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’?

Monday, June 5, 2017

There is a way to avoid being deceived

Imagine this. A shyster comes through your neighborhood and talks an elderly widow into a new roof, collects $15,000 from her, blows town with her money, and she ends up with no new roof or a shoddy job. What are two things he needs to accomplish his deed? His guile and her gullibility. Imagine this. You read an email from a stranger who is supposedly in Nigeria and has 2 million dollars he wants to give you. All he needs is your bank account information, and he will make the deposit. What two things does he need to accomplish this deed? His guile and your gullibility. He plays on your greed, your desire to take shortcuts.

Paul wrote “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” It is clear from Scripture that “human cunning” works best on children, and on gullible and immature believers who have not grown up on the milk and the meat of God’s Word. Every heresy that has ever been foisted upon the church depends on the ignorance and gullibility of immature believers to be successful. If the man on TV is telling you to put your hands on the TV set and receive a blessing, what does he depend on for you to do that? Ignorance and gullibility. How do I know that the man telling you to put your hands on the TV set does not have your best interests at heart? Because in the next breath, he is asking you to put your hands on your checkbook or your wallet. He is telling you that in order to really get a blessing from God, you need to give him some money. Why are these guys still on television, saying the same things they said 40 years ago? Because it works!

The last phrase Paul used, “craftiness in deceitful scheming,” reminds me of an animal stalking its prey. We have a dog and a cat at the Fox den. And I have never seen our dog stalk anything. Maybe his food bowl as he “lies in wait” for it to be filled up. The cat is a different story. I love to watch her try and catch a bird. The only way an earth-bound cat can catch a healthy bird is with deceitful scheming, with infinite patience, and with a 48-inch vertical leap.

If you don’t believe there are traps being set for you on a daily basis, then you believe denial is just a big ol’ river in Egypt. How many credit card applications did you get in the mail last week? How many creditors sent you checks, made out to you, for large amounts? All you have to do is sign the check and cash it, and you are set! Bass boat, here I come. Trip to the Bahamas, I am there. New 65-inch OLED television, come to Papa! What the creditors do not tell you is that you will end up paying more than double on what they just “gave” you.

The best way to shyster-proof yourself and your family is to follow the principles in the Bible. I am not saying that because I am a preacher. I am saying that because it is the truth. Read the Bible. Get involved in a good church that really believes the Bible and teaches it.

And just send a smiley face back to the “Nigerian” crook who has two million he would like to give you.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Being joyful starts with gratitude

Every time Paul prayed for the church in Philippi, he prayed with joy. Here’s a distinguishing characteristic of a Christian: We are the joyful ones. And gratitude plays a huge part in that. I am most joyful when I am most thankful. And I am most thankful and joyful when I live in the right relationship with Jesus and others. You have heard the acronym, kind of cheesy, but true: Joy is Jesus, Others, Yourself. We Christians have a counter-cultural view of joy, not because we are against pleasure and fulfillment. We simply have a different source. Tom Brady said after his third Super Bowl victory, “Is this all there is?” I don’t know what he said after his fifth. Our joy as Christians is in relationships: Jesus first, others second. But everybody has relationships, right? Is there another component to this that makes for the greatest joy? Glad you asked.

In Paul’s writing to the Philippian church about joy, he connected it to partnership in the Gospel. The greatest joy doesn’t come from just friends we have fun with and hang out with. Paul wasn’t filled with joy because of the cookouts he had enjoyed with the church at Philippi, though that was perhaps part of it. He was filled with joy because of the partnership in the Gospel he had with the church there. If you have no relationships with partners in the Gospel, then you don’t have the joy that Paul is talking about here. The greatest joy is found in walking together, side by side, in the fellowship of the Gospel, living and telling the good news that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, knowing Him and making Him known to others. Why are so many not finding that joy? Tony Merida writes about four obstacles that can keep people from enjoying deep and enjoyable relationships as followers of Christ:

“Sensationalists don’t find Christian community scintillating enough to participate in it. However the Christian life isn’t about shock and awe, but acts of service and love (because of Christ). Mystics make the Christian life into a series of quiet times. They desire to live the ‘me and Jesus’ kind of Christianity without the church. But Christianity is ‘we and Jesus,’ not ‘me and Jesus.’ Idealists struggle in Christian community because they have, in the words of Bonhoeffer, a ‘wish dream’ of what the church ought to be, and it never lives up to their expectations. Individualists fall prey to culture that only enjoys community online. We have a culture of ‘busy loneliness’: people do a lot of stuff, but they remain extremely lonesome.”

I was thinking about the way I feel when I am on a mission trip. When I am with a team in Colombia or Kenya or South Africa, or anywhere else I have gone with people for the sake of the Gospel, there’s a camaraderie and joyfulness that we sometimes don’t feel in the normal day-to-day here. But maybe it’s simply because we don’t look around at the ways we can serve with one another for the sake of the Gospel here. I realized that I have that same feeling of purpose and joy when I go with one or two brothers to the Piedmont Rescue Mission. Or with a group to serve at Operation Christmas Child. Or when we men get together to study the Bible at a men’s breakfast. And every Sunday when we gather as a church family to worship the Lord who redeemed us.Looking for joy? Start with gratitude. Follow that up by looking for ways to partner with other believers in the fellowship of the Gospel.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Read Between Heaven and the Real World


Many of my readers will remember the tragic story of the death of Steven Curtis Chapman’s adopted daughter, Maria. She was killed in the driveway of their home in 2008 when she ran into the path of a car driven by her brother, Will Franklin. The final third of the book takes the reader through that gut-wrenching event, the grief that followed and continues to this day, and the story of how God brought Steven and his music of hope back to the stage. You will fall in love with this little girl adopted from China, and you will be in wonder over how it seems God prepared her for what was to come.

