So your life isn’t perfect, but it’s the only one you have…

I’m not sure why I titled this blog as I did, but perhaps it captures the feeling more than the content of what I am going to say. I finished reading through the Bible again. A wonderful discipline that I picked up by example from my dad. I have begun to read in Genesis again and, as is my custom, am using a different version to gain another perspective. It will take me a year and half, but who’s in a hurry?

Over half of Genesis is about Jacob; even the huge section about Joseph is about how God preserved Jacob (Israel) in famine and gave his people favor in the eyes of Pharaoh. However, the life of Jacob from beginning to end is about family dysfunction; favoritism, jealousy, abuse in all forms, rejection, hatred, incest, prostitution, to name just a few. Substance abuse is not specifically mentioned like it was with Noah and Lot, but it would not be much of an interpretive stretch to think that the fruit of the vine may have fermented and fomented much of what we see.

The point? Not much is hidden from us about the individual, familial, and generational sins of God’s Covenant people. And not much should surprise us about our own family history and the patterns of generational sin that we may have uncovered or even experienced. You don’t need to pay money to do an Ancestry,com DNA search to reveal that sin runs deep even in the people of God.

The point? The gospel of God’s gracious act of forgiveness through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (God’s Son, but also a descendent of Jacob through Judah) is the only hope we have of dealing with our individual and generational sins. We cannot undo the things we have done or have been done to us, but we no longer need to be defined by these things and consigned to live a “plan B” life. Through a life of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (daily preaching the gospel to ourselves), we can end patterns of individual sin, forgive others who have sinned against us, and stop the cycle of sin from being passed on to our children and grandchildren. Some of us will need a little extra help in the process and should be encouraged to seek out a Christian counselor. No, our lives won’t be perfect and, yes, we will always have our past, but by God’s grace even our sinful past can be used for His glory and not our shame.

Perhaps a personal example will help clarify what I mean. My mom wrote out some of her painful family remembrances just a few years before she died. It was a 10-page, double-spaced, typewritten document titled, “Where Would I Be Without the Lord?” In this testament she shared about growing up in alcohol-infested family where her parents were in and out of separation so much that she was shipped off to live the first 8 or 9 years of her life with three different aunts. Finally, her mom divorced and remarried another alcoholic (a hotel and bar owner), and mom was brought home to live with 4 step-siblings she had never met. Her mom, my grandmother (Nanny), also had alcohol issues, and would often take her anger out on mom by beating her with a broom and locking her in closets. Unfortunately, Nanny got the same treatment from her husband when he was drunk. Mom described one incident where he dragged Nanny up the stairs by her hair and then threw her back down. I will spare you other awful details.

My mom became a nurse and married my dad when he got out of the Army. My dad had issues of his own, which were also alcohol related. My two sisters and brother were born, and four years before I was born my mom and dad came to believe the gospel applied to them and became followers of Christ; at 34 and 36 respectively. It did not change their past or the things done by them or to them, but it did change the way they interpreted those things and how they chose to respond to them. My mom, in particular, was the most kind and gentle person you could imagine. You would definitely want her for your nurse if you were sick. She was a wonderful mother who never laid a finger on me or any of my siblings. She reversed the curse and ended the cycle of abuse and rejection with which she had lived. She loved and respected her mom throughout the rest of Nanny’s life. Mom also had a chance to reconcile with her own father (who sold her crib for booze) when she requested to take care of him as his nurse in a convalescent home where he was dying. My dad also made a 180 with alcohol and became one of the most ardent evangelists (he was a cop) you would ever want to meet.

This was the family I grew up in. My sisters became believers and married godly men. They each have four children who love Jesus and they have in turn begotten twenty-three grand and great grandchildren. My brother who passed away many years ago chose not to embrace the faith and yet had seven wonderful children who have in turn produced thirteen grand and great grand kids. Finally, Gloria and I have five kids and seven grandchildren.

The point? Fifty-six people (this is not even including the spouses of the children /grandchildren who have married into the McDowell family) whose lives have been directly affected by my parents becoming believers in Jesus and choosing to follow a new direction in life not defined by their past; “to the third and fourth generation.”

