Monday, December 28, 2015

This Baby

Luke wrote, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger...” There’s no mention of how much Jesus weighed, and how long he was, you know, the data we always ask for when a baby is born. There was no mention of whether he had his mother’s eyes. And maybe you have wondered like I have if God made Jesus to look like Joseph, even though he had none of Joseph’s genes in him at all. We won’t know until we get to heaven, but I think God did that. Maybe Jesus had Joseph’s chin. We don’t know and it doesn’t matter. There was a ridiculous article last week in the news about how scientists think they have figured out what Jesus looked like. Look, I know Jesus wasn’t lily white with blond hair and blue eyes. He was a Jew, born and raised in Israel. But scientists and others can guess all they like about what Jesus looked like, but the Bible gives us not one clue. In fact the Bible tells us nothing about his appearance, except what Isaiah wrote: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

So, if you were going to cast someone in a movie to play Jesus, would you go for Gimli or Aragorn? John Rys-Davies or Viggo Mortensen? You’d have to go with Gimli, if you consider Isaiah’s prophecy.

Jesus’ looks notwithstanding, it is an amazing story, the appearance of God in human form. The account in the Gospel of Luke is one of the many examples in the biblical narrative that has a ring of truth and encourages us to believe it. Face it, if you were going to write a fictional account of the birth of the Savior of the world, who would his parents be? And where would he be born? You wouldn’t pick Joseph and Mary, a betrothed couple from Nazareth, he a carpenter and she a peasant girl. You wouldn’t decide to have animals as attendants, and a manger as the bassinet. You just wouldn’t. The one born to be King of kings and Lord of lords would have royal parents, or at least powerful and important ones, and he would be born in the finest house in the land, and be laid on a pillow made of silk, and have dozens of attendants to wait on him and make sure he needed nothing and wouldn’t even have reason to cry. A carpenter and his fiancée? A manger? No way. But friends, please don’t miss the point. Luke didn’t write it this way to make it sound true. He wrote it this way because it IS true.

I like the way Steven Curtis Chapman wrote about Jesus in his song, “This Baby:”

“Well, he cried when he was hungry, and did all the things that babies do; he rocked and he napped on his mother’s lap, and he wiggled and giggled and cooed. There were cheers when he took his first step, and tears when he got his first teeth; almost everything about this little baby seemed as natural as it could be. But this baby made the angels sing, and this baby made a new star shine in the sky, and this baby had come to change the world. This baby was God’s own son, this baby was like no other one, this baby was God with us, this baby was Jesus.”

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.

Monday, December 21, 2015

God sent forth his Son, the greatest gift of all

“But 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.”

That is the meaning of Christmas. God sent his son to redeem us and to adopt us. Have you figured up how much you will spend on Christmas gifts this year? There’s an amount, right? You add it up and it may come to the estimated national average per household this year of $830 for Christmas gifts, still climbing out of the hole of 2008 when it dropped to $616. No matter what we spend, we all have to set spending limits, right? I remember our first Christmas when Cindy and I each took a 10-dollar bill, split up at the mall, and went off to find that “perfect” gift for $10 or less for each other. That Christmas was just as happy, just as blessed as all the rest.

God did not have a spending limit for the first Christmas. He spared no expense in creating the star that would be in place above Bethlehem at just the right time. He went all out in having Caesar Augustus plan a census for the whole Roman world to go to the city of their heritage so they could be registered. God did not skimp on birth announcements, either. He sent Gabriel, his best messenger angel to earth more than once. But all of that pales in comparison to what God actually gave the world. God sent forth his Son. His one and only son. Forget Hallmark. God sent the very best.

Read the rest of Galatians 4 for the incredible news that you can use. You and I were born slaves. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are invited into a new relationship as a child of God and a joint heir with Jesus. But there’s a problem, for many who become sons continue to live as slaves, even though they know God and better still, are known BY God. Two weeks ago I sat with my family in the second row at a concert by Steven Curtis Chapman. There were a lot of people there who know Steven, but not personally. We know his music, know his face and know his testimony. I have met him once because I have the same friend named Larry that Steven wrote about in one of his songs. As I sat there that night I thought, how cool would it be if Steven recognized me and said, “Hey, is that you, Mark?” But he didn’t. He didn’t acknowledge me because he doesn’t know me. Shocker. But here’s the biggest shocker of all: GOD does know me. And He knows you, too.

I love the story of the wee little man named Zaccheus who climbed up a tree because he had heard of Jesus and wanted to get a glimpse of him. Imagine his surprise when Jesus called up to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Jesus knew him by name, and more than that, Jesus asked Zaccheus to be a family member and a friend.

That is the meaning of Christmas. It is why we celebrate, and put manger scenes in our homes and churches. It is why we sing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World,” and give gifts and get together with family and friends. It is because God sent His Son to redeem us, to adopt us, and to give us the greatest gift of all: himself.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Clearing the Roadblocks: Can We Trust the Bible? (Part 2)

Challenge: Everybody knows the Bible has been translated and re-translated so many times that we have no idea what the original authors actually wrote. And obviously there were urban legends and personal agendas that crept into these translations over the years too. The historical records have been so contaminated, how can you believe anything the Bible says?

In part 1 of this discussion, I laid the foundation for my argument and summarized it this way: 

"If Jesus was who he said he was and if he did what he said he came to do, then we can trust the Bible as God's very words. Jesus becomes the lynch-pin for the reliability, trustworthiness, and inspiration of the whole Bible. "

However, I concluded with three questions that I said we still need to answer in order to have confidence in the Bible, the first of which we will address today:

Did the gospel writers give us historically faithful reportage (Did they get Jesus right)?

In order to make the argument that they did not get Jesus right, one would have to say that the gospel writers either altered the accounts of Jesus unintentionally (they recorded misinformation) or intentionally (they lied). But the problem with either of these two options becomes apparent when you compare the four gospels.

The problem is that there is too much consistency for any of them to have gotten the information mistakenly wrong, yet too much variation in the reports for them to have lied in collusion.

Wait. What?

Yes, you heard me right. I am arguing that the similarities and the differences in the gospel accounts are both arguments for their authenticity. 

