Sunday, September 3, 2017

Making America Good Again: A Day of Prayer

I think it is beyond wonderful that both the Governor of Texas and the President of the United States made formal declarations asking us to pray for those impacted by Hurricane Harvey on Sunday, September 3, 2017.

This prayer business is a big deal.  I hope you took some time to pray today, and I  hope your prayers for the victims of the storm were more than a quick "God please help them."  Take time to look at some of the pictures we have seen on the news.  Pray for the people in them and for what they need.  Thank God for the government, organizations and volunteers who are there to help them.  Think about how you can help.  There are lots of things to pray about.

To my way of thinking, prayer does a lot of things:

It draws our attention to God and how God can accomplish things we cannot.

It puts us in the other person's shoes.

As we pray for those who died, their loved ones, those who were injured, those who have lost homes, property and livelihood, we learn empathy.

As we pray for first responders, National Guard, Coast Guard, law enforcement, and the multitude of search and rescue volunteers, we are grateful to them for putting themselves in danger to save others.  We pray for their continued safety.  

As we pray for those helping the displaced get through another day with food, clothing and shelter, we realize how blessed we are to have what we have.

Then there are the untold volunteers donating time, energy and money to provide what needs to be provided and do what needs to be done.  Thinking about them might just encourage us to think about how we can help.  Prayers are important.  So is giving.  So is helping.

National days of prayer remind us that we are more powerful and effective together than on our own.  We need each other.  We are grateful for our combined resources flowing through Texas, Louisiana and the entire United States to help.  We are grateful for the many churches and non-profit organizations who, like the government, were on the ground, ready to help before the storm even hit.

Our prayers might also  lead us to think about how we would respond if a disaster happened to us.  Andy Stanley shared a great prayer about preparing for trouble:  "Heavenly Father, help me see trouble coming from a long way off and give me the wisdom and strength to deal with it."  This doesn't just apply to to those of us who live in hurricane prone areas, but what disasters might await you - and how prepared are you to meet them.  As you pray today, pray for yourself as well.

Prayer is not only us telling God what we want, but opening ourselves up to listen to God.  It is often said that prayer changes things by changing us.  As Mother Teresa said:  "I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I'm supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I'm praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”

How will your prayers for the victims of Hurricane Harvey change you?  How will the fact that they we are praying together change us as a nation?

Make America Good Again - let's pray.....

In case you missed them, here are the links to Governor Abbott's and President Trump's proclamations.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Make America Good Again: Disgusting

Who is the person in your family who invariably shares a disgusting observation at the dinner table?  The person who talks about seeping wounds, broken bones or the ever popularly 'poopy' stories?   Ewwwww.... That person is often me, although my predecessors in this could top me on my best day.

Today, I have a disgusting analogy to share with you.  Think of America as a relatively healthy person who has had a huge festering boil on her face.  It is getting bigger and bigger.  It disfigures her.  It hurts and threatens to make her whole body sick. Friends and family have all sorts of suggestions, but nothing works to make it go away.

Along comes a doctor who diagnoses the root of the problem.  The only cure is to get the pus out so that the body can heal.  It will be painful, but the only solution.

The boil on America's face is racism.  Imagine a leader who comes along and condemns white people who feel superior to blacks and Jews.  Imagine a leader condemns blacks who want to kill white people, including white police officers. Imagine a leader who shifts our focus to what it means to be a whole and healthy America, and not a nation divided into white Americans, black Americans, or Hispanic Americans, and the rest.

Whether you like him or not, Trump's comments after Charlottesville have lanced the boil of racism in today's America:

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time."  (8/12/17)

His words are painful, but true.  Hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in America.  In response, we are seeing all sorts of ugly things spew across our cities and towns, including my own, but we have to let it out if America is ever going to heal.  My prayer is that by calling out the violence, bigotry and hatred for the evil that it is,  we will come to our senses.

Things may get worse before they get better.  But hope is on the horizon.  Did you see how folks came together to watch the eclipse?  Did you see how folks helped each other in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey?   Where can you help rather than hurt?

That which unites us is infinitely more important than that which divides us.  We are all created by God.  We all bleed the same blood.  We all live on this planet together.   As Americans, we are strongest when we unite in our common belief that the best way for us to live together is by upholding the founding principles of our Constitutional Republic.

White supremacy has no place in America.  Neither does a group that promotes "Black Lives Matter."  Both are racist in their own way.  America has come a long way from the days when slavery was legal.  America has come a long way from Jim Crow laws and "separate but equal."  In the eyes of God and the eyes of the law, all Americans are equal.   Sadly, we still aren't equal in the eyes of each other.

Within each of us is that little bit of "I'm better than you" mentality.  Football player Benjamin Watson is repeatedly quoted as saying,  "It's a sin issue, not a skin issue."  And he is spot on.  And the cure for sin will not by brought about by laws, education, protests or violence - the only cure for sin, including the sin of racism, is found in the Gospel.

Let me leave you with an event recorded in the Gospel:

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” ( John 8:1-11)

My friends, America's race problem is a sin issue, not a skin issue.

Rather than condemning this group or that group, this person or that person, lance the boil on your own sinful soul that makes you think you are superior to your neighbor, to the protestors on TV - or even the president.  We can disagree, but we shouldn't hate.  Jesus says, "Love each other the same way I have loved you."  (John 15:12).

Go and sin no more.  Let America's healing begin with you.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Making America Good Again: The Pursuit of Happiness

I am writing this with a big smile on my face.  I'm remembering a day a week ago, before Charlottesville, when four big manatees swam down the river in front of my home.  They are so cool.  They make me happy and help me get some perspective on all the crap happening in the world.  I'm not going to let others steal my happiness.  You shouldn't either.

What makes you happy?

Sometimes the happiness we experience just happens, like the serendipitous appearance of manatees swimming down the river.   Most often, however, the happiness we experience is happiness we create.   One of the wonders of America is that our Founders thought the "pursuit of happiness" was a noble goal for humans to have and believed happiness is more achievable when people are free to make their own way in life.   Not only is happiness a noble goal, but a God-ordained one.  That is why the Declaration of Independence says:  "We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights - that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

As I was thinking about happiness, I realized that it comes to me in different ways.  Joy is not something that we should depend upon others to give us,  it is something that we must find within ourselves.

There is happiness found in the "big issues"  of life - like marriage, career and lifestyle.  I am blessed that I have a spouse I adore.  I have had careers that gave my life meaning and purpose and now I enjoy a lifestyle that gives me peace and comfort.  All of these involve long-term commitment on my part and are why the Founders talked about the "pursuit of happiness" knowing that there are no guarantees.  If you aren't happy with the direction of your life, change it.  Make the commitment to pursue what will make you happy.   It is no one's responsibility but your own.

Then there is also the happiness of the moment, like seeing the manatees.  Or a rainbow.  Or a child playing. How often do we miss out on these fleeting glimpses of joy?  When we are attuned to what is going on around us, we are more apt to relish the serendipity of a beautiful moment.

Then there is the what I'm calling "everyday" happiness.  For me, this is enjoyment I get when I make a home-cooked meal, read a good book, or take a nice nap.  Do some small thing this next week that makes you happy.  It will make a world of difference in your outlook and your ability to handle all the unhappy stuff.  This will start you on your way again to pursuing happiness in big ways.

There is much to make us unhappy in the world today. Friends and family - and maybe even you -  are struggling for a multitude of reasons.  (Thanks for your continued prayers for my sister-in-law Kate!)   There are wars and rumors of wars. Citizens continue to fight each other in the streets.  There will be protests at a statue outside the courthouse in my hometown tomorrow.

I know this blog is about the pursuit of happiness, but I have to say that we all know these protests really aren't about statues that have stood for almost 100 years.  They are not even about race issues.  It is an excuse by those on the extremes of our society, be they on the right or the left, to undermine the history of America - the good, the bad and the ugly - and ultimately America herself.  America has come so far in making the idea of equality and the other founding ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness a reality that I hate to see them being mocked and vilified by those who want to destroy our country.  I am concerned about the potential for violence and the fact that this feels like the beginning of another civil war.   Please pray for my city!

