CORE, part 2: Repair the spiritual deficit by discovering core values

This is the second of a three-part sermon series on core values preached at Trinity Baptist Church, Conyers, GA, from July 17th – July 31st.  This was an article (rather than a sermon) that was originally published in The Rockdale Citizen, July 30, 2011.

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Decision time: Do we cut entitlements, raise revenue, or both?  That is the major question that Congress is wrestling with in the federal budget crisis of late.

The question does not reveal the complexity of the issue so much as it reveals the vast array of values that make up the decision-making process within two diametrically opposed political parties.  And not just any values, but core values: the basic foundation–the heart–that informs all other decisions related to spending and saving.  And when there is no agreement on the core values, paralysis ensues.

Truth is, in this unstable economy, all of us have to decide which values will inform our future.  With limited resources, we must choose what is most important, who is most important, and what relationships are most sacred.  We may have dozens of values, but only three or four rise to the top at the end of the day.

I would argue that knowing our own, unique core values is an important step in knowing our very purpose in life.  I learned this at a very young age when I was trying to figure out who I was and why God created me.

At first, I tried to mimic people I admired.  When that didn’t work, I tried to be all things to all people.  That soon failed, and I was finally forced to focus on what God had in store for me apart from all of those outside influences.  I was a person of many values, but I had to discover which ones grew out of the core of my being.

One of my mentors helped along the way.  A late professor of mine echoed his favorite author, Frederick Buechner, when I asked him how I knew for sure what God wanted me to do in life.  He said that the answer exists where my deepest passion meets the world’s deepest needs.

So, when I started praying about those things that I was most passionate about, certain core values started to emerge.

For one, I found that I had a passion for people.  I value hospitality as a spiritual discipline, an ancient tradition of welcoming “the least of these” as if I were entertaining angels unawares.

I also learned that I had a passion to learn about and teach God’s word in order to spread the Gospel.  No wonder why writing yet another column for you, dear reader, is still as thrilling as ever.

Another passion is to follow Christ by exploring creative avenues for worship and spiritual growth, be it through writing, art, or by practicing a variety of spiritual exercises.

What are your core values?  Your answers will help you find true north and guide your decisions so that Christ can use you to your greatest potential.

Unfortunately, so many of us have become so lost in a world of misdirection, we have thrown up our hands in resignation and simply follow the crowd.  We give into the drones and talking heads, and we look to others to figure out what we believe, what we consider important, and how we should spend our money.

Only when we focus on our relationship with God in a sold-out commitment to him and him alone will he save us from our penchant to mimic others and the world.  Only then will he lead us into the liberating vocation that makes each of us uniquely beneficial in Christ’s body of believers.

Not unlike Congress, we are not without some responsibility in repairing much of the damage in our national, spiritual deficit.  God is calling all of us back to the heart of the gospel, to the heart of what is most important in life.  And only by focusing on him will we discover what that is in our own unique way.

Compromise is an important part of leadership, federal budget debate

(This letter was originally submitted to The Rockdale Citizen on May 11, 2011).

Dear Editor,

On May 10th, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) unveiled a budget proposal that cuts national spending from 25% of the GDP to 18.5%.   Like other plans, Toomey’s enacts restrictions on entitlement spending and healthcare reform.

As I listened to the conference, what I found interesting was not the proposal itself, but the rhetoric framing the budget debate as communicated from the Republican co-signers of the proposal.  It was Toomey’s fellow Senators, Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio (of South Carolina and Florida respectively), that thanked him for his leadership on this issue.

Leadership:  When it comes to the budget debate, this loaded term invokes the apparent in-action of the Obama Administration in contrast to the Republican Party’s commitment to resolve the issue.

Whenever I hear about leadership, I get a little nervous.  Are the Republicans looking for leadership that seeks to balance the budget in a prudent and tempered fashion—a type of leadership that navigates through the complexity of a multi-trillion dollar system?  Or are they seeking the type of leadership like that of the previous presidential Administration, in which the executive branch bullied the legislative and judicial branches?

Leadership without patience and prudence has the potential to unleash unintended and long-term consequences.  The previous Administration’s costly and ill-informed unilateral attack on Iraq is just one example where lack of prudence failed to garner positive, cost-cutting results.

And there is something to be said about the Democratic Party’s inability to form a budget proposal whatsoever.  Certainly, a recession makes a proposal all the more difficult; but for a party that had control of both houses of Congress, this lack of leadership is inexcusable.

Suffice it to say, budgets are more complex than some might assume.  It took my wife and me days to carve out a budget on a mere five-figure income.  Imagine the time it takes to do that on a trillion-dollar scale—with a “scalpel” (in the words of President Obama) at that.

When it comes to weighty matters in which an entire nation is involved, leadership with an eye towards compromise is key to bringing about positive reform.  After all, the Constitution itself  was born out of compromise—Remember the “Great Compromise” in which the Founding Fathers married the best of the New Jersey and Virginia plans to develop representation in Congress?

Compromise is not a sign of weakness; it’s the foundation upon which our very democracy was built.

If leadership is the problem, both parties seem to be guilty, for true leadership happens when persons of difference can sit down and produce a plan that’s in the best interest of the greatest good.

There is great concern that federal debt must be dealt with, lest the issue become a problem for our children in years to come—to quote Sen. Rubio, if there is no action, “We will be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.”

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what kind of legacy we are leaving our children when it comes to wise governing.  I’d rather model for my children healthy teamwork and conflict resolution than to pass on the anxious uncertainty inherent in partisan pontificating.   Let’s pray that both parties can get their act together and get us on the road to economic stability.

Blessings,

Rev. Joe LaGuardia