Monday, March 18, 2019

Loving Accountability is Not ‘Micromanagement’

I really like John Rosemond’s column in the Times-News, and generally I agree with him. Every now and then, though, I just have to take issue with his advice. The question from concerned parents several years ago was what to do about their 17-year-old daughter and her boyfriend. The letter said the daughter is an honor student, and is not a risk-taker, “except with boys.” She and her current boyfriend are chafing under her parents’ rule that they cannot be alone together, and she has been caught texting her boyfriend about “sneaking out in cars to be alone.”

Mr. Rosemond started his response by saying, “Your question, however brief, absolutely drips with evidence that the two of you are guilty of world-class micromanagement.” He then went on to define “micromanagement” and its effects, “deceit, disloyalty, conflict and communication problems.” Rosemond said that these young people are engaging in three of the four of those effects and the final one, disloyalty, will surely follow if the parents continue in their destructive behavior of micromanagement.

Mr. Rosemond seemed to ignore the towering clue in the parents’ question, that their daughter tends to be a risk-taker with boys. They know their daughter; Mr. Rosemond does not. He casts that aside and seems to imply that the parents are incompetent because they want to maintain standards of behavior with their daughter for her own protection. Mr. Rosemond admits that young children need tight reins on their behavior, and I agree that as our children grow, those reins need to be loosened, in direct proportion to the wisdom and responsibility our children display. Rosemond even agrees that “some teens, because they have demonstrated a serious inability to make good decisions, may need to be micromanaged.” But then he goes on to say, “the very teen who needs it is not going to submit to it. A teen who does not need it is not going to submit to it, either. Therefore, micromanagement does not work with teens. Period.”

Wow. I know Mark Twain quipped, “When a child turns 12 you should put him in a barrel, nail the lid down and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug the hole.” That view of parenting teens would be on one end of the scale. Mr. Rosemond’s counsel sounds dangerously close to the other extreme, where one might suggest, “Teenagers are going to do what they want to do, no matter what we tell them and no matter how we have trained them. So, let’s take our hands off, let them go, and pray for the best.” I would suggest there is a healthy middle ground between an authoritarian and a laissez-faire style of parenting. I would call it “loving accountability.”

Every teen needs adults, particularly parents, who will hold him accountable, raise the standards, help him grow up “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Every adult needs that as well. I meet with two men weekly, early in the morning before work, and the meeting has one purpose: loving accountability. We ask each other questions like, “Have you led your family consistently in devotions this week?” “Have you been with a woman this week in a way that could be viewed as compromising?” “Have you viewed any sexually explicit material?” “Are you praying with and for your wife regularly?”

Are we men “micromanaging” each other? No, we are acknowledging before God that left to ourselves we cannot be trusted, that our hearts are deceptive, that we desperately need men who will help us with “loving accountability.”

Loving accountability. Even a 17-year-old honor student needs that from her parents.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Do Not Be Ashamed of the Gospel

In his second letter to the young pastor, Paul says to Timothy in so many words, “Do not be ashamed of Jesus’ name. Or of his people. Especially those who are persecuted because of their boldness to proclaim the very truth that you are also to proclaim!” There has always been a temptation to avoid association with Christ if it means we may be persecuted. How many of the disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested? All of them. How many believers stood with Paul in Rome when he was put on trial for his life? Not one. We may have a hard time understanding the context of severe persecution because people in the U.S. are not arrested for preaching the gospel and talking about Jesus. Not yet.

We all rejoiced over the release of Pastor Brunson in Turkey a few months ago. He was imprisoned for two years on charges of terrorism. Brunson had been in Turkey since the mid-1990s to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. I praise God that there was an international outcry over his imprisonment. We also rejoiced over the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran several years ago. He was imprisoned for three years, labeled an “apostate,” waiting to die for preaching the name of Jesus. Again, there was an international outcry. Iran released him in 2012, and Christians everywhere gave thanks that his trial was ended. But not for long. Iranian police arrested Pastor Youcef again last year, and brutally beat him in his own home and in front of his terrified family. As before, Youcef was arrested for preaching the name of Jesus, and he remains in prison today.

