Saturday, December 18, 2010

Without Fear of Persecution

If you've attended worship services in the United States all your life like I have, you've probably heard this, too:

"Thank you, God, that we are able to gather together freely and worship You without fear of persecution."

I'll be honest: It's a sentiment I certainly agree with, but don't often think much about. Freedom of worship is all I've ever known. It's all my parents and grandparents have ever known as well. In fact, I can't say that I've ever met, in all my life, anyone who has ever experienced anything else, or who even knows anyone who has experienced anything else.

That's just how far removed from persecution I am.

So, the prayer quoted above takes on a whole new meaning in the light of this news story.

Imagine it. Gathering together to worship, only to be interrupted by a mob of hateful opponents, bent on not only stopping the worship, but dispersing the worshippers, by whatever means necessary.

Call the police? The government is on the side of the hostile crowd, and the facility you used for worship right up to that moment is now sealed off from your use.

Fight the crowd? Not exactly in line with Jesus' command to turn the other cheek, nor with His reaction to Peter's sword strike on Malchus. To respond in kind would be to forfeit every shred of credibility as followers of Christ, and accomplish the mob's very goal.

Demand of God how He could possibly let this happen to His children? While crying out to Him about such a trauma would be the only normal reaction, the realization would quickly set in that Jesus never promised His followers the respect or support of their neighbors, colleagues, or countrymen, or even their families.

In fact, it's quite the opposite.

"If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." -- John 15:18-19

"...all who desire to live godly in Jesus Christ will suffer persecution." -- II Timothy 3:12

As hard as it can be to accept, there are some things God simply does not promise His children, and the average American Christian's absence of fear of persecution is probably more of an anomaly than a norm.

While it is right to make the most of our freedom to serve God and share the Gospel, our freedom must not be allowed to create within us a feeling of entitlement to the approval of those around us.

And while we should pray for the preservation of our freedom, we should be prepared to follow Jesus even if we are not always afforded a comfortable set of circumstances in which to do it.

A story like the one above might cause you and me to reflect on just what, if anything, following Jesus has really cost us in this life. And what we would be willing to have it cost us if our circustances were different.

Have we prepared our minds for the possibility of following Jesus in a hostile environment? Are we assuming our current favorable situation will endure right up to the moment Jesus comes again? Are we assuming nothing here will ever be different? Are our children developing a faith that assumes it will always exist in a supportive environment?

Lord, please preserve our freedom to serve You, please help Christians who suffer persecution for serving You, and please prepare us for more difficult times, if they are to come.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Brilliant Idea, Not to Be...

You've probably been there before.

Road tripping through the middle of nowhere, deciding it's time to make a pit stop, pulling into a gas station or convenience store, finding the restroom, and stepping into a biohazard unfit for a sewer rat.

Add to this scene the challenge of helping a small child use the facilities without touching anything, and you've just created the perfect storm.

Carelessly used, sparsely supplied, and seemingly seldom cleaned public restrooms are just a part of the reality of traveling by car across great distances.

Having experienced this many times, I've occasionally reflected on why this is. The answer, of course, is simple. If a restroom is in bad condition, it probably isn't cleaned very often. So, I got to thinking one time, somewhere on the highway while my family slept, about a sure-fire way to provide travelers with clean restrooms without having to rely on an infinite variety of employees to take the time to keep them clean.

It all came together in my mind.

It would be perfect.

Public restrooms would clean themselves. They would be made entirely of stainless steel, every surface. The walls would be fitted with high-powered jets that would spray a potent soapy-water mix all over the room and everything in it, at two or three regular intervals each day. What about the toilet paper? Not to worry. The container holding it would be rigged up to seal itself tight just before the super-jets kicked in, and open up again only after the cleanse was finished and all was dry.

And I, along with millions of conscientious travelers like me, would be able to walk into any public restroom without worry, and without a haz-mat suit.

Pure genius.

Well, it didn't take more than a few miles of highway to come to grips with the fact that this scenario was never going to happen. It would be far too expensive to ever become a reality, not to mention the surefire lawsuit from the first person to get trapped inside the restroom during the jet-powered, scalding-hot cleanse.

