May 14, 2008

It's A Secondary Issue!

"Keep your eye on the ball!" my coach would yell at me from the dugout. Having a habit of swinging with my eyes closed was producing disappointing results. His encouragement still rings in my ears from time to time. One such time was this evening.

Our regular crew had gathered to share needs and concerns as well as to gather around God's Word for a mid-week refill. In the midst of the sharing one gentleman spoke up concerning yet another shot fired in the culture war. I agreed that Christians need to let their voice be heard in this matter. It's fine to send a letter, or make a phone call, or even sign a petition to express your concern. However, this event, and many others like it, are secondary issues to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. In case you missed it, they are secondary.

While I hate that my children will likely grow up in a culture that has, in a short few decades, moved from modesty, courtesy, responsibility, and accountability to debauchery, rudeness, and recklessness I cannot bear the thought of my children inheriting a faith held hostage to secondary pursuits. The culture war is certainly real enough for all of us to acknowledge and I readily agree that there is much at stake. However, I patently disagree with how much of this "war" is being waged. Jesus clearly told His friends that their way was not to be the world's way. "As you know, the kings and great men of the earth lord it over the people; but among you it is different. Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant. And whoever wants to be greatest of all must be the slave of all. For even I, the Messiah, am not here to be served, but to help others, and to give my life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45. TLB)

The primary mission of the believer is not societal preservation but spiritual transformation. It is my firmly held belief that where there is effective spiritual transformation the resolution of societal issues will follow. I am disturbed by the incredible energy individual believers and churches will pour into the societal problem du jour. What if we poured as much energy into developing relationships with the people running the abortion clinics, or the homosexual couple living down the street from us, or the Muslim family that moved to town, or the alcoholic father ruining his family? What difference might that make? The clear mandate for followers of Christ is to proclaim the gospel, not to legislate morality. It is no wonder much of our society is turning a deaf ear to the church. I know I don't listen to negative voices for very long. As I've often said, our society knows what the evangelical church is against, I'm just not sure they know what we're for.

As I read the New Testament I am struck by the absence of boycotts, letter writing campaigns, or election year posturing by the early church. They simply shared their faith with a culture that was increasingly hostile to their message. I don't relish the notion of spending prison time. Neither do I cherish the thought of a martyr's death. Yet these are the very things that were commonplace for Peter, John, Barnabas, and Paul (just to name a few notables). I am equally struck by their single minded dedication to the task of sharing the good news of Christ's substitutionary death for sinners and His triumphant resurrection for believers.

Some guru is noted for saying, "Keep the main thing the main thing." Sharing the good news = primary. Everything else = secondary.

May 12, 2008

Monday Morning Message - Keep Hoping!

"Wonderful Women of the Word" is the series of messages I am beginning (appropriately on Mother's Day! Happy Mom's Day Mom!) In this series I will be focusing some much needed attention on the story these wonderful women have to tell us about this marvelous and powerful God we worship! My prayer is that you find encouragement for the journey, a fresh perspective on some well worn stories, and a renewed challenge to keep on keeping on in your walk with God.

Joyce Baldwin in her commentary on Genesis states, "Prayers that receive no immediate answer, though based on God's word, can be a source of considerable unease." I think she's right on target. How long do we wait for an answer? Is God even listening? Has He forgotten us? Is there any reason to keep hoping? These seasons of God's seeming silence in the face of our increasing anxiety certainly stretch our ability to trust.

One woman who encountered this "considerable unease" in her journey with God was Sarah. Hers is a story of a ridiculous promise, an equally ridiculous hope, and a laughter-filled ending. Walk with me as we revisit her story...

When Sarah's husband Abraham got word from God that he was to uproot the family and go to some, as yet, unspecified place she was already pretty far down the road of adult life. Abraham was 75 and Sarah was some 10 years younger when this move happened. Moving is never easy and it seems to be more difficult for the fairer sex than for men. I imagine the same holds true in Sarah's life.

