Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Looking Forward to the Day After

I grew up in the middle of a nuclear missile field. The small town where we lived was surrounded by more than 300 Minuteman missile silos. All the farm kids I knew had at least one or two underground missile silos on their farm. I remember the sirens of the heavily armed escort convoys roaring through town when missiles were transported to the various silos. Maybe you remember the 1983 television movie, "The Day After," that tried to capture the horrors of nuclear war for those living around these missile fields. It was a terrifying prospect.

Times have changed since then. The missiles have all been removed and the silos have long since been abandoned. Most of them are still fenced in, overgrown with tall grass, and used by farmers to store large bales of hay. No more soldiers or sirens or convoys. Nothing grave or sinister or frightening. No first strike threat or promise of retaliation. Just a peaceful, pastoral scene, just cows and crops.

Note the picture. Standing in a cornfield near Holden, Missouri, on October 28,1995, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, left, and Russian Minister of Defense Pavel Grachev watch a cloud of smoke rise after they pushed a detonation button setting off an implosion that destroyed an underground Minuteman II missile silo. The event symbolized the ending of the Cold War. (Cliff Schiappa, AP Wide World Photos)

I take it as a good omen, a faint glimpse of a coming day. Every time I drive by an abandoned missile silo, I smile and breathe a prayer of gratitude to God. Now, I'm not naive, and I know we have new weapons today to replace the old. And I still grow weary of the daily body count from all the war and violence around the world, numbed by the enormity of the evil and bloodshed. But I refuse to give in to despair or disillusionment. Better days are coming.

Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
And he will be called . . . Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:5-7 NIV)

He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Micah 4:3 NIV)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Good Walk Spoiled

"They call it golf because all the other four letter words were taken." - Raymond Floyd

"Golf is played by twenty million mature American men whose wives think they are out having fun." - Jim Bishop

Yes, it's time once again for my annual golf outing with my four big brothers and one brother in law. It used to be just the six of us, but now all the sons and nephews jump in too. We used to run all over the country for a full week of golf at places like Myrtle Beach. Now we just play a couple of rounds down at the lake. And that's enough. I have not touched my clubs since last year's get together, and I haven't missed them a bit.

Don't get me wrong. I love golf. I am fairly knowledgeable about golf. I can talk golf, on or off the course. I just can't play golf. (That's really not strong enough. I suck at golf.)

When I was in seminary, there was a big golf tournament for students and faculty, 135 golfers played and the scores were posted in the classroom building for all to see. I came in 135th. No lie. And when I play golf, no place is safe. I have hit tee markers, sprinkler heads, clubhouses, cars, stop signs, a fire hydrant, countless trees, at least two weed-eater guys, and a very startled cow. Three times I have taken friends out for their very first round of golf. All three beat me the first time they ever played.

Suzanne summed it up well one day when she said, "I guess it's commendable that you keep doing something you do so badly. . . I guess it's commendable." I think she was trying to convince herself. So, why do I still play golf? Three reasons.

1) I love my brothers and they love to play golf.

2) When I'm playing golf I'm not working, answering the phone, or stressing out about anything except finding my ball.

3) Every now and then, when the stars are properly aligned and the planets are positioned just so and God is on His throne and the law of averages is bending in my favor, I will hit a decent shot, maybe even a good shot, a putt will roll in the cup.

Once at Jekyll Island, Georgia, I chipped in from 108 yards out! My brother Pete, standing on the green stuck his fist in the air and said, "Nice shot, Andy! Is that a birdie?" I shook my head. "Is that for par?" "No." "Well, nice bogey anyway." I guess that's good enough for me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

God in the Dump

Imagine yourself in the middle of a huge landfill on a scorching day in late July in Texas. Sounds like Hell, doesn't it? It was the hottest, grossest, smelliest place I have ever been. Not a likely place for an epiphany, a surprising encounter with God. I was leading a group of adults on a mission trip to Arlington. The mission leaders tried to use each one of us according to our spiritual gifts and natural talents, so Scott and I were sent to the dump with a 28 foot panel truck filled to the door with worthless household junk, stuff so bad we could not even give it away.

