Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Faith and Politics - God Is Not On Our Side!

In every political era, people are understandably hopeful that their views fall on “the right side of history” and that God is on their side.  Our age is no different. In the aftermath of every election, analysis and reflection find one side of an issue or one candidate or another claiming righteousness and some level of superiority over those whose views did not generate a winning level of support.  Some even go as far to claiming a position of alliance to God Himself.

As I have listened to claims of “God being on ‘our’ side” or of certain groups being "on the right side" from people of differing political perspectives, I was reminded of a mighty biblical personality who seemingly should have had no doubt about being on God’s side or even God being on his.  The reality was not as simple as one might be inclined to think.

In the 5th chapter of the Bible book Joshua, the man for whom the book is named and mighty leader of Israel is preparing to lead the people of Israel to overtake the city of Jericho as directed by God.  As he surveys the situation, he has a chilling encounter.  Here is how that encounter is presented in the Biblical text:
13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
14 “No,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

It is interesting that this Heavenly representative came to engage Joshua, but offered no assurance of favoritism or alliance.  He only affirmed that God was present, sovereign and that Joshua needed to acknowledge God’s unique righteousness perspective which was His alone and not the product of human diplomacy. Like Joshua, we must weigh into situations with our best understanding of right and wrong but make adjustments when we've thought more of our position than we ought.

For those who walk with Jesus, we must seek God’s Word, walk in humility, pursuing righteousness and exercising restraint in claiming “God’s favor” when, in spite of our intentions, we may be standing within striking distance of receiving God’s judgment.  As Abraham Lincoln said, “… my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”  That may mean rejecting a viewpoint or candidate within one’s own affiliation that does not represent what one is deeply convicted is right.   It may even mean standing utterly alone when no viewpoint expressed adequately represents what one believes to be true.

Jesus warned that standing with a prophetic voice can even turn one’s hometown and kindred against you and standing on principle can be an express ticket to an early exit from this life.  The Apostle Paul declared that those who follow Jesus are looking for a country that is not of this earth and can expect a challenging earthly journey as strangers in strange lands.  As my own life progresses, and politics and public discourse become increasingly toxic, I often feel more alienated from the world around me than I did in years past.  If the biblical writers are to be believed – and I believe them – being “someone else from somewhere else” is just the right passport for our perilous times. 

Stay true to what is right friends, and don’t fear standing firm and standing alone when everywhere others are trying to persuade you to stand is unstable and broken ground.  Dare to be different, when the labels that are available don’t fit you or your ideals.  Do not compromise your convictions for a temporarily satisfying political victory.  Blaze new trails.  Seize the opportunities to lead that come your way.  And, like the Captain of the Armies of the Lord, even when someone you admire more than their opponent, but with whom you have significant issues, asks if you’re on their side or their opponent’s side, stand your ground and resolutely say, “No.”


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Realities Behind the Sexual Harassment Avalanche

It seems that by the hour, new allegations of sexual misconduct are being discovered among powerful and elite men once considered paragons of prestige. It is a never-ending avalanche! These discoveries have caused shock and outrage around the nation.  While such responses are understandable and appropriate, there is a huge disconnect between our current moral outrage and the patterns of behavior we have applauded for almost 50 years.  We seem to believe that it is possible to embrace moral ambiguity and nonchalance regarding fidelity,  chastity and honor while simultaneously expecting people to suddenly exercise moral restraint within the parameters of codes that have been mocked for decades. It is farcical. 

We now want to call out Hugh Hefner - now that he's dead.  After all, dead men tell no tales, and an attack on "Hef" during his long life surely carried corresponding risks of undesired exposure.  In addition, we now want to express moral outrage at behavior we as a society have celebrated in the arts, in entertainment, in our humor and in our philosophies since the advent of the sexual revolution. Of course, it is righteous that evil be exposed and that predators be brought to social and legal justice.  It is, however, hypocritical to act as if we really cared before the evil within our gates was exposed to the light of day, and placed beyond the pretense of plausible deniability.

Evil doesn't stay hidden forever and hypocrisy tends to get exposed.  This rash of exposures reminds me of the many cases of preachers brought to light who were involved in covert sexual harassment in the 1980's. Two verses come to mind in reflecting on those days:
"... be sure your sin will find you out." Numbers 32:23 and "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17
Many laughed and heckled those preachers as other Christians wept.  Now that judgement is spreading beyond the ranks of the church, the laughter is subsiding. We all have work to do!

