President Obama started his first official visit to Israel today. Immediately after landing he went to meet with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As is well-known, President Obama has had a tense relationship with the leadership of the Jewish State. During the President’s first term he chose to go to Egypt to deliver a message to the Muslim world, snubbing Israel, a long-time partner and ally to the United States. An argument was made at the time that the President’s objective was to reduce tensions with the Islamic world given that the US was at war with Iraq and Afghanistan at the time. However, many Americans interpreted it as a tectonic shift in policy away from Israel and toward Arab nations.
On this trip the President will visit the Palestinian region, although it will be to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. (A smart move that will take the some of the edge off.) He will also go to Jordan, an Arab country, but one that is not belligerent toward Israel. (View the President’s official itinerary here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/middle-east-trip-2013)
Faith and Action has invited Facebook friends to post their comments about the President’s Mideast trip at our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Faith-Action/64587653749) and deliver those comments to the White House for transmission to the President in Israel while he’s still there. The cut-off for these posts is midnight tonight, March 20. My staff will then assemble the posts and hand-deliver them to the White House tomorrow. Of course, the White House is in constant communication with the President whenever he is abroad. A virtual mobile command center with continuous open channels of every kind of communication is maintained throughout a presidential visit. Hundreds of personnel (civilian and military) are deployed to accompany and support a presidential visit. Scores of vehicles, aircraft, security and communications apparatus are moved into position and specialized technologies are powered up. If the White House wants to get material to the President it can at any time–no matter how far away he may be. We will urge presidential staff here in Washington to see that he gets the Facebook messages before he leaves the region.
Of course, most of the information flow we will get here will be carefully filtered by the Administration. Photo ops are precisely staged, every word the President speaks has long-been deliberately crafted, vetted, and tested. Every stop on his itinerary has been selected to achieve a specific political objective. (BTW: Before you are too critical of President Obama in this regard, keep in mind this is true of every presidential trip, no matter who is in office.) With this as a frame of reference, carefully study the President’s movements, speeches, and seemingly “off-the-cuff” remarks while he is in country. You may want to check out the Briefing Room tab on the White House website (www.whitehouse.gov) for official Administration news feeds. This will allow you to follow the “propaganda” line (I use the term respectfully, as propaganda is a tool every administration uses) on the President’s official visit.
I’ll be back here sometime during the President’s historic journey to add my two-cents to the cloud of commentary on it. In the mean time let’s all pray that the right things happen to preserve our country’s relationship to this critical nation and ally. No matter what one’s opinion on US-Israeli politics, you have to admit there’s no place like Israel on the globe. There is certainly no city like Jerusalem, where Abraham offered up Isaac, where David built his citadel, where the Temple still stands, and where Jesus walked, preached, worked miracles, inaugurated the New Covenant, and where He took his last journey before surrendering to the Cross. Since then, it has been the epicenter of religious life, cooperation, and conflict.
IMPORTANT: You’ll see and hear the political and media lines of Israel during the President’s journey–but you have an opportunity to see and learn everything for yourself by joining my wife, Cheryl, and me on our special Christian Delegation to Israel in November. Find out how you can be with us for this unique fact-finding mission by visiting http://rs.heritagestudyprograms.com/ .
Back later for more on Obama in Israel . . .
Jay Sekulow has been a close friend for many years. There’s nothing I treasure more on earth than my family and my friends, and Jay has always seemed a little of both. We have lots in common: Each of us are of Ashkenazi Jewish extraction (Northern European and Slavic); Our paternal lines both came through Ellis Island from Russia in the early 19th century, settling in New York; Both families established themselves as retail merchants; Age-wise, Jay and I are within four years of each other; And, of course, we’re both believers in Jesus as Messiah.
While Jay and I see each other often and communicate regularly through phone, text, and e-mail, I had a rare experience with him this past week. I accompanied him to an urgent Capitol Hill hearing held by the Lantos Commission on Human Rights. The issue at hand was the deteriorating situation with Christians in Iran, particularly the jailing of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born convert from Islam, now a US citizen, and a husband and father to two small children. Jay and his son, Jordan (also an attorney and now director of the American Center for Law and Justice where Jay remains Chief Counsel), legally represent Pastor Abdedini’s wife, Nagmeh. She is a delightful person who loves the Lord and her husband and children more than anything. Along with Jay and Jordan, Nagmeh testified before the congressional commission on Friday.
(Also part of this weeks’ historic and unprecedented events was mutual friend to Jay and me, Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition. Pat held a prayer service outside the US House Rayburn building, the site of the hearing. Nagmeh is a devoted woman of prayer and asked to go to the service before entering the building. It was a powerful time of intercession for her, for her husband and family, and for the legal team.)
