Friday, December 29, 2017

2018 - Take Life As It Comes

As a High School JROTC student in Hanau American High School in the late 1970's, I would frequently bid adieu to my Senior Army Instructor, CW4 Donald M. Lesch with a hearty, “Take it easy, Mr. Lesch!”  He would invariably respond with a pause, upward glance, and a smirk I now recognize as wisdom while saying, “I’ll take it like it comes!”  That wisdom came from surviving as a combat infantryman in multiple campaigns of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, and always caused me to stop and consider what he had said and why he had said it.

As I reflect on the year 2017, Mr. Lesch’s wisdom is more profound than ever.  2017 has been filled with a variety of happenings that were both anticipated and unforeseen that helped me to understand more completely how every person must prepare themselves to encounter a very broad spectrum of happenings, ranging from the highly desirable to the least desirable human experiences.

2017 has brought the jarring news of the unexpected deaths of several dear friends.  It also marked the expected yet nonetheless painful earthly departure of my personal lifetime hero and ultimate icon, my father, Command Sergeant Major Sam Jackson.  In his passing, I saw more urgency in living my own life well and leaving behind a legacy of love, devotion and goodness that hopefully will outlive me in the hearts of those who know me and can be passed on when I am long forgotten as an individual.

2017 caused me to face more unexpected challenges as a recurring pain in my hip ended up being a sign of major deterioration and signaled the need for corrective surgery and an unplanned period of physical limitation and self-reflection.  Taking life as it comes has involved these challenges and the opportunities for experiencing humanity in the fullest as a husband, father, pastor, and friend. I have rejoiced with those who have rejoiced and overcome in life’s major challenges.  I have mourned with those who mourn when death has interrupted life uninvited and tragedy has numbed the most stout-hearted souls.  Life has come in a vast variety of ways that has called me time and time again to rely on the God I serve to strengthen me in my now more easily recognized weaknesses and to comfort me in the mysteries that sometimes continue to confound me when it seems life just isn’t transpiring the way I believe that it should. 

I am thankful for Mr. Lesch’s wisdom and the seeds planted to recognize that sometimes life doesn’t give one the option to “take it easy.” But, if one is willing to take life as it comes – the good, bad and ugly – one can persevere and emerge through even the most tumultuous times with joy of heart and peace of mind.  This truth is at the heart of what the Apostle Paul meant when he penned the words, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”  This is not an athletic or business performance verse, but rather a verse that anticipates that life will confront every human with experiences that will both “bless” and “curse.”  For those who know the Hope that exists in Christ, there are resources of the soul available to uplift, strengthen and encourage, even in the most trying times – even at the point of death – to cause one to be “more than a conqueror” if one perseveres and does not faint. This truth is reflected in the portion of the serenity prayer that pleads for Christ-likeness in,
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it...
With those thoughts in mind, I pray for a great 2018 for all of you, my friends, but also pray for your continual encouragement and perseverance knowing that greatness often emerges from trial, and sunshine is seldom appreciated apart from stormy seasons.  May the Lord bless us all as we enter into another New Year with all the challenges and potential that await us, taking life as it comes!

Your Brother,


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Faith and Politics - God Is Not On Our Side!

In every political era, people are understandably hopeful that their views fall on “the right side of history” and that God is on their side.  Our age is no different. In the aftermath of every election, analysis and reflection find one side of an issue or one candidate or another claiming righteousness and some level of superiority over those whose views did not generate a winning level of support.  Some even go as far to claiming a position of alliance to God Himself.

As I have listened to claims of “God being on ‘our’ side” or of certain groups being "on the right side" from people of differing political perspectives, I was reminded of a mighty biblical personality who seemingly should have had no doubt about being on God’s side or even God being on his.  The reality was not as simple as one might be inclined to think.

In the 5th chapter of the Bible book Joshua, the man for whom the book is named and mighty leader of Israel is preparing to lead the people of Israel to overtake the city of Jericho as directed by God.  As he surveys the situation, he has a chilling encounter.  Here is how that encounter is presented in the Biblical text:
13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
14 “No,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

It is interesting that this Heavenly representative came to engage Joshua, but offered no assurance of favoritism or alliance.  He only affirmed that God was present, sovereign and that Joshua needed to acknowledge God’s unique righteousness perspective which was His alone and not the product of human diplomacy. Like Joshua, we must weigh into situations with our best understanding of right and wrong but make adjustments when we've thought more of our position than we ought.

For those who walk with Jesus, we must seek God’s Word, walk in humility, pursuing righteousness and exercising restraint in claiming “God’s favor” when, in spite of our intentions, we may be standing within striking distance of receiving God’s judgment.  As Abraham Lincoln said, “… my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”  That may mean rejecting a viewpoint or candidate within one’s own affiliation that does not represent what one is deeply convicted is right.   It may even mean standing utterly alone when no viewpoint expressed adequately represents what one believes to be true.

Jesus warned that standing with a prophetic voice can even turn one’s hometown and kindred against you and standing on principle can be an express ticket to an early exit from this life.  The Apostle Paul declared that those who follow Jesus are looking for a country that is not of this earth and can expect a challenging earthly journey as strangers in strange lands.  As my own life progresses, and politics and public discourse become increasingly toxic, I often feel more alienated from the world around me than I did in years past.  If the biblical writers are to be believed – and I believe them – being “someone else from somewhere else” is just the right passport for our perilous times. 

Stay true to what is right friends, and don’t fear standing firm and standing alone when everywhere others are trying to persuade you to stand is unstable and broken ground.  Dare to be different, when the labels that are available don’t fit you or your ideals.  Do not compromise your convictions for a temporarily satisfying political victory.  Blaze new trails.  Seize the opportunities to lead that come your way.  And, like the Captain of the Armies of the Lord, even when someone you admire more than their opponent, but with whom you have significant issues, asks if you’re on their side or their opponent’s side, stand your ground and resolutely say, “No.”