Sunday, October 31, 2010

Can You See It From Your House?

Being in the North Georgia Mountains is special even in the rain. I was reminded of that last week when we spent time together there renewing our vision. Things look so different when we immerse ourselves in God's creation and try to catch a glimpse of God's vision for us. Proverbs  29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." I know. I hear you protesting already. You have a vision but it really does not include God or his church. Don't you realize that if your vision - for your world, your nation, your community, your family, yourself - is too small or too dim, then it will never be realized? You need faith to have a vision, and if you have faith only in yourself or in the things of the world, you are automatically limiting your vision of what might be. What is vision anyway? I don't know who said this, but I like this definition of vision: "Foresight with insight based on hindsight." Another good one is, "Seeing the invisible and making it visible." That's the faith element. See God's purpose for your life and make it real in your experience starting today.

We have so many competing visions in our world and in our churches because people work hard to bend God's vision for us into something we can be comfortable with and tolerate. God never called us to be comfortable or tolerant. He called us to be faithful. That might mean disagreeing with our politial and community leaders. It might mean taking a stand at church when there are scripturally based theological differences - even with clergy and other church leaders. You see, I don't think God gives faithful followers competing visions. If we are at odds, it is because we have different levels of understanding and clarity of vision. We must work together to find God's will in the messes we call our lives and bring God's vision for us into clearer focus. What IS is often so good, we dare not dream of what could be. And when we do not answer God's invitation to our future, it does not materialize.

Jesus took his future church leaders up to the Mount of Transfiguration and revealed his glory to them. (Matthew 17:1-13). In the North Georgia Mountains another group of church leaders got a glimpse of his glory. We are not alone. The fire of God's Spirit is alive and well among us, but if the best vision we can muster is based on our own desires, not much will be accomplished for the Kingdom. There is power in a God-inspired vision when we embrace it. Greater things are in store for this body of believers if we continue to develop leadership and ministries that will make a difference in the lives of battered, the broken, bruised, and bleeding people. When we are willing to pick up the souls the world has left to die in the ditches of our world, God will give us the ability to make his vision our reality.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us

I'm concerned that we simply do not know enough to engage in effective dialogue anymore. Ample evidence exists that we are uninformed about our faith and our form of government. This is an alarming reality as we face perhaps a watershed election in a little over a week. This apparent deficit of knowledge deserves some thought on our part.

A recent Pew Research Center Survey found that, while Americans are deeply religious, less than half of us know much about our faith. The study further revealed that atheists and agnostics know more about the Christian faith than professing Christians. We also learned that there is almost no difference in the knowledge of faith between those who attend church once or twice weekly and those who never attend church at all. We didn't see that one coming, did we?

Hold that thought as we reflect on recent commentary and critique of the political discourse in the present political campaign. In the Delaware Senatorial debates this week, there was a lengthy discussion about the Constitution. Candidate O'Donnell had difficulty explaining the purpose of certain amendments to the Constitution. The she asked her opponent, Mr. Coons, "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" The audience laughed. Her opponent then gave an uninformed response reflecting that neither he nor the audience knew that the doctrine of Separation of Church and State is not mentioned in the U. S. Constitution at all. In fact, when he was pressed on the point, Mr. Coons was unable to name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Perhaps the most important fact in that exchange is that the audience laughed. Neither of these candidates was knowledgeable about the founding document of this Republic, but the audience did not know it.

We are practicing our faith and selecting our government in relative ignorance. There is no way we would tolerate this level of incompetence in our doctors, auto repair technicians, or electricians. Why is it less important to know what we are doing in making decisions of eternal sigificance? Unfortunately, too many of us are uninformed and apparently are content to be. God's word tells us in Proverbs 9:10 that fear or respect for God is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. Proverbs 8:35-36 speaks of wisdom this way: "For whoever finds me (wisdom) finds life. But whoever fails to find me (wisdom) harms himself; all who hate me love death." Knowledge and understanding are given to those whose lives attempt to honor God. So one must wonder if there is a correlation between the apparent lack of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding in our world and our failure to even attempt to live in ways that honor God.