Here’s where I get to the heart of why I’m writing: This week, for only the second time since I’ve known Jay, I got to see him at his very best–and that’s saying a lot because he’s one of the best legal advocates–well, at the risk of sounding grandiose and over-complimentary–of all time. I know Jay would chastise me for writing like this, but he also knows I’m not given to flattery. Jay’s simply one of the best, period. The professionals have recognized him as such, and those of us who have had the rare opportunity of watching him at work behind the scenes, know why they’ve done so. Observing Jay and his team this week took me back seventeen years ago, to when he was the lead counsel for my brother and me in our case before the US Supreme Court, Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network, which challenged federal court orders limiting our right to distribute Bibles, tracts, and pro-life literature outside abortion businesses. Jay argued our case masterfully and the Court struck down those unconstitutional restrictions in a nearly unanimous opinion!
This past week I remained mostly a silent observer, except in negotiating a critically important meeting between Jay, Jordan, Nagmeh and US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook, along with other officials at the State Department. Even though the Ambassador is a good friend to Jay and me, and she cares deeply about Pastor Abedini and his family, the arcane and byzantine politics of the State Department were frustrating her and others’ advocacy on behalf of the Abedinis. This meeting was critically needed and proved potentially very fruitful. Once again, I saw Jay’s brilliance as he urged a sometimes obtuse bureaucracy to work with the Ambassador and to empower her to do what needs to be done in the Abedini case. My small contribution, but also my great honor, was to suggest to the group that the meeting be closed with a prayer for the Pastor, his family, and for all those involved in the process. Jay later called it a “gutsy” move, and I guess it was. Of course I knew the Ambassador would be with me in it–and she was–but I wasn’t sure how the other officials would react. After we prayed, though, nearly every one thanked me profusely. It’s a hopeful sign to me when a meeting at that level of our federal government ends with a prayer acknowledging God as our only and ultimate source of help and closes apologetically, “In Jesus’ name.”
All this to say last week was a memorable one in my life and ministry on Capitol Hill. I saw one of God’s best at work–a man I know very, very well. I met Nagmeh, one of the most courageous Christians in this country, who is devoted to her even more courageous husband, Saeed, a rare servant of Christ who has risked his life for the sake of the Gospel. And I saw how God has placed His people in strategic positions for times such as this: from Jay and Jordan Sekulow at the counsel’s desk in a congressional hearing room, to the chairman of the commission, outspoken Christian and leading human rights advocate Frank Wolf, congressman from Virginia, and U.S. Ambassador and principal adviser to the President on religious freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook. These are all God’s people and they are faithfully serving Him in this difficult and challenging time. Please pray for each one as they pursue freedom for our brother and fellow servant, Saeed Abedini. Our hope in Christ and our prayer before His throne of grace is that this loving husband and father will soon be reunited to his family and freed to continue his extraordinary ministry!
This year I turn 55 and enter my 19th year on Capitol Hill. Now, that does not make me “old” and 19 years doesn’t seem as long as it used to for me. Having said that, there is now a member of Congress younger than my kids and I’m older than the President of the United States! All that to say, I’m thinking and praying about the sometimes haunting question, “What comes next?” Not that I’m about to make any change. God called me here as a missionary to Washington, DC, and I sense no shift in His will for my life. I’ve never felt better about my call or more comfortable in where I am and what I’m doing. As far as I’m concerned, God could be keep me here until He’s ready to call me home to heaven, and I’d be a very happy man. I’m keenly aware, though, that I am responsible for the stewardship of this calling beyond the present.
Taking my cues from Moses, whom God required to prepare a successor in Joshua, and the resurrected Jesus Himself, who tapped Peter by saying, “Take care of my sheep,” I’ve been humbly looking at my own legacy. God willing, I’m probably good for another 20 to 30 years at this post as missionary to Capitol Hill, but what comes after that? And, how many years will it take to groom someone–or better yet–a team of somebodies–to assume this important work? These are the questions I’m prayerfully asking God, myself, and some strategic advisers. There’s “safety in the multitude of counselors,” says Proverbs. I’m taking that literally and asking as many counselors as possible for their insights.
