“20 reasons America has lost its soul and collapse is inevitable.”October 30th, 2009
“20 reasons America has lost its soul and collapse is inevitable.” Not exactly the sort of headline that CBS’s staid economic website, MarketWatch.com, is used to running. In a sobering, columnist Paul B. Farrell opens with the pronouncement, “We’ve lost ‘America’s soul.’ And worldwide, the consequences will be catastrophic.” He suggests it’s a gut sense we all have: “You know something’s very wrong: A year ago, too-greedy-to-fail banks were insolvent, in a near-death experience. Now magically, they’re back to business as usual, arrogant, pocketing outrageous bonuses while Main Street sacrifices, and unemployment and foreclosures continue rising as tight credit, inflation and skyrocketing federal debt are killing taxpayers.” His indictment of Wall Street is biting. It “has lost its moral compass.” Farrell outlines twenty top reasons why he believes American capitalism is doomed—from the life cycle of empires to today’s financial disparity (where “America’s top 1% own more than 90% of America’s wealth”) to the explosion of the federal debt from $11.2 to $23.7 trillion. He concludes, “The coming collapse [with a “high probability by 2012”] is the end of an ‘inevitable’ historical cycle stalking all great empires to their graves. Downsize your lifestyle expectations, trust no one, not even media. . . . [T]here’s absolutely nothing you can do to hide from this unfolding reality or prevent the rush of the historical imperative.” (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/americas-soul-is-lost-and-collapse-is-inevitable-2009-10-20)
What a bleak prognosis! And yet, while this financial analyst may be right in his prognostication, he is wrong in his despair. I’ve invited two young adults to the Pioneer pulpit today. Why? Because I believe this new generation of young (from 18 to 30) represents the greatest potential for God’s kingdom in the history of earth. Farrell may be right—they have come on the scene in a time of great impending crisis. But that’s precisely the genius of divine timing. For here are young men and women—undaunted by statistical doom, unafraid of immense challenge, unashamed of the gospel—who are volunteering their lives in the mission of Christ!
And this year at Andrews University we are inviting them to focus first on their own peers on this campus. For the last two months a team of them has been in training, preparing to lead this campus this winter in a university-wide week of revival and reformation. Young adults ministering to young adults—there is no more effective combination for the Spirit of Christ. No wonder that great messianic prophecy predicts that it will be the young that flock into the Messiah’s army in the final battle: “Your troops [the Messiah’s army] will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy splendor your young will come to you like dew from the morning’s womb” (Psalm 110:3 TNIV). The commentator Derek Kidner describes these young warriors as “a splendid army silently and suddenly mobilized.”
And that is why I believe we can be unabashedly optimistic about earth’s future, no matter how economically doomed it turns out to be. For in the final battle it will be the young on Christ’s side through whom God will triumph! “With such an army of workers as our youth rightly trained might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Savior might be carried to the whole world! How soon might the end come—the end of suffering and sorrow and sin!” (Ed 271) Who needs twenty reasons for doom—when God has one reason for hope! No wonder he gave us the young.
My Twitter alert went off yesterday, informing me of a breaking headline:October 21st, 2009
My Twitter alert went off yesterday, informing me of a breaking headline: the Vatican had just announced a new set of canon laws, called “the Apostolic Constitution,” whereby disaffected Anglican priests and parishioners, in fact entire Anglican congregations, can now be welcomed into Rome’s embrace and communion. The decision, “reached in secret by a small cadre of Vatican officials” (Associated Press), apparently caught even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, by surprise. What is no surprise is that growing segments of conservative Anglicans in both the East and West—distraught over the blessing of same-sex unions and openly gay clergy—have been seceding from the Anglican communion. Rome’s move is an unsubtle gesture, in spite of the Vatican’s esprit de corps of ecumenism, to draw all to her. As the Associated Press writer noted, “The Vatican move could be taken as a signal that the ultimate goal of ecumenical talks is to convert Anglicans to Catholicism” (SBT 10-21-09). But is anyone surprised?
