As you contemplate heaven and hell, consider the empty chair.
I’m not sure, but I think my son, Daniel, once had shades of Snoopy lingering in his thoughts. You know, that particular image of Snoopy perched in a tree like a vulture keeping watch over everything below. Ready to pounce. Ready to provide. Ready to protect.
It happened during that period of time when a mom and dad begin to nudge the responsibility and self-discipline training to the next level. Daniel was about 10 years old. Vanita and I had discussed some timing issues and some method issues regarding Daniel’s training. One of the items we chose was to leave him at home alone for a half hour or so.
“Daniel, we need to run to the store real quick. Matthew wants to go. Of course, Jessica is coming with us. Would you like to go or would you like to stay here and look after the house?”
Now all ya’ll know where this was designed to go. And it did.
“Really? I can stay here,” he asked.
“Yes. You’ll need to be very responsible. You know the house rules, right?”
“Yeah, I can do it!”
“Right, we know you can. So, okay, we won’t be long.”
Driving away produced no small amount of stress, but drive away we did. Training goes like that. A little older…a little more instruction…a little more responsibility…a little more autonomy to achieve success…a little more grace for the slips…and a whole lot of praying. We drove away with the stress and moderated it with the praying.
All these years later, I’m happy to report success. Back then, well, let’s just say I wasn’t always so sure.
We were anxious to get home, but we gave Daniel the time we had predetermined. We pulled into the drive way…and the excitement began. Daniel came on the run…not from the front door, not from the back door, but from up in a tree.
The tree was one of his favorite toys. It was one of those classic climbing trees. Situated just off the front porch and overlooking the front door, it provided a low branch for a swing and a tall climb for rambunctious kids. Apparently, it also provided Daniel with a fantastic ninja position.
“Dad, Dad…Mom, I saw this lady. I saw her.”
“What lady, Daniel?”
“The lady, the lady walking up the street. I could tell she was gonna come to our house.”
“Did she come to the house?”
“Yeah, I knew she would.”
“Oh, Daniel, did she knock on the door or anything?”
“Uh-huh, I knew she would.”
“You didn’t answer, did you? You know you’re not supposed to do that.”
“No, no, I didn’t. I couldn’t.”
A little bewildered, we just kind of stood there looking perplexed.
“I couldn’t answer the door. Instead, I said, ‘Who goes there!?’”
“What,” his Mother asked.
Daniel answered, “I said, ‘Hey, who goes there,’ and the lady jumped and screamed. I took care of it, Dad.”
“Daniel, wait, wait. What are you talking about,” I asked.
“Well, when you left, I was kinda scared, but I wanted to take care of everything, so I decided to climb the tree. That way I could be safe and watch over everything. So, I grabbed the hatchet…”
“The hatchet? Daniel, what? Why the hatchet? You know it only has certain uses and I need to be around when you use it,” I said with a nod to authority. On the inside, though, I knew where this was going and my Father/Daddy/Papa/Dear ‘ol Dad pride meter was climbing at break-neck speed.
“Yeah, the hatchet, Dad. (Breathing kind of fast) I was a little scared, but I knew I had to protect everything, (breathing a little harder) so I got the hatchet, (taking a gulp of air) turned everything off, locked the doors, put the key in my pocket, and climbed to the top of the tree. (Big breath, from corner to corner his smile stretched as far as the east is from the west). I did it Dad. Everything’s okay.”
“And the lady,” we asked.
“Oh, after she screamed and asked what I was doing in the tree, she left.”
Just like that, it was okay. It was okay.
Mom gave him a big, long hug.
I gave him a high five.
It was okay. Still is.
In just less than two weeks, Daniel will marry the lady for whom he has been praying, hoping, and looking for since he was a teenager. Her name is Abby. Daniel will perch over her. He will protect her and provide for her. He will pray with her, play with her, plan with her, and parent with her. He will be passionate about her. peaceful for her, and patient with her. Because he has such a wonderful Dad. No, take it easy, I’m not talking about myself. At night, before falling asleep, he’ll check in with Dad. After each long day he will say, “Dad, Abba Father, I did it. Everything is okay. The house is locked up. Abby is safe. (One day, hopefully) The kids are okay. I did it, Father. Everything is okay. Thank you. Amen.”
