The Land of the Free

This year we will celebrate a Great Experiment that began two hundred and thirty six years ago, based on the inspired and inspiring idea that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are a divinely given right afforded to all.

Considering the backdrop before which Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Revolutionary co-authors gave this principle its first written expression, the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” were not only treasonous, they were staggering! The scope of this declaration is breathtaking, not only in its prose, but in its ramifications.  Whatever your background, wherever you live –  from sea to shining sea, whether you’re red or yellow, black or white (or any color in between), whatever your station in life, these words speak of a fundamental, qualitative equality, an essential dignity in all people, and every person’s freedom and right to build a life that is meaningful and satisfying.  These are rights granted to and inherent in all – and they are truths that are held to be self-evident.

The fact that such ideals are at the root of our American society give us reason to celebrate, and to pause. Such freedom comes at a cost, and for so many of us, that cost was paid by another who was willing to make tremendous sacrifice on our behalf. How much the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and all who would fight for the liberation of this land were willing to sacrifice is humbling, to say the least. And while thinking on these things is enough to illicit a strong sense of gratitude, they also compel me to consider the God Who bestows upon us the unalienable rights that so many have died to protect.  On a grander scale, there is another powerful force seeking to hold us under its tyrannical sway, namely that of sin.  And in truly heroic fashion, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice in our place that we might experience liberation on a level that has the potential to impact every area of our lives, and even our society as a whole!

These are lofty ideas to consider, and they are worthy of regular remembrance.  The task of building the kind of nation that our Founding Fathers sought to build would be accomplished through tremendous effort, and by the providential hand of God.  History records the daily and desperate prayers of these brave men, whose signatures on the Declaration was akin to the signing of their own death warrants. The storied events that would follow describe a nation and its leaders whose dependence upon the Lord was often met with miraculous response from the Almighty.  I’d direct you to American historian David Barton (www.wallbuilders.com) to read of the incredible workings of God in these formative years.  We would certainly do well to seek Him in our day with the same measure of trust and fervency that they did in theirs!

The foundations that our nation stands upon are not only strong, but they are good.  The principles that were laid down as a path for our course are enduring, because their roots tap the deep river of eternal truth.  The quote had been ascribed to Alexis de Tocqueville (though there is question as to his having penned it. Nevertheless, I believe the adage itself is still sound), that America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.  Observant parties might disagree on our current place on the moral spectrum, but one thing is for sure, that God will honor a nation that honors Him (Cp. Psalm 33:12).

May God shed His grace on us, stand beside us and guide us through the night with a light from above.

God bless America!

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This is My Father’s World

Though I went to church as a kid, I didn’t grow up in a tradition where we heard many hymns. That said, over the years I’ve grown to take quite a liking to many of these vintage treasures.  Names like Fanny Crosby, Robert Robinson and Horatio Spafford and their timeless works have become more and more familiar to this late-comer.  Some joyous, others haunting, yet most strangely familiar, I’ve found that there is something that resonates within me as I hear and sing the time-proven melodies, as they paint a vibrant picture of the various aspects of the nature of God.

Just take a moment to consider these words from Maltbie Babcock:

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.  
This is my Father’s world, I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their maker’s praise.  
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear him pass; He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.  
This is my Father’s world: why should my heart be sad?  
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!

I’m moved by ideas like these – affected at the thought of a creation that worships God not only as creator and Lord, but as Father. He is powerful, He is mighty, He is creative, and yet He is even more…

There is a familiar story in Scripture that also paints a very particular kind of picture of God. It is the story of the prodigal son. In the story, a father has two sons, one of whom, the younger, requests his inheritance in advance, and then goes on to quickly squander it all on short-lived, sinful pleasures.  Upon coming to his senses, this son begins to make his way back home, hat in hand and tail between his legs. What he hoped for upon his return was just to be allowed back home as a servant – certainly he couldn’t expect to be received again as a son!  What he never anticipated was that his father would be watching and waiting, in the hope that his wayward son would come back to him. The picture is a dramatic one, and is intended to help us see what the heart of God is truly like.  (There is certainly a lesson to be learned from the older son as well, but that may a be a topic for another time!)

Jesus spoke of God as our Father, even encouraging us to address Him in prayer in the most warm and comfortable of terms (Believe it or not, “Father” in Jesus’ well-known prayer in Matt. 5 comes from an Aramaic word which might well be translated “Daddy”).  Thinking of God in this way is unfamiliar, and even uncomfortable to many, but by the Son’s own invitation, it ought not be.  The Bible describes God, not as a cold, distant creator Who is uninterested in the affairs of mankind, but rather as a loving Father Who is interested enough to know us each by name, has promised to provide our needs and Who has even numbered the hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:30).  God so loves us, that He sent His Son into the world to repair the bridge burned by our waywardness, so that we too might be able to come home.

