November 15, 2023
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Bursting at the Seams
I arrived 20 minutes early, but already there was nowhere to sit. In fact, I had to squeeze through the crowd just to get inside. The church was absolutely packed. Every pew was full. People were standing in both outer aisles, the choir’s balcony was beyond capacity, and the back of the sanctuary was shoulder to shoulder. It was so full that the floor-to-ceiling windows were open (despite a slight November chill) to both appease the fire marshal and allow those who could not fit inside to observe through them.
It was an amazing sight to behold. Tragically, the thing that gathered so many of us together earlier this week was to remember and celebrate a life cut far too short. A neighbor—a wife and a mother, and clearly a friend to many, as evidenced by the crowd—had passed suddenly, and the church literally could not hold those who had gathered to remember her.
I was struck primarily by two things from this experience:
First, life on Earth is short and fragile, but eternity is forever and secure. It is stating the painfully obvious, but the things we spend so much time and energy on are here for a moment, and then forever lost without a moment’s notice. Even our life in these temporal vessels can be lost in an instant. Although it can be so very difficult to achieve, our focus should be on things that escape the fragile and temporal condition of Earth. We should invest in things that will not pass away.
Second, I was deeply touched by the overwhelming display of intimacy within our little community. Many who gathered were members of the now-bursting-at-the-seams church, but many more were community acquaintances. There was a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs represented, but the commonality was community. This was our friend. We loved her, and we love her husband and son, who are hurting. It was beyond clear that this, the local church, was where they would find sustained comfort for their loss in the days ahead.
Friends, we live in a chaotic world with global connectivity. But true community—the kind where the life-giving and sustaining love of Jesus is most realized—happens close to home. It happens on your street, in your neighborhood, and among those who make up your local church.
As I took in the sight of people leaning through the windows to hear the service, I couldn’t help but think about Mark 2, when there was simply no way for the paralyzed man’s friends to get him to Jesus other than to dig through the roof and lower him down.
Let’s pray together this week that our local churches would again have that kind of magnetic draw, and that it would be the power of the person Jesus that would create that draw. Let’s commit anew to making our local church the place where people flock to find comfort, hope, and community. Let’s pack the pews, and the aisles, and the alcoves, and the balconies, and even the courtyards.
And most importantly, let’s remember on Monday through Saturday that life on Earth is short, eternity is forever, and the true character of Jesus is primarily displayed in community with others.
A Supreme Code of Ethics
The U.S. Supreme Court has a new code of ethics. The 15-page document was unanimously adopted by the nine Justices, and lays out five canons by which the Justices pledge to conduct their business and extrajudicial activities. It is the first code of ethics specifically adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court, though as the newly-adopted code itself points out, there have long been other ethical standards that apply to the Court, including those found in federal statute.
The push for a specific code came after several Justices accepted reimbursed travel and other items of value that raised questions of impropriety and impartiality. Lawmakers and court observers had mixed reactions to the new code, with some praising the Court for taking the historic step and other criticizing the lack of a true enforcement mechanism.
Analysis and eternal perspective: This story has generated multiple competing narratives, none of which really capture the crux and nuance of the story. Most of us can probably agree it is essential for our courts—and especially our Supreme Court—to operate with the highest of ethical standards, and with a particular emphasis on impartiality and fidelity to the law. But that is easy to say and believe, and quite a bit harder to pull off while respecting the equally important role the Court plays within our system of checks and balances.
One of the challenges—perhaps the primary one—to adopting a code of ethics is an enforcement mechanism that respects constitutional separation of powers. Critics of the new code would like to see an enforcement mechanism from outside the Court—either Congress or the lower courts. The problem, of course, is that the Court is its own co-equal branch of government, and the Supreme Court is the only court specifically mandated by the U.S. Constitution (in Article III, Section 1). The Constitution grants Congress the power to establish lower courts. In order to truly be the “court of last resort,” and to resolve controversial matters with finality, the Court must maintain its independence from the other branches, making enforcement of any code of ethics difficult.
There is at least one obvious principle we as Jesus followers should follow when considering this story: Every Justice should be held to the same standard. Much of the discourse around this story will focus only on Justices on one “side” of the ideological spectrum or the other, and will be based on the viewpoint of the commentator. You and I each have an ideological point of view, but if the U.S. Supreme Court is to have any chance of properly fulfilling its role it our system, it will require all of its Justices be held to the same standards of propriety and impartiality.
