Monday, October 28, 2013

What Keeps You Going?

My friend Bob told me about attending a conference at his church where a panel of veteran missionaries were asked, What keeps you going? 

Bob was intrigued with the question, and posed it to his small group Bible study. During our week in Dallas with Bob and Nancy, that question became part of the dinner conversation one night.

It’s a good question because it admits that life is hard. We need to figure out how to keep on keeping on. Certainly missionaries who serve God cross-culturally need special endurance, but so do all of us Christians. It's also a good question because when we share our answers, we help one another find more ways to keep running our race.

So what is it that keeps us from tubing out? How do we continue to walk in holiness when enticements to impurity assault us at every turn? How do we keep trusting Christ when God allows or allots suffering and heartache? How can we finish our race when it would be far easier to drop out and sit on the sidelines?

I’ve been pondering Bob’s question for a week or so now. I know that ultimately my perseverance is God’s gift and not my effort. Without His steadying hand and sustaining power, I would surely stumble and fall. [He] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:8).
But here are some of the ways He keeps me going.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Justice, Mercy, and Twisted Steel

My wife and I are in the Dallas area for a week, visiting our dear friends, Bob and Nancy, thanks to a tenth anniversary gift from our church. It’s been wonderful to see our friends, whom we’ve known since seminary days.

Yesterday they took us to the newly opened George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of SMU. I was unprepared for the emotions that welled up within me as we wandered through the displays.

The whole library gives an intimate look at Bush’s presidency, and especially the decisions he had to make. You can even explore an exact replica of the Oval Office, and President Bush will give you a personal tour via your own iPod.

The most riveting, and emotional, display for me was a gigantic twisted piece of metal, parts of two girders, ripped from the Twin Towers during the 9-11 attacks. The room housing the display is devoted to the unfolding crisis in the aftermath of that terrible day. I stared at the steel beams, fused together by the inferno of exploding planes and people, and I felt like weeping.

I asked the docent if I could touch it. He said I could.

Tentatively I stretched out my hand and laid it on the bare metal. Tears filled my eyes, and I suppressed a sob. Was that ugly steel vibrating with the screams of people whose normal day at the office became their last day on earth? Did those beams still tremble with hatred and fear and death?  

I thought of the thousands who perished that day, passengers on the planes, office workers, cops and firefighters who ran into the flames to try to bring others to safety. I remembered the horrific photos of people who chose to jump from those collapsing buildings.  I thought of thousands of men and women who have died in the war on terror since 9-11. I gave thanks that my own son, called up a month after his wedding, came home to us after standing a post for over a year near the Pakistani border. As I slowly withdrew my hand, I realized that our nation and the individual families within it were forever changed.

Sobered and reflective the rest of the day, I tried to think why the display had such an impact on me. Three conclusions came to me, unmistakable messages from that crooked steel.

  • The misshapen metal in that room is a terrible testament that all of humankind is marred by evil. From Cain’s crushing the life out of his brother Abel to six million Jews killed by the Nazis to the persecution of Christians in Syria to the legal holocaust of abortion – evil runs like a putrid stream through our race. And it’s not just about terrorists who fly planes into buildings, but it’s also the twisted potential for unspeakable sin that lives in the hearts of all of us.
  • Terrible times cry out for leaders of character, courage, and godly optimism. Nations need men and women who will stand, steadied by eternal convictions, ready to lay down their own lives for others. We need such men and women for the nation, but also for school boards, neighborhoods, churches, and families. I want to be that kind of man.
  • Justice and mercy for human tragedy will never be established apart from Christ. War may be necessary, but it will never bring peace. God calls us to stand against evil, to sacrifice for others, to strive for a better world. But the only lasting peace comes from another monstrous injustice, memorialized not in twisted steel but in rough wood, iron spikes, and the shed blood of God’s own Son.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace...Ephesians 2:14-15

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Where Do You Find Buried Treasure?

