Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two Very Different Countries

We have all recovered from the long, dreadful election season. I have never considered myself to be much of a politically minded person and I probably err on the side of passivity or even apathy when it comes to the political arena. However, I will say that I was mildly caught up in this election. Why? Well, we heard it all throughout the election, the campaigning and the debates; we were seeing the potential of two very different countries in the two presidential hopefuls. In every election someone says that this is the most important election ever and it was said countless times throughout this election. It’s fascinating to me how passionate some people are about the election and the political process overall. It seems to truly be what they place most if not all of their hope in for their well-being and standard of living.

Four years ago, setting aside my political opinions, I was glad for our country that an African American was elected President. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like for those fellow African Americans who lived through the Civil Rights Movement. It must have been surreal. I have said it before, I truly hate racism and even more, I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how someone can hate someone because of their race. Maybe it’s my generation, that we are now twice removed from the pre-Civil Rights Movement generation or maybe it’s just my upbringing, but I have just never understood racism, even prior to my conversion to Christ. So I will say that the election of an African American to the office of President, I think shows real growth for our country.

Four years have gone by and the scene is much different. The President has had time to work out his policies and who he is has been made clear to the country. In this election many conservatives, particularly Christians, vehemently opposed the President’s stand on gay marriage and other issues concerning religious freedom. It is clear that he has set a course much different than any of his predecessors. As I have read and read some more in the weeks and months leading up to the election, one gets the sense that the President has reached out to a growing segment of the population that praises the very things that others deeply despise. What I think no one can really deny is that our country is very much fragmented. There are many who desire to continue on with the President in the initiatives and causes that he has made important. There are still many who desire to undo much of what has been done and turn in the completely opposite direction.

This morning I read a bit of an interview with Brad Pitt about his thoughts on gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana. I will say that I am so glad that Brad Pitt has cleared up all the haze around these issues (no pun intended) and spoken a clear, reassuring word for our country. He said something like, “we are all about equality,” and he went on to pontificate some more. But he said something very telling regarding these two issues, "If it doesn't sit well with your religion, let your God sort it out in the end, but that's us. We're equal." Well, thanks Brad! I feel better now. But seriously, herein lies the issue. Brad, like so many other people in our country and in all of existence, is ticked off about his religious upbringing and is therefore jaded and what many would call dechurched. He lashes out against those who seek to live according to their relationship with God because he feels that God is unfair or whatever.

The fact is the culture wars are not working and really have not worked. Brad and many others are all proof of that. The business that began 30 or so years ago with the religious right and the moral majority and everything else just is not doing what it was intended to do. Many of my generation just do not respond well to the militant assault on what evangelicals consider to be the decay of culture. Now, that does not mean that the decay is not there, it just means that as the church we may not be fighting the right battle. I have a friend that is more than double my age and he laments the direction of the country and says that he doesn't know what has happened to his country. From the perspective of the Christian, what is more important? Is the state of the country in which we live more important or the state of the people in that country more important? The battle for the souls of the people in our country will not be won in the White House, on Capitol Hill or in any nook or cranny of the political process. That battle has been won in the work that Jesus Christ did on the Cross. Though the battle still rages, we know how it will end. If you had a chat with a long-term missionary in some African country for example, while they may be concerned about the state of the country in which they live so that justice is upheld for its people, they would probably be more concerned about the state of the church there. Maybe it’s time that the church focuses on being the church here at home. Maybe it’s time we get to work at the fundamentals of our faith like the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. That doesn't mean we just throw our hands in the air when it comes to our country or politics, but rather that we recognize and remember what we are to do as the Church. There will always be different directions that our country could go, but one direction that regardless of our country of residence in which we should all be heading.

I had the opportunity to preach on 2 Corinthians 5 this past Sunday and the Apostle Paul is pretty clear about what is important to us as Christians:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Paul explains, the message to us is clear and that is that we have a very important message to share, a message that speaks life and light into dead and dark places and people. Church, let’s get busy at being the church. Whatever may come our way in whatever land we are living in, let us be the Church! Let us join God in the work that He is already up to and trust Him. In verse 18, Paul makes it clear that this is not all on our shoulders, “All this is from God…” He has done the work, is doing and will continue to do it, we must simply be obedient.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What a daughter can teach you about manhood

“We’re pregnant!” It took quite a while for that to really sink in. I don’t think that either my wife or I really grasped the gravity of that statement until the day came for us to head off to the hospital to meet our daughter. I was one of those kids that looked forward to getting married one day and having kids of my own. It seemed like we blinked and it was here. There I was, standing by my wife’s side while she did the hardest thing that her body was created to do and the time had come. I told several people that I have never prayed for anything more consistently than I did for that day. Months, weeks and days had gone by that I had asked God to give us a healthy pregnancy, keep Anna safe and keep Nora safe. He did. There was nothing that I could do to make sure that happened. What a strange feeling! It does something to you when you are truly helpless and devoid of the strength, ability or power to make something happen. Those kinds of moments create dependence; dependence on someone that does have the strength, ability and power to make that happen. Of course that’s not to say that God exists to grant my requests; that would be a Nick-centered universe of which I would not want to be a part. But He was faithful, He was gracious and He displayed His infinite goodness and grace that day.

Those moments of dependence on something outside of ourselves, namely God, helps us to realize how much we don’t have everything all together. We trick ourselves into the illusion of safety, security, health, wealth and peace wrought by our own hands, when we have little to no control over any of those things. All of that can fade in an instant. Pacing the floor outside a delivery room while your wife gets an epidural is maddening. The only prayer you can really get out is, “God, please…” You don’t even really know how to sum up all the stuff that should come after that please, but you trust that He knows. You transition from the adrenaline-fueled few days at the hospital to the completely new experiences at home with a newborn and you have not left that state of dependence. You still know that you desperately need God to be with you, near you, next to you, and ministering to you in ways that are indescribable. This is how God works and when His work in us can be most fruitful. I felt my spirit literally being stretched and shaped in those few weeks and still do. It’s called discipleship and God is working it out through a little baby. Sound familiar?

My daughter is only a few days from being one month old and already I am thinking about the day I will walk her down the aisle (although I really would like to perform her wedding, but we can talk about that). I’m 28 years old and I feel like this little peanut of ours has brought about this overwhelming sense of maturity and responsibility in me. Now I’m not saying that a man has to get married and have a kid to truly be a man, but I am saying that, that is how God works things out in some of us. Men of my generation like to live out their manliness through video games that put them in the place of a hero, while they are equipped with their Mountain Dew, Doritos and Under Armour sweatpants. They live it out through their music that talks about hoes and all kinds of other stuff that I won’t even mention. They live it out through their revolving selection of dysfunctional, over-sexualized relationships. Now, video games are not inherently evil and are not all bad, but they can be destructive. Music is not inherently bad, but it can be destructive. Sex is not inherently evil, but engaged in outside of marriage and it is destructive relationally. Meanwhile, I feel like my daughter stares me in the face and calls me to be a man, have some responsibility, love her Mother and display for her what a man, particularly a man of God, should be.

What a responsibility! It’s terrifying in some ways, because you don’t want to mess her up. You don’t want her sitting down with her husband one day talking about all the ways her Father messed up her life and let her down. Although I will let her down, I won’t be perfect, but I pray by God’s grace I can point her to Jesus. I pray that she may never know a day that she didn’t know the love of Christ in her life. I pray that she will serve God well and be an amazing woman for Christ in whatever vocation He places her. I pray for my grandchildren and their children. I told my wife the other night that we are given this great opportunity to build into the kingdom of God with this addition to our family. The implications are staggering!