Understanding the hypocrisy of our ways, we must do more than lament the evil. We must recognize that we can never address the many divisions within our nation that have resurfaced with amazing ferocity as long blatant hypocrisy advances unchecked throughout the country in the shadows. We must embrace and cling to the good, exercising what Jesus followers call the Fruit of the Spirit of God which includes attributes like love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness and self control. If we scoff at this new and living way, failing to "get right" "for real," our current lamentations will only be the beginning of a longer and sadder trail of suffering, pain and shame. 

We must all be committed to making things right, standing with others who are courageously paying a very heavy toll for bringing truth to light. While the developments of recent days could be beneficial for our national soul, I am not particularly optimistic about the outcome. Nevertheless,  we must continue to face the truth, calling those who have fallen to repentance and transformation, recognizing that without a moral compass that redirects and brings forth change, all our lamentations are for nought. We must also work to  comfort, compensate and empower those who have suffered the grievous wrongs that plague us, and work to transform the culture that has allowed such evil to thrive in the shadows. We must drive on in faith, determination, humility, and perseverance as long as the Lord gives us ability.  Nothing less will suffice.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Counting Blessings In The Midst of Struggle

An old hymn invites its singers to count their blessings, naming them one by one. As I reflect on the year gone by, there have been many challenges and even some heartbreaks.  Nevertheless, when I examined the painful times more closely, each one was accompanied by blessings that overshadowed the pain I encountered.  The primary example of this truth was manifested in my father’s death.

As painful as my father’s passing was, I am amazed and thankful for this: that even in his diminished state, besieged by dementia, he never forgot who I was.  The painful event I was sure would come to pass as his condition worsened, never did, and I was blessed to experience a knowing look and a familiar greeting until he closed his eyes in eternal rest. Not only was I blessed to be known and remembered, but even my being able to be present with him at his rendezvous with eternity was a moment of incredible grace and beauty that I will treasure until my own time comes.

With that reflection, I have looked back on the year, considering some significant interruptions and setbacks, thankful for the gems present in the muck, such as treatment in the midst of suffering, condolence in the midst of grief and restoration in the midst of professional loss.  The challenges and trials will always come, but as long as there is breath in our bodies and recognition in our minds we must never cease to look a little closer and recognize the great blessings that are ours, even in our greatest times of struggle and loss.   

Therefore, even in a year that has had several tough chapters to navigate, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. My greetings come from a heart filled with gratitude for the goodness, mercy and grace I have received during the ups, downs and turn-arounds of everyday living.  Life is tough, but there is beauty to be found in the ashes.  Press on with gratitude my friends, count your blessings and encourage others to pause and do the same!


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thankful For Hope in the Midst of Strife

Recently, while observing numerous online disputes of great intensity, I found myself extremely troubled by the strife. The words of the holiday tune "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day" began to resound in my heart, and I became deeply troubled, to the point of tears. In unison with the well-known lyrics, I lamented, "... And in despair I bowed my head There is no peace on earth I said For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men." Indeed, hatred and enmity dominate so much of the social media landscape, that it seems even good friendships are mocked and destroyed by the toxicity of opinions that are violently presented and combatively defended. "There is no peace on earth I said." But, just as my despair crested, I engaged in a few uplifting conversations with friends who have persisted in fighting the Good Fight, and loving others with wreckless abandon, regardless of how the are treated. Their devotion to the ways of Jesus and to loving their neighbors as themselves, brought new life to the hope ultimately expressed in the tune of old: "Then rang the bells more loud and deep God is not dead, nor does he sleep! The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men! This inspiring hope reminded me of the admonition of Galatians 6:9, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. " Brothers and Sisters, in the midst of discouraging times, let us continue to sow good seed in the lives of all we meet, knowing that our labor will not be in vain, if we faint not! "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men!" For this hope, I am thankful!


Friday, November 10, 2017

Thankful For His Service

In this first Veterans Day without Dad, my heart cannot help but notice his absence. As I reflect on why he is such a heroic presence in my life, the example of his daily walk is the inescapable answer. 

I learned many lessons of leadership not only by listening to his advice,  but even more by watching his actions.  He was even-tempered, a true listener, a real friend to his peers, and he just loved people! I could hear the love in his military greetings, see it in his hand salute, and feel it in my heart when he laughed. His love was even recognizable until the end. When it seemed he had lost all sense of time and space due to his dementia, he somehow willed himself not to forget me. Until his dying breath he had his special greeting for me, Luz, the family and close friends, he maintained his right hand grip and he never relinquished his relentless optimism.  He remained an inspiration. 