In the midst of all this sadness and anger, look for happiness and put forth the effort to create happiness yourself.  Don't let someone steal it from you.

Happiness can be yours  - in big ways, small ways, and unexpected ways - if you choose to pursue it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Making America Good Again: Have We Lost Our Ever-loving Minds?

I had another article ready to share with you today, but the news from Charlottesville, Virginia demands a response.

Have we lost our ever-loving minds?

I can be as passionate about the things I hold dear as anyone.  I have participated in protests.  I have waved signs.  I have signed petitions.  I have written letters to the editor and called my Congressman.  But never, ever would I deny someone else the right to let their beliefs be heard. Never, ever would I throw a rock, shoot pepper spray or drive a car into a crowd, let alone destroy property or shoot someone as has happened at other protests.

It makes me uncomfortable to judge what is in other peoples hearts, but it seems to me that hate filled both the protestors and counter-protestors in Charlottesville this weekend. They all showed up spoiling for a fight.

A group of hate-filled white supremacists used the removal of a Confederate monument as an excuse to gather and protest.  They admitted to being angry at how our politics is divided by race, gender and the rest and are demanding their "fair share."  They insist that white people are better than anybody.

So who were the counter-protestors?  Alas, they belong to another group of hate-filled folks that we have seen participating in violent protests before, including elements of  Black Lives Matter and the Anti-fascist movements.  While their cause is justice, their methods are anything but just.  Remember the BLM and Anti-fa folks who have caused death and destruction in Ferguson, Baltimore, New Orleans, Charlotte, Berkeley, and Washington, D.C. in the past couple years?

Allowing these groups to come together was also an error of epic proportions. Why did the police let these folks get within throwing distance of each other?  Why weren't more people arrested? Why did the city government allow them to protest on the same day?

Have we lost our ever-loving minds?

Yesterday made me feel like we are on the cusp of another Civil War.  Haven't we learned anything from that bloody war and its aftermath?  Don't we know our own history?  Why are we still dividing ourselves up by race?   Shouldn't we know by now that there is no place for racism and bigotry in the eyes of the law and the eyes of God?  Shouldn't we have learned that there are better ways of resolving our differences than with death and destruction?

I want to believe, deep in my heart, that most Americans want nothing to do with the groups that showed up in Charlottesville yesterday, be they KKK, BLM or the anti-fascists.  I want to believe, deep in my heart, that most Americans see their fellow citizens as human beings.  I want to believe, deep in my heart, that most Americans want to resolve our differences without violence - through conversation, the Courts and Congress.

Before the rest of us lose our ever-loving minds, please pray.  Pray for those who are filled with hate to be filled with love.

Pray for those who died yesterday and their families.  Pray for the healing of those who were injured.

Pray for the people of Charlottesville who want to live their lives and raise their children.  Pray for those attending the University of Virginia this semester and their anxious parents.  What does the future hold for America's youth?

Pray for the tourists who were there to visit the home of Thomas Jefferson, our third president and the author of our Declaration of Independence.  How ironic that such a protest would happen so close to the place honoring the man who wrote:  "all men are created equal."   We may not have completely lost our minds yet, but we surely have lost a firm grasp of America's foundational principles.

Pray that you don't become infected with the hate that swirls around us. All those who gathered in Charlottesville yesterday deserve our distain, not our praise.  Do not pick a side in this fight, even if part of what they say resonates with you. Their hate destroys whatever good might be in their message. Pray for our country to solve its disagreements - and they are many and deep - without violence.  Pray for healing in our country before another war within our borders takes hold.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Making America Good Again: Passion

No, I'm not going to write about sex today.  Passion is about more than lust. The root of the word passion comes from the Latin that means "to suffer" and was first used over a century ago to describe Jesus' suffering and death.  You have probably heard this referred to as The Passion of Christ.  While the meaning of "passion" has morphed over the years to  mean any kind of strong emotion, there is still a sense at its core that we are passionate about things we are willing to suffer for.

What are you passionate about?  What stirs your soul and sparks your emotions? Where do you want to focus your time, thoughts, talent and treasure?  What are you willing to suffer for?

As children start school, look to see where their passions lie.  Are they intrigued by science or sports?  Literature or mathematics?  Art or architecture? History or hanging out?

As you look at businesses in your community, you will find people passionate about their professions and their products.

As you scan the news, you will see our President passionate about making life safer and more prosperous for average Americans.  You will also see those who hate Trump  passionate about destroying his presidency.

I am passionate about proclaiming God's gift of liberty to all mankind.  That's why I write these articles.

Our passions and the suffering that goes along with them have a purpose.  Students will suffer as they struggle to learn.  Entrepreneurs will suffer as they build their businesses.  Politicians suffer as they strive to make their ideas become law.   Writers suffer each time they look at a blank page.

Jesus suffered, as the book of Hebrews tells us, for "the joy that lay before him."  That joy is you.  Jesus suffered, so you, and the whole world, could be forgiven and restored to our rightful place in God's family.

What are you passionate about?  Not sure?  It seems many folks find their lives so busy, or filled with boredom or despair, that nothing stirs their hearts.  If that is where you find yourself, spend some time looking at the world through God's eyes.  Where do you see the greatest need?  What breaks your heart?  Where can you pitch in?

I've recently heard a lot of great speakers talk, very passionately, about helping people learn from their failures, about the need for clean water,  about discovering the talent that resides in each of us.  For all of these people, their journey began with looking at their needs and the needs around them.  They were open to the possibilities.  They all discovered God was with them pointing the way.

Make America Good Again by finding your passion and pursuing it!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Making America Good Again: Motivation

What motivates you?  When despair and dismay threaten to overcome you where do you turn?

Sometimes we are motivated to change by a fear of failure.  Sometimes we are motivated to achieve something new by the satisfaction we hope comes with success.

We've all listened to motivational speakers that either frighten us or encourage us.  They challenge us to see new ways of looking at our circumstances.   They inspire us to  change our lives or habits, but so often our good intentions to follow their advice falls short.

Motivation is a complicated thing and different for each of us.  I shouldn't assume that what motivates me will motivate you.  How many times has someone tried to give you a needed kick in the pants but they said exactly the wrong thing?!?  With the best of intentions there will always be people who try to motivate us in ways that just don't work. Sometimes the opposite is true.  How many times has someone's attempt to discourage you given you the motivation you needed to prove them wrong?

Being a preacher, I think a lot about what will inspire folks to believe in God as revealed in Jesus Christ.  For some, it is a fear of hell and death.  Others are encouraged by the promise of heaven.  For even others, they come to believe because of the peace in knowing God loves them and is with them. Jesus talked about all three.

Each of us knows what motivates us.   Given what challenges are facing you right now, what will drive you to act?

Will the joy of a potential reward motivate you?  Praise, money, power, sex, food - all powerful incentives.  Perhaps focusing on the promised joy of heaven will make all the difference.

Will the satisfaction of of achieving a positive goal do the trick?  Like wanting to be able to wear those favorite jeans again.  Perhaps what motivates you is doing the right thing.

Or, are you motivated by the fear of a negative outcome? For example, did you study hard in school simply to avoid bad grades rather than trying to learn something?   Perhaps what motivates you is the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing and feeling the guilt that comes along with that.

Or, is the best motivation for your current situation fear of potential punishment?  In your past, did you behave so your parents wouldn't spank you or (later) take away your car keys?  As adults we often change our behavior to avoid losing a job or going to jail.  Perhaps the motivation you need today is fear of hell.

All of these motivations, both positive and negative, have their place and can be effective in helping achieve our goals.  Sometimes that initial spark of motivation comes from hearing someone say the words we need to hear.  We all need to surround ourselves with people who speak to our deepest needs, who spur us on in the ways that encourage us.   I've been thinking about this a lot lately, trying to find the right words to motivate my sister-in-law Kate to work extra hard in therapy.  While I am praying for the right words to say, I have also realized that the ultimate responsibility lies with Kate.  Please keep praying for us all!