There are Christians all over the world who understand what it means when Paul says, “do not be ashamed of me, His prisoner.” Michael Ramsden, who works with Ravi Zacharias, speaks about Christ in closed countries every year. Ramsden often says, “There is no such thing as a closed country if you are willing to die for the gospel.” Several years ago Ramsden was invited to speak on Christianity in a country hostile to the gospel. The Christian organizers of the event prayed that there would be an opportunity to present the gospel, not just an academic lecture on the tenets of Christianity. While Ramsden was speaking, a young religious leader was standing in the back with his arms crossed, searing a hole into Michael with his eyes. At the end of the lecture this young man raised his hand and said, “There is something that no teacher or scholar in my religion has been able to answer for me. I want to know why you Christians think that Jesus had to die on the cross.”

Michael was ecstatic about the question. It was an answer to the prayer of the organizers. But he was nervous, too. Because he knew that to answer that question, he would have to say that their entire religion is wrong on a fundamental level about who Jesus is and what He did on the cross. As Michael Ramsden was about to answer, his host grabbed his arm and said, “Michael, answer very carefully. It is one thing to die for sharing the gospel. It is another thing to die for sharing it poorly.”

Perhaps some raw honesty is needed here. The vast majority of Christians in this country tend to be embarrassed when they see someone preaching on the sidewalk. Sometimes we are embarrassed, I know, because the person is misrepresenting the good news; they are sharing it poorly. Sometimes we are embarrassed to see someone witnessing to strangers or handing out tracts in the park. Or even bowing their heads at a restaurant to pray before a meal. We are tempted to flee persecution of any kind, even if it means we compromise the truth of the gospel through our shame.

Do not be ashamed of speaking in the name of Jesus, and proclaiming the truth and life that only he can give. Without the gospel, there are no answers.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Missing the Sign is Costly

I know what you’re thinking; there are lots of ways I could go with this column. Missing the “bridge out” sign can ruin your whole day. Missing the sign that your wife wants you to stop thinking about yourself and just listen to her can make for a quiet evening. Missing the sign that says “no shoes, no service” can leave you hungry. And since it’s baseball season, let me toss this one out there as well. Missing the sign your catcher gave you can lead to a passed ball, and a run scored.

I missed a sign, and it cost me a few hours and more than $200. It happened one Saturday in December, when my wife and I were traveling to a southern city in the Old North State to meet relatives for brunch. Cindy had errands to run when we returned and so did I, so we decided to leave a car in Graham and pick it up when we got back into town. I thought of a place right off the interstate where a restaurant used to be years ago, and told her we could leave my car there and drive hers.

We went to the brunch, had a great time, drove back to Graham all fat and happy, only to find that my car was gone. I had noticed when I left it that morning that it was the only car on the lot, but that didn’t register with me that maybe there was a reason for that.

When we discovered it missing, our first thought was that it had been stolen — until I walked out to the street and saw a small sign on a pole, informing all who bothered to read it that parking in this lot is not permitted, and all violators will be towed. Good grief. In all my years, I had never had my car towed, unless it was broken down on the side of the road. I called the number on the sign; the man who answered owns the wrecking company and had personally hooked my car to his truck and hauled it to his fenced-in lot. I noticed he was a bit short with me on the phone — a tad guarded you might say. Of course, I was short with him when he told me the amount of cash I had to give him to ransom my vehicle from bondage. “There’s the fee I charge to pick up the vehicle, and there’s a fee I charge to store it,” he told me, explaining why I had to get two Benjamins and change out of the ATM.

We drove to the wrecking company and waited for him to arrive. While we were waiting, I alternated between thinking about what could have been done with the money I was about to hand over, and fuming about his so-called “storage fee.” I figured the car couldn’t have been in his lot more than a few hours. So when he arrived and was stepping out of his truck, I said to him, “Hi, I’m the one who called you, and what do you charge for storage?” He faced me, having stepped down from the cab, and said, “How much is your life worth?” Well, that question led made me to pause and reflect, but only for a second.

