Monthly Archives: July 2017

Hop In!

The last thing everyone does is the last thing most of us want to do.

Die.

The poet Emily Dickinson famously wrote:

“Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.”

Most of us would rather not “stop for Death.” We don’t even slow down. We don’t think about death, we don’t talk about it and we don’t much prepare for it. And so Death will always stop for us. Usually when we least expect the visit.

We’ll step into the carriage and we’ll be chaperoned by Immortality out of this world. Ready or not, we’ll “put away” our labor, and our leisure too.

Dickinson expressed but one of countless interpretations of this great universal event. Thomas H. Johnson called Death “one of the great characters of literature.” Shortly after his beloved son Quentin died in World War I, Theodore Roosevelt said that “life and death are part of the same great adventure.”

I’ve always liked that view.

The following year, TR passed away quietly in his sleep. Vice President Marshall commented that “death had to catch him sleeping. If he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”

One man who waged a long and courageous fight against death was the iconic high-tech inventor and entrepreneur Steve Jobs. Jobs, who abandoned Christianity in his youth and became a Buddhist, lost his battle with cancer at the age of 56.

He said concerning death:

“Death is very likely the single best invention of life. Almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure: these things just fall away in the face of death.”

Every cemetery, in its quiet solemnity, reminds us that death is the great equalizer.

The Bible describes death as an appointment: “It is appointed to men once to die” (Hebrews 9:27, KJV).

Death isn’t just a definitive, transformative event – it’s a scheduled one.

The last thing Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson was that he would beat the cancer that had ravaged him. But even Steve Jobs wasn’t strong enough, wealthy enough, resourceful enough or smart enough to reschedule his appointment with eternity. The great business leader, like all before him, had to put away his labor, and his leisure too.

The Bible pulls no punches about the great matters of life and death. And its wisdom is the wisdom of God.

“Lord,” the psalmist writes, “remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered – how fleeting my life is…My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” David adds perspective to all our plans and hopes; our dreams and schemes:

“We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.” [Psalm 39: 5-6, NLT].

Steve Jobs was right: “these things just fall away in the face of death.”

The biblical metaphors of life and death speak of brevity and certainty. The Bible teaches us to value life as a precious but fleeting gift. The scriptures don’t dodge death, or minimize it; they confront it.

For the person who has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ, all fear of death has been removed. This spiritual reality has enormous implications. When Christ rose from the dead, his resurrection changed everything forever.

Jesus defanged and defeated death. Alluding to the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 25:8), the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, taunted death:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (I Corinthians 15:54-55, KJV).

Then Paul tells us the massive eternal difference it all makes:

“But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 57, NLT).

We stand at every grave triumphant.

For the Christian, “life and death are part of the same great adventure.”

In death, we will be more alive than ever before.

Instead of being a fearsome “grim reaper”, Death is now a kindly and civil escort who will guide us to a new and glorious life of which this life, for all its beauty and joy, is but the momentary prelude. We’ll be happy to “put away” our labor, and our leisure too.

We’re going home.

We cannot postpone the appointment. Instead, we’ll welcome it.

In the face of the sober truth of mortality, David rhetorically asked:

“And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.” [Psalm 39: 7, NLT].

It is more than enough.

We need not fear the summons. Heaven will be opened before us.

Afraid? I can hardly wait! I’m going to hop into that carriage.

It’s the difference Christ makes.

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Unlikely

He walked the dusty road alone.

He was old but strong.

The sun beat upon him as he maintained his swift, determined pace. His long, white hair flowed behind him and his piercing eyes squinted into the broad horizon.

He was sad for the man he had chosen and now left behind. He had begun with such promise but somehow, over time and in ways unforeseen, his judgment faltered and his integrity ebbed.

Samuel painfully remembered the day King Saul pleaded with him to stay so they could worship together. Saul had conceded his sin and willful disobedience to the Lord’s clear command.

He explained to Samuel that the people had demanded he keep the plunder of battle. He listened to them and not to God.

Saul begged Samuel not to leave him. The prophet told him that God “has rejected you as king of Israel” (I Samuel 15:26, NLT).

As Samuel turned to leave, the desperate king, trying to hold him there, grasped the hem of his robe, tearing it.

Samuel turned and faced Saul squarely.

With a look both pathetic and compassionate, tears welling in his eyes, the old man told him:

“The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else – one who is better than you”(I Samuel 15: 28, NLT).

Such high hopes now dashed by character too weak for leadership.

The final verse of I Samuel 15 is one of the saddest in all the Bible:

“And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel”(KJV).

Saul failed.

Samuel wept.

God regretted.

It was the end of a sad and cautionary chapter in the history of God’s chosen nation.

Now Samuel was on his way to Bethlehem. God told him he had mourned for the disgraced Saul long enough. It was time to face the future.