Here’s the important part…
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Saw this spoken word by way of a random search. Awesome.
Think I’ll get a coach and learn how to do this. I really like what young people are doing with different forms of communicating the hope found only in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Memories. Sometimes sweet. Sometimes bitter. Almost always instructive.
A recent conversation brought this to mind. It gave me cause to reflect on my “days on the farm.” What an awesome, incredible, joy-filled experience… especially for a city boy.
There is nothing quite like waking up to the sight of five or six cows on the loose and running down the road. Nothing much can prepare you for the frightful moment a turkey decides to lunge at your midsection. And the yard work…oh brother, forget it! The weeds never go away.
If you are familiar with farms, then you know what I mean. If not, you have nooooo idea.
Neither did I. In fact, I thought it would be everything my childhood imagination insisted.
Omelets every morning.
Sipping lemonade on the porch.
Dangling hot feet in cool streams.
A dog for the front yard.
A dog for the back yard.
A dog for the truck.
And a dog for Mama’s lap.
Mice keeping the crumbs away and cats keeping the mice away.
And grown-ups talking.
Well, I guess it’s all of that and quite a bit more. Some I experienced. Some I still dream about.
During our first church ministry, my young family and I were invited to live on a farm with some members of the church. They had just built a new home on the farm leaving the old farm house empty. We could hardly believe our fortune. The scent of hay filled our senses from a hundred miles away. We could barely contain ourselves. Graduating from school, packing our household items and tying up loose ends became mere formalities. In our hearts we were already on the farm.
The arrival only reinforced the expectations. And four years on that beautiful farm confirmed our expectations were right. We built friendships stretching to heaven and memories that seem like heaven.
One in particular still gives me reason to giggle. My wife, Vanita, was out weeding her small garden. Remember, we were city folk living the country life…always willing, not always as wise. As she kneeled, pulled, dug, and rearranged, our first child, Matthew, played around her, on her, under her, and sometimes over her. He played with the tools…well, he managed to lift a handle or two, seeing as he was just two years old or so. He picked up the discarded weeds…put some of them back in the ground. He dug deep in the soil with his bare hands. He chucked a few small stones. All in all, he was becoming the little boy I once longed to be.
Playing behind Vanita, Matthew said, “Mama, is dirt good?”
“Yes, Sweetheart, the dirt is good,” she answered.
“Mama, is the sky good?”
“Yes, Honey, the sky is good.”
“Howbout the rocks, Mama? Rocks good?”
“Uh-huh, rocks too, Matthew.”
“Yes, grass too.”
“Mama, are worms good?”
“Yes, Baby, worms are good.”
And for just a little bit our son fell silent.
… … …
“Puh, yecch, blech, puh, puh, splech, khu-poo…uh-uh, Momma, worms not good!”
Turning, my beautiful wife witnessed Matthew spitting the last remnants of a large earth worm from his mouth. He turned, lips and cheeks all covered with dirt, smiled and said, “Uh-uh, Mama, worms are ugh.”
Memories are awesome. They bring back good times…sometimes not so good times. They give us a reason to pause…slow down…reflect…and learn. You can fill in the blanks regarding the lessons we learned from that little episode. Even more so the many lessons learned during a not so successful transformation from city folk to country folk. Perhaps for me the lesson is this: children want to learn. They are born with the who, what, where, when, and how questions ready to explode from their minds and their lips. More importantly, the why question is just begging to be fulfilled.
“Why is dirt good, Mama?”
“Well it helps us grow food.”
“Because, it has the right stuff for growing the food.”
“Because, it’s always been that way, darling.”
“Because, that’s how God made it.”
“Oh, Baby, sometimes I just don’t know why.”
If you are a parent, you’re saying, “Been there, done that,” right?
Most often their questions make us proud. Often the questions stump us. Sometimes exasperate us. Hopefully they do not anger us.
