Steve’s Letter – July 2013
JULY 1, 2013
Not only do those words resonate with me, I have a proclivity toward political libertarianism, rejoiced when I first read Ayn Rand, and sometimes wish people would just quit trying to be my mother. Even as I write those words, I must force myself to stop because I’m stirred with thoughts of John Wayne, guns and “don’t tread on me.” If I wrote more, I would have to repent more.
When you were in high school or college, did you memorize William Henley’s poem, Invictus? I did and it was one of the few assignments I liked. (Now that I think about it, it was also one of the few assignments I completed.) Even now the words (written in the 19th century) resonate with me:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Not only do those words resonate with me, I have a proclivity toward political libertarianism, rejoiced when I first read Ayn Rand, and sometimes wish people would just quit trying to be my mother.
Even as I write those words, I must force myself to stop because I’m stirred with thoughts of John Wayne, guns and “don’t tread on me.” If I wrote more, I would have to repent more.
Yeah, repent. Do you now why? Because Henley was an arrogant twit, Ayn Rand was a moral pigmy, and radical libertarianism can destroy us all.
And other than that, there’s Jesus.
I’m writing this the day after Memorial Day and you’ll be reading it in July on or about July 4th. Both dates are significant for our nation and both dates are personally meaningful to me. I’m a patriot who still tears up at the national anthem, still rejoices in the depth and wisdom of the American Constitution, and still is proud to be an American.
I’m often in the Atlanta airport. (Someone said that, when Jesus returns, he’ll have to go through the Atlanta airport!) During the last few years, that airport has been a place where thousands of American troops come from or go to Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. They are usually in uniform and often walking in formation. As they walk through the airport, people stop talking, turn and begin to applaud. You can always tell when the troops are coming in your direction from the thunderous applause that follows and precedes the men and women in uniform. I’ve seen it happen a whole lot of times; and each time, I’m deeply moved.
But can we talk?
We’re in trouble as a nation and, not only that, we’re not doing that great as individuals. I once heard my late friend, Bill Bright, say that America’s problems were so overwhelming that no leader—no matter how wise and benevolent—could lead us out of the morass. Then he smiled and said something profound: “But if we returned to God, a child could do it.” Winston Churchill once said, “Our problems are beyond us.” They still are. It is only very naïve people who think that all we have to do is work a little harder, adopt the correct political or economic system, develop integrity and courage, and gut it out, and it will all be fixed.
Okay, okay. Maybe some of my thinking comes from my cynicism. If it weren’t for Jesus and the Bible, I would grant you that. The trouble with truth is that it has a tendency to prove itself just by being truth. “Every day the world rolls over on top of someone who was just sitting on top of it…” And every day our helplessness in fixing things politically, economically and personally becomes more apparent. When the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that he “had been there and done that,” he concluded, “and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
All this sounds so dark, negative and down. (Next month, I’m going to write about death, war and taxes.) But it really isn’t because there is good news.
I have a friend, Robert, who is the pastor of a small church in downtown Orlando. Robert was a very successful businessman in Texas before he went to prison. Now he’s a pastor. Both Robert and his wife, Dawn, are divorced. Needless to say, they get grace and share it with their people in profound ways. Anna and I visited their church a few weeks ago and I preached. Afterwards, there was a lunch where we got to know many of the people in the church. It was so good…both the food and the time with those wonderful and loving people.
As we drove away, Anna said, “You know, I think the first century church was like that.” She was right. There was nothing impressive about the church or the service. It was a small church (when the pastor said “beloved,” I blushed); the music wasn’t slick and the testimonies to God’s grace were sometimes halting. Nothing remarkable, no big bucks, just normal sinners without titles and prestige…but Jesus was there and I could hear his laughter.
We had dinner with Robert and Dawn last week, and Robert was telling us about one of their services that had taken place the week before. A lady in the church has had a serious back problem, and Robert anointed her with oil and prayed for her. After he prayed, she turned to her husband and said, “I have no pain.” It was the first time in 20 years.
“The Lord told me to tell you not to be afraid.”
After explaining to us, “I don’t know why and I certainly didn’t know her situation, but the Lord gave me a message,” Robert told us what he then said to the woman. Robert leaned over and said, “The Lord told me to tell you not to be afraid. You can go ahead and have your baby.”
The woman began to sob. It turned out that she was afraid of having a baby because she thought she couldn’t be the kind of mother she needed to be with her serious back problems.
(Robert, by the way, is Charismatic, but the church he serves isn’t. That makes an interesting ecclesiastical mix. Robert loves that congregation deeply and they love him back. They really “will know that we’re Christians by our love.”)
I’ve been thinking about what he told that woman in the context of her need and fear: “Don’t be afraid.” In other words, “In your extreme need, I will give you what you need to be what I’ve called you to be.”
Paul wrote to the Philippians something like that. He told them “not to be frightened” and he called them to be faithful in the dark world “among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 1:28, 2:15). Then when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he referenced how God had humbled him (which nobody likes) and then gave the central message of Jesus: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Things are bad. I don’t know how to fix anything and I don’t even know how to fix myself. That’s the bad news spoken in our darkness. It’s bad and it’s getting worse.
That’s really bad.
Actually, it isn’t. When we get over our arrogance about “elbow grease,” prayers, and goodness in fixing it, and see how dark it really is, then there will be light. His light.
Our problems really are beyond us. Each morning I pray for awakening and revival in our nation, and for my own mess. Frankly, if it weren’t for what I just told you, I would stop. Some things are just so bad they are impossible to fix.
Then I think about Robert, and Jesus, and that lady who was so afraid. It’s an illustration that applies to almost everything God does in us and in the world.
Someone said that when a “bubba” says, “Here, hold my beer and watch this,” the best thing to do is run.
But when God says, “Watch this,” one ought to get out of the way and watch.
Anne Lamott believes in three kinds of prayer to God:
He told me to remind you too.
In His Grip,