Observations on the Passing Scene – 3.4.17

I am constantly making observations about the world around me, but have rarely shared them in writing. I usually reserve them for candid conversations with those who help me process my observations to the point of understanding. I value this practice, because it seems like we can lose sight of the shifting environment around us.

And just like the frog slowly boiling in the pot of water, we can be surprised by how sharply yet subtly our surroundings have changed.

The current state of affairs in our nation has lead to some interesting observations.

Not-my-President’s Day:

Donald Trump is a polarizing President in already polarized times for our nation.

I voted for him. He was not my first choice, but nonetheless I voted for him. I was as surprised as anyone when he won (and I have my electoral predictions to prove it).

And based on our process, he was elected President. Now, nearly half the nation did NOT vote for him, so I recognize the sentiment behind rejecting him because he does not represent your vote.

However, he is still the President. He may not represent your values or your vote, but he is in fact your President.
This may be troubling to you, and I understand that.

This sentiment is widely expressed, but is there any room for this for us? (By us, I mean followers of Christ)

I would argue no. Because we know that the Lord establishes those in positions of authority (Romans 13).  We are all subject to the law and to the government officials placed in positions of authority.

I think it would be wise for us to take a step back and ask: Am I being a source of division, or a source of unity?

Our nation is divided enough as it is. This same nation needs to see a united Church, looking to Jesus for answers, because looking to Washington DC will leave us lacking every time.

Lawlessness:

Why have we become so comfortable with the breaking of laws?
Lawlessness is almost celebrated in our current culture. We have even had government officials allowing riots and the destruction of property to continue without taking action in a timely fashion.

Consider that: the very people elected to uphold the law allowing lawlessness to continue much longer than it should.

This is troubling to me.
Why? Because to me it reflects the subtle but steady moral decline of our society. This is not a social issue. This is not a political issue. It is a spiritual issue.

If you don’t believe me, at least take a quick look at your Bible and see all of the times lawlessness is mentioned.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
1 John 3:4

You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; this is why God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy rather than Your companions.
Hebrews 1:9

These are just a couple of examples pulled from the countless in Scripture. It is humbling to consider how the continual, ongoing practice of sin is tantamount to lawlessness.

Pretty serious stuff here.

Disagree without being Disagreeable

I was having a conversation with a few friends of mine who represent the opposite end of the political spectrum. We were having a candid conversation about the current state of affairs. I stated my positions, they stated theirs.
And in all of this, something amazing happened.

We didn’t fight, curse, snarl, character assassinate, name call, etc. We simple left the conversation and went on our way with a better understanding of opposing views.

It seems we are losing this art. The art of disagreeing without being disagreeable.

How do we regain this ability? Outside of just generally being respectful of everyone, I have discovered that it helps to practice empathy. A simple “Why?” can go a long way in aiding understanding.

Consider your background.
When I consider mine, it is not a surprise that I hold more conservative views.

I was

  • Raised in the Southeast
  • By middle class Christian parents
  • Including a father in law enforcement
  • And then I joined the military at age 20

I went to one of the most progressive universities in the country but that experience could not overwhelm the factors mentioned above.
My worldview was set. And the person you are talking to/disagreeing with, has the very same set of inputs influencing their views.

Disagree without being Disagreeable.

Journal Entry: October 9th 2016

October 9th, 2016

In some ways, I have allowed politics to become an idol. Maybe THE idol in my life right now. I follow it incessantly, yet hardly pray for my country, or open my Bible. I KNOW the truth, and the truth is that my country is not what I want it to be. Our values are not what I want them to be.

But doesn’t that miss the point? Is God not sovereign?
The answer of course is yes, but my idolatry and obsession over this election means that I am living more like it is a “no”.
Humbling indeed.

Both of our primary candidates are so deeply and fundamentally flawed. I recognize we are all deeply and fundamentally flawed, but can you recall a time where both candidates are such a far cry from anything resembling submission to the authority of God? This troubles me, but probably not for the right reasons as I think about it.

