Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Importance of Remembering the Day After

None of us wants to be forgotten. We have been created with a deep need to know that we are significant to someone somewhere and that our lives have contributed meaningfully to something beyond ourselves. Yesterday was Memorial Day - a day set aside not so much for mattress sales and barbeque's, but to remember those who gave what Abraham Lincoln so eloquently called, "The last full measure of devotion" in service to the nation. It is a remarkable thing that outstanding people at the very height of their giftedness, potentials and powers are so often called upon to put themselves in harms way, sometimes willingly running headlong into the ugliest human situations imaginable for the benefit of others who may never care to remember their Herculean sacrifices. Nevertheless, the sacrifices are made by these oft-forgotten heroes- sacrifices which forgo personal comfort, safety and long term well-being for the acquisition of a higher prize that will serve to bless the common good.

I remember a particular time when I had the opportunity to pay tribute to heroes who were out of sight, but not out of the minds of those who witnessed their sacrificial deeds. During my Junior year of High School, as a member of Task Force Hanau, the JROTC program to which I belonged while attending an American High School in Germany, our program was selected to travel to several out of the way grave sites of fallen soldiers who died in service of the nation, but were buried in lonely grave sites away from the larger American Forces cemeteries often frequented by tourists. We were very proud of the opportunity we had to fire salutes and to sound taps at these grave sites and did our very best to honor the fallen with excellence and reverence. nevertheless, the full significance of what we were doing and the work it took to allow us to pay that homage escaped me at the time. Our instructor, CW4 Donald M. Lesch, a WWII, Korea and Vietnam Veteran who invested so much of himself into youngsters like me, had to seek out and find these grave sites, obtain permission from the German government to conduct the ceremonies and coordinate with the US Armed Forces to make sure everything was done according to protocol and arrange for our logistics in traveling to the sites and back. There were no crowds, no abundance of flags, no great speeches, but there was our Task Force, a handful of veterans and a strong sense of the importance of the task in which we were involved.

As I think of the importance of remembering, I am moved to remember selfless service beyond the battlefield. There are individuals who thanklessly go about incredibly important daily tasks in which the impact is not fully understood. They serve for years, are taken for granted and pass on only to have someone look past their accomplishments without even a casual consideration. (Ever pass by the pictures of former members and pastors of your church and smirk at how out of style their clothing is while ignoring the work they did to build up a congregation that passed on a legacy which now blesses you?) In our current tendency to celebrate the new and downplay the old, we forget that all of us stand on the shoulders of many who have gone before us and served without notice or acclaim for our benefit.

The Christian Faith is built on this kind of sacrifice. We are reminded of Jesus' total embrace of this level of service in the apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians. In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul sets the standard to which every Christian should aspire:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!

Christian tradition informs us that the 11 faithful Apostles took this standard seriously and each displayed a loving disregard of self so that others might be blessed by the Wonderful Message they carried. I am sure at the time they made their sacrificial decisions to serve, they had no idea that they would be remembered, but cared only that the message and the Messenger be remembered for the salvation of those to follow.

As you continue about your business today, the day after Memorial Day, I want to challenge you to remember. Remember that many people have suffered in anonymous service for your benefit and their sacrifices need to be honored. Remember also that God loves you and showed that love on a Roman cross over 2 thousand years ago through His Son, that you might receive the benefit of Eternal Life at no cost to you. We receive Glory at Jesus' expense. Don't limit your remembering to Memorial Day. Let Memorial Day serve a as launching point for a lifetime of humble gratitude that causes you to serve others with no regard for self and every regard for the blessings it can bring for years to come. Until next time...


Friday, May 23, 2008

Loose Pastoral Lips

"Loose lips sink ships." They also damage credibility. One of the dangers that accompanies pastoral ministry is the irresponsible expression of pastoral opinion apart from biblical guidelines. This temptation is multiplied the longer one serves as a pastor of a congregation and the more comfortable one becomes with the pulpit ministry of that congregation. This week, two more preachers are in the spotlight for making remarks that have offended many and confused many more. Reverend John Hagee and Reverend Rod Parsley have made comments that have brought a firestorm of criticism on them as pastors and have caused their political endorsements to be rejected by presidential candidate John McCain. Senator McCain's rejection of the endorsement of these pastors naturally brings to mind Senator Barak Obabma's rejection of his pastor's public statements and has led many a pundit to evaluate the appropriateness of pastors issuing endorsements for political candidates. The question is a fair one, and one I'd like to carefully consider with you.

In many discussions I have had with friends and church members on this issue, the first thought that comes to mind is this: Jesus warns that people will give an account for every word that comes out of their mouths - every single word. Even the little stuff will be called into account. If this is true for people in general, then those in pastoral leadership must be even more careful. In an earlier entry, I stated that the book of James reminds Christian teachers and leaders that their standard for accountability is stricter than that of non-leading Christians. Pretty sobering when one considers that those outside of leadership are accountable for every single word! If you speak up in public, the judgment for what you say is stricter.

When claiming to speak for God, a preacher better be absolutely sure, with no margin for error, that the word they are proclaiming is from God. Just because a word rolls easily off of the tongue and is readily received by the congregation, doesn't mean that God has endorsed the message. Exposing the Biblical text for the edification of the church and the spreading of the Good News to those without faith is job one. Other uses of the pulpit increase the risk that the essential message will be compromised and that the purpose of the church and the pastor will be misunderstood.

