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november-3-2020

(Do Not Open Until Election Day 2020)

November 3, 2020

 

Dear followers of Jesus,

It’s Election Day!  Wow!  Has it been four years already?

Today, the people of the United States will either: 1) re-elect President Donald J. Trump to a second term, 2) elect another Republican in the rare event that someone successfully challenged President Trump in the primary elections to become the party’s nominee, or 3) elect the Democrat candidate in the 2020 Presidential race.

I’m writing this letter to bring some things to your remembrance and to ask some things of you, especially if the third possibility becomes a reality today and a Democrat is elected to lead our nation as the next President of the United States.

1)  Keep praying. 

Four years ago, in the days following President Trump’s election, many Christians composed some beautiful and deeply meaningful prayers on behalf of the President-elect and our nation.  Some posted and shared these prayers on social media.  They acknowledged and praised God’s sovereignty, credited His wisdom and His guidance upon the electorate, professed their confidence that His divine hand had been decisively active in the outcome of the election, and petitioned His richest blessings to be upon the new President.

I hope that you saved those prayers in an easily accessible place.  Please retrieve them and pray them again today and in the days ahead… verbatim.  Change them only to reflect the name of the new President-elect.  They would be splendid prayers for you to continue praying over the next four years.  I’m asking this of you simply because I don’t recall the composition of such prayers in 2008 and 2012, and it would be a real shame to reserve such lofty petitions only for candidates of our liking and choosing.  Or is it possible you believe that God only selectively involves Himself in our elections, with unfavorable outcomes serving as an unmistakable signal as to which ones He has chosen to sit out?

Oh, and the countless public prayers that I have heard in Christian assemblies over the last four years that specially requested heavenly blessings upon President Trump, openly and unashamedly mentioning him by name… those would be great to continue as well.  Again, my mind isn’t quite what it used to be (I’m nearing 60 now), but I just can’t remember such prayers being offered with any regularity during the eight years prior to President Trump’s election.

2)  Keep reciting and living out Scripture.

Do you remember those Scriptures and memes that were so prolifically posted on social media when President Trump was elected?  They included Biblical texts like:

“First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good and it is pleasing in the sight of God who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:1-4)

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good… Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:13-17)

That was so great!  Please do that again!

Many Christians experienced a miraculous measure of renewed interest and dedicated commitment to these Scriptures on November 8, 2016.  I just don’t want to see these texts fall back into the depths of obscurity, neglect, and disuse that they suffered from 2008 to 2016.

3)  Keep calling for unity, healing, and overcoming divisions and differences.

Following President Trump’s election four years ago, there were repeated calls from Christians for the nation to come together, unite, support our new President, and heal the wounds of division within our country.  Harsh rebukes were offered to those engaged in post-election protests, urging them to get over it, accept the will of the people, and respectfully support the President-elect as the incoming leader of one nation under God.

The memories of many were apparently instantaneously wiped clean of any recollection of the divisiveness, disrespect, incivility, insults, name-calling, demonizing, venom, and vitriol in which far too many Christians had been deeply involved for the previous eight years.  I lost count of the number of believers I know who stated or wrote, “Barack Obama is not my President.  He will never be my President.”  I regularly heard President Obama’s name spoken with derision and contempt.

You can’t speak like that and behave like that for eight years, and then, upon the election of your favored candidate, wave a wand, flip a switch, sweeten your tone, invite everyone to grab a hand and sing “Kumbaya,” and expect to be taken seriously.  You can’t repeatedly toss grenades and verbal weapons of mass destruction, and then glibly pontificate about the need to heal.

So, if “the other candidate” wins this 2020 election, please commit yourself to be among the first to call the nation to unity, to demonstrate solidarity and show support for the President-elect, and commit yourself to sincere and ceaseless prayer on his or her behalf, and for our nation under their leadership.  Whatever you thought “God is in control” meant in 2016, try to speak and act as if you still believe it now.

Only when we’ve lived it can we credibly prescribe it.