“Find a man named Jesse who lives there,” the Lord said, “for I have selected one of his sons to be my king” ( I Samuel 16: 1, NLT).

The selection of this new king is a well – known and oft – recounted story.

When Samuel first saw Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, he was certain this tall, muscular, chisel-chinned young man had to be the one who would be king.

“Surely this is the Lord’s anointed”.

God stepped into this selection process early – not just for Samuel’s sake, but for ours.

“ But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7, KJV).

We can’t help it. We’re only human. We’re almost always sure that the cover tells the story of the book inside. And that’s exactly how we judge it.

Then we’re wrong.

Not all the time, but much of the time.

Hey Samuel! Listen to me:

“Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him … Men and women look at the face; GOD looks into the heart” The Message).

And so it went. Jesse presented all seven of his sons to the prophet Samuel. God whispered into the prophet’s ear each time:

“Nope”.

Samuel looked at Jesse. Jesse looked at Samuel.

Samuel scratched his hoary head and quizzically stroked his long white beard. He knew this was Bethlehem. He had heard that right. And this guy standing before him was Jesse – the census showed only one.

“The Lord has not chosen any of these … Are these all the sons you have?” (verse 10-11, NLT).

Jesse looked at Eliab and Abinajab, who rolled their eyes and smirked.

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse told the prophet. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats” (verse 11, NLT).

The older brothers snickered.

Samuel paid no attention.

“Send for him at once”.

The lad was handsome, of average build. He was polite, smiled nervously. He wasn’t sure why he’d been summoned from his father’s back field. Samuel noticed his beautiful eyes. He seemed as innocent and naïve as the sheep he was guarding.

Samuel heard God’s voice: “This is the one; anoint him”(verse 12, NLT).

In this young heart, God saw his own.

That’s how it happened. It was a day like any other. David awakened the runt of the litter and headed for the fields; and the sheep and the goats. By dinner time at sunset, he had been anointed with oil by the mightiest and most revered man in Israel.

He would be King David.

Israel’s greatest leader.

The king upon whose throne would someday sit the King of all kings and the Savior of the world. Born in this very town.

Warren Harding looked every inch a president. James Buchanan had the most star-studded resume.

Today they are remembered as probably the two worst American presidents in history.

It’s the humble and awkward rail-splitter from Illinois who occupies the place of honor; whose homely features are carved in Rushmore, who memory is “enshrined forever” in the hearts of the people.

He served a single term in Congress before he saved the Union.

Unlikely.

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Profit and Loss

The ornate office building had a spacious lobby.

Sitting in the corner, in a large, voluptuous brown leather chair, the dapper businessman in the blue pin-striped suit and dark red tie listened attentively.

He had just finished an interview with The New York Times.

Asked what he believed in, he looked earnestly into the eyes of the young reporter. “God, family and hamburgers”.

Then as he got up to walk to the elevator, he turned and smiled broadly. “But when I go in the office I reverse that order”.

Ray Kroc, founder of the McDonald’s empire, had climbed to the top of the world with a ruthless passion for the franchise sale of hamburgers and fries. By the time Kroc died in 1984, the ubiquitous Golden Arches spanned the globe.

Ray Kroc died rich.

In his business, profits came first, followed by family. God came last. He compartmentalized and prioritized his busy life. Sunday may have been set aside, but it had nothing to do with the rest of the week.

God was good. But money was king.

Christians recoil at such a blatant diminution of God. We all profess to put God first in our lives. For me, it’s sometimes easier said than lived. Every day, I face the world, the flesh and the devil. They work in a diabolical tandem to distract my attention from First Things.

Priorities. They may be important but they’re not always easy. Sometimes I find myself inadvertently reversing the order. It’s a challenge – and temptation – that many of us struggle with. We’re in this world, Jesus sends us into the world and we can’t escape the world – nor does the world escape us.

William Wordsworth observed:

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers”.

In the scriptures, God reminds us of the primacy of the spiritual. Jesus drove the point home on many occasions, in many ways.

When the wealthy farmer boasted of his gains and his plans, Jesus tells us that God gave him a dramatic reality check:

“God said, ‘Thou fool! Tonight, thy soul shall be required of thee’” (Luke 12:20, KJV).

Death would sweep away a lifetime of prideful illusions of self – sufficiency in an instant. As often as it happens, man still presumes.

“Man proposes,” wrote Thomas a’ Kempis, “but God disposes”.

“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail” (Proverbs 19:21, NLT).

God said …”

God told the man his life would be over that night – not a jealous rival, not a disgruntled employee, not an ignored wife – God said it to him.

Jesus asks each of us:

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36, KJV).

“Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mark 8:37, NLT).

