Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Cautionary Tale of Boon Island

Boon Island as seen from the shore.
Summer is the time for vacations.  Growing up in Massachusetts one of my family’s favorite vacation spots was York Beach, Maine.  How many wonderful memories I have of that quaint seaside town.  Summer vacation always included a little bit of reading, and one summer I remember reading the story of a small island just 6 miles off the coast of Maine – Boon Island.

It’s really just a big rock out there in the Atlantic measuring only 300 by 700 feet.  On a clear day, you can see the island from the beach. You can especially make out the lighthouse, the tallest in Maine, rising from the barren rock.  But the story I read that summer took place before there was a lighthouse.

In December of 1710, a British merchant ship carrying 14 crewmen crashed into the island.  Of those, 10 ended up surviving the harsh winter weather with no food and no fire until their rescue 24 days later. The book tells the story of those harrowing 24 days.

Just as you can see the island from the beach, you can also see the beach from the island.  Shipwrecked on this island with no means of communication, the stranded crewmen could see activity on the mainland. Just 6 miles away there were people sitting by their warm fires enjoying home cooked meals.  Six miles doesn’t seem like that much, but for those stranded men it might as well have been 6 million miles.

Winters in Maine can be pretty harsh, so on most days the activity would be pretty limited.  New Englanders spend a lot of time indoors during the winter, especially back in 1710.  But the men on Boon Island noticed that there was more activity on Sundays.  Sunday mornings to be specific.  Men, women, and children, despite the cold weather, would be making their way to church.  Fearing for their lives and facing a certain death yet only six miles away Christians were filling churches and perhaps even hearing sermons and singing songs about rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying.  All the while, the faithful had no idea that only six miles away 10 men were praying for a miracle.

Christians filling churches while others faced certain death. Oblivious to their need.  Unaware of their hardship. Sad and ironic, to say the least.

I’m all for going to church, but if going to church doesn’t heighten our awareness of stranded and lost people just six miles or six feet or six thousand miles away from us, then maybe were missing the point.  Maybe were missing the message of the Son of God leaving heaven to become a servant.  Maybe we’ve forgotten his mission to “seek and to save the lost.”  Perhaps we’ve become deaf to the call for all of us to “go and make disciples.”

How tragic it would be for stranded people to see all the activity on Sunday mornings only to see Christians retreat into their comfortable lives the rest of week.  Sitting by our warm fires.  Enjoying our home-cooked meals.  Oblivious to needs.  Unaware of hardship.  Sad and ironic, to say the least.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Be Memorable


As Memorial Day approaches we sense the value of remembering those who have gone on before us.  We take note of their lives and the influence they have had on us.  But Memorial Day also makes me wonder how memorable a life I am living?  I want to be remembered.  I want people to look back on my life and be inspired by the contributions that I have made.  I want my life to matter.  But how can I do that?  How can I live a memorable life?

The gospels, in Mark 14, tells a wonderful story of a woman who left a memorable mark in the life of Jesus, so much so that Jesus said that what she did would be told whenever the gospel is preached!

Jesus was at the home of a friend shortly before his crucifixion.  While they were eating, this woman comes in and breaks a jar of very expensive perfume and pours it over Jesus' head.   Some of the believers gathered there are critical of the woman saying that the perfume could have been sold for a year's wage and the money given to the poor.  But Jesus interrupts their griping by praising the woman and then declares that what she has done will be remembered for generations to come!   This brief encounter with Christ made certain that her life would be memorable, and as she makes this memory she leaves behind some insight for all of us on how to live memorable lives.

First, we need to practice radical generosity.  If you want to leave a mark then be willing to give away what you have, whether that be money, time, or resources.  Generous people see their resources as a means to bless other people, not just a way to make their own lives easier.  If you want people to remember you, give your stuff away!

Second, we need to look beyond the obvious.  The disciples gathered can only see the apparent use of this asset - feeding the poor.  Now Jesus is not against feeding the poor, but he admires this woman who uses this perfume in a unique way.  She thinks outside the box.  God has given each one of us distinctive resources that can be used in unique ways.  Think about the special contributions you can make to the people around you.  Be sensitive to special moments when your generosity can make an exceptional impact.  Memorable lives are creative and imaginative in their generosity.

Third, expect and overcome opposition.  This woman's unique, radical generosity is opposed even by believers.  People who leave a mark are often people who are criticized and discouraged, even by well-intended peers.  Throughout history the people who are most memorable are those who were most criticized as well!  Don’t allow cynics to stifle your passion.

Perhaps none of us will have monuments built in our honor, but we can leave a mark on our world. We can be memorable.   Why not start today!

