The story is told of football couch, Vince Lombardi’s exasperation with the team he had taken over, the Green Bay Packers and their seeming inability to turn around their 10 year losing streak. It is said that he called the team together and began with the following words, or something very similar:
This is a football. These are the yard markers. I’m the coach. You are the players
This all seems too basic that even reading it makes it sound silly and yet, sometimes the simple is deeply profound. When we lose sight of the basics, the core things, we are apt to wander off in ways that cause us great trouble. This happens to us as individuals, as teams, as corporations, as churches and even as nations. What are the basics define and direct who we are and what we are doing? As a nation the United States has as its founding document, something we might look at as the national birth certificate, the Declaration of Independence which begins with these words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.-That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
At a time when there is quite literally a battle for the soul of the nation looking back on these words is not unlike Lombardi’s reminder of the basics of football. The Declaration of Independence asserts the basics of the breaking off from England and forming this nation. First, it asserts that what will be following is “self evident.” What follows directs us to a focus on God as the source of all things, our relation to Him and others comes to us as we recognize and act on this information. The elements are so basic and observable that they are available for all to know. The document asserts creation, Creator and that the rights we enjoy were given or “endowed” by God. They are not given by the government but simply protected by the government. It also asserts that “Governments are instituted among Men.” The rights are three, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are rights or freedoms but there are no guarantees that we will be happy or successful or wealthy or, or, or … We are simply guaranteed the freedom to pursue those things and that it is the governments job to provide all of its citizens equality in the safeguarding of these rights. So concerned about the potential of an over bearing, oppressive government taking over in the future that when they drafted the Constitution they enumerated 18 powers for the Federal Government and anything not within those powers are States rights. Much of the Constitution is negative toward the Federal Government. As is so often the case, humans have strayed from the basics and created a mess. As a nation we have shifted from theocentrism (God centered) to anthropocentrisim (human centered) understanding. The result is that rather than the creation being directed by and accountable to the Creator individually and corporate, humans, particularly the Federal Government and courts, have become the final arbiter of truth and “allowable” freedoms. Elected officials are no longer civil servants but mini potentates. “Pursuit of happiness” is no longer tolerable if someone else decides they are offended by your pursuits or what makes you happy. It is probably time to really revisit the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in light of a question asked of Jesus nearly 2,000 years ago. It was asked by some religious/political leaders of His day in an effort to trap Him, but, by focusing them on the basics, caused their slyness to backfire on them. The question in Matthew 22:36:
Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?
And He said to him, ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.
But He didn’t stop there:
The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus is describing a whole souled faith which focuses on God with the entirety or our being. Our heart, our soul and our mind. Every aspect of who we are should be devoted to Him. Today it seems to be less about a devotion to Him and more about using Him or the idea of God to validate something we want for ourselves or to impose on others. For example, the idea of some with the evangelical church who teach that it is the Federal Governments job to take from those who are working and give to those who are not. But Jesus addresses the idea of how we should deal with others in His second statement. In fact, the way He says it flies in the face of so much psychobabble that is afoot these days. He simply asserts that we love ourselves and we should love our neighbors in the same way. What does this mean? It is actually pretty simple, a sort of “This is a football” idea. We grant the same freedoms and grace to others that we have received and enjoy from God. We provide for those in need as we are able and others do so with us when we are in need and they are able. This is not just financial but emotional, physical and spiritual. We have here spiritual life, liberty and pursuit of happiness which is given to us by the Creator whom we recognize and fully commit ourselves to as we ban together with others to help preserve their freedoms.
Sadly, much of our leadership will not embrace this like the leaders in the days that Jesus walked the earth because to do so would mean submitting to and leading in a way that honors God rather than enriches or elevates man. But, as we individually and corporately get back to basics we will profoundly impact others around us and in turn they will impact others. There is a subtle power that comes from walking closely with God and getting back to basics. Jesus was less concerned about how people felt and more concerned with what they were committed to. Politically correct He was decidedly not!