I said, “Well, my life must be worth plenty. Jesus paid for it on the cross.” He then explained that he was a Christian, too, but that there had been numerous occasions when he was hooking up a car at that same lot and the owner approached him ready to fight, sometimes with a weapon. “The people who park there are going into the hotel behind it to get drugs, or something else.” Pause and reflect. I said, “OK, but I was going to eat bacon and eggs with my wife’s father and stepmother!”

The end of the story was laughter, and I met a brother in Christ. I also learned the lesson again that I need to pay attention to the signs. The ones on the road are important, but so are the ones on the faces of the people I love.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Church Membership Matters

A supply preacher for a small town Texas church came in early on Sundays, preached a sermon to the congregation, and then left after lunch. One Sunday he arrived earlier than usual, so he sat down at a local donut shop, opened his Bible and went over his sermon notes. A man sitting down the counter said, “You a preacher or something?” “Yes,” he replied, “I preach at the Christian Church here in town.” The man got excited and said, “Hey, I’m a member of that church.” The church was small and the supply preacher knew all the regulars so he said, “I’ve been preaching there for about three months and I’ve never seen you there.” The other fella gave the preacher a strange look and answered, “I said I was a member of that church. I never said I was fanatical about it!”

Ok, so here’s the question. Would you feel like your hands were fanatics if you woke up every day and they were still attached? How about your feet? Would you think your liver was over-the -edge “too committed” if it stayed in place and did its job, day in and day out? How about your eyeballs?

If you answered no to all of those questions, then you are still in your right mind. It has not left you. So, get this. The church is compared to the human body in the Bible. Paul uses a metaphor to compare each individual member of the church to an individual body part: an eye, a foot, an ear, a hand, even a head. (Which gives us assurance that he is speaking in this chapter, 1 Corinthians 12, about the local church body, not the universal church, for which there is one head: Jesus.) The church is also compared to a flock of sheep. That’s why Peter wrote to the elders of the church and said, “Shepherd the flock which is among you.” No shepherd goes out and just finds random sheep and feeds them, or worse, takes them home as his own. That could get a man arrested. No, the shepherd knows the sheep that belong to him, and they know him as well.

Here’s the point, three of them in fact. One, we need to be connected to one another in the church just like the feet need to be connected to the body. Connected feet stay healthy; disconnected feet die. The body needs the feet, also, to do its work effectively. The body cannot do all that it is designed to do when one of its members is not able to carry its weight, so to speak. In the same way, the church needs its members to be there, be committed, and do what they have been uniquely gifted by God to do, for the sake of the gospel.

Point number two, the body is in this together, for good or for bad. The Bible says, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” Don’t believe it? Smash your thumb with a hammer this afternoon, you know, just as a biblical experiment. See if the whole body doesn’t suffer along with it. See if the whole body doesn’t stay awake half the night with the thumb. It is the same with the church. When one member is suffering, either because of willful and unrepentant sin, or because of trials and tragedy, the whole body is affected. That’s when the body also does some of its most important work, to heal the offending or the suffering member. That’s where point three comes in.

The members of the body care for one another. Just like your right hand acts in kindness toward your left foot by removing a splinter. The local church cares for its own. The church also reaches out to those who are not connected and invites them to meet Jesus, and to join the local body.

Church membership matters. You don’t have to be fanatical about it. But you do need to get connected.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Is That All You’ve Got?

My favorite place at the Myrtle Beach marathon several years ago was the pre-race expo, and especially the bumper stickers that were for sale. One said, “If you find me on the road, please drag me across the finish line.” Or, “If you can read this, I’m not in last place!” Or, “This IS my race pace.” The next morning, I saw people holding some of the same signs, and many others. Some were signs of encouragement for the 6,000 runners who passed by. Some people were just trying to be funny, and they were. Like the guy just a half a mile into the race whose sign read, “One. Lousy. Parade.” Then there was the lady holding up a sign about 10 miles in that said, “My husband knows a shortcut.” Or the one that said, “The Kenyans finished an hour ago.” Some were meant to be funny, but just were not. When I was in the most pain of the race, around mile 24, I passed a guy standing on the side of the road whose sign read, “Is that all you’ve got?” The most encouraging sign I read said, “I am exactly .3 miles from the finish line.” That was a sight for sore legs. The only sign that was better than that was the one I ran under that said, “Finish.”

