Acting out our faith

A quick run through the New Testament, featuring the book of Acts:

The Holy Spirit

  • The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus first, because the Holy Spirit and Jesus both are God. This is beyond our ability to understand – but it’s true anyway. Our God is that big; in some ways, we cannot understand Him. But because He was as human as He was divine, there are plenty of things we can understand about Him.
  • Living in the Spirit is moment-by-moment fellowship with Jesus. We can pray deep prayers in scheduled “quiet times,” and we also can hold a conversation with Him as the day rolls on.
  • The same Spirit who lived in the apostles lives in you and me today. Which means we have the same power and authority that the apostles did.
  • The same Spirit in Christ lives in me. Since the Spirit is God, and Christ is God, therefore Christ – the same Christ who died on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago – lives in me.

Deception, trials, sin

  • The apostles had no idea Judas would betray Jesus. They asked: Is it I, Lord? Judas, without the Spirit, deceived them. (Later, Ananias and Saphira tried to deceive over material possessions, and were found out – Acts 5).
  • Simon (Acts 8) wanted Jesus and his own magic at the same time. God and … doesn’t work.
  • Trials are like taking our faith to the gym. That’s how we grow. The flood meant Noah and his family could never return to their old life.

The Gospel

  • The resurrection is fact, not emotion. This means our faith is based on fact, not hearsay or feelings.
  • The most hated truth in the Bible is hell. This is what we are saved from.
  • We cannot save ourselves. And the world cannot save us, either. Only Jesus can.
  • We are to share our faith, not consume it. We are not sponges; we need to be wrung out.
  • Christianity is more than doctrine or beliefs. It’s a way of living. Who are you, Lord? – is the most important question we can ask.
  • Salvation requires no action on our part – only to believe. It’s 100 percent a God thing. It’s inward, not outward.
  • Jesus is the message. The apostle Paul, a scholar, claimed to know nothing except Jesus and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
  • Jesus rose to live forever – not like Lazarus, who rose on Earth for a short time.
  • Christianity is not behavior modification. A changed heart is the result.
  • Why do some people discount the Gospel? For several reasons: We don’t want to face our sins or be held accountable; we want to do something for it; and/or resurrection is not logical.

Living the Christian lifestyle

  • Jesus said rivers of living water will flow from believers’ hearts (John 7:37-39). Living water, by definition, gives life, comforts and soothes. It moves. It quenches thirst, permanently.
  • The first believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (about Jesus), fellowship (sharing life), the breaking of bread (communion) and prayer (Christ-centered). This modeled unprecedented unity, which Jesus prayed for in John 17.
  • No one in Acts prayed for safety or good health – only for courage to share the Gospel boldly.
  • God can use anything – peace or trials. With trials, passion and purpose will come into sharp focus.
  • “Rights” are not for me, but for others, to promote the Gospel (1 Corinthians 8-9).
  • We are to keep ourselves unstained from the world (James 1:27). We are to live in the world, but not be consumed by its values.
  • If my heart is right, my words and actions will come out naturally. I don’t have to “practice” evangelism. I need to know the basics and how Jesus has changed my life. I need to live that way, and talk that way too.
  • Sin distorts the message of the Gospel. We must acknowledge this and seek forgiveness – first from God, then from others. Not just once, but repeatedly.
  • God’s will benefits everyone. Sin is not God’s will. He allows sin so that we can accept forgiveness, then change our lifestyles.
  • We do not follow people who point to Christ; we follow Christ Himself.

Servants of God

  • Abraham and Moses’ ministries began when they were old. God takes the long view.
  • Stephen did not defend himself, but defended Jesus and His crucifixion and resurrection. Unlike the religious leaders of his day, Stephen did not worship the temple itself, but the living God.
  • Stephen had no fear of death – he was already dead to sin and alive in Christ.
  • Stephen personified all of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
  • Cornelius, a non-Jew, and Peter both had lessons to learn (Acts 10), even though Peter was an early church leader.
  • Peter escapes from prison but the apostle James, one of Jesus’ inner three, is killed (Acts 12). The believers undoubtedly were praying for both, with different “answers” from God. We can’t understand all of God’s answers to prayer.
  • Paul valued serving God over his own safety.
  • God allowed Paul to remain in prison (Acts 25) for several reasons: he was safe there (many people wanted him dead), he wrote epistles there, and his friends were allowed to care for him there.
  • The people of Malta judged Paul twice after he was bitten by a viper (Acts 28:1-10). He was a murderer, the gods were bringing justice; then, when nothing happened, they worshipped him as a god. Both judgments were wrong.

