What Does That Mean?

I know what it means to wish me a Happy Birthday and to tell me Merry Christmas. I know what it means when a friend or acquaintance asks me if I had a nice Thanksgiving. But what does it mean to wish someone a Happy Easter or to ask “How was your Easter?”

For Christians, Easter is the most significant event on our calendars. Many pastors think the Easter morning sermon is the most important one they will preach over the course of a year. As I said Sundaymorning, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the most essential Christian doctrine of our faith.

Late Sunday afternoon as I walked out my front door to my car to drive over to the church building for the evening service, I heard one of my neighbors walking through the neighborhood yell to another neighbor, “Did you have a good Easter?” My neighbor responded with a hearty, “Yeah!” I heard similar expressions throughout the weekend from people in the community, “Have a nice holiday,” and “Happy Easter.” On Monday the same people asked, “Did you have a nice holiday?” or “How was your Easter?” I wonder what they mean. What makes for a happy Easter?

Slowly but surely the Easter holiday is becoming less of what it is, the declaration and celebration of the risen Jesus Christ, and more of what it isn’t, a day for community events and family get togethers. We now confirm the day successful when the egg hunt goes well, when everyone is in one place to sit down at the family dinner table, and when the boys didn’t put holes in the knees of their new pants and the girls didn’t spill gravy on their new dresses. How those in my neighborhood define a happy Easter and how believers define a happy Easter should be significantly different.

To answer the question, believers gathering together to declare the fact of the risen Jesus makes for a happy Easter. Hearing others declare in song and word that Jesus lives makes for a happy Easter. Seeing new believers choose to be with others of the redeemed on Easter Sunday makes for a great day. Hearing professions of faith and witnessing the public baptisms of new Christians makes for a great day. Sharing with brothers and sisters in Christ around the Lord’s Table, remembering His work on the cross in the elements, and singing When I Survey the Wondrous Cross makes for a great day. Sitting in worship with my wife and children who love the same risen Lord that I love, believe the same gospel I believe, and hope in the same promise in which I hope makes for a good day. Eating a delicious noon meal with other believers, talking about the Lord’s work in our lives and the prospect of the Lord’s work in the lives of others makes for a great day. Thinking that I will someday die as many of those I love have already died and thinking that the living Jesus Christ conquers death so that my death like theirs becomes the gateway to eternal life makes for a great day.

So, yes, I had a great Easter. I want it always to be that kind of day for my family, myself, and our church.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Desiring To Die, Willing to Live

The magnetism of this world pulls strong on every human being including us Christians. So strong, in fact, is the attraction that many Christians would push back when the Bible says, “to die is gain” and “to depart and be with Christ is far better” (Philippians 1:21, 23). Not you? You don’t push back? Please continue to read.

Paul wrote those famous words while under arrest in the imperial city of Rome. For Paul, the previous two years delivered blow after blow to his physical and mental wellbeing (Acts 21-26). Now he finds himself perilously close to the executioner’s blade. What will happen he does not know. What he desires to happen he is quite certain. He wants to depart this life by means of his death to be with Jesus which, Paul proclaims, is far better. To which most reply, “Well, of course it’s better to die and to go be with Jesus than to live under persecution.” But that response misses Paul’s point.

Paul is not saying that departing this life via death is better than the parts of this life that stink. Paul says departing this life via death is far better than the best this life can offer to us.

We agree departing this life via death to be with Jesus is better than Christian persecution, better than cancer, better than bankruptcy, better than fighting, better than pain, better than divorce, better than infertility, better than temptation, better than addiction, better than paralysis, better than abandonment, better than jealousies, better than bitterness, and better than heartbreak. But the Christian view is departing this life via death to be with Jesus is better than the very best this life can offer to us.

  • Life on earth with Brenda is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
  • Life on earth with two sons, two daughters, a daughter-in-law, and a future son-in-law is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
  • Life on earth with grandchildren is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
  • Life on earth with a healthy heart and lungs, and strong arms and legs is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
  • Life on earth with expansive liberties because I am an American is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
  • Life on earth with financial freedom is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
  • Life on earth enjoying with family and friends mountain slopes, wilderness lakes, and tropical breezes is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.
  • Life on earth seeing all my dreams come true is wonderful but departing via death to be with Christ is better.

