Monday, November 17, 2014

Don’t put off the most important things

Every now and then someone will send an email to the church that speaks so eloquently to all of us that we end up reading it several times — and then saving it in a folder to refer to later. That’s what happened last week with something that Becky sent to us. She wrote it after a high school friend of her husband’s died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack and left a wife and a child behind. He had loved well as a faithful husband and father, attending to the little things in his family that made it healthy and strong, not putting off the important things as so many of us tend to do. Here’s part of what Becky wrote to her church body to encourage us:

“I think sometimes we do wait for that perfect amount of savings to go on a date night, get married, have a baby, tithe, share, give ... Not even related to money, we often wait for perfect timing to do something special, say I love you, apologize, eat dessert ... to tell someone about Jesus. The fact is, we are not promised tomorrow and if we live too carefully and cautiously, we are going to miss out on some really great things that God has for us. It’s not about what’s in our bank accounts or homes, what we have or don’t have, how old or young we are. It really comes down to relationships: our relationship with Christ and our relationship with those around us. If I am alive to see my husband, parent, friend, child take their final breath on this earth, I pray I will be like (our friend who lost her husband). Heartbroken — yes, but so very thankful to love and be loved fully, with no regrets! That I wouldn’t be longing for one more day to spend on apologies and do-overs, but to love and laugh, whether it is a special day like an anniversary or birthday, or it is just a typical Monday with all the normal things that need to get done. Every day is a gift! I know I am thankful for this day that I get to live and love.”

Becky’s letter reminded me of a poem by Edgar Guest, entitled “Tomorrow.”

He was going to be all that a mortal should be
No one should be kinder or braver than he
A friend who was troubled and weary he knew, Who’d be glad of a lift and who needed it, too;
On him he would call and see what he could do
Each morning he stacked up the letters he’d write
And thought of the folks he would fill with delight
It was too bad, indeed, he was busy today, And hadn’t a minute to stop on his way;
More time he would have to give others, he’d say
The greatest of workers this man would have been
The world would have known him, had he ever seen
But the fact is he died and he faded from view, And all that he left here when living was through
Was a mountain of things he intended to do

Don’t be that guy. If your life is so busy that you don’t have time to develop strong and healthy relationships, especially in your own marriage and family, then you are too busy. Stop putting off what’s most important, especially your own soul’s need for forgiveness.
We only have today.

“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Read a good book to your children

When my children were little, we would read good books together several nights a week. We spent time with Peter and Lucy in Narnia, with Laura Ingalls on the Minnesota prairie and we even walked the battlefields of France with Sgt. Alvin York.

We also read about Daniel in the lion’s den, David and Goliath, and three Hebrew boys thrown into a fiery furnace who lived to tell about it. These stories, of course, come from the best book ever written. Our children never got tired of hearing the stories of daring and adventure that we find in the Bible. There we came face to face with ordinary people like ourselves who did extraordinary things for God. Just this week, I wished that my children were little again so we could curl up on the sofa, sip hot chocolate and watch the fire while we read Acts 27.

It’s a sailor’s tale, a tale of the high seas, and Paul, the prisoner, on his way to Rome where he will stand before Caesar, is right in the middle of it. He has two traveling companions, Aristarchus and Luke. The other 273 people on board consist of the owner of the ship, the captain and crew of the ship (sailors), and the soldiers who are charged with transporting Paul and other prisoners to Rome, led by a man named Julius, a centurion. And “some other prisoners,” most likely being transported to Rome to provide entertainment in the coliseum as they are chased down and killed by lions. Sailors, soldiers and slaves all thrown together by God for a most unlikely adventure. It is a study in itself just to observe the tension between the sailors and the soldiers, as Army and Navy each take a turn at elevating self-protection above sworn duty. The sailors, at one point, lowered the lifeboat, pretending to be putting out anchors, but were in fact trying to escape. Then later, we find the soldiers planning to kill the prisoners to make sure that none of them escaped. And of course, all of this is taking place in the middle of a hurricane and this ancient vessel is tossed around the Mediterranean like it’s a toy. The climax of the drama comes after 14 days of being battered by the storm, and Luke writes, “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” When the storm had started two weeks earlier, the ship lost its way, blown off course, away from the island of Crete and into the middle of the sea. The men must have lost their appetite, for they had gone without food for 14 days as they did everything in their power to save the ship. Do you see the progression, the downward spiral? Lost their way. Lost their appetite. Lost their hope. And it is precisely here when the character and the leadership of Paul have their greatest impact.