So on this Memorial Day, let us remember those who have served our country by giving their lives in sacrifice. Perhaps you have someone in your own family who has paid that price. We would also do well to remember the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross as the price for redeeming us from sin. Our life may not be perfect, but it is the only one we have. By God’s grace let us learn to deal with our sin in the light of Christ’s forgiveness.  Let us also choose not to be defined by our past, but by how God can use it to help others and glorify himself.

I cannot change the past but I can learn from it… 

I will not fear the future because I cannot control it…

I will gladly live in the present, for that is the arena in which my trust in God is displayed and his glory through me is revealed. 

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Blessed Ascension Day!

Today the Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord Jesus “into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” (The Apostle’s Creed).  Most of us find little practical importance in this, especially since the week isn’t even over and we have so much left to do before we get to the weekend. I suppose it is our human-centered tendency to demand that a great theological truth has to be meaningful to us before we consider it. I also realize that I tend to be most overwhelmed by life when I am most “underwhelmed” by God.

So, don’t beat yourself up. Let me give you a simple meditation on the Ascension of our Lord. I have arranged an acrostic (A S C E N D) to guide us in this meditation so here it goes:

A rrange a place for us. John 14:2, 3 – “In my Father’s House are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you also may be where I am.”  We are not sure what this preparation consists of or what kind of place it will be, but the very fact that Jesus said this assures us that our final home in heaven will be with Him. When you or a Christian loved one faces death, isn’t this truth far more important than the latest news from the White House?

S ession. This old term used to mean “the act of sitting down,” and it contains the thought of Hebrews 10:11, 12:  “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifice, which can never take away sin.  But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”  By design, there were no chairs upon which a priest could sit in the Jewish Temple.  This was because the priest’s job was never finished since sin could not be ultimately dealt with through animal sacrifices.  But when Jesus Christ, who is both the final Sacrifice for sin and the Priest that makes that sacrifice, completed his work on the cross, He sat down in heaven. This means that all the work needed to obtain our salvation was finished.  There is no longer any sacrifice for sin (Heb.10:18). For what I am powerless to do (save myself) God did for me “by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3).

C oming Again.  In Acts 1, the angel told the disciples that Jesus would return in the same way he had been taken. Hebrews 9:27, 28 – “Just as man is destined to die once and after that face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”  At Christ’s return our mortal bodies, whether dead or alive, will be changed into glorified spiritual bodies and our salvation will be complete. Thus without the Ascension, there is no second coming; and without the second coming there is no resurrection from the dead; and without the resurrection, there is no hope.

E xalted over all Creation. Jesus is at the right hand of God, which indicates that he has received authority over all creation. “Jesus Christ…has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand- with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:22). “God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in this present age but also in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:20-23). The Ascension is seen in Scripture as the coronation or enthronement of Jesus as King over the universe. The right hand of God is a position of honor and power (Ps. 110:1).  Satan once tried to tempt Jesus to attain the kingship of this world without suffering and death. However, Christ refused and was faithful, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).  Jesus is now is the supreme ruler of the cosmos and all heavenly creatures are continuously worshipping him (Rev.5:8-14). All authority has been given unto him in heaven and earth, and that is why we go and make disciples of all nations, spreading the gospel of the kingdom of God revealed in Christ. That is why in most Byzantine Churches there was an icon of Christ Pantokrator– Ruler over all.

N egotiate on our behalf. Romans 8:34 – “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died- more than that, who was raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Negotiate is probably not the best word but I had to find a synonym for intercede that started with an “N.”   Jesus’ ascension into heaven means that he is using all of his authority to represent you and me before the Father (Heb.9:24).  In 1 John 2:1, we read “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” Jesus is called our Advocate- paracletos– one who speaks to the Father in our defense. Although Christ has completed the priestly work of sacrifice, his work as our Mediator before God continues. Would you rather have more money or know you are forgiven by God?

D ispense the Holy Spirit. John 16:7 – “It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  What Jesus said here has always intrigued me.  It almost seems like he was saying that it would be better for us that he leave us and goes back to heaven, so that the Holy Spirit could come. Why was it important that Jesus leave and the HS come? What would it be like to have Jesus still physically present on earth, but no Holy Spirit dwelling in you or the Church? I’ll let you think about that.