It troubles me because it means that the America that I have in my mind, that I believed would be present in my future, is fading rapidly. This America had strong Judeo-Christian values, was proud of what it meant to be an American and all that came with that.

This identity is dying and it breaks my heart. But it also means that (selfishly) my life will be harder. Prosperity will be threatened, my values will be of the minority and maybe even censored before too long.

So what are the right reasons for being troubled by this? Obviously the moral decline of our leadership is indicative of the moral decline of our nation. Wayward morality always has consequences. History has proved this time and time again. Heck, you don’t even need the Bible to see it but I believe Scripture provides the most coherent explanation.

Say what you want about the Founding Fathers, because many say they weren’t Christians. I don’t argue that here, I will say that they did view the world with a moral framework. There was a starting point, a foundation of morality that they looked to for inspiration and guidance.

We are losing this framework. We have no foundation or starting point to look to. And like a house without a strong frame or a body without bones, we fall in on ourselves.

There will be suffering and more suffering. Physical, psychological, social, economic. This is probably the saddest part of this, but also the greatest opportunity because suffering forces us to ask some pretty big questions.

What is the purpose of this?
Why do I suffer?
Is there any hope?

It is here that I return, because the answers to these questions, and the example of our lives is where the Church is indeed Salt and Light.

Salt prevents decay. Light shines brightest in the darkness.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

My Word for 2016

NewThe practice of choosing a word for the year is something I have done for the last three years under the encouragement of the leadership of a local church. The word has served as a point of focus in my walk with Christ.

My word for 2016 is New.

new |n(y)o͞o|

adjective

1 not existing before; made, introduced, or discovered recently or now for the first time

2 just beginning or beginning anew and regarded as better than what went before

We celebrate things that are new.

  • New Years are exciting.
  • New Cars smell amazing.
  • New Shoes look great.

As I thought about my word for this year, I was reminded that the Lord celebrates making things new as well.

We are given a new heart and a new spirit

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

We are a new creation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:17

We follow a new command

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

John 13:34

We will see a new heaven and new earth

1Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea… 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:1,5

I just listened to a sermon today that said God views each day with the same excitement that we view each year. His mercies are new each and every day.

I am made new. You can be too.

Why We Need Community

I love golf. I have been playing for about 22 years now and the game has taught me a lot. Golf is unique because it is an individual sport. I have been on golf “teams” but even then we are just the sum of our individual contributions. This tendency to try and “go it alone” leaks into my walk with Jesus and the consequences are unsettling.

Here’s the thing: Following Jesus is not an individual endeavor. The Church does not function well when we fly solo. I do not function well as a member of the Church when I choose to fly solo.

I need community. We all need community.

But first, what is community?

One definition of community is “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

A second definition is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common

For our purposes, our definition of community is a combination and simplification that is best understood as “a committed group of Christ followers navigating life together.”

Seems simple enough, right? Yet I still struggle in isolation. We still struggle without community.

Why is that though? Why is it that I struggle when I am isolation? Why do I need community?

In Scripture we discover some answers to these questions –

  • Built for Relationship

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

Being created in the image of God truly means something. We carry His imprint whether we like it or not. The thing about God is that He is relational. His relationship with the Son and Holy Spirit was always there.

Just think, the idea of relationship always was.

As carriers of His likeness, we are wired for relationship. Relationship with Him and with others around us. The context for this relationship is found in a community setting.

  • Better Together

Two are better than one,

because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down,

one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls

and has no one to help them up.

Ecclesiastes 4:9 – 10

Allow me to share an illustration most of us can relate to – Have you ever gone to a theme park alone? Ever been to a movie alone?  I have done both and I can honestly say that my experience was not nearly as fulfilling as any time I went with someone else. Life is a lot like that as well. When I go to theme parks, my motto is the more the merrier because it is so much fun to experience theme parks with a host of friends! We are better together!

