Saturday, I attended the very special wedding of my wife’s cousin’s son—which makes Corey, I’m told, my 1st cousin-in-law, once removed! Either way, he and his new bride Natalie put together a very memorable day for themselves, and their guests. And their ceremony began, not with a focus on the bride, but on the Bridegroom. Not the bridegroom COREY, mind you. The spotlight was on OUR Bridegroom—Jesus Christ!
The ceremony began with two classic praise songs: “Because He Lives” by Bill Gaither, and Dennis Jernigan’s “You Are My All in All.” It dawned on me that the last time I had sung “Because He Lives” in that church was at my father-in-law’s funeral. And as if THAT wasn’t enough to open my tear ducts…during the next song…the bride raised her bouquet to the sky in worship, rightly lifting Jesus above all else on her special day.
And it wouldn’t be the last time I’d reach for the Kleenex Saturday. There’s just something about the purity of two young people committing their lives to each other in a covenant relationship with Christ that gives me great hope. And in these last of days, hope is pretty hard to come by. Thank you, Corey and Natalie: I’ll be praying for you. Your marriage is off to a great start!
As the battle over the nation's economy rages in Washington, I think it’s important that we step back and look at the bigger picture of what’s happening here. Republicans are taking the lion’s share of the heat for the shutdown, and—even though most people personally have no skin in the game—the overwhelmingly liberal news media help build the illusion that it’s just another nail in the coffin of a party whose time has come and gone.
We’ve mentioned many times on this program that the postmodern age is over, and is being replaced by post-postmodernism. Not only has an entire generation of Americans lost faith in the institutions that built our nation, they’re impatiently looking for ways to get around—and past—those institutions. Schools are being replaced by cyber education, the post office is being replaced by FedEx, the traditional church is being replaced by satellite and house churches, and now: it’s government’s turn.
Favorability rankings for the traditional two-party American government are at an all-time low. Young people are frustrated with our broken system, and are frankly looking beyond it. Many are threatening to never vote again, others are looking for grassroots opportunities to effect change. My fear, though, is that we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater, mostly because we’re misreading the situation. Thanks to our simplistic news media, we’re conflating exasperation with politics and politicians, with a ill-perceived rejection of Republicans and their conservative values.
I strongly believe that, at the end of the day, most people are conservative in their beliefs about money and morality. NO, don’t read that wrong. I’m not saying most people identify as conservatives, or Republicans. I just believe that, should we remove the label of party affiliation and simply ask people what they believe at their very core, most will reflect a traditional perspective on life.
But whatever worldview we claim to possess, I believe most Americans would agree that we can’t keep putting our future on a credit card, simply to raise our own borrowing limits as we see fit. I believe most Americans understand that taxpayers can’t extend 60 thousand dollars’ worth of entitlements to millions of individuals and families every single year, with no end in sight. I’m convinced that most Americans don’t really want to burden their children and grandchildren with paying the bills for our failed social experiments. And I think most Americans agree that the American dream is about more than power and money.
In fact, it’s about precisely the opposite. Power and money, when misused, will enslave the powerful and rich, as well as the powerless and poor. The America dream is about building the common wealth, which is not some scheme for complete economic equality. The term “common wealth” is derived from the old English “common weal,” which meant common “well-being.” It’s about caring for our neighbors and communities in such a way that we build the common good—something much larger than mere money. I think our Founding Fathers knew that, and—as is often said—would not recognize America today.
But even more so...I believe they wouldn’t recognize Americans.
With a government shutdown looming, and crises swirling around us, you’d think I’d fill this space with words of warning, despair, and frustration. Instead…I want to talk about something—someone—far more important.
It’s Hazel. She was the runt of the litter...tiny, weak, and sickly...but we fell in love with her the minute we saw her sad little face. Hazel came home to live with us late in 1996, a full year before my daughter was born, and quickly proved to be a well-mannered and obedient dog. She was far from affectionate, but still, very good company. Hazel would wait on the front steps, seated next to my son Alex, as his school bus came every morning. As the bus door closed, Hazel would stand and come back inside the house, as if she was satisfied he was safely on his way. Instinctively, at around 3:15, Hazel would go back to the front steps, and be waiting as Alex returned home.
