Over the past few weeks, my daily personal experience in listening to God speak through the Bible has uncovered a great deal about national leadership. Most of my encounter with the Bible over this time has centered-in upon the lives and leadership approaches of two kings—a man named Saul and another one named David who both led the nation of Israel over 3000 years ago.
Of course, I’d be the first to recognize that the political environment they lived in and the one we see in our own culture are two very different worlds. Saul never had to get elected and David never ran a TV campaign ad. Neither of them had to come up with a catchy slogan or pick a vice-king for their administration’s ticket. They didn’t arise out of political parties or ever experience tracking polls. CNN and Fox didn’t exist—so the scrutiny on these leaders was of a whole different sort.
All that being said, these recent biographical studies in Israel’s first two kings have been a profound help to me as a backdrop to what’s going on in our culture today. (Remember the old saying: Fail to learn from history and you’re doomed to repeat it.) For the first time in my lifetime, the political world is touching full force on things beyond legislation, policy, and political platforms. The societal and spiritual ramifications of this year’s election are obviously higher than I can recall. Faith—a once taboo topic in the American cultural dialogue—is now very much at the center of the conversation. The issue of race is one of the driving forces behind the choices Americans face. Gender is a chief point of discussion. Generational issues form debate lines as to what is better—older ways or newer approaches. Even the political parties themselves—while seemingly energized—are at a crossroads since unquestioned party loyalties have almost become a total thing of the past. (This is a good development in my opinion, by the way.) People seem to be making choices less because of a party label and more because of what a candidate or movement represents in belief, conviction, and character. (Insert your own “No Duh, that’s the way it’s supposed to be” reaction to all of this.)
In Saul and David’s cases, neither were Republican, Democrat, independent, or Green. Both of them entered their role in national leadership like rock stars. (Sen. Obama wasn’t the first.) Both of them were bold mavericks (Sen. McCain wasn’t the first.) Both of them began their leadership roles at young ages. (Gov. Palin and Sen. Obama weren’t the first.) Both of them were war heroes. (Sen. McCain wasn’t the first.) Both of them were swept into power because of the people’s concern over national defense. (Sen. Biden and Sen. McCain weren’t the first.) Both of them started out quoting the ancient sacred Scriptures as a guiding force to how God held a leader and their nation responsible for living inside His ways. (God’s ways pave the pathway to the best versions of our lives and our nation. Both Saul and David were anointed as a savior of sorts to a nation in profound turmoil. (Sound familiar?)
In 3000 years since the two kings, some things haven’t changed. While we are seeing history in the making here in 21st-century America, it’s not new stuff. America is just following the generational trajectory of what happens when cultures make right or wrong choices about what’s most important. We feel it currently only because this kind of reality has always existed in human affairs. You see, when things feel not-quite-right in the lives of everyday people just like you and me, we begin looking for a leader to march us out of the morass that will engulf us if we don’t move out soon.
Neighbors, we’re at a cultural crossroads today. Our tenuous dependence upon the resources of those who don’t love us out in the wider world make some of us nervous. Our fears that our planet’s ecological sustainability is deteriorating as we speak because of the speed of our culture lead us to a crossroad. Race and gender realities are no more removed from the national soul today than in the intense days of the Civil Rights movement. We just use a different language about it all, today. The involvement of the faith community within the public square is at stake. We are not at a Democrat vs. Republican crossroad. We are at the crossroads of who America is going to become. As a pastor, I don’t say this to scare or for the purpose of hyperbole, but to simply state a truth.
The two different leadership trajectories of Saul and David led their nation to two drastically different outcomes. Saul was a miserable failure–a man who relied upon his own wisdom and strength–and ended up destroying the most sacred values of that people. David–albeit an imperfect man–restored the things that were most sacred to God and the people. And brought that nation and culture into a whole new reality—even adding immeasurably to the moral and cultural beauty and traditions that he had been handed at birth. He made his world better because God was free to shake him up inside of the inner world of his soul.
Just moments before David’s meteoric rise to leadership would begin, the Scriptures explained what the most critical ingredient inside a person is such that GOD IS FREED TO CHANGE THE WORLD THROUGH THEM: “Don’t judge by appearance or height…the Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but THE LORD LOOKS AT THE HEART” (1 Samuel 16:7—nlt).
A leader’s heart. A nation’s heart. YOUR heart. And mine.
This year’s election represents something deep and important about our culture—but only because it represents something deep and important about you and me. And that’s not a political reality—it’s a soulful one.
Who are you becoming? Who is your family becoming? What kind of culture is Mokena fashioning in our classrooms, bedrooms, halls of justice, and churches…on park benches, judicial benches, and the athletic benches of our children? Who are we becoming? What are we calling important that really doesn’t matter? What are we ignoring that will save us from becoming one more culture among many who litter history books with their slow demise instead of becoming “a city on a hill”? WHO ARE WE BECOMING?
The voting booth in November won’t determine the final answer to these questions—you and I will. God looks at the heart of things—so, then, so should we. Imagine a political party built on the platform of the heart. God’s heart. That’s where God establishes His party.
More to come on this…