I have a great earthly father, a good man whom any son or daughter would be thankful for (Happy Father’s Day, dad!). I’m grateful for him.  And I also have another Father, a Heavenly Father, the object of so many of the songs in the genre I’ve mentioned; songs who’s appeal to me, I think, have to do with their power to bring me into a deeper consideration of Him. And as I reflect upon the open arms that my Father has extended to me, I find that I’m very, very thankful for Him.

Integrity

School’s out!  Summer’s here and the time is right for….well, swimming, summer camp, family vacations, slumber parties and in general, carefree living for the next few months or so (for the kids anyway.)

I used to live for summertime.  Truth be told, I was never really a great student as a kid, and so the thought of a 90-day “homework-release program” suited me just fine.  I was free – and not only from book reports and algebra tests, but also from the other pressures that often follow us throughout so much of our growing years.  Like a lot of young people, I was not only anything but a grade A student, but I was also never the star athlete, never first chair in band, never class president. I did, however, make the dean’s list once (ok, not the good one.) And, like so many kids trying to find their place, what I lacked in scholastic or athletic ability, I certainly did not lack in the desire to find a way to become popular…to be considered special.  For young people, there is such a danger in the temptation to compromise character in the pursuit of popularity.

Thankfully those years eventually pass into memory, and in time we become comfortable in our own skins.  But still, I have to say that I really don’t envy kids today.  As often as any time in history (if not more), young people have a desire to find and to be that which is authentic and real.  By contrast, and so similar to our own experience (if not much more), they are pounded with peer-pressure to conform.  What can a young man or woman do to survive with their integrity intact?

In the Old Testament book of Daniel (chapter 3), we meet three young men who were teenagers when they were carried off as captives to a foreign land called Babylon.  God had blessed them with health and wisdom, and consequently they were offered places of prominence as servants of that nation’s king.  However, in time, circumstances (and the king’s heart) changed and these three friends found themselves in a situation that tested what they were truly made of.  They were literally confronted with an ultimatum to get with the program (conform)…or die by being thrown into a fiery furnace. Talk about a “peer-pressure-cooker!”

Now, considering their circumstances, why not give in – and fit in?  After all, who would know?  And besides, “What happens in Babylon stays in Babylon,” right?  But “fitting in” meant casting off their character and, most importantly, denying the Lord Who had been faithful to them in so many ways.  While they clearly saw the high cost of non-conformity, they also recognized the much higher cost of compromise, and so they refused to give in…and were thrown into the furnace. But amazingly (albeit, not surprisingly,) the Lord stood with them in that place, and rewarded their commitment by delivering them.

It’s been said that integrity is best expressed by being the same person when nobody’s watching as you are when everybody’s watching.  That’s a pretty good definition, but it can still be hard to live out.  The good news is that God is always watching – He can’t take His eyes off of you, and He wants to help you walk in integrity. In many respects times may have changed, but the God Who stood with these young men of old has not – and He’ll stand with you…today!

Community

One of the things that I really enjoy about living in Fieldstone Farms is the genuine sense of community that has always been so evident.  Arriving here from Chicago on the evening of February 2nd, 2007, it wasn’t twenty-four hours before my family and I were introduced, not only to our neighbors, but also to the warm, inviting Southern Hospitality that, until then we’d only heard about.  New friends brought over cookies & the like, names and phone numbers were exchanged, and we discovered the pleasant way that those south of the Mason-Dixon line define “visiting.”

Just prior to our official relocation, I had the opportunity to spend a few days here in Franklin, settling on a job and securing our new home.  With a couple of hours to spare before my flight back to the Windy City, I’d decided to take advantage of a little down-time by walking the streets of downtown Franklin.  My Caffe Verona was still tepid when I found myself in a conversation with a gentleman who was from out of town himself.  He asked if I was from around here, and I let him know how, in a manner of speaking, I was almost from around here. He was looking for a drugstore, and so we made our way toward Gary’s, but as it had already been closed down, we just kept on walking and talking.  Nearly 20 minutes went by as two total strangers shot the breeze like old friends. Now, I’m fond of saying (only a little bit tongue-in-cheek) that where I’m from, after walking side-by-side with a total stranger for 20 minutes, you’re likely to want to make sure your wallet is still in your pocket!  But here, that kind of encounter can be pretty typical, and it was an experience that I’ll likely remember for a long time.  It was also a reminder that, for the most part, human interaction is best experienced in-person, rather than through a text or an e-mail.

It’s been said that the key to life can be found in relationships. Having passed the midway point of my three-score-and-ten, I find that I’m seeing more and more, the truth in that statement.  The more I contemplate the relationships in my life; my wife, daughter and our families, our church family, our friends, the more I come to understand that cultivating deep, lasting relationships is a good and necessary thing, even a “God-thing.”