When we fail to do these things, the light of Christ becomes shrouded by our duplicity, our hypocrisy, and our blatant double standards.  We ensure that those who are skeptical and dubious about our belief in Jesus will find it even more impossible to accept our faith as genuine and authentic.

If we believe that our God’s sovereignty and the successful working of His will is dependent upon the election of a particular candidate or the dominance of a single political party, then our God is far, far too small.

Lest you think I’m being overly critical of believers or unduly “beating up on fellow Christians” to the neglect of pointing out the faults and failures of those in the world, please understand that the latter is not within my purview as a minister of Christ.  “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.” (I Corinthians 5:12-13)

My desire is that our light shine more brightly, our convictions more consistently, and our witness more credibly as disciples of Jesus.

Grace and peace always,

Tim

Do you ever get the feeling that someone has been talking about you?  I’m sure that all of us have experienced that unsettling sense that you have been the topic of someone else’s conversation, and an unflattering one at that.  Maybe it’s the way he seemed to avoid eye contact with you when you passed him in the hallway, or the way she appeared to change directions in order to keep from crossing paths with you.  Perhaps someone has shared a totally out-of-left-field comment with you on a personal subject matter that you know you have never discussed with them, and you immediately begin to conclude that someone else has.  It’s not a very comfort-inducing or confidence-enhancing feeling!

Well, you should know that it’s true.  Someone has indeed been talking about you…. today.  I’m absolutely sure of it.  You were mentioned by name, and more than once.  It’s been going on for quite some time now.  But, please don’t let this disturb you or cause you any emotional distress.

Jesus has been talking about you.  As your heavenly advocate and high priest, He has been confessing your name before the Father as one of His disciples who walks in His Light and is covered by the sin-cleansing, guilt-removing, hope-restoring power of His atoning sacrifice (Matt. 10:32; I John 1:7 – 2:2).  Jesus has been explaining your situation: the hardships and temptations that you face, the height of your joy, the depth of your despair, the fear, the frustration, the anger, the disappointment, the laughter, the tears… all of it.

Jesus has described this to the Father with precision and complete accuracy because He truly does know exactly how you feel.  Since Jesus shared our nature (John 1:14; Heb. 2:14,17), He can come to our sympathetic aid.  He precedes us in drawing near to the throne of God so that we may confidently follow Him there to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:14-16).  Since the living Jesus is our “forever priest,” He never ceases to speak to the Father on our behalf (Heb. 7:23-25). While it’s true that Jesus cannot personally identify with the guilt and shame that come as a result of our sin, there is no need to worry.  He does something far better than relate to it; He provides the remedy for it.

Oh, it gets “worse”; others have been talking to God about you as well (Eph. 6:18; James 5:16).  The Holy Spirit even joined in with them in bringing your name before the Father (Rom. 8:26).

Sometimes it’s really nice to be talked about!

Peter, James, and John Asleep – Abbey of Gethsemani

Wednesday, September 19

After breakfast, I took advantage of a crystal clear sky and the crisp, windless, 40 degree air and set out on what turned out to be a five-hour excursion along the trails that traverse the 2,000 acres that belong to the Abbey.

My first destination was the Garden of Gethsemane and its statues.  I walked north on the highway a short distance to the trailhead.   Stepping stones soon gave way to a graveled surface on the narrow trail that wound its way through the trees and undergrowth.  The gravel only extended for a short distance, and the remainder of the trail was the hardened dirt that I had expected, packed down firmly by the feet of monks and guests over the course of decades.

I emerged from the shadowy forest into a clearing, and on my left was the Guesthouse Pond, the absolute epitome of peaceful beauty.  The pond, still warm from the summer’s heat, was releasing a low-hanging mist from the surface of the water into the significantly cooler air above.  Passing the pond, I re-entered the wooded trail which began to follow a ridge line.  The trees along the trail were amazing.  This property has been attached to the monastery since 1848, and it was clear that no timber had ever been cut here.  The high canopy overhead and the undergrowth that blanketed the descents along the ridge brought back wonderful boyhood memories of traipsing through the woods in Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.  Few sights are more beautiful and calming to me.