We raised the door, trying not to breathe in the stench too deeply and, already swatting at the flies, we began to chuck the junk into the dump. We threw off a broken kitchen table and the wreckage of an old water bed. Bent up, broken storm windows and kitchen cannisters for flour and sugar and whatever. Pieces of drawers and cabinets, a nasty, moldy old couch with bugs in it. Lots of broken furniture, cracked mirrors, and boxes of clothes and magazines ruined and rotted out from water damage. Nasty stuff. Two or three times I nearly gagged from the horrid smell of that place.

We were about half done when it hit me. Out of nowhere came a flash of insight that I know now must have come from the Spirit of God. "Everything I have is coming out here. Every single possession of mine is eventually going to end up in a place just like this. Even the stuff I am still making payments on is sooner or later headed for the dump." The gravity of that thought penetrated deeper than the rancid odor. Me and my stuff - a dump, a junkyard, and a six foot hole in the ground. When all is said and done, that's the physical reality facing me, facing us all.

Scott and I talked about it on the way back. There better be more to our lives than just the stuff we accumulate, something more to leave behind besides just food for worms.

Since that hot day in Texas my world looks a little different. My appetite for acquiring has been spoiled. My taste for the trappings of wealth is not nearly so ravenous. You see, I know where it's going. I've seen the end of the line. Maybe we should all take a ride to the dump.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Life's Strangest Secret

"As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." (Prov. 23:7) This is perhaps life's strangest secret. We tend to become what we think about. Our dreams define us, shape us, and mold us. Our dreams become the steering currents of our lives. Dreams lead us to claim our future.

Novelist Tom Clancy gave the 1991 commencement address at Johns Hopkins University. Here are some abstracts from those remarks:

"I will now give you your last lesson in metaphysics. Nothing is as real as a dream. The world can change around you, but your dream will not. Your life may change, but your dream doesn't have to. Responsibilities need not erase it. Duties need not obscure it. Your spouse and children need not get in its way, because the dream is within you. No one can take your dream away . . . The only way that your dream can die is if you kill it yourself."

Never turn loose of your God-given dreams. Hang on with the tenacity of a bulldog. Several years ago, there was a study done of concentration camp survivors. What were the common characteristics of those who did not succumb to disease and starvation in the camps? Victor Frankl was a living answer to that question. He was a successful Austrian psychiatrist before the Nazis threw him into such a camp.

"There is only one reason," he said in a speech, "why I am here today. What kept me alive was you. Others gave up hope. I dreamed. I dreamed that someday I would be here, telling you how I, Victor Frankl, had survived the Nazi concentration camps. I've never been here before, I've never seen any of you before, I've never given this speech before. But in my dreams, in my dreams, I have stood before you and said these words a thousand times."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Try a Little Test for Truth

“Pastor, what do you think about . . . ?” Questions come along from time to time, often about the latest book or religious fad or the hottest preacher on television or the latest twist on spirituality in a popular movie or the most recent religious fanatic in the news.

“Drew, I’ve been praying the prayer of Jabez and it’s changed my life.”
“I just got back from a Joyce Meyer conference. It was awesome.”
“Pastor, have you read Joel Osteen’s book?”
“Is Mel Gibson really a Christian?”
“I’ve been reading that new book, ‘The Secret’. What’s your take on it?”
“Was Mary Magdalene really at the Last Supper?”

Usually those that ask me have already made up their own minds. They’re looking to me for some confirmation, some affirmation that their enthusiasm or skepticism is warranted.

Now, I don’t claim to be the source of all truth and I don’t want to be too negative. But, let me suggest some general principles to apply, some rules of thumb to keep in mind as you listen or watch or read whatever is “the latest thing.” Try this little test:

  • If the main thing seems to be getting God to back your agenda, rather than you getting on God’s agenda, somebody is way off base.
  • If God is described as being more interested in bumping up your tax bracket rather than feeding the hungry and caring for the needy, somebody has missed the point entirely.
  • If a greater emphasis is placed upon your comfort and convenience rather than your character and commitment, somebody has misunderstood the nature of discipleship.
  • If it is suggested that your fulfillment and meaning are found externally in your circumstances rather than internally in your faith, somebody has bought into the lies of our culture.
  • If whatever you are hearing or reading causes you to obsess more about yourself and your wants and to focus less on the needs of others, somebody has ignored the clear teaching and example of Jesus.
  • If it is implied that suffering and hardships only come to those with weak faith and negative attitudes, somebody is guilty of biblical ignorance, bad theology, and indirect cruelty.
  • If the main preacher or personality submits to no personal oversight or accountability, stay tuned for somebody’s much publicized fall.
  • If an extravagant, materialistic lifestyle is modeled by the main leader, preacher, or author, somebody is far from the mind and heart of God.
  • And finally, just because a product is marketed and sold in a “Christian” bookstore or website, do not assume it is based on sound Christian teaching. In many cases somebody is more interested in making money than communicating truth.