Actually, this was an argument made very compellingly by J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold-Case Christianity. As a cold-case detective (and a devout atheist), Wallace began evaluating the four eye-witness testimonies of the gospels from his particular expertise in detective work. What he discovered shocked him and sent him on a journey that eventually led him to reject his atheism and accept Christianity as historically true. Here were his findings:
"If it was God's desire to provide us with an accurate and reliable account of the life of Jesus, an account we could trust and recognize as consistent with other forms of eyewitness testimony, God surely accomplished it with the four gospel accounts. Yes, the accounts are messy. They are filled with idiosyncrasies and personal perspectives along with common retellings of familiar stories.  There are places where critics can argue that there appear to be contradictions, and there are places where each account focuses on something important to the author, while ignoring details of importance to other writers. But would we expect anything less from true, reliable eyewitness accounts? I certainly would not, based on what I've seen over the years.
"Surely these apparent 'contradictions' and curious peculiarities were present in the early texts and obvious to the earliest of Christians. The oldest gospel manuscripts we have display this sort of eyewitness variability, and there is no reason to think the originals were any less unique or idiosyncratic. The early believers could have destroyed all but one of the accounts, changed the conflicting details, or simply harmonized the Gospels. But these diverse accounts were preserved (as they are) because they are true; they display all the earmarks we would expect in true eyewitness testimony."

J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity pp. 82, 83
The Gospel accounts are not so varied as to be contradictory, nor are they so similar as to be a product of collusion (i.e. that the authors got together and "got their stories straight" before they wrote anything down).

Additionallyand not insignificantlythe Gospels are full of embarrassing details that the writers would have loved to omit if they were taking editorial liberties or making the accounts up wholesale. The disciples repeatedly come off as morons or worse (Jesus on one occasion even called Peter "Satan"). Most of Jesus' own family didn't believe his messianic claim (at least not until after the resurrection). And women were the first eye-witnesses of the empty tomb. These and many other inconvenient truths would be better left on the cutting room floor if the Gospel writers weren't aiming for historically faithful reportage.

On top of it all, we have record of only one of Jesus' disciples that did not die a martyr's death for the claims made about Jesus in the Gospels. So while someone might die believing a lie, no one dies for something they know to be a lie. All the available evidence supports the fact that all of the apostles died affirming the testimonies of the Gospels.

But the question still remains, even if the writers of the Gospels got Jesus right, did the copyists and our modern translations get the Gospels right? We'll address that next time...

Other posts in the Clearing the Roadblocks series:
Can We Trust The Bible (Part 1)
The Resurrection
Does God Care About Our Government?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Refugees, Terrorists, and Hypocrites.


They’d heard the whispers of genocide from the lips of the angel as he woke them from a deep sleep. How frantically would you pack if your baby had a price on His head? How many minutes would it take you to grab your child and run?

I wonder how much money they had on hand. I wonder how many of their belongings fit on the back of the donkey. I wonder if they got to kiss their parents goodbye? I wonder if they stepped out the door, clinging to this God-child, and paused under the doorframe, unsure of where to go.

I wonder if Mary cried as she looked back at the room where her Son had crawled, slept, laughed, and played; if she grieved the home where Jesus had taken His first steps or she had first shared a bed with her husband.

As they stepped out into the lonely stillness of that night, the God of the Universe became a refugee.

And I wonder.

If I had been an Egyptian woman, watching these desert-dirty refugees stumble into my town, what would I have done? Would I have drawn the curtains in naivety and fear, or would I have fed the mother of God? Would I have muttered something about how it’s “such a shame,” or would I have offered my bed to the parents of the Messiah? Would I have tossed a self-ameliorating $20 at the small family, or would I have emptied myself at the feet of God?

What would I give Him now? What do I believe He is worth?
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

-Matthew 25:40


He imprisoned them. He killed them. He hunted them. They knew his name, tracked his movements, and went into hiding when they knew he was coming to town. There’s no downplaying his violence; Saul was proud of his “zealousness” about slaughtering the Christians.

Until he encountered the face of the gentle, terrifying Jesus and was undone. Until the Spirit touched his hands, and he penned the very Words of God.

How quickly we forget that one the world’s greatest exegetes was once a violent extremist.

And I wonder.

If I had been Ananias, when God instructed me to welcome this murdering terrorist, would I have listened? And if I had gone to see this infamous man, would I have carried a gun? Would I have wanted to kill him? Would I have been able to look past my fear and hatred of the evil this man perpetrated? And when God told me that He was obsessed, in love, passionate about this murderer’s soul, would I have been too? Or would I return evil with evil, violence with violence, and aggression with fear?

Would I have wished him dead, or redeemed?
“Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”

-Romans 12:21


Sadly, this one doesn’t come from the pages of the Book. It’s not about someone who lived centuries ago, halfway around the world. It’s so much closer to home. My home.

I see the grieving relatives on the news, holding candles and standing on the Parisian streets. I see exploding buildings and men in masks and the faces of wailing mothers who might be me. I imagine myself getting the call, weeping in the streets, pleading with God. And so I close my doors tight, throw a little money out to soothe my conscience, and whisper prayers from the safety of my locked bedroom.

Fear and self-preservation may be powerful friends, but they shame me. They shame me as I sit at the feet of the very One who bled out His life for me, in total defiance of safety and self-preservation. How can I ignore His plea to “feed my sheep” when He had just offered His own body as bread? How do I cling to my horror when He whispers that His perfect love casts out fear?

There are no easy answers. There are no perfect politics. But there is a God who looks us in the eye, pries our fingers from our false security, and invites us to dangerous love.
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

-1 John 4:20

Christmas is a time for memories

We used to sleep in the same bed together, my two brothers and me, on Christmas Eve. That alone was a Christmas miracle, given the fact that the other 364 days of the year would find us plotting ways to hurt one another. I remember BB gun fights, where we were running around the woods, shooting at each other. Or we would fight from room to room in the house with spit wads, using thick rubber bands to wing them on their way. To up the ante, we decided one day to shove straight pins through the spit wads. Yep, three little angels, that’s what we were. But on Christmas Eve, we crawled into bed together and tried to go to sleep, keeping one ear tuned for reindeer hooves on the roof, and one foot ready to launch any brother who got too close.

One of my favorite memories was the Christmas Eve we heard the front door open, and the distinct sound of something heavy being rolled across the threshold. Grandpa never used a wheelchair so we knew it wasn’t him coming for a midnight visit. And we had no idea why Santa would be bringing gifts through the front door, when we had a perfectly good fireplace in the den. So we just lay there in bed, whispering about what it could possibly be, and daring each other to sneak downstairs to steal a glance. Nobody wanted to risk being seen by Santa, or worse by Dad, so we eventually drifted off to sleep.

