Monday, December 29, 2014

This manger scene was different

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics, based on Biblical principles, in various institutions. One place they visited was a large orphanage. It was nearing the holidays, and they introduced the orphans to the traditional Christmas story for the first time. They told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and finding no room in the inn, and that Jesus was born in a stable and placed in the manger.

Throughout the story, the children sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

As a follow-up activity, each child was given three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was also given a small square of paper, cut from yellow napkins which the children tore into strips and carefully laid in the manger for straw. Small pieces of flannel from a thrown away nightgown were used for the baby’s blanket.

As they made their way around the room to observe the children, one of the Americans noted that all went well until he got to the table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As the American looked at the little boy’s manger, he was startled to see not one, but two babies lying there. Quickly, he called for the translator to ask the boy why he had reconstructed the story in this way.

Misha spoke through the translator and very accurately recalled the story that had been told until he came to the part where Mary put Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story and said that when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at him and asked if he had a place to stay. Misha told Jesus that he had no mama or papa, and no place to stay. Then Jesus told Misha that he could stay with him. Misha said he couldn’t stay with Jesus, because he didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But Misha told the translator that he wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so he thought about what he had that maybe he could use for a gift. Then he had an idea.

He asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told Misha that would be the best gift anybody had ever given him. “So,” Misha said, “I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him — for always.”

As Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed. The little orphan boy had found someone who would never abandon or abuse him, someone who would stay with him — for always.

This manger scene was different. But it fits right in with the story of Christ’s birth. As the Bible says, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Did you get that? You and I are orphans, but Jesus has come to adopt us.

I don’t know what you got for Christmas, but it doesn’t compare with what the Christ of Christmas has for you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Jesus: The name above every name

Here’s the name above every name in Great Britain this year: Muhammad. A survey conducted by a parenting website has declared the name Muhammad to be the most popular name for baby boys in Britain, surpassing previous favorites, Oliver and Jack. Muhammad jumped 27 spots from last year to claim the top spot on the list of the 100 most popular baby boy names for 2014.

That may be so. But, the name that is above every name has been given by God to Jesus. “You shall call His name Jesus,” the angel said to Joseph, “for He will save His people from their sins.” It is a name that is set apart, even by those who don’t believe in Him. Philip Yancey wrote, “Today, people even use Jesus’ name to curse by. How strange it would sound if, when a businessman missed a golf putt, he yelled, ‘Thomas Jefferson!’ or if a plumber screamed ‘Mahatma Gandhi!’ when his pipe wrench mashed a finger. We cannot get away from this man Jesus.” Or from His name.

But Jesus’ name in His day would have been as ordinary then as Bob or Joe is today. This was a time of a revival of Jewish pride, and parents were naming their children after the heroes of the Old Testament again. So Mary was named after Miriam, Moses’ sister. Joseph was named after one of the patriarchs. And even the name “Jesus” was a form of the Old Testament name, Joshua, which means, “He shall save.” So the thought that someone named Jesus could be the Messiah was unthinkable. For people raised in that time and in that tradition, Phillip Yancey wrote, it would have been scandalous to even consider that someone named “Jesus” could possibly be the Son of God. Jesus was just a man; He was Mary’s oldest boy, a carpenter who grew up in Nazareth, for goodness’ sake!

Paul wrote, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him (Jesus) and given Him the name that is above every name.” Sinclair Ferguson argues that Paul was making a clear connection between the name Jesus and the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Isaiah wrote 700 years before Christ, “Truly you are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. … For thus says the Lord …’I am the Lord, and there is no other’ … And there is no other God besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. … To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”

Here’s the point: God is the only Savior, God says of Himself in Isaiah. Jesus, says Paul, is that Savior. God is the Lord before whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess, God says in Isaiah. And Jesus, says Paul, is that Lord.

This is why the birth of Christ divides time, as well as nations, even families. At His first appearance, Jesus hid Himself in plain sight, as a babe in a manger. At His next appearance, He will split the skies as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will not come, hat in hand, asking for us to “please accept Him.” He never did that in His first coming. When He returns, it will be to consummate God’s perfect plan for all of mankind and judge the world in righteousness.

“When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found, Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.”

May Christ alone and His righteousness alone be yours this Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Funny: Horus Ruins Christmas

Horus crashes a Christmas morning service, and things don't work out quite the way he had hoped...

Horus Ruins Christmas

...and even if you're not familiar with all of these popular internet conspiracies explaining away the story of Jesus, the video is so well done that it's funny in it's own right.

From the video's creators:
Hey, did you know that the life of Jesus was stolen from the Egyptian God Horus?

