Sunday, January 29, 2017

Making America Good Again: Time-Out

Taking a time-out is a good thing.

In sports, a time-out can help a team take a breath, re-evaluate strategy or throw the other team off their stride.  In parenting, giving your child a "time-out" helps them think about their bad behavior.  Sometimes, my computer "times out" if it can't perform the task I've asked it to do.  And taking a time-out from a week of work, God blessed and called the Sabbath.

I'm taking a time-out right now from engaging with folks who disagree with me.  I am still keeping up with the news but not responding to what I see. It is really hard to not react to what "the other side" is doing - but I'm trying! This time-out is giving me a chance to take a deep breath and re-evaluate how to contribute to the changes talking place in our country and the world.

In a recent series of sermons, Andy Stanley has talked about focusing on what you value and not just what you want.  Think long-term rather than short-term. In my "time out" I'm going to take his advice and focus on what I value.

So much of my attention these days has been on political things.  While I might want certain policies enacted,  what I truly value about America are the principles found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  As I prepare to re-engage in the public square,  it will be with these documents as my guide.

I'm also using this time-out to refresh my soul by doing what Jesus did.  He often took time away from His followers and the crowds to connect deeply with His Heavenly Father.  And so am I.  What I value most is knowing God's good, pleasing, and perfect will for me and the world around me.  As I prepare to re-engage in the public square, it will be with God's eternal principles, first and foremost, as my guide.

To help Make America Good Again, I'm taking a time-out to focus on the things that are valuable.  Do you need a time-out too?


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Making America Good Again: Patriotism, Prayers and Protests

My emotions have been all over the map these past few days.

This inaugural weekend I watched patriots gather to celebrate the peaceful transition of power between two very different men, with two very different visions for America.  I am grateful for the change and understand that others aren't.  I've been on the losing side a time or two.  I've done my protesting with signs, my voice and my pen. I get it.  This is how our constitutional republic works.

This year felt different.  I was anxious that there might be riots.  A number of groups had publicly announced their intention to destroy property and wreck havoc.  About 200 protestors were arrested but nothing disturbed the festivities. It was a bit freaky for me to see rioting in a part of DC where I've stayed, watching windows being broken out of the Starbucks I visited near my hotel. That, and the fact that some of our local police were there, brought that part of the story very close to home.  Thank God for the police!

Seeing things were under control, I took a deep breath and watch the swearing-in.  It happened.  No glitches. The new president's speech was realistic and optimistic.  When he ended, I felt proud of my country's leadership and hopeful that the blessings of liberty will be strengthened now and into the future. But then my heart sank when the commentators decried the speech as "dark" and "divisive."   Didn't they hear the same thing I did?

How can you not get excited when the President, echoing George Washington's distrust of political parties, points to the promise in Declaration of Independence that government derives its power from the consent of the governed.  He said:

"Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People."

Or how can you not be heartened when the new President reminds us that what unites us is more important than the identity politics that now divides us:

"It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator."

How could the pundits not feel hope and optimism - unless they were choosing not to?

So I took another deep breath and stayed glued to the TV to watch the speeches at the luncheon.  The new president was gracious to his political opponent.  The opposing party leadership was welcoming to the new president.  That was good.

I stayed on my love seat and cried with pride as military and high school bands marched down Pennsylvania Avenue.  I was moved when the President and First Lady, Vice-President and Second Lady danced with soldiers at the Salute to Our Armed Services Ball.

And then on Saturday morning, I watched the National Prayer Service.  The new President and Vice-President were led in prayer at the National Cathedral by 26 spiritual leaders representing 12 faith traditions including the Navajo Nation, Evangelical, Mainline and Catholic Christians, Mormons, the Greek Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Baha'i.  They prayed for our leaders, the military, the diplomatic corps, teachers, law enforcement, health care workers, working folks, the poor and neglected, the unemployed, the rejected and disempowered, widows and orphans, outcasts and refugees.  They prayed for our nation and our world.  They shared sacred texts and songs.  The music was glorious.  The recessional hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" had me in tears again.  What a great God we serve!

