Monday, July 17, 2017

Grandchildren are the crown of the aged


One of my favorite passages of Scripture to read at baby dedications is Psalm 128. “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.” Maybe there’s a woman reading right now who bristles at the thought of being compared to vegetation, but believe me that the Psalmist meant it as a compliment.

There was no greater blessing to a Jewish home than children, and there was no greater sadness to a Jewish couple than to be unable to conceive. Children were considered a gift from the Lord, a divine inheritance.

Today in many places, even in many churches, children are considered a burden. The couple who dares to have more than the obligatory 1.2 children is met with sarcasm at best, derision at worst. I heard about one man whose wife had triplets and he decided to name them “Any,” “Minnie,” and “Miney.” When the man was asked why, he responded, “Because there won’t be no Mo.”

The last verse in Psalm 128 proclaims blessing upon blessing, as the psalmist says, “May you see your children’s children.”

I know from studying Scripture that it was the dream of every Jewish man to hold his grandchildren and help teach them about God. I had read in Proverbs many times, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.”

Each time I read it, I thought about how vital godly grandparents are to the family, and what an important job they have in preparing the next generation for life and service to the Lord.

Until eight years ago, though, my head was only covered with graying hair. I was still crownless.

Cindy and I are thankful to be eight years and five grandchildren into that stage of life known as grandparenthood. We join hands gladly with all of the rest of you “old people” who have held your sons’ and daughters’ children in your arms and bragged that they are just about the best looking baby you have ever seen.

We also empathize with all of you out there who have gone through the trying time of having your grandchildren decide what you will be called from now until the day you die.

I agree with Brad Stine that the one year-old who eats out of the flower pot should not be allowed to name the family patriarch. Will it be PeePaw and MeeMaw? Or Gramps and Grannie?

I put my request in 8 years ago for “O Captain, my Captain,” but it fell on deaf ears. Micah and Kari wanted to wait until Blake was old enough to talk, to see what he came up with as he attempted to say, “Nana and Grandad.”

It seems to be official, now. We are “Nana and Gan-Gan.”

I told Blake, who turned 8 this week, that he is plenty able now to say “Grandad.” He grinned and said, “Sure thing, Gan-Gan!” Of course, his two-year-old sister is way confused; Liza calls me “Dan-Dan.”

Nonetheless, Cindy and I welcome the honor we have been given to love and nurture 5 grandchildren, and all the others who will follow, as the Lord gives His precious gift of children to our children.

OK, grandma and grandpa, what are you going to do with your grandkids? Teach them how to catch a fish? Throw a ball? Drive a car? Work hard and enjoy it? Be polite? Respect other people? Obey their parents? Those are excellent lessons.

While you’re at it, teach them one thing more. Teach them to love the Lord. Better yet, show them how you do it. They will never forget it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Go ahead and move to Humility

I remember those early Saturday mornings in the summertime when the kids were little and we were all loaded up in the car and headed to Holden for a week of vacation. You couldn’t do much more to increase my joy at that moment. But if the kids wanted to just send me over the top in ecstatic utterances of praise, all they had to do was get along with each other on the trip. They would have the same mind, to paraphrase Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the same love, and be in one accord. Even though we were really in one Odyssey. Paul is pointing to a place we all should move to as soon as possible. Humility. It’s not a geographical location but a way of life. What does that look like in our relationships?

It means that we have the same love. Let’s face it, some Christians are like porcupines; they have a lot of good points but they’re hard to get close to. Notice that Paul surrounds having the same love with two phrases about being of the same mind. Every fight between church members starts in the mind. A church split in Dallas started when one of the church elders was served a smaller slice of ham than the child sitting next to him. I’m not making this up. Instead of keeping his big mouth shut, stuffing it with a big slab of apple pie, the church elder expressed his displeasure, and the pork problem led to a church-wide divorce. The whole thing started in his mind, and revealed a lack of love for his fellow church members.

Humility means also that we do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. John Wooden, famed UCLA basketball coach said, “Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.” Paul had just written to the Philippians about the preachers who were proclaiming Christ out of selfish ambition. But Paul didn’t gloat and exalt himself above them. He praised God that Christ was being preached. How could Paul be so lacking in selfish ambition and conceit? Here’s how, and he concludes the verse with it: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” This command pierces our hearts, doesn’t it? This runs so counter to everything in our culture, where self-promotion seems to be the key to success, and ambition and conceit the normal fare. Instead, let’s pull up stakes and move our heart and our life to Humility. John Stott wrote, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.”
Finally, humility means that you “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If our whole life is a series of selfies, interrupted by the occasional detour into serving people at a food pantry or sending a check to a missionary, then we have missed the point, haven’t we? I was in Wal-Mart with my wife recently, and my goal in that store (and any other store) is simple: get in, get it, get out. I had that look on my face, I guess, and Cindy said, “You know, if you look around at the people, it changes your perspective. I see people in here who are hurting, and it causes me to pray for them as we pass by.” Ouch. Suddenly my goals for shopping at Wal-Mart changed, as I moved my heart to Humility for the rest of that trip.