Actually, looking back to when God created the world, He created it good. All through creation week, He would create-each passing day receiving His approval.  In time, after declaring so many things to be “good,” the Lord eventually got to pointing out something that wasn’t so good.   Significantly, the first time that God let on that something wan’t good was when He pointed out that man was alone.  God created man to enjoy relationships – and no wonder; even God Himself, though Singular in Being, enjoys fellowship within His own Triune nature.  We were made in His image, and I wonder if one way that that truth bears itself out is in our natural desire to seek out relationships.

Many years later, as outcasts in the first century, the early church came to lean heavily upon their community  as they needed to “be there” for one another.  They spent time in the Word and prayer together, and they encouraged and met each other’s needs as they arose – knit together, they were the body of Christ!

In contrast to previous generations, I recall hearing a statistic that the typical Facebooker today spends an average of 169 minutes in that online community – per visit.  It amazes me how we can spend so much time together…without actually being together!

Don’t get me wrong – I believe that online communities have found a genuinely valuable place in our time in history – I’m actually a relatively frequent twitter-er myself (@/brianbachochin) – and clearly these avenues of connection can help to bridge the various sorts of distances between us.  But when it comes to relationships, and truly “doing” community, God help us not to lose the truth in the old adage: “I guess you just had to be there.”

This article appeared in the May issue of Magnolia Magazine.

New Life

The brief conversation is not widely known, but it took place immediately following the horrific events that had occurred upon a hilltop just outside of Jerusalem.  A man named Joseph, from Arimathea had made a request of Pontius Pilate, to take possession of the body of Jesus in order that he might give Him a proper burial in a tomb that his family owned.  Pilate was surprised by the request and asked Joseph why he would ever consider using this tomb, reserved for his own family, as a burial place for this crucified Carpenter.  Joseph assured Pilate that this was ok, because after all…

…it would only be for the weekend.

Tongue-in-cheek as that little story might be, it plays off of the reality that defines this season.  Spring is a beautiful time of year when creation awakens from its slumber, bursting with the splendor of new life.  And so it’s no wonder that in the mind of God, this was to be the time of year when His Son would overcome the cold, harshness of death and rise to newness of life.  His creation would provide the perfect analogy, a similitude in nature for all to behold; a view of the natural giving us a glimpse into a much greater supernatural reality.

Like the vibrant entrance of this season of rebirth, the thought of the resurrection of Jesus instills a sense of wonder.  Much as the season’s early buds demonstrate the beauty of renewal as they spring to life, in His resurrection, Jesus reveals the possibility of our being made new (2 Cor. 5:17).  A wonderful idea to contemplate!  And unlike the seasons that, bound to their unbreakable cycle, ultimately can’t help but change, the resurrection of Christ points to a glorious life that never ends.  It reminds us that we were created for more than just a season.

For so many of us who might have grown up in a Christian tradition of one stripe or another, the story of the resurrection is a familiar one, sometimes an all too familiar one – familiar enough to lose its poignancy.  For those who may have been brought up with a different spiritual (or non-spiritual) background, the accounts of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday might simply sound like a popular Sunday School story.  But in truth, this history-altering series of events that took place in relative obscurity outside of the Golden City two-thousand years ago make all the difference.  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead changes things.  It changes everything; from the way that the grand story ends, to the way that our daily stories unfold.  It leads us to the climax of the meta-narrative that has been the undercurrent of the whole of human history.  It opens the gateway to eternity.  It tells us that the One who died and lived to tell about it stands at the threshold of forever – alive.  And because He is, He’ll see to it that one day we will too.

So enjoy the holiday, and the season.  And as you bite the ears off of a few chocolate bunnies, celebrate.  No, even better, rejoice!

For He is risen, He is risen indeed!

This article appeared in the April issue of Magnolia Magazine.

True Potential

I am what is known as a bi-vocational pastor; sometimes also called a “tent-making pastor,” which is to say that I work a regular full-time job in addition to ministering at our fellowship here in Franklin (Some who have heard me preach might well suggest that I not be in too much of a hurry to quit my day job!)

That said, having spent around two-thirds of my life in the workplace, I’ve become very familiar with the concepts of pecking orders and the struggle for stature; the drive for parking spot numero uno, the corner office and the key to the executive bathroom.  I’ve held leadership positions and I’ve also had a chance to work for a variety of managers of differing styles and leadership qualities.  Some have been very effective leaders, and some…well, not so much.

Nowadays, there are so many avenues one can pursue en route to becoming a strong leader.  Blogs and career sites are myriad and resources abound for those seeking to develop the skills necessary to “change the world.”