PRAYER:  God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for the mystery and beauty of the story of Jesus’ return to you. We praise you for reminding the disciples and us, that when the Lord Jesus returns for us is none of our business, so that we can concentrate on being your witnesses where we live and to the ends of the earth.  We thank you for the men and women through whom the gospel is being proclaimed around the world and who are serving the poor and suffering in your Name. Help us to find great joy that our Lord Jesus is sitting on his throne next to yours, especially as we face the battles of our daily lives.  Thank you that he is preparing a place for us as well as praying for us and protecting us. Thank you also that he will return for us and will someday bring perfect justice into this unjust world.  Thank you for giving us your Holy Spirit to help us live in our homes, schools, jobs, and church in such a way that pleases you. In the name of our ascended Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. AMEN.

Is this the greatest Easter painting of all time? – Mike Frost

http://mikefrost.net/homepage/greatest-easter-painting-time/

An Ash Wednesday Meditation: “Incline our Hearts, O Lord…”

In Psalm 119:33-40, the Psalmist recognizes his complete dependency upon God to do for him what he cannot do for himself. This is nowhere more clearly stated than in v. 36, “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to covetousness.”

There are two things gleaned from this verse to consider on this Ash Wednesday, the day when we publicly declare our frailty and sin, as well as the hope of forgiveness that we have in the cross of Jesus Christ:

1)  In this verse there is a clear recognition of our sinful condition and corruption; that we are not naturally inclined to the things of God. David asks God to incline or bend his heart, which is not inclined to the law of God and not to leave him to his natural bent, which is to covetousness. (cf. Ps 141:4)

There are things towards which we are naturally inclined, but they are not the things of God. Paul’s depiction of the human condition in Romans 3 is hauntingly accurate; not only is there “no one righteous, no not one,” but there is “no one who understands or seeks after God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, no not one.” The Scripture is filled with examples of those who followed the natural inclinations of their hearts to covetousness at the expense of love and obedience to God:

  • Balaam whose desire for earthly gain caused him to rebel against the very strong warnings of God.
  • Ahab, whose desire for power blinded him to prophetic warnings and drove him to murderously possess what wasn’t his.
  • David, whose covetousness took the form of lust and brought sexual dysfunction into his family.
  • Achan, whose covetousness led him to steal and bring death to his family.
  • Judas, whose greed led him to betray our Lord Jesus and bring overwhelming guilt to himself.
  • Gehazi, whose greed led him to misuse his authority, lie to Elisha, and inherit Naaman’s leprosy.

This is why we believe (must believe) that God is sovereign in salvation and it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that anyone can overcome the inclinations of their own corrupt hearts and come to faith.

Jesus said, “This is why I told you that no one can come unto me me unless my Father draw him.” (John 6); “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 16); “Unless a man is born again, he cannot perceive the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3) Also, in Acts 16 we read, “And the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying.” (Acts 16)

And so, the Psalmist acknowledges the natural corruption and crookedness of his own heart and asks that he be bent in a God-ward direction. “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to covetousness.”  I think David put this request in another way when in deep repentance he cries out in Ps 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me.”

2) The second thing I glean from Ps 119:36 is that we need to be vigilant and pay close attention to the condition of our souls, even as believers. Paul warned the Ephesian Elders to “pay attention to yourselves and to your flock” and told Timothy to “pay attention to yourself and to your teaching.”

The reason is, once again, that even as believers (those for whom Christ died) we are still engaged in a struggle between the flesh and the Spirit; between the law of sin in our members and the law of our mind; between the things towards which we are naturally inclined and the things of God. St Augustine and Martin Luther both described our natural inclination as incurvatus in se, to be curved in upon ourselves. We are naturally drawn to those things which are a means to the end of satisfying and glorifying ourselves. SELF- the greatest enemy of the follower of Christ which is why we are told to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ. SELF- is the greatest enemy of the church; a failure to consider others above ourselves. SELF- the greatest enemy of relationships, especially marriage where I have learned that the opposite of love is not HATE, it is SELF!