And in our quiet corner of the world we gather to celebrate Creation Sabbath, a liturgical festival that joyfully reminds the worshiper we are children of the loving Creator, who after shaping our planetary home into existence in six days then rested on the seventh day, bestowing it as a gift day—the Sabbath day—to the human race exclusively for the enjoyment of our friendship with him. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” he later etched with his finger into his granite Decalogue (Exodus 20:8). Why? “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (v 11).
The seventh-day Sabbath remains the greatest ecumenical gift ever entrusted to the human race. For what more tangible and periodic bestowal could the Creator have conferred upon humanity—to unite his children to each other as one, as well as to bind them to him in strong ties of love—than the universal bestowment of the seventh day of the week as the divine-human Rest Day for all earth inhabitants? If on every seventh-day Sabbath humanity gathered to worship our Creator, celebrate our unity and remember our destiny, would we ever need secretly-formed canon law to make us one? The truth is, if we hadn’t forgotten our Creator and abandoned his Sabbath, the only breaking headline these days would be, “Peace on earth.”
Television is huge on hospitals lately, have you noticed?October 14th, 2009
Television is huge on hospitals lately, have you noticed? “Three Rivers,” “House,” “Trauma,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and of course the ubiquitous “ER” reruns—the entertainment industry is in the health care business, it seems. Why? Because everybody loves a healing. Third millennial life on the edge (the real thing) can get as messy as an emergency room, can’t it? So what’s not to like about a fifty-eight minute show that ends (more often than not) with a fractured life put back together, a broken body (or heart) healed just before the final credits roll?
Do you suppose that’s why people go to church, too? Hoping against hope for a healing, a mending, a broken life reset, a heartsick spirit rejuvenated and cleansed?
Having spent a few nights with my mother-in-law in an emergency room, I’ve learned—though I don’t have a medical bone in me—that ER’s can be messy places, sort of the soiled and stained “living room” of the hospital. It isn’t hard to figure out why. Because people who come to emergency rooms are in the grip of a crisis. That’s why you can experience the coagulating odors of vomit and urine and blood and Lysol-like antibacterial agents wafting in the frenetic air of that saving place. Gurneys and beds once wrapped in sterile white sheets are now splattered and contaminated. But that’s OK, because everybody that works and lives in a hospital knows: “This is why we exist—why we’re here—to get dirtied and stained and exposed, while we scramble to save another life.”
Isn’t that true about the church, too? The well-worn yarn about it being a hospital for sinners more than a haven for saints still rings true, worn or not, doesn’t it? Because the community of faith is also a community of love. Radical believing is matched by a radical and sometimes countercultural kind of loving that doesn’t insist on political correctness, but rather embraces the broken life and the fractured soul for who he, for who she is—another earth child of the Father in desperate need of healing and wholeness. So of course we or they come to this community in the grip of crisis—that’s what an ER is for. Who defines crisis by esthetic beauty? The non-virtual reality of human life is defined by its urgent need for urgent care.
Which was Jesus’ point: “‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12, 13). Heterosexual sinners, homosexual sinners, all of us in the grip of life’s survival crisis are the very ones for whom Christ raised up this healing community we call church. That we come as we are but do not stay as we are is simply a shining tribute to the transforming power of the Physician who drew us to him and to each other in the first place. Which still makes this the best place for the Doctor in the House to practice his healing work, doesn’t it?
What if praying were as contagious as the swine flu?October 7th, 2009
What if praying were as contagious as the swine flu? My newspaper, South Bend Tribune (10-7-09), did a piece (replete with graphics), tracking an imaginary family (John, Karen and Billy) through the hazardous world of the H1N1 virus. John’s feeling great, as he heads out of the office for lunch. But while he’s gone, an office worker sneezes in her hand and then picks up his phone to make a call. (66% of office viruses can survive for an hour—33% surviving for up to eighteen hours.) John lunches at a fast food joint, paying for his meal with a contaminated five dollar bill. (Flu viruses can survive for up to ten days on paper currency if someone sneezes on it.) John spends the evening with his family, unwittingly passing on to them the viruses he’s picked up from the phone and money. Billy hurries off to school the next day, contaminating his classmates. Kissing John good-bye, Karen is now a virus carrier. You get the picture. In less than 24 hours, John and Billy have come down with flu symptoms, spending three miserable days in bed and waiting to be symptom-free for another 24 hours before returning to school and work.