So, I was back at square one: Bathrooms get dirty, and they don't get clean again until someone takes brush in hand and does the cleaning. There is no mechanism to make it automatic, no technology to make it less personal, no way to eliminate the risk of getting dirty in the process.

So it is with most other necessary tasks in our lives. They don't get done unless we do them. The lifestyle of the Jetsons hasn't become a reality, even though we all thought it surely would, back when we were looking "way ahead" to the year 2000. Ten years after that milestone, we still scrub toilets in the same old way, (give or take some fancier cleaning tools), and if we neglect the job, we live with the same unpleasantness that has always occurred when this chore doesn't get done.

Everybody wants clean restrooms. Everybody wants a clean home. Everybody wants a nice neighborhood, a good school, a thriving church, a loving family.

Every Christian wants the gospel proclaimed and the lost saved by its power.

These are all good and noble desires, and no one should hope for anything less. But how tempting is it to passively allow ourselves to assume that these goals, far more important than household chores, will be fulfilled any other way than with our personal involvement?

Jesus is not dependent upon our efforts to accomplish His will, but stop for a moment to consider some of His commands and how personal they are:

"Love one another."

"Feed my lambs."

"Make disciples..."

"Teach them..."

"...wash one another's feet."

No matter the time or culture in which these words are read, the commands of Christ are personal. For those who choose to obey Him, there is no other way to do His will than to simply do it. No one else obeys on a disciple's behalf. There is no machine to do the obeying for us. Even in the world of the web, technology cannot obey the personal commands of Jesus for us.

And as with the joy of a task well done, the peace to be found in obedience to Jesus can be truly experienced only by those who themselves personally obey Him, never by anyone who waits for a solution that would allow him to remain passive.

And the consequences of neglecting to do His will are felt by many.

But of course, a life with Christ is not a chore like cleaning the house. It is a love deeper than a marriage and more assured than parenthood. It is a personal walk that will only grow more precious with time.

Who could think a relationship this real could be experienced passively, without personal commitment?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Need Directions?

Looking back on it now, it's pretty sad that I actually felt this way at such a young age.

But I distinctly remember, somewhere around the age of 8 or 10, becoming seriously anxious that, when the time came for me to learn how to drive and get myself around town, I would become hopelessly lost and not be able to find my way to wherever I was needing to go.

In a way, it wasn't a totally unreasonable fear. Riding along with my parents every day as they navigated a seemingly never-ending labyrinth of L.A. freeways, exits, and twists and turns, it could easily overwhelm a kid to think about taking the helm on his own someday.

I can even remember bringing along some paper and a pencil one time, so I could copy down the route from our house to wherever our destination was. Not surprisingly, I was unable to keep up, gave up the effort after a few turns, and remained alone with my fear.

Never did I mention this nagging worry to my parents, so I forfeited the chance to nip this fear in the bud with their reassurance. It never crossed my mind that they, too, were once children riding along with their parents, not knowing one street from another or how to get anywhere.

But one random day, mercifully, the answer came, and my worries were relieved.

I had never noticed this before, but it all made sense the moment I did. I can't explain the relief and jubilation I felt when I finally saw it!

From my usual perch in the backseat, I could clearly see it: As we approached an intersection, just before my mom slowed down and turned the steering wheel, a little green arrow on the dashboard blinked on and off several times, and kept blinking until we had successfully made the turn!

There it was! Left this time, right next time, we're almost home!

The green arrow was even accompanied by a clicking sound, just to be sure you didn't miss it.

Oh, man! I had it figured out! Why had I been so worried for so long? It was all going to be OK!

The car would tell me which way to go, and when I needed to turn. Whew!

Well, I'm not sure which ending to this story is funnier: the bursting of my bubble when my parents later explained to me that the green arrow on the dashboard actually did not intuitively know your destination and blink on its own, or the fact that now, almost 30 years later, my cell phone does for me exactly what I thought my parents' dashboard did for them all those years ago. (In fact, many vehicles now actually do have this technology mounted into the dashboard!)

You've probably done it, too:

Just open up whatever app you use for maps and driving directions, tell the device where you want to go, and just turn when the voice says to turn. Amazing!

