Friday, October 28, 2011

Around the Horn

You aren’t supposed to laugh at pregnant women, but this is pretty funny. (HT:  Challies).

Stetzer is on to something here. “Issue Christians” are rarely able to be taught, and are usually bad for a church that that is not an issue church. It’s possible for sincere and faithful Christians to differ on some issues (some, not all). It is usually impossible to work together. You don’t have to be ugly. Just help them find the door.

Here’s a good site for those who want to know what’s in books, but don’t have the time to read them. Of course, it’s only good if these books are ones you want to know about. But it might trigger your interest to read one of them. I have found some of them helpful.

And in honor of the Detroit Tigers, we are going to end with a triple, because they couldn’t seem to get people from third to home against the Rangers. And that’s all they needed. It reminds us of one of the fundamental truths of life that we would all do well to keep in the front of our minds: Leaving people on third is a good way to go home before the World Series.

But I am going to get out of the gate early for next year, and predict that the Tigers will win between 50 and 120 games, and finish somewhere in their division.

And when it happens, you can remember you heard it here first.

All for now …

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thoughts On the Death of a Friend

When the phone rings at 7:30 am on a Sunday morning, it is supposed to be someone calling to tell me they won’t be at church to make coffee, or to teach their class, or to play an instrument. Those things I can fix. It’ll be inconvenient, but I can deal with those.

That phone call is not supposed to be the brother of one of my best friends telling me bad news. That I can’t fix.

I was totally unprepared. Stunned. Speechless. It never crossed my mind until the moment I heard the words.

“Passed away.” 

It seems so innocuous when you say it that way.

But it’s not. It’s death. It’s final. And it seems so premature.

Forty-two years old. Yes, sick, for a decade. Violently sick at times. But only forty-two.

Surely I had misunderstood. After all, the tearful, breaking voice on the other end was hard to understand and my mind was in another world, getting ready to sing and preach, to lead worship for our local  body of Christ. Perhaps it was a dream that I would wake up from. Perhaps a clarifying phone call would come soon.

As Sunday wore on, the comments piled up on Facebook and the phone remained silent, and it became clear there was no misunderstanding to be clarified, no dream from which to be awakened. There were no more phone calls.

It was death.

People I know don’t die at forty-two. Those stories are someone else’s. You read about them in a newspaper. And when you read of a forty-two year old husband and father dying, it is sad; it is sobering.

When it is your friend, there are no words for it. There’s just a dull fog. There’s numbness. There are tears that come of their own accord.

I am forty-two. We hurt sometimes. But we don’t die. Not yet.

We are in the prime of life. We are stable. We have lives. We have houses. We have families. We have careers. We have a future.

Now, all we have are memories. And there are a lot of them, to be sure.

Years ago, it was sports, band, classes, girls. (Not necessarily in that order, mind you, and that should ease the minds of both the girls and the teachers.)

We used to play tennis until midnight. We played golf until we couldn’t walk anymore or at least until we couldn’t see anymore. We shot hoops on the rim over the garage door. We played duets at church. We double dated. We worked at camp together. We ministered in church together.

What memories.

They are filled with laughter and joy. Sometimes tears and frustrations. Now and then, sorrow and pain. We walked through some dark days back then. But far more good than bad.

More recently, separated by seven hundred miles, we were reduced to phone conversations. But they were regular, though not as often as I would have liked in retrospect. I just thought we had more time.

We talked about family, church, school, theology, people, ministry, houses, cars, kids, discipline. Then more theology, preaching, church philosophy, pastoral leadership, youth group, teenagers. Then more theology. And round and round we went.

You name it, we talked about it.

Right up until that last Tuesday night. Just five days before Sunday.

When we hung up after more than an hour and a half, I had no idea it would be the last time.

It wasn’t supposed to be. We had more to say to each other. We had more problems to solve. We had more messages to prepare and run by each other. We had more stories to tell about the kids.

We also had Wednesday morning that we had to get up for, and it was late, so we said, “Goodbye.”

We said, “Talk to you later.”

We should have said, “If the Lord wills, we will talk later.”

You see, sometimes God has plans he hasn’t vetted with us. And those plans always seem to win over ours.

And this was one of those times.

Our hearts cry out, “Why?” With millions of people in this world with no care for God, who have abandoned their spouses and children, why my friend? Why do they have good health? Why do they live on? Why do they prosper? They hate the Giver of all good things, and yet the Giver gives them another day.

Why would one who loves God have their life cut off at forty-two? Why would one who loves God have to bury their spouse at forty-two? Is there no worse person in this world? Is there no better candidate for early death?

There are no answers.

Not in this life anyway.

The preacher, Solomon himself, with all his wisdom couldn’t find an answer. He said all this is vanity. It’s puzzling. It makes no sense. So walk carefully. (Ecclesiastes 7:15).

The one thing that softens the impact of answerless questions is the unchanging and sovereign love of God for his people. He who did not spare his own son but delivered him over for us all, how will he not with him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32).