It's likely that Sarah had settled into a reasonably comfortable existence in Haran. I find it hard to believe she was terribly dissatisfied with life with one glaring exception...she had no children. This had to be a sore spot in her life. It hung over her life as a constant reminder that all was not well. In the culture of that day and time a childless woman was looked on as a cursed woman, not favored by God. Part of the attraction for moving to an unknown place may have been Abraham's comment concerning God's promise of becoming a great nation (Genesis 12:2). Was it possible that even at her age she might bear a son?

The journey takes place and years pass. Lots of years. Not just a few, A LOT. Twenty-four, to be exact, and Abraham and Sarah have done all God has asked of them but somewhere along the way it seems that God forgot about His end of the deal. Sarah is still childless and if she was a little old to be having children at 65 it's past hoping at the age of 89. That's when all the laughing gets started.

It seems that Abraham has an incredible experience of worship in which God reminds Abraham of the promise to make a great nation out of him. At first Abraham must have been mystified by all of this talk of offspring and generations. Maybe he was even pained by the insensitivity of God at bringing up this most glaring omission. All of these feelings were replaced by laughter as the pure ridiculousness of the situation dawned on him. Here he is, a 99 year old man with an 89 year old wife, and God is talking to him about having kids. Abraham worships, but he's laughing all the way. (Gen. 17:17)

Pretty soon Sarah is joining in on the laughter. God drops by for dinner one evening (Gen. 18) and in the course of the after dinner conversation He makes the statement that "This time next year Sarah will bear you a son." In case we've somehow manged to miss the point that Abraham and Sarah are past their childbearing prime, we are given this memorable line, "Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah." (v.11) Which is "nice" way to say Sarah was a "dried up old lady" and Abraham was not up to the task. (Translations are nice but they sometimes shield us from the vivid rough and tumble language of the Bible.) So, understandably Sarah laughs to herself saying, "After I am worn out, an my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?" (I'll let you fill in the blanks here...)

25 years after the promise was made it is fulfilled and there is more laughter! Genesis 21 tells the story of this marvelous moment. But let's not forget the preceding 9 months of unbelief becoming belief! What an astonishing sight Sarah must have been wearing her maternity clothes at 90 years of age! I'm sure there were a lot of laughs as she made her way through the market or when she visited with the neighbors. I can't begin to imagine the ribbing Abraham took down at the coffee shop! But then there's this moment of birth, this can't really be happening but it is!

"It's a boy!"

"What'll we name him?"

"What else, Laughter!"

And so Isaac (which means "Laughter") arrives and an old man and little old dried up lady learn the great truth that whatever God promises He will do. Even, and maybe especially, when it seems ridiculous to believe that it could ever happen.

Perhaps there are some of you who have come to the end of your hope. Keep hoping. Maybe you don't believe God can do it for you; you're too far gone, too far beyond the possibility of belief, too messed up. The God Abraham and Sarah encountered, the same God who continues reaching out to ordinary people like us, is the God unafraid of seeming impossibilities. His words to Sarah can offer you hope today, "Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Gen. 18:14) The answer is, "Of course not!"

May 9, 2008

A Response Worth a Post

OK, confession time here...

I hit my head REALLY hard today and suddenly found myself saying some words I have been trying to forget for quite a while. Let's just say I'm glad it was just me, the chickens, and God around at the time.

A blog friend, John Martinez, posted an interesting conversation about the issue of language and how the believer should or should not use it. That discussion continued in his comment box and this post is one of my responses.

That said, I find myself wondering how Jesus responded out in the carpenter's shop with Joseph when he hit his thumb. You know it had to happen. I find it hard to believe he immediately knelt in prayer and thanked God for the throbbing pain in his left thumb. I just have to imagine he expressed his distress with some forceful passion - but did he utilize "uncouth" language?

I readily agree that our language puts our heart on clear display, "For out of the heart a man speaks" (still got a ways to go on the heart response when I hit my head really hard :-)!). But I wonder if we sometimes lump all language into laundry piles of "clean" and "dirty?" Perhaps "appropriate" and "inappropriate" would be better monikers.