At the end of the day, the words that will actually motivate each of us comes from within.  The voice that has the most power to challenge us or encourage us is the voice inside our own heads.

My favorite scene from The Sound of Music is when Maria sings "I Have Confidence" on her way to the von Trapp family home.  Her Mother Superior planted seeds of encouragement, but the rest is up to Maria.   She knows God is with her and she trusts Him with all her heart.  This has been my "theme song" whenever I started a new job or faced a new challenge.

I have confidence in sunshine,
I have confidence in rain.
I have confidence that spring will come again!
Besides what you see I have confidence in me.
Strength doesn't lie in numbers.
Strength doesn't lie in wealth,
Strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers,
When you wake up, wake up!
It's healthy!
All I trust I leave my heart to,
All I trust becomes my own!
I have confidence in confidence alone.
I have confidence in confidence alone!
Besides, which you see, I have confidence in me!

What motivatesyou when despair and dismay threaten?  Listen to those around you, but most of all follow your heart.  You, and you alone, can make the difference.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Making America Good Again: Stop Borrowing Trouble

Are you feeling overwhelmed these days?  I am, and it's causing me to waste a lot of time "borrowing trouble."

Borrowing trouble happens when we think about all of the awful things that might happen.  Today, I find myself worrying about American culture and politics, the church, my family, the weather, and what's in the refrigerator.  It doesn't matter if it's big or small issue, I can lose sleep over it. What if?  What if?  What if?

I fight this all too human urge to "borrow trouble" because it is a colossal waste of time.  Jesus said:

"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  (Matthew 6:31-34)

This isn't a call to ignore real problems but to put things in perspective.  When Jesus tells us not to worry about eating, he isn't telling us to just sit back and wait for someone else to feed us. He is telling us to put God first and do our part as well.  Jesus said:

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:28-33)

What are you worrying about today?  What can you do about it?  In my days as a nursing home administrator, I would try to anticipate problems so that I didn't have to run around putting out "fires."  Crises will happen anyway, so I worked hard to avoid the ones I could.

Here's another example.  I live in Florida.  Hurricanes are a part of life.  I could get all worked up and watch the Weather Channel 24/7 every time a storm approaches, or I could stock up on food, water and supplies, have a plan to evacuate, and check on the status of the storm every few hours.  Then, when a storm comes my way, I'm as prepared as I can be.

But what happens when one of life's storms comes unexpectedly?  I'm thinking here of my sister-in-law Kate's accident.  Again, thanks for your prayers.  Do those who love her worry about what her future holds?  Absolutely.  And our concern doesn't have us cowering in a corner but is motivating us to help.  We are doing what we can by praying for her, encouraging her and doing the things she can't.  Kate is focusing on what she can do by working hard in therapy.  Somedays I have to remind myself that this struggle is like eating an elephant....we can only do it one bite at a time.  But do it we will!

What are you worrying about today?  Do you worry about retirement?  Start saving.  Do you worry about your health?  Go for a walk. Do you worry about what Congress is up to?  Call your Senator or Representative.  Do what is in your control to do.    

No matter what situation you find yourself in, don't allow worry to consume you.  Look to God for guidance and then do what you can.  And if you are worrying about something over which you can have absolutely no control or influence - let it go and trust God.  I may sometimes "borrow trouble" but I never despair because God is always with me.  Hope is always in my heart.  And then when crises hit, and they will come, I can face them with strength and calm.

My advice:  stop worrying about things you have no control over and concentrate on the things you can do something about.   Focusing on what you can control, rather than what you can't, will help you turn despair into hope and anxiety into peace.

Andy Stanley offered a great prayer that goes something like this:  "Heavenly Father, help me see trouble coming long before it gets here.  Then give me courage and wisdom to handle it. Amen."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Making America Good Again: Perseverance

Perseverance is much on my mind these days.  Thank you to all who are praying for my sister-in-law Kate as she perseveres in her goal to walk again after a spinal cord injury and for her family as they seek to find and provide the best care for her.  

I read through the Bible every year or so and each time a different theme seems to grab my attention.  This year that theme is "perseverance."   I could give you lots of examples:  Moses, Job, Jeremiah and, now that I'm in the New Testament, Paul.

Watch this video for some more contemporary examples: "Famous people and the perseverance: 2.59 mins will change your life forever."  All of these people overcame great difficulties, their own failures, and the opposition of others to achieve their goals.

How did they do it?  What is the "magic" formula?  It's not magic at all.  There are two ingredients:  accountability and a goal.  As a Preacher Girl, let me put this into terms of faith, but I think all of you will recognize what I mean.

I know I am accountable to God who has a plan for my life.  That means I must do my best to not listen to the negative voices and circumstances that distract me from my goal of being who I believe God created me to be.  Deep inside, you know who you are and what you are supposed to be doing with your life.  Call it your conscience if you don't want to call that voice God, but listen to what you know is good and true.

Magic Johnson knew he was an athlete; Oprah Winfrey knew she was a communicator; Thomas Edison knew he was an inventor; Abraham Lincoln knew he was a leader of men.  They persevered because they knew who they were and didn't listen to the naysayers; they didn't give up when obstacles blocked their path;  they didn't surrender when their own failures got in the way of progress.  They persevered.

I'm sure you can think of other examples from history and from people you have known.  Perseverance is one of the traits that describes much of the American spirit, from explorers, to settlers, to inventors, artists and entrepreneurs.  It is a key to their success and the success of America.

So what about you?  Are you ready to be among those who will keep on keeping on, stand your ground, leave no stone unturned, stay the course, plug away and stick to your guns?

As Marie Curie said:  "Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained."

To Make America Good Again, we must persevere as individuals, families and a nation.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Making America Good Again: Independence Day

What are YOU celebrating today?   The founding of America?   Freedom?  The brave men and women who have kept us free for over 200 years?  A day off from work?

These are all good reasons to celebrate, but let's also celebrate the Declaration of Independence itself.  Take some time today to read it. You can do it while you are heating up the grill!  It will take you less than ten minutes. Here is its most famous paragraph:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -"

The entire Declaration can be found here:

Sadly, one of the great divides in America is how relevant the Declaration of Independence is to us today.

Are you among those believe that America has progressed beyond the Declaration's claim of self-evident truth that our freedom and rights come from God?  As CNN's Chris Cuomo said in an interview with Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore a couple of years ago:  "Our rights do not come from God. That's your faith. That's my faith. But that's not our country. Our laws come from collective agreement and compromise."

Does that ring true for you?  Do you believe that the Declaration is a beautifully written document of historical significance, but one with little relevance to us today.?   Perhaps you embrace its principles of freedom and equality but believe that these are enlightened ideas society has developed and that God has nothing to do with it.

Or are you among those, like me, who believe the self-evident truth of the Declaration is true today and will be true tomorrow.  The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and those rights further outlined in the U.S. Constitution come to us from God and it is the government's responsibility to protect them.

In America, you are free to believe what you want about God.  You are free to not believe in God at all.  But America, and its laws, are based upon the premise that God as revealed to us in the Bible and in Nature:  God is our Creator; the giver of moral and natural law; the Supreme Judge to whom we are all accountable; and the One on whose Divine Providence we can rely.  These are the four references to God in the Declaration.  There is no mention of Yahweh, Jesus or Allah.  How we worship God, how we understand God is left to each of us.  But that God IS, is a fundamental principle of our government.

Which side are you on?  Is the Declaration relevant today? Do our rights come from God or government?  Is the Declaration, and the principles it upholds,  the law of the land or is the Declaration a quaint historical document America has outgrown?

All of the division we are experiencing, the vitriol and violence we see daily, has at its root this question:  what is the source of our freedom and our principles - God or man? Our nation is as divided over this question today as it was over slavery.  We are in the midst of a civil war of words and protests.  I pray that America, the America of the Declaration of Independence, will survive.