Oh, you know stuff about Horus? Well, I mean it was stolen from Mithras.

Oh, you know stuff about Mithras too? Well, whatever pagan god you've never heard of is the one that the life of Jesus is stolen from.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jesus did not come to make bad people good

When I was growing up, I used to set out rabbit gums. They were wooden boxes with a trap door; the animal would smell the bait, enter the box, hit a stick that was connected to the door and the trap would slam shut. Every morning before the school bus came, I would run down in the woods and check my traps. I can’t tell you how many possums I caught. I can tell you how many rabbits. One. They’re just too smart. But nobody ever accused a possum of being smart. Ugly, yes. Slow, yes. But smart? Why do you think there’s so much free possum meat on the highways and byways?

So, let’s suppose I go on a campaign to “Save the Possums.” Somebody is already committed to saving the whales and the snails and the males. I want to save the possums, but how am I going to do that? Let’s say I realize that the only way to save the whole possum race is to become one. I somehow add to my human essence the essence of possum, and believe me, you won’t find that fragrance at Belk’s, and I come in the likeness of a possum. I travel down, way down, down to possumland, where those critters live. Where will I find those possums so I can save them? Well, I know I can find most of them waiting by the side of the road, watching for cars to come so they can run out in front of them. So I would go to them and speak possum to them, pleading with them to change their ways. “Look!,” I would say, “you don’t have to do this. Step away from the road and that oncoming transfer truck and follow me back to the woods. That’s where we will find the possums with three or more brain cells left, frolicking in a way that only possums can.”

What do you think? Would it work? I don’t know, but I can assure you that I am not interested in that plan at all. I can think of little worse than becoming a possum.

Friends, as greasy and distasteful as it might be for us to consider trading in human form for possum posture, that pales in comparison to what Jesus did when He left glory and put on humanity, coming in the likeness of a man to save us. He was and is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made,” as stated in the Nicene Creed. There is no way our finite minds can begin to comprehend how high He was and therefore how low He had to come.

There’s something else about my possum-pretending that pleads for pointing out. It would not do for me to just become a possum and implore my furry kinfolk to change their sneaky and destructive ways. I would have to somehow give my life in exchange for theirs. Just as it was not enough for Jesus just to come and live a good life and show us how to “be better people.” Jesus Christ did not come to earth to be our example; He came to be our Savior and our Lord. To accomplish that purpose, Jesus was born to die. He said of Himself, “The Son of Man must suffer many things ... and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

That little baby, born long ago in a manger in Bethlehem, did not come to make bad people good or good people better. He came to make dead people live.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mild He lays His glory by

I heard Frank Turek say at Elon a few years ago that the greatest miracle ever performed was creation, because God made something out of nothing. Others say the greatest miracle of all time was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still, others cast their vote for the incarnation. Wayne Grudem wrote, “It is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become a man and join Himself to a human nature forever so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.” We can disagree about which of the three events in history is the greatest miracle, but the incarnation is amazing and glorious, and worthy of our study and attention. May I say also that I take issue with those Christians who refuse to acknowledge Christmas because of all the arguments they muster:

Dec. 25 is not the actual day Jesus was born, there are pagan celebrations connected with Christmas, it’s gotten too commercial or any number of other reasons. We understand those arguments, but we also understand that the incarnation is a fact, a real event, and we celebrate that! It is the birth of the Messiah, the coming of our Savior that we celebrate on Christmas.

Philippians 2:6-11 is considered by many to be the greatest doctrinal statement in the Bible relative to the person of Christ. It is called the “kenosis” passage because of the word used in verse 7: He “emptied Himself.” I wish we could really grasp with our understanding how high He was and how low He came. But there’s no way we can. It’s like asking your dog to understand Shakespeare, when you’re still working on trying to make him understand “no.” Or, “be quiet.” But there is much we can know, even with our limited, finite minds, and the plain truth in the Bible is that Jesus, who always was and is coequal with God, took on human flesh in order to die for us on the cross.

It is precisely because the incarnation is essential to our faith that it has been in the crosshairs of heresy from the third century. Arius proposed in 320 A.D. that only God the Father was eternal and that He produced Jesus Christ out of nothing as His “first great creation.” This heresy was refuted by the Council of Nicaea that produced the Nicene Creed, and which states in part, We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.

Sadly, the heresy of Arianism lives on today with people who practice the Unitarian, Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness religions, among others who deny that Jesus was and is coeternal with God.

Why is this important? Because the incarnation of Christ is essential to our salvation. And because the understanding of what Jesus did by leaving glory and becoming a man is essential to our own humility. Jesus was equal with God. But He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” He laid aside the independent exercise of His divine attributes and was born in a manger.

“Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”

That’s why we celebrate.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


It happens every year. Before the leaves can change from green to orange–and before those leaves descend to the ground–businesses start promoting their Christmas ads. Or as many businesses call them, their “holiday” ads. And this undoubtedly Hulk-rages every Christian on the planet into a wreath-colored green.

“How dare they remove ‘Christ’ from ‘Christmas!'” we cry. Just like the Hulk, we promise these business that they won’t like us when we’re angry.

Calm down, proverbial Bruce Banners.

Really. What’s so wrong with the word “holiday”? Is the word so bad that it warrants sign picketing in front of the local Home Depot? Does someone really need to start the 732nd online petition forbidding the term? Do our embittered protests really affect anything?

Is the word “holiday” so malevolent that we ought to make the banning of it our hill upon which to die? Is there not a better way to spend our Christmas time and energy? And, more importantly, is this really the best way to combat the underlying problem?

No. No it’s not.

The word “holiday” comes from the Old English haligdæg, which means, “holy (halig) day (dæg).” It was used to describe things like religious festivals, meaning that businesses using the word “holiday” to describe religious events like Christmas isn’t necessarily anything new. The word has been used this way for a long time. So, contrary to popular conservative Christian opinion, the 2005 Boston “holiday tree” scandal, in which the word "holiday" was used to describe a Christmas tree, wasn’t anything new.

(Not to mention that “Christmas trees” are more than likely the residual result of pagan worship.)

The reality is that the word “holy-day” isn’t that bad of a word to describe a day slated to represent the birth of God’s Son. I would argue that it’s not just not a bad word (double negative, anyone?), but that it’s a fantastic word. I mean, if the day that we celebrate the earthly incarnation of the heavenly Creator’s Son is not a “holy day,” then I don’t know what is.

This is what the word “holy” entails. It can’t be ascribed to anything or anyone else better than the God of the Bible. The word literally means, “to be whole or intact” and “that which cannot be transgressed or violated.” God alone is completely intact, and so he is himself holy and emanates holy-ness, which thus warrants Christmas--the worship of his holiness coming to earth--as a “holy-day.”

The point is that it’s not that bad for a business to forego using the word “Christmas” in lieu of the word “holiday.” This is because, in so doing, they are still employing a powerful word to describe an even more powerful event. Even if they don’t realize it. It just speaks to the deep-rooted reality of the birth of Christ.

Even Santa’s elves can’t tinker with it.

I know what you’re thinking, though: “It’s not the word ‘holiday’ so much as it’s intentionally not using the word ‘Christmas.'”

I get it. But this thought unveils an even deeper concern. You see, there is a reason that these businesses don’t use the word “Christmas” to describe Christmas. There is a reason that they want to, as we say, “Remove the ‘Christ’ from ‘Christmas'” or “forget the reason for the season.”

It’s because they don’t know the Christ of Christmas.

This much is obvious, but the problem is that we would rather persuade them to use the word “Christmas,” than persuade them towards Christ. We would rather fight for the lost world to use Christian words than fight for their lost souls to become saved. We would rather force unbelievers to act, and think, and live like a Christian without accepting the Christ of Christianity.

This, friends, is the true crime of the Christmas season.

If anyone is attempting to remove the Christ from Christmas, it’s us. When we force unbelievers to act like a Christian without telling them about Christ, we do more damage than any secular business could ever do by using the word “holiday.”

Thus, we shouldn’t have a problem with an unbeliever using the word “holiday.” We should have a problem with why they use the word “holiday.”

So, this year, instead of picketing your local hardware store, or signing an online petition, or posting that enfevered Facebook post, let’s deal with the root of the problem, not its symptoms.

The truth is, you can’t take Christ out of Christmas, regardless of what word you choose to use to describe it. He’ll always be the reason for the season. Our job is to get unbelievers to see Christ, not say “Christmas.”

First posted on

Monday, December 1, 2014

A thankful heart is powerful medicine

When Ben Carson spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast last year, he told a story about a very successful businessman who liked to buy exotic gifts for his mother on Mother’s Day. One year he was so excited because he found these birds that had been trained. They could sing, they could dance, they could even talk. He bought two of them and sent them to his mother. He called her on Mother’s Day and asked her how she liked the birds he sent. “They was good,” she replied. “No, mother, you didn’t eat those birds,” her son said. “Those birds costs $5,000 apiece. They could sing, they could dance, they could even talk!” His mother said, “Well, they shoulda’ said something.”