Oh the joys of contagion! (BTW—to avoid living that story, keep the 3 C’s in mind this flu season: clean your hands with soap or a sanitizer often; cover your cough/sneezes in your sleeve—if you use your hands, wash them immediately; and contain the flu by staying at home until you’re 24 hours past your fever.)
Wouldn’t it be great if praying were as contagious as sneezing . . . if whenever you prayed, those all around you caught that spirit and began praying, too? Maybe prayer is infectious! I got an email from one of our university coeds this week who told me about a prayer group that she’s started with friends at 5:30 every morning. That’s right—5:30 a.m. I won’t be surprised at all if that contagious faith in Jesus through praying spreads.
Because sometimes, all some people need is an invitation from a friend or colleague to join them for a few moments of prayer. It can be that contagious. And it doesn’t have to be at 5:30 a.m. every day. It could be at noon once a week. Or at 5:30 p.m. when the office is closed for the day. It could be a Friday evening gathering with a few kindred spirits in a living room or a dorm room.
And what should we pray for? Why not claim God’s promise: “I will pour upon you a spirit of grace and supplication” (Zechariah 12:10). If we banded together to seek that spirit of asking, of petitioning God, can you imagine what would happen if prayer groups sprang up all over the campus and around the community? Can you think of one reason why God wouldn’t want that spirit of prayer to be as contagious as the flu? So go ahead—spread your prayer virus—and see how many you can infect for Christ.
Some people aren’t afraid of anything!October 2nd, 2009
Some people aren’t afraid of anything! Take 92-year-old Jane Bockstruck from Concord, New Hampshire, for example. A few days ago, with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren all watching (no doubt in almost disbelief) this little lady leaped out of a plane at 13,000 feet and plummeted to the earth in a 120-mph free fall. Her jump instructor and tandem partner, Paul Peckham Jr, was so impressed that he cut out his thirty year old parachutist silver wings and presented them to her. I’m afraid it’d take more than some sewn silver wings to get me to jump from a plane! But then, some people aren’t afraid of anything.
You can’t say that about the devil. For there is one human act that he fears above all others. Which explains the stupor that lulled the disciples to sleep in Gethsemane when they could have been, should have been on their faces with Christ in prayer. “There is nothing that Satan fears so much as that the people of God shall clear the way by removing every hindrance, so that the Lord can pour out His Spirit upon a languishing church” (1SM 124). Keep reading: “If Satan had his way, there would never be another awakening, great or small, to the end of time.” Afraid that we will pray and afraid that God will respond, he pours his dark energies into distracting us. What now? “A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work” (p 121, emphasis supplied).
As we move deeper into the heart of this new series, “The Temple,” and come to grips with the realization that we are living in God’s final strategic chapter of salvation history—as we ponder the reality of the judgment that is transpiring in his throne room even as these words are written and read—I am sensing more deeply the urgent need I and we have to be immersed in earnest prayer before God as never before. Can our tepid business-as-usual praying possibly be sufficient for so critical a time in history? Can we assuage our consciences with hours before the television or a good book and a handful of minutes on our knees before the throne? Should the midweek hour of prayer be the most deserted time in churches across this land? Are we daring God to try to save his church, when his church is passionless and powerless in her prayings? Do we really believe that Christ will return for a generation that is too busy for him? And even if we “force” God to raise up another generation in order to complete his mission, do we really think that our own souls will be saved while prayerless and powerless?
At some point the rubber must meet the road in “The Temple.” This is that point. And how you and I respond will tell the story one day. For that reason I need you to know that I am pleading with God to grant to you and me a heart burdened for him in prayer. I don’t know what else to do. “A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer” (ibid).