Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Humpty Dumpty, Miss USA and Lessons in Restoration

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.

This age-old children's rhyme warning of the irreparable effects that usually accompany a fall from greatness came flooding to mind this week when I heard of a major league moral failing of a dear friend and former ministry colleague. His fall doesn't seem like "just a slip" or a "moment of failure", but appears to be a full-fledged, head-long, face in the dirt, "prodigal eating with the pigs" turning away from a lifestyle and life way of walking with and for Jesus Christ. The news has left me numb and scratching my head wondering, how could this happen? I am also wondering is this really another instance of ol' Humpty Dumpty, damaged beyond repair and beyond any possible redemption?

In my heart, my hope is in the Lord, knowing that with Him, redemption and restoration is possible, though with consequences. I see a parallels to this truth in the recent Miss Universe contest. Most of us have heard this week's amazing account of how Miss USA 2007, a strikingly beautiful young woman, full of confidence, charm and swagger, sashayed across the floor during the evening gown competition, only to find herself suddenly and unexpectedly on her posterior to the shock of the entire audience. The swiftness and jolting nature of the fall caused me to reflect on Howard Cossell's memorable chant "Down goes Frazier! Down goes FRAZIER!!" announcing to the world the shock of George Forman's thorough and destructive pummeling of then-champion Joe Frazier. Unlike Frazier, however, Miss USA wasn't down for the count and quickly returned to her feet and continued seemingly unfazed with as much grace and poise as when she began her walk. Apparently, the judges were impressed with her recovery, and awarded her a spot among the final 5 contestants. The very partisan Mexico City crowd,however, was not moved, and jeered Miss USA during the interview portion of the contest. Nevertheless, Miss USA displayed great courage and dignity not losing focus during her interview and submitting a respectable and motivational answer chronicling her philanthropic service in South Africa. When all was said and done, however,the judges awarded her a 4th runner-up position - the fall had its impact - but Miss USA managed to finish the contest on her feet with a prize and title, albeit a diminished one from the one she originally sought.

There are a few lessons here for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ and seeking to walk victoriously in His Name.

Firstly, the Scripture warns us to take heed when we stand, lest we fall. A nanosecond before her fall on the stage, Miss USA was brimming with confidence and attitude, when BAM! suddenly,she was down. Just before his fall, my friend was known to all as a tower of strength and dependability. It is when we feel we are at our strongest that we must especially depend on and look to the Lord. The Scripture says,
'Not by power nor by might but by My Spirit, says the Lord.'
Whatever our capabilities, whatever our gifts, whatever our strength, it all comes from the Lord, not from us. We must take great care to humbly acknowledge our abilities with the understanding that they all come from God should be used in subjection to His leading and direction, not our prideful self-absorbed display.

Secondly, if we do fall, we need to keep in mind that restoration is possible. Like Miss USA, the faster we can grasp the reality of our fall and get back on track the better. Scripture leaves no doubt that all of us have sinned and fall short of God's glory. It is also emphatic in declaring that forgiveness and restoration are abundantly available and readily dispensed through Jesus Christ. Like the father in the Prodigal Son parable, our heavenly Father is eager to forgive and restore. I hope my friend will grasp a hold of this reality and do so quickly.

Thirdly, we must remember that falls have consequences. Though she received a prize, Miss USA failed to achieve THE prize and will never be known a Miss Universe, though being known as Miss USA isn't at all shabby. King David retained his throne after his adultery with Bathsheba, but at a price which cost him a son and established violence within his own household for years afterward. Should my friend return to himself and to a lifestyle of walking with Jesus Christ, he will find that he has lost some credibility and trust and that some people will always see him as "The Guy Who Fell." He will certainly find wounds within his own family that may take years to heal and may never completely heal. He will also find that it may be that he will never again hold the title of Pastor or minister that he worked so hard to receive and that he represented so well in the years before his fall. The title of "servant of the Lord" is still available, and would not be a bad title at all with which to spend the remainder of his life. For my friend and for us, forgiveness is possible and restoration is available, if only we are willing to let go of our sin and grab a hold of Jesus who is willing and able to save us.

So,even though "all the king's horses and all the king's men could put Humpty together again", and even though Miss USA's reign extends only "from sea to shining sea" as opposed to the whole world, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is able to restore us to a meaningful life when we fall and more importantly He is able to preserve us before we fall if we will just walk with Him and never let Him go. That's no fairy tale or nursery rhyme, that's the Gospel Truth! Until next time,


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Running Over Hurdles

Yesterday, I watched with great joy as my third-born daughter Joana ran the lead-off leg in her Middle School track team's 4x100 meter relay and gave her squad a lead that brought them within 3 one-hundredths of a seconds of setting a school record. All of us who watched knew it would be a blistering time, as their team came within a few inches of beating the boys relay team (the boys and girls run relays together to save time in the meets, which often run rather long, though their times and places are recorded separately.) I really enjoy these meets. In fact, if one observes carefully, there is as much intrigue in the preparation of the races and post-race reflection as there is in the actual races themselves. I was particular interested in the great care the starter took to remind runners of important aspects of racing like maintaining lane integrity and carrying out clean exchanges without dropping the baton. These aspects of track and field translate very well into life lessons and make it easy for us to see why the Bible uses racing imagery in describing the Christian way of life.

