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Friday, October 5, 2012

Slow news day

Do you ever get bored by the news?

Of course you do.  The lead story on the evening news is a program to replace sewer lines in downtown Minneapolis, say, or maybe a feature on shifting demographic trends in America's ten largest cities.  You see the news anchors straining to try to make it sound interesting, and all the while you know they're really straining because one of the camera operators off set has fallen asleep.  Sometimes I wait for that well-made-up anchor to look straight into the camera and say, "People, go do something worthwhile.  Nothing worth reporting happened today.  We're just going to broadcast an old "Bonanza" episode and go home to our own families.  Tune in again tomorrow."

That never happens, of course.  It's a marketing thing.  We have to believe that whatever the nightly news tells us is of utmost importance.

This morning, for instance, one of the big headlines on CNN has to do with evaluations of Mitt Romney's comment about shutting off PBS funding and putting Big Bird out of work.  It's not an analysis of Romney's budget ideas; rather, the headline reads, "Celebs weigh in on Big Bird."  Slow news day.

I hate to admit I feel a vague sense of disappointment when it's a slow news day.  Somewhere deep down I much prefer a crisis.  It's not that I want a bombing or assassination or hurricane or crime spree. It's just that I want something important to be going on.

As I watch other Jesus-followers, I see a similar thing.  We often look like football players on the sidelines during a huddle.  We stand, we watch, we hope, we pray, we check out the scoreboard and the Jumbotron, but nothing is really going on.  We're just standing there waiting for the Coach to call our name and say, "Krogstad!  Get in there!  I have a job that only you can do!"

Occasionally a crisis comes up, and we need to be ready to respond.  But most often, we wait.  And that is a tragedy.

As I read the New Testament, I don't think Jesus' intention was for us to wait until a crisis demanded our attention.  I know that there was that thing in Acts 1 about waiting for the Holy Spirit -- but the Holy Spirit has already been given to us!  So now the task is for us to use all our image-of-God creativity to find ways to do good things (Ephesians 2:10) in Jesus' name.

So for example, Christians in Minnesota are waiting to vote yes or no on the Marriage Amendment.  But if you're pro-marriage (and every Jesus-follower should be pro-marriage) can you find creative ways to build strong marriages aside from the election?  There is a rampant epidemic of divorce in our culture.  There is a rampant epidemic of cohabitation before marriage that leads to quasi-families where children don't live with the stability of mom and dad being committed to each other.  What can a Jesus-follower do to build strong marriages?

I guarantee you it won't make the evening news, but you could get together with a couple others and lead the Alpha Marriage Course in someone's living room.  It's one example of a great tool to enhance marriages.

Another example: There is an epidemic in this country of unwanted pregnancies, too many of which end up in abortion clinics because young pregnant women are terrified and looking for a way out.  So every January churches put crosses on their lawns and Jesus-followers stage protests in state capitols to advocate a change in the Roe v. Wade laws in this country that make elective abortion legal.  But can we deal with what leads to unwanted pregnancies?  What can be done to prevent unwanted pregnancies?  I'm not talking about distributing condoms.  The problem goes much deeper than that.  One factor -- one huge factor -- in unwanted pregnancies is that teens are looking for affection, looking for significance, and looking for relationship.  The absence of solid relationships between parents and kids is one huge factor in that.  So what can Jesus-followers do to help build strong families, to help build parents who will provide a solid relational foundation, to help teens find affection, meaning, and something worth doing in appropriate relationships?

Maybe this is why these things are not on the news.  As soon as we start talking about real problems and their honest causes, we find that the problems grow beyond our ability to fix them.  Any attempt on our part to do something worthwhile is going to feel like spitting in the wind.

Maybe our job is not to fix these problems. Maybe our job is to be salt and light in the middle of the problem.  Maybe our job is not to eliminate abortion, but rather to make a difference to a half dozen young people who find relationship, meaning, and something worth doing instead of going out and experimenting with sex because they're bored and curious and lonely.  Maybe our job is not to change our culture's view of marriage, but rather to invest in a handful of couples whose marriages then become beacons for someone else.  It's a ripple effect.

So maybe a slow news day is the Spirit's call to his people to get up, shut off the tube, and get creative. Rather than waiting on the sidelines, we need to realize that in this game, we're not limited to just having eleven players on the field.  The playing field is enormous, and we're called to get out there and do our creative best.  Yes, we need to listen for the Coach's voice, but in the meantime we can look around and see a relationship that needs tending, a person who needs care, a small need we can meet.  Our tiny, seemingly insignificant actions then become what the gospel of John calls "signs" pointing to Jesus.

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