My Grandfather told me, "Cursing is just a weak mind trying to express itself forcefully." These are some words I've carried around with me for a long time. He was doing foundation work to help me avoid lazy thinking habits.

Papaw, as you can ascertain from the bit of wisdom he shared, was not a foul-mouthed man. However, I did hear him cuss one time. He was setting a mouse trap and it caught him instead of a mouse. Interestingly, because I knew the character of the man, I never considered what he said as "dirty," in fact, I've always considered it an "appropriate" response at the moment.

This is a difficult issue over which to come to final clarity. I will say that our language is to be salty, but not in a sailor kind of way! (See Colossians 4:6) Whatever we say reflects on the glory of God. We do well to handle language carefully.

May 6, 2008

There's A Little Person In There!

I collected these 3D ultrasound images from several sites and was consistently struck by the unmistakable humanity of these little ones. The photos above range from 8 weeks to 31 weeks from conception. I am amazed by those who deny this life should be protected. I'm sorry, but I see a little person in there. Even the image taken of the little one at 8 weeks shows a child equipped to do the Hokey-Pokey ("You put your right hand in...")

I was genuinely saddened to hear that the pregnant bank teller who was recently shot during a robbery lost her unborn twins. The CNN story states, "Katherin Shuffield, who had been five months pregnant, said that a nurse showed her and Jason photos of their twins, and that each fetus could have fit in the palm of her hand. 'When I see the pictures with my husband we always try to be strong and don't cry. But it's hard to see that they were so little,' she said, her voice cracking." I struggle to imagine what my state of mind would be in Mrs. Suffield's position. I certainly mourn her loss.

Amazingly the perpetrator, if caught, will not be charged with murder but with feticide. Indiana law allows for the charge to be murder, but only if the killing occurs after the 7th month. I wonder if the state of Indiana would reconsider its legal position if the law makers were to take a look at a 3D image of say 22 weeks? I have a feeling that the Shuffield family would vote for this being prosecuted as a heinous murder of those unable to protect themselves rather than the denial of opportunity to develop of potentially human tissues.

I am grateful for the window into the womb modern technology is opening allowing us to take a peek inside. It is truly a marvel to see the miraculous process of life blossoming. The next time you hear a news story about "an unborn fetus" or have a conversation with someone about "when life really begins" I encourage you to seek out some of these photos or, better yet, find a friend who is expecting and take a look at their ultrasound. Maybe by peeking through that window we'll all realize that there really is a little person in there rather than some tissue that has the potential to become human.

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:13-14)

May 5, 2008

Monday Morning Message - If This Is the Way You Treat Your Friends...

Eugene Peterson relates a story concerning Teresa of Avila in his engaging volume, Eat This Book. As Teresa is traveling the length and breadth of Spain, in her campaign to reform the Carmelite monasteries, she is one day thrown from her ox cart into a muddy stream. Standing, she shakes her fist at God and quips, "God, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you don't have many!

What happens when God doesn't act like the doting grandfather many believe Him to be? What is our response to be when our life is a litany of suffering rather than a listing of successes? The God that is most often trumpeted from televangelists and the God most often looked for by the masses is a God with little resemblance to the God revealed in scripture. The God of scripture is anything but a doting grandfather or tamed trinket to add to our lives. The God of scripture is not to be trifled with but who, nevertheless, invites us to know, love, and trust Him.

Our church family had the privilege of hearing the story of one man who has encountered this fearsome God and discovered that even in tragedy, maybe especially in tragedy, God shows His all-surpassing greatness. Reggie Jones has experienced numerous heartaches and tragedies in his short life yet he exhibits an unwavering trust in the goodness and faithfulness of God. Beginning with the life-altering accident his younger brother had at age 9 and coming to an experience he had as recently as a year ago, Reggie has grappled with God's designs and purposes for his life. It is evident that God is using him to inspire and encourage others to press on.