After a flash forward to Steven’s debut at Carnegie Hall, the story begins in the tiny town of Paducah, Kentucky, in the early 1960’s. Steven’s brother, Herbie, was born in 1960, and Steven Curtis came along two years later. The two boys were raised by a father who was as gifted in music as he was possessed by an uncontrollable temper. Both boys lived in fear of upsetting their father, and Steven recalls the time he was trying to help his dad restore an old Army jeep. His dad asked for a nine-sixteenth wrench, and Steven ran to the toolshed and searched for it until he had just the right part. But when he got back his dad said, “Just lay it down, I don’t need it anymore.” Steven’s face fell, and then his dad asked for a Phillips screwdriver. Again he raced to the toolshed to find one, only to be told when he returned that it wasn’t needed. Several years ago, Steven saw the Bruce Willis movie, “The Kid” (incidentally, my wife’s favorite movie), and there’s a scene where the young boy in the movie finds the missing screw his dad had been looking for in his pocket, and his dad got angry at him. Steven said he cried so uncontrollably during that scene that his oldest son, Caleb, reached over to pat him on the back and console him.

The family dynamic changed completely when Steven’s father, Herb Chapman, became a Christian. Instead of sending the boys off to church with their mother every week, now Herb was leading his family. The family started singing together at church, Herb was eventually asked to be the music minister, and the seed of a songwriter was beginning to develop in Steven’s heart. He is today the singer-songwriter who has won more awards in contemporary Christian music than anyone in the industry, including 5 Grammys and 58 Dove Awards. You will read about how God opened the door for Steven in a music career, and how this man of faith has used his enormous talent to promote the good news about Jesus. Since a mutual friend, Larry Warren, first introduced me to his music in the early 90’s, I have been a fan.

I had a hard time getting through the chapter about Maria’s death. The pain is as raw as it gets, and I felt the full gamut of emotions Steven and his family went through in their loss. It is hard. But it is also a story that, I believe, can bring help and healing to any of you who have lost a child. I have never walked that road, but I know many of you have. You will be able to identify with Steven and Mary Beth Chapman, and I trust, you will be helped by their story.

Read this book. You will be glad you did.

Monday, May 15, 2017

There’s nothing like a Mom


A cartoon in the Saturday Evening Post years ago showed a young boy of 5 or 6 years old talking on the phone, saying, “Mom is in the hospital, the twins and Rozie and Billie and Sally and the dog and me and Dad are all home alone.”

That was a time when Moms were still held in high esteem by most in our nation. Mom was the heart of the home, Dad was the head. Moms were the tender-hearted nurturers, Dads the fearless warriors. They made quite a team, Mom and Dad. They were incomplete without each other; his strengths were her weaknesses, her strengths were his weaknesses.  Dad was too harsh sometimes, Mom was too soft. Together they raised children in a safe place. Not a perfect place, mind you. But one that was secure.

There are millions of children in the country today who would give anything to be in a home like that. In his book, Love Must Be Tough, James Dobson tells the story of a sixth grade teacher in California who taught in an affluent area. She gave her students a writing assignment. They were to complete the sentence that began, “I wish…” She expected the boys and girls to wish for bicycles, dogs, laptops and trips to Hawaii. Instead, 20 of the 30 children made reference in their responses to their own disintegrating families. Here’s what some of them wrote:

“I wish my parents wouldn’t fight and my father would come back.”
“I wish my mother didn’t have a boyfriend.”
“I wish I could get straight A’s so my father would love me.”
“I wish I had one mom and dad so the kids wouldn’t make fun of me.”

I am so thankful for the Mom who lives in my house. I couldn’t imagine life without her. She truly is the heart of her household, and as the Proverb says, “The heart of her husband safely trusts her.” That’s why she deserves anything I and the kids give her tomorrow. No gift is too good for the Mom who lives and loves at our house.

I heard a story about a boy talking to a girl who lived next door. “I wonder what my Mother would like for mother’s day,” he said. The girl answered, “Well, you could decide to keep your room clean and orderly. You could go to bed as soon as she calls you. You could brush your teeth without having to be told. You could quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” The boy looked at her and said, “Naah, I mean something practical.”

Are Moms important? You can change the textbooks and expunge the records and re-write history. But you will never, ever, take Mom out of the hearts of her children. Or out of the very center of the home. Moms, what you are doing matters. Don’t give in or give up. I look at my seven grown children and now our five grandchildren who are all beneficiaries of loving moms, and I thank God for the fruit I see in their hearts and lives. Much of who they are as people is attributed to the love and attention they received from their moms.

Billy Graham wrote, “Only God Himself fully appreciates the influence of a Christian mother in the molding of character in her children.”

Amen, and Happy Mother’s Day!