Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Politics


I confess that I am not a political person. Oh, Doris and I vote faithfully. We watch the debates and then the debates about the debates. We are very proud of our sons who follow the political scene and voice their convictions. But for me politics has always been a necessary evil. I get no pleasure out of pulling for a party like I was rooting on the OSU Buckeyes. I don’t watch with dismay as one political party takes sway over another. Nor do I bounce with glee when “my group” acquires a controlling voice in one legislative body or another. I am just old and cynical enough to wonder if it is really going to matter.

I guess I would describe my political affiliation as Judeo-Selfish. I have a vague sense that there is some moral objective to the whole government thing but what I really want to know is how is it going to benefit me. Will my taxes be lowered? Will my sons be kept from war? Will I be able to afford health insurance? Can my grandkids get a good education and find a good job? Most of the planks of my political platform point right to me and my house. What do we need out of this election?

Now some of you are saying, “Right on, (if anybody says right on anymore) Preach it brother, that’s exactly the way I feel.” And I know others of you are so mad you could spit right now. You are mumbling to yourself about responsibility, personal action, and national apathy. I get that. And I didn’t say I was right in my thinking. I am just confessing my approach to the whole election season.

But, I am also an ever more devoted follower of Jesus Christ. I am trying to take more seriously His call to “live holy and Godly lives.” I am (hopefully) becoming more mature in my desire to know and apply the word of God to my life in everything that I do, my work, my play, my parenting, and even my politics. If Jesus does not go with me to the ballot box I have no right to vote or to call myself a Christ-follower. However divorced I may feel from the democratic system, the Lordship of Christ in my life demands that He be considered in every decision, from what kind of car I drive to who I vote for for president.

So, it seems to me, in my feeble mind and humble opinion, that all of the talk about the economy, national security, and the failing social security system, while interesting and informative, does not give me the mandate I need as a Bible believing follower of Jesus to cast my vote. I often rant and rave (okay, that’s a lie. I never rant and rave) but I do often quietly comment that we have allowed the arguments about the direction of our nation to be moved to the wrong arena. We as Christian Americans should be saying after every political advertisement or rally, “But what does the Bible say?” We believe the Bible to be true and to hold all that we need “for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 Therefore we must allow it to be the determining factor in our opinions, our convictions, and our actions.

It may appear na├»ve. It may lack the philosophical sophistication that we think is necessary. It may even be offensive. (Think of that, the Gospel offensive?) But it is an irrefutable logic. I believe the Bible is true and the Bible says I am to live this way. Now you may disagree with me about whether or not the Bible is the word of God. You may agree that it’s the word of God but differ from my interpretation. But you cannot deny the logic, the common sense that says, “If I believe this is God’s direction for all of life then I have to act (and vote) accordingly. In fact, to do anything else would be illogical.

If all of that I true, and it is, then what does the Bible say about the way I vote? Listen closely, this is as powerful and political as I am ever going to get. In fact, I’m surprising myself as I write this. Here are the mandates of the Holy Word of God for me when I head off to vote:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it. That’s as good as it gets. Do you want more? Don’t fuss at me. Fuss at my big, brother Jesus. He said all of the law and the prophets (and the constitutional amendments) were summed up in these. Love God. Love each other.

So as I vote this week I ask myself, which candidate, which party, which person or platform supports my ability to love and honor the God of the Bible. Is there a history or a record for either man that makes me believe he (or she) will do anything that will diminish the place of Jehovah God in an already frighteningly secular society? Hey, I am not voting for a candidate. I am voting for Jesus.

And secondly I ask which direction do I vote to honor and protect my neighbors? All of my neighbors. The ones who look like me and the ones who don’t. The ones who are in my general socio-economic class and the ones who aren’t (both poorer and richer.) The ones who can speak up for themselves and the ones who can’t. Especially if it is because they are yet unborn and have no voice.

To me, everything else is secondary. Hey, I want low taxes. I want free health care. I want my Cincinnati Reds to get back to the World Series. But more than that I want my grandkids to live in a country that honors God and respects life. I did. Maybe if I get more political they will too.                  Mike

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

God Peeks


   Jakson cheats! Well, maybe not cheats so much as he lets his unbridled enthusiasm and his wonderful curiosity get the best of him. When we play hide-and-seek he can’t keep his eyes closed. I say, “Okay Jakson, Poppy C is going to hide. Cover your eyes and count to 374”. (I cheat too.) And he always peeks. He wants to know where I am going. He just can’t wait until that moment when he finds me stuffed between the washing machine and the dryer and we all yell and roll in the floor and then start the thing all over again.