Hope

  • Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven.
  • We could lose our wealth or health overnight. Hope in God is not like that; once Jesus changes our hearts, we are sealed for heaven forever.
  • Hope is confident expectation, not wishful thinking.

Who God is

  • The law shows our need. Jesus meets our need.
  • The church fails, people fail, things fail, but the word of God never fails.
  • God sits on a throne of grace (forgiving us for our sins), not wrath (Heb. 4:14-5:10).

Faith

  • Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11). It’s outlandish: Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, his promised son, on faith that God would keep His promise of many descendants. Abraham obeyed, and God honored that (by stopping the sacrifice before it actually happened).
  • The Bereans tested Paul’s words with Scripture (Acts 17), then believed Paul when they discovered his words matched what they read about the living God.
  • Faith requires some belief.
  • Faith is not knowledge – even the demons know who Jesus is (James 1-2). Faith is living by knowledge.

Truth is discovered, not inherited

“I’m really not interested in bipartisan or reaching-across-the-aisle politics. The world is divided right now, and I’m OK with it, because the truth is, I feel like I’m on the right side.”

 

“… I have nothing to learn from …”

 

Can you guess the source of each of these quotes?

One came from a person on the “Christian left,” and the other was spoken by an ultra-conservative. Both are responses to anti-lockdown protests outside state Capitol buildings.

Hard to tell who said what, isn’t it? Liberals and conservatives use similar language to promote their ideologies.

Both sides claim they are right and the other side is wrong. Each claims the high road.

The bigger picture

Neither actually travels the high road, though.

gridlock - nbc
Lansing protest. (NBC)

Meshawn Maddock of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which organized the high-profile April 15 “Operation Gridlock” in Lansing, Mich., spoke the first quote, according to Bridge Magazine (bridgemi.com). The coalition organizes activists fiercely loyal to President Trump, Bridge wrote.

The second quote is a Facebook response to a comment I made on the friend’s page. My friend was making a point following a similar protest at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.

Both sides are missing the big picture.

The “lockdown,” more gently called stay-in-place orders, was done for a reason.

The orders are hard economically, which means the protesters have a point, too. But by breaking stay-in-place and social distancing rules, the protesters compromised their own message.

There’s an even bigger picture here. Stay-in-place orders, while they are directed at all of us, are not meant to protect all of us. Some of us are more prone to the coronavirus than others are.

In other words, social distancing is not about you. It’s not about me.

It’s about protecting the most vulnerable among us.

The world unites

Politics, by definition, is divisive, as both of these quotes bear out. But COVID-19, the coronavirus that sparked worldwide shutdowns and subsequent protests, doesn’t care.

The shutdowns are attempting to “flatten the curve” – to reduce deaths from the virus. Most people who get the virus won’t die from it, but enough do that it quickly became a worldwide pandemic.

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Columbus protest (Cleveland 19 News)

It’s not about you or me. It’s a worldwide pandemic. The entire world is not wrong to make such a big deal of this, as some conspiracy theorists have said.

One in four positive cases in Ohio are prison inmates, The Associated Press reported this week. Other outbreaks are concentrated in nursing homes. There’s a home 10 minutes from my house where at least 66 residents and 20 staff are infected – the largest hotspot in the entire state of Ohio at the moment.

My parents live in an independent living center. They are in lockdown: No one is allowed in and they aren’t supposed to go out, unless for medical needs.

Overreaction, as the protesters claim?

No. If either of my parents contracted the virus, they likely wouldn’t survive it. Dad has medical issues that would compromise him, Mom’s health is good; both are in their 80s.

When was the last time we saw the world come together like this to fight a common enemy? World War II, possibly, but that was still human vs. human. When was the last time the entire world fought an enemy other than ourselves?

Not in my lifetime, at least.

Prevention works

If we ignored the virus and just let it run its course, it might have gone through the world faster, but it would have been much more deadly, as we saw in Italy, which delayed its response by weeks. It also would overwhelm hospitals far beyond their capabilities to serve us.

So now, we wait.

Schools are closed for the rest of the 2019-20 year. Ohio made that official this week. That forced spring sports seasons to get canceled as well. Barber shops, many restaurants, and a host of other “non-essential” businesses remain closed. Thousands of their owners and employees are filing for unemployment and/or are closing permanently.