Paul holds up a sign in his first letter for Timothy, who was a sometimes fragile, sometimes discouraged young pastor, that says, “But you, O man of God.” Man of God! “Timothy,” Paul seems to say, “Remember who you are. You are a man of God.” I wish we could know somehow what effect that had on Timothy. Did he break into a huge grin when he read that? Or did he break down and weep in relief and thanksgiving?

More importantly, would the testimony of God and his word be the same for you? What is your identity? Are you a man or woman of God? Would you be able to say with confidence that you are one of his “peculiar people,” as Peter refers to believers? If you are born again, having been purchased by the peculiar and unique manner of the blood of the Savior on a cross, you are a man of God or a woman of God, no matter your age. You have been made to “stand” because of what Jesus Christ did, not because of anything you have done or ever will do. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

How are we able to stand? By grace. How do we get grace? Through faith. But where does faith come from? Through our Lord Jesus Christ. What is the result of this grace applied to our lives? We have peace with God. How? We have been justified (declared just and righteous, because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us). What can we do as a result? Rejoice in hope of the glory of God!

This is why Christians around the world celebrate the risen Savior every day. Jesus Christ hung on a cross for six hours one Friday, was dead and buried from 3 p.m. Friday until sometime before dawn on Sunday, and then he rose from the dead. He appeared to Peter, to the other disciples, and to more than five hundred at once.

Do you know Him? If you do, then you know what many in the world can only dream about. You know who you are. If that is “all you’ve got,” as the sign declared to my weary soul on a Myrtle Beach street, then that is plenty. It means that you are standing with the One who conquered sin, death, and the grave. There’s no better finish line in all the world.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Attitudes to Avoid, Actions to Adopt

“Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.” Kent Hughes explains Cotton Mather’s quote by saying that when a person comes to Christ by faith and is born again, his life is turned upside down. Old bad habits are replaced with new good habits of faith and love and hard work and gratitude. He becomes a better worker and manager of resources as he lives out the Scriptures, which results, often, in economic prosperity. The tragedy is, in many cases, “new prosperity and material wealth devour the same Christianity that gave them birth — especially in the second and third generations.”

This is why Paul in Scripture gives a stern warning to all who are “rich in this present age.” By the way, if you are tempted to stop reading because you don’t think you are rich, consider this. The average household income in Alamance County is around $43,000 per year. That income is in the top 1.72% worldwide, which means we are richer than more than 98 percent of the world. What should we do about it? According to Paul there are attitudes to avoid and actions to adopt.

Avoid being arrogant. It just goes with the territory that those who have look down on those who don’t have. If you live in a house, you look down on those who live in a trailer. If you live in a trailer on your own land, you look down on those who live in an apartment! And so it goes. But we are commanded in Scripture to put away arrogance and a haughty spirit. After all, “what do we have that we did not receive?”

Avoid trusting in uncertain riches. The more we have, the more we have to fight against finding our security, and even our sense of self-worth, in our possessions. This deadly downward spiral never ends well and can only be corrected through repentance and acknowledging God as the owner of everything, including the very breath in our lungs. He alone is worthy of our trust.

The actions to adopt begin with this simple command: “do good, be rich in good works.” I knew a dear lady who is with the Lord now, but she used her income and her nice home to show hospitality to people she knew who did not know Christ. She would invite several couples over for dinner and a conversation about things of faith. I know a couple here in town who own several properties that they invite people going through difficult trials to live in for a while, as they teach them to manage their money and their lives in a way that is healthy and productive. You know people like that as well. Are you one of those people who lives on less so that you can help others who have legitimate needs?

Paul then says to us we should be “ready to give, willing to share.” It is sad that though Americans have the largest incomes in the world, we also saddle ourselves with the most debt. As Dave Ramsey says with a smile, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like!” Why not put yourself in a position where you are ready to give by getting out of debt as quickly as possible, while at the same time beginning to give to the work of your church, to global missions, and to local needs?

Don’t get devoured by your own prosperity. I believe that those who learn to give will one day be met in heaven by the beneficiaries of their giving. That is worth the sacrifice.