What do we do to change this fateful and fatal trend? (1) Read God's word and internalize the wisdom contained in it. Using these principles, build a life that honors God. If you need help or are not sure what passages in scripture mean, ask your pastor if you have one. If not find a church, and ask for the pastor. Don't leave until all of your questions are answered. Join us on Thursdays as we continue the study of Paul Thomas' book Falling Up: A Focus on Christian Honour. where we are discussing the tools necessary to build a life that honors God. (2) Vote. All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. Learn what the candidates stand for. Vote for those who most closely exemplify a life that honors God. These are the people whom God would have us leading this land. But you know, God loves us enough to allow us to elect those who have no clue about our faith or our government. That would be terribly unwise, but God will let us do it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Inspired by Fishbait

Friday, we went to the Cobb County Library book sale - great fun for me and the church's Media Center Director, and a benefit to the church. As I examined the thousands of books there, I realized how fleeting popularity really is. Of course there were current titles. There always are, since these are books that have been donated specifically for this sale. But there were also biographies of those whose contributions are now dimming memories. Diana, Princess of Wales; the Kennedys, Tim Russert, Henry Kissinger; and the biography of Fishbait Miller. Who? Many of you may not remember Fishbait, but I do. I've had that book on my shelf for many years. William "Fishbait" Miller served for 42 years on Capital Hill and was the Doorkeeper of the United States House of Representatives for 28 of those years. His departure signaled the beginning of a departure of dignity and decorum from that great body. Many have served since, but no one has been able to intone that memorable, "Mistah Speakah! The President of the United States!!" as he introduced the President to a joint session of Congress.

Why do I mention Fishbait at all? He was one of the more insignificant players on the world stage, but I remember what he did and how well he did it. Many of the persons represented by the books on those tables yesterday are, as Lincoln put it, of little note nor long remembered. Yet as I looked at the combined wisdom represented in those books and the collective impact of the lives represented, there is no question that the world is a different place because they lived.

The same is true of the us. Our individual achievements do not often seem to be of much consequence, but we are not asked to serve in isolation. Our faith is an indiviual commitment which by necessity is lived out in the collective presence of the church and the society in which we find ourselves. Fishbait introduced the President at his last State of the Union Address with the same enthusiasm that he had at the first. The most important part of his job publically was to introduce the leader of the free world to that Constitutionally mandated meeting of government.

We are called to introduce others to a great leader as well. We are not so effective when we attempt to do so without the help of others. We need encouragement to stand up and belt out the news for all the world to hear. Jesus has been forgotten by many, and some have never known him at all. We have the opportunity as a collective body of believers to introduce again the most important one who ever lived. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus pronounced that the best work we will ever do. Our work does not have to gain recognition and popularity. In fact, it is better when it does not. We simply are asked to be faithful as children of God and faithful as witnesses to the power of his presence. Out of the thousands of people present in your life every day, maybe someone will pick up on something you say or do and get curious.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Seeking Truth

So let me get this straight: Integrity is optional; Truth is relative; and Wrong is only wrong when someone else does it? We are encountering these ideas at every turn as we speed toward that bi-annual exercise of the American experiment we call elections. As we see candidates and others abandon personal integrity and truth in exchange for anticipated political gain, we gaze in amazement that intelligent men and women could have such a distorted concept of right and wrong, truth and its opposite, whatever you care to call it, and expect us to believe it! As followers of Jesus, we have a clear understanding of truth. Jesus tells us in John 8:31-36 that he is truth, and only a knowledge of that truth can make us free. So why are we so tolerant of those who bend the truth beyond recognition for apparent personal gain?