The start of this process is our budding internship program. We just completed a week of work with two full-time interns in our office and a couple of group meetings with a whole contingent of university students. It was a wonderful and enjoyable time of personal ministry to them and their feedback was invaluable to us. We’ve had interns in the past, for as long as a whole summer, but each year the experience improves for the interns and for Faith and Action. As the years go on, though, this component of what we do has moved from optional to critical. It has taken me almost twenty years to really learn the ropes here in Washington. This is a complicated town that is impossible to get a handle on in short order. While I remain a supporter of term limits–and mostly self-term-limiting–by politicians, I understand why many argue for long-term service. It takes decades just to learn how to navigate the seemingly infinite complexities of official Washington, DC.
Of course, I don’t expect interns to spend twenty years learning the craft of ministry on Capitol Hill. I hope and pray my pioneering experience will be to their benefit and will shorten their learning curves considerably. Still, anyone who wants to respond to the call of God to a place like this needs to start early and be in it for the long-haul. Just finding the rare young person that wants to take on Gospel outreach to as peculiar a target audience as top elected and appointed officials will take considerable time. Even after young pople know this is God’s will for their lives, they need to finish their formal education, shadow one of us for a few years, learn the ropes, then gain the trust of those they minister to, a stage that can take five or ten years by itself. So, no matter how you slice it, even if we found our candidates right now, we’re probably ten to twelve years from their assuming a confident and fruitful place of ministry here in Washington.
So, you can see why this is a top priority for me right now. It will take us three to five years to build an effective, permanent internship program, get all the funding for that in place, settle the academic aspects to it, which involves multiple educational institutions, choose the candidates, maintain relationships with them throughout their schooling, bring them back as novices in training, then release them to accrue real-life, in-post experience. Only then will they be ready to assume leadership. Meanwhile, I will have accumulated a few more years–and will be approaching 70!
All this to say, please pray with me now about launching our formal Faith and Action Internship Program on Capitol Hill. We will need your partnership in this–in prayer, in benefiting from your wisdom, and through your generous financial support. We’re all in this together. You are a vital member of our extended missionary team, and we need you at the table in planning and executing this critical next phase of our ministry operation!
May God bless and use our now and future interns for His glory and for the advance of the Gospel among our top elected and appointed officials, and for the sake of the soul of our American civilization!
Shortly after I first arrived in Washington, DC, to begin ministry here almost twenty years ago, I was asked, “What makes you tick?” It’s a profound question. With digital clocks quickly crowding out their mechanical predecessors, this idiom is likely to become one of those inscrutable anachronisms that leave people wondering how we ever got that phrase and what it really means.
“Ticking,” of course, refers to the sound that mechanical clocks make. We’re not so “chronologically” far from the wind-up clock or watch (pun intended) that too much explaining needs to be done: What makes a wind-up clock tick is, well . . . its clockwork. This is a complex series of gears driven by an internal power source, usually a coil spring, but sometimes a pulley system. The gears include pinions, wheels, oscillators and . . . well . . . maybe that’s already too much information. (Unless you’re a time piece collector.) My point is that what makes a clock tick is quite complicated, so what makes you tick must be infinitely more complex. I would argue it is–literally.
So, with all that as intro, I’ll try to at least skim the surface of what makes me tick. I’m doing this as a sort of personal, healing exercise, because, to be blunt, I took a blow to my self-esteem this week when a major magazine in Washington dismissed my early work here planting what has become a leading church in the capital city. Of course, I’ve learned not to expect anything different from the “secular” media, but it was when someone I know–a Christian brother and colleague–reinforced that swipe that I felt . . . well . . . hurt. Not to whine, though. I’ve long known you need very thick skin to survive in Washington, DC, but I am human and occasionally I’m reminded of that.
Still, the subtle insult forced me to do a sort of self-inventory of what does drive me in my service to God and to His people–what led me here to Washington, DC, and what keeps me here–what literally keeps me going. With your permission, I’d like to share some of the results with you . . .
The first thing that has always driven me in my ministry is the sense that I am not my own. I don’t belong to myself. I don’t–and can’t–do everything I want to do. The times that I do get to do what I want, I often don’t get to do it exactly as I would want to do it. In other words, though I sometimes get to reach for an end that appeals to me, the means to getting there is not always what I prefer. To cut to the chase, I find I must often consciously submit my will to a much more powerful one. Or should I put it as a much more Powerful One. St. Paul, speaking in the context of moral versus immoral behavior, says, “For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6:20 AKJV) To extrapolate, that transaction means we’re no longer our own, to do what we please, but we belong to God and must do what He pleases, inwardly and outwardly. This is what it means to acknowledge Jesus as “Lord.” “Lord” is just an Old English word for “boss.” It’s the equivalent of “master.” You do what the master says, what the master wills. Period. This is the essence of discipleship–disciplining ourselves after–even mimicking–the master. Since my conversion almost 40 years ago, and the subsequent tutelage of a great man of God, my high school Latin teacher–a superb Scripture scholar, Baptist preacher, and sometimes missionary among underground churches–I’ve been driven by this idea that it’s not I want that matters, but only what God wants. Sometimes I get what He wants right, and sometimes I get it wrong, but it’s always an overriding principle. It’s one of the things that makes me tick.