Veterans Day is reminder of the man he became after he volunteered to enter the profession of arms, intrigued by a recruiting poster of a lone paratrooper descending through sunny skies filled with heavenly white clouds. The Army provided a stability a large portion of his childhood lacked. The Airborne culture gave him a conduit through which to demonstrate his finest character traits of courage, devotion,  extreme commitment and immeasurable perseverance.


I am fortunate to have him as a father and to share his name. It is my life's mission to honor him and the name he gave me.  More than anyone living, I am thankful for his service.  


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Violence - Destroyer of Civilizations

No civilization can continue in violence and expect to continue to thrive. As I have been reflecting on the violent events of this year in the US, some verses from Genesis have come to mind regarding the cause of God's ultimate displeasure with humanity during the days of Noah. These verses have strong relevance for our times as well. Observe what the Scriptures say:

"Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth" (Genesis 6:11-13.)

Life was problematic on every moral level in the world at that time, but the proliferation of violence was a tipping factor for God's judgment. We know that there will not be a flood on the scale of Noah's again, but civilizations have risen and fallen time and time again ever since those days because of violence and corruption. Jesus warned that the end would be near when humanity once again approached wickedness on the level of the days of Noah. I am not prone to be a "doom and gloomer" but we are living in extremely violent times and Jesus instructed His followers to be observant of the times. We must resist this evil and not simply allow it to wash over us like a tidal wave over which we have no control. We can do something. Therefore, Let us now hold our own homes and communities accountable in our direct leadership and confront the violence directly around us. As the Texas church massacre case reminds us, domestic violence is a springboard for violence everywhere else.

Let us also hold our political representatives accountable in confronting violence, calling them to be more than powerful place-holders with personal perks, but demanding that they work and serve to re-establish peace in the land for the rest of us, who do not have the benefit of round the clock professional personal protection. It is becoming clearer that even the basic rules and regulations we have put in place are not being seriously enforced. Part of the responsibility of Public Service is ensuring excellence in administrative oversight. Let us call these leaders to utilize the tools being neglecting and simultaneously closing the loopholes that have riddled our national fabric to make the tools of violence accessible to people never meant to have access to such instruments. If political leaders will not prioritize this life or death issue in establishing good practices and implementing existing policies, let us change the guard until there are people in place who will!

We must care enough to confront the violence we are experiencing in all the ways we can, at every level we can. To neglect the issue is to continue to imperil our existence. As we remain indecisive and ineffective, Violence continues to chip away at our foundation one bloody incident, and countless lives at a time. We cannot afford to wait for the next round of assaults before taking action. Look around you, jump in, and take action where you can. Civilization is at stake.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

Facing Evil Days

As the peace within our nation gives way to surging seas of violence, satisfactory explanations are illusive, and any semblance of security seems unattainable.  In such confusing and fearful times, philosophical pondering doesn't provide much comfort or rest for our souls.  There are responses, however, that I believe are meaningful and helpful even as we wrestle with the unrelenting problem of evil.  As we search for meaning and understanding in painful times, we must simultaneously engage the real carnage evil bestows on us.  We must comfort those who mourn, protect those who are vulnerable and commit ourselves even more resolutely to live by the Law of Love.  

The latest act of savagery that has grabbed our national attention should remind us that following Jesus and walking in faith is not a talismanic or charmed protection from episodes of evil or occurrences of barbarity.  Walking as a follower of Jesus is, rather, on-going preparation for confronting daily wickedness, whether we in our flesh are victims of it, or even if we survive to battle against it in the on-going cosmic war that Jesus told us is at hand. 

For that reason, we must pray for and comfort those who are suffering, and we must work to expose and confront the evil that lurks among us.  At the same time, we must work to engage others in our daily circles of influence so that as much as it has to do with us, we are not passively waiting for the next tragedy.  Let us continually devote ourselves to actively lead the way in our communities for the good by seeking to convert those who are tempted to embrace evil and wickedness as normative life ways.  Let us act to turn the treacherous away from their treachery.  Let us also work to raise up those in our charge to forgo wickedness in the first place and to choose goodness and beauty over evil and ugly, not allowing themselves to be captured by the tempter's snares.  As we labor to lead this fight for good proactively and incarnationally, let us take heart in the opening words of Psalm 46:

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.


We will not fear.  We will trust in the Lord to help us, embolden us and sustain us to fight the Good Fight until He comes, or until our time on earth is done. May the Lord have mercy on all those who are suffering and may we commit ourselves to be agents of His grace, mercy and peace - every day.