The Republican National Convention, Robert E. Lee, and Jesus

This past week I spent two nights in a rather fancy-schmancy house in Ocean City, NJ, right on the edge of the water. The lady who hosted us seemed to be quite the dedicated advocate of the GOP, and, in fact, I was somewhat startled walking into the kitchen area at one point to find a life-size cardboard cutout of Donald Trump staring back at me. With that in mind, it was not really shocking to come back to the house after dinner our second night there and find her watching some recorded coverage of the Republican National Convention.

Though I had been quite determined to go to bed early after a long day out on the beach and boardwalk, I figured that perhaps it would be a good idea to educate myself a little on what actually is happening in the world of politics, first-hand.

I listened to Willie Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, as he gave a somewhat humorous speech in support of Trump. Shortly afterwards, though, the mood shifted dramatically, as Marcus Luttrell, whose story was the inspiration for the movie Lone Survivor, appeared onstage. Having seen the film myself, I was intrigued as to what this man, who had gone through so much, would have to say.

Luttrell’s speech was heartfelt, and his loving devotion to his country shone clearly through it. The crowd responded with great enthusiasm to his obvious patriotism. He touched something deep in the hearts of many, as shown by the teary eyes and loud applause from the audience. But the whole time, I could not shake the feeling that something was amiss. I felt as though Luttrell and his audience had a clear grasp of a partial truth, but were missing the greater reality.

Luttrell addressed the fear that is a part of life in our world when he said “the world outside of our borders is a dark place, a scary place. America is the light.” I agree that the world is a dark, scary place, but I do not believe America is the light of the world. Frankly, I think there have been enough dark and scary events in our country over the past month alone to show that America is no better than any other country. However, I would like to suggest an alternative to Luttrell’s assertion. Jesus told his followers that they are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). This is not because of anything special about Christians — it is because of the life-changing power of the God who is love at work in and through them.

Take a detour with me. During a long car ride a couple weeks ago from New York state to near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, we decided it would be fitting to watch the epic film Gettysburg, which is about the Civil War battle that occurred there. It is one of those older movies where much of the 4.5-hour duration is taken up by “well, there’s a guy riding a horse…and now there is some infantry marching…oh look, another guy riding a horse,” etc. ad nauseum.

At one point in the film, the Confederate general Robert E. Lee rides among his soldiers as they cheer wildly for him, many pressing in and reaching out to shake his hand. This goes on for probably a good two minutes of screen time, and it is nothing but the Confederate soldiers expressing their admiration and love of General Lee. Something about it tugged at my heart. I wanted to join in such a celebration of a hero, to be part of a movement with a leader who was worthy of wholehearted devotion and unabashed celebration. It made me think forward to the return of Jesus, when He will be a just and righteous conqueror, and we will adore Him in all of His goodness.

My point in bringing that up is this: people are searching for something to put their hope in; something to give their lives to. For some, perhaps, that was Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy he fought for. For some that is the GOP, for others it is jihad, and it is a million other things for billions of other people. But anything that is of this broken world or of the broken people who live here (that’s all of us, folks) is bound to disappoint in the end.

The only cause worth all our devotion is that of loving and serving God. The only person worth all our admiration and love is the one true Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (So I guess that makes three persons in one…not enough room to delve into the depths of the doctrine of the Trinity here!) The only kingdom worth all our loyalty and patriotism is the kingdom of God.

So for all those who were moved by Marcus Luttrell and his speech, I do not necessarily want to quench your patriotism for the United States of America. And for those of my generation who were inspired by the challenge he gave us to “love something more than you love yourself…[to] step up and take the fight to the enemy, because it’s here,” I do not want to crush your enthusiasm to rise to that challenge. Instead, I want to point you to a far greater cause, because I believe with all my heart that America is too small and flawed a cause to be worthy of the highest devotion, and the people who might come to mind when we think of “enemies” are actually not who we should be concerned with fighting against. Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) says,”For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” There may be a time to take up arms against men whose aims are evil, but I feel those times are few and far between. (I actually lean towards pacifism, but that is not the point of this post.)

The world is in a desperate condition. Even where this is not outwardly obvious because of some tragedy, many, many people are wasting away inside, drowning in hopelessness, starved for love, unable to find a way out of the brokenness that permeates the human race. Luttrell is right: the fight is here. 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV) says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

But thanks be to God! Through Jesus, God is reconciling to Himself all things in heaven and on earth (Colossians 1:20). The God who made the world good in the beginning is at work in our world now, and in the end will make all things new (Revelation 21:5). And He is calling us to join in His work; to dare to love our enemies, to strive for justice, and to point others to Him, the wellspring of all that is excellent and beautiful, the very source of life!

So I join with Marcus Luttrell in calling not just my own generation, but all people to step up to the challenge to love something more than yourself. But the call I aspire to for myself and all those around me is greater than service to any country of the earth. It is the call to love the God of the universe and take part in His kingdom work.

So the next time you find yourself caught up in the emotion of some speech or movie, when your heart rate quickens and a longing to be part of something great wells up inside of you, savor that feeling. Take it in, relish it, and let it point you to the One who is most worthy of all such joyful devotion.

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