Sunday, July 14, 2013

Three Reasons To Give Thanks for the Verdict of the Zimmerman Trial

"In everything, give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning you."  
1st. Thessalonians 5:18

Looking for God's will in the whole matter?  There it is- at least in part- give thanks.  It's a great verse of scripture, it's clarity can't be surpassed, and it's also one of the best modern gospel songs I've heard.  But if it doesn't apply in a verdict that has broken so many of our hearts, then it doesn't apply at all.  If God's word is truly a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, then it why do so many claiming this truth fail to flip the switch when in the darkness brought on by dismay and disillusionment?  But the light still shines in the darkness... let's look at three reasons to offer gratitude to God for this verdict.

1.  The reminder that ultimate truth and justice is not found in fallen humanity or its systems.  This one should be obvious but it is still worthy of meditation.   Being made in the image of God, all humans have a kind of correspondence, albeit a broken one, with eternity and transcendent truths.  That is to say, we understand that there is such a thing as justice though we can't weigh it on a scale, measure it with rulers, or find it in a microscope.  The source of justice is the immortal, invisible, only-wise God.  We are as separate from it as we are from Him.  This verdict humbles us because the truth is, when all the physical evidence that humans can muster up and all the best human reasoning is accounted for, God is the only One Who really knows the true intentions in both Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman.  Because we lack true certainty of what was in either of their hearts, we recognize our need for a divine perspective, holy justice and God Who is the source of both.  Remembering this also gives us hope because we know that the "Judge of all the Earth" will bring true justice to all and for all in His time regarding every case and question.

2.  The verdict highlights the amazing grace of the God Who justifies the wicked.  Don't take this and run with it.  I am talking about a very specific and narrow slice of this case and am in no way agreeing, excusing, or white-washing the decision of the jury.  But this is what I am saying-

If you're like me, your heart sank when the verdict was read.  I'm no legal expert and I didn't follow the trial with supreme precision, but I was profoundly confused that a man with no badge kill another and be found "not guilty".  Call it what you want, but I struggle mightily to get passed that.  What's more difficult is this: that so many of us have a strong sense of what is just in the case of Trayvon Martin (where we have no absolute truth of all intentions and actions) but can't see God's right to demand full punishment for sins that we know we commit against Him!

The Bible is clear: God was never obligated to forgive sin, but that the wages of sin is death.  The only thing God had to do was to exact justice on each soul for every sin until He was satisfied.  And that would take quite a while because an infinitely holy God is infinitely offended by even ONE sin.  God Almighty, Who had every right to demand justice and had the power to perform it, chose to extend mercy and grace to those who would believe on the Lord Jesus.  Think about the anger and rage that unjust persons like you and me had about this case.  Crying out for justice on behalf of Trayvon is one thing, but God had the right to carry out justice on a vile sinners like us... and He didn't.  Consider how hard it is to get over the verdict despite our own lack of perfection.  Now consider what God did in Christ on your behalf when He absorbed the punishment for the sins of His people.

Are you grateful yet?

3.  The power of radical, racial reconciliation is found at the Cross of Christ.  It is true that this verdict has once again opened up some old wounds that were still puss-filled and bloody.  Racial issues in the U.S. are complex, scary, and wearisome.  And yet, the Christian has this assurance: the sacrifice that reconciled man with God and made Jews and Gentiles one; that same sacrifice can and certainly will bridge the gap and heal the scars from the rift between blacks and the Anglo-Saxon controlled SuperPower that they helped create but feel so alienated from.  For it is written,

"And they sang a new song saying, 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.'"
Revelation 5:9-10

That's a future worth leaning into.  Christ's sacrifice to reconcile us to God not only makes racial reconciliation possible but guarantees it.  God's future promise is worth honoring today by working towards honest and humble forgiveness towards all as Christ forgave us.  We are blessed to serve a God Who made man diverse, but knows how to make us unified for righteousness and not for vanity like in the days of the Tower.  All of our blessings and hopes are rooted in the work of Christ at the cross.  To be sure, the path of the cross instructs us perfectly because we see that the Perfect Man's most perfect work involved the submission of His will for the sake of His Father's will.  We are challenged, but grateful for His example and encouraged by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to live as Jesus did.

Meditations on the Cross of Christ are crucial for this hour.  Anyone care to add to my list?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Grown-Up Prayer Requests, Part 2: K Street Christians and Reverse-Lobbying

The history of lobbying is an interesting one.  As Ellen Arnold explains it, President Grant liked taking walks to get away from the stressful environment of the White House.  Looking for a change of venue/scenery, the retired Union general would make his way to the Williard Hotel (still in existence today) and smoke a cigar in lobby there.  Being a creature of habit, others began to take note of his routine and preferences.  Individuals with their ear to the street began to approach him in the lobby with his favorite kind of cigar and segue or transition into the particular legislative item they sought to influence him with.  President Grant called them lobbyists... and the name stuck.