As you read the story to your children, see if you can find the three things Paul said to the other men on the ship to encourage them not to give up. See how God used the least likely character on board to lead, simply because he kept his head while everyone else was losing theirs. See how a plot to have Paul murdered is discovered and foiled. Mostly, see how God intervenes in the affairs of men and shows them His grace.

A quiet evening with your family ... hot chocolate ... a warm fire ... an amazing tale that really happened ... a gracious God.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Should Christians Give Mark Driscoll the Middle Finger?

Some years ago I watched a nature series entitled Life that depicted the life of, well, life. One of the episodes included never-before-captured footage of a pack of Komodo dragons hunting a water buffalo. The event was unique because no one thought that a reptile would pursue a mammal, but the food situation was so dire that the Komodo dragons went outside of their normal hunting routines.
The hunt started with what seemed like an insignificant bite, but the dragon’s bite was, as the narrator says, “a lethal concoction of bacteria and venom” that eventually took the life of the buffalo. Once the buffalo died, the pack of Komodo dragons, like a haunting clan of flash dancers, emerged from the woods and feasted on the corpse of what was usually the more prominent beast.
The Komodo dragons had flipped the script. No longer were they the prey, but the predator. No longer the cattle, but the butcher. And in terms of the nature of this post, no longer the crucified, but the crucifier.
It reminds me of a modern day parable where one man says to another man, “We should go kill all the abortion doctors!,” to which the other man responds, “So you want to enact the same harm to your enemies that made them your enemies to begin with?”
This is the scene that comes to mind as I watch the continuing saga of Mars Hill Church’s collapse. As many Christians are aware, Mars Hill is a megachurch on the path to closing its doors. This is largely the result of its founder, Mark Driscoll, whom Wikipedia describes as a “controversial pastor.” This, however, is putting it lightly. In recent months a volley of reports have surfaced describing Driscoll’s leadership as, for lack of a better description, psychologically abusive. Driscoll is accused of being more of a tyrant than a pastor, and anyone who crossed him experienced acrimonious consequences. The allegations against Driscoll suggest that he dispassionately sterilized any opposition towards him, and that he did so in exceptionally calumniating ways.
The provocative character that often surfaced on Sunday’s stage, it seems, was only the tip of the iceberg as to what was happening Monday through Saturday. And perhaps even on Sunday afternoons and evenings.
But now that Driscoll has resigned and that Mars Hill is on its way to shutting its doors (along with its multi-site campuses that stretch across 15 cities in five states), proper accountability might finally be taking its course. If Driscoll really was as brutally tyrannical as even half of the reports say that he was, then his resignation was long overdue. Those wronged by Driscoll should be grateful for his resignation, pray for his genuine repentance, and hope that Mars Hill Church could somehow rise from the ashes of this blast to continue ministering to their respective cities.
In many cases, however, this is not what is happening at all. Instead, the cattle has become the butcher, and it’s lunch time.
This of course isn’t the nature of everyone wronged by Driscoll, but social media outlets reveal that there is a large group of people that won’t rest until they see Driscoll and Mars Hill’s head on a platter. It’s not enough that he resigned and that the church is closing its doors. Driscoll needs to feel the same pain he so viciously caused others.
What’s interesting to me is that some who sought to remove Driscoll are mirroring, in their accountability of him, many of the same attitudes that caused him to be removed in the first place. Granted, I cannot pretend to act as if I know what happened behind closed doors, but I do know that in saying things like, “You [Mark Driscoll] are the reason God gave me a middle finger,” as one influential man said, and calling Driscoll and his posse explicit and insulting things, as I’ve seen many others do on social media, isn’t the best way to hold Driscoll accountable.
It’s continuing the unfortunate legacy that he left in the wake of his leadership.
The situation is certainly dire, but we should retain our humanity. Or even better, our Christianity.
If the goal is to dissolve the harmful legacy of Driscoll and Mars Hill Church, then fighting it with the same provocative behavior that caused one to initially want to fight it in the first place isn’t the right way to do it. It’s actually quite the wrong way to do it. And more importantly, the ungodly way to do it.
I can’t imagine Jesus, after walking out of the grave, walking back into Jerusalem and crucifying everyone who desired to hang him on a cross. He instead prayed, while hanging on that cross, for God to forgive them. And what’s more is that he died for those that crucified him.
But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus realized that crucifying people for crucifying him would never solve the problem. He needed to fight evil with good, and show the world that there is a better way. A way that resembles the love God has for sinners.
What’s eerie is that, at the time of the writing of this blog, the first slide on Mars Hill’s website is of their final sermon series–perhaps ever–which is/was “Love one another” from 1 John. It’s unfortunate that the series was never completed, because people on all sides of the situation would do well to hear it.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Blessed by God are the eyes that see