Pastors must take care in equating the Old Testament office of Prophet with contemporary Christian pastoral responsibilities. The Prophets of the Old Testament were speaking in the context of a theocracy, with a unified religious system and a nation that acknowledged both of these authorities and lived in subjection to them. Though the Prophets certainly had words from the Lord for other nations outside of their authority, their message was targeted primarily towards those in a covenant relationship with the Living God. The message of salvation did at times hit its mark in the most ungodly of uncovenanted nations - the brutal city-state Nineveh, for example, which heard the word of the Lord through Jonah and repented. Nevertheless, the Bible instructs us that judgment begins with the "House of God" and we pastors would do well to make sure our own back yards are in order before we go pruning bushes in the yards of others.

Christians have a responsibility to engage culture and to bring the Message of Jesus Christ to bear on any society in which they live. The realization must be made, however, that even the most cherished politicians, whose platforms seem to line up with whatever convictions we may possess, are still politicians and by nature highly motivated by ambition and resigned to some degree to the art of compromise. This means that the same politician that courts Christian citizens and raises their hands in a church service is also courting all kinds of other people with all kinds of other agendas as well. This same individual has to convince all of us from all of our divergent backgrounds that our interest are precious and equally held by them even when our combined convictions are in direct opposition to each other. As the pastors we have mentioned have all learned, political candidates will not hesitate to "throw them under the bus" when their endorsement is perceived as a burden rather than an advantage.

Pastors must avoid making statements simply for shock value that can easily be taken out of context or misinterpreted. If a statement calls for 3 hours of commentary and a press release to help it make sense, it is probably better avoided altogether. All of us make misstatements, even when we're not trying to be particularly controversial, but I find the advise of a seminary professor particularly helpful to remember when trying to deal with difficult, controversial or political topics: "Don't dig up more snakes than you can kill!" In other words, make sure you can support, explain and defend everything you say when you preach - both within the context of your congregation and to others outside of it who may call for an explanation. For some perspective, remember that the same Gospel that speaks to US citizens in the context of our democratic form of government must also speak to our brothers and sisters in Christ who must engage their cultures within the context of repressive governments. The core of our message is solid enough to encompass that wide of a spectrum - our extreme and crowd pleasing commentating statements may not be.

Finally, we need to recall a few basic Scriptural admonitions that simply and eloquently offer us the guidance we need to avoid the pitfalls of Christian and pastoral "Hoof-in-Mouth Syndrome."

James 1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger...

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

Matthew 12:34-37 - For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Let us strive to speak the kinds of words that expose a heart full of the love of Jesus and that justify a life committed totally to Him. Until next time...


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Proud Papa!

There are moments in parenting when you just can't help but be proud of your children. Of course I'm proud of my children just for being mine, but there are special times when your children accomplish something that just demands that you take a special pause to shine a light on their accomplishments and give to thanks to the Lord for the goodness He has shown through them. May of 2008 stands out as one of those moments in our family history that I need to give that special thanks to the Lord and to give some props to my children, particularly to my oldest two daughters!

This weekend, our family had the privilege of attending my oldest daughter's graduation ceremony as she completed her Masters Degree in Psychology from Roosevelt University, in Chicago. As we observed the ceremony and watched Coco walk across the stage to receive her diploma, my mind drifted to the first time I took Coco to school almost 20 years ago. It was a tropically hot Manila day, as usual, and Coco and I walked through the streets, holding hands, dodging traffic and chatting about "this, that and the other." When we arrived at her school, I noticed her friends were staring at me, amazed at this man they had heard about but never seen. Coco noticed too, and one of her bolder classmates broke the silence and asked, "Sino yan?" - "Who is he?" Coco responded matter-of-factly, "Daddy ko!" - "My Daddy!" When that didn't seem to satisfy her classmate's curiosity, she looked up at my head and added, "Pero Calvo!" - "But he's bald!" A knowing look and broad smile appeared and suddenly all was well. If she was Okay with my strange appearance, then it must have been Okay for them too!

When I think back to that time of Coco's early grade school years in the Philippines, I think of all the effort Luz expended to make sure that Coco and our second oldest Maris, attended the best schools possible and received an educational foundation that emphasized hard work, discipline, focus and respect - attributes that paid huge dividends and produced much fruit, which we were blessed to see this weekend. Though we couldn't attend my daughter Maris' graduation in South Carolina, we are equally proud of her and see the same fruit produced in abundant measure in her life and work and a continued harvest in our 2 younger children too.

Most of us are familiar with the Scripture that states, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and in his old age, he will not depart from it." This is not meant to be a guarantee, but a principle, and one that is somewhat debated among biblical linguists and scholars regarding the exact application and meaning. Nevertheless, the basic meaning is obvious enough. Children must be lovingly and passionately taught, not just passively and casually observed. Guided by the Scriptures, Luz and I have imperfectly, but enthusiastically attempted to guide our children in such a way that they would make sound decisions based on godly principles and choose the path that God would have them to follow. That doesn't mean that we have agreed with every decision they have made or that we need to, but it does mean that whatever path they may choose, we can be assured that their choice will be made from a righteous basis with a noble intent.

I watched my oldest girl walk across the stage, knowing her mother and I hadn't produced a clone of ourselves but that literally by the Grace and Mercy of Jesus Christ, we had raised a conscientious, motivated and dedicated woman who has her own walk with the Lord and her own calling to fulfil. It is this knowledge that has made me content and an especially proud papa. I just can't help it! Until next time...