Monthly Archives: September, 2016

Welcome to the world of suffering…for now

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Several nights ago, I introduced Celena to The Truman Show.  Have you seen the movie starring Jim Carrey?  One of the supporting actors is Ed Harris.  Harris plays the role of Christof, the eccentric Hollywood director of the show.  He created the show, chose Truman to be the main character and considered himself a father figure in Truman’s life.  In his mind, he created a near perfect world for Truman.  If you recall the story, Truman began to put the pieces together over time and, finally, realized that he needed to escape from Seahaven.  Although he was afraid of the water due to a traumatic experience as a youth, Truman boarded a sailboat and headed out to sea.  When Christof located Truman, he did everything he could to stop him, even putting Truman’s life in peril.  Truman, however, was indefatigable.  He survived a wicked storm and continued sailing.

Then the unexpected happened.

Truman crashed into a wall!

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He had reached the end of the set.  And the reality of what he had begun to conclude hit him like a sledge hammer.  He cried and slammed his fist into the wall repeatedly.  Then he found a walkway at the foot of the wall.  He began to walk and shortly thereafter he found a stairwell.  When he reached the top, he saw a door with the word “Exit” on the knob.  After a brief pause, Truman opened the door.  As he prepared to leave the unreality of the set and his artificial life, Christof called to him.  He pleaded with Truman to stay, telling him that life on the outside was filled with pain and suffering.  Truman chose reality.  The last we see of him is his back as he exits the set.  And the Truman show finally goes off the air.

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As I re-watched the movie, I couldn’t help but think of the story of Siddhartha Gautama.  Siddhartha lived 500 B.C. in northern India.  He was the privileged son of nobility.  He was also a very protected and sheltered son.  His father, a devout Hindu, ensured that his son was not exposed to the realities of pain and suffering.  Siddhartha was not allowed to see elderly or sick people.  He was told that the world outside the walls of the palace was identical to what he was experiencing inside.  But he wasn’t buying.  So, like Jasmine in the tale of Aladdin, Siddhartha stealthily left the castle to view the real world.

He was surprised at what he found.

We are told that Siddhartha went on several excursions outside the castle.  On his first trip, he encountered an elderly person. For him, that was a first.  On his second journey, he saw a sick individual. Another first.  To pour insult on top of injury, he came across a corpse on his third walk.  Pain and suffering were tangible realities.  His disillusionment with the established  religion of the day–Hinduism–was complete.  As the account goes, Siddhartha left the castle (and his wife and child) and wandered for a while.  He would end up at the foot of a bodhi tree.  That’s when he entered into a seven-week trance.  It is said that when he awoke, he had become “enlightened.”  Thus, the title Buddha was born (lit. “Enlightened One”).  Siddhartha walked to the closest park and delivered his first homily.

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You may have guessed the content of that initial teaching session.  Suffering.

The Buddha is reported to have stated that (1) suffering exists, (2) suffering is caused by wrong desires, (3) we need to cease having wrong desires and (4) we need to walk the correct path in life. Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism isn’t a religion where a god or multiple gods are worshiped.  Buddhism is an ethic, a way of life. The goal is to experience peace in a world of chaos.  The eight-fold path of Buddhism describes the characteristics of a life which can remove the presence of suffering.  The key to understanding the path is the word “right.”  According to Buddhism, we need to have the right view, intentions, speech, actions, livelihood,  effort, concentration, and mindfulness.  Space constraints do not allow me to delineate on each of these, but experience teaches us that, regardless of how hard we try to live the “right” life, we still very much experience the effects of a fallen, sinful world.  We both reap the consequences of our own sin as well as experience the effects of the sin of those around us, even those who live on the other side of our planet!  As Wesley so accurately put it to the bride, “Life is pain, highness.”

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Can I get an amen from the congregation?!

We could all tell story after story of the difficulties we have experienced just in this particular month now that it reached its conclusion.  Our family has had expensive car repairs this month (transmission and new tires).  A computer we purchased has become lost in the mail with vendors pointing the finger at each other (good-bye computer and the $700 we paid for it), Jodi’s plantar fasciitis has been bad.  Celena’s first car died.  I finally became sick.  Need I continue?!

Many of you have had an even more difficult month!  Some of you have lost a loved one.  Others of you are fighting cancer.  Still others have seen long-lasting relationships dissolve.  Life is indeed pain.

I trust Truman experienced that reality shortly after leaving the protective bubble of the Hollywood set.  And had he adopted Buddhism, he would have eventually realized that however much he tried, the absolute remains:  pain and suffering are part and parcel to life on planet earth.

And yet life can still be accurately described as abundant for a particular segment of society.  Christians do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13).  In fact, we have great hope.  We have a sure hope–a hope based upon the reality that the promises of God will indeed come to pass.  All things are working together for our good (Rom. 8:28).  God is in the process of making us more and more like His Son (Phil. 1:6).  Jesus Christ will return (Rev. 22:20).  And, the effects of sin–pain and suffering–are absent in heaven (Rev. 21:4).

