Monday, June 18, 2018

There’s a Way Out of the Pit

Charlie was walking through the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya when his worst nightmare happened. He lost his footing and fell into the side ditch, which was filled with raw sewage. Charlie managed to spare the Bible he was carrying by holding it over his head, but the rest of him was covered. When he got back to the room where we were staying, I smelled him before I saw him. The pit he had been in, even for an instant, messed him up.

Prisons of old were sometimes just pits filled with muck and mud. Jeremiah the prophet was thrown into one, and would have died there had men not come and rescued him.

We have all been in a pit, and will most likely be in one again. Maybe our pit is not filled with mud or muck or raw sewage, but pits come in all sizes and shapes and substances. Fear or anxiety can become a pit. So can greed. Gluttony. Even self-righteousness, with proud hearts praying, “Thank God that I am not like other men.”

The real danger in being in a pit is that you can become numb to it and get to where you don’t care anymore that you are there. The people living in Jerusalem after the Babylonians had leveled the city were living in that condition. It took someone from the outside, Nehemiah, coming in and seeing the rubble, the walls broken down and the gates burned with fire to say, “Hey, you cannot live like this!” The people had grown numb to the pit.

Cold can become a pit that demoralizes men. It happened in Germany in the winter of 1944, as some of our soldiers lost heart and gave up hope in the bitter and brutal cold.

There are all kinds of pits. Tony Evans, a pastor in Dallas, said once that a few folks came to him and said, “You got some people we don’t care for coming to the church right now and we want you to know that if things don’t change, we’re out of here.” Tony said, “Bye!” Then he added, “If you stay around, I can help you deal with your heart problem, but to do that, we have to fix your feet right now.” They were convinced the pit of prejudice was a good place to stay.

Sometimes solving the pit problem starts with correcting where we allow our feet to go. The young man in Proverbs 7 fell into a pit of lust because he followed the adulterous woman to her house, “as an ox goes to the slaughter…he did not know that it would cost him his life.” Fix the feet.

Here’s the bad news. Sin always leads us into a pit, and sin is always going to be part of the story. Here’s the good news. Sin is not the end of the story. God is. He can rescue you and me out of the deepest pit. Corrie ten Boom said, “There is no pit that is so deep that God is not deeper still.”

Warning: You may well be in a pit and not realize it because your heart is dull of feeling and hearing. If Charlie had not thrown his clothes away and showered “Kibera” off of him, he would have eventually gotten used to the smell. Maybe you have gotten used to the stench of the sin-filled pit you are living in. I guarantee you that those around you have not. Ask them.

Mostly, cry out to God. He alone can pull you out of the pit and set your feet upon the solid rock. That’s the only safe place for your feet to be.

Monday, June 11, 2018

There is Correction for These Trajectories

I had the privilege to speak twice at a conference last weekend in Winston-Salem. After one of my talks, which was on “Time Management,” a family came up and introduced themselves to me. They live in Thomasville, and though they appreciated what I shared about managing ourselves and stewarding our time wisely, what they really wanted to talk about was the church. Specifically, their desire to be involved in a church that puts the Gospel first, and doesn’t separate the family at the front door. As I thought about that later, I was reminded of another conference I attended several years ago. There, I heard Al Mohler speak about eight trajectories that have led the church away from the Gospel. Here are four of his eight warnings, and then I would like to add one of my own.

The Therapeutic Trajectory: This rests on the belief that we really need a therapist, not a Savior. Most people would rather claim they have a sickness than admit their problem is sin. Recovery and rehab can “cover” a problem, but sin can only be removed by faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection.

The Pragmatic Trajectory: This is based on the idea that we should do what works in the church, whether it has biblical support or not. Mohler said, “A pragmatic approach can produce crowds that are not churches, and ‘converts’ who are not Christians.”

The Emotional Trajectory: This tendency puts a premium on what makes a person feel better based on personal preferences and experiences instead of on the Scripture and the way God reveals Himself. This leads to much felt-need, topical preaching, trying to scratch where people itch, or where they think they itch, instead of expository preaching that takes us back to the cross, where our real need can be exposed and taken care of.

The Materialist Trajectory: This trajectory is based on the belief that what we can touch and feel is more important than what is immaterial. This is the prosperity “gospel” that preaches that you can and should live your “best life” now.