Of course, as Jessica grew through her toddler years, Hazel endured all kinds of humiliation, like the Hallowe’en costumes and silly dog jerseys my boisterous daughter would pull over Hazel’s long, crooked Jack Russell legs. Hazel was OK with city life, but it was when we moved to the country that our family friend would find her place in the world. As my father-in-law acquired Beagles as hunting companions, Hazel seemed to take them under her wing, patiently teaching each puppy the ropes of “doghood.”
A few years ago, it became apparent that age was catching up with our 4-legged child. When her new “sister” Julie arrived—a Cairn Terrier with unlimited energy—Hazel chose, not to engage, but to keep her distance. Her eyes failing, and her hearing already gone, it was apparent that—one day soon—one of Hazel’s long afternoon naps would be her last.
But, sadly, it wouldn’t be that easy. Last Thursday evening, while no one was looking, Hazel wandered away from her beloved backyard space under our shade tree…and the frantic search began. My wife Susan finally found her Friday morning. We placed Hazel’s body where she’ll always be nearby, but never as close as she is in our hearts. You know, a lot of people have said to me, “well, she lived a long life,” or “get over it—she’s just a dog!”
Just a dog? Obviously, you didn’t know Hazel. People may come and go, but a good dog stays with you forever.
Another study shows that Americans--specifically, Christian Americans--are becoming more Bible illiterate. Remember the movie, “The Notebook?” When Ally’s mom hands her the bundle of letters that Noah had written her over the years, but she had been hiding from her daughter? Ally had no idea how Noah had loved her, because she hadn’t read the love letters he’d faithfully sent! Imagine how their relationship would have grown, deeper and wider, had Ally been able to hear Noah’s thoughts, and see his faithfulness expressed a thousand different ways!
Of course, you can see the metaphor coming from a hundred miles away. We receive God’s love on faith, but if we don’t read His love letters, we can begin to believe He doesn’t really care. That he doesn’t love us, like we once professed to love Him! The Bible is filled with expressions of God’s love for you and me. Like a suitor, He pursues us. Like a good earthly father, he protects and provides for us. Unlike today’s “helicopter parents,” God doesn’t always swoop in and protect us from harm. Realizing that there are some lessons we need to learn through experience, God holds back for a moment, and then—if we are faithful to ask for it—sends people and allows circumstances to rescue us, and help us heal.
It’s a beautiful thing when God uses people to help other people heal and thrive again. To anyone who’s listening that doesn’t believe in the fall of man, and the nature of sin, I ask you to consider how logical and consistent the story is, even today. Men and women stood in perfect equality, at the beginning…in full relationship with their creator God. Adam and Eve weren’t even self-aware, I believe, because the Bible references that they were naked, and not ashamed. Do you think that was an afterthought…and casual reference of an irrelevant fact? No…it was a significant point that clarifies the status of humanity in the beginning: focused on God, and concerned for one another.
What would be the OPPOSITE of that status? Focused on God, and concerned for one another? It would be denying God, and focused on ourselves! Sound familiar? It’s where we’ve been headed since the fall of man, and it grows on a “J-curve” every passing day! Satan successfully took the first couple’s eyes off the prize, and promised them equality with God—the very claim that sealed HIS fate, so very long ago! And every moment since, we’ve marched toward a belief that would seal OURS, as well: the belief that we’re SO smart, and SO powerful, that we don’t need God, or anyone else!
But what does God’s Word say? All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God! The wages of sin is death! But God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life! Jesus added a few more words: Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and love your neighbor as yourself! Be focused on God, and concerned for others. Return your heart to that precious time before Satan’s subtle hiss sowed the seeds of our destruction…and prepare for the eternal status quo of heaven. HOW can I do that? It all begins when you read those love letters…