Thus, the pretense for the protests.

The alternative, however, is more people dying. Many more. And overwhelmed hospitals.

Prevention is working. Social distancing, masks, staying at home … no news is good news. Prevention means nothing happens. That’s a good thing, not a conspiracy theory.

That’s the best thing.

How and when to open up our states and our country are the questions of the day.

But it’s not about us.

I very likely would survive COVID-19 should I contract it, but my parents possibly would not. That’s why I can’t take the chance to even visit them right now – if I was even allowed to, which I’m not.

It’s not about me.

The virus must run its course – or a vaccine must be created to prevent the virus from being so contagious.

Neither of those has happened yet, so we wait.

The higher picture

And we argue, sometimes impatiently, in actual protests and across social media.

“Christian left” is a political term, as is “Christian right.” Is it even possible today to call oneself a Christian, live that way and not get political about it?

I sure hope so.

The Bible – the non-political version – offers advice like this:

 

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

James 3:17

 

James says God’s standards and the world’s standards are incompatible (James 4:4). That’s painfully obvious to me these days. When we focus on ourselves, we fight. We see life our way, and only our way. The other side is wrong.

But everyone has a reason for living the way he or she does, right or wrong. Who am I to judge? That’s God’s job (James 4:12).

By even commenting on the protests, I’ve made judgments. In some ways, that’s unavoidable.

The motive has to be serving the greater good. The virus is making millions of us sick, sometimes without us even realizing it (because of the lack of testing), and has the potential to kill millions of us as well.

The economy drives our country. We make money and spend it. When those options are taken away from us, what do we have left?

Depends who you ask, doesn’t it?

All of us are affected, of course. Some Americans are having a much harder time weathering the economic storm than others are.

We do need to reopen the economy. But the greater good is preserving life, and preventing as much sickness as possible.

I hope and pray that our leaders are strong, and are making science-based as well as economically-based sound decisions.

I’d love to go to a ballgame again. But not if it kills me. Or you.

It will happen, eventually.

In the meantime, let’s not be so divisive. It’s not about you, and it’s not about me. “Truth” is discovered, not inherited.

Main photo: Wisconsin protest (The Associated Press)

Trump, the man, the politician and the nation’s deep divide over him

We don’t discuss politics at home, and that’s a good thing.

I do talk politics in this blog on occasion, however. Responses typically are strong.

The goal of a blog is to spark discussion – to get you, the reader, to ask yourself what you believe, and why.

But with politics, we – nearly all of us – put our blinders on and mindlessly point out how I am right and you are wrong. We all quote “facts” to support our position, and label the other side’s “facts” as “fake news.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned from social media this year, it’s that.

A deep divide

I wrote a blog last week that said President Trump mocks the Christian faith, then followed up a few days later by re-posting a story saying Trump could be the loneliest man in America.

Common sense says we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion in polite society. Talk about both at the same time, and I was playing with fire – and not from an Advent candle.

The flames hurt. Two days before Christmas.

I addressed a deep dividing line among evangelical Christians, of which I count myself as one. Close friends and people I respect tremendously came down on the other side of the line I drew.

God’s choice?

Trump is God’s choice, they told me. If Trump is God’s choice, then so was former President Obama, I responded. And so was every president we’ve ever had, from George Washington forward.

Trump promotes several values and viewpoints that evangelicals defend vociferously. Pro-life/anti-abortion. Appointing conservative judges. Opposing illegal immigration. Removing our troops from war zones where we don’t have a local interest. A tough stance on trade with China. Supporting Israel. Gun rights.

Trump is upholding the GOP platform, which previous GOP leaders haven’t had the guts, or gall, to do.

Our president is a bull in a china shop, and many evangelicals are ecstatic.

Is that what it takes to run a country?

Donald Trump, Melania Trump

He ignores his own experts, often tweeting behind their backs. He’s been married three times (two of them became naturalized citizens while married to Trump), so he’s not the best with personal relationships either. If you disagree with him, he ridicules you, fires you or divorces you.

Is that what it takes to run a country?

No compromise

Whatever happened to the art of compromise? Oh right, Congress forgot how to do that years ago. That’s why Trump got elected in the first place. Congress was immobile and ineffective.

It’s our own fault Trump is president. We asked for him.

In 2016, Republicans understood the nation’s frustration with politics as usual. I’m not sure Democrats still understand.