It’s not wealth that is the root of all evil – that verse is often misquoted and misunderstood. Nowhere does Jesus condemn riches or success. It’s the love of money above all else – especially above our love for God – that is the sin that so easily ensnares us and hollows out our lives.

When we begin to lust for more, when we cut ethical corners to succeed, when we abandon our families to pursue our material goals; when we vainly imagine that our own skill and talent and hard work have given us our money – and, worst of all, when we proudly assume it’s our money and not God’s, then we run the risk of losing our own soul in order to gain the world.

Then wealth becomes our master and not our servant; our idol rather God’s gift; our end and not our means.

When this happens it’s a tragedy. Ebenezer Scrooge could warn us of the shallow folly of a materialistic and selfish life.

God forbid it in our own lives!

Priorities? What is profit – and what is loss? Theologian and author Leland Ryken aptly observed:

“We worship our work, work at our play and play in our worship”.

Ray Kroc may have “reversed the order” of his priorities when he entered his office but on the night God required his soul it didn’t matter how many burgers and fries the world was eating.

Jesus told us our priority – the First Thing of our lives; the One Thing that will forever dwarf all others and insure, when that day of reckoning comes, our life was lived at a profit and not at a loss.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”(Matt 6:33, KJV).

The day is hastening when it won’t matter who was rich and powerful or popular – or poor, scorned and unknown.

God tells us what’s important:

“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, NKJV).

Try and save your life by trusting in the power and wealth of this world and you will surely lose it. Lose your life for the cause of Christ and his kingdom and you will save it through all eternity.

There is a profit. There is a loss.

What does the balance sheet of your life show?

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A Letter to Ruth

He detested typewriters.

He wrote all his personal correspondence – and it was extensive – with a pen. He believed the noise of a typewriter interfered with the flow of creative thought.

His brother later typed his letters, being the only one who could decipher the scrawled penmanship.

This particular letter on this day required thoughtful attention. It was the reply to a young girl named Ruth Broady. Ruth had written to say how much she enjoyed his books.

He smiled at the affirmation. He loved children as much as he hated typewriters. Taking pen carefully in hand, he wrote the date in the upper corner: 26 October, 1963.

“Many thanks for your kind letter, and it was very good of you to write and tell me that you like my books; and what a very good letter you write for your age!”

He paused for just a moment. Then he wrote:

“If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so.”

Then he paused again. This next part would be interesting:

“I’m so thankful that you realized the ‘hidden story’ in the Narnian books. It is odd, children nearly always do, grownups hardly ever”.

The Chronicles of Narnia, one of the greatest pieces of children’s literature ever written, was sometimes attacked by academics as racist. Others assailed it as sexist. Everyone had an opinion; everyone had an interpretation. The scholars thought they knew. This work of allegorical fantasy was examined and analyzed from various perspectives and prejudicial mindsets in search of supposed underlying cultural themes.

In the end, CS Lewis knew that children would get it.

They would embrace it in its purity and creative beauty. They would accept it and enjoy it for the wonderful and imaginative story it was.

Children would cast no cynical judgment on the work nor offer any smug critiques. They would perceive “the hidden story” that “grownups hardly ever” recognized.

What Lewis appreciated about children is what Jesus also celebrated.

Jesus attached great importance to child-like faith.

When his disciples got into an argument about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven – a childish preoccupation typical of adults – Jesus stopped them and startled them.

“And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:2, KJV). Jesus didn’t want these arguing grownups to miss “the hidden story” and so he brought it center stage.

Jesus looked at the little boy and smiled. He caressed the lad’s tousled hair. And he held him tenderly in his arms.

Then Jesus looked at his disciples – the men who would be the first leaders of his church.

“Except ye be converted and become as little children,” he told them, “ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, KJV).

How often have men and women missed the profound simplicity of the Gospel because they’ve refused to believe it could be that uncomplicated? They’ve wanted to add to it, analyze it and work for it. Anything but simply accept it as God’s free gift.

That’s too easy. Nothing this important could be that simple.

So many people remain blinded by their sophistication and cynicism; by their success, their money and their power; by their intellect, the approval of their peers or political correctness.

Saddled by skepticism, they miss the “hidden story” of God’s great love. They fail to “become as little children” and so never enter the kingdom of heaven.

They miss it.

When the disciples scolded parents for bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed by him because they thought it was a distraction, Jesus brought them up short.

“When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples” (Mark 10:14, New Living Translation).

These men had a lot to learn about children and the Kingdom of God and this was another teachable moment.

“Let the children come to me,” Jesus told them. “Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children” (vs. 14, emphasis added).

Then Jesus said:

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (vs. 15, emphasis added).

Then Jesus gathered these little boys and girls lovingly into his arms; he hugged them and put his hands on their heads and he blessed them.

Children are humble, transparent, trusting, affectionate and unaffected. Many lose these qualities as adults. And when they do, the kingdom of God grows more distant.

