Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Real State of the Union

I have an extreme dislike for politics. Okay, let’s just be honest, I hate politics. For as long as I can remember, politics have frustrated me: the attitude, the arrogance, the overall air that drops like a bomb in nearly any setting whenever anything political is brought up. That being the case, this is not a political post. I repeat, THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL POST. So if you’re looking for a topic about which to debate or an opponent with whom to argue, skip right along to another blog with a donkey or an elephant adorning the banner and titles that include all your favorite political issues. I have neither the desire nor sufficient knowledge to provide a competent forum for such discussion. I freely admit: I am altogether ignorant about the current state of politics in this country. Sure, I know a few buzz words, but that’s the extent of it. I could no more have a competent discussion about American politics than I could spell the names of all the individuals listed in the genealogy of Christ. However, I did listen to the State of the Union Address given by our President last month, and it brought to the forefront of my mind a concern that has been growing steadily in my subconscious for some time.

The following are quotes from several States of the Union Addresses given by a few of our most recent Presidents, Republican and Democrat alike: (I have not identified the quotes with the Presidents to whom they belong because that is not the point of this post. If you want to know who said what, there are these new things called, “Copy,” “Paste,” and “Google”……)

“America will always win.”

“The strength — the secret of our strength, the miracle of America, is that our greatness lies not in our government, but in the spirit and determination of our people.”

“Because when we act together, there is nothing the United States of America can't achieve.”

“My fellow Americans, the state of our Union is the strongest it has ever been. As always, the credit belongs to the American people.”

“Each time I look at that flag, I'm reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those thirteen stripes. No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other's backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we're joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.”

These statements reflect two core beliefs that you will find resounding in the heart of nearly every American, regardless of partisan association:
  1. America is great.
  2. Americans get credit for it.

My friends, it is not the economy that is going to destroy this nation. It is not our financial deficit. It is not our foreign relations. It is not our wars. It is not our educational system or our taxes or our energy supply. What will destroy this nation is our belief in the two statements above. The one thing upon which most Americans agree, the one moment during the State of the Union Address when everyone applauds, the one belief we all share…is a lie.

Because here’s the truth:

We. Are. Not. Great.

Yes, America. Read it and weep. But it’s true. We’re not. How do I know? Because the One, the ONLY One, who is great said so.

Psalm 62:9,

“Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie; if weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath.”

Isaiah 40:17,

“Before Him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by Him as worthless and less than nothing.”

Daniel 4:35,

“All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: ‘What have You done?’”

I could continue, but I think you get it. We are men. Men are nothing. Yes, even the strong and influential and intelligent and oh-so-important Americans that we are (pointing out the sarcasm in those adjectives, in case you missed it), we are nothing. And it’s high time we remembered it. If you want to know why, go take a stroll through the Old Testament. Say hello to the Babylonians and the Assyrians and the Persians and the Egyptians, and definitely have a chat with the Israelites! Ask them what happens to nations who think they’re “all that”. Ask them what happens when you strut your stuff and call yourself great and flaunt your achievements and conquests as if you’re king of the world. Ask them what happens when you take credit for something in which you had absolutely no hand. Ask them how God responds when you try to lift yourself up to His level. They’ll tell you: He puts you in your place. As well He should. Because we’re not great, but He is.

Deuteronomy 10:17,

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome.”

1 Chronicles 16:25,

“For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods.”

1 Chronicles 29:11-12,

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is Yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; You are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from You; You are the ruler of all things. In Your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.”

Psalm 47:2,

“How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth!”

Psalm 145:3,

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom.”

Do you get it? Do you get who He is? Do you get who we’re not? If America is anything, ANYTHING AT ALL, it is for only one reason: because God chose to make us that way. The “the secret of our strength” doesn’t lie “in the spirit and determination of our people.” The “credit” doesn’t belong “to the American people.” We are not great “because we worked as a team.” We are not great “because we get each other's backs.” And like it or not, the state of our Union will not “always be strong” and America won’t “always win.” We could not have made ourselves into anything. And we cannot maintain ourselves as anything. Only God Most High has the power to do that.

Psalm 75:6-7,

“No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, He exalts another.”

So where do we belong? We’re not great. God is great. Where do we belong? We belong with Isaiah and Ezekiel, on our faces before Him in tears.