This month may have been brutal, but the difficulties you faced were not wasted.  God was present and active in your situation if you are in Christ.  He knows what He is doing and what He is doing is good, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time (Ps. 119:68).  Our escape from suffering is in the future.  Today, like Truman, we courageously walk through the door, believing that life in a fallen world with God sure beats an artificial one without Him!

 

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Right now, it’s the right thing for me to do

I just finished the hardest season of my teaching career.  As soon as I hit the 10th anniversary of my teaching on the collegiate level, Belhaven University decided to fill my schedule with classes. I’ve taught around 26 of the past 27 weeks.  One particular 4-week stretch saw me in the classroom three times each week.  Most recently, I taught two classes for the past five weeks, one of which was in Dalton, GA  (about an hour and twenty minutes from home).  You can imagine how nice it is to finally have a breather.  I will not be in the classroom for another two weeks, and only then to substitute in New Testament history.  And then we head to the beach.  Without a doubt, I am very much looking forward to some time to unwind.  I plan to take long walks on the beach, hang out with the family, study God’s Word and watch sports.

As I think back over the past ten years, I feel fatigue over how much effort I’ve had to put forth in order to provide for my family.  Entering into my forties, I knew that the next twenty years or so would  require maximum effort.  I realized that I had reached the genuinely productive period of my life.  The fact that I found myself busy did not surprise me.  What I was not expecting was how exhausted I would feel ten years into the twenty year marathon.  I suppose I am finally feeling my age. But now halfway through this period and with a house full of kids, I find myself extremely grateful for a full-time job and the part-time job, both of which I enjoy.  While I wish I didn’t have to work as many hours as I often do in a week, I am thankful for the opportunities as well as for the health God allows me to experience.  Even though I am tired from a rather physically challenging year, I remain committed to doing what I can to meet the needs of our family and to provide some of our wants–like our upcoming respite at the beach.

This week the city of Charlotte, NC erupted.  Yet another black man was shot by police (this time it was a black officer who fired).  Within hours, chaos ensued.  We’ve seen these disturbing events unfold in several cities across our nation over the past few years.  There is some legitimacy to the anger within the African-American community.*  However, I am also aware that there are far too many unemployed young black men in our cities.  These individuals are usually the agents through which the violent retaliation takes place (killing or injuring police, destroying personal and public property, theft, etc.).**  What every young black man needs is the same as what every man needs–a job.  Men are created by God to work (on a boat or in a field or at an office).  Woven into the fabric of a man’s psyche is the knowledge that he is meant to be productive.  Too much time on a man’s hands is a dangerous thing indeed.

Well, I cannot fix the ailments of the inner city any more than I can do so for my next door neighbor.  In fact, I can’t even fix my own issues!  But what I can do, I will do.  I will work.  Unless circumstances or God prevents me, I’ll be back in the office in the morning serving our clients.  When I am offered another class, I’ll agree to teach.  Right now, it’s the right thing for me to do and knowing that makes all the difference in the world.

NOTES
*Did you see the video of the shooting of the black man in Tulsa?  I just shook my head, marveling at how that incident could happen and why–IF a shot had to be fired–a leg or rear end wasn’t the target in order to take the suspect down.  I am being very vulnerable when I admit that I am glad that I am not a black man in our nation because I would not want to live under the cloud that I am presumed guilty rather than innocent regardless of the accusation (and, please know, I am very pro-law enforcement).

**I am aware that inner city protests and riots and the “Black Lives Matter” movement isn’t wholly comprised of African-American men.  Several races and members of both genders can be found present, but the particularly destructive and/or violent events are caused predominantly by black men, most of whom are young and without full-time jobs.

Special Graces in Common Places – Aptly spoken words

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“This book is about learning to pay attention to what God is doing with you, to be learning to hear He is teaching you, and to see how He is challenging you, encouraging you, and equipping you though the normal, common, and even mundane experiences of life.”

My friend and fellow RTS alumnus, Dan Ledwith wrote those words in his introduction to his new book, Special Graces in Common Places, available for purchase today.  His easy-to-read anecdotal devotional is a collection of vignettes that are both honest and interesting and sometimes even heart-breaking.  First, he wants to convince his readers that “God knows no distinction between the sacred and the secular parts” of life (p.2).  Second, he desires to “illustrate how everyday life is full of discipleship moments'” (p.3).  He succeeds in doing both. More than that, however, each meditation is edifying, offering spiritually encouraging insights.  One can choose to read this book in an afternoon or select one chapter a day for time of selah (pause and consider moment).

One of Dan’s themes in Special Graces in Common Places is the sufficiency of God in His saving and sustaining grace. Dan wrote,

Perhaps the most precious thing I have been learning these past twenty-four years is that Jesus is enough. He is always enough. And in Him, I never have to worry about being enough, because in Him I will always have enough. When I look back and reflect on my life, time and time again when I realized I was not enough, He showed He was enough. I didn’t always see it right away, but He was always there. Always. And He always will be (Chapter 2: Lessons from 24).