I wouldn’t last a day as a real pirate. But lately I’ve heard all the pirate jokes, especially the bad ones. “Why didn’t the pirate go see the movie?” “Because it was rated ARRRRRRRRR.”

I am wearing an eye patch because of the adventure that began in early September when I started noticing floaters and flashers in my right eye. Flashers appear like little lightning bolts coming from the corner of the eye, and you know what floaters look like. Because I had seen the same thing in my left eye one year earlier, I figured it was a torn retina, which was easily repaired with laser surgery then. This time, however, there was also a detachment, which Dr. Jason Sanders at Piedmont Retina Specialists in Greensboro described as “a medical emergency.” I’ll spare you the gory details, but after two in-the-office procedures and one operation, my right eye is on the mend. I still have a gas bubble in it and my vision is poor, so I wear a patch to keep my left eye seeing clearly. I missed most of a national conference our church hosted and at which I was supposed to speak three times. I missed our annual men’s retreat at Holden Beach where 40 men and young men from the church enjoyed two nights and days of teaching, worship, fellowship and eating like, well, men. I missed two Sundays at church while having to lie on my left side with my head in a certain position for 12 days. There’s no question in my mind that I would have been prescribed Ritalin as a very active elementary school student back in the ’60s, had there even been such a thing then. So, to stop doing everything I am used to doing for two weeks was the hardest thing I have ever, uh, not done. Let me share just a few of the lessons I have learned during this season of my life.

I learned that my eyesight is a gift from God, and had I lived one hundred years ago, or if I lived in many places in the world today, I would be blind in both eyes now.
I learned that I can trust God to take me through very painful surgery.

I learned again that the church belongs to Him, and that its health does not depend on me. He has placed many in the body who can lead and feed the flock in my absence.

I learned that we are never sidelined as believers. What we sometimes describe as a detour is God’s design, for which He has gospel purposes. He allowed Cindy and me to meet Lauren, Amy, Harry, Kim and others at the doctor’s office, and share about our family, our church and our love for Christ.

I learned that God has His people everywhere. Just before I was taken back for scleral buckle surgery, Dr. Sanders came into pre-op to speak with me. He said, “My wife and I prayed for you by name this morning.” My heart rejoiced that not only was I in the care of a highly skilled doctor, his life is in the hands of the Great Physician.

Jesus said to His disciples, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see.” He was talking about spiritual sight, which is given by God to those who trust in the One who is the light of the world.

Let me encourage you to do two things. First, go see Dr. Sanders at the earliest occurrence of flashers and floaters. Second, entrust your spiritual vision to the God who made you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Glad father enjoys fruits of his labor

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to spend the better part of an afternoon with a good friend of mine. I was flying to Kenya and had a six-hour layover in Detroit. So, my friend came and picked me up at the airport, we found a little cafe close by and had a pleasant lunch together. Then we asked directions to the nearest Starbucks and spent another two hours there, enjoying the fact that neither one of us had to be anywhere that afternoon, there was nothing pressing us, and we could simply enjoy the company, the wonderful smell of coffee brewing, and the laughter of good friends.

We talked easily of old times, swapped stories, joked around, and just enjoyed being together. I reflected later on the plane how much I love this friend of mine, and look forward to the next time we can be together. The funny thing is, though we had known each other for 21 years, our relationship had changed drastically in the last two.

You see, this friend is also my oldest son. Micah attended college about an hour from Detroit, and was able to come down and hang out with his dad for half a day. We talked about the courses he was taking in college and the things he was learning about life. We discussed the job offer he had waiting for him after he graduated in May. We laughed about college pranks, and we agonized together about the Panthers loss that year in the playoffs. We talked about theology and about career choices and about marriage.