Those are four of the eight trajectories Al Mohler presented. I would like to add one of my own that I call the Trained Professional Trajectory. This is based on the belief that programs and church staff are best equipped to disciple families. Timothy Paul Jones writes in his book, Perspectives on Family Ministry: “Suppose I called my wife this afternoon and announced, ‘Honey, guess what? Remember how you asked about a date tonight? Well, I hired a professional dater to take you to dinner and a movie. He’s much better at dating than me — plus, since I’ll be home, we won’t need a babysitter. Have a great time!’” How many nights would you be sleeping on the couch if you pulled that stunt?

Some things are just too important, too significant, to surrender to so-called professionals. So, why have we let that happen in our churches, where fathers have in large part been replaced by programs and staff? Church leaders can equip fathers to disciple their families, but leaders should not do it for them or hire a professional to do it for them. That is what has happened at an alarming rate in this country since World War II. Now, Jones writes, you will be hard pressed to find a church’s youth group that has a mission statement that says anything about the fathers of the youth. Jones read more than 100 mission statements on youth ministry websites before he found one that even mentioned the parents’ role, and that was in a sentence fragment.

The Bible has a correction for this trajectory: “And you fathers…bring (your children) up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” If you don’t know how to do that, you are a wise man if you ask for help. Abdication, letting the “professionals” do it, carries a price tag that is much too high for the families of this generation and the ones to come.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Be Watchful, Men

I remember when my second son was little, probably around 5 months old, and I laid him down on a kitchen countertop, just for a second, while I turned and opened the refrigerator door to get something. Hey, don’t look at me like that. I was training my son to obey. I laid him down and said, “Caleb, stay there.” As I reached into the fridge, just for a second, I heard a sickening thud behind me. I turned around in horror to find my son lying on the kitchen floor, startled for a moment, before he burst into a scream. At that precise moment, I heard another sound, a voice coming from the bedroom, saying, “What happened?” What happened was I took my eye off of my responsibilities, just for a second, and it could have been disastrous.

Then there was the time I was 17 years old, driving my father’s Oldsmobile (and it really was my father’s Oldsmobile) in Charlotte. I had gone there with two high school friends to check out the university. I remember it like it was yesterday, driving down Independence Blvd., feeling like I might as well be in New York City, because I had never driven in traffic like that before. It was rush hour, I was nervous, driving with two friends, and not really respecting the seriousness of the moment, when it happened. I turned left at a stoplight, right into oncoming traffic. A city of Charlotte truck hit us broadside and smashed up the Olds, but thankfully we were not hurt.

That wasn’t the worst of it. I ran over to the truck to see if he was OK and the man waved it off. He said, “Yeah, I’m fine,” got out of his truck, assessed the damage to the front end, and got back in. I went back to my car and waited for the police to arrive. As soon as the policeman arrived, the truck driver got out of his car and was limping like he had a compound fracture in his right femur. I told the officer that the man had gotten out of his truck two minutes earlier and walked, not limped, around it, but the officer told me not to worry about it. So, I didn’t.

That wasn’t the worst of it. I had to call my father and tell him that I had a mental lapse while driving, just for a second, and wrecked his car. That wasn’t the worst of it. Six weeks later there was a knock at the door and my father was served with a lawsuit, because of the wreck. I thought I was going to pass out. Again, the whole thing happened because I had taken my eye off of my responsibilities, just for a second.

I can’t tell you how many times in nearly 36 years of marriage I have found my wife crying because I have taken my eye off of my responsibilities, and she has ended up having to carry something or take care of something that I was supposed to do. There is a saying that a woman notices when there is a leak in the roof, but the man doesn’t notice until the roof caves in. That can apply to actual leaks, or it can apply to problems with the finances, child discipline issues, problems with the marriage, and problems with the spiritual environment in the home. That’s why Paul wrote this: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

This is not a passive word that would describe something like watching television. If that is all that God is requiring of men, then the country is ablaze with his glory. Men everywhere are watching, but not in a biblical sense. In fact, watching television is probably the exact opposite of what this word means. The word is a command to wake up, to refrain from sleep, to engage in what is going on around you. You cannot be on autopilot in your spiritual life and be fulfilling this requirement of the Lord.

Be watchful, men. Engage with your family. Stand firm in a growing faith in God.

And don’t lay your 5-month-old on the kitchen counter. Not even for a second.