In a nation that is losing its equilibrium, how can Christians help it regain stability?
My father became deathly ill when I was in college. To help with my family’s financial challenges, I started a tree service in my area. I had a chainsaw, a pickup truck, and no fear of heights . . . and the money was good! My unique set of skills also helped me pay for seminary and supplement our income when my wife and I began a church in an underresourced neighborhood. I ended up climbing, pruning, and removing hundreds of trees for over 30 years. For me, balance was life!
I will never forget the day I climbed halfway up a tree, failed to clip into my harness properly, leaned back, and started falling from around thirty feet. As I plummeted headfirst to certain death, the rope tied to my belt got a bit tangled in a clump of small branches, providing just enough drag to swing me back. I slammed into the tree upside down, bear-hugged the trunk, and twisted right-side up. I was scraped up and bruised but very thankful to be alive. Falling is a terrible thing!
If ever there was a year to throw us off balance, it has been 2020.
Many of us have felt like Rocky Balboa lately, getting pummeled and pounded from all sides. The pandemic brought terror, death, depression, isolation, financial devastation, loneliness, and/or quarantine relational overload. The horrific killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Brionna Taylor brutally tore open and exposed the deepest and ugliest wound in our nation’s history.
In different ways, we have all lost our footing and often felt ourselves falling. Racism, anarchy, and a sense of social dissolution has surrounded us like a toxic smog. Close families and friends have been ripped apart because of things said or not said, words posted or not posted, positions taken or not taken.
An understandable propensity in times of fear, anger, and confusion is to look to political leadership for direction, hope, and security. However, this can easily become idolatry and lead to dangerous and unhealthy imbalance.
If we are tightly tethered to any political party or leader, we are in grave danger of dishonoring the name of Jesus—regardless of which side of the aisle we set our gaze.
We can’t expect political entities and politicized media to be balanced. Political systems are intrinsically polarizing and binary in nature: Win or lose. Destroy or be destroyed.
We are ambassadors for Christ.
We are intrinsically ministers of reconciliation! We have been recreated as ambassadors for Christ. Total destruction was poured out on Jesus so that absolute lovingkindness could be lavished on all. The true Body of Christ longs for oneness and dreams of a win/win for everyone!
Sadly, these dreams are diametrically opposed to the electoral process. Most elections are won by dividing populations through demonizing, deceiving, and demoralizing the opposition. The two-party system has always had its challenges, but rarely have we seen this level of animosity between Democrats and Republicans.
There has always been mudslinging, but the mud was primarily aimed at the candidates. Lately, mud is thrown and friendships are destroyed simply because someone “likes” a post! Often, many just hide their political opinions for fear of being labeled a “baby killer” or “racist.”
When Jesus followers are more passionate for our political personalities and parties than for the Lord Jesus himself, we tear apart the Body of Christ and lose the battle for the hearts and souls of our neighbors.
How is it possible to share the hope of salvation with a Facebook or Instagram friend that has been viciously lambasted? Or how can we share an encouraging scripture one day and a hateful, often deceptive political post the next? The command to “love our enemies” is too often overridden by the emotionally loaded political divide. Entire families are being torn in two at the altar of the political left vs. right.
God’s Son is the only one able to restore true balance through His and our ministry of reconciliation.
After decades of climbing and removing trees, I still do not have enough balance to walk out on a branch and survive long. As tree climbers, we harness ourselves into a lifeline or climbing line that operates like a pulley, which is looped over the peak of a tree. This enables us to safely walk about the entire length and breadth of the tree we are working on.
In the same way, after 30 years of ministry, I still do not have nearly enough wisdom or balance to confidently navigate one of the most complex political/sociological climates of the century. Rarely have I—and maybe you would say the same—been more mystified, confused, and dizzied.
If we are to keep our balance, it is critical that we ascend higher than the political plane!
In ancient Rome, there was no government position higher than that of an ambassador of Caesar. His ambassadors were entrusted to be his voice and enact his will. Their commands were tantamount to a direct word from him.
In the following passage, the Apostle Paul lays out the wonder of our re-creation and rebirth as ambassadors for Christ. As a Roman citizen, Paul was familiar with the implications of this title. He wanted us to clearly understand this:
We have been given a superpower—the power of reconciliation—for such a time as this!
Then he explains how we are to use it:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore [beg] you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. God made Him who knew no sin, to become sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
Our living Savior is begging us and the world through us to be reconciled to God, reconciled to each other, and to represent His heart well.
One of the most devastating prophecies in the Scriptures is found in Psalm 22. There we see Jesus prophetically expressing His excruciating suffering on the cross. At one point, He cries out in agony, “ALL MY BONES ARE OUT OF JOINT!”
I believe He was not only referring to the pain of multiple physical dislocations from crucifixion but also the pain of multiple dislocations in the Body of Christ. That is precisely what we see in the Church in our nation right now because of how politicized we have become. May the wonder of our blood-bought reconciliation and the excruciating cry of our Savior compel us all to renounce this spirit of division. Instead, let us lavishly share His wondrous love with our neighbors of various political passions and persuasions.
