Saturday, June 29, 2013

Henny Penny and Seismic Indicators

    Is the sky falling, or have the foundations shifted?  Maybe both but one's perspective determines whether the problem descends from the sky or erupts from the earth.  To those who believe that America is a Christian nation or once was,  the decisions of the Supreme court plus the stand of the President, the triumphalism of Liberalism, and the  seeming avalanche of culture with it's media suggested inevitability is galling, threatening, horrifying, and enraging.  To these folk the judgment of God has either already begun, or will come soon.
    To those who want somehow to be a  Christian witness of the Gospel, with compassion for those in homosexual angst and desire, who believe that Christians are and ought to be a witnessing minority in a world of wickedness (and that without being judgmental or condemning), and that somehow those fundamentalists who are nearly apoplectic represent a terrible witness to the Gospel, are urging a calm, cool, and dispassionate response.
    Though I have some sympathy in both directions I don't think we can or should settle for either option..  Of course there are others who claim to be believers who actually celebrate the Court's decision as an expression of justice and see no issue with allowing homosexuals to enjoy the legal privileges of marriage like everyone else.  Paint me homophobic, since I despise such an opinion.
    Those who hide in pietistic Gospel-speak, while certainly seeming sincere in their desire to be a loving and faithful witness in the midst of a fallen world seem to express no active theology of justice, politics, government, or culture.  One wonders how much of the island needs to be swept out to sea before somebody starts taking erosion seriously.  
    This mild reaction to worse and worse decisions by government, presidents, and the courts seems to imply that it doesn't matter if a nation endorses wickedness, applauds immorality, and allows injustice.  Maybe this is not your "injustice de jure."  I am an American, and though for me it was an accident of Providence (if there can be such a thing), I take my heritage seriously.  I like to consider myself a patriot (IRS leave me alone), but I am not a typical conservative.  I have lived my life for justice, for the poor, for the civil rights of African Americans.  I am inter-racially married.  Along the sojourn of my American experience I came to believe that freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to life,  were things we could and should never surrender, and we should pay with our lives if necessary to defend those freedoms.
    Yet, we seem to give our freedoms away now, incrementally, little by little.  While this is happening my Christian brothers and sisters either seem to be terrified or telling me nothing is wrong.  I find both in error, with one side acting as if they have no faith, while the other opinion is unbelievable in its naivete.  I don't ever think panic, fear, hatred, slander, rumor mongering, and lying are acceptable means of disagreeing with our cultural opponents.  I have seen this in some who might call themselves conservative Christians.  The believer should fear God, period.  God is mighty, He will win, and nothing the Devil, all demons, or the wicked can do will change that.  Whatever happens, we must always be hopeful in the love and victory of God.
    However, this doesn't mean the believer shouldn't be angry and realize there is something to hate.  One cannot be righteous without hating evil, and there is plenty of evil to hate.  It seems a lot of my gentle Christian friends find it easier to hate other Christians who embarrass them with their vitriolic demonstrations than the increasing spread of darkness and evil.  We should never hate people, even those whose very clothes we should hesitate to touch.  I think that if you are not bothered by  this development there is something wrong with you, and if you think that the effects of the SCOTUS opinion will not roll downhill speedily, and all of over our freedoms, well just you wait.
    Yes, there has always been evil in the world since mankind introduced it. No, I don't believe evil is always present to the same degree.  Yes, I do believe it grows and I do believe there are times in history when it has been beaten back and freedom and justice have prevailed.  Righteousness does exalt a nation, and sin is a reproach to any people and that fluctuates in history. The court did not force my state to recognize same sex marriage, yet, but it should never have allowed it to be recognized anywhere.  It is not a question of equality before the law but one in which  immorality is forced upon us as the new normal, and those who say it should not are labeled in a pejorative way by the majority of the justices in their official verdict.  What is next?  What political  pursuit will there be against those states who have taken a stand, against those churches, groups, and  individuals who resist this insidious perversion?
   You who tell me not to worry, what will I be able to do for you as your freedoms disappear, as your voice is stilled in the future since you refuse to use it now?  I am not surprised by sin, Lord knows I have enough of my own.  I am not calling for a return to a cruelty to the homosexual, or a failure to love.  I am calling for a sense of urgency not simply about our faith as Christians, but for the survival of our nation as a new tyranny grows.  We must resist this, we must become politically engaged, and we must not stand on the sidelines as if this doesn't matter. Those of you who only want to preach the Gospel gently to your neighbors, and live a life of love, why don't you care about your country?  Do you think the immorality of unbelievers has nothing to do with you, that you and  your children will escape the inevitable squeeze of relativism and the end of your freedom of conscience?  I suppose one shouldn't lose his head over power that sins; someone tell that to John the Baptist .
     I actually read American Christians who say it doesn't matter what happens to America.  Really?  What lazy, apathetic, pie in the sky escapism is that?  What terrible theology to not take life seriously, to not care about the injustice immorality always begets.  America's government is "of the people" so therefore it is us, and we will get what we stand and fight for or it will be taken by others whose vision for America's future is far different from the one for which we had hoped. In case you haven't noticed the other side is fighting for what they believe in.  And yes I think America is important, not because it is the new Israel, or the Kingdom of God, but simply because it is where we live, where I raised my children, where I hope my grandchildren can grow and experience one of the greatest nations the world has seen, that in the midst of its bloody struggle to be great is having its foundations dismantled, and what will we do then, and what turmoil will there be for the world as a result?