And then I caught glimpses of the "Women's March."  I lost interest in participating when they banned pro-life groups.  Abortion is one of those defining issues for me and if I could get to Washington for the March for Life next weekend I would.  But the so-called "Women's March" wasn't about issues important to all women, it was about issues important to some women.  Protest all you want, but don't say you are speaking for me especially when you express your disagreements with the new administration in such vulgar and repulsive ways.

I'll stick with patriotism and prayer over that kind of protest.

I try to understand "the other side."  I've gotten my news from sources all over the map. I kept all my Facebook friends even when some of the posts got ugly. I've tried to politely engage with folks to understand their positions and express my own.  It hasn't gotten me anywhere. I'm done. I need a rest from the folks who say I'm hateful because I'm not. I find myself wanting to hate them back and I don't like how that feels.

I just can't take it anymore!

So, it's time to disengage.   I'll spend my time cheering on those who think more like I do, including our new president and my legislators.  I'll get my news from primary sources - even if it's a tweet.

Sometimes just for a season, you need to walk away from conflict if you're going to stay sane.  For now I'll focus my time and energy on folks who love God and America - and keep praying for those who don't.  That's my part in Making America Good Again.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Making America Good Again: No Justice, No Peace

"How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law."  -Martin Luther King, Jr.  Letter from Birmingham Jail

While we remember Dr. Martin Luther King today and his impact on the civil rights movement, thousands of Americans are planning to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump as the the 45th President of the United States.  Dr. King created nonviolent  public protests that brought about righteous changes in America.  What would he think of those planning protests this week?

Are their demands just or unjust according to Dr. King's definition?  While some might be just in the eyes of God, many protestors have thrown away any pretense of following in the Judeo-Christian foundation of America's founding and of King's philosophy.

As you watch the news this week, analyze whether the protestors' demands and actions are just - or not.  For example,

Do the protestors want the things that others have without earning them?

Are the protestors demands based upon truth or lies?

Do the protestors demands respect the property of others or seek to steal or destroy it?

Do the protestors demands honor marriage?

Do the protestors demands protect life?

Do the protestors demands respect the wisdom of our ancestors?

Do the protestors demands reflect a balance of honest work and rest dedicated to God?

Do the protestors demands idolize things, policies and personalities above God?

Do the protestors words and action honor God and God's law?

Do the protestors words and actions show love for God and neighbor?

Do the protestors acknowledge that all people, male and female, are created in the image of God?

We shouldn't stop with these questions only for the protestors.  After they go home, will President Trump's administration follow Dr. King's definitions of just and unjust laws as well?

To Make America Good Again, let's follow God's laws in our own lives and make sure we speak up if our government  - at any level - violates the "laws of Nature and Nature's God."   These few questions are based upon the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20), the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-38) and the Creation (Genesis 1:27).  The Bible includes much more on God's justice and guidance for us if we would only look.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Making America Good Again: Lifelong Resolutions

By the time he was 24 years old in 1730, Ben Franklin, had lived a quite a life.  He had also established himself as a printer, married and started a family.   While not a fan of the organized church, he supported his local Presbyterian congregation and attended occasionally.  As Franklin described in his Autobiography, one Sunday the sermon focused on this verse from the fourth chapter of Philippians:

 "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Franklin assumed the message would be about morality, doing good and avoiding evil, but the pastor talked about what we Methodists call "attending upon the ordinances of God":  keeping the Sabbath holy, reading Scripture, attending public worship, partaking the Sacrament, respecting God's ministers.  Disappointed, Franklin never returned to that church, but he never gave up on God and God's ways.

Franklin writes:  "It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection."  He wanted to live a faultless life and conquer any vice that "natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other."

