It’s been a tumultuous few weeks. Hurricanes, earthquakes, shootings, unseasonably hot temperatures, fires, and the beginning of a new season of This Is Us.
But nothing has seemed to capture our attention and our passions quite like a series of “presidential” tweets that infringed on our Sunday afternoon leisure. The NFL furthered the firestorm with their many, varied responses. Heroes were made out of mere men and villains were “clearly” identified, all based on our own limited perceptions and potentially misplaced passions.
As the celebrated gridiron professionals exercised their collective freedoms, we lost our collective minds.
Freedom is a tricky thing… I like it. I want it. We fight for it and we send brave loved ones to uphold it. But when the freedom of another offends my freedom, I get tense. How I respond when my freedom is challenged by the exercise of someone else’s freedom reveals more about me than I care to admit.
A friend of mine posted a simple statement on social media in the midst of the smoldering internet debate: “Nationalism is idolatry.”
How I respond to that statement is cause for much introspection and worthy of coming to a solid conclusion. It’s easy to preach to the choir about idols: drugs, sex, money, celebrities, and little wooden statues lined with gold accents. It’s easy to be calloused toward idols when they’re someone else’s. But how do I respond when challenged with something I care deeply about, something that has been a force for good, and something that has given me so much?
We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life. — Tim Keller
That’s the essence of idolatry. When “good things become god things.”
On Sunday morning, Romans 1 was at the forefront of our minds here at Grace.
Romans 1:22,23 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Romans 1:25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…
By Sunday afternoon and continuing through this week, it seemed as though the created things were winning.
Certainly, kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not even truly about the position of kneeling; it’s about the stated intent of the kneelers or our perception of their intent. It’s about the placement, timing, and object of that intention. And it’s worth asking ourselves a very introspective question about why this bothers or excites us so much.
The conclusions we come to may reveal a truth that is not convenient for us to face.
The Bible says that “one day every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:9–11).
One day there will be no more kneeling or standing about the temporal things of this earth. And, actually on that day, standing will not be one of our options. We’ll kneel for Jesus because He first knelt for us (which by the way, was a fact that deeply offended Peter). And Jesus is worth kneeling for.
This isn’t to say that kneeling now is right or wrong; it is to say that what captures our hearts in the most passionate of ways reveals a lot about us (namely, what our hearts are kneeling to). While many others may belittle these conversations surrounding our national anthem, instead drawing our attention to events they consider more deserving, I think the conversations are very valuable. But they shouldn’t hold the ultimate value.
So be passionate and seek change. Listen to other people and care about their story. Try to find understanding before declaring your assumptions. Fight for the unalienable rights endowed by our Creator. But don’t place those rights on His throne. There’s only One worthy of the level of passion seen this week. That One we will all kneel to…hopefully by choice.
Dave Nicodemus is the Student Ministries Pastor and has served at Grace Polaris Church since 2007, with a brief stint as the Communications Pastor from 2015-2017. Dave joined the Grace staff after serving at a church in eastern Pennsylvania. Prior to that, he studied youth and family ministry, minoring in art at Grace College (2001) and completing a masters degree from Grace Theological Seminary (2003). He’s the husband of Carly and father to Jack, Henry, Emilia, and Charlie.