When Micah dropped me off at the airport and we hugged, it felt as natural and as easy to say “I love you” to my son as anything I have ever done.

What a blessing! I felt like I was sitting down to a banquet of fresh fruits and vegetables that my wife and I had planted in a different season. All of the agony of back-breaking toil in the hot sun was forgotten because the harvest was in and the feast was prepared. The labor was eclipsed by the sweet reward. The fruit was delicious and satisfying.

I am not writing this to point to myself as a good father. Believe me when I say that I have made as many mistakes as anyone. I remember a basketball game that almost came to blows because of my own pride and stubborn competitiveness. Micah’s cooler head prevailed, and we were spared what could have been a devastating blow to our relationship. I remember many times when I disciplined in anger. I remember several years of awkward embarrassment between us as he grew into manhood, and the hugs were fewer than they should have been, the expressions of love forced at times, absent at others. I remember the times I didn’t do the thing my son needed and the times I did or said the wrong thing. But I am eternally grateful and I give praise to the one who is able to take my meager efforts and my mistakes and redeem them for His own glorious purposes. He has certainly done that in my relationship with Micah, who just turned 30, is married to Kari, and is the father to three sons. And I thank God that he has done the same with each of my other six children.

The Bible says, “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.”

This is one glad father.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Duty is ours, results are God’s

Many people do not know that after John Quincy Adams completed his tenure as president in 1829, he was elected to the House of Representatives. There, he served for the last 18 years of his life, waging war against slavery in a pro-slavery House.

Adams was dubbed the “Hell-Hound of Slavery” because of his dogged determination never to quit the fight until victory was his.

During this time in our nation’s history, the Congress was responsive to the people, and Mondays any citizen could make a petition in the House and ask for legislation. On one particular Monday, John Quincy Adams introduced 900 anti-slavery petitions! The pro-slavery congressmen were livid, and passed a resolution that any petition could be brought to the House on a Monday except petitions that opposed slavery. This was the first “Gag Rule” ever enacted by Congress, and it was aimed at one man who was willing to stand for what was right. It did not work.

Adams’ battle continued, despite the fact that he was threatened with expulsion from the House by congressional leadership. He never slowed down or even showed signs of fatigue. Asked once why he persisted in the fight, and how he managed to avoid discouragement (or even despair) at the outcome, John Quincy Adams replied, “Duty is ours, results are God’s.”

Oh, what a guiding principle for our lives! Adams cared deeply that slaves be set free, but whether they ever were or not was not his motivation. He fought for their freedom because it was the right thing to do, not because it was the most expedient. He understood, perhaps, what Benjamin Rush (one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) meant when Rush said that on the final judgment day God will say to all those who belong to Him through a relationship with His Son Jesus, “Well done thou good and faithful — not good and successful — servant.”

On Dec. 3, 1844, after nearly eight years of battling the pro-slavery forces with the Gag Rule in effect, John Quincy Adams’ motion to rescind the rule was passed. Once again, slavery was an open topic of discussion in the Congress. Though the abolition of slavery did not seem to be any closer to becoming reality, at least now the topic could be debated again in the House. Adams’ response to the victory? Blessed, forever blessed, be the name of God!

We know the end of the story that John Quincy Adams never lived to see. Slavery was finally abolished but it took a man named Lincoln some four decades later to finish the job that Adams and others had begun. Had John Quincy Adams lost hope and faded in the heat of battle, what would have become of the cause? We will never know, because Adams remained faithful to the end, though he never saw the full fruits of his labor.

Isn’t the Christian life much like that? We toil and labor and sow and water, and often it is for future generations to enjoy the fruit. Yet we are called to be faithful to the end, no matter the cost. As you know, dear reader, our nation is crumbling from moral and spiritual decay. Who of us will follow John Quincy Adams’ example? Duty is ours, results are God’s.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Man Needs His Brothers

As you read this, I am at a men’s retreat with 40 of the men and young men of the church. It reminds me of another retreat several years ago. At one point during the weekend, there were about 15 of us in the ocean, riding the waves, trying to avoid several Portuguese man-of-war that were floating our way, laughing and enjoying the time together.