One of my favorite memories of Christmas Day was the next morning when three sleepy-eyed little Fox boys found a brand new yellow mini-bike parked under the tree. We lived on two acres and had a creek behind and beside us, and empty lots and woods all around, so we could not wait to jump on the bike and start blazing trails. But first, Dad needed to give us a lesson on how not to wreck a mini-bike. This is one of my favorite memories, too, as Dad straddled that kid-sized bike with his 6’3” frame, and proceeded to explain to us young boys how dangerous a mini-bike could be. He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth about how sensitive throttles are, when the bike shot off like a rocket and threw Dad into the air where gravity began to work immediately and brought him quite unceremoniously back to the earth. The bike and Dad were perfectly unharmed, but after a few minutes my sides were killing me. Even mom got a chuckle out of that one.

Christmas is a season of giving, and the yellow mini-bike has to go down in the Fox history book as one of the best gifts we ever received. We also got exactly one of them, so we boys had to learn how to share. I have no idea how we worked that out without BB guns or bloodshed. I just remember many happy hours riding that mini-bike, and I suppose my older and younger brothers do as well.

There may not be a mini-bike under your tree this Christmas, or even a reindeer on your roof. But that’s OK, because the best gift cannot be bought in a catalog or brought down a chimney. The best gift, the only one that matters, was laid in a feeding trough in Bethlehem many years ago. Here’s what the angel who brought the news to Joseph said about the gift:

“You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Murderers, Adulterers, and Nobodies (oh my!)

If you were going to tell the Christmas story to someone, where would you start? Maybe shining messengers of light and angelic choirs appearing out of thin air? Or a tense family drama with an unexpected pregnancy and a relationship on the rocks? Or perhaps the neglected outcasts of society getting invited to be the first on hand to witness the birth of a long-awaited hero?

Well the gospel writer Matthew says "phooey" to all our dramatic modern storytelling sensibilities and starts with a long list of names...which seems to most of us virtually on par with reading the phone book or doing roll-call at the beginning of class.

But as we do a little digging into these names, all the drama that we thought was missing from Matthew's opening salvo emerges, and he actually sets the stage perfectly for life and ministry of Jesus that was to follow. So what do we learn from Jesus' genealogy in the beginning of Matthew, and are there any implications for us?
  1. Jesus came for the overlooked. The culture of Jesus and his ancestors placed a higher value the males—especially the firstborn males—often to the neglect of the younger siblings and women. Yet Jesus' line is surprisingly full of second-born (Isaac and Jacob) and even last-born sons (David) that God had chosen over the eldest. Even more surprising is the presence of women since genealogies of that time typically only traced lineage through the fathers. It's almost like Matthew wanted us to notice something...
  2. Jesus came for the outsider. Two of the women that Matthew goes out of his way to mention were Gentiles (Rahab and Ruth). In other words, they were pagan worshipers of other gods before they married into the people of Israel. Yet rather than avoiding and whitewashing Jesus' line by simply focusing on the male lineage, Matthew deliberately includes these names...and then does one better (or one worse, depending on the perspective)...
  3. Jesus came for the stained. The other two females mentioned on the list both had very public counts of sexual sin. Tamar, disguised as a prostitute, slept with her father-in-law to get the upper hand on him in a legal dispute. Bathsheba committed adultery with King David (and it's not at all clear that she was coerced). But while we're on that topic...
  4. Jesus came for bipolar. Okay, so maybe that's not exactly the right word for David. But if you look at the trajectory of his life—if you simply read some of the Psalms he wrote—there is no other biblical character that has more peaks and valleys, both of the emotional and the moral kind. I mean, mountain top "man after God's own heart" type of highs followed by depths of Sheol "stealing my general's wife and having him murdered to cover it up" type lows. David remains one of the Bible's greatest characters...and greatest sinners. And the Psalms that he wrote are every bit the embodiment of the life he lived.
  5. Jesus came for the nobody. There's a few names on the list that we know little to nothing about. They were just...dudes.
What a pedigree, right? Instead of paragons of moral fortitude, we have murderers and adulterers, idol worshipers and the incestuous. And instead of a steady line of firstborn kings, we see the last born and women and nobodies.

So what does this tell us? This destroys any pretense of pride. How can we, followers of a savior that was born in a cattle trough to an audience of dirty shepherds, presume to look down on anyone else? Our King left his throne and put on a peasant's rags, how can we bend the knee and call him boss and yet not bow our heads to serve?

But this is not just a list of the kind of people Jesus came through, otherwise Matthew could have easily swept some of the more embarrassing names under the rug. No, this is also a list of the kind of people Jesus came for. No matter where you find yourself today, I'm sure you see yourself somewhere in the list above.  Jesus came for you. Jesus opens the kingdom of God to everyone, everywhere, regardless of who they are or what they have done. And this list tells us that when you're in Jesus' family, he will not hide you. You are his.

Monday, December 7, 2015

How to build a wall in 52 days

It was amazing. Nearly everybody in the city worked on the wall. This wasn’t one of those 80/20 rules we have in churches today, where 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. And give 90 percent of the money. Neither was this like a football game where there are 50,000 people in the stands who are in desperate need of exercise, and 22 guys on the field, in desperate need of rest. No, everybody worked. The politicians worked, which might have been a minor miracle. The priests and Levites worked. The businessmen worked. Hey, even the perfumers and the goldsmiths were hauling rock and pouring mud to build the wall.

The place was Jerusalem, and the time was around 446 BC. The Babylonians had destroyed the walls of the city years before, and Nehemiah was in town to organize and lead a rebuilding effort. Don’t tell Donald Trump’s people, but the work was completed in 52 days, so fast that even the opposition was not able to mobilize a viable counter-attack. The wall was built because nearly everybody worked.

Everybody, that is, except the “nobles,” who “would not stoop to serve their Lord.” Interesting. The word for nobles means “wide or large,” so that may have something to do with them not working. No, just kidding. The reason they would not work had nothing to do with their girth but with their arrogance. Their fat pocketbooks and their overweening pride somehow had them convinced that such work was beneath them. Sad. It was a building project that has been recorded for the ages, and these fat cats missed out on the joy of seeing it completed through the sweat of their brow.

Let me ask you something, then. What is the most important building project in the world today? It is not Westminster Cathedral, although the work on that 120-year-old masterpiece is ongoing. Neither is it the Super Power Building in Clearwater, which was referred to as the “Vatican” of Scientology when construction began in 1999, but is now considered an unfinished joke. No, the most important building project in the world is the building of the church. Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Not a physical structure, although we mostly meet in buildings or homes all over the world, the church is a gathering of those who follow Jesus Christ and have been born again by grace and through faith. The church is a body, and Christ is fitting us together. Like a human body, the church is made up of individual members, who must be connected to one another and submitted to the head, Christ, in order to function. The foot can’t say to the eye, for example, “I have no need of you.” In fact, how would you like to wake up tomorrow and discover that your left foot has left you and left you a note that says, “I left.”