Reggie's younger brother Wes, at age 9, fell 25 feet from a tree house and broke his neck paralyzing him for life. This happened one month after Reggie's dad left a lucrative career with IBM to enter the ministry full-time. To say he was angry with God would be an understatement. I immediately thought of Teresa of Avila's statement, "God, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you don't have many!"

But this story does not end with a little boy confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. God had, and has, other things in mind. 20 odd years have passed since that fateful day in the woods of Covington, Georgia when Wes broke his neck, what was to become of him? Both he and his brother Reggie are in demand for speaking engagements across the country and their marvelous story of what God has done in their lives is being told to thousands. Wes now holds the #1 show on GAC network called Unlimited Outdoors and, with Reggie's guidance in marketing, it has incredible potential to reach even greater heights. You can read Wes' story here.

This story alone would be enough to touch the heart of the most hardened but there is more to be told from Reggie's life. The list includes
  • a near death experience for he and two hunting partners while duck hunting,
  • continuing health issues as a result of this experience,
  • a daughter he and his wife were told they would never have,
  • business partners turning on him after 7 years of unmatched success (Reggie was Recognized as the Young Business Leader of the Year in 2005).
In all of these things Reggie has chosen to look to God and at every turn God has proven Himself faithful. It's not been an easy journey but Reggie finds joy and hope in following God's plan for his life. Reggie states, "I have endured a great many obstacles in my life. But each obstacle I have overcome. It hasn't been easy, but I learned early on from my family to put God in the center of everything, and he wil see us through. God has always provided me with strength beyond measure; His timing has always been perfect, even when it seemed like we were facing the worst." (Triumph Over Tragedy, Reggie Jones)

May 2, 2008

It's How You Play the Game

In an age of ridiculous (let me say it again, RIDICULOUS -adj. - very silly or unreasonable, absurd) salaries for people playing a game (is an offensive lineman really worth $57 million?) and a time when the "win at all costs" mantra seems to be the end all of sports from little league to professional (can anyone say "Spy-gate" and Belichick?) it seems that we have all lost our collective common sense. But look! There on the horizon there appears a faint glimmer of hope! Someone playing a game remembered that, at the end of the day, it was a game. They remembered there are wins and losses that will never show up in anybody's record book but that will forever shape the lives of those who experienced these moments. Such a moment occurred this week.

In a playoff game between Western Oregon University and Central Washington University's softball teams something truly remarkable happened. This event should have been trumpeted across our land as an example of the way it's supposed to be. Instead it was buried under the garbage pile of immoral salaries and the celebration of the National Brat Association's annual chest thumping contest. How refreshing it was to read about a group of ladies (and I mean that!) playing for something more than a trophy.

The short version of the story is this, Sara Tucholsky of Western Oregon did something she had never done in her entire softball playing career. She hit a home run. That's nice but it's not the story. As she jubilantly began running the bases she failed to touch first base and in the act of turning back to tag the bag she blew her knee out. It was a desperate situation. Unable to run or walk and, by rule, unable to receive assistance from any of her teammates she was faced with the prospect of having to call in a pinch runner and forfeit the home run. What to do?

Central Washington's first baseman, Mallory Holtman, the career home run leader in the league, asked the umpire if she and her teammates could help Tucholsky. The stunned spectators looked on as the ladies in the other colored jersey's helped the crippled home run hitter around the bases and touch home plate. In fact, the home run by Tucholsky was the game winner as her hit drove in two runs plus hers which of course means that by helping Tucholsky around the bases Central Washington was essentially conceding the game.

When asked why she did it, Central Washington's home run leading first baseman's reply was simply, "In the end, it is not about winning and losing so much. It was about this girl. She hit it over the fence and was in pain, and she deserved a home run." May her tribe increase.

To read the entire story go here. Be sure to share this story with someone else. May I further suggest you drop a letter in the mail congratulating and celebrating this remarkable story. Mine is going in the mail today.

Wildcat Athletics
400 E. University Way
Ellensburg, WA 98926