I have recently been reading the latest book by Eric Metaxas entitled “If You Can Keep It.” In chapter 8, he makes the point that we need to love our country again. To love one's country is to take responsibility for her and to see in her all that she could be, though she may not be there at this point. Every good parent knows that love for a child has an element of hope. Though we have to call out bad behaviors, we are hopeful for the potential of what that child WILL become. Just because a child is going through a phase, we don’t cease to love them, or cease to work with them to make them the best version of themselves that they can be.
I agree with Eric that many in our country have given up on America. We are disgusted by the behaviors we see in her and we have lost heart. America in its very nature is made up of people that need to own and take responsibility for her. It is not naive to love America, yet be troubled by her shortcomings. On the contrary, to love one's country is to take responsibility for her and agonize over her sins. To pull one's love from America is to essentially curse her and doom her to the very destiny that causes us to recoil.
If my son does something that I deem unacceptable and I react by shunning him, I have pulled from him the very lifeline by which he can pull himself back on track. If I tell him that I am done with him and withdraw my love, absolving myself of the responsibility of his actions, I very well may be the catalyst for his downfall.
I understand the concept behind tough love, and many times we need to let the people we love feel the consequences for their actions, but even in doing that we have not withdrawn love. True love will be there to help pick up the pieces when the time comes.
As a pastor, I believe that much of America’s shortcomings of the last 60 plus years are due to the drift away from our Judeo-Christian roots. With the expulsion of the word of God and prayer from the public sector, we have essentially lost the foundation for morality and virtue thus undermining the very platform by which a sustainable free society is built on. It is so much easier to make a declaration of my disgust with our contemporary “pagan” society, wash my hands of her, and absolve myself of any responsibility for her. In fact by doing so, I may even appear pious and authoritative. Unfortunately, we have too many ultra-pious and authoritative people in our society with a lot to say about what is wrong with America yet don’t love her enough to engage in her life. If I believe that we need to reengage the faith that made America possible to begin with, then love compels me to take responsibility for it and nurture her latent faith, fanning that ember until it becomes a flame once more. So, I will.
Love is self-sacrificing, and it calls the loved to self-sacrifice. If we are truly to be a self-governing nation, we need to be willing to sacrifice on behalf of the nation we are supposed to be maintaining. We need to be willing to look past our own self-interests and do what is best for America. That can only be done by a people who truly love America.
I love America! I believe that she is the greatest country in the world. I believe that she can be greater still. I believe that we can make her to be everything that we dream she can be, but it is going to require us taking responsibility for her, nurturing her, praying for her, believing in her, and LOVING her.
David Sangster is the Pastor of NEW LIFE Assembly of God in Windsor Locks, CT www.newlifelocks.org
A classic gag in cartoons, when a character is faced with a moral decision, is to have an angel popup on the right shoulder and a devil to pop up on the left shoulder. Both are speaking into the bewildered character’s ear and fighting to pull him in the direction they think he should go. The Angel is usually classically fitted out with wings, robe, harp and a halo while the devil is represented in full body red with pitchfork, horns and pointed tail. The gag works because of we can all relate to the struggle that it caricaturizes.
In Matthew 16 we have this amazing example of this very struggle. I love the way Scripture is so transparent with its heroes. In verse 16 we have Peter, one of Jesus’ most trusted disciples, confessing before the rest of the disciples that Jesus is, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is excited for Peter because he knows that Peter didn’t come up with that on his own. God the Father revealed it to him. Instead of an angel whispering on Peter’s shoulder, the Father himself directly downloaded the identity of Jesus into his heart and mind. That’s pretty awesome. Wouldn’t it be great to have a direct data stream to God? Jesus is so impressed with Peter that he tells him then and there that Peter is going to be significant in the building of His Church. Apparently no devils are popping up on his shoulder. Well, keep on reading.
In the very next passage of scripture, we see the struggle come full circle.