Look at the person across the breakfast table for a moment. Notice that her head is connected to her body. That’s essential. And her body parts, her arms, legs, fingers and toes, are all connected to each other. That is important. Not only for her body, but also for the body of Christ.

It is as important in the building of the church as it was in the building of a wall around an ancient city. The people have to labor and love together, through good times and bad, for the greater glory of God’s work on the earth.

Friday, December 4, 2015

3 Free Albums to Fix Your Christmas Playlists

Are all your Christmas playlists getting a little too old and familiar? Well here's three free albums from NoiseTrade (tipping the artists is encouraged) that will put a little kick in your eggnog! These are all full albums, not just samplers, so what are you waiting for?!! Go get 'em and thank me later!


(These songs have been tested and approved by the above signee and have hardly left his speakers since.)

1. Branches - Songs For Christmas (more alternative than folk)
For Fans Of: Mumford and Sons, Freelance Whales, Arcade Fire, Noah and the Whale, Of Monsters And Men

2. The Oh Hellos - The Oh Hellos' Family Christmas Album (more folk than alternative)
For Fans Of: Sufjan Stevens, Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers

3. Albert Kiteck - Classical Guitar Christmas (exactly what it sounds like, instrumental classical guitar)

For Fans Of: Instrumental classical guitar

Bonus Album

I supposed I'd be remiss if I didn't also share the Christmas album from NoiseTrade that I am on here as well: Free Christmas Music Download

Monday, November 30, 2015

A few things I am thankful for

Thanksgiving is not a national holiday, but a way of life for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Sometimes when people ask me how they can know God’s will for their life, I tell them it’s already spelled out in Scripture: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Now there’s a recipe for godly living, an antidote to bitterness, a silver bullet for the monster of selfishness.

With that in mind, here are a few things for which I am particularly thankful this year. First, I thank God for a marriage that has never ‘plateaued.’ It just keeps getting better, despite the struggles and the disappointments that are common to every couple. I like what one man said to his wife: “Honey, if you ever leave me, I’m going with you.” Same here, Cindy.

Second, I am thankful for children and grandchildren who love each other and even like their parents. That seems to be rare these days. Someone said children are often closer to their grandparents, because they both have a common enemy.

Third, I am thankful to be in a church that has welcomed me as a member for 28 years. In these days where the nones are growing in number and the dones are staying home Sundays, I am grateful for gatherings of God’s people in many local churches where He is worshiped, His Word is carefully taught, and where fellowship is truly experienced. If you are in one of those places every Sunday, give thanks to God and let the church know how you feel as well. If you are not, don’t stop looking until you find one that you can feel good about joining and serving. Because, despite popular opinion, the church is the sum and substance of God’s plan for the world, and though governments and kingdoms will fall, the church will stand. It will survive persecution, attacks on religious liberty, apathy, ignorance, nones, and dones.

Fourth, I am thankful for brothers. Every Tuesday morning, you can find me meeting with three other men at a local restaurant for encouragement and prayer. We know the dangers of lone ranger Christianity, and we value the challenge we receive from one another every week to keep our hearts where they should be. On Sunday mornings, you will find me meeting before church with the leaders, where we are in the habit of praying together and talking about how to lead, feed, and care for the flock.

Fifth, I am thankful for a routine every week that includes exercise. Running may not be your thing, but do you really have to put a 0.0 sticker on your car? Or say things to runners like, “The only reason I run is when something is chasing me.” Well, the truth is, something is chasing you, friend. Several things are chasing you, including obesity, disease, and death. I don’t know about you, but I want to outpace those bad boys as long as I am able. Hey, you don’t have to run, but what are you doing to take care of the one and only body you will receive this side of glory?

Finally, I am thankful to be a Tar Heel, especially this year. I have always loved pulling for my alma mater, but to have a great year in football and basketball is causing me to have way too much fun.

That’s my list of a few things for which I give thanks. What’s on yours?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Prayers and plans are potent partners

When the king asked why his face was sad, Nehemiah was very much afraid. You just didn’t come into the king’s presence with anything but a smile; it could ruin your whole day. So Nehemiah did what was his practice in good times and in bad: he prayed. You would be mistaken if you did not connect this silent arrow prayer to his previous four months of intense prayer. Prayer is not to be an event but a way of life. You also must recognize that Nehemiah’s arrow was aimed at a good target: the God of heaven. In point of fact, the cry for help was directed at the only One who could answer. Perhaps you have seen pictures of Hindus with bloody legs punishing themselves by walking for miles on their knees to get to the temple, thinking that they will be heard for their suffering. But there’s no one home at the end of those prayers. You may remember the story of the 450 prophets of Baal who were challenged by Elijah to a “prayer-off,” and may the best God (only God) win. The Baal enthusiasts prayed, and cried out and eventually cut themselves until the blood gushed out. But the final word in the text says it all: “No one answered; no one paid attention.” Nehemiah did not pray to himself or to gods who do not exist except in man’s imagination. He prayed to the God of heaven. He also planned.

Nehemiah had worked out a single fixed goal and a plan to make it happen. His goal was to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. I read a story recently about Yogi Berra, the famous catcher for the New York Yankees in the 1940s and ’50s, and Hank Aaron, who at that time was the famous power hitter for the Milwaukee Braves. The two teams were playing each other in the World Series, and as was his habit, Yogi kept up his banter with the batters when they came up, in an attempt to distract them. Hank Aaron came up to bat, and Yogi said, “Hey, you’re holding the bat wrong. You’re supposed to hold it so you can read the trademark.” Hank Aaron didn’t say anything; he just hit the first pitch into the left field bleachers. After rounding the bases for the home run and stepping on the plate, Aaron looked at Yogi Berra and said, “I didn’t come up here to read.” He knew his goal, and he didn’t let Yogi Berra distract him. Nehemiah also had a single, fixed, attainable goal, and he had worked out a plan to make it happen.

Careful planning and faithful prayer won the day. Nehemiah knew he needed official papers from the king to pass through the region beyond the Euphrates. He also knew he needed lumber with which to rebuild the wall. The king granted his request for both. Too often we Christians try to spiritualize everything to the point where we say, “I believe God told me to do so-’n-so.” Then someone says, “What do you need to do to make that happen?” And our response sounds like this: “Oh, I don’t know. I guess God will make a way where there’s no way.” It is true that God does that, sometimes, but God most often works through means of grace that He has given us. Like prayer. Planning. And good old fashioned, hard work. Let’s remember that dependence on God does not eliminate our need for all of these means of grace.