With this imagery in mind, Hebrews 12:1-3 instructs us as follows:
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

"Let us run the race marked out for us - fixing our eyes on Jesus" These words really speak to me this week. In the midst of some pretty significant Christian Life challenges for me, this verse reminds me that I need to stay on track, maintaining "lane integrity" by running the course the Lord has laid out for me and to endure. I got some excellent perspective for this verse through the feats of one of Joana's teammates in yesterday's meet. A spectacular athlete, my daughter's friend set a school record in the long jump earlier in the season and broke her own record 3 times in 3 successive contests including yesterday's meet! On a record smashing blitz, she set out blazing through the 200 meter hurdles, certain to obliterate the old standing record, when the unthinkable happened - she fell over a hurdle! A lesser runner would have lost it and given up the race. The record was now out of reach and she could have quit with every one's understanding and affirmation. But my daughter's friend is not a lesser runner. Picking herself up with grit and determination, she refocused on the course set before her and ran like a woman possessed! In the manner of the legendary Eric Liddel of "Chariots of Fire" fame, through herculean effort, she caught up with the field, and though she didn't break the record, she amazingly won the race!

Upon hearing of this amazing display of heart and courage, I couldn't help but think of some of the hurdles of life that often knock us down and seemingly out of the race - life tragedies, the betrayal of friends, goals and dreams that go unrealized and all sorts of unplanned life interruptions that knock us off of our feet and for a moment, out of the race. It is then that we must emulate and appropriate my daughter's friend's actions - to pick ourselves up, refocus on the course Jesus has laid out for us and the goal, Jesus Himself, and run with all our might. Even if we don't "win" as my daughter's friend did, the Lord expects us to run until we reach the finish line to receive our "Well Done!" from the Lord.

I don't know how all of the hurdles that have come my way this week will alter my placement in "The Race", but I know that Jesus has set the course and that He wants me to run all the way through, with integrity and with everything that is within me. I invite you to run the course Jesus has set up for you in the same way. Don't stay down. Get up and keep on running until the end! Until next time,


Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Who really represents Christianity in the public square? The Pastor? The Apologist? The Mega Church? Who has the credibility to be the face of Christianity for those who are searching, seeking and even challenging the Person and Message of Jesus Christ?

Recently, there has been a great increase in forums established for debating issues of faith and truth. Various persons of renown within the Evangelical community have stepped forward to don the mantle of faith, using a variety of approaches in their attempts to accurately represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ via the mass media.

Some have attempted to meet the skeptics on their home court as crusaders, venturing into territory filled with hostile audiences and limited by preconditions that all but put them at the mercy of their opponents. For these defenders of the faith, every encounter is a do or die battle that must be won whatever the costs.

Others, seek to defend the faith by presenting themselves as pop psychologists who dish out a feel good message that is aimed at winning over listeners by "killing them with kindness" and giving audiences an opportunity to "taste and see that the Lord is good." This approach often stays as far as possible from elements of Christianity that might "offend" such as "Hell", "Sin" and "Repent" in favor of a "kinder,gentler" approach that sometimes leaves important questions unanswered.

Personally, though I am grateful for every opportunity that arises for people to meaningfully discuss matters of faith and particularly faith as defined by trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I am also concerned that we may have relegated our discussions of faith in Jesus to forums that are more focused on market share than sharing truth. Big names and big ministries have become equated with big credibility. In an media-driven age, it is certainly understandable that people look to the faces and names they see most often, doing work on a level that seems to be "world-class" or "high-powered".

There are more than a few problems related to such a dependence on "big name ministry" as the front-line representatives of our faith. For one thing, most people are not part of such ministries. Research has consistently shown that the mean average of most congregations is less than 100 people. These are small, intimate congregations where needs are known along with names, and trust is evident as everyone knows what's going on and who does what needs to be done. Are there vulnerabilities associated with being small? Absolutely, but the small size forces people to become involved to a greater extent and makes it harder for people to skate by while expecting others to do what they themselves should be doing. Simply put, every Christian needs to be involved in accurately communicating what or more correctly, Who Christianity is all about. It's not Billy Graham's job, Rick Warren's job, Kirk Cameron job or Tony Evan's job to be the main ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

Everyday Christians who work in the market place, serve at home, live in communities are the real front line soldiers serving on the real front line of faith who need to be adequately equipped to "share the hope" that within them. So, while we rejoice when a "big name" Christian represents us well in the media and cringe when they do poorly, we should not put all of our apologetic eggs in the mass media/big ministry basket. Your friends and family know you best of all, and it's up to you to live a credible life and to be intellectually prepared to explain what you believe and why you believe it. That's effective representation that is within your grasp and that truly effects lives to the glory of God.
Until next time,


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

How To Honor Your Mom All Your Life

My mom passed away unexpectedly over 10 years ago, and Mother's Day always brings mixed emotions. On the one hand, I have a great deal of joy remembering what a great Mother she was and the wonderful mother my wife is. On the other hand, I still feel a bit of sorrow at not being able to honor my mom personally with cards, flowers, gifts and other tokens that symbolize the great love and respect I have for her.