So, the lines in the sand are drawn.

Jesus’ prayer for unity

Jesus talked about humility and loving others, including the poor and outcasts. He lived that message too. Yet Jesus did not compromise His message when talking with the religious/political leaders of His day, who sought the status quo to protect their positions, and they crucified Him for it.

The very last words of Jesus before He was killed were these:

 

“I ask … on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me …”

John 17:20-21

 

This is why my blog last week cut so deeply among so many of us. Jesus’ last words were a prayer of unity for us (those who will believe, future tense). Because we aren’t unified, Jesus’ message “that the world may believe that you have sent me” gets lost in the debate.

Two days before Christmas. Perhaps that was not a coincidence.

War at Christmas

Christmas is not a warm fuzzy story of a baby, “no crying he makes,” in a manger with animals all around. Christmas is God’s declaration of war on sin, nothing less. God the Father sent His Son to this earth to fight, and defeat, sin. To do it, He had to become fully human, as well as remain fully God. Words cannot adequately explain how this works. But that’s the story of Christmas, and the story of our Christian faith.

Donald Trump

If President Trump forces us to take a stand on our faith, then that’s a good thing.

Instead, as I mentioned, we’ve put our blinders on. When I re-posted a report claiming our president might be the loneliest man in America, some of you dismissed the article because of the sources quoted, ignoring the content of the story completely.

Because the sources, several of them, were “liberal,” the authors had an ulterior motive – that Trump isolated himself from the sources, because he disagrees with their viewpoints.

I understand loneliness, at least to a degree. If the president has isolated himself, it’s largely his own fault – because anyone who tries to get close to him gets pushed away or fired. He trusts no one.

As a bull in a china shop, he will not let anyone tame him.

The message that unifies – and divides

I’ve read articles before about loneliness among high-profile actors and actresses, because they live a lifestyle that us common folk cannot relate to. Perhaps this is Trump’s lot in life too.

But no. We reject that line of thinking because we reject the man. We treat him as less than human, because we think he treats us as less than human.

That escalates. We point fingers, accusing the other side of being less human than we are.

This is our country today.

Can we find common ground, somewhere – anywhere?

Jesus knew what He was talking about when He prayed that we might be unified. We justify all kinds of things as Christians. Our message is not unified at all. Faith is messy. Faith is hard. The Bible promises that all believers will suffer for their faith, no exceptions.

Jesus said He did not come to spruce up the traditional Old Testament message; He came to deliver an entirely new one that revolves around His crucifixion and resurrection.

That message should unify, and galvanize, Christians. That message alone.

All the other stuff follows Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Does President Trump have the cross and the empty tomb as the starting point in his life? No, he doesn’t.

That’s why I wrote my blog last week.

And why all of us, myself included, fall off track so easily.

Father, forgive us. Every one of us, for we know not what we do.

How (and why) God works

With Christmas activities taking place every day, it’s easy to forget “the reason for the season.”

I find three ways to connect, learn and grow closer to Jesus, for whom the holiday was named.

All three are crucial.

Year round. Including in December.

Personal quiet time

I’m a morning person, the first one up in my household. Always have been. When our kids were young, my job started before they got up for school. Even today, I’m up before 6:30 a.m. – without an alarm.

I start the coffee. I feed the cats. I pour a cup of the morning brew. I sit down in my living room chair, the cup in one hand, the Bible in the other, and often a cat on my lap.

That’s the best part of my entire day. It’s dark. It’s quiet. It’s warm (thanks to the cat).

God often speaks to me there.

Today I read the first three chapters of 1 Peter. “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit …” (1 Peter 3:8) In church yesterday our pastor talked about the deepest longings of our hearts. A magazine did a survey on that recently, he said, and the most common longings were happiness, money, a relationship, peace and joy.

My deepest longing, however, didn’t appear on the magazine’s list: unity. I wish with all my heart that we as Americans and as citizens of the world would learn to get along with each other. I’ve written about this many times.

Most of our deepest longings are selfish. Mine is for unity among all people. That’s selfish too, I suppose; I wish to be understood as well as I wish to understand you.

These thoughts ran through my mind in my quiet time this morning.

This happens frequently. A verse I read resonates, and my mind probes into it. What does it mean? What would it look like if we (I) truly lived this out?

Unity among believers is the last thing Jesus prayed for in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified (John 17:20-24). Unity mattered to Jesus, too.