Go to the beach or the mountains, sure! But by all means, move to Humility. Life is better there.

Monday, July 3, 2017

You’re not in this alone

“I want to hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the sake of the gospel.” This encouragement from Paul is a great word picture of the church of Jesus Christ. We stand firm, and we stand together in one spirit. There are no people more unified than those who stand together in the Spirit of the living God. This is not external unity engendered by denominations or by ecumenical councils. No, it comes about by the Spirit of God. That’s why when we meet someone in another state or another country who is a brother or sister in Christ, we may wonder how we can feel such kinship with him so quickly: it is because the Spirit of God has made us one.

Notice also that we are to fight together, “striving side by side,” for the gospel. Remember that old game called Red Rover? Do kids still play that, or has it gone the way of dodge ball, because it’s too rough, and kids are too fragile? Anyway, in this game there are two groups of people, opposite one another, standing in a line with linked arms. One side calls out to the other, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Billy on over!” Billy runs as fast as he can and tries to break through the other side, hitting with all his might between two people he thinks might offer the weakest link. If he can’t break through, he becomes part of that team. If he can break through, he gets to take one of the people he broke through back to his team. This is a picture of the battle we are in, saints. We will have opponents our whole lives who will run at us with all their might, headstrong in their opinions that run counter to the truth of Scripture. We have to stand firm and catch them with the truth; we cannot give in or give over. That’s our job, to know what we believe, and Whom, and to stand firm. God’s job is to open the hearts of those who try to “break through” our faith, should He so choose, so they might believe the good news of the gospel. We can’t open their hearts, but we must be assured in our own.

They stand best who stand together. This is why the local church is so important. We stand side-by-side, arms linked in the faith, standing firm in one spirit on the truth, helping each other stand up and prevail. The picture in Scripture, again, is of a group, not a single individual. You can’t be side-by-side by yourself. We don’t run or ride this race alone. This was illustrated in the Tour of Italy race in May by the actions of a Slovenian cyclist, Luka Pibernik. During stage five of the race, Pibernik was riding alone, 50 meters ahead of the main pack when he approached what he thought was the finish line. It actually was the finish line, but Pibernik had miscounted; he had another lap to go to finish the stage. As he approached the line, he raised his hands in victory and coasted. As the pack of riders thundered past, Pibernik realized his error, but it was too late. His efforts to catch the pack and finish well did not succeed. Instead of first, he finished 148th. What would have happened if this man had been riding with one of his teammates?

Don’t walk alone. Find others with whom you are already united by the Spirit of God, and walk with them.

Monday, June 26, 2017

To live is Christ; to die is gain


Paul stated a colossal truth when he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Most Christians who have been around the Bible for even a short time have heard it or seen it.

I remember as a teenager, when God got hold of me and several other young people at the church I grew up in, this verse took on a whole new meaning for me. Up until then I would say, “For to me, to live is sports. Or fun. Or girls. Or loud music. Or anything that annoys my parents.” But then God opened my heart to who Jesus is, and gave me what I had longed for and didn’t even realize it: a reason to live.

The joy I had in knowing what I was here for also gave me a desire to help my friends find their purpose in living for Christ. Five teens from our church started a Monday night visitation program. We would ask our friends at school on Monday if we could come to their house that night and tell them what had happened to us.

Mostly they said yes, and we would show up with a few guitars, greet these kids and their shocked parents, then sit down in the living room and start singing songs like, “Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation,” by Larry Norman. The chorus goes, “Sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation, And let your laughter fill the air, Sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation, Tell all the people everywhere. Sing that sweet song of salvation, to every man and every nation, sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation, And let the people know that Jesus cares.”

What can I say? It was the ’70s. The lyrics weren’t deep, but the message certainly was. We wanted our friends to know that Jesus cares, and that Jesus saves, and that the reason we live is Jesus, and our greatest joy is found in Him.

Paul surrounded the colossal truth in Philippians 1 that “life is Christ” with three other powerful truths. See if you can find the other two, but one truth is this: “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” He could say that because he knew that his body was not his own: he had been bought with a price.

Listen, dear readers. If we would honor Christ in our bodies, it has to start with this understanding: This body is not mine. I am not my own.

What are some things we tend to do if we think that we own our bodies? We eat too much, or not enough. Or we eat poorly. We sleep too much, or not enough. We exercise too little, or not at all. Or “too much?” Yes, that’s possible. Anything can become an idol if we think our body belongs to us.

If we believe we own our bodies, then we can put anything we want in front of our eyes, and we can let anything we want come out of our mouths. Sex with anyone at any time becomes an unquestioned right if we think we own our bodies. Sex is separated from marriage and from producing children, if we think we own our bodies. I could keep going, but you get the idea.

Jesus changes our minds about our bodies for our good and our great joy. “My body, my choice,” is blown away by the knowledge that Jesus made the choice to pay for your body and mine, with his blood.

