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America’s Biggest Problem

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Health care reform is an urgent issue. Millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured. While there are differences about what role government ought to play in health care, there is nearly universal agreement about the need for reform. Yet health care reform is not our biggest problem.

The financial crisis that resulted from the collapse of the housing bubble has led to a worldwide recession. In the United States, unemployment has risen into double digits, and many people have stopped receiving unemployment benefits because they have been so long without a job. Home foreclosures continue at an alarming rate, and occupations once considered secure, still face further cuts. Yet the economic crisis is not our biggest problem.

Since the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, we have fought to contain and eventually eliminate terrorism. Our efforts have certainly curtailed terrorist activities, yet we still face massive military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In exchange for security we have given up personal freedoms we once held dear. Yet neither terrorism nor the loss of our freedoms is our biggest problem.

Our biggest problem is the oldest in history. It has been with us since the founding of our nation and will continue until history itself comes to an end. America’s biggest problem is sin.

Some people when they hear “sin” think immediately of sexual immorality. This sort of sin has been so long derided by our media that hardly anyone thinks of it as sin any more. As destructive as sexual immorality is to our health and to our future, it is not what I mean by “sin.”

Other people think of the long and varied list of things good Christians are not supposed to do: drinking, dancing, smoking, gambling, and using recreational drugs. Those who assiduously avoid such things certainly appear to have some form of godliness or holiness, but it’s a form our media have mocked until the very concept of godliness seems quaint, like the plain-style furnishings you can buy from Amish retailers. Neither is this what I mean by “sin”

I think of sin the way Heidegger thought of being thrown: it pervades our human condition. By the time we become aware of it, we are already guilty. If we look at the archetypal sin, the first one committed in the Garden (Genesis 3), there is nothing inherently immoral about it. Adam and Eve did not break any law that we would recognize as universal today. They didn’t steal of kill or lie or destroy. All they did was eat what God had forbidden, and they did so under provocation from a tempter who filled their heads with visions of God-like grandeur. What was so damnable about that?

In fact, the sin I mean is what we Americans regard as our greatest virtue. It is our independence from God. Throughout our history, we have been torn between our near idolization of independence and our acknowledgment of God (even the feeble, antiseptic acknowledgment permitted by our modern understanding of religious freedom under the Constitution). Our independence of God is our biggest problem.

Our prophets, instead of calling for national repentance, are too busy casting stones at their political enemies. Since we are evidently reaping the harvest of our greed, why are there so few Christian leaders calling for repentance and urging the church to serve those most injured by it? Why so few warnings about future judgment? Do we really think we can indefinitely postpone the payment for our sins? That the bill for the billions we are borrowing now to stave off depression will not come due at a most inopportune time?

Let us repent. The problems we have are of our own making. We have tried to do good on our own without God’s wisdom and guidance. Now we are trying to correct our mistakes without admitting our guilt or asking for help. Let us repent as a nation. Let those of us who believe in God turn to him on behalf of those who do not. Let us stop castigating our political opponents and acknowledge that we ourselves have been guilty of independence from God. Let us plead for his mercy and grace. Let us serve the poor and share with those in need. Let us practice true religion (James 1:27). A humble, penitent, obedient church might once again display the power of God to a watching world.

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Parable of the Demons

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The church was overcoming the darkness. The kingdom of heaven was advancing. So Satan held a council of war to determine the best way to defeat the church.
“Who will devise a strategy to stop this troublesome church?” asked Satan.
A cruel-looking demon stepped forward. His flesh was covered with ulcerated sores, and his face was hideously deformed. When he spoke it sounded like acid dripping on hot stones.
“I will persecute the church,” he said. “I will put them to death and beat them and hound them from place to place. I will imprison them and cause them to suffer for daring to side with our Enemy.”
“No!” said a smooth, reasonable voice, and another demon stepped forward. He was a handsome devil, worldly and urbane. “When you persecute the church, she grows stronger. Listen to me. I will give them what they want most.”
“What will you give them?” asked Satan.
“I will give them respectability,” said the debonair demon. “I will cause them to be esteemed in their community. I will flatter them with honor and respect until they love the praises of men more than the praises of our Enemy. Before long they will not dare to do anything uncivilized or risk losing their respectability.”
“Yes,” agreed Satan. “Go and do as you have said.”
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An Uncommon Book of Prayer

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I’ve read a lot of books about prayer. Years ago I read Rosalind Rinker’s Prayer: Conversing With God, one of many books to describe prayer as a conversation rather than a ritual observance. More recently, I read Steve Brown’s Approaching God: How to Pray. Despite the how-to subtitle, I didn’t find it to be a very practical guide. It didn’t address the fundamental issues that cause prayerlessness.

Paul Miller knows why we pray and why we don’t. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World is absolutely the best book on prayer I have ever come across. Miller, using compelling examples from his own life as well as scriptural teaching, shows us why we need to pray, why we don’t pray, and how to pray.

He begins with establishing child-like trust, moves on to how cynicism undermines that trust, and explains how to overcome cynicism by deconstructing its allure and false promises. A lot of prayer is petition, and petitioning—asking—is the very thing we find hardest to do. Complaining, “dialoguing,” soul-searching, and even praising are all easier to do because they don’t require trusting God. We can do them even if no one is listening. So Miller wisely focuses on asking and examines why we don’t ask and what we fail to ask for.

Finally, Miller integrates prayer into the story of God. Every life is a story, and prayer can make that story exciting and compelling if we let it. He concludes with some practical suggestions for helping us gain our Father’s perspective on our story through prayer cards and journaling.

This book has transformed the way I think about prayer, and I have already begun to put it’s suggestions into practice. It has also helped build my faith as I have seen real needs met and real prayers answered. A must-read for anyone interested in prayer. Even non-Christians would benefit from understanding the fundamental difference between prayer as the desperate cry of an overwhelmed child and prayer as ritual observance. Get this book, read it, and pray.

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