Many of you discredit the Christian faith because we Christians can’t get along with each other, much less with you. Our message to you is fragmented. Some so-called Christians mis-lead you.

This is why we must read the Bible for ourselves. What’s in there? I’m a journalist; I’m a cynic by nature. I’m not going to take your word for it. I will double-check you.

I will read it for myself.

Small group

Having said that, I can learn from you, and you from me. The best churches are organized with small groups of a dozen or so people who get together on a regular basis. My wife and I also attended Sunday School classes for many years. And we participate in Wednesday night men’s and women’s groups to study the Bible and issues of the day, with a Biblical perspective.

I have plenty to learn from you. You have insights into life that I don’t have. I’ve experienced things that I can share with you as well. As we get to know each other better, we discover that we aren’t as different as we thought we were.

We also can support each other through our struggles and trials of life. When someone in our group has a dying relative, others understand because they’ve been there. When someone new joins the group because he and his family just moved here, I can relate right away, because that’s my experience too. When someone talks Browns-Steelers … well, I have ties to both cities, actually.

All these issues can unify us. We connect at this level in a group setting.

The best groups challenge me to learn something new about myself, to step out in faith and do something, to help me understand a truth about God in a different or deeper way. It’s a safe place to be vulnerable. For guys, that’s not normal. And even in a couple of men’s groups I’m in, that doesn’t come easy.

But it’s necessary. I can learn things from you that I cannot learn on my own.

Preaching

Uh oh, here it comes. Yes, there’s a reason to attend a Sunday morning service every week.

The pastor, if he (or she) is inspired by the living God, has done his homework on his message for the day. As a general rule, the pastor dives deep into a verse or small section of the Bible. He offers insights and background that his training and study have taught him. And then he gives practical applications on how we can live out the truths that he is teaching us.

If this is the only Bible learning we do each week, we miss so much. Even if you hear one sermon a week for your entire life, you’ll miss reading most of the Bible. That’s why we must read the Bible on our own, and study it in small groups. We learn truths in different ways, and at different levels.

Real-world application

Does God speak to you when you are alone? Does He speak in your small groups? Is He speaking through your pastor?

I daresay that most of you who are critical of God or the church aren’t participating in it at all, but are criticizing as outsiders. We in America are good at that. We Christians are good at criticizing you too.

All of us would do so much better if we got to know each other better. Find out what makes each of us tick. How each of us thinks.

On Facebook I follow a prominent expert on poverty, who travels the country seeking to alleviate or even end poverty. She commented recently about a library forgiving fines.

Are library fines a poverty issue? Yes. She explained how she grew up in a home with more than 20 relatives. She avoided libraries because if she took a book home, it would get lost in such a crowded place. She missed out on all a library offers – chances to discover new ideas, improve reading skills, learn history and other subjects from those who have lived it – because she was afraid of getting punished for using a library.

I had no idea.

The point of a personal quiet time, small groups and weekly preaching is to learn and grow closer to God and to each other. Is poverty a God issue? Absolutely, yes. It’s easy to judge people who don’t pay their library fines as lazy or thieves – until we understand why.

Unity. My deepest longing. Which I realized in a sermon. Then meditated on in a personal quiet time. And read about online.

I’m trying to live it out. It’s a worthy goal.

This is how God works. Alone, in groups and in church. With real-world applications. It’s all good.

And it’s all necessary.

We’ve learned the wrong lesson from 9/11

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

So said George Santayana, a Spanish-born American author, in 1905.

Perhaps that’s why my wife and I, during a long weekend in New York for a wedding, took a train and subway ride into the Big Apple to see the 9/11 memorial.

As a friend told us, that’s something you do only once. It’s a sober reminder of what happened on one particular day 18 years ago.

Once is enough for a powerful reminder like that.

Cannot forget

If you were old enough to remember that day, those two airplanes crashing into the iconic World Trade Center towers provided memories you’ll never forget. I was a newspaper copy editor in Michigan at the time, watching the surreal events unfold on deadline.

newspapers 7

Our daily newspaper published several editions that day, because the news happened so fast. Our first edition didn’t even mention the attack. The last edition – literally a stop-the-presses moment – reported the panic and shock of a nation-defining tragedy.

Since that day, our society has changed permanently, and not necessarily for the better. We no longer trust each other, not in airports – security is tighter than it’s ever been – or even on the sidewalk, where we stare at our phones or listen to our music, oblivious to the world around us.