Yes, freely give all things, even when it seems he is taking them away. Yes, freely give all things, even when the pain seems unbearable.

Surely He will not abandon us now. He already gave His Son for us. What greater commitment do we need?

Oh yes, there is also the promise that our God is in the heavens doing whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). And this, as much as it troubles us, was pleasing to God or He wouldn’t have done it.

Yes, yes, He is the one who did it. And I think my friend would agree with me. Especially now.

While that is unsettling for some, if I thought for one minute that God was up in heaven earnestly desiring to hold back the powers of death from His child, my friend, but ultimately unable to, I would never preach again. I would have nothing good to say about a God who is so loving as to not want people to die a physical death, but so impotent as to be unable to stop it. What assurance can such impotence give of a future resurrection and hope? That would be a God unworthy of the very lives we wish to preserve. That would be the doctor who was in the ER that night. He meant well. Tried hard. Did all he could do. But fell short.

Worthy of thanks and gratitude, to be sure. But worthy of worship that bows down and offers a life? Surely not.

Last Sunday, God, for reasons sufficient to himself in his providence and wisdom, declared the life journey of my friend to be completed.

He decided it was time to free my friend from the shackles of this broken world, and the chains of his broken body.

And so, last Sunday, God called him. He said, “Come. It’s time. You’ve had enough.”

And he was gone.

And that, dear reader, is grace to my friend. And it is, in some measure, grace to those who suffered with him, who cried when he hurt, who now rejoice that his broken body no longer toys with his daily comfort and even his very existence. He is in heaven, and his broken body is destined for glory.

The good news is that when we hear for ourselves the voice of God saying, “Come. It’s time,” and we join my friend in eternity, the answers won’t matter anymore. The questions will not even be thought of.

Jesus will shine far too brightly for such concerns that weigh so heavily now. And the suffering and sorrow and tears and pain and death so prevalent in this age will have passed away. God will wipe every tear from our eyes. All things will be made new (Revelation 21:4-5). And with clear, unclouded vision, we will see the Savior who makes this life worthwhile. And we will join my friend and the rest of the redeemed in singing,  “Worthy is the Lamb.”

And that brings a smile in the dark. It brings an end to hopelessness.

But for now, in the second full week of October, 2011, we are brutally reminded that life can be short, its end unexpected.

We are reminded of the brokenness of life in a world filled with sin.

We are reminded that there are no guarantees of tomorrow.

And we are reminded, as Pastor Mann so clearly stated yesterday, that while relationships in life are important, the only relationship that really matters is the one that you have, or don’t have, with Jesus Christ.

Being a good man, as my friend was, is great as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go far enough.

Being friends with a good man, as many of us were privileged to be, is a true blessing in this life. It makes life easier to live and to enjoy. But it will not fix our deepest problems.

Only Jesus can do that, and Jesus did that when he died and rose again.

My friend had that relationship with Christ. He believed Jesus, and so he followed Jesus. That relationship changed his life so greatly, and it challenged me constantly.

It reminds me that the gospel of Jesus Christ that has changed us now calls for continual transformation.

My friend was the willing and continual recipient of that transformation. And it showed.

On Thursday night, hundreds lined the hallway at the funeral home, snaked back and forth, and then stretched out the door while they waited to see the family. They had been affected by that transformation.

Yesterday, more than five hundred gathered at Lebanon Baptist Church because they knew my friend and were the benefactors of God’s grace through his transformation.

And so we said goodbye.

We carried his body to a sloping hillside. Pastor Mann read Scripture. He prayed. And then the crowd dispersed.

I waited at the cemetery, with just a few others, watching until the red dirt thudded onto the casket with the dull sound of earthly finality.

And then I drove away in silence.

Heaven is a little bit closer today, and a little sweeter. Earth is a little more foreign, and and a little more empty.

I miss you already, old friend. Except you weren’t old.

I loved you, though far too little. And I thank you for loving me. We walked through a lot of life together—good days and bad. And one day we will walk in the sunshine of glory together because of Jesus.

I know others love you and miss you more than I do, and with good reason. They shared a home and a life with you. And my heart hurts for them. They are my friends too.

My heart hurts for a grieving wife, widowed way too early.

My heart hurts for two young children, who will grow up with only a heavenly Father. In His grace, surely He will be enough for them. He said He would be.

My heart hurts for parents and a grandmother, for in-laws. They are supposed to be on the other side of the casket at family funerals with their grown children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren greeting friends and loved ones on their behalf. Parents aren’t supposed to bury children. But sometimes, that’s what happens in a broken world.

My heart hurts for a church family, along with these loved ones, who will miss the daily conduit of God’s grace that was my friend.

But my heart finds joy in the great promise of God that one day all things will be made new. We will be freed from this broken world and made inhabitants of a new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells, and where death has met its final match. And this because Jesus lived, died, and rose again.

Until then, let us walk faithfully, if only ploddingly, in the footsteps of our Jesus, our Savior, and in the shadow of those who, like my friend, have gone on before.