Those who seek to separate the Declaration from the Constitution and assign it to "quaint historical document" status are wrong.  Dead wrong. The truth is that removing the Declaration from our government's guiding principles is like trying to remove the spirit from a person while leaving the body intact.  The result would be a dead body. The American Experiment will end if this trend of removing God from our life together continues.

The Declaration of Independence - all of it - is the law of the land.  It is as much the law as the Constitution is and all other law must flow from it.  The freedom we celebrate today is given to us by the hand of God, not the whims of government.   And we the people must do all that we can to see that it stays that way.

This Independence Day take a minute and think about the Declaration of Independence.  As you drink beer, eat hot dogs, wave flags and watch fireworks, know that it is time to choose.  Are you celebrating the creation of a document that is dead - or are you willing to fight for one that is very much alive?

And please continue to pray for my sister-in-law Kate. She is making progress but has a long way to go.  Thank you!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Making America Good Again: Hope and Healing

Thank you to all who checked this blog and FB page to see if I'd posted something new.  We've been traveling and then our world was shaken.

While we were away, my sister-in-law injured her spinal cord in a fall and was paralyzed from the neck down.  She has since regained some feeling and has significant arm movement, but she has a long road of rehabilitation ahead of her.  She is an inspiration to her family and friends with her optimistic outlook, sense of humor and sheer determination.  How would you respond if you woke up one morning and your life was so dramatically changed?  I hope I would respond like Kate.

Her accident immediately drove my husband and me to pray for her complete healing.   Jesus encourages us to pray with persistence (Luke 18)  and with "shameless audacity" (Luke 11).  I just read last night how Peter and John healed a lame man: "Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” And the man went with them, walking and jumping and praising God. (Acts 3)   I can just see Kate doing that now, especially the jumping and praising part!  "Kate, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth walk!"  My husband and I, along with many others, continue pray to God for Kate throughout the day with persistence and shameless audacity.

Our prayers are accompanied by helping Kate and her family in the ways that we can.  We've also taken a deep breath and recommitted ourselves to what is important.

Love life.  It is short and precious.  Treat it as the valuable gift from God that it is.  Don't waste your days on things that aren't important.

Be grateful.  Thank God each day for what you do have and what you can do.  Our natural inclination is to ask "why" this happened and perhaps seek to place blame, but that is counterproductive.  Don't wallow in negativity.  Instead, embrace the positive wherever you can find it.  God is there with us, if we will only seek Him out.

Have faith.  Look for good to come out of this.  My husband's family has faced many tragedies but something good has always come out of them.  Often they didn't know what that was until long after the time of sadness.  Since I met them, I have been amazed at how strong, steady and optimistic they are when bad things happen.  They are living proof of Paul's statement:  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  (Romans 8:28). We have faith that the same thing will happen.

Hold on to hope.  Hope is the most powerful of healers and the greatest of motivators.  Our hope is anchored in the love of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and the love we have for each other.   It is not a wishful optimism but a firm reliance on the Creator and Savior of the Universe.

Please pray for my sister-in-law Kate and for yourself.   Take a deep breath and recommit yourself to what is important:  faith, hope and love.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Making America Good Again: Cherry Picking Christians

On the front page of my local Sunday paper, a courageous woman working to revitalize her neighborhood asks:  "How do you say you love the Lord and don't love His people?"  I agree with May Lizzie Jennings wholeheartedly.  However, it is also time to ask the question in reverse:  "How can we say we love His people and not love the Lord?"

Loving each other is an extremely important Biblical principle but not the only one.  Right before Jesus told us to love our neighbor, He told us love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Further, He linked loving God to obedience:   "Love one another, as I have loved you." And "If you love me you'll keep my commandments."  Love like Jesus.  Keep all his commandments, not just some of them.  We don't get to choose which, we need to love God AND people.  'Both/and' not 'either/or.'

Sadly, it seems to be part of our human nature to want to listen to things we agree with and tune out those things that we don't.  For some reason I don't completely understand, some of us lean toward "conservatism" and some to "progressivism."  Whichever way we lean is the lens that determines how we view the world, what things we choose to believe, and ultimately how we respond to its problems. Each of us "cherry-picks," if you will, the things that confirm our biases and ignores the things that don't.

We all need to take a step back and look at how we can best love God AND all of His creation, including people.  God tells us how through Scripture, the universe around us,  and the lessons we learn from history.  The Declaration of Independence refers to this, "the laws of Nature and Nature's God." Admittedly, there are times that it seems Scripture contradicts itself.  Then we are faced with the greater challenge of working together to see what God intends, focusing on both/and and not either/or. Often we will find there is a new way open to us if we only do the hard work to find it.

I am growing increasingly frustrated with Christians and non-Christians alike who "cherry-pick"  Biblical principles to support various and sundry political points without struggling with the WHOLE of God's revelation.    

What put me over the top this week was all Scripture floating around over Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.  Many who supported the agreement pointed to God's delegating responsibility for the planet to humanity and our obligation to be good stewards. Others, focused on how the agreement hurts the people on the planet, pointing to the agreement's restrictions on ability of many to provide for their families in exchange for little climate improvement.   There is also another opinion out there that says we don't need to worry about climate change because God is in charge and won't let us destroy the planet. All of these views contain part of the truth, but not all of it.  Our discussion should be about how we can be good stewards to the earth AND use the earth's bounty for the benefit of all, recognizing all the while God's sovereignty.  Emphasizing one principle over the other is a false choice but, alas, easier than doing the hard work of uniting these principles to find a path forward.

We could have the same discussion in many areas of our life together:  do we help the poor by supporting them in their poverty or helping them out of it?   Do we welcome everyone who comes to America or insist that they be here legally?  Do we love and care for women, or their unborn children?   Do we love people whatever their gender and sexual inclinations, or acknowledge that God created male and female to enjoy the blessings of marriage?   And as the news of another terrorist attack comes out of London,  do we love our enemy or protect the innocent?  The hard answer is both/and.

Let's stop cherry-picking Scripture to make our political points and do a better job of loving God and each other by looking to the whole testimony of God, in the natural world, in Scripture, in history and in our hearts.  As much as I love God,  I confess that I am guilty of cherry-picking as well, so don't call me a hypocrite but help me do what is right.  We all, including me, need to intentionally open our eyes and ears and listen to God - and each other.  We won't always get it right, but we will do a much better job of dealing with the mess our world is in if we at least try to follow the Creator's plan.  God created us, and loves of us, and yes, our Heavenly Father knows best.  

So stop with the cherry-picking, or at least recognize that you are doing it. Let's all work a little harder at getting the logs out of our own eyes (like Jesus told us to), and start looking at all that God wants for us - not just the parts that we like.

Let's Make America Good Again.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Making America Good Again: Never Forget

Monday is Memorial Day.  It is a day for Americans to remember all of the heroes who gave their lives in the service of our country.  It was around the time of the Civil War that people on both sides of that awful conflict, mostly women, made a special effort to decorate the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers, even if they were the enemy.  That is why this national holiday was originally called Decoration Day.

There is something about placing flowers on a grave that spurs our memories.  My husband and I regularly visit the places where family members are buried and remember them.  The ritual is important to us.  We all want to be be remembered and remembering is part of the responsibility of the living.

God gave us the gift of memory.  God told Moses to remember His commandments and teach them to the children.  God also made a special point of having the nation of Israel remember important parts of their history, like when they escaped from slavery in Egypt. In keeping with this Passover tradition, Jesus told his followers to remember His last meal with them.  In more recent times, the phrase "Never Forget" is used to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust and to not allow them to be repeated.   Remembering our history, even when we didn't know the people involved, is important.

So this Memorial Day, I would like to encourage you to reclaim the tradition of Decoration Day.  Find in your community or local cemetery a memorial to the men and women who lost their lives creating or preserving the liberty we hold so dear - and decorate it.  Take a flag or a flower.  Spend a moment thinking about their sacrifice and your benefit.  Be grateful.  Be humble.