Tuesday, June 11, 2013


There are good men, and I want the ladies to know that.  There are good men who fail, but they're still good men.  I want the ladies to know that too.  Then there are men who should be better than they are, who seem full of potential and never seem to reach it or live up to anyone's expectations, including their own.  These men seem to constantly disappoint.  Then there are "worthless fellows," and these are bad men.  They hurt other people, and they enjoy it and encourage their friends in the pursuit of doing stupid things.  Then of course, there are just evil men; they wreak of evil, and violence, and crime. I would like the ladies to know the difference in all these types of men, and I would like the men to know themselves.
     What is important to realize is that each of these groups of men have varying degrees of intelligence.  They are not necessarily what they are because they are smart or stupid.  Men are not simply what they are because they are educated, or not.  Men are not what they are because they have wealth, or poverty.  In theology we speak of a couple of things that seem almost to be in contradiction.  We speak of depravity and all men possess this, yet, all men are image bearers of God.  All men come from some genetic background, some family background (whether stable, nuclear, broken, or destroyed) and it affects them, but not all in the same way.  How can men be both depraved and beautiful, gifted, yet without making any meaningful contribution?  This is the frustration of real life on a fallen planet.
    We need good men, and I'm not speaking for the Marines but for the world.  It is said, "clothes make the man" and of course they do not, but they do present a package.  Some men look for a package that sells, to themselves and to those they wish to impress.  There are men who develop a style of behaving, this too is packaging.  Put a depraved evil man in a uniform, make him a professional, and he is still a depraved evil man.  Here I speak not for the common depravity which cripples humans from knowing God, but that which defines character.  Many people are deceived by packaging, even those in the package.  If all you have is the clothes, and the style, but no substance well then the emperor truly has no clothes; if you follow my logical thread.
    One of the ironies of life is the story of grace and redemption.  It is ironic that a wicked man, full of evil, can be converted, transformed, and become a good man for the rest of his life.  Some don't believe this is possible but Christians live in the story and expectation of it all the time.  This has happened far too often in history for it to an unrealistic hope.  Truly horrible deeply flawed men have been "saved" and become great men, fathers, husbands, brothers, heroes, and dependable.  All men are inconsistent, but better to fail at being a failure and turn one's life around in a positive direction than otherwise.
    In elementary school they used to give out a report card and one of the evaluations was "fails to live up to his/her potential."  Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory, Non-satisfactory.  I remember being mad that my teacher failed to live up to my expectations by giving me a U one marking period in this category.  I wasn't sure what it meant but I knew it was negative.   I think I was eventually pleased to realize she thought I had potential.  How frustrating it must be for parents, women seeking decent husbands, children wishing they had a real and present father to have respectively a son, potential marriage partner, or progenitor who never quite makes the grade.  Some men will live their lives always to disappoint.
    We need good men, and I do speak for the parents, for the women, and for the children.  Starting from wherever they are, they need to up their game.  We need men who will stop pretending just to get the sex, the emotional support, the job, or ego stroking.  We need men who will stop living their lives to get over, or to be just enough and nothing more.  We don't necessarily call on men to be brilliant, talented, wealthy, good looking, well educated, and well dressed (though no one would complain about great icing on the cake).  We do call on men to be good, and to be great at it.  To have the character and fortitude to stand up for what is right and good, to not abandon a family, to not abuse or harm the weak.  We live in a world that confuses the packaging for what is in the box, the icing for what is in the cake, and surface for substance.  
   We don't get movies, television shows, or too much coverage of a man who (though not perfect), worked hard, plodded along, stood his ground not for ego or pride, picked himself back up when he fell, loved his wife, family, and friends, cared for the helpless and weak, and delivered himself a man when a man was needed.  Sometimes we think evil men should just be killed off, maybe sometimes they must, but we hope for  those radical conversions yet.  Sometimes we wish those men not living up to their potential would get a firm kick up the backside, because these are the men who frustrate us all.
   We also need women who will forgive, who will give us the break they want and need for themselves, who will have the sense to discern between momentary disappointments and a total disappointment.  It is manifestly true that in a world of corruption we need character, and we need grace to not only realize God's love for all of us with imperfect character, but grace to empower us to grow in godly character.  We, all of us, need good men.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Father's Day