As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Roswell, NM. I have only been here once before, several years back, and have no personal familiarity with the city. But, thanks to my Droid, Google maps, and a robotic, female voice I've named "Betty", I have driven around town with the confidence of a local during this visit.

Kind of funny to sit here while my boys sleep and think that they will have no recollections of a world without Betty. Their experience with navigation will take place entirely after the infusion of GPS technology into the life of the average American. They may end up laughing years down the road at how primitive Betty was, and how excited I was just to have her in my life.

Will they ever purchase the annual Wal-Mart/Rand McNally Road Atlas?

Will it even be printed anymore?

Will the whole stereotype about men not being willing to ask for directions even be relevant in another generation?

It will be interesting to see how those questions pan out. But as long as Betty proves faithful in her guidance, I am sold on following her lead in unfamiliar territory, despite her difficulty with Spanish pronunciation. (It's "Chavez", Betty, not "Chaives"...)

I guess when it comes right down to it, everyone is looking for a guide to the unfamiliar.

Wouldn't it be nice to have GPS-quality instructions for the decisions and dilemmas that vex us throughout life? Compound those head-scratchers with the inevitable questions that will come from your children, and you will definitely be looking for some help.

(A shoulder-tap from reality: Our 5 year-old understands that he began his existence "in mommy's tummy", and just upped the ante tonight by asking how he got there in the first place...)

Betty can't help us there.

While my boys will someday enjoy technology even more impressive than what I am used to, there are some things, the most important things, that will require them to respect and rely upon navigation that remains changeless with time.

They must learn to excel in the ever-changing world around them, making use of its constantly evolving tools and systems, yet remain grounded in the Truth that never needs updating.

As much as Kristi and I relish the chance to be the source of answers for our boys now and for as long as they will come to us with their questions, we know the time will come when they will either have to, or will choose to, work things out on their own.

Here's the scariest part: When someone is desperate for direction, as I was when I pondered the challenge of learning to drive and navigate on my own, almost anything that provides even a glimmer of hope will be awfully appealing.

It's worth a laugh now to think back on my hopes foolishly invested in the green, blinking arrows on the dashboard. But what in this world, equally non-sensical, will seem to my children to be the source of just the answers they are looking for, if their hearts are not trained to look to the Father for guidance?

I shudder to imagine.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Changing of the Spade

My old shovel finally gave up the ghost last weekend.

I plunged the spade into the fresh soil of our garden, drove it in deep with my foot, pulled back on the handle, and heard a low-pitched crack. Sure enough, the handle had broken completely loose at the base, and my dig was stalled.

Honestly, this wasn't a complete surprise.

I acquired this shovel nearly a decade ago. At the time, my parents and I lived in the same town, but when they moved away, I took care of their yard for awhile, and some of their tools ended up migrating to my house. Ever since then, at the three different residences I've called home in that span of time, this shovel has stood in my backyard, leaning against the fence, standing guard against I'm not sure what, totally exposed to the elements season after season.

It is precisely this exposure that weakened the shovel to the point of cracking. It certainly wasn't weakened by extended use. Honestly, I didn't use it much at all. But time and weather took its toll.

So, I made an uneventful trip to Lowe's to purchase a new shovel, but while there, also picked up a hook for the wall of my garage, to give my new shovel a place to stay, safe from the elements that had shortened the life of its predecessor.

Funny how different things are when you're spending your own money on something, isn't it?

It wasn't that I didn't appreciate the previous shovel. I was glad to have it, used it for its intended purpose when it suited me, but took no great care to ensure its longevity or protect it from the wear and tear of time and trial.

That's so often the difference between the one who has paid the price for something and the one who hasn't.

How ironic that some of the relationships we claim to value the most are so often left standing against a backyard fence, exposed to needless wear and tear, yet assumed to be ready for the demand and strain of the dig when called upon.

How do we treat our relationships?

Like treasures for which we've committed our time, our resources, and ourselves? Or like hand-me-down tools to use but not preserve?

Ultimately, how do we treat our relationship with God?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Such a Worm as I"

Have you ever come across these words before?

They're among the lyrics to Isaac Watts' 1707 hymn, "At the Cross".

Alas! And did my Savior bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred Head
For such a worm as I?