Prayer and planning are powerful partners.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Giving honor where it is owed

I was born too late for Korea and too early for Vietnam. Though the prediction in the early 70s was that children not yet born would fight in Vietnam, thankfully, that was not to be. When I became eligible for the draft in 1975, there was no need for my services. At the time, I could not have been happier that I was headed to Chapel Hill and not Da Nang. But as I got older, I often regretted not serving my country in the military. I have always been, and will forever be grateful for those who have done so.

Last week, I had the opportunity to hear Tim Lee speak at Liberty University. In 1971, Lee stepped on a 60-pound box mine in Vietnam and lost both of his legs. “One last step, and then it happened — my boot landed squarely on what felt like a miniature volcano. A deafening blast rammed through my body. As Earl Lewis, the fifth man in formation later testified, I disappeared in the sudden eruption. As a cloud of black smoke shot into the sky, hot fire surged through what remained of my legs ... Corporal Lee Gore knelt down and picked me up in his arms and braced my back on his knees. He began to pray out loud. I was shaking terribly and literally covered in my own blood.”

It was a miracle that Lee survived, and there were times during his recovery from 13 major operations that he did not want to live. Since then, Lee has spoken around the world from his wheelchair about his service, his suffering, and his Savior. One of the first things he said to the thousands gathered in the Vine Center on Liberty’s campus was, “Some of you may be offended by what I say to you this morning as I speak honestly about Jesus Christ. But that’s OK. I didn’t travel ten thousand miles to another country and lose my legs just to come back here and be politically correct.”

As we honor veterans this week, I am thankful for men like Tim Lee. There are many more like him, men and women who have served their country in the armed forces. One of those was my uncle.

This summer I attended the funeral of William Conrad Fox, who died at the ripe old age of 90. The last time I had seen him, Conrad was living in a healthcare facility in Greensboro. He was in his wheelchair and all dressed up that morning, wearing slacks and a buttoned-up long sleeve shirt, ready to go play bingo down the hall. I asked him if he always dressed up like that and he laughed and said that’s the only way he knows how to dress. I didn’t want to keep him from his bingo game, but Uncle Conrad waved his hand and said there was always another game tomorrow. He told me about joining the Army and serving in the 75th Infantry Division during World War II. He was at the Battle of the Bulge, where the temperatures reached a bone-chilling 20-below zero on the battlefield, and the snow was two feet deep. He joked that the men in his battalion said they wouldn’t have to go to hell, since they had already been there. When he returned home, Conrad couldn’t feel his feet for six months.

The Bible says we are to give “respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” Tim, Conrad, and the millions of others who have fought for our freedom, we honor you.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Do the first things first

His job was not to set the table and to make sure that everyone had a cup. No, the cupbearer to the king was a drink-bodyguard. That’s what Nehemiah did. His job was to choose and to taste the wine to make sure it wasn’t poisoned before bringing it to the king. It was a risky job, but one which allowed him to live in relative comfort and have a measure of influence over the king he served.

When the story opened, Nehemiah was 1,000 miles from Jerusalem, and he was serving a foreign king in what is now Iran. He got word that the people who were left behind during the conquest were living in the rubble of a city whose walls were broken down. This is where we really start to get to know the man, Nehemiah, and what he was made of. When Nehemiah heard about the suffering of his people, he sat down and wept and prayed, so moved was his heart for the suffering of the people of God.

When I read this in preparation to start a new series in the book of Nehemiah, I was reminded of our men’s retreat a few weeks ago. We were gathered on Saturday morning, praying corporately through Psalm 34, when we got to verse 17: “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” Scott began to pray for our brothers and sisters all over the world who are being persecuted for their faith, in a manner that I think mirrored Nehemiah’s passion for his brothers and sisters many miles away. The room was silent as 40 men and young men entered into his prayers and his tears. Scott cried out to God for the men and children who are being tortured and beheaded because they will not bow the knee to Islam and will not renounce faith in Jesus Christ. He prayed and cried for the women and girls who are being subjugated and treated as sexual slaves for the same reason. There was no pretense to his prayer, no attempt to “sound good” or to teach something. Scott was simply broken over the suffering of others. It was a powerful, holy moment for all of us.

Back in Persia, then, we find Nehemiah weeping and praying. You could argue that he was the most trusted man in the kingdom, as he was willing daily to lay down his life for the king. He could have rushed to the king with the news and immediately asked for a plan of action to be put in place. But instead, the very first thing he did was to go over the king’s head to the highest authority of all.

Don’t get me wrong, dear reader. Nehemiah was a man of decisive action, as you will see if you read the book. But we betray our misunderstanding about prayer when we say things like, “Let’s pray and then we will get started.” As if prayer is an optional extra, as if it doesn’t really matter, as if we are not “doing” anything when we pray. A.J. Gordon said that you can always do more than pray after you have prayed, but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed. And EM Bounds said, “What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations, or more novel methods; but men (and women) whom the Holy Spirit can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer.”

Start with prayer. Do first things first.

Monday, November 2, 2015

You can learn to pray

John Piper said, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”

I read that quote recently and it convicted me down to my toes. And, to my knees. The typical experience of Christians is that they read their Bibles weekly and pray weakly. Or rarely. Or not at all.

Hudson Taylor said, “We must never forget three important statements: There is a God. He has spoken to us in the Bible. He means what He says.” And even a cursory glance at the Bible will make it clear that he invites us to talk with him. We pray because we were made by God and called to God and are here for God until we can go to be with God. We pray for the same reason we breathe: because He is our life. The Bible is filled with people who prayed and also with people who chose to consult mediums or their friends or the darkness of their own counsel. It could be argued that Jesus’ life, was one prayer meeting after another, and in between He healed diseases, cast out demons, raised the dead, and taught. That’s why His disciples never asked Him how to heal diseases or cast out demons or raise the dead or even to teach: they asked Him how to pray. They knew the source of his ministry was his intimacy with his Father.

We pray because we are in a battle. Every moment of every day. John Piper said, “Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. ... Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for: Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission.”

I would recommend an excellent book that will take you an hour or less to read, and quite possibly may revolutionize how you pray. “Praying the Bible” by Donald Whitney makes a strong argument that the reason most believers don’t pray is because they are bored with it. They pray “the same old things about the same old things.” He tells the story of a little girl who was taught to pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep” every night before going to bed. One night she thought, “Why does God need to hear me say this again?” So she recorded herself reciting the prayer and then just played it back each night before going to sleep. We can smile at that, but let’s admit it: we have prerecorded prayers in our heads that we pray every day. Jesus warned against this, saying, “do not heap up empty phrases” in prayer, thinking we will be heard for our many words.