   One part of my life for which I am tremendously grateful was given to me by God, my wife, and my children.  They are the ones who made me a father.  I am so glad I had the chance, the opportunity to be a Dad.  It was a precarious situation since I came to it with such poor preparation and equipment, meaning my own personality and sinfulness. So I am thankful to them, and most of all to the Lord God, who not only made me productive but gave me grace to serve as a father.
    I am thankful even to my own earthly father who abandoned me as a young child because he gave me the resolve never to leave.  I realized as the years went by how easy that would be, to leave and to give up.  There were certainly moments of lust and adulterous thoughts that could easily have led me to other women and the destruction of my marriage.  Much of my tenacity in staying was simply being loved by a great woman, the attraction she continues to hold for me in her own personal beauty, and her patience and forgiveness in putting up with my failures.
    My pride, my ability to fall into self-pity, my ability to be resentful and to hold a grudge, these were big threats to my faithfulness.  It was the grace of God that led me out of the labyrinth of those dark moments, usually after some argument or conflict.  Repentance, humility, the plea for mercy were the steps to reconciliation.  For me these things weren't easy, they were impossible, without the grace of God and the love of my wife.
    It was in the context of holding on to my marriage that gave me the place to be a Dad.  I didn't have to love my children on the week-ends, I didn't have to pay someone else child support, I didn't have to suffer being bashed by my spouse to my children.  She supported my role, my authority, and voice, my decisions, my discipline, and my love.  We were able to keep restraint on the other's temper, the other's laxity and permissiveness.  We kept each other from killing the children.
    Though my fear is that through my failures I have in part ruined them.  Certainly these wonderful children God gave me, one through adoption and the other three through natural birth, have seen some of my sin, some of my spiritual failure.  They have experienced my harshness and fierce anger, my bellowing menace.  They have suffered from my absence and neglect.  They have not enjoyed as much patience, tenderness, gentle instruction, affectionate encouragement and positive reinforcement as they needed and deserved.  I am amazed that they turned out so well.
    I knew always that they needed more than me.  If God was not their Heavenly Father they would not and could not have what they needed to face life, to endure hardship, to deal with their fallen-ness, their own depravity.  They would not have the One they needed to fall back on when even their earthly parents failed them, as we surely have, and do.
    As a pastor, as an Army Chaplain, I stole from them to give to others.  I was not always there, I missed games, birthdays, celebrations, important and historic events.  I made them go without because I chose to live a lifestyle, accept a salary, to do a ministry that deprived them of certain material things.  I made them sacrifice with me, I made them live my values.  I am honored that I have never heard them damn me for it, I am proud that they seem to have lived their lives unashamed of me or my calling.  I am so incredibly grateful for their love.
    I rejoice in the memories of every hug and falling asleep on my chest moment when they were babes.  I still am thrilled as I remember their jogging with me, climbing a mountain with me, wrestling with me, laying on my back as I did push-ups.  The moments when my grown daughter lies her head on my shoulder when we sit next to each other are exquisite.  To hear them laugh, have a sense of humor, to be insightful, discerning, critical and even sarcastic at political hypocrisy and pretense makes me admire them.  For them to be sincere in their faith, in their prayers, in their love for God and their passion to see the church be what God calls it be makes me not only proud, but impressed with them as saints.  I am thrilled to have my family for a posse of people committed to justice.
   I hope and I pray that I have not damaged them too badly, that they will not repeat my failures, that my modeling of parenting would make them want to be better than me. In their adult years  I don't want to fail them as their friend, the giver of sage advice, the listener, someone who can make their heart relieved and proud when the see the smile of approval on my face, or a look of forgiveness if they need it.  I hope I will succeed as a grandfather to their children. 
    So as we come to Father's Day, let me be the one to say thank you to my children.  You gave me a chance to be something great, to hold in my arms something of the future, and great potential for the world.  You gave and give me joy, and whether you are near or far in place, you are never far from mind and heart.  You have helped define me and give me meaning, and if you ever do anything great (and I expect that you will), or even just pretty good, then all glory to God!