Let us trust, as my friend did, that Jesus has done everything to make us acceptable to God, just as Jesus did for my friend.

Let us, along with my friend, embrace the gospel of Jesus, with all that it entails, and live for the next world because this one will be over.

And it may be sooner than expected.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It Is Not Death to Die

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore.


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Some Thoughts on Life

Life is a gift from God, but for some, it ends way too soon, at least from our perspective.

Forty-two is too young.

Sunday morning is too sudden.

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21).

Blessed be the name of the Lord, even in tears and grief.

Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth (Proverbs 27:1).

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A Word Worth Hearing

There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true. There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational and exciting and rousing to the feelings. There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life of many is little better than spiritual dram–drinking, and the “meek and quiet spirit” which St. Peter commends is clean forgotten (1 Pet. 3:4). Crowds and crying and hot rooms and high–flown singing and an incessant rousing of the emotions are the only things which many care for. Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is “clever” and “earnest,” hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully “narrow and uncharitable” if you hint that he is unsound!*

This is a good word for this day, when people are amused and aroused by circus performers, standup comics, and musical shows masquerading as church.

It’s a good word where numbers and passion are the indicators of leaders that we should honor and esteem.

It’s a good word where creativity is a key part of church philosophy of ministry, where arts and media teams seem among the most important feature of preparation for the weekend services of a church.

It’s a good reminder that manufactured success is not lasting success.

It’s as good a word today as it was more than a century ago when J. C. Ryle wrote it in Holiness.

So, to channel the words of Paul, be careful how you build the church. It doesn’t belong to you. (1 Corinthians 3:10-17)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Random Thoughts on the Elephant Room

I watched some of the first Elephant Room and found it intriguing. I think it is a good idea. Getting people together to explain their own view and then challenge and be challenged on it is a good thing.

I think the selection of people for the first one was way too monolithic. It was, for the most, megachurch pastors who agreed by and large about church and ministry. There was no real challenge on some of the core issues about theology and ministry philosophy. Mixing in Trueman, Horton, MacArthur, or someone like that would be interesting.

I think this is one type of forum where I think some latitude on associations should be granted since the whole point is challenge and confrontation. These men are invited to create tension and controversy, and to challenge each other. More of that is needed, not less. So if the participants speak up against Jakes to his face, that is a good thing, not a bad thing.

To the point of controversy, MacDonald made a big mistake inviting Jakes as a “Christian leader” (or as anything else for that matter). MacDonald made a worse mistake by defending it. He should withdraw the invitation immediately, and clearly affirm that denial (or at best obfuscation) of the Trinity by a Christian leader is a compromise of the gospel.

This isn’t a matter of unintentional confusion by Jakes. Driscoll is right that the ear is more forgiving than the eye; we all say things that are wrong or ill-considered at the time. But Jakes does not fit into that category. He has a publicly available doctrinal statement that is heretical. It appears that he has been given numerous opportunities to clarify his views and he hasn’t. If you are going to have a conference of Christian leaders, then the bottom line should at least be set at being a “Christian” leader. In

Driscoll says this is close-handed matter of Christian orthodoxy. He is right. He also says we should let Jakes speak for himself. Hasn’t he? What else does he need to say?

But on to a bigger point. Driscoll is pretty smart. And doesn’t mind confrontation. He revels in it and creates it. So why not confront MacDonald on this?

Mark, if this is a matter of orthodoxy (as you say), and if Jakes has denied it (and you make a good case that he has), then your friend MacDonald has just affirmed a heretic as a Christian leader. Why give your friend a free pass? Perhaps you have challenged James privately, and I hope you have; but you publicly backed him when you could have at least said nothing publicly and challenged him privately to withdraw the invitation. I am not saying you should rip him publicly. But public affirmation?

Lest you think this is just the musings of a rabid fundamentalist, many have publicly commented and expressed their disatisfaction with MacDonald’s choice. Thabiti Anyabwile raises not just the question of separation regarding Jakes, but the question of secondary separation concerning MacDonald. It is a valid consideration and interesting coming from a member of the Gospel Coalition (TGC) council.

TGC is now in a tough spot. One of its council members is apparently affirming either that a fundamental doctrine (the Trinity) is not necessary to be a Christian, or that he can’t understand how and why Jake’s explanations are inadequate. Either problem is serious.

So what will the Gospel Coalition do? MacDonald is not someone who merely signed up and attended the conference. This is a plenary speaker and a council member. I hope there is some private challenge and strong urging to MacDonald to withdraw this invitation. If that is refused, I hope there will be a call for MacDonald to step down.

This is the question raised by many, including Iain Murray in the Unresolved Controversy. As Mark Minnick puts it, what are you going to do when someone reaches outside the box? MacDonald has reached outside the box. Now what will his friends do? Driscoll gave him a pass. Others have criticized, both privately and publicly. What next?

For the others invited, this is a one-time gathering intended to be confrontational. If Dever, Driscoll, Graham, and others are willing to confront Jakes and pin him down, then I have no problem with them going. But they better speak up.