Whitney teaches a simple and profound solution: praying the Bible. I cannot adequately explain it in a column, but the gist of it is this. Pray Scriptures, particularly the Psalms. Pick one of the five Psalms that corresponds to the date (as I write this, on Oct. 26, the five Psalms are 26, 56, 86, 116, 146). Then read a verse or two, and pray whatever comes to mind in response. If nothing comes to mind, skip it and go to the next verse.

You will find that your prayer life, and your relationship with the Lord, will be refreshed.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Frances knew her shepherd

I met Jerry and Frances in 2006 when I got a hand written letter in the mail. Frances read my column every week and asked me to come by and talk to her husband about the Lord. Jerry had questions about salvation. That day I had the privilege that every Christ-follower dreams of, to lead a man to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Have you ever reached out to take a fully ripened apple from a tree and have it fall into your hands at the slightest touch? That’s what it was like that day with Jerry. He was ready. All I had to do was explain to him what the Bible means when it says, “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Jerry’s life changed for eternity in a moment. It was a moment in my ministry that I will always cherish, right along with baptizing Jerry a few months later in a cattle trough at Antioch Community Church. He shot out of the water with arms raised and a huge grin.

Frances was always the quieter of the two when I visited. Jerry and I would be engrossed in a wild story about some deal he was involved in, and Frances would just sit in her easy chair and laugh. For the last several years since Jerry died, it has been the same. Except it has been her son Jay telling me some crazy story about the history of Elon or the South or the Jesse James clan, and Frances just enjoying it all and laughing. But what I remember most about Frances are her questions. She thought about things deeply.

Often when I walked into the living room the first thing I saw was Frances reading the newspaper, or sleeping with it in her hands. She knew what was going on in the community and in the world, and she asked me great questions about current events, about the Bible, and about faith.

Just a few days before Frances died, I visited her at Hospice and it was like old times. She was happy and at peace. I kidded her about how much she had enjoyed a piece of cake she had just eaten, and the hamburger she sent Jay to find for her at 2am the night before. We visited for a while, and as I left I told Frances I loved her and that I would see her later. But when I came back on Friday, her last day in her temporary home, she was fast asleep. Her son Jeff was there, and as we talked, he mentioned Psalm 23 as his favorite Psalm, and Jay did the same just a few days later. It fit their mom’s life so well, as it begins with “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Frances knew her shepherd and knew that she could trust Him, even in her last days. The Lord had always led her beside still waters and in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. As she walked into the valley of the shadow of death those last few weeks, she did so with a childlike innocence that God gave her through her faith.

I still miss Jerry. And now I miss Frances, too. But I am so thankful that one day we will be together and our fellowship will never come to an end. Because of Jesus, the Shepherd.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Set up your monuments

After God parted the Jordan River and Joshua led the people across into the Promised Land, God had them stop and build a monument and said, “That this might be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them ...” The monument was a visible reminder of the grace of God.

Vance Havner used to tell the story of a little town in Alabama where the main livelihood was cotton. Then tragedy struck in the form of the devastating boll weevil. All of the cotton was destroyed and it looked as if the farmers were headed for the poorhouse. But they didn’t despair. One man decided to plant peanuts instead, because boll weevils hate peanuts more than a mom whose son has a peanut allergy. Another farmer planted a different crop, and another and all of the farmers did the same. Before long, peanuts and other crops took over for cotton. The town later became known as Enterprise, Ala. And do you know what they did to commemorate that year? They erected a monument to the boll weevil!

Vance Havner wrote this: “Sometimes we settle into a humdrum routine as monotonous as growing cotton year after year. Then God sends the boll weevil; He jolts us out of our groove, and we must find new ways to live.” Financial reverses, great bereavement, physical infirmity, loss of position — how many have been driven by trouble to bring forth finer fruit from their souls! The best thing that ever happened to some of us was the coming of our boll weevil.

What should we do? Build monuments as a visible reminder of the grace of God in our lives.

Monuments are often found hanging on our walls, as we put up pictures of our children, or we have videos of their baptisms and the family events that we celebrate and don’t want to forget. We have Bible verses framed on the walls, the Word of God set there to remind us daily of his grace, as frontlets before our eyes. We have marked out our lives, as a reminder to ourselves and our children and grandchildren that our God is real, and that we belong to him. But we shouldn’t just build monuments to great successes. Write down what you learn from your crop failures. Your sickness and surgery.

The loss of a loved one. As CS Lewis said, “God whispers in our pleasure, but he shouts in our pain.”

I recently heard an interview of Terri Roberts, whose son Charlie was the man who walked into an Amish schoolhouse in 2006 and shot ten children, killing five. Terri Roberts heard the sirens while on lunch break at her job at Sight and Sound Theater that day, and then got the news that her son was the murderer and had taken his own life as well. Can any of us imagine hearing that news about our son?

Could any of us imagine doing anything upon hearing that news besides crawling into a hole and never coming out again? But God’s grace was poured out on those parents immediately through the Amish neighbors who came to their house to say they loved them and forgave their son.

Terri has just written a book called “Forgiven,” in which she talks about the tragedy and how God brought the community together through it. What a powerful monument to our God who brings hope through great pain.

What monuments to God’s grace have you set up?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Learn from the great reversals

If you have been following my columns about the book of Esther, you know that a great reversal occurred when the king signed the second edict, which gave the Jews permission to take up arms and defend themselves against their aggressors. Before this, the enemies of the Jews were licking their chops to go into every “weapon free zone” in the kingdom and kill the innocent and the unarmed.

I love the first verse of Esther 9, which says, “...on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.” You could make the case that this is a statement for all of Scripture, and for all times. When all looked hopeless for the people of God, over and over in the Scriptures, that was when the reverse occurred. On the day when the serpent thought he had gained mastery over Adam and Eve, and indeed all of mankind, the reverse occurred. God made a promise that the heel of Eve’s offspring would be bruised, but the head of the serpent would be crushed.

When it looked like curtains for Moses and all of the people of Israel, backed up against the Red Sea as the Egyptian chariots and soldiers were thundering down on them, the reverse occurred. The sea opened, the Jews walked through on dry ground, and when the Egyptian army was in the middle of the sea, God brought the waters back together. On the day when all looked hopeless for Daniel, and his enemies rubbed their hands together with glee that he would be destroyed, the reverse occurred. The mouths of the lions were shut until Daniel was pulled out of the pit and the enemies of Daniel and Daniel’s God were thrown in. Meat was back on the menu. Don’t forget Daniel’s three buddies, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, who were supposed to be turned to ashes within seconds in the fiery furnace. The reverse occurred, and the only thing burned on those boys was the rope that bound them.

