When I first saw the schedule for the blog and today’s date next to my name, I didn’t think much about it. Rotating through the staff, my turn to write an entry comes up roughly every four weeks, but somehow the September 29 date caught my attention. Then it came to me… tonight will be the first debate between the two major party presidential candidates, so you may be reading this either just before the debate if you have taken a peek at the website or immediately after the debate if you’ve waited for the e-mail. Either way, let’s just say I have some competition for your attention, and I feel somewhat burdened to share words of extraordinary wisdom that will somehow make sense of the tumultuous political scene. (Spoiler alert: That’s not going to happen.)
Tonight, many of us will be watching the two candidates, observing their body language to look for a telling reaction, listening to them run past their allotted time as they talk over each other and the moderator in the effort to get in the final word to promote themselves and tear down their opponent, and waiting in suspense to see if one will stumble and give his opponent an opening that can be exploited and change the course of the campaign… at least for the next news cycle. One thing for certain is that it’s likely to be a high decibel event, one where you find yourself looking for the remote to turn the volume down. And immediately after the moderator closes out tonight’s session, the airwaves will be filled with countless and competing voices, all attempting to analyze the previous ninety minutes before declaring who they felt was tonight’s winner.
Presidential debates aside, the question of whether we’re thought of as winners or losers reverberates within our souls in different ways in different stages of life. Back in grade school, the winners were the kids selected as team captains while the losers were the last kids chosen, and while that process may have felt painful at the time, many of us as adults don’t focus on those days in PE class. But there are other voices over the course of our life that we listen to more attentively, that we take more deeply into our souls – it may be the voice of a parent who may not have treated us harshly or spoken negatively of us, but may have offered silence in the place of affirmation; it may be how we look at ourselves, how we tend to define ourselves by what we have or what we do.
I had the opportunity to attend a retreat a couple weeks ago, and it was good to take some time out from the perpetual motion of the last several months, to listen to the voice that, in the end, is the only one that matters. We were asked us to take some time to consider the story of Moses and his conversation with the Lord in Exodus 33:
Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” (33:12-17, ESV)
In tonight’s debate, each candidate will surely do his best to make us aware of his opponent’s failures, to fully expose his flaws and weaknesses to the brightest possible light, to make sure we associate his name with his unworthiness to be president. In many ways, we do the same thing to ourselves every day. We fear that if someone knew the deepest and darkest of our secrets, if they were aware of all the failures that we hide even from our closest confidants, we would never be accepted and we would be put to shame. But God tells us he knows us by name – including the middle name that our parents only seemed to use when we were in really big trouble – and even so, we have found favor in his sight, and he has infused those words with the most vivid reality in the person of Jesus.
It has been nearly 44 years since I decided to follow after Jesus, yet my two days away a couple weeks ago reminded me yet again how much I need to make room in my life to listen to the voice of the Father, to hear him say once again how I have found favor in his sight, to know his love deep within my soul.
I know things will come up – probably no later than tomorrow – that will cause each of us to question the reality of how God views us in Christ, but for now it’s good to know that regardless of what happens in Cleveland this evening, tonight’s winner is… us.