“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2)
There is a strong emphasis in the New Testament on the renewal of the mind, for the greatest battle believers fight during their lifetime is for the conquest of the mind. It is our thought life that so often causes us to bear a burden of guilt, and even shame (which is the most destructive of all human emotions). Believers are not immune, for we know we have sinned so many times in so many ways. We can identify with the Apostle Paul, considered by many to be the greatest of all the apostles, and yet he considered himself to be “the chief of sinners.” He was so burdened by the memory of his former life as an enemy of Jesus and his followers, as the chief persecutor of Christians, that he cried out: “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” But with his very next breath (the next verse), the great apostle answers his own question: “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25).
Also, in his same epistle (the Letter to the Romans), Paul shares his own struggle of soul with us: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who does it (i.e. the new man he was in Christ), but sin which still dwells within me” (i.e. the sin nature, the weakness of the flesh, which is still subject to temptation). In the same passage Paul gives this broad indictment, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (i.e. godliness, the character of God, or Christlikeness – Romans 3:23). Paul knew he was no exception, for all believers are involved in the same struggle, the same spiritual warfare, resisting the same downward and backward pulls of life, including the inner urge to conform to the values and standards this world, which has organized itself with little or no regard for God’s commandments. Our minds are continually being bombarded every day by social media, clever commercials that are designed by this materialistic, consumer-oriented, secular society to appeal to the flesh, to satisfy the longing for those things that our human instincts crave, the desire for more stuff, the pursuit of pleasure, until we have reached the perilous point where enough is always more!
During my own lifetime I have witnessed the spread of this malignant and contagious illness, an insatiable appetite for more of the things this world offers, more money and more of the things money can buy, more good times according to the flesh, more possessions, more power, more recognition, more honors, more success (i.e. as this world defines “success”). I have lived a long time, long enough to see how America has changed, long enough to witness a gradual but growing cultural shift, an accelerating and alarming increase in the number of skeptics and secularists asking us to surrender the inheritance of our fathers and mothers, urging us to abandon what critical thinkers consider archaic ideals, but which were the foundational moral, ethical, and spiritual values for building “a nation under God.” And we are now seeing the disturbing consequences of a changing America: an anti-Christian bias in newspapers, broadcasts, and at many institutions of higher education that have embraced and promoted an age-old dogma, “The superiority of human reason” (has God not “…made foolish the wisdom of this world”? – 1 Corinthians 1:29-26). Greed has reached epidemic proportions, becoming the driving force in our private and public lives, where success is too often measured by how much one possesses, where the rich are getting richer and more powerful while the poor are getting poorer and more powerless – with a corresponding increase in the number of homeless and hungry people, widespread corruption, fraud, dishonesty, an integrity crisis in both big business and big government. Racism is rampant, white supremacy is in the headlines once again, as well as the resurgence of Fascism now seen in the guise of an inflamed nationalism and a growing and frightening increase in incidents of both racial and religious intolerance, including the alarming re-emergence of anti-semitism, and a host of other “isms” we are now facing in American life, including an increase in senseless violence, killings in schools and public places, more guns in the hands of more people, acts of terrorism. All of this for many concerned Americans is like trying to outrun a spreading and advancing firestorm that may already be out of control. There was a time not that long ago when most Americans were united in the effort to quench such destructive flames of bigotry, prejudice, injustice, inequality, and intolerance. What has happened to America’s conscience? There was a time when the majority of our citizens appreciated diversity, racially, religiously, and politically, a time when most Americans were grateful that a majority of those in positions of leadership were working for unity in the midst of our diversity, and serving for the common good. In those days we respected the most men and women in positions of privilege and power, but today we are witnessing a lack of respect and trust, even among some elected officials in their relationships with each other, and a disturbing disregard for our institutions, including churches and all organized religion, because of publicized scandals of sexual abuse among the clergy as well as suspicion and accusations hurled at intelligence agencies and those responsible for law enforcement and national security.