Isaiah 6:5,

“’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’”

Ezekiel 1:28,

“This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown.”

We belong in the humble, prostrate position of a beggar and a servant at the feet of the Master. Because everything that we are as a nation is only because He chose for it to be that way. And as soon as He chooses otherwise, we will find ourselves right next to the Babylonians and Assyrians: on our faces in the dirt, the rug ripped out from under us, thinking, “Wait—I thought we were great???”

We Christian Americans like to quote this verse: Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Unfortunately, I think the majority of us have forgotten what that verse really says. Here’s what it doesn’t say:

It doesn’t say, “Blessed is the nation that calls itself ‘Christian’.”

It doesn’t say, “Blessed is the nation that stands bull-headedly firm on the conservative side of issues.”

It doesn’t say, “Blessed is the nation that elects a President who goes to church.”

It doesn’t say, “Blessed is the nation that boasts religious tolerance and political correctness.”

It doesn’t say, “Blessed is the nation that votes pro-life.”

It doesn’t say, “Blessed is the nation that asks for it.”

How many times a day do we say or hear or read, “God Bless America”? If we want Him to bless America, maybe we should quit asking for it and start making Him Lord. Because that’s what it says.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

So what’s the state of our Union? It’s exactly the same as the state of every human heart within it.

John 3:30,

“He must become greater; [we] must become less.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Swallowing Flies

Raise your hand if you've ever read (or had read to you) the book "There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly".
...okay, put your hands down. I can't see them anyway.
For those of you who have read it, doesn't your life feel gloriously enriched because of that experience?
For those of you who haven't, you have been cruelly deprived of a truly inspiring piece of American literature, which I will now attempt to summarize for you...

In short, there's an old lady.
She swallows a fly.
No one knows why.
But for some reason, we all begin to assume that, "Perhaps she'll die."
Next she swallows a spider to catch the fly.
Then a bird to catch the spider.
Then a cat to catch the bird.
Then a dog to catch the cat.
Then a cow to catch the dog.
Then a horse to catch the cow.
And when she swallows the horse..."She died, of course."
And after you've read the whole story, if you turn to the very last page, this is what you'll find:

"Moral: Never swallow a horse."

Now, from the time I was able to read that book on my own I knew that wasn't quite right. (If you haven't caught up to that logic yet, I rescind my offer for you to graduate to Because even my elementary reasoning skills said, "If you hadn't swallowed the fly, there wouldn't have been a problem! Forget about the horse--never swallow a fly!" Common sense tells us that if you don't want to end up swallowing a horse, don't start by swallowing a fly. Any sane person could understand that and would therefore make the wise decision to avoid flies.


Maybe not. You see, we swallow flies all the time. The TV shows and movies we watch that are full of foul language and immorality, the music we listen to that carries an unholy message, the thoughts we entertain that are a far cry from glorifying to God, every distraction we permit to invade our minds and draw us away from Him...these are our flies. And we swallow them daily, usually washing them down with rationalizing statements. "Just because I watch that/listen to that doesn't mean I'm going to talk/act/live like that." "Just because I thought about that doesn't mean I'm actually going to do it. Come on!" We might as well be saying, "Just because I swallowed one silly little fly doesn't mean I'm going to swallow a horse and die!" Oh yeah? Tell that to the old lady.

The Bible makes it clear how God feels about flies.

Ephesians 4:31,
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."

Ephesians 5:3,
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people."

Ephesians 4:29,
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

He even goes so far as to say that if you swallow a fly, you might as well have swallowed a horse.

Matthew 5:21:22,
"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment."

He also says that when you swallow flies, you throw up horses.

Luke 6:45,
"The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."

If we keep storing it up, it's gonna start coming out. Because if we keep inching closer to the line just to see how close we can get without crossing it, all of a sudden we're going to look back and see that the line is way behind us. Because you didn't plan on swallowing the horse when you downed the fly...and the spider......and the bird.......etc., but you did. Once you got there, you just couldn't help it.

So how do we stop it? We quit inching toward the line and start running away from it.
We quit swallowing flies.

Philippians 4:8,
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Leviticus 19:2,
"Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy."

Romans 12:2,
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

We don't want to be a horse-swallowing, dying people. So let's quit swallowing flies.

Anybody have a flyswatter?