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Not only does Peter have a devil on his shoulder, but it is pretty clear that Jesus sees Peter, at that moment, as the devil on his shoulder. No matter who you are and how long you have been a follower of Christ, this struggle is real and ever-present.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter 7 about his struggle with this dynamic pull between good and evil.
22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
He admits that he knows what he ought to do. He even goes as far as to say that it is truly what he wants to do, yet that little devil on his shoulder wins the argument too often. He asserts that, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” If the Apostle Paul lacked the ability to do what was right, how can there be any hope for the rest of us? In verse 25 Paul gives us the only answer to the ongoing dilemma
25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Without the person of Jesus Christ, this ongoing tug-a-war on our hearts would be impossible to win. Without the person of the Holy Spirit we would have no power to resist the devil. In the next chapter of Romans, Paul tells us how Jesus Christ has made all the difference.
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
When we walk according to the Spirit, the devil on our shoulder has no more power over us. That doesn’t mean that we won’t make mistakes and slip up. The whole point that Paul is trying to make here is - we do slip up but those slip ups no longer have a hold on us. 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Through Jesus Christ, the “righteous requirements of the law” have been fulfilled for us, which gives us the freedom to pursue the things of God without the constant struggle of condemnation.
For those who are in Christ, when God looks at you, he doesn’t see your sin, he sees his beloved child reconciled to himself by the death of Jesus. The pitchfork wielding minion on your shoulder holds no power over you. True, you’re not perfect – but that’s how God sees you thanks to the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Romans 1:21-22 msg
What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life.
As a teenager on vacation with my family, desperate to use the facilities, I quickly entered a bathroom and selected a stall. When I looked down and saw the shoes of the person in the stall next to me I was instantly filled with a sense of panic because either she was in the wrong bathroom or I was. It turns out it was me. So many thoughts when through my head at that moment. How am I going to get out of here? What will people think if and when they see me? Will I be arrested? I knew I had to get out of there as fast as I could because the longer I stayed, the more I looked like I meant to be there. As I stepped out of the stall, the women who were now standing at the mirror looked at me with surprise. I simply lowered my head in shame and said, “Oh, wow, I guess I must have the wrong bathroom.” Not my smoothest moment. I then quickly made my way to my waiting family and insisted that we leave NOW. I knew that whether or not it was by accident, being a man in a woman’s bathroom was an invasion of privacy. This is what we used to call common sense.
According to an Associated Press release from Tuesday, February 23, 2016,
North Carolina's largest city has passed a law allowing transgender people to choose public bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity, which the governor had called a threat to public safety and warned that the General Assembly may step in.
The Charlotte City Council voted 7-4 Monday to expand protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, making it the latest frontier in a national debate on how businesses treat gay, lesbian and transgender customers. One of the revisions to the city's nondiscrimination ordinance allows people to choose restrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify.
This is interesting to me because we are wading into some very murky waters. Once you start making laws based on how people feel, then where does it stop? Laws based on a person’s feelings about him or herself are very hard to enforce. How can you arrest a guy for being in a shower room full of women when his comeback, “Today, I feel like a woman,” is protected by law. This just isn’t common sense.
Let’s define some terms.
Contrary to what our contemporary media would lead us to believe, The LGBT community in the United States makes up less than 1% of the population. Although their rights are as important as any other citizen of this country, we shouldn’t be making laws that are going to favor them at the detriment of the vast majority. That would be something that is not common. This law is going to do very little to make the LGBT community safer and more equal and is going to seriously increase the vulnerability of women and children who have the potential to be exploited by it.
This is not common, in the fact that it does not speak to the shared expectations of the majority of the population as to what constitutes the need for a law. The need for this law is not common to the values of the overwhelming majority of those it will be enforced upon.
Not only is it not common to the majority, it makes no sense for anyone. It sets a terrible legal precedent for how we make and enforce laws. I can’t imagine those in the LGBT community wanting laws to be made based on an individual’s feelings. If we are trying to promote fare treatment for all citizens, we need laws that raise standards to limit people’s ability to act on impulse, not the other way around. Good sense, or wisdom, would protect and defend the most basic and fundamental rights to modesty and not allow those who are intent on exploiting women and children to hide behind a law that shields them from consequences.
