Sunday, May 11, 2008

What I'd like to say to every graduate

Every day we’re faced with moral choices. The question of what’s right and wrong is always lingering around. You've had to make ethical decisions in school, and you'll continue to make them in life…even tougher choices. After you land a decent job and start making some money, you join the ranks of taxpayers. Let’s take two people preparing their taxes. Both are tempted to cheat but they don’t. One decides not to because there’s a fair chance of getting caught; the other doesn't cheat because it’s wrong.

A test of character is what it takes to stop you. Another test is what you’d do if you could get away with it. Ultimately our beliefs determine our behavior. If you believe there is such a thing as right and wrong, you’ll at least be somewhat influenced to live with some integrity, even if you don’t do it consistently. But if you really think there’s no such thing as morals, then you’ve nothing to stop you, except maybe the consequences of getting caught (if its against the law, and there’s lots of bad stuff that isn’t these days). You can’t have a moral conscience if you don’t believe in moral absolutes. Your conscience can’t be your guide if you believe “anything goes”. But if there is a God, and if He has a plan for life that includes a standard of living, then our behavior matters. We can’t just “do our own thing” without any consequences. If you don’t believe in moral absolutes, then all you’re left with is personal preferences, which can differ from one person to the next. Ethics are absolute, or arbitrary. If they’re absolute, they matter; if arbitrary, one guy’s opinion’s about as valid as the next. Does truth exist, or do we decide what’s true for us? Do we make our own rules? Many people do, because they’ve decided truth is relative.

When you go to the movies, you sometimes see some unrealistic bad guys who are very one-dimensional. They’re evil just for the sake of being evil. Most people don’t get up in the morning and ask themselves, “What would the devil do?” They don’t decide what is bad and then do it. That may be how some evil is portrayed, but it’s inaccurate and very unrealistic. Most “bad guys” do bad things because they think what they’re doing is OK. They’re convinced their behavior is right. They’re selfish because they believe pleasure is the best thing. Hitler was trying to create a master race by eliminating people he thought were inferior. And he decided the ends justified the means. What people believe--their worldview--can be scary. In life, the worldview of the guy next to you matters, and obviously so does yours.

Because there is a God, then truth exists, and it matters how we live. This means that God needs to be a vital part of your life. He will give your life meaning and purpose and hope. Jesus promised, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” Have a terrific life as you turn the next page.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Rev. Wrong

According to media reports, Rev. Jeremiah Wright has charged that criticisms leveled at him are not about him, but are being launched against the black church itself, "by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition."

I was the Senior Pastor of two African-American Army Chapel congregations, called “Gospel Services” because they represent the collective Protestant worship of predominantly black denominations. The reason I served was because there were no African-American Chaplains available. In both instances I utilized numerous black soldiers who were ordained ministers to provide a good deal of the preaching. And we always had an awesome Gospel Choir. I learned a lot from the experience, to include a love for the African-American worship tradition.

I never offered or heard any political ideology from the pulpit during the years I served. I admit that perhaps this is due to the venue being a military chapel, but I suspect that the real reason is that most African-American preachers are too busy proclaiming the Gospel message to criticize the government. They may deal with social issues from time-to-time, but from a positive perspective. The only one I ever heard condemned was the devil, and no one ever suggested that he was someone in public office.

I once heard the President condemned in very harsh terms in a mostly white Protestant church in Tennessee. The speaker was criticizing a President I did not vote for. Nonetheless, I was deeply offended and to my regret, I lacked the nerve to stand up and walk out. I don’t think that would happen again.

The Bible is clear that we are to respect and pray for our governmental leaders. We did this in recently in my town at our National Day of Prayer observance. We did so without any partisanship, and we all left our politics at the door. We prayed, by name, for politicians whom some of us probably didn’t even like…and it didn’t matter. I think most people of faith, while they certainly have strong political opinions, do not feel that church is an appropriate place to be political. It’s admittedly tempting, especially in an election year--just as it is tempting to talk about the Red Sox in church during the World Series. But most churches focus on matters of eternal significance, and spiritual values that relate to the world around us. That’s as it should be.

The only thing political a minister should say in church is to urge the congregation to participate in the electoral process by knowing the issues, by supporting their candidates, and especially by voting. That’s it. I hang out at a local coffee shop most mornings with some buddies, where we attempt to solve all the world’s problems, but generally I try to keep my mouth shut regarding political matters, and stick to the Gospel. In my church we sing a verse of a patriotic song each Sunday out of respect for our nation, but we focus on honoring the Lord of the nations. We believe that we need to urge our nation to prayer and righteousness, as our founders did so long ago.

Turning nationalism into idolatry is wrong; so is condemning a nation that is trying to be “one nation, under God.” May God bless America.