That’s worth singing about.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Put the gospel first


Do you know what happened after Jim Elliott and four other missionaries were speared to death in Ecuador in 1956? Thousands of young people were emboldened to take the Gospel to the mission field. The suffering and the sacrifice of Christians around the world today should give us courage to put the Gospel first. It’s worth it!

Suppose you had told Elisabeth Elliot when she first met Jim in college that she would one day be a widow with a 10-month-old baby girl, and that she would go with her daughter to the tribe that killed her husband. She would struggle and suffer there, but God would lead that tribe to faith in Jesus. She would have another husband who would leave her a widow. She would become an author and have a radio broadcast and speak at conferences and thousands would come to know Jesus or love Him better because of her. She may have said to that, “I can go through those trials for that kind of fruit.” But Elisabeth Elliot didn’t know any of that when she married Jim, or when Jim was killed trying to take the Gospel to the Waodani people.

When we are in the middle of a trial, we don’t see the fruit that will come. But our job is to trust, to be joyful, and to remain faithful. Because this is the truth: God will give others confidence to trust Him more in their suffering when they see you trusting Him in yours. Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, he wrote to the Philippian church, had emboldened his fellow Christians, “to speak the word without fear.”

Francis Chan tells the story about a fellow pastor who was driving down the road and saw a driver in front of him accidentally swerve and hit a man on a bicycle in the bike lane beside him. The man on the bike was OK, but furious. He ran over to the car and opened the man’s door and started beating him! What would you do if you saw this, Chan asked, especially if the man he was beating was 75 years old? The pastor in the car behind him didn’t know what to do, but finally he jumped out and tried to pull the man off the old guy. The cyclist turned and started beating him, instead. The pastor asked himself, do I fight back? He did. He hit the cyclist and knocked him out cold.

The police showed up and asked the pastor what had happened. Pointing to the unconscious cyclist, the policeman asked, “How many times did you hit him?” The pastor said, “Honestly, just once.” “That’s what all the witnesses said, too,” the policeman replied.

When Chan told this story at church, everybody applauded. Then he said, “How many of you would have gotten out of the car to stop the assault, even if the man were bigger than you?” Most nodded or raised their hands. He said, “OK, so you would have the courage to intervene, to save this poor old man.” Then he said, “How many of you would go share the gospel with a 75-year-old man who is sitting alone in a restaurant, if you knew he was not a Christian?” No one nodded or raised his hand. Chan asked, “Why is it easier to be courageous in physical matters and not in spiritual matters? Could it be (because) speaking the Gospel is warfare?”

Hey, I dare you. Ask God to give you courage today to put the gospel first. Then get ready to speak when He opens an opportunity the same day. He will.

Monday, June 12, 2017

See what really matters


There’s a great story in Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Nora Ephron, the late screenwriter known best for her works that included the movies “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally,” said that what helped her the most in learning to capture the essence of a story was her high school journalism class. Charlie O. Simms started the first day of class explaining the concept of a “lead” for an article, that it covers the who, what, when, where, and why of the piece. Then he gave his students the facts of a story and asked them to come up with the lead. “Kenneth L. Peters, the principle of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.”

The students clacked away on their manual typewriters, trying to get all the information from the teacher. Then they pounded out leads in the next few minutes and handed them in. Each student tried his best to summarize the information for their lead. One wrote, “Margaret Meade, Maynard Hutchins, and Governor Brown will address the faculty on…” Another wrote, “Next Thursday, the high school faculty will…” Simms read each of the leads and said that they were all wrong. He said, “The lead to the story is, ‘There will be no school Thursday.’”

“In that instant, Ephron recalls, “I realized journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point. It wasn’t enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it meant. And why it matters.” She added, “He taught me something that works just as well in life as it does in journalism.”

Now there is some news you can use, some truth you can hold up to the light.  More important, there’s truth you can hold up to your life. Let’s face it: we can spend the rest of our days mastering the who, what, when and where of every detail of our lives, and never get to the why. McKeown uses the example from the Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crash of December 29, 1972, to illustrate. Over one hundred passengers were killed even though the investigators found that when the plane crashed it was in perfect working condition. What happened? “The Lockheed jet had been preparing to land when first officer Albert Stockstill noticed the landing gear indicator, a tiny green light that signals the nose gear is locked down, hadn’t lit up. Yet the nose gear was locked; the problem was the indicator light. While the officers hyper-focused on the gear indicator, however, they failed to notice that the autopilot had been deactivated until it was too late. In other words, the nose gear didn’t cause the disaster. The crew’s losing sight of the bigger problem - the altitude of the plane – did.”

When the women came to the tomb on that early Sunday morning many years ago, they clearly saw the who, what, when and where. Jesus was not there. The stone was rolled away, and the tomb was empty.

What’s the lead to that story, and indeed, to ours as well? “He is risen, as he said.” No knowledge in the universe is more powerful. No reason for your existence and mine is more satisfying. Jesus Christ is Lord, just as He said.

Why hammer away through the rest of your life trying to write any other ‘lead’?