Over and over we see the pattern in Scripture until the greatest reversal of all time, when the Son of Man hung on a bloody cross and cried out, “It is finished.” The enemy of our souls, that same old serpent from the garden, must have thought he had won the battle and gained mastery over Jesus and all who follow Him. But the reverse occurred as God, in the death of Jesus, canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in Him.”

Don’t get me wrong. There have been millions of followers of God who have been murdered for their faith. There was no last second rescue for those who said, “I am a Christian,” in Roseburg, Ore. last week. There was no miraculous rescue for the thousands of Christians who have been beheaded or burned alive by ISIS. Or was there?

Yes, there was, for one thing we know for sure. God always rescues His people from, or through, death.

Because of the greatest reversal at Calvary, those who know Jesus understand that death is not the worst that can happen. It is merely a door into His presence.

Monday, October 5, 2015

There’s a party going on right here

You have to read Esther chapter 8 to understand the jubilation that took place in the Persian kingdom when a new decree went out that would give the Jews permission to defend themselves against their aggressors. The first decree had set a date for their annihilation, and only 8 months were left until they would all be destroyed. But all of that changed in one stroke of the king’s pen. That’s when the party broke out. If Kool and the Gang had been on the scene, everyone in the streets of Susa would have joined them in singing, “Celebrate good times, come on!”

What a day that was. They had gone from sadness and fear, from sackcloth and ashes just a few months earlier, to “light and gladness and joy and honor.” I couldn’t help but think it might have been similar to Nov. 9, 1989, in Berlin, when the wall came down and there was celebration all night and into the next day. This celebration in Susa was like — on a much larger scale, of course — the Fox’s house two Saturday nights ago, starting at 6:25 p.m., when Mr. and Mrs. Isaiah Maher walked down the aisle as husband and wife for the first time. Applause and laughter led to singing and celebration and dancing into the night.

That was one of the things that struck me that day, as 300 of us gathered to witness the joyous occasion and celebrate it together: God’s people know how to celebrate something good and godly better than anyone else on earth. And it’s because we have that which makes for celebration better than anything else on earth. Here’s what I mean.

The joy that we shared at the wedding was not just for the couple, that God had brought a husband for Hannah, a man who chose Hannah to be his bride with the promise that they will walk together as husband and wife until death. On a much deeper level, we were celebrating the Gospel: God sent a Savior in the person of Jesus Christ for His people. He chose us to be His bride, with the promise that we will walk together with Him in this life, through trials and troubles and joys and celebrations. But that’s not all. The promise of God, almost too good to be true (but it’s not), is that we will also walk with Him through death into the next life, where there will be endless celebration. That’s why Jesus said to His followers, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

One more thought occurred to me at the wedding. His presence is magnified and on display when His people are together, as we were at the wedding and as we are every Sunday morning. We celebrated Hannah and Isaiah’s wedding with people we love but rarely see because they live in other states or they are involved with other churches. But that gathering in our backyard reminded me of the truth of Scripture, that all of us who belong to Jesus will one day sit down at the wedding feast of the Lamb. We will be reunited with our friends and brothers and sisters we knew in this life. But just as glorious, we will be sitting down together for the very first time with the brothers and sisters we never had the pleasure to meet on this side of heaven.

That’s a celebration that you don’t want to miss.

Monday, September 28, 2015

This is why we love justice

We have all been behind that person in the grocery store express lane whose cart is loaded to overflowing. You stand there with your one jar of peanut butter and debate with yourself whether to tap him on the shoulder and point at the sign. Or whether to say something subtle like, “Excuse me, but what part of ‘12 items only’ do you not understand?” Most of us who were raised in the South, however, will remember the time you were standing in the aisle of the plane, waiting to find your seat while someone, as Brian Regan likes to say, is trying to shove a dead yak into the overhead compartment? If you have flown even once, you know what I am talking about.

How many times have you wished you could be a police officer for just 15 minutes so you could pull over the guy who just cut across six lanes of traffic on the interstate, nearly causing a ten-car pileup?

Or how about the time you were standing in line for hours to get into an event that is festival seating. Right before the doors opened, a hoard of people who just arrived on the scene broke in line ahead of you, and laughed about all the suckers behind them. Why did that grind your gears?

It’s because God is just, and we are made in His image. Every one of us is equipped by our creator with a well-developed sense of justice, which means the slightest injustice can cause us to ball up our fists and clench our teeth. Or at the very least, shake our heads and sigh.

If you have been following along as I write about the story of Esther, you know that Haman plotted to have every Jew in the Persian kingdom destroyed. The king signed off on it, and the days were ticking by until it would be done. But Haman could not wait that long to remove his nemesis, Mordecai the Jew. So Haman built a gallows, 75 feet high, with the intention of hanging Mordecai on it the next morning. When the king discovered that the decree to annihilate the Jews would include his own wife, Esther, and when it was revealed that Haman had also schemed to hang the man who had saved the king from an assassination plot, he exploded. The king ordered Haman to be hanged on the gallows he had prepared. You cannot read the story without despising Haman and wanting him to get what he deserved. And that’s because you cannot rid your soul of a desire to see justice done, and to live justly, without hardening your heart like Haman did. Want to be free of that nagging sense of right and wrong? Here’s what you should do. Live completely for yourself. Ignore any pleas for help. Learn to laugh at victims of injustice, especially those who cannot possibly defend themselves. Then, take the next step and begin to act on your convictions. Treat others with disdain. Plot to harm the weak and eliminate the burdensome. In no time at all, you will look and be just like Haman.

But be forewarned. The Bible says, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” You see, that sense of justice that you crushed through hatred and selfishness was given to you by a just and righteous God. He will always do what is right. Always.

Haman found that out the hard way.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Where did the years go?

I am going to try my best today to not be one of those sappy dads who cries all the way through my daughter’s wedding. Especially since I am performing the ceremony. But there are no guarantees, because she’s my baby girl.

Where did the years go? Where is the baby with bouncing curls who giggled in the backpack carrier and grabbed my ears and hair? Where is the toddler who looked up at me with big brown eyes and said, “When I get big, I’m going to marry you, Daddy”? Where is the 7-year-old who waded out with me into Beck Pool to be baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ? I can still see the 10-year-old in a pink tutu, smiling happily as she danced on the Paramount Stage with dozens of other little girls, while we fathers jockeyed for position with our cameras. I remember many drives in the country to a place where she could ride horses, and learn to groom and care for them. I can see her as a teenager in Kenya, surrounded by children in the Kibera slum, all of them attracted to her smile and her kindness. I remember her tearful testimony of how God impacted her life on that trip, how He opened her eyes to the world and gave her a love for her brothers and sisters far away.

