Friday, May 30, 2008

Religion, Politics and Civility

I’ve never read one of Sigmund Brouwer’s books, although I may have to read his latest one, which is entitled Broken Angel. Here’s the beginning of the synopsis that appears on his website:

In this addictively readable futuristic Christian dystopia, Brouwer takes readers inside a state run by literalistic, controlling fundamentalists. There, reading is a serious crime; citizens are drugged into submission; and those who break rules are either sent to slave labor factories or stoned to death. Occasionally, a few brave souls try to escape to “Outside.”

It sounds like a Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World and 1984 cocktail with intolerant fundamentalism as the straw that stirs the drink. What’s not to like?

While I’ve not read any of Brouwer’s books, last week I did come upon an op-ed piece by him. I was sitting at the kitchen table in the Jordan farmhouse in Fosterville, Tennessee sipping my coffee and reading the Nashville Tennessean when this title caught my eye: “Jesus himself was aware of the pitfalls of mixing religion and politics.” OK, so it’s a pretty dull title that is clearly the work of an editor and not the writer, but it still caught my eye.

In the column, Brouwer reflects upon the situation in America during this presidential election season in which religion and religious leaders have played such a large role. He notes the difficulties that arise when some evangelicals think that all evangelicals must think alike if they are to have any real political influence. He makes his strongest point, though, when he notes that Jesus himself did not try to bring about change through political means and particularly through the exercise of power.

Living where cross-shaped shadows of history's most infamous torture instrument were a constant reminder of Roman rule, Jesus well knew that on the kingdom of earth, power is gained by the sword. He knew, too, the pitfalls of grasping that sword, used so literally in his name during the Crusades, and metaphorically in recent presidential elections through the leverage of votes.

In contrast to the Christian right, Jesus did not expect a secular world to live by biblical standards. Jesus never imposed his faith, only invited people to follow. He transformed society by transforming individuals, not legislation. The irony is that the institution Jesus did criticize and hold to biblical standards was the religious establishment that eventually slaughtered him — for asserting that it had failed God miserably in pursuit of politics and power.

While Brouwer goes on to say that Christians can and should be involved in the political process, he asserts that “marching beneath a Christian banner begins to set up an exclusionary group — ‘either you're Christian and you're on our side, or you oppose us, thus you can't be a Christian’ — with results readily seen in the polarization of American politics.”

Brouwer makes some important points. We do err when we “expect a secular world to live by biblical standards.” It won’t and it can’t. The real problem is seen in the unwillingness—which does not spring from inability—of Christians to live by biblical standards. The great challenge for Christians is to live by those standards ourselves and to do so in a way that exhibits integrity—that is, our actions are motivated by hearts that have been changed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Moreover, it is the Church itself that is and should be the most challenged by the words of the Bible and particularly the words of Jesus. We will do our best work in transforming society by living transformed lives in the midst of society, which is different than setting ourselves up as the evaluators and judges of all that is right and wrong.

Speaking of the situation with religion and politics in America today, Brouwer said, “In this landscape, faith is replaced by politics. Conservatives are Christians. Liberals are the Antichrist.” No doubt from the perspective of some Liberals, the reverse would be true.

Another column on the same editorial page, this one by conservative commentator Cal Thomas, decried the same situation, although in a more personal and particular way. Thomas, reflecting on the illness of liberal lion Sen. Ted Kennedy, talked about how he treasured his 25-year relationship with the senator, a relationship that developed despite their very different political convictions. Thomas wrote about the time when he was working for Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Sen. Kennedy accepted a more or less accidental invitation to speak at Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University). Kennedy, Thomas said, spoke eloquently on the place of faith in politics in the American pluralistic society whose Constitution prohibits the official establishment of religion while guaranteeing the free exercise of religion.

But it was Thomas’ opening paragraph that really hit home:

These days, people on "one side" of the political spectrum are not supposed to cooperate, much less have a personal relationship with anyone on the "other side." Siding with "the enemy" can get you branded a compromiser, a sellout or fool. While it is true that on too many occasions, conservatives have had their ideological pockets picked by liberals whose favor they curried, that is no excuse for hating people because of their political beliefs.

