Hope, leadership, and a wall

In January 2009, Melanie and I experienced one of the most memorable moments of our time in Washington DC – the inauguration of President Obama.

No matter what you think of the President or his policies, it was unquestionably an historic moment for the United States.

We lived in downtown DC and walked from our home past the humvees and the closed streets. We waited with (literally) tens of thousands of people to enter the parade route and participate in that historic moment.

Barack and Michelle Obama

Thousands of people at Pennsylvania and 7th watch the Obamas walk past in the inauguration day parade

In our majority African American city, friends and neighbors were overcome with the emotion of actually seeing this moment – the inauguration of the first black President. Strangers talked excitedly, even shed tears, as they waited in the frigid cold for the security screening. The overwhelming emotion of that day was hope.

Fast forward eight years and we are on the threshold of another election. This time, the overwhelming emotion is disappointment, or frustration, even anger. There is an absence of hope. Very few voters are voting to actually support their candidate so much as to oppose the other.

Lessons from the wall
Last month, the Lord provided two opportunities to reflect on the 2016 election through the lens of Scripture.

In early October, I had the pleasure of preaching from Nehemiah 5 (in Spanish! You can listen to the recordings over at the media page!) The chapter is an amazing insight into Nehemiah’s priorities as a leader.

In the midst of a rapid building project (just 52 days!) the unity of God’s people is under threat. Nehemiah steps in. He confronts the offenders, takes responsibility for his part in the problem, and resolves the conflict – urging the offenders to walk in the fear of the Lord.

In the latter part of the chapter, he shares how this approach shaped his leadership during the 12 years he served as governor. He was a generous leader who feared God and whose life was transformed by the gospel.

But if you put yourself in the shoes of the Jewish people living in and around Jerusalem before Nehemiah arrived from Persia, they were in a time of undeniable hopelessness. They were oppressed by their enemies. Their city was in ruins. And there was conflict among the people.

Before God intervened these people had no reason for hope. But at the perfect time, God sent His man to bring hope and restoration. The story of Nehemiah demonstrates that God’s people – even when they can’t see any reason for hope – can trust in their faithful God.

And for those who trust Jesus, this story is a part of a much bigger story. At a time when all humanity had no reason for hope. When we were dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1), God intervened and sent His Son to bring hope and restoration through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

A word of caution
I don’t want to minimize the significance of President Obama’s election, or minimize the real concerns people have about both major party candidates this election, but Nehemiah 5 offers us a word of caution about worldly hope.

Christians must not despair at the absence of worldly hope, nor should we entrust ourselves to the presence of worldly hope. Instead, we must live as those who overflow with the gospel, pointing the world to the only source of lasting hope – Jesus Christ.

At about the same time I was preparing those sermons on Nehemiah, I had the privilege of writing for the Fighter Verses blog on Titus 3:4-6. In part, I said this:

The question – this election season, and every day – is: what gospel story are you telling with your life? What would someone think if they overheard your conversations at the office, after the Sunday service, or on your Facebook wall? Would they see a helpless sinner, saved by the grace of God, and renewed for fruitful service? Or would they see days passed in malice, envy, and hate?

I pray that every day – especially as we engage with neighbors, friends, and colleagues on the issues of the day – each of us would overflow with the beautiful transformative gospel in a way that lifts the eyes of a fallen world to the Savior that has appeared and offers regeneration and renewal to all who trust in Him.

And so, as the election draws to a close, I encourage Christians to focus on the opportunity to overflow with gospel hope during this season of hopelessness and to remember that we have the words of eternal life and are exactly where our faithful, sovereign God wants us to be.

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