Saturday, November 29, 2008

Points of View

Fall, 1991.

Abilene Christian University.

A Freshman English class on a random weekday morning.

Just as our professor was making a point about whatever we were reading, an unmistakable noise broke the quiet and competed for everyone's attention. It was the noise of a gas-powered leaf blower being operated down on the sidewalk outside. A work crew was hard at it that morning, oblivious to the advanced scholarship they were interrupting.

Our professor paused, looked out the window, and sighed in exasperation. "That is the most pointless machine ever invented..." she muttered, before gathering her thoughts again and getting our lecture back on track.

The comment about the leaf blower obviously made a much more lasting impression on me than the lecture did, but it also said something about the professor herself, and something about me.

What my professor didn't know that morning was that, by the time I sat in her class at the age of 18, I had personally logged many hours doing the very same kind of work those men on the walkway were doing that morning.

This experience gave me an altogether different attitude about the sound of a leaf blower. Sure, it's noisy, but if your only other option is to take a broom and manually sweep a sidewalk or curb, with several other lawns still to do before dark, then a leaf blower is an absolute godsend, not "the most pointless machine ever invented".

To her, it was just noise. To me, it was an important tool, worth the noise.

Granted, the noise of a leaf blower outside the window of a class full of freshmen is probably not the best situation. And, my professor's frustration at her lecture being interrupted was understandable to a point. But, her comment went beyond expressing her point of view, (i.e. "I wish they could blow off the sidewalk some other time") and ventured out into total disregard for someone else's point of view ("...the most pointless machine ever invented").

No, I didn't say anything to her. It wasn't a big deal, and I wasn't hurt by it.

But, how often are people hurt this way?

How often do we say things that may contain some element of truth, at least the way we see it, but don't take into account where someone else might be?

For example:

"People just waste public support." (To the single mom who used public support to make ends meet the first few years after her husband left.)

"Anyone who wouldn't help a homeless person is heartless." (To my grandfather, who numerous times offered jobs at his business to homeless people, who rarely ever took him up on it.)

"Spare the rod and spoil the child." (To the couple whose teenager is living in defiance of their every value, in spite of their diligent efforts to raise him/her in the Lord.)

"Can't let worries over money get you down." (To someone who can barely pay his bills, from someone living on two pensions and a part-time job, in a paid-off house.)

"Anyone who would look at pornography is a sick pervert." (To the wounded Christian fighting a losing, secret battle with this very evil.) -- see The God of the Towel, by Jim McGuiggan, page 225.

Have these examples brought to mind other things folks have said in your hearing, that were offensive, insensitive, or at the very least, ignorant of your point of view?

Have you thought, perhaps, of some things you've said to others, that you now wish you hadn't said?

In James chapter 3, we read of the dangers inherent in the gift of speech: " man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison..." (3:8)

Typically, when we read this passage, the dangers that come to mind are of a deliberate nature, such as gossip, profanity, and outbursts of anger. And, rightly so, as these dangers deserve our careful attention.

But again, how often are people hurt, not by a deliberate attack, but by a careless remark, an insensitive observation, a needless expression of one's personal opinion, without regard for the possibility that someone within earshot could be in a totally different place, and vulnerable to the remark?

Combine this insensitivity with most Christians' refusal to follow Jesus' command from Matthew 18 about going to a person who has caused offense, and the result is a body of believers fractured and divided, with souls and groups of souls walled off from one another, not in the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17.

So, what is the answer? If this is the case, what can anyone say? Couldn't almost anything we say be potentially misconstrued and taken as offensive by someone? And, in fact, isn't the Gospel itself offensive to many? (I Cor. 1)

Yes, but we're not talking about the Gospel, or anything even close to its importance.

And, we're not talking about that person we all know who seems to find a way to read something offensive into even the most harmless incidents and remarks.

We're talking about those times when we should have known there was potential for offense in what we said or did. Those times when the offense was reasonably predictable, and the matter at hand not nearly important enough to be worth offending anyone over.

Those times when needless offense creates a barrier to either the Gospel itself or to Christian fellowship.

That's what we're talking about, and it's far more common than we might like to think.

So, the answer lies in James 3, and in the mirror.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


It's Thanksgiving Day.

As I write, our feast is finished, our guests are gone, and the Cowboys are beating Seattle.

Now that it's quiet, what better time to reflect on what I'm most thankful for?

Father, I thank You for:

*The family You've given me.

*The job You've provided for me, and the purpose I find in it.

*The fact that this physical life is not the whole story.

*Your church on earth; we're not alone in our faith.

Not to minimize any of these things, but I am conscious of my gratitude for them most of the time.

Today, for whatever reason, I am particularly thankful for something else:

*The times when You've allowed me to endure hardship, and through hardship brought about growth in me that I could never have foreseen. Growth I didn't even want, and hardship I never would have chosen.

