Freedom & Challenges

Freedom & Challenges

As I begin my summer sabbatical, here are my main priorities. First, to rest and recharge. Ministry can be taxing and I look forward to this designated period of rest and rejuvenation. Secondly, I want to spend quality time with Megan and my three children. Our kids are growing up very fast and I want to savor the time I have with them. Third, I plan to pray, read, and plan ahead for my fall sermons. The weekly routine of writing sermons is both spiritually rewarding and taxing. Somebody once said, “Sunday comes around often.” I will use this time to plan ahead for the upcoming program year. Lastly, I plan to do some intentional work on a book that I have been putting off. This sabbatical will give me some dedicated time to research and write.

This week, we will all celebrate the Fourth of July – our nation’s 248th birthday. We are certainly blessed to live in the United States of America. Our nation is not perfect, but we do enjoy many freedoms that many in our world long to have – including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A few years ago, I gave a talk to a downtown law firm where I identified five cultural challenges that need spiritual solutions. These challenges remain real, and we need to be aware of them because the church provides hope.

First, we continue to see high levels of emptiness, meaninglessness, and rising deaths of despair. Many Americans do not know their purpose and live mundane lives where they feel ignored, invisible, and unloved. Depression, addiction, and suicide rates remain high.

Second, loneliness and social isolation are still on the rise. University of Florida president Ben Sasse says, “Among epidemiologists, psychiatrists, public health officials, and social scientists, there is a growing consensus that the number one health crisis in America right now is not cancer, not obesity, and not heart disease – it’s loneliness.” Our culture is hyper-connected on screens and disconnected at the same time. Jonathan Haidt has pointed this out in his recent book “The Age of Anxiety.”

Third, extreme polarization and tribalism have led to unprecedented levels of anger and contempt which is fueling resentment throughout the West. This is not just limited to America. Contempt is much more dangerous than disagreement. It is the result of anger and disgust with the opposing side. Social media has made this worse.

Fourth, we are seeing soaring levels of fear and anxiety, especially among our young people. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication are being prescribed to a very large percentage of the population.

Fifth, there seems to be a serious shortage of healthy leaders in our culture who are grounded and well-balanced. I talked about this last Sunday. As politics has evolved into a winner-take-all blood sport, fewer and fewer normal people want to expose their families to the scrutiny and criticism of being a public servant.

A few years ago, Arthur Brooks stood before the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., in front of the President, the House Speaker, Senators, Congressmen, Diplomats, and faith leaders and boldly said the following words: “I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation – and many other nations – today. This is the crisis of contempt – the polarization that is tearing our society apart.” Brooks went on to say that his motivation for addressing the crisis is tied directly to his Christian faith and the words of Jesus who taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven.” Nineteenth-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once defined contempt as, “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.” Contempt ruins relationships, ends marriages, and has the ability to destroy our nation if we are not careful.

Whether Arthur Brooks’ ongoing call to action and civility will make a difference in another heated election year remains to be seen. Christians can help lead the way. What we do know with absolute certainty is that the angry rhetoric, continuous insults, and dehumanization of opponents need to be tempered. What we see in our politics is the opposite of spiritual maturity and human decency. But anybody who takes the words and example of Christ seriously needs to be part of the solution. This must include Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, Baptists and Episcopalians, the young and the old. Civil discourse, intelligent disagreement, and the exchange of competing ideas that have made this nation great for many years are being put to the ultimate test. We plan to model that as a church with a Wednesday night series this fall called, “Faith, Politics, and (In)civility. We are lining up some excellent speakers.

We live in a great nation despite the challenges we face. Always keep that in perspective. Happy Fourth of July to you and your family!