Another thing that makes me tick is the idea that Christianity as a whole, and our individual commitments to Christ, are not always about comfort, or pleasure, or good times. Jesus suffered for doing God’s will, and Paul told the early Christians under his charge, “For to you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” (Philippians 1:29) Doing God’s will isn’t always comfortable, pleasant, enjoyable, or popular. Christians throughout time and around the world suffer in many ways for their testimony of Christ: They are ostracized, marginalized, dis-enfranchised, menaced, harassed, beaten, imprisoned, even tortured and murdered for the sake of Christ. We in the West should be grateful that our sufferings don’t even begin to approach the suffering of those in places like Iran, Sudan, China, or Cuba. When we’re mildly insulted, mocked, discounted as “stupid” or “superstitious,” “narrow-minded,” “bigoted,” or “homophobic,” we should take it as simply a reminder to pray for our brothers and sisters who suffer so much more than we do. This idea, too, has long been what makes me tick.
I do believe God wants to bless His people with well-being. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” (John 16:33) The earliest manuscripts have the word “peace” in Greek as eirēnēn. But Jesus would have been speaking in either Aramaic or Hebrew, in which case He would have used the term, shlamah or shalom, respectively, which interprets as a “total well-being.” So, it’s not all suffering or all prosperity; it’s a balance of each. Now, Jesus went on to say, “In the world you will have tribulation.” So, He has prepared us for the inevitable hard times. It’s not like we may or may not have them; He said we will have them, period. “But take heart,” He added. “I have overcome the world.” Even though we will face daunting challenges, difficult times, hard things, we can take confidence that they do not have the last word with us; God does. He superintends, transcends, and reigns victoriously over all those things that would seemingly defeat us and our faith. This, too, is my deep conviction–call it a “knowing”–that makes me tick.
It’s hard to wrap this up because there’s infinitely more I could say, but you’ve been so patient reading up to this point, I won’t push it much further. I’ll simply say that I believe–very strongly and very deeply–that there are, in fact, hard things that Jesus said, that Jesus did, and that are required of us. Jesus spoke of it when He told the crowds, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) Of what else could our Lord have been referring to except the cruel ordeal He would submit to when He was publicly humiliated, brutally flogged, savagely beaten, and tortured to death in a literally excruciating execution. What am I missing? Is the Gospel simply an invitation to a happy-go-lucky, popular, easy-does-it-lifestyle of social and or material pleasure? I don’t think so. Jesus preached in the greatest sermon of all time, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14) This, too, makes me tick.
Boy, you must think I’m really a dour and dreary guy, but if you know me, I’m not. In fact, my wife thinks I’m pretty funny. (And she’s seen me at my lowest points!) And, instead of getting compliments to my preaching like, “Wow, that was really profound,” I get, “Man, you said some important things, but what really got me was how hilarious you are!” I’m not sure that’s something I should brag about. After all, I’m a preacher, not a comedian. But I do smile a lot because Jesus said–in another rendering of John 16:33, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” In the end, this is what makes me tick with a smile. I’ve always been impressed with the amount of irony in the Bible. One scholar suggests that God’s whole sense of humor is an ironic one. (Maybe that’s why so many Jewish comedians rely on wry, ironic material.) I know because of the biblical record, and I’ve seen played out so many times, that just when it seems all is lost in this world, God wins! “O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he has done marvelous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, has gotten him the victory.” (Psalm 98:1) That should be enough to always leave us with an ironic grin. It’s that grin–sometimes from ear to ear–that is another tick for me.
Well, I haven’t always done it right–and I haven’t always done it well–but I’ve always tried to be true to what makes me tick–and I hope, and always pray, that what makes me tick will always be closer and closer to what makes God tick. As Jesus prayed in the garden, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), so He taught us to pray, “Thy will be done . . .” (Matthew 6:10) That, I hope, will always be my final tick.
The current issue of DC’s high-society big-money glamor magazine, The Washingtonian, includes a feature article on Assemblies of God pastor Mark Batterson who followed me in the pulpit of National Community Church here on Capitol Hill. I recruited Mark in 1995, shortly after I had planted the new congregation. When I surrendered it to pursue full-time missionary work among top elected and appointed officials, our little core group numbered about 40 hearty souls. Within a few weeks of having a new pastor and being evicted from temporary quarters at a dilapidated elementary school, “NCC” as we called it, had to undergo a virtual re-start.