To which I say, “Amen.” Too often, positions become more important than people. We Christians certainly ought to remember that our one law is to show the love of God to all people. That surely means to respect them and even to cherish them, regardless of their agreements or disagreements with us in matters of politics, religion, or policy.

These two op-eds point us toward civility and reasonableness. We could use more of both.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


My regular readers are aware that I've not posted anything for the last 10 days. I've been away, first preaching in a revival at Fosterville (TN) Baptist Church and then visiting family in Yatesville, GA and attending a meeting in Macon.

Before this week is out, I hope to write about a death in our family and a couple of interesting editorials that I read while I was away.

I just thought I should let you know that I'm still here.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Trinitarian Difference

(A Communion Meditation for Trinity Sunday based on 2 Corinthians 13:11-13)

A while back someone asked me, “How would you explain the Trinity to a nine-year-old child?” My initial response was, “I don’t know how I would explain the Trinity to an adult!” And I don’t. There is great mystery here and there should be. We cannot finally comprehend God in all of God’s wonder and majesty. We need to stand humbly before God and confess his inexpressible greatness and our limitations.

The devotional guide that I use has focused this week on the Trinity. I find it interesting that the recommended Psalm for the week has been Psalm 150 which simply but profoundly leads us to praise the Lord:

Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!

We affirm the historic affirmation of the Church that we worship “one God in three persons” and we say, “Praise the Lord!”

Still, God has revealed himself as Trinity. Alistair McGrath has summarized the observation of Karl Barth that “the very fact that we know anything about God rests on divine self-revelation, and the actuality of that revelation is firmly grounded in a trinitarian vision of God” [Alistair E. McGrath, “The Doctrine of the Trinity: An Evangelical Reflection,” in God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice, ed. Timothy George (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 26]. In other words, we know what we know about God because God has revealed himself to us. What he has revealed to us leads us to conclude that God is Holy Trinity.

What difference does that revelation make? For one thing, our entry point into the fullness of God is the cross of Christ. Ralph Martin said of this benediction in 2 Corinthians 13, “Paul may be placing ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’ at the opening of the v because it was through the cross (an observable event) that people came to understand the love of God and were thus led to life-in-the-Spirit...” [2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1986), p. 504]. We first meet God in Jesus Christ his Son who died for us on the cross. Jesus is the full revelation of God and in the death of Jesus we are overwhelmed by the amazing grace of God. We see the essence of God in the crucified Jesus. Then, through that event and through faith, we come to see just how much the Father loves us and we come to experience the direct presence of God in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

For another thing, the revelation of God as Holy Trinity leads us to greater and greater fellowship and community. One thing that God as Trinity surely means is that God is within himself, as a part of God’s nature, characterized by fellowship and community. God is love, the Bible says, and God is also eternal. So if God is eternal love, then God must have always been able to love. The three persons in God provide that eternal opportunity to love.

The Church should more and more reflect the fellowship and community that characterize God. Notice that just before Paul offered this Trinitarian blessing he gave the Corinthians final instructions on building up their community and fellowship. They served and we serve a God whose three persons are united in community and love. We are to accept and to pursue such unity as well. God knows perfect unity. Will we ever know that on this side of heaven? No. But greater and greater fellowship is our goal. And great blessings are found in great God-like fellowship.

In the words of Cornelius Plantinga,

From all eternity inside God, inside the mystery of God, inside God the Holy Trinity—the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit make room for each other, envelop each other, call attention to each other, glorify one another. It is the ceaseless exchange of vitality, the endless expense of spirit upon spirit in eternal triplicate life. The only competition in glory of this kind is to outdo one another in love.
For us, brothers and sisters, this is deep wisdom: we find our flourishing only in causing others to flourish. This is eternal life: to receive this wisdom from God and from Jesus, whom God has sent. How astonishing it is to know that when we help others to thrive, when we encourage them, strengthen them, liberate them, keep our promises to them—how astonishing it is to know that when we do these things, we are like God!
[Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., “Deep Wisdom,” in God the Holy Trinity, p. 155].