I know many have suffered more pain than I have, and many might trade their circumstances for mine in a minute. But I also know that You work in my life, and on my heart, and You've made me more like You than I was before.

I don't desire difficulty; I would never pray for pain. But I do pray for growth, for continued growth, and to be molded and shaped by Your hand. This is what I desire.

And if it hurts, it hurts.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Have you seen the new TV commercial for Levi's jeans?

This ad ran during the 8 pm hour on NBC last week. It features close-up shots of a teenage boy and girl in the process of getting undressed together. It's clear they're standing outside, but not clear at first where they are. The nervous couple exchanges hesitant, intimate words, such as, "This is your first time, right?", planting a clear idea in the viewer's mind of what is about to happen.

The commercial takes a bold turn with a close-up of each teen opening the button-fly on their Levi's jeans and pulling them down.

Just when it seems the kids are headed the rest of the way, they embrace side by side and jump off the pier on which we now see they've been standing, splashing happily into the water below, where they enjoy a swim in their skivvies.

Pretty shocking? No doubt.

Imagine the effects of these images planted in the soft soil of your child's mind.

Imagine the conscience of someone who would create and broadcast such an image, unconcerned for its potential effect on your child. But, how would that person respond, if confronted by you or me? The answer would be quick and brutal: Your child is your responsibility. Making money for my company is my responsibility. Wherever these interests might be in conflict is your responsibility.

A brutal response, but ultimately, true.

Not morally right, but technically accurate.

The haunting fact is: If you don't protect your child's innocence, who will? We no longer live in a world in which merchants are concerned with your child's upbringing. (Was there ever a world like that anyway, outside of our imaginations? Or, has that envelope been steadily pushed all along, shocking each successive generation of parents?)

So, how should the Christian parent respond to such an ad?

*Boycott Levi's? -- Nothing wrong with that, if it makes you feel better.

*Write an angry letter to NBC? -- Again, fine, and who knows? Someone important enough might actually be influenced.

*Cut off TV service to your house? -- Definitely an aggressive strategy, but is it throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

*Aggressively "inform" your child that such an image is bad, and he/she better not ever...yada, yada, yada...? -- OK, but who ends up feeling guilty and alienated from you? Levi's, NBC, or your kid?

*Go to bed in utter dismay over the state of the world, feeling bitter, attacked, and alone? -- No comment.

Any of these reactions might come naturally to Christian parents who love their children and desperately want a Godly life for them. And, if Christian parents feel as though they are at war for the hearts and minds of their children, they are correctly perceiving reality: We are. We always have been. Even back in the good ol' days. To have ever had faith that a secular world would care as much for your child's soul as you do was utter foolishness, even when Ed Sullivan wouldn't show Elvis from the waist down. The problem is not 2008, as opposed to 1958. The problem is sin, in all times, and in all places. The sands shift, but the battle is the same.

But there is still something missing in the parental responses listed above.

King David wrote a beautiful passage in Psalm 101:3: "I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me." Show this to anyone trying to justify pornography. Read this and remind yourself of the value of remaining "unspotted from the world", in the words of James 1:27.

However, as fervently as David and James would undoubtedly speak about the value of purity, neither man, especially not David the warrior, would ever overlook the necessity of one vital element of success in warfare, and one vital element missing in many Christian parents' reactions to the popular culture: Reconnaissance.

Recon, surveillance, scouting, combat intelligence. Call it what you will, no military commander would ever enter into battle without it. To do so would be folly, and suicide. Before committing troops to an objective, what must be known, at least to the degree possible? The lay of the land, an accurate assessment of enemy numbers and positions, enemy fortifications and armaments, possible routes of escape, weather conditions, and so on. All this, on top of a thorough, honest assessment of the state of your own side's capabilities.

The key words in the previous paragraph are "accurate" and "honest". True recon is not concerned with what anyone wants to be true, or hopes to be true. It isn't afraid of reality, or insistent that reality fit a mold of what anyone thinks it should be or used to be. Recon insists on being accurate, conveying the truth of what really is, in order to provide for effective planning that will preserve life. It does no soldier any good for a commander to be unaware of reality. In fact, a nation would be outraged at troops needlessly jeopardized because of a commander's ignorance of recon or refusal to be informed by it.

Most Christian parents are pretty good at their own personal purity, but many ignore cultural reconnaissance on behalf of their children altogether. Would you not be outraged at troops put in harm's way due to the ignorance of those sending them? How is it any different to send your child out into a world with which you're hopelessly unfamiliar and in which you're increasingly irrelevant?

In case you're getting nervous:

*A few things we are not talking about:

Putting your children in harm's way for the sake of exposure.

Sinning for the sake of being familiar with sin.

Immersing yourself in popular culture in order to be the "cool" parent.

Giving financial support to sinful influence. (The web is the ultimate tool, allowing the Christian parent
to scout popular culture without necessarily having to buy it.)