A life lived in community is fun, but it also has some other very real benefits.

Consider this illustration – Have you ever witnessed a friend making a bad decision that you knew would result in pain/suffering?

You know what I am talking about. This person is convinced they are making a good decision and are blind to any alternatives. Or maybe you have been that person. I know I have. I know I have had the blinders on and when I crashed I inevitably said “well I didn’t see that coming”.

But you know who did? The people that knew me best. My close friends and family in many cases.

We all have blind spots. A community can protect us from those blind spots and help us to make wise decisions.

  • Community Needs You

Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

When I was in Basic Training, I learned very early on that I was no longer an individual. The Army has a way of beating that out of you. Any action that can be perceived as an individual action was met with swift punishment. We always did things as a team. The smallest unit was a group of two and your partner was called your “Battle Buddy”. My battle buddy was a guy named PVT Addison. We both learned early on that we had to rely on each other. I needed him, and he needed me.

The Church is like that.

I need community, and community needs me. There are blind spots that I can clear. There are bits of wisdom and insight that I can share to save someone pain and suffering. And then there are wonderful experiences that we can celebrate together!

You are the same. People need you. You are valuable. Jesus can and will use you.

When the Struggle is Real

“The Struggle is Real”

Struggle

This statement has gained popularity lately, and is usually reserved for “First World Problems” or when something trivial happens that we need to make light of.

I admit, I’ve said it before and got a few laughs.

But what about when the struggle IS real? What are we to make of life when we cannot make light of it?

Life is tough. This reality is inescapable. There will be seasons when the struggle is real.

I have been through a few seasons like that. In fact, I am just coming out of a season like that. For a few months, I was just in a funk. I felt like the Lord was distant and there was nothing I could do about it.

Of course I knew this wasn’t the case, but I certainly didn’t feel it.

All of the Christian clichés in the world couldn’t help me feel better about my situation.

I was struggling. I was suffering.

Suffering is part of the Christian experience. Suffering teaches us lessons that may be learned through no other medium.

As C.S. Lewis says – “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In these moments of pain, suffering, and confusion we are driven to a greater reliance on the Lord. Our faith in the Lord is tested, and forced to grow.

We are forced to lean into the Lord and trust that He will catch us in this time. Allow me to share an analogy that helps me visualize this.

The Jump

I went skydiving last September with a handful of friends from my hometown. I was apprehensive at first, but the challenge was just too much for me to turn down. We all speculated on the drive down that our moment of greatest fear would be as we approached the door for our jump. As the plane begin its ascent, reality began to set in. I turned to my buddy Daniel and said “Well, at this point the fastest way down is going to be by jumping.” He agreed, and we both concluded that since we were strapped in, we pretty much had no choice at this point.

We had to jump.

Just think, here I was, attached to a stranger jumping from 15,000 feet into the blue Florida sky. I was relying on this stranger, and our parachute.

The Jump

Needless to say, I survived.

I have discovered that our walk with the Lord is a lot like this, especially in the realm of suffering.

The Lord often invites us to greater reliance on Him but sometimes He pushes us to the edge so that our only choice is to jump and discover our complete reliance on Him. The latter of these two options is certainly more difficult. It is nice to have the choice to acknowledge my reliance on the Lord as opposed to skydiving into His peace. Either way, the fact is that the Lord is really all I have.

I say all of that to make this point: when the struggle is real, it helps to consider that the Lord is likely using that to make you look more like Him.

That is the goal after all: to look more and more like Jesus.

Recognizing this purpose has not made my struggles any easier, but it has helped me to understand and even be grateful for the experience. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

It is my prayer that if you are in the midst of a trial, that you would jump. Embrace it as an opportunity for growth that could not be achieved any other way. Cling to the Lord and recognize that He is ALWAYS all that you have

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.

Psalm 119:50