Well, all of that got me thinking…

If you were going to put together a leadership team, what sort of qualities would you look for in a potential candidate? After all, if you’ve only got a certain number of spots to fill and a limited amount of time to accomplish your mission, you’d very likely want to pour over resumes and interview only top-notch candidates; strong contenders who will quickly become powerful contributors.  You’d be on the lookout for the cream of the crop; people who’d really bring something to the table in your organization.  After all, you’d want to make sure you’ve got the best possible fit, right?

By contrast, Jesus assembled the most influential ministry team in history with arguably the most ordinary men of His day. Primarily composed of fishermen, Jesus brought together a number of outcasts from society who, in many instances didn’t even get along with each other (often guilty of trying to establish a pecking order of their own! – Cp. Lk. 9:46, 22:24).  They were hardly the cream of the crop.  Amazingly though, Jesus knew this about the crew He was assembling, and yet He chose them anyway. That seems like a counter-productive approach, but somehow Jesus made it work. That was the key – It was Jesus who made it work.

Healing the sick and raising the dead wasn’t in their “skill-set” before they came to Jesus; again, most of them were simple fishermen. But in the Hands of the Master Potter, these very common lumps of clay would become vessels of honor – Fishers of Men who’s impact and influence has reached even to our day; leaders who were and remained first and foremost servants, which ultimately served to make them great leaders.

2 Chronicles 16:9 says that: “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” While there are a number of insights to glean from this passage, one important truth that emerges implies that when it comes to God’s “corporate culture,” it’s not as much about your ability, as much as your availability. Hmm.

With that in mind, imagine what the Master Potter might fashion if you let Him set His skillful hands to work on you!

This article appeared in the March issue of Magnolia Magazine.

Love Is A Verb

Some say it’s all we need.  It’s been called a “many-splendoured thing.”  Who would deny that this crazy little thing called love has been the source of more inspiration (and exasperation) than any other human emotion.  Singers have forever crooned about it, poets and bards have tried their hand at articulating it, nations have even gone to war over it.

Yet, in spite of the grandeur of so many endeavours and expressions performed in the name of Love, for many, this chief of emotions never grows beyond the emotional level and remains, at best, only a feeling.  And while early on, feelings and emotions can fuel so much, eventually relationships can run out of steam when emotions cool, and feelings begin to change.  And when a love that is rooted only in emotion begins to die, it can become a many-splintered thing, far from what it could have been; far from what it was intended to be.

A story is told of an old, married couple, Ma and Pa, who found themselves winding down one evening in their respective easy chairs, when Ma turned to Pa rather suddenly and asked, “Pa, Why is is that you never tell me that you love me?”  Pa thought about it for a moment and replied, “Ma, I told you that I loved you when we got married.  If anything changes, I’ll let you know!”

I hope that’s not how it is in your relationship!

This May, my wife and I will celebrate out 17th year together.  I won’t pretend that we’ve been married for 60 years, but thankfully we have learned a few things along the way in our journey together.  I don’t think of myself as any kind of expert, but if I may, it seems to me that love is not so much a thing to be possessed, but rather a lifestyle to be lived, based on a choice that is made.  In other words, love is a verb. To draw from a well-known source, love is, among other things, patient, kind, protective, trusting, hopeful, enduring and unfailing (1 Cor. 13); all words that describe something that is active, expressive, giving, and in most respects others-centered.  Love is something that, while wonderful to be spoken of, doesn’t rely upon words in order to be known.

I don’t hesitate to point to the Lord as the great example of this – of love in action.  He is the incarnation of the God who “so loved the world that He gave…” I find it fascinating, and even convicting that of all that is written of Jesus in the New Testament, we have no record of His having told His disciples that He loved them.  I don’t know that He didn’t at some point, but noticeably absent in Scripture is any scene where He meets with His closest followers to say…”Mathew, I love you.  John, I love you.  Peter, I love you.  Judas, well….”  Never-the-less, among his parting admonitions, Jesus could encouraged them to love one another as He had loved them (John 13:34).  Whether He ever actually told them straightforwardly or not, clearly Jesus had demonstrated His love for them to the extent that they were fully aware of it, and now had a model to employ in their own relationships.

Now that might sound a little academic in this season of flowers, candy and romance, but I wonder if it really is.  After all, real love isn’t confined to the emotion of a moment.  Rather, by its others-centered nature, it has the potential to flower into the adventure of a lifetime  Actually, if we loved the way Jesus taught and exampled, there would be far too much love to squeeze into one day-a-year.  If Pa had been like this, Ma wouldn’t have had to ask!

We all need love, true love, love that never leaves or forsakes. Love that lasts forever.  We need God’s love.

…not that you shouldn’t still bring home some flowers & candy!

This article appeared in the February 2011 issue of the Magnolia Magazine