Furthermore, the American image is changing in the larger world community, even among our allies, because American ideals are so obviously changing. America’s historic zeal for justice is changing, the passion for providing a safe place for victims of oppression, welcoming displaced and disenfranchised immigrants, defending the equal rights of all people in a land that has always been committed to joining hands and hearts with compassionate people worldwide who are seeking to halt world hunger, to provide adequate health care for all, as well as denouncing all the destructive forces that are threatening the very survival of this planet – all this is changing, as so many of those representing us in the halls of government, on both sides of the aisle, now seem to value partisan politics more than the preservation of our American ideals, by seeking common ground in their deliberations and decision-making to make America the nation that is most respected once again. There is an urgent need to find such a common cause that is big enough and worthy enough to swallow up individual ambitions, to quench the thirst for greater power and authority, and to silence the voices of those politicians who have always insisted on having the last word, hoping to cast the decisive vote. We desperately need more men and women in government today, republicans, democrats, and independents alike who will make decisions that are for the welfare of all, regardless of politics, race, culture, country of origin, or sexual orientation – representatives in government who will take a stand on controversial issues that may not please other members of their party (neither the extreme RIGHT or the extreme LEFT), but will make courageous choices based on what they believe will unite, heal, and strengthen this nation, and help put an end to the forces that are now seeking to divide and destroy us from within (for our greatest enemies are not any outside forces, but those extremists on the inside who are fragmenting us as a nation and weakening our democracy and our role as a voice for justice, righteousness, honesty, decency, equality, law and order, and peacemaking). These are choices we must make, and we must not be deceived by those who insist “my way or the highway” or who tell us that the alternative to conformity is chaos. That is not the truth, and this is a time for truth telling. The alternative to conformity is not confusion, but conviction, discerning what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil, what is truth and what is false, what is beautiful and what is ugly, what is constructive and what is destructive; and character, the courage to take one’s stand upon principle without regard for who stands with us. It was Martin Luther who had the boldness to say before those who did not agree with his conclusions and convictions, “Here I stand”, as he held his 95 affirmations of faith in his hand, convictions based on Holy Scripture alone: “God help me.”
LET US PRAY FOR SUCH BOLDNESS, SUCH CONVICTION, SUCH COURAGE AMONG ALL THOSE IN POSITIONS OF LEADERSHIP TODAY IN OUR CHURCHES, AND IN GOVERNMENT AS WELL – BOLDNESS TO STAND FOR THE TRUTH, TO STAND FOR THE HARD RIGHT AS OPPOSED TO THE EASY WRONG. LET US PRAY FOR OUR PRESIDENT, BUT LET US PRAY PROPERLY, THAT HE WILL PURSUE THESE NOBLE ENDS, RATHER THAN HIS OWN PERSONAL AGENDA. LET US PRAY THAT HE WILL DEAL FAIRLY AND COMPASSIONATELY WITH THOSE WHO MAY NOT ALWAYS AGREE WITH HIS POLICIES AND PRACTICES, RATHER THAN DISMISSING THEM FROM THEIR POSITIONS OF LEADERSHIP, OFTEN WITHOUT A HEARING OR ANY REASONABLE EXPLANATION AND WITH LITTLE OR NO REGARD FOR THEIR YEARS OF FAITHFUL PUBLIC SERVICE AND PATRIOTISM.
Let all praying people in our nation pray for a changing America, for the tide of righteousness to flow down like a mighty stream, and for the American people, beginning with ourselves, to wake up to the curse of conformity, corruption, and the abuse of power. Let us hear and heed once again these words chiseled into the beautiful Jefferson Memorial: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” However, if Thomas Jefferson was alive today and active in public service in our nation’s capital, he might be dismissed from his job because of his independent thinking, and the audacity to express his concerns publicly. In fact, he would probably be under investigation by several congressional committees at once, in spite of being a devoted patriot. The hour is late. Time is running out. We Americans must make up our minds about the kind of nation we want. We can continue traveling down the road toward domination and subjugation, toward thought-control and freedom of speech control, until we find ourselves living in a new America of totalitarianism; or we can commit ourselves to protecting and preserving our historic American ideals by opposing those forces that are at work among us to create a new America. Sadly, some of those destructive forces are religious zealots, including some Christian leaders and organizations that have become politicized and radicalized, even co-opting Jesus in support of their political agendas and personal ambitions. Many pastors and television evangelists today are proclaiming and promoting “alien gospels” and a “counterfeit Christianity.” Unfortunately, their numbers are growing at an alarming rate because their message appeals to the flesh, rather than the spirit. Those of us in Christendom who are intensely suspicious of the motives of those Christian evangelists who insist that their followers and members must think as they think, must believe as they believe, must vote as they vote, are still clinging to the hope that our sovereign God will intervene to fulfill these biblical promises and prophesies: “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” “Righteousness alone exalts a nation, and sin is a reproach to any people,” “That nation alone is blessed whose God is the Lord,” and “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land.” Who among us can deny that our land needs healing, or that all of us need to repent, turn from our deceitful, divisive, and destructive ways? YES, ALL OF US! We need to repent of our “name-calling”, our denunciation of those with whom we disagree, our insistence that others agree with us (for we need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable). We must be committed to praying more regularly and more fervently for righteousness to prevail, with the understanding that prayers for unity and peace are futile prayers unless there is righteousness in our land, in the relationships that exist in our halls of government, for unity and peace are “by-products” of righteousness. We need to pray especially for our President, but we must be sure we are praying properly.