We now come to the Table of the Lord. As we do, let us remember that in the cross of Jesus we know the grace of the Lord and in that grace we come to know God in his fullness. Let us remember that our Savior, on the night he was betrayed, prayed that his followers would be one even as he and the Father were one. Let us stand in humble awe of God who is Holy Trinity. And let us earnestly ask God to cause us to know his kind of fellowship and community that we might constantly help and encourage and love one another.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Alien Immersion

Once when I was a young boy I was sitting in front of my grandparents’ television minding my own business and watching some game show or a Hazel rerun when I saw it—a public service announcement instructing all aliens to report to their local post office to register. I was both amazed and terrified. I could just see those little green men and women scurrying to the post office to sign up for whatever it was they were to sign up for.

Only later did I learn that “alien” in that context meant someone from another country who was living among us. What to do about the “illegal aliens” living and working in the United States is a hot political topic these days. The most just approach to the problem seems to me to be to try to find a pathway to legal status for those immigrants in our country who may have entered the country illegally but who have otherwise obeyed the law and who desire legal status. The notion that some people have that we should just round them up and send them back seems to me both cruel and impossible. I suspect that most who say such things are more interested in demagoguery than they are in sound policy.

Christians should be particularly interested in the plight of the alien and the sojourner. The Bible, which is our guide in faith and practice, certainly teaches us that God is especially interested in the stranger and sojourner and that God’s people should be, too.

We should immerse ourselves in the plight of the aliens among us, then. We should practice alien immersion.

Of course, in Baptist circles, “alien immersion” means something else entirely. Not surprisingly, given the name of our movement, we Baptists are quite interested in baptism. We believe in “believer’s baptism,” by which we mean that a person should be baptized only after she or he has professed her or his own faith in Christ Jesus. That’s why we don’t baptize infants. My understanding of Baptist history is that the first Baptists in the early 17th century rediscovered and came to emphasize believer’s baptism before they came to emphasize baptism by immersion as opposed to baptism by pouring or sprinkling. Still, most Baptists truly believe that immersion is the appropriate mode. I like it best because it fits so well with the idea of “being buried with Christ and rising to new life in him.”

For some Baptists, any baptism performed outside of a Baptist church constitutes “alien immersion.” Such Baptists, especially those of the Landmark variety, believe that the only true Church is a true Baptist church. Thus, only baptisms performed in those churches by their ministers are valid. So…if a person desires to join such a church and comes from any other kind of church—even if he or she experienced believer’s baptism by immersion—he or she would have to be re-baptized.

I confess that such thinking is alien to me. I believe that baptism is a sign of one’s entry into the kingdom of God and into the Church universal more than a sign of membership in a local church. As a Baptist pastor, I insist on believer’s baptism. That is, if a person comes for membership whose only baptism was infant baptism, then I believe she should be baptized as a sign of her subsequent and responsible acknowledgement of faith in Christ. I am personally not hung up on mode. The church I serve as pastor expects that someone who has not been immersed should be. I am not as concerned about that as I am that a person’s baptism be believer’s baptism.

I think it is fair to say that if a person comes to most Baptist churches in America desiring membership and if that person has experienced believer’s baptism by immersion in a church of another Christian denomination, that person’s baptism would be accepted as valid and he would be accepted for membership without being re-baptized. Again, though, there are Baptist churches where such “alien immersion” would be considered invalid.

Yet a third type of alien immersion is on my mind and it has been put there by the director of the Vatican Observatory. Jesuit Father Jose Funes said in an interview in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that a belief in the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe was not incompatible with Christian faith. He said, "To use St. Francis' words, if we consider earthly creatures as 'brothers' and 'sisters,' why can't we also speak of an 'extraterrestrial brother?'"

He also said that, if such life existed, it does not necessarily follow that they are in need of Christ’s redemption. "God became man in Jesus in order to save us. So if there are also other intelligent beings, it's not a given that they need redemption. They might have remained in full friendship with their creator," he said. He went on to say, though, that if they did need redemption, God’s mercy could be extended to them.