I live in a town called Bradenton in Florida.  Within walking distance of my home there is a memorial to the veterans of World War I at the city pier.  The plaque reads:  "Memorial Pier Dedicated to World War Veterans 1930."   Please notice, they didn't expect World War II.   There are memorials to all Veterans and the Confederacy at the County Courthouse.  There are memorials for those lost their lives in all wars, including Vietnam, Korea and World War II at the Veterans Park near the hospital which itself was originally named the Manatee Veterans Memorial Hospital.  The hospital was built in 1953 and on the back of a picture postcard of it, it says:  "A Memorial to Manatee County Veterans of all Wars. Contributed by the public of Manatee County."  There is nothing yet in our community for the fallen in the Gulf War or the ongoing wars on terrorism.  Perhaps someday, but we should still never forget.

Since this part of Florida wasn't really settled until the mid-1800s, there aren't graves of those who died in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Indian Wars or the Mexican American War but your community might have some.  Think about all of the wars Americans have fought in since our founding.  If you don't remember (or were never taught!)  what they are, here is a list with the numbers of dead and wounded from the Department of Veterans Affairs:

So this Memorial Day, spend some time remembering.  Read through the list of America's Wars and rather than think not about the numbers, think about the soldiers themselves and what they went through.  Think of them as citizens, like you, fighting for their country.  Think of them as  husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters who laid down their lives for a cause greater than themselves.  Decorate the graves and memorials of those who have died to keep us free.  Find some way this Memorial Day to remember, really remember, those men and women who died for you.
Let's Make America Good Again by not forgetting our past.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

An Open Letter to Rev. Olsen about Christian Persecution in America

A family member recent shared an open letter written to Franklin Graham from a Lutheran pastor, Rev. Peter Olsen.  Here is his letter, followed by my response:

Dear Rev. Olsen,

A family member of mine shared your letter on her Facebook page and, being a supporter of Rev. Graham and a pastor myself, I was interested in what you had to say.

Interested - and then saddened - by how you misrepresented him and President Trump.  I was reminded of Jesus' lesson about taking the log out of your own eye before helping someone else take a speck out of their own.  I admit that I often do the same thing and am trying to be intentional in these divisive times to be very aware of my own presuppositions before I speak or put pen to paper, well, fingers to keyboard.  With that in mind, I would like to share my perspective on the persecution of Christians in our country.

You are quite correct that Christians are not being physically persecuted in America like they have been throughout the Middle East and other parts of the world.   Rev. Graham is intimately aware of those dangers through the work of Samaritan's Purse.  Recently, that organization set up a hospital outside Mosul, Iraq. I've been supporting them, other than Christmas Shoe Boxes, since 2014 when they stepped in to help the Yazidi's being murdered by ISIS.   They are on the ground in that region with a front row seat to the persecution of Christians, Muslims and others.  He knows what religious persecution looks like.

So when Franklin Graham talks about the loss of religious freedom in the United States, perhaps we should pay attention and not dismiss him out of hand.   You say in your open letter to him:

 "Of all the things that worry me, the loss of religious freedom for Christians in America isn't one of them. I can't say I have ever experienced anything in this country that could reasonably called a restriction on my religious liberty, much less persecution."

I respectfully suggest that you consider taking the log out of your own eye and look around. The restrictions are there, and I am concerned, like the frog in the pot of boiling water, you just don't sense the change in temperature.

The Founders of America acknowledged that governments are created by God to protect the rights and liberties God has given to humanity.   God is the lynchpin that holds our American experiment together.  The founders did not want a theocracy or even a state sponsored church, but they did not want to abandon God in the process.  Our system of government, John Adams wrote, is dependent upon a moral and religious people.  God would rule, but through the hearts and minds of citizens who controlled the power of government through their votes and participation.

To have a moral society, there must be moral citizens.  Morality, to be binding and consistent, needs to be based in God, not the whims of people.  As America slowly abandons God and increasingly seeks to determine what is good and evil apart from our Creator, we have repeated the sin of Adam and Eve.  You know, all that stuff about wanting to be like God.  

For most of America's history, the majority of the citizens agreed on moral precepts of their Judeo-Christian faith.   Discerning God's will can be a messy business.  Sometimes America got it right, sometimes we got it wrong, and sometimes, like now, it seems that we are increasingly ignoring God altogether.

Why are we ignoring God?  Over the past fifty years or more, there has been a concerted effort on the part of some (call them secularists, progressives, Marxists, or whatever) to steadily marginalize Christians and Christianity.  As a result many have abandoned the faith and many more have not come to faith in the first place.  Our culture is reaping the result of abandoning God as central to American life.

Many of today's Christians faithfully fight daily battles to live out their faith and restore faith in God to our nation.  They feel the heat.   These are the "persecuted" people Rev. Graham was talking about.

Within academia and the political classes there has been an ongoing effort, mostly through the rewriting of American history, to uncouple the foundational principles of the Declaration of Independence from the Constitution.  The mantra of "separation of church and state" and a "godless Constitution" have been repeated so often that folks believe them to be true.  But when Jefferson told the Danbury Baptists that there would be a "wall of separation between Church & State" he was addressing their concern that the government might meddle in church affairs.  He assured them the government would leave the churches alone.  Today's interpretation that the church should not unduly influence the government turns Jefferson's words on their head.  The church, and the moral teachings thereof, are essential  for our form of government to work.

As for our "godless constitution," the principle that "All men are created equal" loses its power  when you take away the reality that it is God who created us equal; people didn't just decide that one day.  If we decide we are equal today, we can just as easily decide we aren't all equal tomorrow.  It is God who gives us rights  - like that "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" stuff.  And God designed that these rights are to be protected by governments.   It is God our "Creator" who has provided us with the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God. "  It is God who as the "Supreme Judge of the Universe," holds us accountable to those laws, and who, in his love and mercy wants us to rely on His "Divine Providence."  Those are all the ways God is described in the Declaration of Independence, by the way.   We do not have a "godless" constitution, we have a God-infused Constitution.    To deny the bond between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is to deny God's involvement in our political lives.  Isn't that a restriction on Christianity?

The courts have removed The Ten Commandments from view as a "religious" document rather than celebrating it as the best moral code humanity has ever known.  Speaking of the courts,  why are they making decisions about so many issues, like abortion and same sex marriage,  that rightly should be put before our legislatures or in some cases the people themselves.  I would vote based on my understanding of Christian teaching.  Your vote would count too.  Then I would live with the result, but I resent the courts' intervention in these matters. Christians, and all citizens, are being prohibited from having a voice on changes in our laws that impact deeply held convictions.  Isn't that a restriction on Christianity?

Let's think a minute then about the bakers who lost their business. You mentioned the importance of following the law and I agree. But they reached a point where the law violated their understanding of the sanctity of marriage and choose not to participate in a same sex marriage.  They wouldn't cross that line.  Where is the line for you?  Would you perform a marriage for two people of the same sex?  Would you insist that I do?  Under what circumstances would you participate in civil disobedience in order to follow God?  Sadly to say, as laws and regulations in America become increasingly less dependent upon Biblical principles, more Christians will be forced into civil disobedience.  In a nation based on Christianity, why are we people of faith having to decide between right and the law?  Shouldn't we work hard to see that our laws are right and just in God's eyes?   Isn't this a restriction on Christianity?

Our education system fails to reinforce Christian values and virtues taught at home and in churches.  Prayer and the Bible are no longer permitted in public schools, although they were the basis of public education for the first 150 years of our constitutional republic.  How does a Christian raise their children if the schools won't even acknowledge there is a God, let alone that a significant part of human nature is our spirituality?  We are more than the sum of our cells, are we not?   Isn't the outright denial of a Creator in the education of our children a restriction on Christianity?

In popular culture and political punditry, Christians are sometimes demonized, but most often ridiculed and bullied.   TV shows and movies rarely if ever show Christians in a positive light.  Those that do are often cancelled.  And as you know, many Christians are lights whose example would benefit the world.