I've sung this hymn many a time, and am quite fond of it, though I have to admit that on occasion, the "worm" part has brought a smile to my lips. No disrespect intended, but you can tell this was written in an entirely different era, one in which people's view of themselves before God was probably much humbler than it is today; apparently, folks didn't take offense at being compared to worms in this hymn, which has now been sung by believers for over 300 years.

300 years is quite a stint for any piece of music, so this hymn's survival is more than noteworthy. But this longevity has not come without, shall we say, "modification".

The hymnal in our pews where I worship does include this song, but the "worm" lyric has been updated to read: "...for such a one as I..."

Thank goodness.

No more being compared to worms! I mean, really, who needs that? Rather insulting, don't you think? At the very least, pretty outdated.

Or, is it?

This hymn recently resurfaced in my mind after a heavy rain here in central Texas.

As often happens during a storm, several earthworms were driven out of the grass and out onto our concrete driveway, where they could be seen squirming and wriggling around, not exactly sure of what to do or where to go.

Needless to say, these earthworms face many dangers out on the driveway. They make easy prey for birds, they can be smashed under our tires, or they can simply shrivel up and die from lack of moisture once the sun comes back out and dries up all the rain.

It's a common sight to see the dried-up remains of venturesome earthworms who weren't fortunate enough to make it back to the grass after the rain.

On one of these occasions, I was moved with compassion for one of these squirmy creatures, and decided to intervene rather than let nature take its course.

Feeling rather magnanimous, I got down close to the ground and reached out toward the worm, gently attempting to pick it up between my thumb and index finger.

Boy, was I caught off guard by the reaction to my attempted rescue! I didn't even know worms could move like that!

That thing snapped into action the very second my skin touched his. This slow, poky worm suddenly began thrashing around, snapping back and forth, jumping off the ground, and just generally saying "No!" to my best efforts at salvation. It actually startled me, and if it had been a snake, I'm sure I would have been bitten. The worm's reaction was instant and adamant: He was not to be touched. He apparently had it all under control.

I had to laugh, but was also somewhat taken aback.

Here I was, the only being in this worm's little world with the power to save him, let alone the concern and compassion to even try, and he wasn't even willing to let me do it.

He would unwittingly choose death on his own terms rather than yield control of his situation to the power of the one who could save him from himself.

What was he thinking? What was Watts thinking?

Don't ever compare me to a creature like that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I've mentioned before that I'm a lifelong Lakers fan.

The "3-Peat" years of 2000-2002 are an especially sweet memory for me, though the feat was not easy for the team to achieve, nor for the fans to live through.

Honestly, it almost didn't happen (see Game 7, 2000 Western Conference Finals vs Portland), and once begun, was nearly cut short at two titles, not three, by the Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals.

That series against Sacramento was nearly the death of every Laker fan everywhere. What was supposed to be a turnstyle into a third straight NBA Finals appearance turned into a 7-game, alleyway knife-fight that the Lakers weren't expecting and were fortunate to survive.

As excruciating as that series was to watch, there was a pivotal moment, right in the middle of it, that I missed, on purpose, in a fit of disgust with the play of my team.

The Lakers entered a must-win Game 4 as lethargic and out of sync as I had ever seen them, which was more than I could take, given the life-or-death stakes of that particular game.

With the Lakers trailing Sacramento by more than 20 points before halftime, I turned off the game and put it out of my mind, resolving to make peace with my team's demise.

That is, until the next morning.

I arrived early at work that day, and had time to peruse the news online before my workday began. In a somber mood, I opened the ESPN web site to read the Lakers' obituary.

Much to my shock, my eye caught sight of what seemed like an awful lot of yellow on the screen, and the headline took my breath away. The made-up word "Horrywood" led the story of a Hollywood ending in Game 4 of the series, capped off by a game-winning 3-point shot by Laker star Robert Horry.

I read on, dumbfounded, to learn that after I had given up on the game and quit watching, the Lakers had begun an historic rally, slowly chipping away at the Kings' massive lead, pulling to within two points in the final seconds of the game, setting the stage for Horry's heroics.

Seeing the replay now, almost 8 years later, I still can't believe I missed it when it happened live.

Redemption is a mysterious thing.

You never can tell who will be the one to overcome past failure and set things right.