There you have it - a simple test to help you separate truth from half truth, the Gospel from a knock-off, some cheap substitute for the real thing. Hope it helps. And as they used to say on Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.” Don’t let somebody get the best of you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

My Chocolate Cross

I received a unique gift for Easter this year - a chocolate cross. One of the kids at church, gave me the boxed cross as a gift from her family. I thanked her for her thoughtfulness and for remembering me in this way. I don't usually receive gifts at Easter, maybe just a few cards.

Since then, my chocolate cross has been sitting on my desk in my office. Keep in mind the normal life expectancy of anything chocolate in my office is less then three minutes. Now here it is three weeks after Easter and there it sits, my chocolate cross in the shiny purple and green box.

I'm not sure why I hesitate. I'm not usually so squeamish. I don't mind biting the head off of a chocolate bunny. No problem. But this is different. Something about it bothers me.

Maybe there's a reason we don't see candy coated electric chairs or red licorice hangman's nooses or graham cracker guillotines. I've never seen a chocolate marshmallow handgun or a bubble gum dagger either. I just can't munch on a chocolate cross. It's just too incongruent, too commercial, too much of a reach for me. Am I nuts or what? What about you? What would you do with a chocolate cross?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Friends in Far Off Places

I've been thinking a lot lately about my long distance friends, some very special people that I have met in my travels and mission work. Some of my friends have a tough time keeping in touch. Even in this cyber age, many people still lack the resources or opportunities to communicate freely. But I cannot forget them. They are etched on my heart for good. Let me introduce you to a few of my far off friends.

This is Obed. I met him in Pretoria, South Africa. He is starting a new church in the village where he was born. Obed is bright and gifted, with a quiet dignity and grace unusual for a man barely in his 20's. I wonder about Obed's health. Like nearly 50% of South Africa's population, he is HIV positive. When I first met Obed, he and his wife had just lost their baby girl to illness. I tried to comfort him, but there were no good words to say. I prayed with Obed asking God to heal his heart and comfort his young wife. I think about Obed and I pray for him. I promised I would.

This is my friend, Rustam. He and his beautiful family live in Kiev, Ukraine. Rustam started a new house church in an apartment building. Each week, about 35 people crowd into a small apartment, most in their 20's and 30's, to worship and study and share life together. The official church will not recognize Rustam's church because he does not follow the old traditions, the women do not cover their heads, etc. He faces a very difficult task with almost no support and nothing but criticism from those who should be his biggest cheerleaders.

I worshiped with Rustam and his little community of faith one evening. I was touched by their warmth and acceptance. Their praise was heartfelt and their testimonies and prayers were passionate and real. The Gospel was presented with power and the presence of the Holy Spirit was unmistakable. Afterwards Rustam seemed very eager to hear my evaluation, so anxious to hear some expression of approval for the remarkable moving of God among his people. I said, "Rustam, I think we need 1,000 more churches in this city just like this one."

His eyes filled with tears but the look on his face was sheer joy, just to hear someone, anyone, say out loud what God was saying in such obvious ways. This is a real church if I have ever seen one, Acts 2 come to life. God bless you, Rustam. I pray for 1,000 more just like you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Little Fizz in Your Faith

I came across a terrific post by Carolyn Arends at Christianity Today called "Carbonated Holiness." Carolyn is talking about laughter as serious business. Better check it out. Here's what really stuck with me:

"Laughter is carbonated holiness." - Ann Lamott, Plan B

"Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God." - Karl Barth

"Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. … The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy" (Ps. 126:2–3).

Carolyn concludes with these words: "It's serious business, laughter. It's the kind of sacrifice of praise that puts our insides right. The old cliché is true: Laughter is a medicine that reminds us that our sickness will one day be healed and we shall be whole and holy. Until then, laughter is the Elmer's Glue that attaches us to the goodness that inhabits this world, and to the gladness that hints at the world to come."