As I entered the area of the Garden, I came to a statue of a reclining Peter, James, and John, depicting the scene of the apostles as they slept.  A bit further down the trail was a statue of Jesus in prayer, His hands covering His anguished face.  I sat quietly for quite some time on a bench that faced the statue.  Then I began softly quoting the Sermon on the Mount, which I first committed to memory over 20 years ago.  I know that the Message on the Mountain (Matthew 5-7) is far removed chronologically from the agony of Christ in the Garden, but it just seemed appropriate in the stillness and quietness of the moment.  The recitation took much longer than usual, as I would pause and reflect between sections of Jesus’ words.

Another trail took me to a fork in the path, literally!  A sign with an arrow pointing to the right read, “To the Cross.”  It struck me that this was the “sign” that Jesus followed throughout the entirety of His earthly life and ministry leading up to Golgotha.  The particular cross that I was seeking, however, was one that sat atop Cross Knob, which appeared on my map of the Abbey’s trails.  Like the previous one, this trail followed a ridge line, ascending toward the crest of a knob that was 800 feet above sea level compared to the Abbey’s location at 570 feet.  At the point where the trail became intensely steep, I saw a couple of sturdy, natural-cut walking sticks leaning against the trunk of a tree.  I sensed an unwritten message which clearly communicated, “Feel free to use these to aid you on your journey to the cross.  When you have completed your journey, return them here to assist the next traveler.”  There are all kinds of useful lessons in that one!

I reached the summit of the trail with my pulse pounding and my breathing labored.  My recent weight loss had not been accompanied by rigorous exercise, so the ascent mercilessly exposed the weakness of my cardio fitness.  This was not a “bald knob” as I had imagined, but one that was still heavily wooded.  However, a few trees had been cleared down the descent toward the monastery, creating a “window” that framed the Abbey which was located well over a mile in the distance.

I snapped a quick photo of the large, wooden cross that stood by the trail.  I looked at my watch and saw that it was nearly 11:00 a.m.  For some reason I felt rushed.  Lunch was served promptly at noon each day.  The lady who worked in the kitchen had already given me “the look” a couple of times when I showed up at the serving line just as things were being put away.  Monastery guest house or not, “the look” was as loaded with negative vibes as any I had ever seen anywhere.  It seemed to be saying, “Dude, you’ve got gray hair!  Can’t you tell time?”

Maybe it was wisdom.  Maybe is was a still, quiet voice.  Maybe it was the fact that I had just spent time reflecting in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But, something brought to my heart and mind the words that Jesus spoke to Peter, James, and John when He returned to find them sleeping.  “Could you not keep watch with Me for one hour?” (Matt. 26:40; Mark 14:37).

What was my rush?  Why the hurry?  It had taken me nearly 50 years to make it to this place.  Why did I want to leave?  For lunch?  I remembered His words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4).  I should at least wait until my heart rate got back down into the double digits and my respiration returned to normal.

“Tim, can’t you keep watch with Me for one hour?”

“Yes, Lord, I can.  Yes, Lord, I will.”

I sat down on the small bench in front of the cross, looking out toward the distant Abbey.  I closed my eyes and began to pray.  I spent time in thought, then opened my eyes and prayed some more; it was really more like talking.  I wondered, “Shouldn’t my prayers be more like this anyway?”  I thought about how sleepy Peter, James, and John must have been.  Since I had not been sleeping well at night (more on that later), I was feeling a bit drowsy myself and was tempted to stretch out on the bench.  I resisted, and kept watching and waiting.

I heard the pealing of the distant chapel bells at each quarter-hour until they finally announced the arrival of noon.  The hour had passed rather quickly.  It had been spent far more meaningfully than it would have been if I had scrambled down the trail like Pavlov’s dog, enslaved to the dinner bell, and desperately seeking “the food which perishes” (John 6:27).  The bowl of oatmeal that I had for breakfast would sufficiently satisfy me until the evening meal.

I resolved to more regularly seek hours in which to “watch and pray” when I returned home from my retreat.

Jesus Praying in the Garden – Abbey of Gethsemani

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