Now there’s something to think about. If there are other forms of intelligent life out there, are they sinners, too? And if they are sinners, did Christ die for them, too? And if they are sinners for whom Christ died, should they not hear the good news? And if they hear the good news and respond, should they not be baptized?

Talk about alien immersion!

It all brings to mind Ray Bradbury’s short story The Man, which he published in 1949. In it, a space explorer travels from planet to planet. On each planet he finds that a prophet has been there; the prophet’s most well-known visitation had been to Earth some 2000 years earlier. The explorer becomes obsessed with finding the prophet but he is destined always to miss him. I know it’s science fiction, but, if there were civilizations spread throughout the universe and if they were in need of salvation, would not the God we know make sure that they knew him?

It seems to me that when we think about alien immersion—whether it’s immersing ourselves in the lives of the strangers and sojourners around us, whether it’s how we think about and behave toward those who have experienced a baptism of a different mode or in a different church than we have, or whether it’s interesting but perhaps meaningless speculation about the possible need for salvation of possible life out there—we need to think mainly of ways to participate in the grace of God.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

In Memory of Mama

Sara Maude Abbott was born on September 13, 1921. She hated her middle name. Her parents, who I suppose gave her that name, were Sandy and Nora Belle Abbott. She had three siblings: Clara, Sandy, Jr. and Frances, who died in infancy.

I know very little about her childhood. I am told by those who knew her that she was quite a selfish child. One story I’ve heard is how once on Valentine’s Day she received a bag of candy and proceeded to take a small bite out of each piece so no one else would want any of it. If such attitudes and actions characterized her childhood, something surely changed by the time she became an adult.

She married my father on December 22, 1946, at their pastor’s home in front of his Christmas tree with just three or four people in attendance. They were a fine looking couple. Even now, 33 years after her death, people less biased than I testify to the quality of their marriage relationship. They were both faithful Christians and loyal church people.

I came along in 1958. Another son, Stanley Abbott Ruffin, was born to them in 1960 but he lived only a few hours. So, for all intents and purposes, I was an only child. I suppose they spoiled me a bit—maybe a lot—but their love for me was the kind of love that taught me that actions bring consequences. They lavished kindness and generosity upon me, but they also lavished loving discipline upon me when I did wrong.

Mama stayed home with me until I entered second grade. Those were wonderful years
for me. I played in our fenced-in back yard with my dog Ruff and with friends named Cal, Dee, and Edward. My friends and I also roamed the woods across the street from my home, spending much time playing in the “branch,” a small creek that was usually very shallow but could become quite deep following a hard rain. I am grateful that she gave me the gift of herself during my early years. I’m sure that it was hard for my parents to get by on one salary during that time, but I’m also sure that they thought it important that I be under the constant influence of my mother.

Mama was not a big reader; I never saw her read anything other than her Bible, Home Life, and her Sunday School lesson. She did keep a copy of Dr. Spock’s baby book on her bedside table, but I doubt she consulted it much. I turned out too stable to have been subjected too much to the guidance of experts.

I confess that I never thought of Mama as a “smart” person. But I did always respect her wisdom. It was a wisdom that grew out of a clear sense of morality and out of a common sense approach toward life.

It’s strange to me that I don’t remember too many conversations between her and me. I guess that she led more by example than with words.

I remember once when it got back to her that I had said some hurtful words about someone. She very calmly and reasonably explained to me that I should not treat someone else in a way that I would not want to be treated.

I also remember the one and only time that I in her presence used a slang term to refer to someone of another race. “We don’t say that,” she told me. I protested that I heard other family members use it all the time. “Well,” she said, “you don’t hear your father and me say it, and you should follow our example.” That came from a woman who hardly ever left her little Middle Georgia hometown and who had not attended college and who thus had little opportunity to come into contact with other cultures. It was the love of Christ in her that made her that way.