After much study, he made a list of thirteen virtues he thought were "necessary and desirable" and defined each:

1.  TEMPERANCE.  Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2.  SILENCE.  Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3.  ORDER.  Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4.  RESOLUTION.  Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5.  FRUGALITY.  Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6.  INDUSTRY.  Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7.  SINCERITY.  Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8.  JUSTICE.  Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9.  MODERATION.  Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10.  CLEANLINESS.  Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11.  TRANQUILLITY.  Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12.  CHASTITY.  Rarely use venery [sex] but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
13.  HUMILITY.  Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Franklin focused on one virtue each week for thirteen weeks. He kept track of how he did each day, first in a little notebook and later on a piece of ivory that he could more easily erase and reuse.  Some years he repeated the thirteen week course 4 times (the whole year), others he just did it once.  He did this, in some fashion, for many years.   Later, the demands of his very famous public life as one of our Founding Fathers and champion of liberty kept him from such rigorous such record-keeping, but by then the habits were ingrained.

In the little book where he recorded his successes and failures (he admitted that Order was the most difficult for him), he included quotes from Cato, Cicero and Proverbs for encouragement, and:  "And conceiving God to be the fountain of wisdom, I thought it right and necessary to solicit his assistance for obtaining it; to this end I formed the following little prayer, which was prefix'd to my tables of examination, for daily use.

"O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates.  Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me."

He also used a little prayer he took from Thomson's poems:

          "Father of light and life, thou Good Supreme!
          O teach me what is good; teach me Thyself!
          Save me from folly, vanity, and vice,
          From every low pursuit; and fill my soul
          With knowledge, conscious peace, and virtue pure;
          Sacred, substantial, never-fading bliss!"

When he was 79 years old, Franklin wrote, he owed "the constant felicity of his life" to his little plan and the blessing of God:

"To temperance he ascribes his long-continued health, and what is still left to him of a good constitution;

"to industry and frugality, the early easiness of his circumstances and acquisition of his fortune, with all that knowledge that enabled him to be a useful citizen, and obtained for him some degree of reputation among the learned;

"to sincerity and justice, the confidence of his country, and the honorable employs it conferred upon him;

"and to the joint influence of the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to acquire them, all that evenness of temper and that cheerfulness in conversation which makes his company still sought for, and agreeable even to his younger acquaintance.

"I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit."

Wouldn't we all benefit by considering ourselves descendants of Benjamin Franklin?  To Make America Good Again, what would happen if we each embarked in our own way upon a path to encourage ourselves to become a more moral people?  List those virtues that are important to you, prioritize them, and then take a moment each day to reflect on how you can improve on one or two of them.  And don't neglect to ask God to help you!

All quotes are from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, a copy of which can be found here:

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Making America Good Again: Starting Over

Happy New Year!

It's a new year and a new day.  Whether New Year's is a time for you to start something new, start over or change direction, this is a day we set aside to "just do it."  I pray you will be successful!

The whole idea of New Year's Resolutions goes back thousands of years and spans many cultures.  The Babylonians did it 4000 years ago; the Romans did it 2000 years ago, and many Christians still do.  My denomination, the United Methodists, have a Covenant Renewal Service each new year. Other churches do similar things, but for the most part New Year's has become a secular, not a sacred, way of starting over.

Because we all mess up and want to try again, people want second (and third) chances.  It is part of human nature.  An article on NBC News today lists the top areas of where we are making New Year's Resolutions based upon what we've been Googling:

1. Get Healthy
2. Get Organized
3. Live LIfe to the Fullest
4. Learn New Hobbies
5. Spend Less/Save More
6. Travel
7. Read More

While these are all good goals and yours may be among them, they seem to indicate that Americans as a general rule are pretty self-centered.  I would like to see more resolutions focused on being better people and helping others.  More than anything, I would like to see Americans turn back to God and nurture their spiritual lives as much as their physical and financial needs.

To Make America Good Again, make a resolution to pray every day.  If you are not sure what to say, know that prayer is simply a conversation with God.  You can say anything or nothing.  You can be silent and listen for God's Spirit to speak with yours.   If it has been a long time since you turned your thoughts to God, try The Lord's Prayer included below.

Humble yourself before the Creator of the Universe who is also your Heavenly Father.  God loves you dearly. Just like any parent wants to hear from their children, God wants to hear from you.  And one of the great things about hanging out with God is that every day is a new start.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”  (Lamentation 3:22-24)

Happy New Year! Go with God!

Here is the version of the Lord's Prayer from my Methodist roots:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.