I wandered on to this verse the other day. 2 Chronicles 16:9 “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” I know I’ve read it before but this time it struck me that God can’t keep His eyes closed. His unbridled enthusiasm for us, and His wonderful curiosity causes Him to peek. All the time. At me and you. He is so crazy about you that He just can’t wait to find you stuffed between the washing machine and the dryer and pull you out and bless you in some way that just knocks your socks off. (That is a profound theological expression.)

I think that most of us have this picture of God as a grumpy, old grandfather who really is just a little irritated at us all the time. He tolerates us as long as we stay out of His way but He really wishes that Jesus would come and get us out from under His feet so He can go back to the important business of making sure the sun rises and telling the ocean how far to come in on high tide. Okay, maybe I confessed too much. Maybe that’s not your picture. Maybe it’s just mine.

In either case, I am beginning to believe that it is not true. I am starting to figure out that the God of the universe is head over heels in love with me. Not in some generalized, all encompassing way, but in a personal, let’s laugh and have some fun together way. God peeks. He looks over the edge of heaven and says, “I can’t wait to bless that guy today.” “I am so excited about what I am going to do for her right now.” “Hey, angels, Watch this. I am going to do something so cool for that family that it will knock their socks off.” (I told you!)

One of the awesome things about God’s love for us is that it comes at the most surprising times. Often in moments that seem dark to us. When we are wedged between washer and dryer and can’t figure out how to escape. When life is crashing in and we are about ready to give up the game. God has been watching us the whole time and He shows up. If we keep looking we will see Him bouncing around the corner saying, “I knew you were here. Now let me get you out of this tight squeeze.” Just a few verses earlier, in verse 2, the writer says, “For God says, "At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you." Indeed, the "right time" is now. Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Chron. 6:2)

Back when Doris and I were at our very worst place we started playing a game with God. It was hard to do at first, I don’t think either one of us thought He was really very interested in us. I sure didn’t feel like I deserved any favor from Him. I was living in Florida and Doris was in Tennessee. We didn’t know if our marriage would continue and everything that we thought mattered was pretty much taken away. Probably out of desperation as much as anything else, Doris began to pray each day, “God, show me one thing today to let me know that you love me.” She shared that with me and I began to pray the same way. And here’s the deal! Everyday God would do something to remind us that His eyes were still on us and that He “loved us with an everlasting love.” Sometimes it would be as big as a check in the mail or a call from an old friend. Other days it would be a parking place up front at Walmart. But every day we would find evidence that God loved us and was showing Himself to be strong for us “at just the right time.”

Two things became clear to us and still are. First, we have to keep our eyes open too. We have learned to look for God’s blessing on our lives. We still do today. Listen, His goodness and grace is all around us. His mercies are new every morning. We have to intentionally seek them out, I admit when I am hidden in a dark closet and the whole world seems to be against me it is not easy to see God’s best. But it is there. Look. Open your eyes. Recognize it. A simple sunrise. A puppies kiss. A song on the radio. A card from a friend. Learn to look everyday for the blessings of God in your life.

And the second thing, when He finds you, admit you’ve been found. Say it out loud. Tell somebody else. Acknowledge the love of God in your life at that moment. The more we confess His blessings the more attune we become to what He is doing in us and for us. We express our gratefulness to Him and He just starts the thing all over again. I would get a call from a pastor friend and I would say, “Thank you God. I believe you did that just for me.” Doris would find a five dollar bill in the bottom of her purse and she would say, “Lord, I know that you love me today.” And the more we declared His grace, the more grace we saw to declare. We still do that today.