Again and again I read and hear folks like me - conservative Christians -  referred to as "xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted and misogynist."  It has almost become a catch-all among the main stream media to describe a person of faith.  Often it is expanded to include the "angry, fearful" descriptor you added for Rev. Graham.  Criticizing sincere Christians who don't have a hateful bone in their body is just another way to marginalize and silence people of faith.

For the record,  I am not xenophobic because I love America;  I welcome immigrants who will follow our laws;   I am not homophobic because I believe God designed marriage for men and women;  I am not a bigot because I believe all lives matter; and I am not a misogynist because I believe God created men and women to be different and equal.   All of us are God's children.  All of us are due dignity and respect.  All of us are sinners in need of His grace.  All of us will be held accountable by God for what we do and say.

Following God's will is a whole lot easier if we struggle to discern it together but how can we do that if we are discouraged - and sometimes prevented  - from talking to each other.  It is hard to speak up for your faith when you see people who think like you regularly ridiculed. Making fun of Christians is almost a new sport.  Sadly, it has  chilling effect on the free speech we also hold so dear.  Isn't that a restriction on Christianity?

Now, a bit closer to home.  Do the members of your congregation feel free to express their faith at work or school?  Or have they been shunned or disciplined for having a Bible on their desk, a quote from Scripture on their iPad, or inviting someone to church or on a mission trip?  Have they bought the lie that faith is a private matter, not to be shared in public.  I think Jesus' command to go and make disciples is very hard to do if you can't tell folks about Him.  Do they feel that their Christianity is restricted?

What about you, have you ever been asked to pray at a public event, but been told to keep your prayer generic so as to not offend anyone?  I, too am a Christian pastor (United Methodist), and I pray in the name of Jesus when asked to pray at public events.  I would expect others to pray in their traditions as well. To not pray in Jesus' name would make me feel like I am some how ashamed of Jesus.  And I'm not!  I am not ashamed of the cross, and no pastor in America should be put in that position.  That is a restriction on Christianity.

So while American Christians are not being physically persecuted like our brothers and sisters around the world, there are many in our country who are, and have been, working hard at eroding the soul of Christianity in our nation.   All levels of government, schools,  and popular culture seem hell-bent on denying God in any way that can.  The persecution of Christians in America is spiritual - but no less deadly.  The churches seem to be doing little to fight back.

Even though you say you haven't experienced it, I think you have. Can you see, perhaps a bit, how and why some Christians in America are feeling ridiculed, marginalized and persecuted?  We believe that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and as the strength of those principles diminishes in public life, so will the strength of America.  We are in a fight for the soul of America.  I hope you can see it now, and will join us.

I'll be writing you another letter soon to respond to other issues you raise in your letter to Rev. Graham. In the meantime,  may God continue to bless your life and ministry.

And by the way, you mentioned pastors doing funerals for people whose conduct we don't "approve of."  I'm not sure exactly what you meant by that, but if you mean how difficult it is to do funerals for some folks,  I know it can be a struggle.   Here is a bit of pastoral advice.  I once had a parishioner tell me that she hated going to funerals because pastors always lie and never tell the truth about the life the deceased had led.  So you know what,  I quit trying to sugar coat the lives of those I buried.   I do the funeral, give an honest (although sensitively worded) account of their lives, and entrust them to the mercy of Jesus.  Powerful stuff.  Trust me, those who mourn do appreciate it.

Rev. Susan Schrier Clouse

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Making America Good Again: Grateful for Mom

Today is a day to tell your Mom you are grateful for her.  No one likes being taken for granted!   See her if you can, call her if you can't visit - and remember her if she has passed on.

In honor of Mother's Day, here is a poem from the Bible's Book of Proverbs (31:10-31).  This was written about 1000 BC.  Then, as now, women are wives, mothers, businesswomen, homemakers, helpers of the poor and needy, and lovers of God. Then, as now, women are virtuous, capable, trustworthy, frugal, energetic, strong, hardworking, productive, prepared, dignified, generous, wise, kind, and faithful.  These are the ways women show love to their children, husbands, communities and Heavenly Father.  My Mother taught me all these things, and I hope yours did too.  May the next generation pass them on.

A Wife of Noble Character

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
She is more precious than rubies.
Her husband can trust her,
and she will greatly enrich his life.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
She finds wool and flax
and busily spins it.
She is like a merchant’s ship,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household
and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.
She goes to inspect a field and buys it;
with her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She is energetic and strong,
a hard worker.
She makes sure her dealings are profitable;
her lamp burns late into the night.
Her hands are busy spinning thread,
her fingers twisting fiber.
She extends a helping hand to the poor
and opens her arms to the needy.
She has no fear of winter for her household,
for everyone has warm clothes.
She makes her own bedspreads.
She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns.
Her husband is well known at the city gates,
where he sits with the other civic leaders.
She makes belted linen garments
and sashes to sell to the merchants.
She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future.
When she speaks, her words are wise,
and she gives instructions with kindness.
She carefully watches everything in her household
and suffers nothing from laziness.
Her children stand and bless her.
Her husband praises her:
“There are many virtuous and capable women in the world,
but you surpass them all!”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.
Reward her for all she has done.
Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.

Happy Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Making America Good Again: What a Wonderful World

He made the earth by his power;  he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. -- Jeremiah 51:15
They say the devil is in the details, but right now I'm feeling overwhelmed with details - details on healthcare, details on the federal budget, details on immigration, etc., etc. No one seems to be sharing the whole truth, and some folks seem to be lying outright;  I need a break before I dive back in and try to figure out what's best.

Sometimes we all need to step back and try to get a broader perspective on things. That broader perspective came to me in watching the very first Disneynature movie:  Earth.  What an amazing planet we live on!

This movie brought the lives and struggles of polar bears, whales and elephants up close.  I was amazed that these animals could go weeks and months without food.  I struggle to get from breakfast to lunch!  We humans are a wimpy bunch.  I was entertained by watching baby bears and ducks at their antics.  The mating rituals of the birds in New Guinea were hilarious. I was enthralled by the struggles of the cranes flying over the Himalayas.  Watching wolves hunt a baby caribou and lions attack an elephant was was both horrifying and humbling.  Disney brought the circle of life into my living room.

But I didn't need a movie, I only needed to walk out my front door.   I am blessed to live on the Manatee River just south of Tampa Bay.  On any given day, I see hawks, pelicans and egrets stalk their prey and come up with a fish.  I have recently felt a bit like a voyeur as I watched seagulls and mockingbirds at their mating rituals.  The ducks are now pairing up and we will see baby ducks soon.  Some days, I can see dolphins leisurely breaking through the surface as they travel up and down the river.  Manatees and sting rays have floated along our seawall.  "And I think to myself, it's a wonderful world,"  just like the song says.

Step outside today and look, really look, at nature around you.  How can you not be awed and overwhelmed by what you see?

The original version of that saying about the devil being in the details is "God is in the detail."   While the Disney movie didn't mention it at all, it is God who created all these animals, their instincts and the habitats they live in.  He crafted the details of their lives.  Surely He has a plan for human beings too.

Jesus put it this way:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
 And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)
Let's stop focusing on the devil in the details, which is what causes us all this worry.   Let's get to work looking for God.  

It is God's plan we should seek, not only in the details of health care, budgets, immigration but in all aspects of our lives together.  When tomorrow comes, don't worry about the problems you face, look to God for guidance.  Maybe then we'll stop tearing each other down with half-truths and outright lies and work together to discover the Truth.

There are ways to fix the challenges we face, but only if we humbly, honestly and deeply look to our Creator.  We can Make America Good Again by striving to live according to God's loving and perfect plans for us.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Making America Good Again: Pray!

May 4th is more than "May the Force Be With You Day," it is also The National Day of Prayer.  While presidents calling on Americans to fast and pray has been a part of American history since the beginning, since 1952, it has been the law of the land that:

"The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."  (36 U.S.C. § 119)[1]

So, pray tomorrow.  Pray even if it is not something you normally do, or your prayers are limited to the "OMG" or "Jesus Christ!" variety.  Take some time and think about what you would like to talk to God about. If you don't read this until after Thursday, that's OK.  Pray when you can.