It’s the way God designed us. The human being is a question producing, information gathering, idea synthesizing product of an all-knowing, never-changing, wise and creative God. We learn. He teaches. We’re made in his image. So we get to teach also.
Be careful, then, Mom. Be careful, Dad. Be careful, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, teacher, preacher, counselor, mentor…be careful. In the Bible we read this:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 6:4-7
My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. Psalm 78:1-4
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4
Be careful that you help your offspring not only know about God, but come to know him. The last thing you want to hear from your son or daughter one day is, “Puh, yecch, blech, puh, puh, splech, khu-poo…uh-uh, God’s not good!”
Have you ever heard another person say, “Don’t give me theology, I just need something practical?
Far too often in the Christian community we hear believers offer this sentiment as though the great foundational truths of our faith have little to do with our lives beyond our initial salvation…but, (please excuse the poor English) this just ain’t so. What we believe has everything to do with how we act. How deeply we believe determines how deeply our actions will conform to our belief. For example, if we simply pay lip-service to the doctrines of God’s omniscience (all-knowing) and omnipresence (everywhere present), we will probably never give much thought to what God is thinking about us when we’re about to engage in sin. However, if these doctrines are paramount not only in our minds, but our hearts as well, then being keenly aware of God’s presence and all-knowing awareness of our actions will more than likely cause us to hesitate and even refrain from engaging in the sin.
Thus sound biblical theology is basic to sound Christian living. True, we will not always act with integrity regarding our biblical foundations, but it is even more true we will fail to live up to biblical expectations if we are not biblically informed. This is really true in our relationships…and really, really true concerning our most special relationships. We can see this with a brief look at the Apostle Paul’s instructions on the family found in Colossians 3:18-21).
Here’s what he wrote:
18Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
20Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Now, at first glance, that all seems really straight forward. However, to jump into Paul’s explanation of a Christ-centered home, in Col. 3:18-21, without first considering the overall intent of his letter causes us to miss crucial theology concerning the Lord Jesus Christ that reflects directly on a believer’s ability to follow through on the commands found in Colossians 3:18-21. So, let’s back up a little…
The Colossians had come under a set of false teachings that taught, among other things, that Jesus was not sufficient for the complete work of redemption. Much like present day Christians, the Colossians were being lured into a “Jesus plus something” mentality. In chapter two of Colossians (2:16-19) some of those things were mentioned:
The Apostle would have none of it. It is why he went to great lengths (Colossians 1:15 – 2:15, 20-23) to show that Jesus was not only sufficient to save them from their sins, but to save them from their old habits and to transform them into that for which God had redeemed them. Therefore, the great theme of his letter to them was simple:
Christian maturity (the full work of salvation) is based solely upon the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
So how does this kind of doctrine about the person and work of Jesus Christ impact our abilities to be submissive wives, loving husbands, obedient children, and instructive parents? Or, if we want to get personal we might ask, “When was the last time your knowledge about Jesus changed your behavior?” Most people would answer, “Uhhhhh, well, ummmm, I don’t really remember.” In the end, we cannot hope to be godly spouses, parents, or children if we cannot connect the foundational truths necessary for following our Savior to the transformational attitudes necessary to produce right action. Therefore, by necessity, the first part of Colossians (the theological foundation) informs and empowers the second part of Colossians (the theological practice).
The figure below illustrates the point:
The most practical, pragmatic, helpful, insightful advice we can offer others is this: the best psychology is biblical theology. You cannot do until you know.
I have searched high and low to find someone else who believes the Church of America has grown woefully inadequate to its calling. It would seem that rather than bringing glory and honor to God (Eph. 1), the American Church has become exceptionally self-centered. Yet now, from time to time, I glimpse bright spots…glimmers of hope that we might return to our high calling. David Platt, in his new book, Radical, creates one of those bright spots by writing about something he calls radical, but is really something biblical.