*The long-troubled student who finally gains perspective and maturity.

*The uncommitted athlete who at long last grasps the dedication it takes to win.

*The chronic debtor who eventually gets right-side-up and stays there.

*The husband who finally lays down his pride and accompanies his wife to worship.

*The "friend" who could never keep a secret, but comes out of nowhere to have your back in a time of trial.

*The wounded soul who once turned bitter, but later learns to comfort others.

Yes, for every example like this, there are other people from whom we've come to expect little, who never change that expectation. For every great comeback in Laker history, there have been many other games in which they played poorly, fell behind, and stayed behind.

But even so, how do I feel now about missing the comeback I missed?

And, especially, about the reason I missed it?

How many times have we given up on people we loved more, with more on the line, and with more reason for hope, than I had over the outcome of a basketball game?

Consider the story of John Mark.

Acts 15 tells the story of Mark's departure from Paul and Barnabus at Pamphylia, in the middle of a missionary journey. Luke records Paul's interpretation of Mark's actions as nothing less than desertion and a failure to finish the job (15:38).

We're not given any of the circumstances of Mark's decision to leave Paul and Barnabus at that point in their effort. Perhaps if we knew why he left when he did, we might feel differently, but there is no question that Paul considered the decision inexcusable, so much so that later on, when Barnabas proposed having Mark re-join the team, Paul was so opposed to the idea that he parted ways with Barnabas over it. (15:39) Mark had blown Paul's trust, and was not a worthy risk in Paul's eyes the second time around.

That's all we read about that phase in the Paul-Mark relationship, but it's not the end of the story.

At the end of Paul's second letter to Timothy, written from prison, Paul asks several favors of Timothy, instructing him to bring a cloak and some scrolls, but also, out of nowhere, he asks that Mark be brought to him, as "he is helpful to me in my ministry" (II Timothy 4:11).

Just as we weren't given details of Mark's previous departure from Paul, we're given no details of Paul's reversal of opinion about Mark. We don't know what happened in the time between these two events, but somewhere, sometime, something happened, or several things happened, that changed Paul's mind completely about Mark.

We don't know whether the resurgence of Mark's stock caused Paul to regret his previous stance, or whether Paul still felt his earlier tough call was justified, and possibly served as the needed prompt to spur Mark to make this comeback.

One thing we can safely assume: Paul was glad he was around to see the comeback take place.

Is there anyone you've deemed unworthy of your confidence? Anyone you've written off and given up on, not even wanting to see how the story plays out?

Not even praying for them anymore?

Who might we encounter in heaven that we once wrote off in this life?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Better off having never known?

I still remember that Saturday night in February of 1990.

Everyone else in our family had made their way to bed, but my Dad and I were still up in the living room, watching the TV news. (ESPN had not yet entered our lifestyle, but we made do. Oh, we made do.) I don't remember now, but I'm guessing we were planning to see the sports report before signing off for the night.

As a teaser before the commercial break, the local sportscaster caused the two of us veteran sports fans to audibly gasp in unison with these words:

"Big night in Tokyo...Mike Tyson has been knocked out..."

It was one of those moments when you really doubt you heard what you just heard. Twenty years later, it's hard not to think of a life-turned-trainwreck when you hear the name "Mike Tyson", but if you're old enough to put yourself back in the pre-facial-tattoo years between 1985 - 1990, you know just how unbelievable this was.

Literally, a matter of months before this night, a student in my speech class at school had given a presentation on the history of boxing, which concluded with these words: "Mike Tyson will be the heavyweight champ until he either dies or retires from boxing."

There was just no way this ever should have happened.

On my office wall hang my two diplomas, the one for my undergrad degree bearing a gold sticker with the words "Cum Laude". Something to be proud of? For sure. But, you don't know the whole story.

Every time I see that sticker, something inside of me cringes.

Rolling into the spring of 1995, I had maintained a sufficient GPA in college to earn the "Magna Cum Laude" distinction on my diploma. I was nearing the end of my undergraduate experience, and was eager to launch my career. Honestly, I was sick of my classes. Tired of pretending to be a school teacher; ready to do it for real.

That semester included a double-block class involving observation hours and several hands-on projects to be completed in order to demonstrate that I could do the kind of work a teacher does.