Of course in our day, there are some other names that come to mind when someone mentions the topic of lobbying or lobbyists.  But this is to be expected since even on a good day, lobbying involves the use of education, influence, and yes, manipulation to "encourage" those with power to act on behalf of one and not the other.  Sinful and flawed humans seek to gain leverage and access to the clout and control of other sinful and flawed humans who enjoy positions of power.  The result is inevitable: sinful and flawed means will necessarily lead to sinful and flawed ends.  No matter how well-meaning, the best laws and intentions of mankind ultimately lead to yet more abuse and disorder by those willing to twist even what is good.

But lobbying the Lord through prayer is altogether different.  First of all, it is for sure that God is absolutely holy and beyond corruption.  Secondly, the Lord is the source of all truth and knowledge.  Therefore, any time we take to tell Him about our situation, requests, or condition is merely for the sake of our own need to confess our sins or to express our need for His gracious and mighty acts on our behalf.  Thirdly (yes, even in blog-posts, there's always three) and most important, the lobbying effect is reversed.  Instead of us seeking to influence God to work on our behalf, lobbying the Lord leads to a completely different goal.

We do not expect God to bow to our rights and privileges as Kingdom Citizens.  Instead, spiritual maturity leads us to submit our will to His in an effort that we might serve His purposes in the earth with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.  It's reverse-lobbying; He does not come under our sway, but with transformed hearts and His grace which enables, we get a glimpse of His glory and see our plans as poor and pathetic in comparison.  Then it makes all the sense in the world to lay down our agendas, putting our hand to the plow to join His.  In summary, where the typical lobbyist looks to use a politician, the Lord's lobbyists offer themselves to be used by Him for His glory.

So hopefully I've set this up well enough to start a more intense look at the scriptures.  My next blog entry, Lord willing, will begin a five-part series on Bible passages highlighting the Lord's Lobbyists and their grown-up prayer requests.  Stay tuned...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Grown-up Prayer Requests, Part 1

The last few months of fatherhood have been exciting and rewarding.  As my wife and I count down to our daughter Jael's 2nd birthday next Wednesday, its only natural to reflect on the milestones we've seen over the last 51 weeks.  One of the many milestones is the beginning of clear speech.

For sure, Jael has learned ways of getting her point across before she discovered words.  But its exciting to witness how she makes the connection between words/names and the objects and persons they describe or refer to.  I have also taken note of the first word that I have heard her use with extreme emphasis and intentional regularity.  That word?


She knows what shoes are and if I ask her to go get her shoes, she'll gladly get them.  But she won't say "shoe".  She knows what brushing her teeth means, but she won't say "brush" or "teeth".  She's aware of other words too, but she hardly uses them.  But when it comes to food and eating, she's got that locked.

It makes sense, of course, because it's an immediate need.  It's also a legitimate need.  Not to mention the fact that it also brings her great pleasure to eat just about anything that her mother lovingly provides.   Since hunger comes suddenly and is both imperative and pleasurable to address, it is all important to learn how to attain the answer for all three.  We can see then, how a child is motivated to learn how to communicate with the goal of satisfying these three things.

All this was coming to mind during the month of June for me since our church was in the midst of a month-long prayer vigil that coincides with weekly guest preachers each Wednesday to create what we call "June Jubilee", a month-long revival at the year's mid-point.  We gather every morning at 6AM to corporately embrace God's invitation to "come boldly to the throne of grace" with a unified theme each day from a provided devotional thought.  The hour-long session goes something like this: 3-4 individuals lead in prayer for the first 30 minutes, then we break up into groups of three (triads) where each person takes a few moments to pray for the other two triad members, then one big circle with a final prayer given by one person.

I learned a lot about prayer as I listened to different persons lead.  Without being overly critical of any particular style, approach, pattern, or even choice of wording, I was at times amused, appalled and even convicted by a kind of prayer that reminded me of Jael's limited verbal expression/interests. In other words, how many prayers are only concerned with the immediate, self-indulgent needs of the individual praying?

So here are the questions I'm asking:

Do my prayers reflect or gauge my spiritual maturity?

Does my praying mindset reflect a growing biblical perspective of God, myself, and my world?

Is God waiting for me to grow up in prayer with requests that go beyond immediate needs in the same way that I can't wait for Jael to start telling me about something other than her cravings?

What would my prayers sound like if they reflected the priorities of someone OTHER than myself... like maybe God's priorities?

Hmm... sounds like a good blog series coming up.