There are a thousand forms of covetousness which flow out of our self-preoccupation and which dis-incline us to love and obey God:

“You cannot love God and mammon… you cannot serve two masters.” (Matt 6) “But the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Mk 4) “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Tim 6) “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me…” (2 Tim 4)

Summary:

And so, we must come to the place along with the Psalmist and daily ask God to bend our hearts to His testimonies so we might listen, turn our eyes away from worthless things, and to love our God with our whole heart. This is the way of repentance, not just for today, but every day it should be our constant prayer; that our hearts be bent towards God, towards love and good works, and away from the natural inclination to love ourselves. If we are not vigilant in this repentance, then the weeds will grow and will begin to choke out the very life of God from our souls and make us unfruitful.

I will lift up my hands into your commandments which I have loved. Open my eyes and I shall see, incline my heart and I shall desire, order my steps and I shall walk in the way of your commandments.

O Lord, be my God, and let there be no other before you. Grant me to worship you and serve you according to your commandments: with truth in my spirit, with reverence in my body, with the blessing upon my lips – both in private and in public…

Help me to overcome evil with good, to be free from the love of money, and to be content with what I have. Help me to speak the truth in love, to be desirous not to lust, or to walk after the lusts of my flesh.

O Lord, help me: To bruise the serpent’s head. To consider the end of my days. To cut off occasions to sin…To make a covenant with my eyes. To bring my body into subjection. To give myself to prayer. To come to repentance. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 (A Prayer by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, 1555-1628)

Could I Endure Torture?

I wanted to share with you some thoughts about an article I read in the most recent Voice of the Martyr’s magazine. Ashamedly, I have often become inured to a lot of the stories I hear about the plight of persecuted Christians around the world. However, the Lord used this particular article to stir my heart and I wanted to share that with you.

The article was titled “Do Not Fear” and the author wrote about two people in Muslim countries who were arrested, interrogated, and jailed for their Christian faith. The first was a man by the name of Hussein (not his real name), who was a leader of a house church. He was arrested and jailed, and became very anxious about what he would say at his coming interrogation. Would he break and reveal the names of other Christians? As he obsessed about this in prayer, he was overcome with the sense of God’s presence with him in that solitary cell. “I was in the presence of Jesus, and I was praying more boldly and confidently (recognizing) that Jesus had brought me there for a purpose. To hear God, like you hear water or anything else, I heard God…Jesus said to me, ‘There is no need for you to say anything because I am going to tell you what to say. Why are you afraid?'”

Hussein is still in prison, but he has experienced the favor of some of his guards and been given some amazing opportunities to share the gospel with other prisoners, especially some who will probably be executed.

The second account was about a woman named Shani, whose husband had already been arrested as a leader of a house church. For three months she had no word as to his whereabouts or even what the charges were that were filed against him. She knew her husband would not break, but could not imagine herself ever being arrested or interrogated. One night she prayer, “Dear God, please don’t allow them to find me. I can’t handle torture. I can’t handle a jail cell. You said you would not give us more than we can handle, so please make them not come and arrest me.” Have you ever prayed a similar prayer about something you feared?

The very next morning she was awakened by the police who arrested her and carted her off to jail. She remembers saying to the Lord, “Whatever happens now, God, it’s your fault.” That night they came and pulled her out of her cell into the interrogation room. A man sat across the table from her and angrily began to question why she evangelized; why she talked to Muslims about Jesus and what she and her husband hoped to gain from this illegal activity. Suddenly she felt a peace come over her as she looked at the man and said, “I have a right to evangelize and I am happy to do it. This is a commandment from Jesus Christ. Everyone needs to hear this good news. You need to hear this good news. God sent me here to tell you about Jesus. You are a poor man. I feel bad for you. You don’t have peace, you don’t have joy, you don’t have hope. You don’t even know why you are alive. The only way to truth is Jesus Christ. You are an interrogator, but one day you are going to stand before the ultimate judge, Jesus Christ, and he is going to examine you. Without him, you have no hope. And Jesus is going to ask you why you did these things to his servants.”