Do we understand what truth really is? Without exploring a lengthy discussion of the many philosophical nuances that contribute to our concept of truth, let’s just say that truth is a statement or standard that is consistent with a recognized reality. That’s easy to differentiate, and it's the dictionary definition. Is it real? That's the question. But what do we do when those we trust and those who would be our leaders misrepresent the facts - military service, votes on the floor of Congress, facts in their personal lives – facts about which there could be no confusion – and then tell us that the prevarication was unintentional, or worse still that it did not happen? They lie. In our world, a lie unchallenged takes on the attributes of truth very quickly; and we buy into the idea that we can beat any rap if we tell the lie often enough for the lie to become accepted.

Often we look the other way in the face of obvious untruths because we have been equally disingenuous with others and would like to get out of it with a similar well crafted phrase, too. We see too much of our own human condition in the flaws of would-be leaders and others and opt for leniency rather than accountability. We delude ourselves into thinking that reality has changed just so we will not have to be accountable for our own lack of faithfulness. We can justify our own infractions and the lies of others by asserting that “everyone does that” or that “it really is no big deal” or “it isn't that important.”

From Exodus when God gave the Ten Commandments, to Jesus who fulfilled them, to today, the faithfulness and truth of our witness has mattered to God. We pretend that truth is relative at our peril. God gave us the freedom to choose to be untruthful with each other, but God is very clear that it is outside of his will for us to do so.

Even before Jesus, the Greek philosopher, Socrates, taught not to accept existing thoughts as true. He encouraged those around him to step back and reevaluate the truth and veracity of opinions and beliefs. Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32 NRSV). God’s word clearly provides the standard by which we measure, evaluate, and attain truth. Caring and loving hearts cannot be dishonest and take advantage of others.

A good servant leader has integrity and the desire to be truthful and open in dealings with others. The people of God must hold leaders and others accountable for the truth of what is said and done. From family members to your church leaders to those who aspire to other leadership positions in our land, set the standard of truth before us, and hold us accountable for our words and deeds. Get real, people! When we tolerate what God will not, our witness is disingenuous, and that may be the ultimate failure.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Choosing Sides

This afternoon, I watched what I thought would be a great football game between the University of Alabama and the University of South Carolina. I'm a Tarheel by birth, as most of you know, and they won today. But I like Alabama football. I lived there for a number of years and will always enjoy that storied program.

When we first moved to Alabama, I knew little of the football rivalry between Auburn University and the University of Alabama. When I was asked which team I wanted to win, I told my co-workers that I wanted them both to win, unless they were playing each other. Wrong answer! You see, even though I knew about the great tradition of these schools, I had not lived it. When it came to living in Alabama, I had to make a choice and be loyal to the team I chose - win or lose.

It occurs to me that the same is true of living a life of faith. We can't be for everything until they come into conflict. We have to choose. In the game of life, we choose God, or we choose something else. We can't have it both ways.

Roll Tide anyway....

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thoughts on Faith in a Crazy World

As I begin putting words to space, I do so with the uneasy knowledge that matters of faith are under increasing attack in our world. And those of us who hold a faith commitment must speak. With the imperative to speak goes the responsibility to have something to add to the conversation. I have begun this blog as a place where we can engage the ideas and controversies of our day in the context of our faith. So much of what goes on in our world is informed not by faith but by the narcissism of those who have our attention. Oh, how we love to be told we are important and that power and authority have our interests foremost in their minds. That idea should not appeal to servants of Jesus Christ. That idea should be counter to anything Christians desire or want from this God-given life. As we identify the tough questions and attempt to shine the light of God's presence and will on them, I invite you to join the conversation. We will not always agree. Some of us may never agree, but that does not diminish the value of the conversation. Together we can focus on where God is calling us, both collectively and individually, and tackle the issues that we see as obstacles to that purpose in life. Sometimes the answers will be simple and easy, but often they will be thorny and difficult. God created us, so the dialogue is worth the effort. In the process, we may get a glimpse of truths that have eluded us and some that have faded into our distant memories. No matter, we will take a fresh look at our human experience and see if God is in it. Join me on this journey.