She had the best kind of faith—it was simple and deep. I doubt that her thinking about God and Jesus and the Church and the world was very nuanced. She would be dumbfounded by some of the questions that I have spent most of my life pondering. “Why would it even occur to you to wonder about that?” she would probably say to me. But, if I could tell her that such matters were important to me, I think she’d understand.

Too many of my memories of Mama are colored by cancer. It’s funny how I think about it; I have always said that she was diagnosed with it when I was nine rather than saying that it happened when she was 46. It strikes me now that I tend to think of her cancer in terms of my life and my timeframe—she was diagnosed when I was nine and she died when I was sixteen. But that’s how I think about it. Almost half of the time that I had with her was lived in the shadow of breast cancer. It affected and eventually took her life. It also affected my life and, in some ways, it threatened to take much of my life from me. That it ultimately did not is due at least in part to the faith that she passed on to me.

She struggled mightily and she struggled well. When she experienced the nausea that came from chemotherapy, she took her medicine and said that there were so many people who were so much sicker than she was. One time, her doctor called her and asked her to visit with a lady in our town who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. He knew that Mama’s faith just might be contagious. She was often in the Middle Georgia Hospital in Macon, which was some 40 miles from our house. It was tough on us all. I never heard her complain. I tried not to.

Mama died in that hospital on June 22, 1975. The days surrounding her death and funeral were magnificent, in that hundreds of people came to pay their respects. She was not famous. She was not rich. She was not powerful. She was great in absolutely no worldly sense of the term. And yet hundreds of people came. Why? I believe it was because she exemplified grace, love, and faith. She would have said it was Christ in her. That makes it even better.

She was 53. She and my father had been married for 28½ years. Come June 22 of this year, I will have lived 33 years without her after having lived 16 years with her. I’m now 49, three years older than she was when the cancer struck her. I have been married for 30 years, almost two years longer than she was. My children are 24 and 21 and they have never been faced with a parent being seriously ill or with one dying. I am grateful beyond words.

I am the only child of Sara Abbott Ruffin. I am her legacy. I wonder sometimes how she would evaluate me and my life. But then I realize that she always loved me unconditionally. She would say that my life is my life and I have to live it the best way I see fit. She would be glad that I have tried to serve the Lord. She would be glad that I have tried to share his love and grace with people. She would be glad that I have been blessed with a good family of my own and that we have not dealt with the kind of trauma with which her family had to deal.

Here on this Mother’s Day, I want to say that I was blessed to be her son. I still am. I pray that I bear witness to her best qualities in my life. I pray that others can see Jesus in me like they saw him in her.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Column at

Yesterday's Mother's Day post is reprinted today at

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mother’s Day, War, and Peace

I got to wondering about the origins of the Mother’s Day holiday.

According to Wikipedia, the roots of Mother’s Day may go all the way back to celebrations of motherhood by the ancient Greeks. In 16th century England, the custom developed of observing Mothering Day on the 4th Sunday in Lent. On that day, people would return to their “mother church” where, naturally, they would likely encounter their mothers.

What caught my eye, though, was the background of the American celebration of Mother’s Day.

In 1870 Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist and social activist who is perhaps best known as the writer of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, called for a Mother’s Day for Peace. She issued the following “Mother’s Day Proclamation”:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

The idea of a Mother’s Day for Peace did not catch on. Eventually, a memorial day for mothers did spread across the country until, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother’s Day, on which people were urged to fly the flag to honor those mothers who had lost sons in war.

I wonder…might our churches provide a valuable witness to our nation and to our world were we to reclaim the roots of Mother’s Day? In particular, what if we, in addition to honoring and praying for our mothers, used Mother’s Day as a time to pray for peace and to commit ourselves to work for peace? After all, did not and do not our mothers teach us about the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation? And does not “Mother Church” teach us of those same things?

“Mother’s Day for Peace”—it has a nice, Christian ring to it, don’t you think?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Holy Spirit or Your Mama?

When it comes to choosing a sermon topic, timing can be everything.