In “True Believer: Mark Batterson’s Churches are in Movie Theaters and His Ambitions are as Big as the Silver Screen,” reporter Krista Kapralos presents a biographical profile of Mark as an innovative, technology-savvy, affable, socially-minded minister who appeals to young professionals working in the private and public sectors. (That’s the most positive assessment I can give. She’s not all complimentary, of course.) This much about Mark she gets right, but the devil, as the old adage says, is in the details. I’ll say more about that in a minute. For the moment, I’ll point to at least one blaring inaccuracy by Ms. Kapralos: Using what I’m sure was a truncated comment by Mark, the article dismisses the complex history behind NCC’s planting and early mission. “We buried that history pretty quickly,” she has him saying. I haven’t had the chance to talk with Mark about what he meant, but he knows I did not plant National Community Church as a specifically “anti-abortion” church. In fact, in the time I was pastor there, I preached maybe three sermons on the subject. That means the ratio was probably 50-1 on other topics dealing with biblical truth, the Christian life and experience, and the nature of the church, versus the one sad subject of abortion in our culture.
It is true that National Community Church was founded as a congregation that would courageously take on the hard subjects. (In fact, one of my early messages literally dealt with the “hard sayings of Jesus.”) We did not intend to promote a mushy, milquetoast, “popular” Gospel that wouldn’t offend, or for that matter-wouldn’t challenge, anyone. I was not going to take any subject related to biblical content or Christian experience off the table simply because it might upset someone. At the same time, we were, in fact, focused on establishing a Christian community that was loving, welcoming, and helpful to everyone. One indication of that was the diversity of our leadership team. It was made up of, among others, myself, a 40-something Jewish-Christian hybrid white evangelical minister, a 20-something Asian-American woman lawyer who later clerked for a federal judge, a 30-something African-American Marine sergeant-major, and a 40-something disabled male elementary school teacher. In fact, when we were asked to leave a rented Methodist church building because the congregation’s board thought we were “intolerant” of gays and pro-choice people, I couldn’t help but note the irony in their all-white-male board contrasted with our veritable rainbow of a team! Anyway, I digress. Let me get back to the point.
There are a number of problems with the Washingtonian’s piece and I’d like to set the record straight . . . no pun intended. First, while Ms. Kapralos implies that Mark and I had two entirely different approaches to our respective missions and methods, back in 1995 that just wasn’t true. It wasn’t like I was the suit-and-tie uptight conservative activist and Mark was the easy-going, relaxed, tee shirt and jeans nice guy. We both wore suits and ties in those days and we were both ministers in the same denomination. We were using basically the same playbook. What was different was the demographic we would seek to reach. Washington is a very stratified town: like-kind sticks with like-kind. “Principals,” or the top level business and political class, do not mix with the mid-level and low-level crowds. In other words, a U.S. senator is not going to hang out with young congressional staffers. (For that matter, young congressional staffers are not going to hang out with the maintenance workers.) I didn’t realize that in those days. I thought a U.S. attorney general might sit in church very happily next to a congressman’s 20-something receptionist, and the receptionist would happily sit next to the janitor. Well, that simply wasn’t going to happen. But there was an even more fundamental reality that affected my vision for the church: The people I sought to reach–members of congress, judges and justices, White House officials–don’t even live in DC on weekends. It would take me too long to learn they commute in for weekdays from the suburbs or even from as far away as their home states. The folks I wanted to attract to the church weren’t physically present on Sundays. Mark seemed to learn that all-important lesson almost immediately after he assumed leadership. He rightly reached out to the young people that remained in their four-to-a-bedroom apartments, effectively adapting his style in the process.
The most important point here, though, is why I recruited Mark to succeed me. I had met Mark and his wife Laura a few times prior to my invitation for him to follow me at National Community Church. I knew his father-in-law, Pastor Bob Schmidgall, and had preached for him at Calvary Church in Naperville, Illinois. Mark was in his late 20′s when he came to Washington and our shared ecclesiastical superior, the Reverend Dr. Robert Rhoden, was skeptical of Mark’s ability to lead a congregation. Still, Dr. Rhoden also didn’t like my brand of Christian activism, so he immediately acceded to my recommendation that Mark take the church while I pursued full-time outreach to the top-level government people. The transition would be a bit of a rocky one because “my church people” liked our full-throttled engagement of the tough issues. Mark made a break with that pattern and our folks largely abandoned him. (Although it never got down to just Mark and his family, as the Washingtonian reports. Some of our best folks did remain on and even carried much of the weight and expense of the church until much later when attendance began to grow.) It wasn’t long, though, before I knew Mark was exactly right in eschewing the activist model in favor of a more congenial and relaxed “community” approach. That’s precisely what young kids, away from home and family and submerged in political tension five days out of the week, needed at night and on weekends. They needed a place that gave more to them than it asked in return. They needed spiritual succor, not social conflict. Mark was a pastor, not a prophet. There is a big difference. It was the right approach and would lead National Community Church to become one of the largest and most vibrant young congregations in the region, if not in the country.