Prayer is simply having a conversation with God, the Creator of the Universe and the Lover of your soul.  Prayer is not just us talking, but it also is us listening.  God answers prayers - sometimes with a "yes", sometimes with a "no", and sometimes with a "be patient."  I have experienced all three, and then some.

If you aren't sure what to say, you are not too unlike Jesus' first disciples who asked Him for some guidance.  Jesus gave them some advice about how to pray.  This is from Luke 11:1-13, New Living Translation:

11:1 Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2 Jesus said, “This is how you should pray:

“Father, may your name be kept holy.
  May your Kingdom come soon.
3 Give us each day the food we need,
4 and forgive us our sins,    as we forgive those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation.”

5 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.

9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12 Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Go ahead and pray.  Your Heavenly Father would love to hear from you.

Prayer will Make America Good Again.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Making America Good Again: One Nation Under God

Happy Loyalty Day!

American history tells the story of a nation striving to be like the wise man who built his house on the rock.  Jesus, the master storyteller, told the tale of the wise and foolish builders at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”  (Matthew 7:24-27)

America's Founders knew that relying on Divine Providence would provide America with a firm foundation and help this new nation weather any storm.  Over the course of America's history, there have been foolish people who have tried to sever America's reliance on the Almighty, but faithful and patriotic citizens have always stepped up to stop this from happening. 

Not so long ago, in the 1950s, when communism's threat to the United States and freedom around the world was increasing, American citizens requested that our political leaders publicly reinforce the deep and abiding patriotism and faith of the American people.  May 1st was to be called  Loyalty Day; "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance; and "In God We Trust" was made the official national motto.

While we now face different threats, a renewed public embrace of these American values is needed.  While the media foolishly mocks these things, President Donald Trump's Loyalty Day Proclamation and his continuing calls for a return to patriotism and faith are not new-fangled nationalistic rhetoric; they are deeply engrained in the mainstream of American thought and history.  He is calling us back to wisdom. 

While it had been observed since 1921, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially proclaimed May 1st as Loyalty Day in 1955, to be "a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom."  America is based on truth that our freedom comes from God, not the government.  Remembering this makes us wise;  denying this makes us foolish.  So foolish.  

Every president since 1955 has issued Loyalty Day proclamations, but often without the attention President Trump has brought to this day.  His proclamation specifically calls us to also remember that America is "One Nation, Under God."  

It was in 1954 that  "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance by a joint resolution of Congress.  The Pledge had been around since 1887 and was originally adopted by Congress in 1942. Upon signing it, President Eisenhower said:

"FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country's true meaning.
 "Especially is this meaningful as we regard today's world. Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war."
Isn't it eerie how Eisenhower's description of the world could be applied to today?  The sole exception is his image of school children across America reciting the Pledge.  In more recent decades court battles and a progressive educational system have fought against the inclusion of the Pledge, prayers and the Bible in public schools   As best I can tell, only half of the students in public schools say the pledge daily. Fewer pray or study God's Word.  Foolish.  So foolish.

"In God We Trust" has been included on U.S. currency since the time of the Civil War for much the same reason as "under God" was added to the pledge.  At the urging of citizens, Lincoln's Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, sent this request to the director of the Philadelphia Mint:

"No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition."

In 1864 the first coins were minted including "In God We Trust."  All coins and paper currency now include it,  and in 1956 "In God We Trust" became America's official motto.  There have been repeated - and foolish -  legal challenges to change this, but so far all have failed.  These judges have been wise. 

Throughout our nation's history, there have always been public affirmations of America's reliance on God despite attempts to purge faith from our life together.  Like in Jesus' story, will our generation be known for wisely building our nation on the firm foundation of God's Word or foolishly ignoring the teachings of our Creator?  

Let's Make America Good Again by being "One Nation Under God." 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Making America Good Again: A Few Thoughts on Earth Day

Faith seeks understanding. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.   - St. Anselm of Canterbury

I don't know when or why Earth Day started.  This year there were "Marches for Science" across America.  I checked out the "March for Science" website and it is almost like reading a church's mission statement, except there is no mention of God.  Even the parts about the scientists feeling mistreated by the government could have been written by churches concerned about religious liberty.  It was weird because science as a general rule is held in high-esteem in our national conscience and education system. We like its benefits, especially in medicine and technology.

It is almost like science has taken on a cult-like place in our culture, so why are scientists feeling so abused?  Perhaps its because they are finally getting some public pushback for overstepping their bounds in asking us to take their findings on faith.  A re-evaluation of the rightful place of science and its applications in our society is long overdue.  

As throughout much of history, there continues to be unnecessary tension between science and religion.  A little humility on both sides is very much in order.

The teenage daughter of a friend wants to be a research scientist, perhaps in some area of genetics.  They are both deeply committed Christians, and the daughter is concerned about pursuing a career field where her faith could be a professional liability.

This is part of what I shared with my friend.  While it might seem that finding other scientists who are also Christians will be difficult, it is possible.  They are out there!   Many scientists know that when there appears to be a conflict between scientific findings and faith, both more research and more prayer are in order!  They have the Biblical worldview that recognizes God as the Creator, and that role of science is to help us understand God's creation and apply what we learn to make the world a better place.  When secular scientists remove God from their considerations, they will fail to grasp the full picture of whatever they are studying.  Belief in God helps scientists understand the focus of their inquiries and puts proper ethical boundaries on the uses of their discoveries.

Think about it this way.  God is the perfect Father.  He takes great pleasure when human beings, children of God if you will, figure out how creation works.  Remember the joy you felt when your kid put Legos together into some incredibly creative design.  That's how God feels when we turn trees into houses, cotton into a dress or oil into energy.  Think about the pride you felt when your kid figured out how to multiply.  That's how God feels when we understand the mysteries of physics.

Take this a step further:  you were proud when your child learned to safely light a fire on your first camping trip.  You were crushed when you found out they later used fire to destroy a neighbor's house.  Fire's not bad; it's how we use it.  Science isn't bad; it's how we use it.

Much of what I heard on Earth Day sounded a lot like a pagan religion, elevating "Mother Earth" and science to god-like status.  That is dreadfully, terribly wrong and will only cause the universe and its inhabitants great grief.

Scientists should take great joy in discovering facts about God's creation, all the while being humble enough to accept that they don't know it all and that they won't always get it right. Asking God for guidance isn't a weakness, it's a strength.  God is God, after all, and we are not.

Christians need to eat some humble pie in this area as well. Science isn't the enemy.   Science helps us be good stewards of the universe God has entrusted to us.  Ignoring scientific evidence by saying, "God won't let us destroy the world," or "God will return before this or that happens" is irresponsible.  We need to continue to care for creation until that day happens and not stop a second before. Science plays a vital role in helping us do that.  

On this Sunday after Earth Day, take a moment to thank God for this amazing universe we live in, especially this incredible planet we live on, and ask for His guidance to help us use it wisely and well.

Let's Make America Good Again by putting faith and science in proper perspective.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Making America Good Again: Why I Believe

Happy Easter!  Today Christians around the world celebrate that Jesus defeated sin and death and came back to life!   When a person predicts their own death and resurrection, and it comes true, it is logical that you would believe them.

Jesus' astounding resurrection convinced the disciples - and the hundreds of other people who saw him - that He is the Son of God.  Centuries before there was a Bible, centuries before there were Catholics or Protestants, people believed that Jesus was their Lord and Savior.  Those who put their trust in Jesus told more people, and they told more people, and the number of those who followed Jesus grew and grew.

But there is more to the story.  Resurrection Sunday not only honors this historical event, it celebrates the beginning of a new and on-going relationship between God and His creation.  Christianity has grown and spread because of what Jesus did 2000 years ago AND because of what He does every day.