We cite Proverbs 18:17 often here at The Equipped: “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.” This is a critically important principle, but it is not enough to simply hear both sides of an argument if the Justices hearing the arguments are not truly considering the merits of the arguments. It is difficult to predict whether this code of ethics will have a positive impact on the conduct of the Court, but we should all work for the preservation of the Court’s integrity, and to maintain its ability to fulfill its constitutional role.
The credit rating of the United States is now “negative,” according to Moody’s, one of the major credit rating agencies. The agency had previously given the U.S. a “stable” rating, and cited a number of reasons for the downgrade, including large fiscal deficits and political polarization. The downgrade comes as the White House and Congress struggle yet again to avert a government shutdown.
Analysis and eternal perspective: While the current negotiations to fund the government include a new twist (new Speaker Mike Johnson is advancing a staggered funding approach), there is nothing under serious consideration that would alter the reality of sustained deficit spending. Both parties have failed to meaningfully address the clear and obvious threat of runaway spending. It would behoove voters of both parties to take honest stock of the difference between campaign rhetoric and their party’s governing reality.
As for political polarization, The Equipped community regularly reminds ourselves that good faith debate and dissent is not only positive, but actually essential if our republic is going to produce sound public policy. Proverbs 27:17 famously describes it as “iron sharpening iron.” But it is difficult to argue with Moody’s conclusion that our current polarization is not grounded in a good faith debate.
It is on this latter point that we as Jesus followers have an outsized duty to lead. Let’s embrace this challenge together, and demonstrate for our neighbors how to “disagree productively.” Both your ideas and mine need refining—“sharpening,” to quote our passage. That sharpening only occurs when we engage together in good faith with those who hold a different perspective.
There is a blockade on the U.S. Senate floor. Sort of.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the Department of Defense (DoD) issued a series of memoranda authorizing the reimbursement of military personnel and family members for travel to obtain an abortion. U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (AL) noted this appeared to be a violation of U.S. law and demanded a retraction of the memoranda (you can read more background from the Senator here). When the DoD refused to rescind the policy, Sen. Tuberville began slowing down the promotions of all general and flag officers. This has been described by some as “blocking” the promotions, but as demonstrated by the Senate’s approval of select promotions, it is really just a refusal to allow a mass approval of the promotions until, in the Senator’s view, the law is followed. The Senate remains able to consider the promotions one at a time.
Now the U.S. Senate appears poised to change its own rules in order to sidestep the Senator’s hold. If successful, more than 350 officers will receive their promotions, and the DoD’s abortion policy will remain in effect.
Analysis and eternal perspective: Once again, the plain facts will prove somewhat uncomfortable, but they include the following: There is nobody—including Sen. Tuberville—who has expressed opposition to the promotions of the officers in question. However, it simultaneously appears that a good number of government officials—both executive branch officials and elected legislators—are unconcerned about the lack of legal mooring for the DoD’s abortion travel policy. Regardless of one’s view on the policy, it is imperative the DoD follow the law. While most coverage of this story focuses on how to circumvent Sen. Tuberville’s “blockade,” it is prudent to ask whether DoD should simply rescind the policy and pursue its policy objectives through the legislative process.
As for our role in The Equipped community, any time an issue or a policy touches on abortion, it will be tricky to navigate. But we know from scripture that life in the womb is sacred and formed by God (Ps. 139:13). We also know the importance of both seeking justice (Is. 1:17) and honoring those who risk their lives for our protection (Jn. 15:13). While there is room for differences of opinion on the happenings in the U.S. Senate, it would likely be most productive to primarily focus on the actions of the DoD, and to insist on a policy that respects innocent life and the rule of law.
From Grieving to Splendor
Our focus on beauty this week is found in Isaiah 61:3-4, and is written as a collection of promises for those who grieve. The Lord promises to bestow on them:
A crown of beauty instead of ashes…
Oil of joy instead of mourning… and,
A garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…
Once re-adorned in beauty, joy, and praise, those who once grieved will be a “display of his splendor” (v. 4)!
Life on Earth is fleeting. But beauty, joy, praise, and splendor are eternal!
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