In past years I have preached a series of sermons on the family on the Sundays from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day. One year I put together a series on “The Experience of Grief in the Christian Family.” I talked about grieving the loss of such things as stability, life, innocence, values, and youth.

I scheduled the sermon on “When We Grieve the Loss of Life” for Mother’s Day. Sometime later, a lady in our church told me that she had been greatly pained by my addressing of that topic on that day. She had recently lost her mother under very tragic circumstances. She felt that I had unnecessarily torn the scab off of her wound while it was still newly formed. I told her that while I regretted any pain she had felt, I still hoped that the sermon had been helpful to her and others. After all, we all have experienced the death of loved ones and we need for the preacher to bring the good news to bear on our hurts.

Still, it would have been a simple thing to rearrange my schedule and to preach that particular sermon on a Sunday other than Mother’s Day. I was probably less sensitive than I should have been.

This year, though, I am sensitive to another scheduling problem.

In recent years I have begun to pay much more attention to the Christian calendar and I have tried to lead the churches that I have pastored to do so as well. I believe that is very important. Following the Christian calendar is helpful in discipleship because it helps us to order our lives according to the life of Christ and the experiences of the Church.

On the Christian calendar, Pentecost Sunday falls 49 days after Easter Sunday. Since Easter moves around on the calendar, so does Pentecost. When we have an early Easter we also have an early Pentecost. This year Pentecost Sunday falls on the second Sunday in May.

That’s also Mother’s Day in the United States.

Now, I love mothers. My mother was a mother. My wife is a mother. Mothers are cool. They deserve all the honor that they can get.

What’s on my mind is the problem that this confluence of commemorations poses for preaching. Should I preach about the Holy Spirit or about mothers?

Let’s face it—while there is some Christian background to the development of the Mother’s Day observance, it is in America for the most part a cultural celebration that may do more for greeting card companies, florists, and restaurants than for anyone else. Nonetheless, the Church needs to undergird the family and to encourage the mothers in our midst. Lord knows that our families need undergirding and our mothers need encouraging!

Still, should not the Church sometimes insist that first things come first and that for the Church, as important as mothers are, the Holy Spirit is more important? Should we not insist on celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit, who, after all, is God in our midst empowering us to do the work of ministry and providing us with essential strength and nurture? Is not the Church given its “supernatural” and indeed its Christian character by the presence of the Holy Spirit? Do we not bear important witness when we say to the world that, even if it is Mother’s Day, we are Pentecostal people?

So, this Sunday I am going to preach a sermon entitled “One Spirit, One Body” that is based on Numbers 11:24-30 and 1 Corinthians 12:3-13. It will be a Pentecost sermon.

We will, though, have special recognition of our mothers and offer prayers of support for them. (For some good suggestions on how to incorporate a Mother’s Day observance into Pentecost Sunday, go here.)

On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t fret about this too much. The next time that Pentecost will fall on Mother’s Day will be in 2035!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Something Silly This Way Comes

So this morning, Debra and I watched Tarzan the Ape Man, which was made in 1932 and starred Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan. For some reason, those old Tarzan movies only look right on Saturday.

Anyway, various characters in the film, including Tarzan once he most amazingly learned a few English words, kept saying "Jane, Jane."

Every time they did, I thought of the line that George Jetson uttered during the
closing credits of The Jetsons as the dog-walker treadmill thing went haywire: "Jane, stop this crazy thing!"

And that made me think of the poem recited by Mike Myers' character Charlie in So I Married An Axe Murderer (a true classic, by the way): "Jane, stop this crazy thing...called life!"

Which leads to my own version of string theory: every silly thought in your brain is connected to every other silly thought by some kind of string.

Were it not for copyright infringement issues, I'd call it silly string.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

National Day of Prayer 2008

Pray, People, Pray

(Remarks for the National Day of Prayer Service at The Hill Baptist Church of Augusta, GA)

An advertisement for some books on prayer had this heading: “Be Aware, Be in Prayer.” That pretty well summarizes what this day is about. We need to be aware about the concerns facing our nation and, being aware, we need to pray about those concerns. I would offer the following reminders about our prayers as we enter into them today. All of these reminders are based on the fact that we are offering our prayers as Christians who are also Americans. Our primary allegiance is to Christ Jesus. We offer our prayers for America as Christians; therefore, our prayers are grounded in our Christian life and are guided by Christian motives. How do we pray, then, as Christians?