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Holiday Halo Effect

I was introduced to a new term recently – The Holiday Halo Effect.  Apparently, research has determined that not only is going on a vacation good for you, but simply booking a vacation creates feelings of positivity.  Just knowing a vacation is coming seems to bring people joy. Furthermore, those expecting a vacation report that they feel more motivated at work.

Seems to make sense to me.  Having something fun and exciting to look forward to can make even a mundane life more bearable.  Knowing that there is something pleasurable waiting for us in the future can make the days leading up to that vacation pleasant.  A wise friend once gave this advice to someone who was wondering if they could hold up just a few more weeks until retirement – “You can stand on your head for three weeks if you have to!” Knowing that there’s a beachside bungalow or a mountainside cabin waiting for us empowers us to make it through even dark days.

I appreciate the research but don’t these conclusions seem to be a no-brainer for Christians? It’s called hope and it’s all over the pages of the Bible.  The destination is called heaven and it’s been the bright future that has brought strength and endurance and joy to even the most difficult of faithful lives.  It’s the “vacation” we have booked that brings us feelings of positivity and motivation.

The writer of the New Testament book called Hebrews gives us a simple explanation as to how Jesus could suffer the way he did – “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” That joy was heaven.  That joy was being with God.  It’s that joy that kept him going and the same joy will keep you going.

I read a book awhile back called “The Slumber of Christianity” by Ted Dekker.  His main contention was that we have turned Christianity into simply a pragmatic lifestyle focusing primarily on how it can make our lives better here.  And I agree it can do that, but take heaven away and we really lose that deep and lasting hope believers need to be faithful and effective.  He called for more sermons and teaching on heaven.  I think he has a point.

Consider this paraphrase of that passage that I referenced above from The Message by Eugene Peterson:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
Christian, you have a holiday booked paid for by the blood of Jesus.  Shouldn’t we be experiencing The Holiday Halo Effect? Or should we call it The Heaven Halo Effect?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Chicken and Dumplings Theology

I have never been much of a cook, but recently I have learned perhaps the best advice a novice like me can learn -  trust the recipe and follow the directions.

My wife and I recently subscribed to one of those mail order meal providers.  You choose what you want and a box arrives on your doorstep with all the ingredients.  Included, of course, is a step by step recipe.

I’ve never been much for recipes.  My mom was old-school.  She had it all in her head.  She whipped a meal together all the while taste-testing and adjusting as she went. It worked for her and I figured it would work for me.  It didn’t.  I figured I was just a bad cook until I learned the lesson – trust the recipe and follow the directions.

So, one day I decided to take the plunge and see if this recipe thing was all it was cooked up to be.  While my wife does the majority of the cooking, I offered to give her a break.  On that day’s menu was chicken and dumplings.

Note:  I’m from the north.  I had never had chicken and dumplings (I can hear the gasps of all you good southern cooks).  Therefore, I had never made chicken and dumplings.  This was going to be a real test of my skills.  But I forged on intent on one thing – trust the recipe and follow the directions.

I prepared the chicken stock.  I mixed up the dumpling dough.  It all seemed so easy. And then I came to the step where you drop the dough into the stock.  This made no sense to me.  I couldn’t see how this had any hope of working out.  I repeated to myself – trust the recipe and follow the directions.  I dropped the dough and covered the pot for the allotted time anxiously waiting to see what would happen.  I lifted the lid and to my amazement the dumplings had perfectly formed.  I gingerly turned them and allowed them to finish cooking.

When all was said and done, my chicken and dumplings looked just like the picture.  I must say that these were the best chicken and dumplings I had ever had!  I know that’s not saying much since these were the first, but my wife and sons agreed I had done a pretty good job.

The secret to my success – trust the recipe and follow the directions.

That Sunday in our Bible class we read about Joshua and the victory at Jericho.  Joshua was not a military genius, but he had learned the same secret to success. Although marching around a city seven times and blowing trumpets probably made no sense to Joshua, he trusted the recipe and followed the directions and the walls came tumblin’ down.

Noah was not a boat builder, but he trusted the recipe and followed the directions and survived the flood.

David was not from a royal family, but he trusted the recipe and followed the directions and became the great king of Israel.

Peter was not a public speaker, but he trusted the recipe and followed the directions and thousands came to faith.

I must admit that some of the things Jesus tells us to do make no sense. I hear his words and wonder if there’s any chance of this working out.  I need to repeat to myself – trust the recipe and follow the directions.