His basic premise is that American Christians have exchanged God’s glory and God’s gospel for the American Dream. I believe the evidence supports his premise. So, as I turned every page of this biblical–not so much radical–gift to both the church and the unchurched, I found my hopes being boosted. Here was a pastor of a very large church voicing anxieties like these:
“Soon I realized I was on a collision course with an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings. I was now confronted with a startling reality: Jesus actually spurned the things that my church culture said were most important. So what was I to do? I found myself with two big questions. The first was simple. Was I going to believe Jesus? Was I going to embrace Jesus even though he said radical things that drove the crowds away? The second question was more challenging. Was I going to obey Jesus? My biggest fear, even now, is that I will hear Jesus’ words and walk away, content to settle for less than radical obedience to him. In other words, my biggest fear is that I will do exactly what most people did when they encountered Jesus in the first century” (Radical ch. 1).
Amazing! It is amazing not because a megachurch pastor is willing to risk what our American church culture values, but that it has become necessary for a humble pastor to refer to biblical truth and biblical obedience as radical. In fact, maybe “amazing” was the wrong word for me to use at the beginning of this paragraph. Perhaps sad or tragic would have served better.
Pastor Platt rounded out his challenge by discussing such “radical” needs as actually being hungry for the word of God, depending on the Holy Spirit, extending God’s grace to the lost, seriously asking ourselves “How much is too much materialism,” shunning titles, position, and prestige for the sake of becoming servants, and realizing that evangelism/missions is not an option. And again I found myself thinking, “Amazing. Biblical has become the new radical.”
Finally, Pastor Platt’s book should not be considered a one time read. It should become a companion to an ever present attempt to implement the purposes and plans of God found in the Bible. While that may be a radical notion to God’s people living in 21st century U.S.A., it is hardly a radical idea in the heart and mind of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Note: “I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.” You can download and read Chapter One at http://www.radicalthebook.com/resources.html.
While I can not say that I fully understand all that Lady Gaga wants to say through her new single, Judas (coming out on her up-coming album Born This Way), there is a part of the song that moves me to tears. Toward the end of the song, she sings
Prodigal. The word itself stirs fear in the hearts of moms and dads.
Why not? We bring them into the world. We teach them to crawl. Then they walk. Running and jumping and leaping and playing and poking and prodding come next. We love them. They hug our necks. We make sacrifices and they soak up everything we give.
As they grow, we tell them, “You are the light that pushes back the sadness of my days.” All the while that ugly, painful, frightening word lurks in the recesses of our minds. Prodigal. Prodigal. Prodigal.
Oh, God let her not be a prodigal.
And tonight, as I spend this last bit of time praying for my daughter before she leaves for Bible College in the morning, I stare that ugly word down…and I thank the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…because she is anything but a prodigal.
“Further up and further in,” Jess. You are a light that reflects a greater light.
Be careful when you accuse someone of having no compassion…
Be careful when you accuse someone of not caring…
…when he or she steadfastly refuses to take up your cause.
Jesus was quite clear that failing to invest ourselves in the lives of the less fortunate is at best problematic and more than likely sinful. His story of the Good Samaritan and his admonitions concerning the “first should be last” are more than enough for us to comprehend this side of compassion.
However, he was equally clear about the spiritual side of things. We must never mistake his desire for the eternal well-being of lost people as a lack of compassion. It is ultimate compassion that our Savior believes, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul” (Mark 8:36).
There is a tension about these two sides of compassion among Christ’s followers, but not within the heart of Christ. The former is Christ-likeness manifest in kindness. The latter is Christ-likeness manifest in love–agape love. The first must always possess potential for revealing the second.
And while this debate has raged among Christians for a century over the social gospel of liberal Christians, we must now apply it to The Social Gospel: Part Deux…the social gospel of conservative Christians. The social justice and public policy activism of conservative Christians has exactly the same potential for good or bad as its liberal counter-part. The life-changing message of Jesus Christ may just as easily be lost in the shuffle during proclamations regarding fiscal, sexual, and self-defense issues as it can during proclamations regarding the need for universal health care or racial reparations. It simply will do no good to argue which is closer to the heart of Jesus if either or both fail as advertisements on behalf of our Savior’s birth, life, death, and resurrection as a ransom for lost people.
“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” Hebrews 9:15