*But, seriously:

Do you know the names and material of any popular music artist today?

Have you ever read a novel your child is reading?

Are you familiar with any slang terminology your child hears at school? Have you ever asked?

Do you know what your child thinks about sex?

Do you have the kind of rapport with your child that will allow for these conversations to happen without your child
feeling like he or she is in trouble?

Is there some element of risk involved in a Christian parent's commitment to cultural recon? Yes, it's possible for a parent and a home to be led astray by cultural influence. But, this occurrence will be rare in comparison to the numbers of children led astray by the culture, right under the noses of Christian parents who had their heads buried in the sand and never had a clue.

If you're too afraid or bashful to speak up, you're the only one in your child's life who is. This world is not afraid of you, is not the least bit bashful, and it will speak up so your child will hear.

Soldier, where are your binoculars?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"I Just Snapped!"

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -- Viktor E. Frankl

We had quite a moment at our house a couple months back.

I don't recall exactly what was going on, but our then-19-month old son wanted to do or get something that just wasn't going to work at that moment, so the answer to his request was "No", or "Later", or something to that effect.

Unfortunately, little Jonathan wasn't at all pleased with this response, and let it show by falling to the floor and wailing to the heavens, in hopes that someone, somewhere would care enough to intervene on his behalf. This display didn't work as he hoped it would; in fact, it only cemented the "No" from his original request.

There's nothing out of the ordinary here. Every household with children has been blessed with scenes just like this one.

But, to the close observer, there was something highly instructive to be found in one slight detail of Jonathan's tantrum.

At the precise moment Jonathan received the bad news that buckled his knees, he and I were standing on the hard tile floor of our home's entryway, but only a foot or two away from the nice, soft carpet of the living room.

Looking at the replay in slow motion: When Jonathan took the "No" response, and "lost" control, he bent forward at the waist to begin his "uncontrolled" freefall. Just before crossing the point of no return, he paused, took a full step to his right to position himself within range of the carpet, and then resumed his fall, landing safely away from the tile, where his fit could continue, injury-free.

I'm not sure what my familiarity with this maneuver says about me, but I did recognize it right away:

*Making a statement, but making sure it won't hurt.

*Carefully controlling the "loss" of control.

*Trying to have it both ways.

In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists several behaviors that characterize the lifestyle of those living according to the flesh rather than the Spirit. Listed among these sins are "outbursts of wrath", or "fits of rage". While Paul's list includes many items that most of us would know only in the abstract, such as murder, witchcraft, and orgies, his mention of uncontrolled anger hits a lot of us pretty close to home.

And, as common as this problem is, there is an excuse for it that is every bit as prevalent: "I don't know what happened. I just snapped!"

Without judging the sincerity of anyone's apology, there lies within this statement an attempt to refuse responsibility for one's actions. If I did indeed just "snap", then I didn't really choose to do whatever it was I did. And, while I can then be sorry that it happened, or sorry for how someone took it, it's not really the same as saying, yes, I did it, I chose to do it, I was wrong, and I'm sorry. The difference is subtle, and many don't even perceive it. But, it's an important difference.

It's so easy to claim a loss of control. So easy to say, "I just snapped!"

But, really, now. Come on.

Have you ever...

*Cursed at your boss?

*Yelled at your spouse in a crowded restaurant?

*Berated your child in front of his teacher?

*Thrown a fit in your front yard?

*Peeled out of your own driveway?

*Knocked over a grocery basket on your way out of the store?

I'm guessing you answered "No" to all these questions, and either laughed at them, or found them offensive. And, why wouldn't you ever do these things, besides the fact that they're just wrong? Because you know full well that doing so would be very risky for you. You would probably get hurt. There would be painful consequences that you would very much like to avoid.

So, somehow, some way, even in the face of serious provocation, we all dig down deep and find the patience and self-control needed to avoid these risky behaviors. Somehow, with this much at stake, we manage never to "snap".

But, then, there are other times, when the immediate risk doesn't seem so great. Times when our sense of entitlement outweighs our good judgment and our love:

*An athlete, coach, or fan disagrees with an official's call.

*One driver doesn't like the actions of another.

*A wife hears the beginning of the same old excuse from her husband.

*A husband hears the beginning of the same old criticism from his wife.

*A child hears the beginning of the same old correction from a parent.

*A parent hears the beginning of the same old nonsense from a child.

*The TV remote has vanished.

*Someone forgot to buy more sodas.

*The toilet seat was left in the wrong position again.

And, there are yet other times when we bottle up our anger in public, only to shake the bottle and pop the cork once safely behind the closed doors of home, not unlike little Jonathan carefully targeting the safest place to fall while "helplessly" losing control.

Is this really the best we can do?

That's actually the wrong question. The question should be: "Is this the conduct of people who have the Spirit of God in them?"