Do you push back against any of those declarations? Frankly, I do. In reality, I, like many of you, have little interest to leave this world for another better world in order to be with God. “My life is good,” I think, “There is so much left to enjoy here and to look forward to here. When I get old and frail, suffer memory loss, cannot see or hear well, then I’ll want to go be with Jesus.” Our contentment with the best of what this life offers reveals how far away we are from God, from His love, and the blessed life which is in Him.

Now, don’t be argumentative or worse, foolish, and conclude that you should end your life today because the Bible says, “to depart and be with Christ, is far better.” Paul determines in the next line, “Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul the timing of his departure via death to be with Christ belongs to heaven. Paul desired to die, but he was willing to live. While death would have been gain to him, he would endure the personal loss of living on earth if it meant a benefit to others.

What do you desire, to depart and be with Christ or to have a little more of the good life here? Your answer determines in part how you will live your life here and what will hold the passions of your heart.

O Lord, while I am thankful for the life you have given to me here, I often find myself far more interested in this life than in the life to come with you in heaven. I want to hold this life loosely, even the very best parts of it that you have given to me to enjoy to the max. I want to be like those who have gone on before me who desired a better country, a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:17). Separate my heart from its love for this broken creation and stir my heart to want to be with you. Amen.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Steven Hawking - A Brilliant Mind and Disabled Atheist Enters Eternity

 

Steven Hawking, the renowned physicist and author, died last week at the age of 76. There is nothing remarkable about that news; every human being dies. That he died at the age of 76 becomes remarkable considering doctors diagnosed him with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 21 while a student at Oxford. At the time doctors gave him two years to live. 55 years later he entered eternity, though as an atheist he would have rejected the idea of heaven, hell, or any afterlife.

“In 2011, narrating the first episode of the American television series Curiosity on the Discovery Channel, Hawking declared: We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realisation. There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful.”

In a famous interview three years later he said: "Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by 'we would know the mind of God' is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn't. I'm an atheist."

The picture of a weak, frail, mute, and wheelchair bound man remains the image of him in most people’s minds. Hawking’s atheism gives us Christians more sorrow in his death than his physical limitations in life. There is no other appropriate Christian response to Stephen Hawking’s death.

Understandably, the world responded with mournful sentiments, yet not all expressions of sorrow received the same response from some of the masses. For example, Wonder Woman Gal Godot tweeted, “Rest in peace Dr. Hawking. Now you’re free of any physical constraints. Your brilliance and wisdom will be cherished forever.”

Seems like a nice thing to say, but to many it was not.

Some found Ms. Godot’s lamentation troubling. To them only “ableists” would foster the idea that death without disability is superior to life with disability. One follower responded, “Stop making death seem like a positive alternative to being disabled!! It’s that attitude more than anything that makes disabled ppl’s lives difficult.”

As Christians we reject any mistreatment of another human being as sinful. Every ethnicity, both genders, and each human being bears the image of God. As an image bearer, we regard all other image bearers worthy of honor bestowed on them by our creator. Further, we praise God for the grace that enables the disabled to overcome the limitations we observe and they experience. Hawking, Beethoven, Fanny Crosby and many more massively contributed to the world despite physical challenges.

Nevertheless, sin and the subsequent curse has marred our bodies. The healing miracles of Jesus were not only immediate relief to the crippled, paralyzed, blind, deaf, mute, and diseased. The healing miracles gave a hazy look into what will be fully known when we are with the Lord. Jesus said so when he forgave the sin of the crippled man brought by his friends and dropped down through the roof (Luke 5:32ff). It was not necessary for Jesus to heal the physically broken to grant eternal forgiveness of sin. That he did so was prophetic, benevolent, and instructive - no more brokenness of any kind in eternity for those who are with Jesus.

At the resurrection our Lord will recover what was lost at the fall. Every human soul suffers from the impact of sin. Every human body suffers from the impact of sin. Some human bodies show the impact of sin less opaquely than others. Humanity longs for the day when there is no more disability, “We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing” (2 Cor. 5:2).

As Christians we do not think death without disability is better than life with disability. We think eternal life without sin and its consequences is better than the most abled life here on earth.

Christians advocate anything and everything ethical that improves the quality of life for all impacted in their bodies by the fall. LVADs for heart patients, prosthesis for the injured, glasses for the visually impaired, cochlear implants for any who have lost hearing, ACL reconstruction for the damaged, and on and on the list goes. Where modern science can relieve suffering or inability, Christians cheer the cause. Where science cannot relieve suffering or inability, Christians look to the life to come as far better than the life here.