Burned-out fire trucks and ambulances. Twisted steel of the north and south towers. Charred pieces of the airplanes-turned-weapons. Snippets from the morning TV talk shows, interrupted by updates from Ground Zero. Smoke billowing in New York, at the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania.

memorial 9

The memorial captures all of it. And much more.

As if we could ever forget.

Fear replaces trust

It struck me that people in other parts of the world face these fears every day. Imagine the Kurds in Syria right now. Will they be alive tomorrow?

We lived through that once.

Just once.

We have the capability to prevent such attacks, for the most part anyway, by stepping up security. Cameras watch us everywhere – not just at airports, but at businesses, street corners and even some private homes.

We don’t trust anyone anymore.

Why is there so much evil in the world today? Because that’s what we expect of each other.

We act out our fears.

If, instead, we would look for the good in the world, we’d see it. I discovered that as we raised our three sons. Give them a little age-appropriate responsibility, and they’ll step up. A little alone time because Mom and Dad both need to run a short errand. Then, our oldest driving to an out-of-town event with his best friend as a teenager. Eventually, all three of our sons went away to college.

We trusted them, because we’d prepared them. And they passed with flying colors.

Perhaps that works at home, but society no longer operates that way.

Unity, for a brief moment

If your skin color is different, if your nationality or religious beliefs are different, you are not to be trusted. That didn’t start on Sept. 11, 2001, of course, but it sure increased after that date.

Immediately after 9/11, this nation unified like I’d never seen it do before. That lasted about three weeks. Then people stopped going to church and praying for each other, seeking solace in the unity that comes from a shared experience.

memorial 8

In a sense, we’ve forgotten the past already. We’ve forgotten what unifies us.

We care only about what divides us. Our politics, our religion, our nationality, our social values, our language. We build walls, literal ones and figurative ones in our hearts.

Every one of us, including me, does this.

When our sons were learning to drive, I told them not to trust any other driver on the road. Act as if all of them are idiots, so that when another driver does something stupid, you won’t be surprised. And you’ll be ready to react.

That’s good advice on the road. Unfortunately, we live all of our lives that way, don’t we?

We prove ourselves untrustworthy. Every time I drive on a highway – every single time – I get passed by drivers going 15 mph or more over the speed limit. So do you, unless you’re the speeder. There aren’t enough police cars out there to prevent this.

Identity theft. Robo calls. Inferior products (we don’t build things the way we used to; I could write a column just about this). I’m renting a tux for an upcoming wedding; the company doesn’t want me to pick it up early, and they want it back on Sunday, the day after the wedding. They don’t trust me to keep it even one extra day, even though I’m paying more than $200 for the privilege of holding onto that tux for, like, four days. Not five.

The new normal

Why do we remember 9/11? Is it to point fingers at the bad guys?

Is that all we learned?

Have we forgotten what unifies us?

memorial 23

Every one of us is the bad guy, actually. Each of us, including you and me, is an enemy to someone. If you call yourself a Republican or a Democrat, you’re an enemy. If you’re white or black or Middle Eastern, you’re an enemy to someone. If you’re a Christian or a Muslim, you’re Satan personified to someone.

We have more in common than we think we do. 9/11 proved that, if only for three weeks.

The fallout proves how much we’ve forgotten.

Why visit the 9/11 memorial in New York?

How do we prevent such a tragedy from happening again? While we haven’t had an attack of that scale on our soil since, we have mass shootings all the time. Most of them are internal, not from outside terrorists.

memorial 27

We no longer trust each other. We put up walls and stockpile weapons to protect ourselves. The spiral deepens.

I went for a jog through the neighborhood shortly after we bought our house two years ago. I left the front door open, since I wasn’t planning to be gone long. My neighbor noticed and said I shouldn’t do that, because there’s teenagers around who will steal stuff.

Even in suburban America, this is the world we live in. We’re hardly safe even in our own homes.

The world has come to our front porch. We’ve slammed the door, and locked it out.

This is our 9/11 legacy. I’m afraid we’ve missed the lesson we needed to learn.

The nation’s answer

Change comes from the inside out

Where are You, Lord?

It’s hard to see You sometimes. We just had a weekend with two – count ’em, two – mass shootings. As usual, emotions flared on both sides. Control guns. Improve mental health.

Where are You, Lord?

When we focus on our own issues and point words at each other, we miss You. We scream and yell. We blame. We get angry.