I believe in Jesus not only because generations of believers have passed on to me the truth of Jesus.  And I believe because Jesus is alive today.  There is a hymn that goes:

I serve a risen Savior, He's in the world today
I know that He is living, whatever men may say
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer
And just the time I need Him He's always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life's narrow way
He lives, He lives, Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Alfred Ackley wrote this hymn, known as "He Lives", or "I Serve a Risen Savior," in 1933.  While I personally find the tune a little hokey, the words resonate with me because I live them every day:  Jesus lives in me.  I could describe to you hundreds of ways Jesus is  in my life and the lives of others - guiding, comforting, correcting and just being there.

When the Great Commandment talks about loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength, that isn't just poetic language, it is profound truth.  So much of our modern world neglects the soul, but that is where our relationship with God is nurtured.  It is where we find God and God finds us.  God cherishes all of what makes us human - our bodies, our emotions and our minds.  He created us, after all.   Just as Jesus' body was resurrected and made new, so will ours some day.

God also uses all of our senses, emotions and intellect to draw us to Him, but for now, He communicates with us most intimately through our souls, through our spiritual selves.  When we fail to nurture our souls, we may not hear God calling out to us.   This is why prayer is so important.

There is a difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus.   We can learn all about Him from what others tell us,  but still not know Him.  We can follow His teachings and serve those in need, but still not know Jesus.   We can worship Him with great enthusiasm, but still not know Him.  We cannot know Jesus until we surrender all - mind, body, heart and spirit to Him.  One of my favorite Bible verses says this:

”The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (Romans 8:16-17)

Jesus loves us and wants us to be with Him, sharing in all that He has done for us.  This is why He died for us.  This is why He came back to life for us.  This is why Jesus lives in me and wants to live in you.  This is why I believe.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Making America Good Again: Hope in the Midst of Grief

Emotions are amazing things.  They rise up without being asked.  Sometimes we can control them.  Sometimes they overwhelm us.  Sometimes they inspire us to do good.  Some times they drive us to do evil.

Imagine the emotions swirling in the hearts of Jesus' followers the day after the crucifixion.  We know they went into hiding, but we are left to guess what they were feeling. Put yourself in their shoes.

They were afraid.  They might be arrested and executed. Sit with them as they listen to the voices passing outside and jump at every knock on the door.

They were feeling guilty.  They had abandoned Jesus when He needed them the most.  Just as Jesus had told him, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus.  How had Jesus known?  They had all run away.  Now guilt was gnawing at their guts.  What could they have done?  What should they have done?

They were grieving.  Their friend and leader had died.  Everyone was mourning in their own way while they struggled to comfort each other.  Jesus' mother, who Jesus had entrusted to John, needed them too.

They were grieving the death of a dream.  For three years they had followed Jesus and  His vision of the Kingdom of God.  They imagined that they were going to rescue Israel from the Roman occupiers.  Now that dream was buried in a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers.

They were grieving the death of the One whom they believed to be the Son of God.  Some of Jesus' earliest followers found his teaching too hard and had turned away.  Jesus asked if the rest would leave Him too.  "Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69).  Where was their faith now?  Did doubt creep into their souls?

I usually see Holy Saturday as a day of rest, but this year I find myself relating in new ways to what the disciples were feeling.

Like them, I am increasingly afraid to live my faith "out loud" in a culture that calls me hateful for following Jesus.  I feel guilty that I haven't done enough to defend Jesus in a world that celebrates a culture antithetical to God's design for humanity.  I mourn the decline in church attendance and, most of all, that many in my own family do not believe in Jesus.

Over the past few weeks, I have read a number of books about how Christians should adapt to this new "post-Christian" age. Have we really lost the culture wars as Rod Dreher suggests in "The Benedict Option?"  How should Christians live and witness in our increasingly sexualized and secularized nation?  Should we retreat to develop stronger Christian communities or keep up the fight In the public square?  I'm beginning to think "both" is the answer. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On that first Holy Saturday, amid the fear, guilt and grief, did hope or despair push its way into the disciples' hearts.  Was all lost or had Jesus told them the truth:  "After three days I will rise again.'  Jesus had said this many times.  Could it be true?  Dare they hope that it would happen?

Hope is what helps us hold on when all seems lost, but Christian hope is more than wishful thinking.  Hope is inseparable from faith.  "Hope is the form that faith takes in relation to the future," writes Richard John Neuhaus in "Death on a Friday Afternoon."   Faith and hope always go hand in hand.  

Saying we believe in Jesus means that we have faith, we trust,  that Jesus is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do:  "After three days, I will rise again."

Did hope enter the disciples thoughts that night?  We don't know, but the morning changed things forever.

That is why, no matter the challenges I or the Church face in the years ahead, Holy Saturday reminds me to not retreat or give into despair when things look their worst but to keep my eyes on Jesus.

What about you?  I don't know what emotions are swirling inside you today, but I know that faith and hope in Jesus can help you through it all.  Jesus is who He says He is.  He will do what He says He will do.  "After three days, I will rise again."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Making America Good Again: Why Did Jesus Die?

I have a confession to make.   I don't know why Jesus had to die.  I don't know why Jesus had to die the horrible way he did.

In seminary, we were taught what are called theories of Atonement to explain Christ's death on the cross.   All point to the same goal - the reconciling of sinful humanity with a Holy God.   The short-hand version of this is to say - At-One-Ment - making us one with God.  All the blood and pain leads to the forgiveness of the whole world's sins which is what makes this Friday "Good."  All the blood and pain paves the way for us to be filled with the Spirit of God.

Each theory tries to grasp some aspect of the the profound spiritual truth of what is going on on this Good Friday, but none quite reaches to the bottom of my soul.  None quite satisfies.

One atonement theory is that Jesus took the punishment for our sins to satisfy divine justice.  That is the primary "party line" in the United Methodist camp where I come from.  I believe it to be true, but surely there must be more?

Another atonement theory is that Jesus is the full and final sacrifice for our sins to satisfy God's anger at our disobedience.

Another atonement theory is the He paid the debt we owe God the Father for our disobedience.

In these three theories, Jesus exchanges His life for ours so that we appear blameless before God.

Another theory is that Jesus' death paid the ransom to Satan to whom we have sold our souls since the time of Adam.  Yes, I do believe Satan is real, that the spiritual world is populated with angels and demons that seek to influence us.  This is where the battles for our souls truly takes place.

Another theory is that Jesus was a righteous and moral teacher whose horrible and unjust death emphasized just how right and true is teaching was.  This one completely ignores that Jesus is the Son of God, but does include the importance of his teaching.

Another theory, perhaps one of the oldest,  is that through Jesus' death and resurrection Satan and his rule over the world was defeated.

Another theory, also very ancient, is that through Jesus' death and resurrection humanity is freed from our slavery to sin and death.  I really like this one too.

I'm sure there are more atonement theories, but these are the major ones.

Beyond the atonement theories, I also hear the questions of others for which I have no easy answers:  Would God the Father really kill God the Son?  Why did Jesus have to suffer so?  Surely God, being God, could find a better way.

There have been many times I have sat in an empty church and stared at the cross, asking God why?  Why this way?

And I came to know that I cannot fully know.

I can get glimpses of the depth of human sin - and my own - but I can't know the depth of how sin separates us from God.

I can get glimpses of a Heavenly Love that suffered and died to reconcile an imperfect person like me  (and you) with a Holy and Perfect God - but I can't know the depth of that love.

I was reminded of a passage from Isaiah 55:6-9:
Seek the Lord while he may be found,call upon him while he is near;let the wicked forsake their way,and the unrighteous their thoughts;let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your waysand my thoughts than your thoughts.
I cannot know or understand the thoughts of God on that first Good Friday.  All I do know is that Jesus, the Son of God, suffered and died an unthinkable death; He did it for me, for you and for the whole world.  Jesus did it because Almighty God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit -  loves us and wants to satisfy the emptiness in our hearts that can only be filled with Him.

I am humbled.  I am grateful.  I am overcome.