The year is 54 A.D. Claudius has just died: whether from natural causes or poison is uncertain. The Empire experiences its typical convulsions during the transition from one emperor to the next. Whom will the Imperial Guard support? It had almost singlehandedly brought Claudius to power when, finding him hiding in the palace after the death of Caligula and almost as a joke, it hailed him as the new Caesar. Will the army be loyal to the next emperor? Intrigue abounds. The purple falls to Nero. Hope returns to Rome.
Early one morning, I went down to the basement looking for my dad. Only the stairwell light was lit, and upon reaching the bottom step I stopped, unsure whether to continue. I heard a low murmur, words that I could not make out. I crept around the corner and saw him kneeling against a dining room chair. He heard my approach and said quietly, "Son, I’m praying. Can you come back later?"
Thursday’s shooting at Northern Illinois University is another in a long line of unspeakable tragedies in our nation’s schools. I do not know where the final blame will be laid, but I am virtually certain that the combined forces of parental grief, public outrage, and political chicanery will produce shallow analysis, easy scapegoats, and more useless legislation. Authorities will quickly line up the usual suspects: lax gun laws, violence in the media, medication gone haywire, and lack of security on school campuses.
The very suggestion that the world may be getting better may strike you as unbelievably foolish. For some pastors and theologians, if it could be proven that the world is in fact getting better, their ministries and messages would collapse, and that in itself is deemed a sufficient reason to refuse consideration to such a ludicrous idea. But I will go on record as affirming my conviction that the world is getting better, as difficult to believe as it may be.
The Christian faith makes the most remarkable claim ever heard. Through faith in Jesus Christ, a man, any man, the most evil man in the world, can be immediately, fully, and eternally forgiven of his sins. He need add nothing to the finished work of Jesus Christ - no good deeds, mystical encounter with God, rite, or ritual. He need only confess himself to be a justly condemned and helpless sinner before the holy God, that his only hope is in the mercy of God freely offered and given through Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ is Lord, his only hope in life and death.
"The disciple is not above his teacher, nor the servant above his Lord." I first gave serious consideration to these words in college, and, quite frankly, they shook me to the depths of my soul. Jesus’ life, I knew, was not one of ease and comfort. If anything, he was the busiest man who ever lived. It is impossible to estimate the number of sermons he preached, the miracles he performed, or the private visits from concerned men and women that often occupied him into the wee hours of the morning.
We are regularly confronted with men who feel quite competent to tell us what is wrong with the world. If we only had more educational programs for the poor, after school care for children of single parents, a more effective UN presence in oppressed nations, then crime, poverty, and ignorance could be defeated. Conservatives tells us that government is the problem, out of control spending, high taxation, and globalism. More sensitive souls identify racism, prejudice, environmental abuse, and hatred as the source of the evils in the world.
The route of God’s covenant in the lives of our children is often circuitous. We would certainly prefer straight-line development: parental diligence in instruction and love during their youth, a textbook commitment to God on their part, and growing interest and diligence in pursuing a calling as teens and young adults, resulting in careful life-preparation, the ability to marry before the pursuit of marriage, and a final settlement into a Christian home of their own.
I often fear that a great deal of our talk about improving the world is really an excuse to avoid improving ourselves. It is much easier to find fault in others and entertain grand delusions about the way we would do things if we were in charge than it is to face the hard truth about our own lives, families, and congregations. Certainly there is much fault to be found in the world, especially if we believe there is a standard of truth to which all are accountable.
It does not matter in the least who becomes the next President of the United States. There are some very obvious reasons for this. First, the political frenzy associated with next year’s election is purely media driven. Anything driven by mass media is intrinsically meaningless. Mass media is not concerned with educating the populace or generating serious discussion but with making money, advancing its own agenda, and excluding serious thinking and interchange from public discourse.