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.