The last thing I’ll say about this article is that the brief profile Ms. Kapralos paints of me is superficial and frozen in time. I know it’s saucy to mention arrests and dead fetuses, but those fading and momentary aspects to my life and ministry are miniscule episodes in a much larger and far more complex tapestry of my life-long experiences, my understanding of theology, history, and social crises, and the demands of that time period. While people often refer to my “arrest days,” I actually haven’t been arrested in nearly twenty years. In fact, these days I spend my time mingling with officials in the highest levels of government, including going to church with presidents, leaders of congress, and even with Supreme Court justices. Obviously, I’m not seen as a wild-eyed protestor anymore. A former speaker of the house once advised me, “When you’re on the outside looking in you need to make a lot of noise, but once you’re on the inside looking out, you need to be quiet and subtle or you’ll get thrown out.” I’ve assiduously followed his advice for the last 15 years.
I remember when Rev. Jesse Jackson was arrested in Chicago in the late 1990′s for protesting the poor treatment of black truckers at a city construction site. The New York Times mocked Jackson as part of the “fading ghosts of 1960s street demonstrations.” Only a couple of decades earlier the same paper lionized Jackson for his brave civil disobedience. Our methods must match our times. I’ve learned that from my posthumous spiritual director, the German pastor, martyr, and hero Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He always stressed hearing God and responding to Him in the moment. Even our best ways of doing things can’t be repeated. God leads us differently in meeting the challenges before us for a specific moment.
I don’t expect a glitzy advertising-driven tony social-spread like the Washingtonian to capture the difficult and intricate nuances of ministry and mission to Capitol Hill, but they sure would have done better on the story of Mark, and me, and National Community Church had they just spent a little more time on it.
So much more to say but so little space to say it in . . .
The recent revelation that a noted former Republican senator had hid the existence of a child he conceived with a colleague’s daughter in an extra-marital affair thirty years ago is just the latest of these sorts of scandals. In the twenty years I’ve been in Washington I’ve lived through:
– a Democrat president’s impeachment trial tied, in part, to his lying about a sexual liaison with a White House intern about the age of his own daughter
– The sudden resignation of a powerful Republican speaker of the house due, in part, to a literal “under the table” relationship with a staff member
– The murder of a young congressional staffer who was having an affair with a Democrat member of Congress old enough to be her father
– The forced resignation of a Republican congressman who had made sexual approaches to teenaged male congressional pages
– The investigation of a prominent Democrat senator for payment to teen prostitutes while on business outside the United States
– The arrest of a Republican senator for soliciting sex in an airport men’s room
And on and on it goes. There is no end to this sordid stuff–and most of it will never be discovered or reported. I don’t know if the business still exists, but when I first arrived here in 1994 there was a tour company that would point out the homes of famous Washington mistresses.
My point here is not to be salacious, but to state the obvious: Washington is hardly filled with paragons of virtue. In fact, it may be the opposite. The people who come here because they were elected, appointed, or wish to work for one of those classifications of officials, are hardly average–both in their virtues and their vices. Power has a way of attracting people who may be inordinately attracted to vice. Our capital city, and the government it was created to house, is a like a magnet for the aggressively ambitious–for good and for bad. It also appeals to the ferociously competitive. And, because we tend to lionize our political leaders, we feed the beast that often devours them and, eventually, all of us. Our celebrity culture loves the attractive, the dynamic, the gregarious, the outrageous, the articulate. We want political figures that are larger than life, so it’s no wonder so many of them become distorted and disfigured people. That distortion affects every part of a person’s being, including their morality and ethics. But it’s not simply libidinous distortion. Bad sexual behavior often betrays something far more complex.
After all this time I’m still not clear which comes first, the chicken or the egg, so-to-speak. Is it that the immoral are drawn to Washington, or does Washington make the moral immoral? Is immorality simply a symptom of a far more systemic problem, something deep, deep down in the soul? Probably both. What I do know is this “state of affairs” is unlikely to change any time soon. As the Book of Genesis makes plain: This behavior has been going on since time immemorial.