The truth is that only those redeemed by the Lamb are capable of loving enemies and rebuilding a sense of community among diverse people. Only those who love Jesus can work hand in hand across every racial, cultural, and political chasm so that the broken heart of God can find rest.
When the love of Christ compels us, then we can and will “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”
It is possible for God’s people in our land to start exhibiting all three of these in powerful new ways, all of it in the service of the gospel—but not if our political passions overshadow our passion for Jesus and for those that He came to save, whether they be Democrats or Republicans, liberals or right-wingers, capitalists or socialists!
Through Christ’s reconciling reign, we can bring back balance and healing where we live.
Division takes cities and nations backward. Putting down our swords brings us to neutral. Christ-impassioned reconciliation movements propel the kingdom forward and upward!
I believe that the people of God can begin to do this most effectively through grassroots collaborative ministry in their own cities and communities. For the past several years, we have been part of a wonderful collaborative work in NYC where churches and nonprofits have been serving together to saturate the entire region with the love of Christ in word and deed. We are working towards the day when there are no sheep without a shepherd in our city. Many of these collaborations are adopting underserved neighborhoods, schools, and public housing communities.
Political systems move the ball forward in pitifully slow increments. Often it feels like a long, exhausting tug-of-war game with inches won and then lost while dozens of players are straining and striving. Even when there is a big political win, the losers immediately regroup, defame the opposition, and plot to take back the lost territory/power/money. This zero-sum game is devastating to communities that are already struggling.
Christ-impassioned movements can bring multiple players together for the good of all. By doing so, both sides of the tug-of-war can join forces and “move mountains” to lift a troubled community. Because the love of Christ compels us, we have the privilege of being “agenda-free.” This is refreshing to community leaders and gatekeepers when they experience this kind of love and passion. Humble ambassadors for Christ will very often be welcomed as partners to help rebuild vulnerable communities.
We have constantly experienced the blossoming of cooperative initiatives throughout our years of ministry in underserved neighborhoods. Multiple pastors, principals, public housing leaders, and community gatekeepers currently serve together like one holy team to care for our beloved North Shore of Staten Island.
Christ-impassioned movements are also great problem solvers. We have the eternal wisdom of Christ. We are always hungering to find solutions that benefit all, not just our constituency. Most of the solutions to the complex problems of our day lie in the middle of two polarized positions. Tribalism has never been stronger in our nation. Victory for one side generally means devastation for the other. Christianity is hardwired to bless every tribe.
Christ-impassioned movements can launch an army. We also have access to one of the largest volunteer forces in our nation. Once we find meaningful solutions and set our minds to accomplish them, we have the power to unleash a human resource dynamo!
Right now, I am working with local principals in my city to help students who will struggle greatly this year due to COVID-19 learning challenges. We connect them with virtual tutors from churches in our city and beyond. Over the last three years, more than 70 volunteers from 22 churches have tackled the illiteracy epidemic in our city and helped 300 first and second graders to read at grade level. This is the most life-altering skill a child will learn.
Isn’t it time we all climbed higher together?
Often the most difficult and dangerous part of a tree cutter’s day is the long, challenging climb to the top of the tree. With spikes strapped to my boots and a safety line clipped to my climbing belt, I would slowly work my way to the highest branch I could find to rig myself into and swing from. Once situated, I was free and fearless, unhindered and agile. Once my lifeline was secured, I felt invincible.
Many of us are exhausted, disheartened, and beaten down. Our passion for Jesus and sense of oneness with Him seems a distant mirage.
Now more than ever—in the midst of a presidential campaign season that may be as vicious and volatile as any in our history, in the midst of some of the darkest and most trying days of our generation, in the midst of exhaustion and depression—it is critical that we turn our eyes upward and ascend the holy mountain, ascend in Christ with wings like eagles above the clouds and shadowlands, to the Most Holy Place. Our lifeline—hope and faith—must be tethered to Jesus alone, the Lord Most High.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory…
But now you must put . . . away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth . . . [instead] put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, [Democrat and Republican], circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:1-11, ESV).
About the Author
David Beidel, for many years an urban pastor, is currently President of Urban Hope, founder of Saturate NYC, and cofounder of Jesus Week in New York City and beyond. He’s the author of Samaria: The Great Omission and Saturation: A Plan for Gospel Immersion; producer of Magnificent Obsession and Saturation (iTunes, Spotify under Saturate Worship); and the developer of SaturateNYC.app, a faith-based social service web/app.
His newest endeavor is The Kevlar Collective, a model for community healing, which focuses on creating just, safe, and holy sanctuaries in the housing projects of NYC by weaving and layering together churches, nonprofits, schools, public housing gatekeepers, police, and marketplace partners until a community is flourishing and bulletproof.
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