The “if” at the Center of Life

The English word “life” has only four letters, but the central two form another word– “If.” Life is all about making choices–and facing the consequences of those choices. Often we focus on those circumstances over which we seem to have no choice–I didn’t “choose” to be born, to be born female, to be born into the family or community where I grew up. I didn’t choose to be short, I didn’t choose the color of my eyes or skin or hair (though my hair color has changed as I get older!)

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But those are circumstances– they are not my LIFE. My life is made up of thoughts, feelings, actions, attitudes, decisions, and interactions with others. The color of my eyes, my lack of stature, or my family name does not determine my attitude or my inner beliefs or the way I treat others. Who I am is determined by the choices I make– to be proud, to believe that I am superior (or inferior) to others; to choose hope and courage or to wallow in worry and despondency; to make the most of my time, or to waste it; to envy others or be grateful for all that I have; to obey or defy; to take care of my body or make unhealthy life choices; to be a good steward or be wasteful and destructive; to show love or to withhold kindness; to forgive or to hold a grudge; to seek God for his love and mercy, or to blame God for every challenge I face. Every choice (and its consequences) is woven into the fabric of my earthly life– every reaction to bad circumstances, every investment in future goals, every moment spent “just vegging”, every secret habit I continue to indulge..

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The word “if” can hold great promise or regret– we can get lost in speculating, “if only…” or we can try to bargain with ourselves or with God, “if…then.” God gives us life, and He gives us “if”– the freedom to choose how we will react to our circumstances; freedom to choose how we will live our lives; the freedom to seek Him; the freedom to serve Him (or not) with all the unique gifts and passions He planted in each of us.

Life is filled with “ifs”– good and bad. “If’s” are conditional and have consequences. God’s love is not an “If.” It is unconditional, eternal, and immeasurable. Accepting it, however is conditional–it is the greatest “if” in the center of our life!

Lord, help me make good choices– choices that reflect the love and mercy You have shown; choices that bring You honor and glory. Thank you for making the choice to send Your only Son, that whoever (including me) believes in Him should have everlasting life!

Prayer and Politics

At the risk of alienating several family members and friends, I feel I need to make the following statement:  The United States of America is not, has never been, and will never be a “Christian Nation.”  I am not saying this in disparagement of my homeland– I’m not suggesting it is an irreligious nation.  But I think the term “Christian Nation” gets used presumptiously to suggest that America is uniquely righteous, or immune from criticism or judgment.  America is not a theocracy, and it is not a bastion of Christian virtue.  We are a nation “under God”, but not a nation that recognizes God as its supreme ruler.  Our government, while based on principles handed down through centuries of Judeo-Christian practice, is built around documents written by and for the people of this nation, independent of their adherence to that practice or to those doctrines.  1st Amendment and Religion

Our government does not sponsor Christian churches, nor does it require its citizens to belong to a particular religion or religious group in order to enjoy its rights, freedoms, and protections.  We do not have federal laws that punish those who believe other tenets or practice other faiths that do not fall under the Judeo-Christian umbrella.  Our courts may limit the practice of religion (including Christianity) when it conflicts with a “compelling”  governmental interest, such as public safety.  And our citizens who are practicing Christians are not united in how they apply Christianity to politics, and vice-versa.  Our members of Congress are not elected based on their adherence to a religious practice, and our leaders are not required to be clergy (the very thought is pretty laughable to most of us in today’s political climate!).  America is designed to be a nation that practices one of the most basic tenets of the Bible–that humans have the gift of Free Will, and the right to use it.

Having said all that, I also want to be clear that the Judeo-Christian tradition has played and (for now) continues to play an enormous role in our laws, societal construct, and civilization.  I’m not here to ignore that or dismiss it as unimportant.  My goal is to point out that prayer and politics should not be conflated or equated–prayer is not and never has been the equal of political thought or action–prayer is always superior!

As Christians, not only in America, but anywhere in the world, we are called upon to live worthy of Christ and his Gospel.  That doesn’t mean burying our heads in the sand or staying silent in the face of evil and injustice– we should be engaged in our communities, and in our civic responsibilities.  But it also doesn’t mean that we protest, promote, plot, and proceed politically in our own power or wisdom.  We are commanded to pray for those in leadership and authority– those we voted for and those we didn’t!  We are commanded to submit to those same authority figures, to show them honor and respect, even if we are opposed to their policies and seeking to reverse those policies.  We are commanded to live (as much as it depends on us) in peace with our neighbors, to love our enemies, and bless those who curse us.   Our patriotism and our political expression must be in line with, and submit to, our commitment to follow Christ.  To show contempt or hatred for our nation and its leaders is to show contempt for the God who is sovereign over them.  But that same God will not excuse us for turning a blind eye to sin and corruption, or worse yet, covering it up or calling it righteousness.  Our prayers, both personal and political, need to be based in truth and love.

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Even as we live in tumultuous times, we are commanded to pray.  In relation to our nation and our society, I think there are at least four important things to keep in mind:

  • Our real citizenship is in Heaven.  Praying for our nation, its leaders, its laws, etc., is in line with Scripture; worshiping our nation, its leaders, its laws, etc., is idolatry.
  • Our neighbors, our nation, our world– they won’t change because we enact a new law, win an election, change the economy, or wipe out war.  People, nations, and societies will change because they have had an encounter with Jesus Christ, and they have been transformed by his Grace.  Are they seeing HIM in our actions, our Facebook and Twitter feeds, our interactions on the street; are they hearing HIM in our conversations; are they overwhelmed by HIS grace when they meet us?  Pray that God will help us be faithful in the small things.  Our actions speak louder than our words– and that includes the words of our prayers!
  • God’s ways are not our ways–we need to be careful that we are not praying for (and demanding, and offering on our part) a quick compromise, a superficial spirituality, and a cheap grace that substitutes for a deep and lasting revival.  Don’t ask God to “fix” the world and then wonder why he sends the repairman to your door, or recruits you to scrub toilets!
  • We are in a battle, but it is not with people and it is not going to be won by playing politics–we must learn to identify the real enemy, so we can put on the correct armor and reach for the right weapons.  Our shield is not the flag– it is Faith.  Our sword is not a clever argument– it is the simple truth of the Gospel.  Victory has already been declared.  Remember to rejoice when we pray for our nation and our world– the Lamb has Overcome!

Prayer connects us to the power of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, whose banner over us is Love.

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