She couldn’t believe she said all that and neither could the interrogator who sent her back to her cell and told her he would deal with her later. In her cell that night she felt she had made a serious mistake and decided she would apologize to the interrogator the next time and take it all back. Two more times she was dragged before the same man with the intent of apologizing to him, and each time the Holy Spirit led her to share the gospel with him. On the fourth night, he came to her cell and said, “How did you know that my life is so crazy? I’ve tried everything in my religion and I could never seem to be happy. I learned from you that the only savior is Jesus Christ. When you were talking in the interrogation room, that really wasn’t you. I saw myself in God’s presence. Please help me to be saved.”

The article concludes by saying, “Maybe you have prayed prayers like Shani’s: Lord I can’t handle cancer. Lord, I can’t work for this difficult boss one more day. God, I can’t handle a rebellious teenager. Lord, I can’t endure the betrayal of my unfaithful spouse or the possibility of parenting alone. Shani told God that she couldn’t handle arrest…yet three times this seemingly timid, fearful woman shared the gospel with her interrogator.” And a fearful Hussein was given the comfort and peace of the Holy Spirit as he faced his tormentors.

So, it is really not about us and our fears, or about whether we could endure torture or suffering for for our faith or whether we would lose our courage, is it? It is really about the power of the Holy Spirit working through us in situations that we would never chose for ourselves. “It is about the Holy Spirit giving us the words to say or the ability to forgive or an opportunity to tell someone what Jesus has done for us.” This is why the Bible tell us on 366 occasions “don’t be afraid.” As Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of VOM, once said, “366 times, not merely 365, to account for leap year.” DON’T BE AFRAID!

Curious George and Current Events…

My granddaughter, Davy, loves Curious George; a mischievous little monkey belonging to “the man in the yellow hat” named Ted (I bet you didn’t know that was his name). Almost every time she comes to my house we watch an episode or two (or more) together. There was one particular episode in which Ted was the scoutmaster for the Little Sprouts  and took them for a hike in the woods. They got lost after relying on a young assistant leader’s GPS,  and so Ted told George to climb up a tall tree and look around so he could help locate where they were.

In Psalm 121:1, 2 the writer says, ” I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” The opening verses of this Song of Ascent could be understood in two ways. One interpretation is that the hills were recognized as a place of idolatry and thus “looking unto the hills” could represent a dependency on humanly created instruments of salvation and deliverance. The writer affirms that his reliance is upon the Lord. An other interpretation says that the hills represented the holy hill of Zion (Jerusalem) where the Temple was built and where God “dwelt.” Thus “looking unto the hills” in this case meant acknowledging God as The Psalmist’s ultimte source of deliverance.  Both interpretations land us in the same place; in the midst of the circumstances that surround us we should not place our confidence and hope in any form of human deliverance, but only in God who is good, merciful, and sovereign. However, to do this we must “lift up our eyes” (or go climb a tree with George) and look for God above our circumstances.

Why is it that we don’t lift up our eyes and look for God? I think it is because of our pride and self-sufficiency. Perhaps we think we know what is best and conclude that we can figure things out. We are often like a child who thinks she knows how to put on her coat even though she can’t and has a fit if you try and help her. And so we like stubborn children close in upon ourselves and live in a world where things begin and end with us and with our interpretation of reality.

I’m reminded of the testimony of Chuck Colson’s conversion. Colson, a former Marine captain and Special Counsel to Richard Nixon, was convicted and sent to prison for complicity in the Watergate scandel of the 1970’s.  He was given a copy of CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity and was overpowered by this quote: “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free…the vice I’m talking about is Pride…. Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people, and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see somethng that is above you.”

If I might be so bold as to make an observation about how many people have framed their joy or disappointment at the outcome of the recent election. As Christians, we can often be guilty of failing to lift up our eyes and see what is above us. We can easily demonstrate pride and self-sufficiency when we see only what we want to see; refuse to listen to  an other perspective; and, most of all, fail to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and power. I am deeply concerned that many have chosen to drumroll their political views at the risk of hindering their effectiveness in sharing the gospel and/or of sacrificing their relationships within the Body of Christ.

When I had a church in Massachusetts, in a very liberal college town, I chose never to put a political sign on my lawn or sticker on my car. I stuck with this decision even when one of my elders decided to run for Congress against a very liberal (notice I don’t use the word progressive) encumbent. Though I voted for my dear brother, who lost in a landslide, I was most concerned that if I wore my political leanings on my lawn or bumper, my neighbors would pigeon-hole me politically and reject the gospel for reasons other than the gospel.