To put it mildly, I blew off the course. Turned in every single project late, and not "late" in terms of minutes, or even hours. I'm talking more like days or weeks. I deserved to fail the course, but a "C" appeared on my report card, a generous gift from the instructor. (Thank you, Mrs. Hatch!)

While a "C" might not have had a major impact on my status, in a double-block course, the grade counts twice, so my last report card was dotted with two "C"s, pulling my overall GPA down from "Magna Cum Laude" to "Cum Laude", a fact that stung badly on graduation night, and a fact I'm reminded of every time I see that diploma.

It just shouldn't have happened.

Less than a year after his historic upset of Tyson, barely-minted heavyweight champ Buster Douglas showed up overweight and out of shape to defend his new title against the formidable Evander Holyfield, who had himself been preparing to take on Tyson, before Douglas changed the world.

The Douglas-Holyfield bout was a short and shameful joke, and everyone was left grasping for some purpose or point in what Douglas had pulled off eight months before.

In a recent interview marking the 20th anniversary of his upset of Tyson, Douglas commented that he had been prepared to take the title from Tyson, but was not prepared to keep it, adding that "it p****s me off sometimes to think about it..."

Really? Just sometimes?

Y'know, in a small way, I relate every time I see that gold sticker.

While it's easy to shake your head at such a glib summation of such a colossal disappointment, Douglas has identified something common to everyone who has gained something of value only to foolishly squander it.

In my case, it's a bitter, nagging aftertaste that never completely goes away, even as I think about it less and less often as time goes by.

In Douglas's case, it's the entire public perception of who he is. To most, he's the guy who earned the world's respect by winning a rare and coveted title against all odds, only to immediately set about dumping it all by the side of the road, a road that can't be retraced, and a prize that can never be recovered.

II Peter 2:20-21

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire".

I've always wondered just what Peter meant by saying that a Christian who walks away from Christ would have been better off never having known Him. That essentially, a babe in Christ could end up being "better off if he hadn't ever been born". Worse off than a lost soul who never obeyed the gospel in the first place.

It's hard to say exactly what that could mean in eternity. Hotter flames? Darker darkness? A more remote separation from God? Harder weeping and gnashing of teeth? And for those who don't believe in a conscious eternal torment, it's even harder to speculate as to what could be worse for one lost soul as compared to another.

I guess we'll never really know. No one who experiences those things will be able to tell us about it.

But there is something to this.

Jesus Himself warned those intrigued by Him to consider what following Him would cost, His clear implication being that you shouldn't do it if you aren't ready for what that decision will mean for you later. Jesus' description of the disgrace of a partially-completed building (and the public judgment and mockery that go along with it) is not diplomatic.

Hard to say that Buster Douglas doesn't know a little bit about that.

While we'll never know if eternal loss is any worse for one soul over another, one thing is certain:

Salvation is more precious than any achievement, and to lose it after having lived in it would be a unique form of torment all its own, dwarfing Douglas's disappointment, as well as mine.

Matthew 25:41

"Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and His angels.'"

It's hard to read. It's hard to imagine. I hope I don't have to see it happen. And I would never wish upon anyone to be in that crowd hearing those words.

But as painful as those words will be to all who hear them, you'll never convince me that they won't sting worse for those who spent some time in the other flock. Those who had known Jesus' love, given Him their souls, and had lived in His care for any amount of time.

Those for whom it just shouldn't have happened.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Hello, Mike!"

Have you ever had one of those moments that you only wish you had known would come back to haunt you?

I'll never forget the time an elderly man walked up to the circulation counter at my university library, where I was employed as an undergrad student worker. The man had to have been well into his 80s, but he got around on his own, seemed seriously engaged in research of some kind, and approached me with a friendly manner.

I checked out his books without complication, wished him well, and then listened only half as well as I later wished I had.

The kindly old man looked at me with a smile and proceeded away from the counter to make his exit from the library.

As he stepped away, he said or asked something that I didn't quite make out.

And that is the moment I wish I had back.

For whatever reason, I'll never know why, I didn't ask the man to repeat himself. Having no idea what he had just said to me, I simply smiled and answered, "Yeah!"