I know you may be going through tough times. I am sure it seems like everyone, including God, has taken their eyes off of you. But God always peeks. He knows where you are and He can’t wait to do something so good for you. Look for it. Say it out loud. And the game is on. Try that today. I promise you He will amaze you with His love. Now, close your eyes and count to 374….        Mike

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Fog


   Carl Sandburg wrote the little diddy, “The fog comes on little cat’s feet and sits looking over the city on silent haunches, and then moves on.” I have no idea what that means but I do know what it is like to have the fog setting right down over me and to pray that it would move on but it doesn’t. I have been in an extended season of fog. This summer, actually, this entire year has been a year of unceasing heaviness, unending crisis, and mind-numbing burdens. Don’t get me wrong. I would not take back one minute. Every heavy moment was a chance to minister to and love on people that were very precious to me. But the cumulative effect has been a weariness and exhaustion that doesn’t end with a good night’s sleep. It is a fog that hovers, wisps in and out but never fully disappears.

Counseling, administration, development. These tasks have been done only with the greatest of effort and the minimum effect. I have spoken to groups out of the slim reserves of emotional grit. And writing, well, writing has been completely nonexistent. The stress and strain of this summer has been as overwhelming as anytime I remember. The fog has come to stay.

Perhaps you have known those seasons, those weeks or months of demand and despair that seem endless and empty but could not be escaped. Caring for a dying loved one, dealing with a failing marriage, praying over a wayward child or a waning business. Pastors, parents, and people of all walks have lived in the fog.
So what do you do? How do you survive those days when all there is to do is survive? I have always loved Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6:13 “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Sometimes to still be standing at the end is about all we can ask for. In fact, forget standing, I’d settle for curled up on the corner of the couch in a fetal position with one eye open and still breathing. The fog of life makes even that feel like an impossible goal.

Well, I’ve remembered a few lessons during the fog that might be beneficial. Here are some ways to survive the fog (I think). First, keep moving. It seems to me that the things that get in trouble during the fog are the things that stand still. Ships wash up on the rocks. Cars get rear ended.  People get jogged down! When we were living in Mt. Vernon a friend of mine was jogging in the early morning hours and it was blindingly foggy. He said he heard somebody running behind him so he stopped and a lady jogged right into him. You can get jogged when your fogged. The point is, you can’t stop. Just keep making progress. Put one foot in front of the other. The recovery community calls it “doing the next right thing.”

During this season with mom there were times I wanted to just pull down the sails, batten the hatches, and hide below the deck. But that would have only allowed fear and doubt and anger to catch up so I just kept trying to keep moving, another meeting, one more counseling session, my devotions one more morning. When you feel fogged in don’t just sit there. Keep moving.

But, the second thing I remembered was to move SLOW. The fog is not the time to race ahead, barrel around corners, or make sudden changes of direction. The fog requires slow, careful, prayerful movement. Movement but not much movement. This is not the time to change career paths, decide about relationships, or write your will. If all I can see is the fog I’m probably not going to make a good chose or wise decision. I move but I move slowly.

Josh was in the 9th grade and we let him go to a friend’s New Years Eve party. I picked him up shortly after midnight and was driving him home in my Jeep on another horribly foggy night. Going too fast on a country road that I didn’t know well enough, I knew we were approaching a T in the road where our road came to a dead-end onto another road. Josh and I were talking when he said, “Dad, was that a stop sign that just whizzed by?” Slammed on the brakes. Slid around backwards into the front yard of a house where all of the people were out on the front porch singing Auld Lang Syne. I put it in 4-wheel drive, Josh and I rolled down the windows and said, “Happy New Year” and then drove home. I remember now that when the fog is all around me, I need to go slow.

Here’s the last thing I remembered in the fog. Carl Sandburg was right. It does move on. It may feel like forever. You might think this fog will never lift but it will. Everything comes in seasons. Even the wise man said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, ….a time to weep and a time to laugh.” (Ecclesiastes 3) This fog will not last. God loves you with an everlasting heart. He works all things together for good. The Son will shine again and the fog will leave. I promise.

Doris and I got back this Monday from an amazing week away. We went to a cabin in the woods in Kentucky and did nothing. We took our Bibles every morning and sat out on the deck. The sunshine painted the trees with gold and crimson. The deer and turkeys slipped out of the woods and sipped from the pond that was not too far from where we were sitting. The ipod played soft worship music. And the fog left. God is faithful. Listen to me. God is ALWAYS faithful. And this season of your life will pass. “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber…nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. (Nor the fog anytime) The Lord will keep you from all harm—He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”  Psalm 121

So don’t get fogged down. Go slow but keep moving. And if you hear me running behind you, just move over.        Mike