In the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption, a banker named Andy Dufreyne spends nearly two decades in Shawshank State Prison for murders he did not commit. After years of painstaking planning and effort, he tunnels out of his cell, escapes through the prison sewer system, and heads to Mexico with a fortune he has embezzled from the corrupt prison warden.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie comes near the end when Red, Andy’s best friend in the prison, is finally paroled after 40 years of incarceration. Before he escaped, Andy gave Red specific instructions about how to reconnect with him after Red got out. Go to a certain farm outside the town of Buxton, Maine. Look for a field with a big oak tree at the end of a stone wall. Find a large volcanic rock that seems out of place, and look under it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Don't Just Say Amen (The Lord's Prayer - Part Six of Six)

When I was in high school, I was one of the Smart Kids. Meaning, I was not cool. (And yes, we did have high school in colonial times. We just spelled it differently: Ye Olde Hye Schoole).  

Anyhow, as uncool as I was, you can imagine my surprise when "Tiffany," one of the popular girls, approached me between classes. She was all friendly and smiley and eye-lash batty, and I wondered if my nerdy soul had somehow been swapped into the body of Trevor, the Football Hero. Normally Tiffany would not have dripped her Fresca on me if I had been on fire.

So I was pretty excited. But, as it turns out, and I bet you would have seen this coming, my new potential girlfriend was only interested in my ability to write an English paper for her. Which, of course, I did. 

A few days later, as I handed over a complete research paper, Tiffany rewarded me with a great big “thanks” and a brief smile. After which we did not hang out or go the prom.

But from this sad story I offer a lesson on prayer: We should not treat the God of the Universe like Tiffany treated me.

I think that’s why Jesus included the last phrase of His model prayer: For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Matthew 6:13b, NKJV

Each part of the Lord’s prayer has a specific purpose: 
  • Praising Him – Our Father in heaven, hallowed by Your name. 
  • Rendering allegiance – Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 
  • Asking for daily needs – Give us this day our daily bread. 
  • Yielding confession of sin and forgiveness to others – And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. 
  • Expecting guidance and protection – And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
  • So this last phrase is about Re-focusing on Him - For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Many people draw near to God when they need something or when trouble comes, but then drop Him from their focus and obedience when they get what they want or the crisis is past. This is shallow and selfish behavior when directed toward a high school kid, but it is wicked and blasphemous when directed toward Almighty God.

He demands and deserves first place in our lives. We should not just "sign off" our prayers with a quick "Amen," without pausing again to admire His greatness. Ultimately prayer is not about getting everything we want, but about our giving Him all we have, in worship, submission, and obedience.

Lord, thank You for listening to me again. And may Your kingdom come in my life today. May Your power flow in my weakness. And may everything I say and do today bring You glory. Now and forever. Amen.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

He Will Lead and Deliver!

One of the most sobering lessons I’ve learned about myself, and I don’t think it’s just me, is that, given the “right” (I mean” wrong”) circumstances, I am capable of all kinds of sin. Though I’ve been a Christian a very long time, I know that if I put myself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong kind of temptations, I can and will fall.

One of the keys to my walking in victory is not getting close to the things that tempt me. I think this is why Jesus teaches us to pray in The Lord’s Prayer, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13 

This statement poses a problem for some people, because the Bible teaches that God never tempts us to sin (cf. James 1:13). So why would Christ tell us to pray, “don’t lead me to be tempted?”

Jesus is teaching us to acknowledge that our God controls all things. Our path tomorrow, the people we meet, the circumstances we face, the opportunities and blessing, the trials and tragedies, the victories and triumphs, all are under His control. Were we to wander into the wrong place at the wrong time, we might stumble, to the discredit of God and our own shame.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Forgive Us, As We Forgive

In the last 24 hours I’ve had conversations with several different people who are each struggling with injustices done to them decades before. Sadly all three remain bitter and angry, unable to live a full life today or to plan for a fruitful tomorrow because of what happened to them yesterday.

It’s not easy to forgive. Yet if we don’t, the original offense done to us metastasizes, spreading poison through more and more of our life. To be spiritually healthy requires that we both receive and give forgiveness.  

Our Lord’s Prayer models this receiving and giving. In the acrostic I use for my devotions, P-R-A-Y-E-R, this is Y – Yield confession and forgiveness. Jesus said we should pray, and forgive us our sins, as we ourselves have forgiven everyone who is indebted to us (Luke 11:4).

“Forgive” means to send or put away. The debt of our sins is “put away” because Jesus paid it. The only basis for receiving forgiveness is the sacrifice of Jesus.