A silly story that makes a point. We need to speak up. Dr. Carson was using the story to illustrate the danger of political correctness. I want to use it to underscore a different problem. OK, you ask, about what should we speak up?

In her book, “Twelve Baskets of Crumbs,” Elisabeth Elliot writes, “Tell it like it is’ is the watchword today. But suppose …it’s actually beautiful? Suppose the clerk who waits on you happens to be the most gracious one you’ve ever encountered? Tell them. Tell them now.” We need to speak up when someone deserves our praise and thanks. OK, so let me ask you this. Who always deserves our thanks and praise?

If your answer is “God,” go to the head of the class. We should speak up and give thanks to God because He is our creator and our savior. We exist only because He made us, and we find our greatest joy and only hope in knowing Him through His son, Jesus. A thankful heart is powerful medicine. A thankless heart, on the other hand, starts a terrifying downward spiral.

Take a moment and read Romans 1. In the second half of the chapter, Paul describes what I would call the pathology of a debased mind. He traces the steps men and women take to get to the place finally where they are “given up” by God to live life completely on their own terms, and they are “filled with all manner of unrighteousness (and) evil.” Where does this deadly journey begin? The Bible says it starts when someone suppresses the truth about God, who has plainly revealed His existence in creation: “the heavens declare the glory of God.” Instead, they do not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him. The decline continues as their thinking becomes futile and their foolish heart is darkened. Then, though they claim to be wise (enlightened!), they become fools. Next, they exchange the glory of God for images or imaginations or other substitutes for God. As a result, God gives them over to run after the lusts of their own hearts, and the downward spiral continues and gets worse.

That’s the bad news. Here’s the great news. That downward spiral can be reversed. Stopped in its tracks and turned around. Start by doing the opposite of what the text describes. Honor God as God and give Him thanks. Your thinking will be clearer and your heart will be filled with His light. You will grow in God’s wisdom and learn to recognize and renounce your own foolishness. And God will bring you into close fellowship with Himself.

Ann Voskamp wrote, “When you’re looking for joy, you will always find it hiding in your gratitude.” Take it out of hiding. Give thanks to God. Say it out loud!

Monday, November 24, 2014

He chose me anyway

I remember it like it was yesterday. It is my fourth-grade class with Mrs. Wade, and time for recess. Every day, it is the same. When the teacher announces recess, I am at once fearful and elated, excited and filled with dread at the same time. Why? I am excited and elated because I get to go outside and play, one of my passions even to this day. I am fearful and filled with dread because I am one of the smallest boys in the class, and I know that recess means kickball. I know that kickball means that the two biggest boys in the class will announce that they are captains and start choosing their teams. The girls will stand off to the side and giggle as the boys make their selections from among the rest of us young pre-pubescent males who are standing there, trying to look tough and athletic. Not me. I am standing behind a row of taller boys, and occupying my full attention by gazing at my right foot. Anyone who is observing this whole scene would have to write in his notes: “The short, skinny kid, Fox, is staring at his right tennis shoe like it’s his job. What is going on with him?”

What is going on is that I know what will happen. Every single boy on that field will be chosen until there are two left, me and this little kid named Albert. Then the two self-appointed captains will argue over who gets me and who gets Albert. The girls on the sideline, in the meantime, are whispering to each other and giggling into their hands. I am dying. The selection process is finally over, and the game begins, and I can relax and go hard after every ball. I always try to make up with hustle and effort what I lack in size and skill.

When Jesus came to his hometown to preach for the first time after his ministry had begun, he opened the Old Testament to Isaiah and read a passage about the coming Messiah that included this statement: “He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” This is not an economic designation, this word for ‘poor.’ Rather, it is a word that describes “those who for any number of reasons were relegated to positions outside the boundaries of God’s people.” Jesus came to preach to people who knew they were outside of God’s boundaries (all of us are) and who knew they were lost and needed a Savior (all of us do).

I am back on the kickball field, and I expect to be picked last. In terms of size and skill, I am poor, outside the boundaries of those who would be included in the athletic category. And then one of the captains overlooks a whole row of bigger, stronger boys who are smug in their expectation of being picked. He finds me through the crowd, standing on the back row, looking at my feet, preparing myself to deal with the shame of being picked last or next to last. And he says, “I’ll take Mark.”

Of course, it never happened to me in kickball, I still got picked last, but it did happen to me with the Lord. He saw past all my sinful pride, rebellion, and spiritual poverty and said, “I’ll take Mark.” He preaches the gospel to the poor, to the least likely, to the lowly. He preaches good news to people like you and me.

That is cause for all of us to have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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.