(I know, I should have demonstrated more respect and offered, "Yes, sir" but that is another point altogether.)

Receiving my affirmative response with a nod and a smile, the man walked away, and I went on with my work, only to realize about five seconds later, to my horror, what the man had actually said.

I don't know why this happened, but it was as if my brain received his message via satellite, with a five-second delay.

Whatever the reason, his words at last rang clear in my mind.

The man had actually asked me, "Is your name Mike?"

And I had, without the slightest hesitation, answered, "Yeah!"

So, it all came rushing together in my mind, and I spent the next few seconds contemplating my options:

1.Chase after the man, who had barely reached the exit, explain my error and give him my real name.

2.Let it slide, on the chance that I would never see this man again anyway, and that if I ever did, his advanced age would almost certainly cause him to ask my name again, at which point I could correct my error without him knowing the difference.

Well, I went with choice # 2, and here's how it played out:

The elderly man did indeed reappear at my circulation counter, again and again and again over the next year or so, each and every single time greeting me with a warm and hearty, "Hello, Mike!"

The one possibility that I had completely discounted actually proved true: that this elderly man's mind was a steel trap, a sharp-toothed bear trap, and caught within its clutches were my face and the name "Mike", never to be separated from each other again.

Over the remaining time I saw this man, which amounted to at least a year, if not more, I accommodated this ridiculous error by either avoiding him altogether or making sure I was alone when he approached, so none of my co-workers would witness my charade of responding to the wrong name.

I was "Mike" to this man, with all the nonsense that entailed, all because I wouldn't break down and tell him the truth.

I had another identity for awhile there, one I didn't want my friends to know about, and one I didn't talk about, for the sheer embarrassment of how fake I was acting and how easily I could have avoided such a foolish dilemma.

Does everyone who knows you know the same person?

Do they all call you by the same name?

By whose name do you want to be known?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Around the next bend...

This morning during worship service, I caught myself thinking it:

I am so ready to be past the stage of occupying small children in church, bringing the things you bring and doing the things you do just to get the family through the service without being disruptive.

Don't get me wrong: We're glad we're doing this, and we made a deliberate choice not to make use of the attended nursery during the service. No dispute with anyone who does, but we decided we wanted our boys to get used to remaining in the assembly without being taken out.

So we chose this, and we knew reasonably well what we were getting into. And it has been a good thing for our family. We can't even remember the last time either one of our boys had to be taken out of the assembly, and they have no expectation of doing anything other than sticking it out.

But, as you can imagine, none of this means what we have chosen is easy.

It takes planning, teamwork, and coloring books to pull this off, and I'll admit it can be tiresome.

For whatever reason, it was especially tiresome this morning, and I let myself think it:

Man, am I ready to be past all this!

Now that a few hours have passed, I'm really hoping no one "up there" heard or took to heart what I thought. Actually, someone probably did, and supplied the thoughts that occupied my mind for the latter part of this morning's service.

It occurred to me that, while this phase of our children's upbringing is indeed challenging, it is only the very beginning, and will end up proving to be anything but the most difficult part.

Very soon, we won't have to worry about bringing coloring books to occupy the boys during the service. We won't have to worry about taking them to the restroom, keeping them quiet, and making sure they stay put.

While those changes will surely be nice, consider the cares that will then occupy our minds:

*What is the state of our boys' spiritual development?

*Do our sons love the Lord? Do they believe the gospel? On their own? Apart from us?

*Are we demonstrating spiritual discipline in our everyday lives?

*Do our boys know the Word of God? Do they pray on their own?

*If we died today, would our boys be left with a faith that could stand on its own?

*If our boys had the choice, as they will in a few short years, would they be here in worship?

*Whose voices threaten to drown ours out of our children's ears?

These are questions with a direct impact on eternity, and the time will come very soon when these questions will take center stage.

Of course, what we're doing now will in many ways lay the foundation for these more consequential things, but...

Maybe the coloring book bag isn't so bad for awhile longer.

It's so easy to think things will be easier around the next bend. That somehow parenting gets easier when you're not changing diapers anymore.

Two foolish thoughts:

First, to want to hurry into a spiritual war-zone with our children's souls in the balance.

Second, to think we're not already there.