:  Prayer that occurs when a Christ-follower (“child of God,” John 1: 12-13) seeks quiet communion and conversation with his or her Heavenly Father, aided by the reading of and meditation on Scripture that allows God’s Spirit and His Word to speak to his or her mind and will, resulting in worship and thanksgiving as well as reproof, correction, and training in righteousness; so that the… [Christ-follower]…may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 2: 15).

3 From video, “A City on a Hill,” by Gingrich Productions, 2011