There’s also the Hannah who asked, when she first heard about “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” if the Democrats had a song as well. And her brothers love to tease her about the time at Holden Beach when she came in from swimming in the rough surf and headed up the wrong steps, walking with confidence toward a house that was not ours.

I remember many phone calls from Hannah who called on the way to the church where she worked as my secretary, offering to stop and buy me a cup of coffee. She was a great assistant for many years and could be counted on to keep up with the details of running the church office like she had done it her whole life.

Four years ago Hannah adapted Francine Rivers’ book, “The Last Sin Eater,” and got permission to produce it for the first time ever on stage. The whole family was involved in the show, and I thank God for the way He used Hannah’s creative talent to bring us all together for a message we wanted to share with the community.

I remember several trips to Bocachica, Colombia, with Hannah. Never one to be afraid of hard work, she shoveled sand and rocks to make concrete, carried buckets of water, painted walls, and did whatever was needed. But when the work was done, Hannah could always be found playing with the children, learning their names, and speaking whatever Spanish she could remember.

Last fall, a trip to Kansas changed her life. She was asked by a friend who had just given birth to her second child to come and help her for a week. Kate knew that Hannah has a big heart and is always ready to help whenever there is a need, especially when that involves children. But Kate had another motive; she wanted to have Hannah spend some time with her husband’s brother, just to see if they would hit it off. They did.

Today, I will walk down the aisle with my baby girl, and a Kansas firefighter will walk back down the aisle with his new bride.

How great are your works, O Lord!

Monday, September 14, 2015

God has a sense of humor

If you don’t think God likes to laugh, you just need read the book of Esther. Pay special attention to the character named Haman in the story, because he’s the one that really cracks God up. Haman was promoted to No. 2 in the Persian Kingdom, and he definitely thought he was all that and a bag of doughnuts. It is clear all through the story, but you can see it best in Chapter 6. That’s when the king can’t sleep, so he calls for his servants to bring him the chronicles. This was the book in which everything that happened in the kingdom was recorded, and the king figured hearing that read to him would knock him out quickly.

Meanwhile, back at No. 2’s ranch, gallows are being built 75 feet high, upon which Haman plans to hang his arch-enemy Mordecai the next morning. See, Mordecai is the only man in the kingdom who will not bow and scrape whenever Haman passes by, so the big H is planning the little M’s demise. This is where God starts to chuckle, because there is one problem with Haman’s plan.

You see, the servant who opens the chronicles to read so the king can sleep just happens to turn to an event that happened five years prior. That was the time when two of the king’s servants plotted his assassination, but Mordecai overheard them. Little M reported the plot to the queen, and the king’s life was spared. Fast-forward five years to the king with insomnia. When the king heard this story of the assassination plot, he shot up in bed, his stocking cap all askew, and asked what had been done to reward this man Mordecai for saving his life. Nothing. Nothing? The king was incredulous that the man had not even received a thank-you note or a T-shirt that said “I saved the king.” He wanted to reward him that day, so he asked who was in the court that could help him with this.

By this time, God is bent double with laughter, because Haman himself had just arrived in the outer court, intent on asking the king if he could go ahead and hang Mordecai on the brand-new gallows. When he was asked to come in because the king wanted to see him, he thought to himself that this was going to be easier than he had imagined. The king asked Haman breathlessly, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman assumed the king was being coy and was asking how Haman could best be honored. It just gets better and better, doesn’t it?

Haman lays it on thick, suggesting the king’s horse for the honoree, and a royal robe and a royal crown. He said that a noble servant should walk ahead of the horse and cry out that this is the way the king honors those in whom he delights. He beamed as he said this to the king, and waited for his due reward.

By this time, God is on the floor trying to catch his breath. Because then the king says that Haman’s plan sounds perfect. Yes, my lord? And that Haman should hurry to take the robes and the horse. Yes, my lord? And do all that you have said to Mordecai the Jew.

I wish I could have seen Haman’s face at that time, and his expression as he went and told Mordecai what the king had said.

God laughs at the plans of the wicked, and he blesses the humble.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

We are raising adults, not children

Many years ago, my older daughter walked into the bedroom to ask an honest question about meal preparation. “Mom,” she said, “What should I use to serenade the chicken?”

I couldn’t resist.

I suggested, “Hey, good lookin’ whatcha got cookin’?” I know, I’m a wise guy. After we had pointed out that the word is “marinade,” I sang a few tunes to the bird anyway. I think I softened it up a little, and had fun laughing with my daughter, one arm around her as we chuckled about her mistake. She since has cooked many a delicious meal for the family, and loves to sing as she works.

I remember the time when our oldest son was having some attitude problems when it came to doing work around the house. Micah was probably 4 years old at the time, and Cindy suggested that he sing while he worked. “It will make the work go by faster, and you might even enjoy it,” she said. Micah took that seriously, and started singing with every job. I have heard that the carpenters he used to work with in the summer asked him to take singing lessons, but that’s another story.

Then there was the time I looked out the window and saw Micah teach his brother, Caleb, how to mow the yard. A few years later, Caleb was teaching his brother Luke. Luke taught Jesse and Jesse taught Judah. The good news is I haven’t had to mow the yard since 1993. The bad news is Judah will be going to college next year.

One final example: I came home from work one day many years ago and my then 4-year-old ran to meet me at the door, beaming with pride as she announced, “Dad, I asked Mom a question today about a million times!” I smiled and said, “Susanna, please don’t ask Mom the same question more than once.” One of the other kids chimed in, “No, Dad, she asked Mom if she could help her with anything.”

Each of these examples is meant to illustrate a desire of my heart to raise adults, not children. Don’t get me wrong, it has not been without its struggles and they have failed, as we have, many times. But Cindy and I decided early on that we wanted our sons and daughters to grow up to work hard, and to have a heart for serving others. It has been established clearly that young adults who excel in the workplace are the ones who were trained at home by loving parents who teach a healthy work ethic. Those who stand out in business are most likely those who learned at home how to tackle any task with immediate and cheerful obedience. Those who have an “excellent spirit,” like Daniel of old, will rise to the top. But the most important reason we are training our children to serve is because want them to follow the lead of the Lord Jesus who said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

David Gergen tells the story of his first year in the Navy, right out of Harvard Law School. He was given the job of walking the Admiral’s dog, complete with pooper-scooper. And it was President Harry Truman who said, “It is not important that you have the best job — but that you do the best with the job that you have.”

Even if that job is just to sing to the chicken.