Nevertheless, as I thought about it, I realized through reading Proverbs 31, that there were some substantial ways that I could honor my mom for all the days of my life that go beyond the token efforts of cards, candy and flowers. In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel (aka Solomon) receives valuable instruction from his mother on how to live his life with integrity and goodness. His mother gives him advice in the areas of relationships, economics, compassion, justice and leadership. These life lessons are capped with a call to fear the Lord above all. Ephesians 6:1 tells children to obey their parents in the Lord, for it is the right thing to do. There is no statute of limitations on godly instruction which can be applied effectively for a lifetime, not just one's childhood.

Therefore, the wise words of Proverbs 31 provide each one of us with a template for living in a manner that allows us to honor our moms long after they have departed this life and long after our hair has turned grey. Are you honoring your mom today? Micah 6:8 lays out the template in terms that are easy to understand:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Live by these words and honor your mom today! Until next time,


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Age and Perspective

It's great to be young! Youth is filled with the promise of things to come and, in most cases, a body, mind and spirit fully equipped and freshly prepared to make a new path towards conquering the world! One of the great challenges of youth, however, is that it is frequently accompanied with a lack of perspective. Our youth can sometimes cause us to miss beauty, truth and wisdom as it stares us squarely in the face cleverly disguised by age and experience.

A few weeks ago, I read the blog entry of a new church planter who visited a church with which I'm well familiar, pastored by a brother that I deeply respect. This new planter's observations were critical, and painted a portrait of the church my friend serves as a congregation that is out of date and struggling for relevance. As I might have expected, my friend accepted the criticisms with class, grace, and an earnest desire to hear the criticisms and improve.

Nevertheless, as an onlooker who knows about this church and who is sandwiched between these two brothers in terms of age, I would offer some gentle cautions to this fired-up, eager and well-meaning younger brother. I myself have been the "young gun" in the corral and have made some pretty bold judgements of other churches and leaders before really seeking to understand and appreciate their histories and life journeys.

Experience has made me cautious about measuring a church's relevance based on styles of expression. Preaching and worship styles are as varied as the humans who define them. Some individuals are dynamic and extremely expressive in their communication while others are more subdued. I have found that when my heart's desire is to connect with the Lord by hearing a word from someone who is genuinely walking with Him and prepared to share a meaningful word, I have been blessed by "Pew Jumpers" and the "Frozen Chosen" alike. I have my own preferences to be sure, but I can never allow my preferences to put "God in a box".

I believe there are more reliable and biblical factors that measure a church's relevance and effectiveness regardless of their style. A relevant church will have a hunger for God. Above all, there will be a burning desire among the leaders and the rank and file to know God and walk in intimate fellowship with Him. This desire can be found among the most stoic of Christians and the most vivacious. A relevant church will also have a passion to reach people by sharing the Gospel and leading people to a personal relationship with Jesus. This desire will be accompanied by an unshakable commitment to love others. People who love others are willing to get their hands dirty and to serve others even when it comes at great personal expense. A trademark of Christianity is a love for people that meets needs and is demonstrated through acts of compassion and service. There are churches of every conceivable style who display this kind of love all day, everyday to the glory of God.

I have served in more "traditional" settings where the people had a passion for God that allowed them to touch the lives of others and make differences in all kinds of extreme settings where appearances might have made their ability to be effective seem unlikely. I've also been a part of ministries that pushed the absolute limits of convention that compassionately served others from every imaginable background - even very "conservative" types - because the love of Jesus in them was so strong. Whether folks prefer a "rockin' good time" in worship, or a more "liturgical and ceremonial" approach there are no limits for a congregation that is determined to show the love of Jesus in reaching the world for Christ.

When Jesus was asked what was the most important aspect of following God, He answered without hesitation, "Love the Lord your God with all of heart, all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength, and a second is like it - Love your neighbor as yourself." These are true measures of a church's relevance. Styles come and go, but godly character and passionate service is always in vogue in God's economy.

With the aforementioned considerations in mind, I say to my younger Brother in the Lord, feel free to observe and critique, but don't be so blinded by the light of your eagerness to do something relevant that you lose sight of God in action right before your eyes. The church that in his estimation appeared to be out of touch , has spent over 20 years seeking to effectively reach its community and the world for Jesus, never allowing itself to be stifled by style, but always willing to put every aspect of its operations under the subjection of Christ's leading and authority wherever and however He might direct. If every congregation were follow that example of humble and faithful service, the Kingdom of God would be well served whether we're rockin' in the aisles or rockin' in our chairs. Until next time,