The persistent temptation I’ve struggled with since coming to Washington is not the one I’ve been discussing here, but a different, perhaps even more destructive one. My temptation has been to write this place off as just another Sodom and Gomorrah, worthy of total annihilation. But that comes out of the Pharisee in me–the one that wants to beat my chest and say, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11 NASB) Jesus warned that such prayers yield the opposite of what they are intended to accomplish. It turned out that the tax-collector–the corrupt government apparatchik that the Pharisee held in contempt– was the one that walked away justified because he knew he was a sinner. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) Jesus said of His own mission, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)
I’ve gone from being irritated by this sin city to being relieved I’m here. As a late pastor friend of mine who built his congregation out of an Alcoholics Anonymous group once said, “I love recovering alcoholics because they make the pain of sin so obvious. They know sin brings suffering. There’s no dressing it up.”
Washington does spend a lot of time, effort, and energy trying to dress up sin, but you can’t keep it hidden forever. Sin is sin, and the more it comes out, the better off we’ll all be.
“Supply the needs of the saints.” — Romans 12:13a ISV
One of our very generous Faith and Action supporters said to me the other day, “I wish I could do more for you than just give you money. But, it’s all I can do, so I’ll just keep sending it.”
“We’ll, first,” I explained. “Your generous gifts to this ministry are not ‘just’ anything, they are sometimes everything. If we didn’t have money, it would be pretty tough to get any ministry done, especially here in Washington, DC. So, our missionary team doesn’t think of your money as ‘just’ money. It’s God’s provision, through you, to get His work done. That’s very important stuff. But there’s more.”
I explained to my friend that he’s part of a small but critically important team of people that are God’s supply chain for His work here on Capitol Hill. Anyone that has served in the military, particularly on the battle field, knows how critically important the supply chain is for the warfighter. The supply chain can have everything to do with achieving victory or surrendering in defeat. For industry, supply chain management has everything to do with profitability and therefore a company’s success or failure. The supply chain is so important in business, there’s a “Supply Chain Council” made up of executives from the top Fortune 500 corporations in America.
All this is to say that when you send your contribution to Faith and Action, you’re not just sending money. You are contributing to the supply chain that allows everything else to happen here:
– Personal one-on-one ministry to our nation’s leaders
– The biggest indoor prayer and preaching service held inside national venues
– The four-day Bible Reading Marathon on the front steps of the Capitol building
– The only National Day of Prayer observance at the Supreme Court
– Easter and Christmas evangelistic outreach to every member of Congress
– The annual Live Nativity on Capitol Hill, proclaiming the CHRIST-mas message!
It’s your gift–especially your monthly gift–that forms one critical part of the supply chain for all these points of ministry and more.
Never would an army on the field of battle look at its supply chain as “just the food people, ” or “just the equipment people,” or “just the ammo people.” They’d be crazy to see their supply chain team as anything but life or death! So, just like on the field of battle, my team and I look to you–our supporter and partner–as the source of our supply and the key to our victory for the work of the Gospel. You are literally God’s answer to our prayers! So, like I told my friend, you’re worth more than money to me: You’re critical to spiritual victory here in the Nation’s Capital!
Thank you for being part of God’s Supply Chain for His work!
P.S. For an interesting article on the importance of the supply chain in warfare, see Supply Line Warfare by Dr. Cliff Welborn at http://www.almc.army.mil/alog/issues/NovDec08/spplyline_war.html
Presidents’ Day in the US has a long history that is too much to recount here. Suffice to say that it began as a way to honor the historical place of the US Presidency and was set to coincide with the birthday of our First President. It would later morph into a combined acknowledgement of the birthdays for both Washington and Lincoln, and a tribute to all other presidents. Still, it had it’s origins in the Washington birthday observance, and I still think of it as that.
In my opinion, it’s right that presidents get their own official federal holiday. US presidents are strange animals. Anyone that ascends to the highest executive office in our land is–well–certainly not average. The fact that the US presidency is one of the most powerful and influential seats on earth also means its occupants have all been extraordinary. Of the billions of US citizens that have lived since the inception of our country, only 44 have ever been our chief executive.
All of this makes the first president utterly unique. George Washington is known as the “Father of our Country.” One can only ever have one “real” father, and General Washington is just that for Americans. Like all fathers, though, Washington was complicated. He was the quintessential champion of liberty, yet held slaves at his Mt. Vernon plantation. He was one of the greatest minds in human history, but he had little more than a formal elementary school education. His mother put the kibosh on his plans to join the Royal Navy–fearing it would be too hard on him–but he ended up the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.