We despair, because we’ve seen it before.

Yet mass shootings are like plane crashes, aren’t they, Lord? They are few and far between, but they are dramatic and deadly, so they get the headlines.

Vehicle crashes happen far more often. People commit suicide far more often. People even kill each other, one-on-one, far more often.

Those situations may get a mention in the media, or they may not. They often are not front-page news.

Yet vehicle crashes and suicide affect far more people than mass shootings do.

I personally knew two people who committed suicide, one a few years ago and one about three decades ago. What if I had said something … if I only knew … perhaps …

Are You there, Lord?

You are.

People have reasons for doing things, good and evil.

Taking away the gun may prevent the mass shooting, but would it save the man’s soul? Would it change the trajectory of his life?

Are You there, Lord?

Is there a bigger picture here?

Can we change what we have become?

We can’t legislate that, can we, Lord? That’s what we want to do. Gun control. Improve access to mental health treatment. Let someone else fix it. Create a program that people can avail themselves of to improve their lives.

That will solve the problem, right?

Many mass shooters are loners, quiet people with few friends who stay in the background of life, exploding at the worst possible moment. I saw a report that 26 of the last 27 mass shooters were fatherless.

Is that the trigger, Lord?

We’re all about personal rights now, individuality, non-conformity, breaking the rules, love (my way) … we don’t hold each other accountable anymore.

Not even in our families.

Our broken families.

Or our churches, many of which are no different than society at large.

Where are You, Lord?

If following You doesn’t change us, what’s the point?

If I can believe whatever I want, then why believe anything?

Is there no right and wrong, Lord?

If mass murder is wrong, then what else is wrong?

Who decides?

That’s why we can’t agree on anything, Lord. We have no foundation in our lives anymore. No good vs. evil. That’s all fairy tales.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Cinderella and the Evil Stepsisters. Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

Fairy tales.

No respect for authority. No respect for people of a color or ethnicity different than us. No respect for people not born here.

We’re all just visitors on Planet Earth, aren’t we, Lord? We’re not as different as we think we are.

We say hi to our neighbors but we don’t take time to know them.  Some of us move around more than others, so we have to work harder to meet people.

We’d rather do our own thing.

And then we wonder why we can’t get along with each other.

Even if we follow You, Lord, that doesn’t guarantee that we will get it right.

Reading the book of Acts, the early church had just as many issues as the church in America does today. They had to call their leaders together to hash out some very divisive issues.

But they did it, Lord.

And the church grew because they followed You and Your Scriptures. They rejected the belief that “they have to do it our way.”

Why can’t we get this right, Lord?

In Your last prayer on Earth, You prayed for unity among the believers. You knew how crucial that was, and still is.

We blew it, Lord. Again.

Both sides think they have the right answer, but neither does.

Only You do.

Unconditional love is a phrase we don’t hear very often. Not love (my way). Unconditional love.

What You want.

What the other person wants.

Not my will be done …

Who prays that anymore? Truly prays that?

I’ve been involved with a Tuesday morning prayer group for a year now. (See photo above, taken by Jason Russ. Used by permission.) Not that I’m a “prayer warrior” or anything. But we cry out to You.

Imperfectly, because we are imperfect human beings. But we pray.

We ask forgiveness.

We have our wants and needs, and we pray for those, too.

We pray for healing. Our own healing. Our city’s healing. Our nation’s healing.

Again, we pray imperfectly.

But we pray.

Prayer changes not only our city and nation; it also changes us.

One person at a time.

Where are You, Lord?

That’s where You are.

You are just waiting for us, that’s all.

Waiting for us to pray to You.

To seek Your will.

Not my will, but Thy will be done.

On Earth as it is in heaven.

Oh, how we need You now, Lord.

We are lost as a nation. We can’t save ourselves.

We don’t need You as a policymaker, Lord.

We need Your unconditional love.

We know You love each of us that way.

Help us to love each other that way too, to follow Your example.

Nothing else works. We’ve tried.

Oh, how we’ve tried.

I can’t go to Dayton or El Paso and make everything right.

But I can do something right here, right now, right where I live.

Show me, Lord.

Lead me.

What my neighbor does is up to him (or her).

This isn’t rocket science, Lord, but it is radical.

Unconditional love.

Only You, Lord, know what that truly looks like.

Show us, Lord.

Because that’s the only answer than will work in the long run.