Another inauguration is upon us. Our president will take his second oath of office. While I did not vote for Barak Obama for a second time, I am struck by the convergence of events at this year’s inauguration.
The public inauguration will take place on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This will be the second time that this federal holiday has coincided with a presidential inauguration (the first was in 1997). America’s first black president will deliver his address looking out across the National Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, where 50 years ago King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. And overlooking where King spoke is the statue of Abraham Lincoln looking out toward the U.S. Capitol where the inauguration will take place. This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln issued his proclamation on January 1, 1863, during the Civil War, declaring all slaves in all states “forever free.”
President Obama’s presidency would not have been possible were it not for the influence of these two men. So it is significant that he will take the oath of office with his hand resting on two Bibles—directly on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible, which will be resting on top of Martin Luther King’s Bible.
Whatever your political persuasion, these convergences are historically important and the symbolism gives every American, especially Christian Americans, something to celebrate.
So to join in the celebration, here are four gifts I will give to our president.
1. I will pray for him regularly and remind others to pray for him. In 1 Timothy 2.1-2, Scripture says “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Christians are commanded to pray for our leaders. I will pray for wisdom as he faces the huge challenges that lay ahead. I will pray for protection for him and his family. I will pray for the influencers around him to speak truth into his life. I will pray that he lead in a way that promotes both justice and righteousness as he shapes the laws and policies of our nation. I will pray that he humble himself before God and rule in the fear of the Lord. And I will pray that God will speak to him regularly through his Word.
Will you pray for him? There is a great website called the Presidential Prayer Team Website that can guide you in your prayers. You can access it at www.presidentialprayerteam.org.
2. A second gift I will give him is honor. I will honor him because of the office he holds, even when I disagree with some of his positions. I will try to avoid getting swept away in anything comparable to what some have called BDS or CDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome or (Clinton Derangement Syndrome), and now ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome)—a deeply cynical frame of mind which is always distrustful and disrespectful. I will teach my children to respect our president. I believe that Romans 13 calls me to this stance. It says that authorities that exist have been established by God (Romans 13.1). As such he is God’s servant to whom respect and honor are due. (Romans 13.4,7). Will you give him this respect?
3 A third gift I will give is gospel ministry and building up of the church of Jesus Christ. This is a gift with broad application because gospel promises are for all nations. God said to Abraham that through him and his offspring he would bless the peoples of the earth—that includes our nation. It is the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ that brings hope, life and light to this world. It is news of rescue and salvation through his incarnation, life, atoning death, resurrection. It is a gospel with hope for broken lives, but its dimensions are so big that it offers fantastic hope to a broken creation. So I will make it my first message in my ministry.
And as a seminary president, I will work to help future pastors and leaders proclaim this message. I will work for the church so that the gospel will be our first message. As the church believes, embraces and lives out the implications of the gospel, it will be a blessing to many in our nation. In a deeply polarized culture, I will work so that the church will be a faithful presence of Christ–bridge builders who not only live deeply Christian lives– embodying the message of reconciliation and promoting human flourishing in our cities.
4 A fourth gift I will give to our president is the gift of a faithful Christian critique. Besides being a faithful presence, I also believe that the church must be a faithful witness. We are salt AND light. We stand for grace AND truth. I am not one of those who believes the church should shut up and just live out the faith. Humbly proclaiming God’s word and God’s truth is also part of our task. Pastors have a priestly ministry, but they also have a prophetic ministry. So I will try to be more faithful in speaking truth in the days ahead. My ultimate allegiance is not to a party or a president but to the Kingdom of God. This means I will some- times praise the president, and sometimes carefully criticize.
There are some things about him I admire. I admire him as a father. I admire what I know of his family and marriage. I admire his coolness and his persuasiveness. I admire his ability to read the culture and put together two stunning electoral victories. I admire his recognition of the growing diversity of our nation. I am proud to have an African American president. His election means so much to my African American friends. But it means a lot to me too.
But I did not vote for Mr. Obama because there are many things he has done, or positions he holds that disturb me deeply. I worry about the massive expansion of federal government (remember that where the government goes it immediately becomes a God-free zone), the astronomical debt we are racking up, the out-of-control entitlements, and that more and more people are living in dependence on the government. I worry about the growing infringement on religious liberty in the US, and the threats to non-profit giving. I worry about this administration’s interference in college and seminary education which has been taken to an entirely new level. I emphatically disagree with the president’s pro-abortion policies, and the fact that his pro-homosexual marriage and rights advocacy is promoting the influence of homosexuality around the world (i.e. through our foreign policy), and shutting out the influence of people who believe (as did Lincoln and King) that God’s book defines marriage as between a man and a woman. I worry about his disastrous policies for Christians and Jews in the Middle East.
I worry about all these things…but I will not let them erase the good that is before us, or some of the good things he has done. And I will not let them stop me from celebrating another presidential inauguration, and bringing my gifts to the party. An inauguration is a time for our country to come together around the one that God has ordained to lead us, and to celebrate the strength of our democracy. But let’s not forget that this inauguration has tremendous symbolic significance.
These are my four inauguration Day gifts to the 44th President of these United States. What are you bringing to the party?