First, we pray as people who have experienced God’s grace and who believe that others can experience God’s grace. All of us gathered here today are sinners. None of us is perfect. We are on our way but we have not arrived. What we are—saved—we are by the grace of God. Where we are headed—heaven—we are headed by the grace of God. Who we are becoming—maturing disciples of Jesus Christ—we are becoming by the grace of God.

It amazes us that we have experienced and are experiencing the grace of God. We know that we don’t deserve it and yet God has lavished it upon us through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. We are humbly grateful for that grace; we are not prideful, living in the false belief that we are somehow better or more deserving than others. We therefore pray for others with the knowledge that if we, being sinners, can receive God’s grace, so can they—whoever and wherever they are.

Second, we pray as people who are especially concerned for those who are numbered among the lost, the poor and the oppressed. The Bible makes clear that God goes to great pains to find and reclaim those who are lost. It also makes clear that he is very interested in the plight of the poor. We are all concerned about our national economy. We don’t know where things are headed. For most if not all of us, though, the economic downturn is a matter of inconvenience that might be causing us to curtail spending. For others, though, it is a matter of a much more serious nature. Many people are losing their jobs. Many people are choosing between food and fuel or food and medicine. Some 47 million of the 300 million people in the United States have no health insurance. Some 36 million of Americans live in poverty. The Bible leads us to understand that God has a special concern for people in such situations. We should pray especially for them.

Third, we pray as people who love our country but who are able to see beyond our borders. Being Americans, we naturally pray that God will bless America. We pray that we will live up to our highest ideals and that we will be a beacon of liberty and justice in this world. We are blessed to live in a free country and we pray that our freedoms will be preserved. We recognize that we live in a dangerous time and thus we pray for protection for our nation and for those who defend it.

We recognize, though, that all people are God’s creation and that he loves all people in all places. As Christians, we embrace the call to love all people, too, and to pray for all people. We do not want to fall victim to hate ourselves, so we pray for our enemies, knowing that you can’t hate people when you are interceding for them. We are not selfish with our prayers, restricting them to “me and mine”; we are rather gracious with our prayers, offering them for all people everywhere, knowing that Jesus loves all the children of the world.

Fourth, we pray as people who believe in applying other-worldly love in this world. Those of you who listen to me regularly know that I am intent on helping the church to understand that we really are the Body of Christ in the world and that we really do have the Holy Spirit in our midst and that we really are endowed with the supernatural love of God and that we really can live Christ-like lives in the midst of a hurting, lost, and sin-besotted world. We know that we need God’s help to live out such love and so we humbly beg for his help. We pray knowing that the world’s direction is wrong but also knowing that we all too often go along with the flow. It’s not easy to go against the currents of hate, prejudice, and fear, but we know that if we are Christian, we must. So we pray.

Fifth, we pray as people who seek and trust in the will of God. Therefore we do not despair. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we pray. We walk something of a line here. We are human beings and as human beings we are responsible for our actions; we are responsible to try to right the wrongs that we see and to try to heal the hurts that we encounter. We are given the ability to perceive, to analyze, to understand, and to act, and so we are responsible to do what we can to make things better.

And yet—finally everything is in God’s hands. We live in faith, knowing that God is working his purposes out. We live in hope, knowing that God’s kingdom is present and is coming and that he will keep his promises. We live as realists, not putting our heads in the ground and refusing to face to very real problems of our community, our nation, and our world, but we also live in trust that God is ultimately in control.

And so, let us pray. Let us pray for those concerns that are listed and for all other concerns that we have. Let us pray for our nation and for our world. Let us pray for our friends and for our enemies. Let us pray for guidance and for trust. Let us pray in love and grace and faith and hope and peace. But by all means—let us pray!