Trust the recipe and follow the directions.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Real yet Irrational


This past Tuesday math nerds around the world celebrated Pi day. Pi is the Greek letter used in math to represent the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. The value of Pi to the hundredths place is 3.14, therefore March 14, otherwise known as 3/14, is celebrated as Pi day. The real interesting thing about Pi is that it's value does not stop at the hundredths place.   In fact, the decimal goes on unending.  In other words, you can get close to writing Pi but you'll never be able to get it exactly.  Pi is a real number but is considered irrational.

In my high school math classes our teacher challenged us to memorize Pi to as many decimal places as we could.  I can still do it - 3.14159265. I was pretty proud but was reminded that even though I knew Pi six more decimal places than those who knew him only as 3.14 I still was infinitely away from knowing him completely.

For a long time I've felt some spiritual connection with Pi.  A real number that was irrational. A number you could know in part but never fully know. Pi reminds me a lot of God. Real but irrational.  Knowable yet incomprehensible.

My hope and prayer that in some way today as we pray, commune, sing, and go to Scripture that we could get just a bit closer to knowing this real but irrational God.  I hope today we can add one more decimal place in our pursuit of knowing this incomprehensible God.


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Shack Attack

My name is Todd, and I don’t like The Shack!

And somehow, I am being made to feel like less than a true believer by voicing my concerns.  That’s my problem and no one else’s, but that’s how I feel.

I didn’t have the same heart-rending reaction that many Christians had after reading the book.  I wondered why.  Is there something wrong with me?  Am I cold-hearted and insensitive to human pain?  Do I not want God to be forgiving and merciful? Am I not forgiving and merciful? Why don’t I love The Shack? But then I found relief when I read of others who likewise felt uneasy about the portrayal of God in The Shack.

I feel that the concern has been misinterpreted or perhaps it has been miscommunicated, so please indulge these confessions of a Shack dissident.
  • I’m thinking The Shack may be like a song or a painting.  Some people love songs that I don’t, and I love some songs that others don’t.  Some paintings speak to some but fall mute to others.  It’s like modern art – I just don’t get it, but, obviously, some people do.  The Shack is a song I just don’t get.  It didn’t move me but that doesn’t mean I’m not moved by the immense love of God.
  • My concern about The Shack is not that God is portrayed as loving and forgiving.  My concern is that The Shack’s portrayal didn’t seem consistent with biblically revealed truths about Him. My concern is that in trumpeting God’s love and mercy that other spiritual truths may have been compromised.  God’s love and mercy need to be shouted from the mountaintops, but not at the expense of other truths about Him.  Others have expressed that same concern and that’s a legitimate concern.
  • I’m not calling for a ban or boycott of the movie.  I’ve not heard that from anyone.  There’s been a simple and legitimate call for discernment.
  • Just because something is moving doesn’t make it true.  Some reviews seem to give approval of the movie primarily based on its emotive effect. It seems that The Shack passes the “did it make me cry” test.  That’s neither good nor bad.  That doesn’t make the story true or false.  However, emotion cannot be the litmus test for truth.  I'm typing these words and I sound like some hard-hearted, passionless, old-school Christian.  I’m not anti-emotion.  I cry.  Contemplating God moves me to tears. But in a “post-truth” world, we must always be on guard of letting our emotions determine what is true.  That’s good advice for The Shack or anything else.
I may be totally wrong about all of this. And I’m truly glad that God’s love and mercy are being spotlighted.  But please, don’t assume me or others who don’t like The Shack don’t like the idea of a loving and merciful God. We’re really not bad people.


Monday, March 06, 2017

Wiretapped


Whoever you voted for this past November, you must admit there’s been hardly a dull moment with the new administration.  Recently there have been allegations of wiretapping - a serious intrusion of one’s privacy. Who wants words that are intended to stay private made public for all to hear?

A few years back I had phone conversation with someone and later found out that person had recorded our conversation without my permission.  I felt violated.  I was angry.  Although I was confident I didn’t say anything that could be used against me, the whole idea of the possibility of others hearing a conversation that was intended to be private was maddening.

We usually assume and prefer that our words are to be kept private.

I’m teaching a men’s class on Wednesday evenings at our church and we’re going through a study by Tony Evans called “Watch Your Mouth.”  Last week he referenced Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 12:36–37: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”  Jesus puts a lot of weight on what we say.

Evans went on to emphasize that God hears everything that we say.  It’s almost like God has a wiretap on our mouths! That scared me bit.  To know that every word that comes out of my mouth goes to the ears of God. Imagine that every conversation you have, every word you utter, every text you pound out -- all routed right up to heaven.

That snarky remark to the cashier – straight to God.  That inappropriate joke – straight to God.  That insult whispered under your breathe – straight to God. Those screams of profanity – straight to God.