It is no secret that I am very concerned about the character and rhetoric of our President-elect. I am also very concerned about the cultural vitriol being expressed for him and against him. I understand the variety of reasons for why many evangelicals voted for Trump; not all are sexist, racist, and ethnocentrists. However, I also understand the pain of many minority Christians who are very concerned and fearful because they have experienced these -ists first hand.

I believe that when we lift up our eyes to our God and reaffirm our dependency upon him and our commitment to the gospel, we will see that our main concern as evangelicals should not be whether we won or lost politically, but how we treat the broken and suffering people around us; both in the Church and those in our culture who are truly “lost.” We also will come to see that racism and sexism are spiritual issues embedded deep in the hearts and systems of all humanity, which is why we need a savior…why I need a savior!

Let us once again hear the prophetic voice: “Look unto me and be saved all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other” (Isa 45:22).

The Presidential Campaign: God Have Mercy upon Us!

If the following post seems familiar, it is because I am reblogging a post written 3 months ago. I think that much of the content is relevant to the upcoming election and that is why I changed only the title.

This past July 4th, I was re-reading the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution written eleven years later; amazing documents. While many consider them to be “inspired,” they are not inerrant; the 28 amendments to the Constitution are witness to that. Also the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments in particular prove that the Constitution has blind spots and must supported by something more if it going to provide the foundation for continuing freedom.

Os Guiness has written in A Free Peoples Suicide that there are many people in America today who scorn religious fundamentalism but are hard at work creating “a constitutional fundamentalism. It is being done through lawyers and judges rather than rabbis, priests, and pastors. Constitutional and unconstitutional have replaced orthodox and heretical.”  First amendment rights are being argued as the basis for opposing agendas and the interpretation of the Constitution itself is at the whim of political bias. Thus this incredible document alone cannot form the foundation for sustainable freedom. It needs to be supported by something else.

Guinness offers; “What the framers believed should complement and reinforce the Constitution and its separation of powers is the distinctive moral ecology that is at the heart of liberty.” Tocqueville called this moral ecology the “habits of the heart.” Guinness calls it “the golden triangle of freedom…freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom.”

What resonates with me, mostly because we have been assaulted by months of political campaigning and debates, is the diminishing importance of virtue (character) that we see in our nation. We stress a written Constitution over the moral constitution of our nation’s citizenry and leadership. Unfortunately, examples of this are not hard to find.

Look at the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 when he was the sitting president. He was not convicted by the Senate of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”(Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution), and the overall consensus to the whole “affair” was that the character of the president was irrelevant as a public issue. What really matters to our society is competence– not character.  Look at the unrestrained greed and unfettered capitalism  of the Wall Street crisis and the recession of 2008. Look at the present political scenario and the upcoming election that will boil down to which untrustworthy candidate America trusts more. Our nation has sown the wind by making faith and virtue a private matter; it is now reaping the whirlwind of having two presidential candidates with serious personality flaws.

George Reedy, special assistant to Lyndon Johnson looked back on his experience in the halls of power and said, “in the White House, character and personality are extremely important because there are no other limitations…. Restraint must come from within the presidential soul and prudence from the presidential mind. The adversary forces which temper the action of others do not come into play until it is too late to change course.”(The Twilight of the Presidency, 1970, p. 20)

In spite of their importance, experience and competence are not the most important ingredients to what we should look for in a leader. We need a person of character who has demonstrated trustworthiness in his/her private world as well as in the public square. It is not the rhetoric or the promises for the future, but it is what they have done about keeping their promises in the past, both privately and publicly.

I think Os Guinness borders on the profound when he says, “Externally character is the bridge that provides the point of trust that links leaders with their followers. Internally, character is the part-gyroscope, part-brake that provides a leader’s deepest source of bearings and strongest source of restraint when the dizzy heights of leadership mean there are no other limitations.”

Our Constitution is a magnificent document and we can be thankful for it. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that our nation can be sustained by a document alone without the virtue of its leaders and citizenry. “A good government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual and slavery will ensue.” (John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.)

Vote your conscience and may God have mercy on America!