Paul, in the same passage in Galatians, describes the result of being Spirit-filled. He uses the analogy of fruit that grows by the power of God. The fruit, or result, of being filled with His Spirit will take many forms, including patience and self-control, the very opposite of the fits of rage so common to the sinful nature.

A person who would truly "snap" and act without control would do so in any situation, regardless of the risk.

People like that do exist, but it's not likely that you're one of them.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Falling Down

Who hasn't joked about the infamous TV commercial: "I've fallen, and I can't get up!"?

Of course, falling down is no laughing matter; not when it's for real, and someone is hurt.

Who hasn't cringed at a story of an elderly person breaking a hip in a random fall? Or, a story of someone who suffers an incapacitating fall, and isn't found for hours or days? For that matter, who hasn't dreaded the thought of dying in a fall from a great height?

This article details the reality of how devastating a fall can be, especially for the elderly.

Two quotes from the article are especially relevant:

"Falls Merit Complex Care" (from the headline)

It's not likely anyone would fail to appreciate the need for care and rehabilitation for someone who has fallen, either physically or spiritually. But, do we really understand what "complex care" entails? Not likely, until the need for it arises. The difficult, ongoing therapy described in the article is likely to be news to anyone who hasn't been through it, or had a loved one go through it. Healing the wounds of a physical fall involves a great deal more than a bandage and an aspirin. And, the injuries suffered in a fall often go deeper and spread wider than anyone would have thought.

So it is with a spiritual fall as well.

When a Christian falls into sin, the effects can be just as far-reaching, and the healing and restoration that are needed require more time and attention than can be given in a brief conversation at the end of a sermon. Are we prepared to give the time and attention it takes to provide loving accountability to one another in our daily lives? Are we willing to help a struggling Christian overcome sin Monday through Saturday?

The second quote is even more critical, perhaps even haunting:

"For some people...admitting that they fall is tantamount to admitting that they are no longer competent to take care of themselves."

We've all heard sad stories of elderly people struggling to come to terms with their need for assistance. My wife and I know an aging farmer who we learned had suffered repeated falls out on his land, each time warning his farm hands not to breathe a word of it to his wife. Finally, thankfully, one of them did.

How true is this of most of us?

Admitting we fall means admitting we're not self-sufficient.

But, we all know we're not self-sufficient, right? Who would ever claim to be? We're not even supposed to be!

Maybe it's fear of being an imposition. Or, embarrassment over what exactly we've fallen into. Maybe too much of our identity wrapped up in an image of having it "together". Or, an unwillingness to jeopardize our social standing.

Whatever the reason, a Christian who falls into sin and keeps the matter quiet has handed Satan a double victory.

Falling down doesn't have to result in death.

But, how often do we allow it to?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"Looks like you've been shot a few times there..."

Kristi and I were watching one of those "ER" reality shows, where a TV camera crew follows a doctor around.

One patient who visited the ER left a memorable impression.

He was an elderly man complaining of lingering pain in his collarbone area. He had fallen a week or so before, but had not sought medical attention, thinking the pain would just go away. It hadn't, so the man wondered whether he had broken his collarbone.

The doctor felt the area and seemed fairly certain the collarbone was either broken or dislocated, but wanted to see an x-ray to determine for sure what to do.

When he asked the patient about any past medical issues, the only item offered was a stroke some years back.

This answer in particular provided a moment of shock and off-beat comedy when the doctor actually viewed the x-ray. Clearly visible on the x-ray were four distinct, completely intact bullets lodged in various places within this poor man's body.

At some risk of appearing insensitive, the doctor chuckled at this unexpected sight. "Well, I asked if there were any past medical issues, so I guess he didn't think this was any big deal. In all fairness, I didn't ask him specifically whether he had ever been shot four times..."

No explanation was given as to the nature of these wounds, or even how old they were. What is certain is how fortunate this man was to be alive, having sustained such trauma to his body, and apparently without sufficient medical treatment.

It's interesting how this can happen. Something that appears so out of place to an outsider or a newcomer can be just another forgotten part of the landscape to the person who has learned to accommodate it for enough time.

How on earth could a person carry bullets lodged in his body for years, and not bother to mention it to a doctor before an x-ray?

Oh, I don't know...

How could a Christian rarely pray?

How could a Bible gather dust?

How could someone bear a grudge for a lifetime?

How could a married couple live together without intimacy for years on end?

How could a habit become more important than a family?

How could a once-vibrant faith become a time card?

These scenarios are every bit as real as the bullets in that old man's body. And, they are certainly much more common. To anyone on the outside looking in, the bullet is plain to see, glaring back boldly from the x-ray, even if the wounded soul has made peace with it, or has forgotten its presence altogether.

What wounds do you carry?

What bullets are still lodged in your soul?

Why carry these things, when Jesus is so near?