As a Christian, I believe that God created each individual to be the gender that he provided them. Yet also as a Christian, I love people and have a serious compassion for those who are struggling with or are confused about their gender. It must be truly difficult to be confused about something so basic to human experience.
As a father of two girls, common sense tells me that there should not be a guy in the restroom with them no matter what his feelings are about his gender on any given day. It’s not safe and it’s not right. So for the people of Charlotte, NC, and all those who worry about what our children are going to be exposed to in the future, I grieve with you the Death of Common Sense.
My father’s second favorite Russell Crowe movie is “Master & Commander,” a thrilling adventure on the high seas based on the popular series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. One of the most exciting moments is when Captain Jack Aubrey and the crew of the HMS Surprise battle a raging tempest as they attempt to sail around Cape Horn. Any sailor worth his salt knows that storms are bound to come. The only thing you can do is prepare for them when they do. I feel like life is a chain of tempest storms with short periods of rest in-between.
To me, a tempest is a storm that takes over and throws you around. You try to right the ship and do your best to regain control, but the storm is overwhelming. It’s seemingly impossible to get a heading because the storm blots out the stars. You are adrift.
Though this sounds rather bleak, I think most of us can identify with out of control moments like this. The truth is that control is an illusion based on a false assumption that we can predict the outcome of situations by the careful manipulation of our environment. While discipline is a good thing and can create some normalcy in our lives, inevitably life hits us all and the tempests roar. What do we do when things are truly out of our control?
The tempests of life that are so overwhelming to us are opportunities for God to show himself as Master and Commander of it all. We look to the One who knows the future and is ultimately in command. Multiple times in scripture we see the image of a boat being tossed by a storm. Each time God deals with it in a different way.
In the Gospels we see Jesus handle two storms – one time he calms the storm, the other time he just walks over it. In the book of Acts, we see the Apostle Paul assure the sailors of a storm tossed ship that God would save every life aboard, even though the ship would be totally destroyed. This is how the Master and Commander deals with storms.
Let the Master and Commander be in control of your out of control moments.
Sins of COMMISSION are often the ones we focus on. We see someone doing something that is outside the boundaries that God has set and we can automatically label them as “sinners.” Though it is often easier to spot this type of sin, I think the sins that people struggle with most are the sins of OMISSION. A sin of omission is a sin that is the result of not doing something God’s Word teaches that we should do.
James 4:17 says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
Though often less conspicuous, they are no less serious.
The first sin is a great example of this. We often focus on the sin of Eve – taking the fruit and eating it at the prompting of the snake. But every indication we get from Scripture is that Adam was standing right there with Eve listening to the whole conversation yet he said nothing, thus committing the first sin of OMISSION. He tried, as we often do, to pass the buck but was shown to have abdicated his role as a leader by his silence and God called him on it. Not only did he commit the eventual sin of eating the fruit himself, but his sin of omission allowed things to escalate to the sin of commission. His deafening silence echoes through the generations and affects all of us today.
We have to be careful that we don’t hide behind a false sense of security just because we don’t do anything “really” sinful.
Not doing what we know we should do is as sinful as doing what we know we shouldn’t.
David Sangster is the Pastor of NEW LIFE Assembly of God in Windsor Locks, CT www.newlifelocks.org.
Sometimes when I am preaching on Sunday mornings, I get so fired up that I go off on a little tangent that has very little to do with the topic I am preaching on. These moments are what I affectionately refer to as my SOAPBOX. My church family is so gracious that they lovingly humor me during a SOAPBOX moment and even give me a few “AMENS.” Because they can often take me off topic, I try not to linger to long on my SOAPBOX but I often wish I had more time to flesh out these thoughts.
That’s what this project is all about, a place to expand on the SOAPBOX topics that unfortunately go largely undeveloped. It is also going to be an opportunity to present ideas and bring you into the conversation.
I'm looking forward to it. Blessings!