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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

These became followers of the way


It was while Josh McDowell was on his way to examine the historical evidence of Christianity that he came to believe that the claims of Christ are indeed true. C.S. Lewis, the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” is in that same camp of former skeptics. Count Lee Strobel in that group as well. The former hard-nosed journalist and atheist is the author of a best seller, “The Case for Christ.” Francis S. Collins, noted scientist and a leader of the Human Genome Project, has renounced atheism and written “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.” 

They are in good company. Perhaps the most famous antagonist of the Christian faith was none other than Saul of Tarsus. It was while he was on his way to arrest followers of the Way that he met the risen Lord, Jesus of Nazareth. Paul became a believer that day and spent the rest of his life trying to persuade others to follow Jesus.

Why did the early disciples refer to themselves as belonging to “the Way?” There are several reasons, one of which is that faith in Jesus was not a box they checked on Sunday, but a way of life. The strongest reason, however, was because of what Jesus had said to His disciples on the night before He was crucified. He told them He was going to prepare a place for them, and that they knew how to get there. Thomas said, “Lord we don’t even know where you are going. How could we possibly know the way?” Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Though many religions may say they “believe” in Jesus, they reject His claims to be the Son of God and our only Savior.

Ravi Zacharias grew up Hindu, and as a young man in India came to believe that Christianity is true, that Jesus was and is the resurrected Lord. He wrote in “Jesus Among Other Gods,” “All religions, plainly and simply, cannot be true. Some beliefs are false, and we know them to be false. So it does no good to put a halo on the notion of tolerance as if everything could be equally true. To deem all beliefs equally true is sheer nonsense for the simple reason that to deny that statement would also, then, be true.”

In other words, dear reader, it is not intellectually honest to say that a Christian and a Muslim (or a Hindu or a Zen Buddhist) pray to the same God or believe the same things about God. It is also not wise to claim that it really doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. It matters. What we believe about God shapes our daily choices and determines our final destination.

Ravi Zacharias said it like this: “I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade. I came to Him as a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about the future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny. I came amid the thunderous cries of a culture that has 330 million deities. I remain with Him knowing that truth cannot be all-inclusive.”

I urge you to examine the evidence for Christ yourself.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Abundance: Learning to live between the steps



Every now and then, I hear a story that makes me smile and say, “I want to be like that!” Here’s one of my favorites.

A university professor was asked to speak at a military base one December, and a soldier named Ralph was sent to pick him up at the airport. After they had introduced themselves, they headed toward the baggage claim.

As they walked down the concourse, Ralph kept disappearing. Once he stopped to help an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open. Then he stopped to lift two toddlers up to where they could see Santa Claus. He paused again to give directions to someone who was lost. Each time he came back with a big smile on his face.

“Where did you learn to do that?” the professor asked. 

“Do what?” Ralph said.

“Where did you learn to live like that? You have stopped to help three people with their problems, and to be honest, I didn’t even SEE them!”

“Oh,” Ralph said, “I learned that during the war, I guess.”

Then he told the professor about his tour of duty in Vietnam, about how he served with a mine detection unit whose job it was to clear territory of mines left by the Viet Cong. He spoke of how he had witnessed some of his buddies blown apart or maimed for life.

“I learned to live between the steps,” he said. “I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it back down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I’ve just been that way ever since.”

The abundance of our lives is not determined by how long we live, but how well we live. Those who can say, “It is well with my soul” know what I mean. God created us for fellowship with Him, to enjoy Him and all He created between the steps, even when life deals us a bitter blow. The great hymn of faith, “It is Well With My Soul,” was written by Horatio Spafford in 1873 after Spafford learned that the ship that his wife and four young daughters were on had sunk in the Atlantic, and his daughters had perished. As he sailed from America to England to join his wife, and his ship arrived at the very spot where his daughters and 220 others had died at sea, he looked at the waters, and went to his cabin to pen these words: 

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
 It is well, it is well with my soul.”