The true Christian is one who has not lost the child’s heart.

Pray that you may always be child-like in your love and faith.

“I’m afraid the Narnian series has come to an end,” Lewis wrote in closing his letter to Ruth Broady, “and am sorry to tell you that you can expect no more.

God bless you”.

Less than a month later, CS Lewis, who never lost his child’s heart and never stopped loving Jesus, walked through the Gates of Splendor into a heavenly kingdom more glorious, more beautiful, more colorful and more creative than even he could ever have imagined.

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Bernie and the Founders

It was another day and another public hearing.

There are hundreds of them every year.

Most of them are boring, uneventful and part of the routine grind of government in our nation’s capital. The media half reports, senators half listen, if they’re there at all, and witnesses drone on.

On this day, however, it was different.

Russell Vought had been named by President Trump to be the deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

An unknown nominee chosen for a non-controversial bureaucratic post in the executive branch. Hardly the sort of choice or office to ignite a firestorm.

Then Senator Bernie Sanders, the plain-spoken Vermont socialist who swept America’s college campuses in his uphill but impressive insurgent campaign for president last year against the Hillary Clinton establishment, decided to make a point.

Sanders questioned Vought about an op-ed piece he had authored about Muslims.

Mr. Vought is a born-again Christian and graduate of the evangelical academic flagship Wheaton College. In 2016, a Wheaton professor insisted that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” The professor was ultimately fired for expressing a view in stark violation of Wheaton’s Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose.

That statement, like similar professions of faith in virtually every single church and institution in America that regards itself as authentically Christian, says that personal salvation and eternal life are secured through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Christians do not regard this core belief as incendiary, inhumane, defamatory, cruel, unkind or un-American. They see it instead as a basic and non-negotiable tenet of their faith, grounded in the scriptures, openly professed by the Christian Church for centuries and self-evident in the teachings of Jesus about himself.

To deny this belief is to renounce Christianity.

Christianity is centered on Jesus Christ – his incomparable deity, his miraculous virgin birth, his sinless life, his sufficient atonement, his glorious resurrection, his undeniable perfection, his eternal word, his unchallenged omnipotence and his imminent return to earth.

This why our religion is called Christianity.

This is theology. This is doctrine. This is sacred writ. This is personal religious convictions. This is freedom of conscience.

This is not politics or ideology.

Since Russell Vought, as a devout Christian, believes all this, he wrote an article defending his alma mater’s decision to fire the heretical professor.

In his op-ed, Vought wrote:

“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

This is what provoked Senator Sanders at Mr. Vought’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Budget Committee.

This champion of collectivism and the all-powerful State, from his seat in the Senate, repeatedly – and with heightened irritation, and then outright anger – demanded that Mr. Vought either renounce his beliefs or admit he’s an Isamophobic racist and a bigot for believing that Jesus is the only way to heaven.

When Mr. Vought calmly explained that he is a Christian and this is his faith, Sanders announced:

“This nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no.”

Bernie Sanders had conducted his own religious inquisition, demanded the witness recant his false beliefs and swear allegiance to the God of Tolerance.

When Mr. Vought declared, in essence, “here I stand; I can do no other”, Sanders pronounced his sentence:

Russell Vought is not qualified to hold any office in American government.

Why?

Because Russell Vought is a Christian.

When Sanders saw he had created a front-page story – and none too flattering – he began to back-peddle. But he stopped short of admitting his own flagrant intolerance and bigotry – or his patently unconstitutional error.

Nor did the Vermont senator apologize to Mr. Vought for his arrogant, demeaning and brow- beating tirade.

As we approach our annual celebration of American liberty, it might be a good time to remember that our nation’s founders, true libertarians, sought, in every possible way to protect the new American republic from fiery and narrow ideologues like Bernie Sanders.

Why?

Because Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton and Madison had the wisdom and foresight to know such religious intolerance had no place in a free land of free people.

This is not “what this country is supposed to be about.”

The founders adopted an individual Bill of Rights and placed it in the American Constitution. The first liberty the First Amendment guaranteed was freedom of religion. This included “the free exercise” of religious belief.

The founders further sought to protect Americans from inquisitors like Bernie Sanders by expressly and absolutely prohibiting any “religious test” for holding public office.

When John F. Kennedy addressed a convocation of Southern Baptists in Houston skeptical of his Catholicism during his 1960 campaign for president, he declared that he would disavow neither “my views or my church in order to win this election.”

He then told the Protestant clergymen that if “40,000,000 Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser …”

With Peter and the apostles in Acts, Russell Vought made it clear he would obey his God rather than bow to the State.

Bernie Sanders sounded “a fire bell in the night.”

His is a sign of things to come.

May each of us be prepared to give an answer and to make our choice.

Our founding fathers did no less.

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