After a half hour or so, most left the water and ran off to do other things, and then there were just four of us dads left in the ocean. I cannot remember ever swimming at the beach when the water was like it was that day. The waves were coming fast and furious, each one bigger than any I could recall from past trips to the ocean. We hardly had time to get ready to float over one, or ride it in, before the next one came. When I caught a wave just right, it would take me speeding toward the beach. It was exhilarating. When I caught it too early or too late, it would spin me crazily around underwater like a dishrag in the spin cycle.

It occurred to me later that evening as we were singing worship songs and I was preparing to teach, that I would not have been in the ocean that day by myself. It was just too risky. I was constantly checking on the other men to make sure they were still ‘above their circumstances,’ as I am sure they were doing the same for me and the others. We were staying close together, none drifting out further than the rest. We wanted to ensure that the waves did not produce any casualties that day.

I remember the story from “The War,” documentary by Ken Burns, about the U.S. sailors who were in the ocean for days after their ship was destroyed by the Japanese. Sharks found the men and began to come, every day, to pick them apart. Imagine the horror of knowing that the sharks would be back in a few hours, and this time they may be coming for you.

The sad truth is that there are men in all of our churches who are facing the dangerous waves of financial destruction or marriage breakup or addiction to pornography or worse. The sharks of loneliness, depression and despair are circling. Many of these men are isolated, drifting further from the shore, further from the brothers who are there and can help, further from hope. Some don’t know where to turn because they have been consumed with pursuing their own dreams of financial success and relationships with friends simply have not been a priority. Others know exactly what to do and where to go, but pride or shame or embarrassment keeps them drifting away while they look longingly at the band of brothers they used to know and love.

The Bible says, “Exhort one another every day ... that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Men, we need brothers who will stay close to us, tell us the truth and help us get past the breakers and into calmer waters, men who will pray for us when we are in over our heads. These men will most likely not be found at the social club or the golf course or the bar. Go to the closest church where the Bible is still being faithfully preached and men are still being challenged to be men ... you will find some brothers there.

Maybe I will see you tomorrow at church.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Start with right-usefulness

If you are reading this online right now, you may have a mouse in your hand. Not the brown furry kind. The hard plastic kind that slides or rolls on a pad. Try something for me. Take the mouse (either kind) and see if you can use it to drive a nail into a two-by-four. I’ll wait; go ahead. OK, you’re back, and I can tell you are not happy about your dead mouse. A mouse is useful for clicking on things on your screen. It makes a lousy hammer. Cars are made for what? Right, transportation over land. Try driving one through Lake Mackintosh sometime. You will be angry about your dead car. Water is made for what? Right, drinking, washing things, even weekly bathing. But if you drove into the lake with your car you would quickly find that water is not made for breathing. You would have some very unhappy lungs until they found air, which is made for breathing. Mosquitoes are made for what? I have no idea. OK, let’s skip mosquitoes.

One of the ways we can define righteousness is “right usefulness.” Using a mouse to drive a nail is unrighteous. It was not created for that use. Trying to drive over a lake without a bridge is an unrighteous use of a perfectly good automobile. Drinking clean water is fine, but trying to breathe it is unrighteous. What’s my point? Every created thing, even mosquitoes, are “righteous” when they are serving the purpose for which they were created. So the big question, the one that matters most, is this: “What were you made for?” Even that will lead you down the wrong road until you realize that the question properly asked is, “Who were you made for?”

The only righteous answer is God. You and I were created by God, in His image, to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him, and to enjoy Him supremely over all of His creation. This foundational truth sets our life in a direction that will result in love, joy and peace. It doesn’t mean that our lives are without trials and suffering. Oh, no. In fact, for the follower of Jesus Christ, there will be persecution and suffering precisely because we hold to Him as our only hope. The Bible says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” But those trials have a right usefulness as well, not to drive us away from the One who loves us, but to press us more deeply into His arms, and into a faith that cannot be shaken.

So the next question has to be, “What identifies you as a human being?” Or, “What do you see as your primary purpose for the threescore and ten that you walk the planet?” Some of you might say that your vocation defines you. Or your talent. Some might say your role in the home defines you, that you were put here to be a father or a mother. Some would answer, “I am defined by my sexuality.” Others would admit that a passion for money or power identifies them and gives their lives meaning. Some of you might even sadly agree that your life would be meaningless without gaming. Sigh.

Nothing will satisfy your soul and give your life the purpose for which you were created except the God who created you. Find people who really know Him and ask them if what I am saying is true.

Let me know what you hear. And if you know what mosquitoes are good for.