Monthly Archives: February 2012

Occupy Immorality

It’s interesting, even entertaining, to watch the political gyrations of presidential candidates attempting to respond to our anemic economy (no wonder many citizens have given up on politics in exchange for the news about sports who’s wearing what at the Oscars). Still, it always catches my attention when I hear critics from both political ideologies decry candidates who talk about religious or moral issues. The critics want candidates to focus on fixing our economic policy in order to bring back the days of wine and roses. I’m not an old fuddy-duddy who longs for a complete return to the good old days, but based on my reading of the Bible and history books, there definitely is a connection between the morals of people within a nation and economic prosperity. I know that’s a hard concept for unbelievers to get their head around, but it’s true. Even if unbelievers refuse to acknowledge God’s existence, it’s undeniable that declining morality eventually creeps into the way business leaders conduct business and political leaders govern. Immorality manifests itself in more ways than abortion or a highly sexualized culture.

I don’t know for certain that our current national malaise is the result of sinners in the hands of an angry God, but I can’t help but be a little anxious that we, as a nation, may be on thin ice with God’s patience. There are numerous examples of people groups in the Bible that lost their moral moorings. They indulged all sorts of sensual and pagan appetites. The thing that always seemed to rile God the most was their dalliances with other gods. I think God cuts us a lot of slack, except when we drift away from him. The modern American shift away from belief in God is worse, in some ways, than believing in false gods. Why? Because the only god left to worship in an atheistic culture is man. And we were designed to worship something. Are we going to worship ourselves?

If you want a solution to our current economic problems, I’ll give you the only one likely to have a lasting positive outcome. Here it is: The economy has a much better chance of improving if the majority of people in each class—the poor, middleclass, and wealthy—believe there is a moral God who cares how we live our lives. That’s it. That’s the fix. Oh, and it would also help if the majority of people in America loved God more than anything else. This solution is simple, but not easy. Until our politicians, and the rest of us, recognize that the root of our economic problems ARE the social issues, not much will change. Oh they might be able to come up with some economic band aids to place on the wound, but they won’t cure our problem.

Visiting Hours

Everybody wants to feel like they are missed from the group when hospitalized or stuck at home fighting a prolonged illness. And yet the clergy and laity don’t seem to visit folks, or check on them like they used to. I’m just as guilty as the next person in this area. But this type of ministration will become more important with each passing year as baby boomers find themselves spending more time in hospitals. The healthcare industry is preparing for the additional load. Churches would be wise to prepare for this vital ministry, as well. Besides, the baby boomer generation is not the type to quietly enter old age. They will expect attention from their church community. I see a clash of priorities ahead between boomers and the busy church.

We are busy people. How do we squeeze hospital visits into frantic schedules? Adding to the problem is our natural tendency to avoid hospitals. Hospitals make us uneasy. They are where we go when something has gone wrong with our bodies. They are filled with unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells; and not all of them pleasant. Perhaps they conjure up uncomfortable childhood memories of visits to the emergency room or going to see a dying relative. I have visited a few folks in the hospital and they all had the same desire—they wanted to go home or get back to work as soon as possible.

These feelings are understandable, but somewhat unfortunate. Why? Because, even though hospitals are sterile institutions of science, they are ultimately houses of healing. Except for the acute onset of illness or injury, most healing arts are a slow process. Lab tests and other diagnostics take time. It is also a time for the patient to begin to heal by slowing down. Time moves at a different pace for patients in hospitals than for the “healthy” outside. I wouldn’t go so far as to say a stay in the hospital is like a vacation, but it is an opportunity to evaluate our lives and commune with God on a different level. I think in the hospital we need God more. We become very aware of our mortality.

So the next time a friend or family member is in the hospital, go and sit with them for a while. Listen and pray with them. If you find yourself in the hospital, don’t be afraid of the slow inward journey where you may meet God in a new way. You will find healing for your soul and, perhaps, a new orientation when you get out of the house of healing.

Sheep versus Goats

Orthopraxy is not a substitute orthodontist. The actual World English Dictionary defines it as: “The belief that right action is as important as religious faith.”

All my evangelical Christian life I’ve heard that we are justified by faith alone. Now before you get suspicious that I’m about to say something heretical, know that I strongly believe that the only path to heaven is through repentance and personal faith in Christ. That said I was stunned by something I read, or didn’t read, in Matthew 25. It’s a familiar passage I’ve read many times before. It’s included it below. I’ll meet you at the bottom after you’ve read it.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

What’s your first thought, besides it sucks to be a goat? For me the lights went off in my head with the realization that this passage says what seems like the opposite of faith alone to enter heaven. Those who reached out to help the lowest people in human societies were granted access to heaven by God. Their faith wasn’t mentioned. Here’s the deal—when we come to Christ, I mean really go all the way with Christ, love fills our heart. It fills it so much that we begin to think less about ourselves and more about others. If we are not helping others I now wonder if Christ is really there. It’s not so much about the good deeds we do; it’s about a heart filled with God’s love that naturally leads to the good deeds. Most people get a warm fuzzy feeling when they help the less fortunate. This is something much more profound than a warm fuzzy feeling. It’s about letting God’s love come into our life and take over. That can only happen through faith in Christ and asking each day for God’s love. There are eternal consequences for inaction. We can’t work our way to heaven but that’s not an excuse to do nothing. I don’t want to be a goat.

Listen Deep

A few days ago I had lunch with some folks I’m getting to know better. As we get more comfortable with each other we feel more at ease talking about our interests and values. This can include topics as innocuous as hiking or as fraught with hazards as politics. As we have spent more time together I noticed that one person in the group feels compelled to regale us with his political convictions. Those convictions don’t always line up with mine, but that’s not the reason his declaiming irritates me, albeit mildly. What is frustrating is his unwillingness to hear opposing views. As soon as someone disagrees and begins to offer supporting reasons, this fellow dismisses them and will sometimes even walk away (If he were reading this post this is the point where he would close the page and move on). Perhaps you know someone like this in your circle of friends or family. Granted, there is entertainment value in these precious encounters, but there is also a spiritual learning opportunity.

James 1:19 says, “. . . let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; . . .”

Did you catch that? It’s easy to miss but the word “quick” doesn’t seem to fit with hearing? I think that’s because our natural tendency is to speak quick with scant listening between our utterances. Have you ever said something before your mind filtered it? I know I have and sometimes I regretted what came out. In this verse God gives us an imperative (that’s a fancy word for an order) to reverse our natural tendencies when it comes to hearing and speaking.

Genuine full-attention listening is a rare characteristic in our culture. Individuals adrift in a sea of millions clamor for their voice to be heard. It’s like Thanksgiving at my in-laws (always a treat). My wife has seven brothers and sisters so when a bunch of them get together for the holidays there are instances when everybody talks at once. I’m often astounded that any of them hear what is said. To me it’s a cacophony of hoots, cackles, and hollering. In the midst of it all I wonder if anybody is listening, and yet somehow communication happens between them. It’s often inaccurate or incomplete communication, but communication nonetheless.

God knows that each person has a voice in the universe. I don’t think he begrudges the use of our voice. But perhaps we are missing a way to really communicate on a deeper level through listening. In this day and age a good listener has a gift of great value. Speaking can be selfish, listening rarely so.

I’ve noticed that God often uses the words of other people to speak profundities into my life at just the right time. Those aha moments are rare when I’m rambling on at the mouth. In other words, we shortchange ourselves when all we do is talk and show little interest in what others have to say. A.W. Tozer said it best this way:

“Whoever will listen will hear the speaking of heaven.”