Later, he added:

What I have been learning is that God’s plan for us includes bringing us into places where we quickly realize that we don’t have what it takes; places where we realize that we don’t have the wisdom, the strength, the resources, the confidence, the man power, the ability, or the finances. He loves taking me to places like that anyway, and I don’t think it’s because I’m “just that special.” He does this because God wants us to see how trustworthy and faithful He is. He is not interested in making me feel like I am enough or that I have what it takes. He wants me to come to the opposite conclusion, that He is enough. God is not interested in making us feel capable. He is interested in helping us see that He is capable (Chapter 42: Thoughts on a Recurring Theme).

Indeed!  God truly is “capable.”  Dan’s book enables us to see this truth quite clearly. Thus, it is a good read!

If you are interested in purchasing a copy, please use this link:

https://www.createspace.com/6469457

 

 

Celebrating the homegoing of a Christ-centered giant

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In God’s providence while in Asheville, NC at the Billy Graham Training Center, the Reverend Dr. Wayne Allen Barber, 73, of Chattanooga, TN was promoted to Glory for eternal life on Monday, August 29, 2016. For him, joy! For us, deep sorrow and grief yet, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Instead, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God!

Those are the opening lines of an announcement aptly titled “Not I, but Christ.”  It can be read it its entirety on the Woodland Park Baptist Church website: http://woodlandpark.org/

Many comments about Wayne and his ministry also appear.  If anything is made clear from the heartfelt comments, it is that Wayne appeared to practice what he preached.  Consider a sampling of the tributes:

What a joy he was to be around! He had a significant spiritual impact on my life and taught me how to study the Bible in depth. His life was a testimony of what the walk of faith should look like. I will never forget his many humorous stories and a statement he used to say all the time: “Just let Jesus be Jesus in you!” – Scott

I really appreciated Bro. Wayne’s desire to zero in on the main principle of a passage and not be distracted by issues which might obscure the Truth of the Word in the proper context. – Russell

I cried when I read this because he, more than any other pastor spoke and encouraged me to walk daily with the Lord. He always would say, don’t trust what a pastor says, check it out for yourself in the Bible. Read and study God’s word. – Kenneth

I have never known anyone else who so boldly and joyfully lived out “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” – Maegan

There was no question that God called him to teach and shepherd and “equip the saints”! I was discipled by him as I sat in the pew from my freshman year of high school through my freshman year of college. My love for God’s Word and digging deeper into God’s Word began with Wayne’s teaching! – Mandy

What Pastor Wayne invested in me is eternal. I have never felt such grace from any other person. – Heidi

How is that for a eulogy?!  What a difference this man made in the lives of others for the glory of God!

Jodi and I came to appreciate Wayne and his ministry while we were students at Bryan College in the early 1990’s.  Wayne came to the college for a series of lectures on the book of Philippians and his passion for Christ was contagious.  Jodi and I also visited Woodland Park Baptist Church on several occasions to hear Wayne preach or to attend one of their pageants.  In recent years, we have attended the Christmas Eve Service at the church.  Those were Christ-focused, joyful celebrations!

As I reflect upon my brief encounters with Wayne Barber no concept comes to mind as much as Christ-centeredness.  Every time I heard him speak, he would zero in on the person and works of the Lord Jesus.  From all accounts, his life proved that he very much believed the words that he spoke.

Moments like these cause me to reflect upon my own legacy.  How will I be remembered?  What difference am I making in the lives of others today? Do people hear me mention the person and works of Christ and do they see the tremendous difference Jesus has made in my own life?

I’m not sure.

How I want my eulogy to be written may be different than what actually transpires.  I hope that is not the case.

But we all know that how we live today adds to the body of work which will be recalled later.  So, and I have said this before, today matters.  Today is significant.  The decisions I make today and the words I utilize today are important.  The same is true of you.  Another truth to consider is that that same Jesus that captivated the attention of Wayne Barber still exists!  In fact, Wayne now has more information about Christ than he could have ever imagined!  He lived for Christ in this life and now he will spend eternity with Him!  Let us follow in the footsteps of this giant (Wayne was a tall man)!

Labor Day 2016: Following the example of a mighty man

In 1840, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published a wonderful poem entitled “The Village Blacksmith.”  Read it slowly.  Consider the faithfulness of the “smith, a mighty man” who had “earned a night’s repose” (rest after another day of attempting to do the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reasons).  If your life resembles his at all, you are grateful for a three-day weekend.  You, too, have earned some R&R.  Allow yourself some this weekend.

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands. 

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Toiling,–rejoicing,–sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

http://www.hwlongfellow.org/poems_poem.php?pid=38

For some application of the poet’s words, see:

http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/09/13/lessons-learned-from-longfellows-blacksmith/