WHAT IF THE RIOT IN DC REALLY IS US?

WHAT IF THE RIOT IN DC REALLY IS US?

I have been praying for, advocating, and preaching conservative ideas based on the biblical worldview for over forty years. The events of January 6, on Capitol Hill, hit me, as I’m sure they did many of you, like a body blow. As is often the case, I’ve found John Stonestreet’s and Shane Morris’s analysis of the events much more comprehensive than anything I could compose. A more thorough discussion is available on the Breakpoint This Week podcast that followed it: Are We, as a Nation, Capable of Governing Ourselves? I commend both to you. D.S.

WHAT IF WHAT WE SAW YESTERDAY AT THE CAPITAL IS US?

Breakpoint with John Stonestreet, January 7, 2021

In the introduction to his book The Content Trap, author Bharat Anand asks readers to consider what caused The Yellowstone Fires of 1988, which lasted for months and destroyed over 1.3 million acres of the world’s oldest, and one of our nation’s most treasured, national parks. The traditional story places the blame on a worker who dropped a single, still-lit cigarette. Anand disagrees.

The cigarette certainly triggered this fire, but a million cigarettes are dropped every single day. That year (likely even that day), other cigarettes and, for that matter, lightning strikes, fell in Yellowstone. Why did this one spark so much damage? Anand’s point has to do with the pre-existing conditions, which made something that is benign in most other circumstances, a trigger for incredible destruction.

Yesterday, as protestors stormed the Capitol, Illinois Representative Kinzinger, a Republican, said, “We (Americans) are not what we are seeing today…” Others remarked how shocking it was to see the sort of political unrest common to other countries, here in America. And, of course, it was shocking.

But we’d better be clear on why. It’s not because somehow Americans, even those who love freedom and wish to protect the remarkable gift that is our nation, are somehow exempt from the Fall. It’s not because America has some sort of Divine pass to last forever. It’s not because the rules that govern nations and civilizations, which have been proven over and over again throughout history, somehow do not apply to us.

In what now seems like an ominous prediction, my friend Trevin Wax tweeted out a quote from Chuck Colson Wednesday morning: “People who cannot restrain their own baser instincts, who cannot treat one another with civility, are not capable of self-government … without virtue, a society can be ruled only by fear, a truth that tyrants understand all too well.”

Colson was right. Another way of saying what he did is, “Character is destiny.” It’s tempting to apply this undeniable truism rather selectively, but it is as true for individuals on “our side” as it is for those on “their side.” It is true for presidents and for peasants. It’s as true about a President “not as bad as she would have been,” who delivers strong policy wins for our side as it is about anyone else. It is true for the narcissist and for the abortionist, for the one who rejects religious faith and the one who uses it for his own ends.

But, and this is the much more important point that many miss, character is destiny for a people as well as for a person. Yesterday, when President-elect Biden said that the actions of the mob did not reflect America, I wish he were correct. But he wasn’t. We are not a moral nation. We are lawless. We are not a nation that cultivates the kinds of families able to produce good citizens. Our institutions cannot be trusted to tell us the truth or advance the good. Our leaders think and live as if wrong means are justified by preferred ends. Our churches tickle ears and indulge narcissism. Our schools build frameworks of thinking that are not only wrong, but foster confusion and division.

Yesterday’s riot was not the first in our nation’s recent history, nor will it be the last. There are certainly immediate causes for what we witnessed, including the words of a President who appeared to care more about the attention the riots gave him than the rule of law that they violated. Still, there are ultimate causes, ones that predate his administration and that have created what is clearly a spark-ready environment.

Yesterday’s events cannot be understood, much less addressed outside this larger context. And the moment we excuse ourselves from being part of the problem, we have lost our saltiness.

Often throughout history, moments like this have been embraced by the Church as an opportunity by God’s people. When a people reach this level of vulnerability, either as individuals, as families, or as nations, it is clear that they are out of ideas. There is no sustainable way forward when the ideological divide reaches this level, not only about how best to reach commonly held aims but when there is no consensus on the aims themselves.

To be clear, civilizations usually die with a whimper, not a bang. America will go on, but we aren’t ok. Even more, the resources once found in various places within our culture to build new things or fix what’s broken are largely depleted. The only way out of the long decline of decadence, punctuated as it is by noisy, scary moments like yesterday, is either, as Ross Douthat wrote, revolution or religious revival. The story of Yellowstone Park is that now, decades letter, it has been largely revived and reborn. Let’s pray that’s also the story of the Church, and even our country.

PLAYGROUND FAITH In a Toys R’nt Us World

PLAYGROUND FAITH  In a Toys R’nt Us World

Our church took a step of faith this month, spending about $10,000 on a new playground that should serve us for another twenty years. But the faith had nothing to do with raising money. Being a frugal bunch, we had been setting aside funds for capital improvements for years. No, the faith had to do with spending it on play-equipment in the first place. The way things are going in America, playgrounds could become a thing of the past, relics of the baby-boom gone bust.

Consider the trends: Seventy-year-old icon of childhood, Toys R Us, just closed all 800 stores, blaming the Amazon insurgency along with Wal-Mart and Target for its market decline. They were also over-leveraged, but the root of the problem is declining demand. “Most of our end-customers are newborns and children,” they said in a statement, “and, as a result, our revenue are dependent on the birthrates in countries where we operate. In recent years, many countries’ birthrates have dropped or stagnated as their population ages, and education and income levels increase.”[1]

Bottom-line, men and women aren’t getting married as often or as young as they used to. When they do they aren’t having as many babies, if they have any at all. Breakpoint’s John Stonestreet reports that the U.S. fertility rate is near 1.77 children per woman, or below the replacement rate necessary to sustain our population at current levels.[2] Children are expensive to have and costly to raise, we reason, and that’s true. But the more we treasure our treasure the less we value life.