On a brighter note, isn’t it encouraging to know that God hears those kind words said that no one else know about.  That call to the shut-in – straight to God.  That word of encouragement to the struggling student – straight to God.  That heartfelt greeting to a stranger – straight to God. That whisper of praise as you watch the sunset – straight to God.

He hears it all, good and bad.  The words of a Bible class song I sang when I was child prove true – “Be careful little mouth what you say.”

It’s not uncommon that when calling a customer service center there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the call that your conversation may be recorded for training purposes.  Well, think of this.  Every conversation you have may be recorded for judging purposes.

God has a wiretap on your mouth, so speak wisely!




Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Thank You NBA


The NBA had their annual All-Star game this last Sunday. It was originally scheduled to be played in North Carolina but it was moved because there is a law in the Tarheel State that requires people with male parts to use a certain bathroom and people with female parts use another bathroom. I seem to recall that we used to call these people men and women, but I’m not sure if that’s right anymore. Anyway, the NBA declared this bathroom rule was inconsistent with the values espoused by their association and therefore had a moral obligation to move the game.  So, it was played in New Orleans. Apparently, New Orleans, being the bastion of morality and values, was a better match with the values the NBA espouses.  I guess Mardi Gras is more in line with the what the NBA thinks the nation should be like.  Who's really to blame them?  They certainly wouldn't host an event in Sodom, would they?  Of course not.  They'd just move it to Gomorrah. I’m sure glad we have the NBA as our moral guides.

And then there’s the NFL coming to our moral rescue.  After this year’s Super Bowl, played in Houston, they put the state of Texas on alert saying it may be a conflict for the NFL to allow the Lone Star State to host another Super Bowl if Texas passes a ludicrous law like the one in North Carolina. Such a law would conflict with the values of the league.  This will probably come up at some meeting.  After that agenda item is discussed the NFL might then consider moving one of its franchises to Las Vegas. I’m not sure what happens in Las Vegas because what happens there stays there, so I’m confident that the NFL has carefully vetted all the activity in that fine city and has concluded that it is all in keeping with the values of the NFL.  I feel like we are in good hands with the sound logic and reasoning that the NFL brings to the table in our search for goodness and morality.

So, let’s thank our lucky stars that we have two fine organizations thoughtfully and caringly guiding our nation in these important matters.  What would we do without them? But rest assured.  If the NBA and NFL stop dabbling in the morality business we can always tune into a Hollywood awards show.  Now there’s somewhere we can get some sound, consistent, and logical moral advice!


Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Beware of Flying Bookshelves

I was driving on the highway the other day and found myself behind a pickup truck hauling furniture in its bed.  It looked like someone was moving a few pieces. Not an unusual site, but this cargo caught my attention.  There was this bookcase in the back of the truck, one of those you put together yourself.  It was standing upright with a strap over its top, but I noticed that the strap had been put on so tight that the top of the bookcase was giving way.  It appeared like an accident waiting to happen and, not wanting to be in the wake of a flailing bookshelf, I changed lanes.  Shortly after I merged to the left, the strap let loose and the bookcase came flying out of the pickup crashing onto the highway exploding into pieces! Relieved that I had managed to avoid the carnage, I realized how important it is to be careful who you follow.

Living on the information highway that is the 21st century, there are so many lanes we can choose.  So many blogs, podcasts, advice columns promising us “five easy steps” to whatever your dream may be. Not saying that there is no good advice out there but, as I learned on the highway, it’s important to be careful who you follow. Following some poor advice is much more dangerous than following a truck whose cargo is about to be catapulted. The ancient Greek playwright Sophocles once wrote, “No enemy is worse than bad advice.” Scripture concurs.  The Old Testament book of Proverbs (a book all about following the right advice) says, “The advice of the wicked is deceitful.”

I recently came across this phrase that has got me thinking about who I follow - “It pays to pay attention to who you pay attention to.”  Who do I listen to?  Do I give attention to the qualifications of the people I follow?  Am I on the lookout for poorly packed bookshelves about to fly out of the back of those I take advice from?  It pays to pay attention to who I pay attention to.

I have found some helpful guidance in the opening verses of the book of Psalms: Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.  But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.  (Psalm 1:1–2 NLT) Pretty simple advice.  It pays to avoid the advice of the ungodly while it pays to meditate on the Word of God.

There are lots of well-intentioned people out there who are worthy of us following them.  But there are also some ill-intentioned people who are quick with advice and thrive on accumulating followers. It’s our duty to discern the qualifications, motives, and trustworthiness of those we choose to drive behind.  A bad choice can be disastrous. 

So, quit following those people who are an accident waiting to happen and get in the lane of the wise.  Remember, it pays to pay attention to who you pay attention to.