Washington was many things, including, of course, the consummate political leader and a prodigious philosopher. He was also a man of sturdy religious faith. He spoke eloquently of theology, was a thoroughly engaged churchman, and declared in his final address as president, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” (All this is not to mention Washington included a Bible in the material to be encased in the cornerstone of US Capitol building.)
Washington’s legacy is, among so many other things, a religious one. Though far from perfect, he was a man of deep Christian conviction. On this Presidents’ Day, when we remember Washington’s birthday and his unparallelled leadership of our nascent country, it’s worth remembering what he was at his core: a God-fearing, Bible-reading, sometimes deeply conflicted Christian who took his own faith–and the needed faith of his fellow Americans–very seriously.
For more on the faith of George Washington see:
Transcript of George Washington’s Farewell Addresshttp://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=15&page=transcript
At the Library of Congress website, see “THE RHETORICAL SUPPORT OF RELIGION: WASHINGTON AND ADAMS“ http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel06.html
George Washington and religion (quite a good Wikipedia article) at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_and_religion
For two thought-provoking angles on the complexity of Washington as a man of faith see the following books:
An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America by Henry Wiencek
George Washington’s Sacred Fire by Peter A. Lillback
I’ve been with President Obama a lot lately: At the Inaugural Prayer Service in the Washington National Cathedral, at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, and I’ll see him tonight at the US Capitol for the State of the Union Address.
As you well know by now, I didn’t support President Obama in either of his campaigns. In fact, I expressly warned against his election–but, that was then and this is now. Barack Obama is President of the United States; and he is the embodiment of the executive branch of our federal government; and he is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces; and He is the face of America. So, we must all accept that and deal with it. We are commanded to pray for “kings, and for all that are in authority.” (I Timothy 2:1-2)
When we pray for our elected and appointed officials–especially those we don’t like, didn’t vote for, or oppose in principle–it changes our disposition toward them. Some people bear the burden of believing they are somehow responsible for the behavior of those who hold public office, but that’s not the case. Once the individual takes office–whether they are elected by the people, assume power on their own, or inherit the post–he or she is ultimately accountable before the One to whom “every knee shall bow” (Isaiah 45:22-24, Romans 14:10-12) for He is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16) In prayer for public officials we acknowledge God’s supremacy over every earthly potentate. We also begin to see these individuals from God’s vantage point, which is very different from our own. God sees them from above and not from beneath.
When I was invited to attend the President’s speech I didn’t hesitate to accept. First, I was honored and humbled to be asked. Tonight I will be the invited guest of a United States senator. Only 100 citizens a year will have that opportunity. Second, this evening represents more than the President’s public stage–as important as that might be. His address is given at the invitation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the body that most closely represents the will of the American people. (See the Speaker’s letter of invitation to the President here.) Virtually every principal in all three branches of the US Federal Government will be in attendance: The President and Vice President (of course), the Speaker of the House and the Leader of the Senate (together with every member of each chamber), the Chief Justice of the United States (and some of the other justices) — as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the US Military. In other words, the whole of our US government is present in one place at one time, something that does not happen in any other circumstance. My third and most important reason for attending tonight’s speech by the President is that being there will give me an opportunity to see, get a feel for, and intercede for, our government and for the individuals who serve in it, in a way I cannot at any other time or in any other place. These are the people I am called to serve as an evangelist, as a pastor (in the form of a chaplain), and as a teacher. They are my spiritual charges–whether I agree with them, like what they do, or not!
So, tonight I will be at the State of the Union. The proceedings begin at 9:00 PM ET, so, obviously, that means 8CT, 7MT, 6PT. I extend the honor that I’ve received by inviting you to be with me tonight in prayer. I’ll be seated in the balcony of the House Chamber, row A, seat 12. (Look for me when the camera pans the guests–I’ll try to wink!) In any case, let’s pray together tonight for “all that are in authority” and whose faces you will see as the President addresses the representatives of the people:
“O God, King of kings and Lord of Lords, we pray together for those elected and appointed to serve the American people and to lead our Land. In Your mercy, visit them with Your Spirit that they may know conviction of sin and of righteousness and turn their hearts and minds to You in repentance and humble obedience. As they call out to You, grant them Your wisdom so that they may carry out their duties in ways that please You and conform to Your will. We convey them now into Your care and keeping. God have mercy on our nation. In Jesus’ Holy and All-Powerful Name we pray. Amen.”