The roots of this lie in the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the advent of “the pill,” when we divorced sex from marriage and devalued children in the process. But it has greater ramifications than the closing of a toy store chain. The supply of young workers that keep an economy growing and social programs funded declines as the population grays and demand for social services increases. Financial crises loom as this population mega-shift occurs.

But there’s more to it than that. Having children pleases God and drives spiritual growth.

From the Genesis mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” to Jesus’s command to “let the little children come to me,” the Bible is a pro-children book. “Children are a reward from God … a crown to the aged,” wrote Solomon.[3] Ask any grandparent and you will hear “Amen!”

Raising children from diapers to diplomas is the most demanding thing anyone can do, and the most spiritually rewarding. Kids expose our selfishness and call out service: will I buy that new boat or put money aside for braces? Volunteer to coach soccer or stay in bed on Saturday mornings? Children also challenge our moral inconsistencies: “Daddy, should you really be driving that fast … on the way to church?” Most uncomfortably, children reveal our character flaws just by sharing our DNA. It’s humbling to realize that those little ones who “look just like Daddy!” also share his penchant for show-boating, self-pity, arrogance, and mendacity.

Finally—and this is only a partial list—children teach us total dependence on God. Ask any parent who has ever said, “My child will never (fill-in-the-blank),” and they will tell you that there is only one God and we aren’t him. We have no ability whatsoever to control outcomes in the lives of our little ones. God created them, gave them free will, and allows them to use it. Sooner or later—and the sooner the better—we release them to him and pray, trusting when they fall that he will raise them up, and rejoicing when they succeed.

So, building playgrounds is an act of faith. But having babies is even greater. May God bless us all with more of both.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/03/15/toys-r-uss-baby-problem-is-everybodys-baby-problem/

[2] http://www.breakpoint.org/2018/04/breakpoint-toys-r-us-to-close-down/

[3] Psalm 127:3 & Proverbs 17:6

FLABBY-BRAINED BELIEVERS?

The bathroom scales hounded me back to my Nordic Trak last week with the words: “You are a middle-aged blob who eats too much and exercises too little!”

OK, it didn’t actually say that because it can’t talk. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it read either (I am vain that way). Let it suffice that I sweated through my first thirty-minutes in about a month on the twentieth-century torture tool and I’m headed back there today.

I wonder, however, if there was a scale for the Christian mind that could talk, what it would be saying to the people of God? I’m afraid it would report that many of us have flabby brains.

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” said Joseph Addison, but far too many of us read nothing at all.

If you’re ready to get your mind back in action here’s a list of recommended reading that will equip you to think Christianly about life.

Suffering

SUFFERING AND THE HEART OF GOD: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, by Diane Langberg, PhD. Langberg, who has worked with Rwandan genocide victims, is a globally recognized expert on trauma, particularly that special evil suffered by sexual abuse victims. She is theologically solid, clinically expert, and personally compassionate. I’ve heard her speak and read her previous book, On the Threshold of Hope. I guarantee that if you do not already know a sexual abuse victim, you will and you will want to know how to help. Her books will help.

Marriage

SAVING YOUR MARRIAGE BEFORE IT STARTS: Seven Questions to Ask Before (and After) You Marry, by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. The Parrotts are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. I’ve been offering per-marital counseling since 1995 and I’ve yet to find a better resource.

RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES: Healing for Troubled Marriages, by marriage and family therapist Dr. Jim Talley. Talley’s work became my go-to for counseling couples in crisis many years ago and remains so today. It is simple, clear, and concise. Read it five years into your first marriage and you probably won’t have a second. Find him at drtalley.com.

Giving Wisely

TOXIC CHARITY: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and how to reverse it), by Robert D. Lupton. Bob, the founder of FCS Urban Ministries, moved his young family into inner-city Atlanta in the late seventies and stayed. He “has developed two mixed-income subdivisions, organized a multiracial congregation, started a number of businesses, created housing for hundreds of families,”[1] and is a friend of our family. He is also an excellent writer and teacher of the ideas he promotes. The book is an easy and useful read.

Biblical Worldview Thinking

HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE, is the late Chuck Colson’s and Nancy Pearcy’s magnum opus on biblical worldview thinking. If you have no exposure to the genre and five hundred pages doesn’t frighten you, begin here. It is compelling and easy to follow.

THE GOOD LIFE, also by Colson with Harold Fickett, is much shorter and more about answers to the questions we all have, like: Why am I here; how can I find significance? But all of Colson’s works are infused with the worldview rubric and this one will challenge you to choose carefully.

Culture War

CULTURE MAKING: Recovering Our Creative Calling, by Andy Crouch. Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, makes an excellent case that it is not enough to condemn culture, nor to stand aloof and critique it or naively copy it, still less to unconsciously consume it. If Christians want to return to the cultural influence that helped build Western Civilization, we have to create better culture. CULTURE MAKING is the best book yet on how to do that.

ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, by Russell Moore. Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a man who, like Albert Mohler, is an energetic, entertaining, and articulate defender of the faith. ONWARD is a quick, compelling read that roots our cultural engagement squarely in the Gospel and never strays from it.

Perhaps you are thinking, “I don’t have time to read serious books.” If so remember World Magazine and World Radio, both of which will keep you up-to-date with the latest biblical worldview thinking in a highly portable format. Go to getworldnow.com for a free three month trial. The daily worldview update, Breakpoint, with John Stonestreet and Eric Metaxas is also excellent.

Brains, like bodies, get flabby without exercise. What would our imaginary mental scales say about yours? Time to get to work!

[1] From the book cover.