A few months ago, late May and early June to be exact, a group of conservative evangelists, pastors, and heads of groups commonly identified as “evangelical” (unfortunately, that good word has fallen among thieves, who have stripped it and robbed it of its original meaning) paid for a full-page ad in leading newspapers, calling for a national day of prayer for the President, praying that he would be “strengthened, protected and emboldened.” Personally, I had no problem with such a call to prayer for President Trump. He certainly needs and should have the prayers of all who believe in the efficacy and power of prayer, especially the prayers of “righteous” people” (James 5:16, Proverbs 15:29). As for me, I not only pray for President Trump, but for all our elected and appointed officials at local, state, and national levels, as well as all world leaders, and as a Christian always in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who is “…the head of every ruler and authority” (Colossians 2:10). But the question that came to my mind when I read the call to prayer for our President was asking all to pray that he would not only be protected and strengthened but also “emboldened.” Emboldened to do what? Emboldened to fire or request the resignation of more leaders in government and national agencies? Emboldened to use more demeaning language, more radical rhetoric, in describing other national leaders, including our own allies? Emboldened to post more tweets that alienate and humiliate his own colleagues, including long-serving leaders in our intelligence community? Emboldened to denounce all who refuse to bow down and pledge allegiance to him? Emboldened to deny the reality of climate change and its perilous consequences for planet earth? Emboldened to continue threatening the use of more sanctions, and military force if necessary, to frighten our perceived adversaries into submission? Emboldened to continue using inflammatory language when speaking of women, especially women whose family roots are in other nations, but who have been elected to Congress, while flattering dictators and demagogues who have themselves been bold in their use and abuse of their power and authority? Or, hopefully, emboldened to lead our nation in the way of righteousness, justice, equality, unity, and peace. Emboldened to dare to reach across the aisle to find a way to cooperate and compromise, to discern ways to work together on mutually agreeable plans to help America recover what has been lost, to reclaim the truths and beliefs that enabled our founding fathers to draft documents that were the first of their kind in nation-building, and to work together to make this nation as great in spirit as she is mighty in power.
My friends, forget the illusory phantom dream of “making America great again”, for “great” can mean so many different things for different people of different politics and different persuasions. Forget the fire and zeal behind that slogan, the inflamed nationalism that is really anti-American. Let us pray that America will recover the old values and virtues that made America unique among the nations of this world, unique in purpose, unique in spirit, unique in faith and hope, a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” – a nation of freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to vote, freedom to elect its own representatives in government, a nation proclaiming “equal rights” and “justice for all”, a nation with “freedom of religion”, but with faith in a sovereign God who is the “God of the nations.” Hear the words of Benjamin Franklin, another of our founding fathers, when he was in his eighties: “The longer I live the more convincing proof I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured in the sacred writings that unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. I firmly believe this. Furthermore, without the concurring aid of the Almighty, I am convinced that we will succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” (Genesis 11:1-9). THESE ARE TIMELESS TRUTHS. WE CAN PIN NO DATE ON THEM. THEY ARE AS CURRENT AS TODAY’S HEADLINES. MAKE NO MISTAKE: THESE ARE CHANGING TIMES, BUT SOME THINGS WILL NEVER CHANGE. THEY REMAIN FOREVER TRUE.