Hawking’s death and the response of many illustrate again the canyon that exists between the Christian worldview and the worldview of unregenerate humanity. Christians must constantly discern the wisdom of this age against the teachings of Jesus and the rest of the Bible. Christian parents must passionately counter the misinformation streaming into their children’s minds from teachers, textbooks, and media of every kind.

The subject of life and death is part of a much bigger discussion of how Christians think. I’ll pick up the subject again next week.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Hit the Stationary Target

You’ve heard the phrases and maybe said them yourself, “You make me so mad!” “What do you want for me?” “Do what you want.” “Just leave me alone.” “That’s not what you said last time.” “What’s with you today?” If it weren’t for people, how easy life would be.

When you are frustrated in a relationship, my suggestion is, hit the stationary target.

I have served on pastoral staffs with two excellent deer hunters, Pastor Tom Olney of Faith Baptist Church in Godfrey, Illinois, and Pastor Chris Juvinall of Wausau Bible Church in Wausau, Wisconsin. I’ve hunted with both and watched as each took a large buck with his bow. These guys are good, really good. They have a natural skill with a compound bow and put in the necessary work to increase their chances of a successful hunt.

Most deer hunters know the pounding beat of their hearts when a large buck enters a field or snaps a twig as the brute walks the trail near the hunter’s stand. As the animal comes into range, the archer readies his bow and nocks his arrow waiting for the shot. With bow in hand and nerves at the peak, he needs the deer to come to a stop to ensure a clean shot. Sometimes when a deer in range will not stop, a hunter will make a sound with his mouth to cause the deer to pause just long enough for the hunter to release his arrow. No matter how skilled the archer may be, every hunter knows the potential for success increases dramatically when the target is stationary and not moving. Similarly, your potential for relationship success increases when you hit the stationary target not the moving one. Therein lays the problem.

Because of remaining sin, we all have periods of moodiness, irritation, disinterest, anger, and other detractors to righteous relationships. When others interact with us in these moments, they face difficulty because we are different now than we were previously. We are a moving target, and they struggle to hit the target. There are two solutions – get better at hitting a moving target or change the target altogether. I suggest the latter.

The stationary target is our God. To say God is immutable is to say “God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations.” In relationship struggles, stop trying to please the other person and start pleasing God. In other words, hit the stationary target. What will please God in your interaction with your husband or wife? What words can you say to your children that will please God when your children are driving you nuts? What actions can you perform for your work supervisor that will please God when your boss is at his worst? God clearly spells out for us in His Word His expectations for our relationships.

When we take dead aim on the stationary target, we please God as we submit ourselves to His desires for us in those various relationships. Missing moving targets is frustrating. Deer hunters tell sad stories of the “biggest buck ever who never game me a shot.” Far more serious are the stories of people who are frustrated in relationships where every day they take aim at a moving target. Every now and then, they hit the mark. More often than not, it is a clean miss.

The NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament tips later this week. Could you imagine the chaos, not to mention stupidity, if the basket moved randomly as a player took a shot? The Masters golf tournament is weeks ago at the historic and gorgeous Augusta National golf course. What would the scores be if the hole suddenly moved when Phil Mickelson or Rory McIlroy was about to strike the ball? How successful would a gymnast be if the vault moved from side to side as the athlete sprinted toward it?

Stationary targets lead to successful outcomes. The only stationary target among cognitive beings is God. Hit that target to know blessings. Aim at moving targets and know frustrations.

My friend, Dr. Dave Buckley, taught me, “You have nothing to prove, only Someone to please.” You will find it is much easier to hit the stationary target of pleasing God than it is to hit the moving target of pleasing people.

Hit the stationary target.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Where Have All the Preachers Gone?

I graduated from the School of Religion at Bob Jones University in 1987. In those days, the administration publically declared “training preachers is what we do best” and many agreed with the sentiment. Despite its reputation, the “Preacher Boys” class at my school has shown a steady downward trend in enrollment.

In the last 15 years two Bible colleges in the Upper Midwest closed their doors. Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, Minnesota, and Northland Baptist Bible College in Dunbar, Wisconsin, no longer exist. Once fertile training grounds for the next generation of Bible pastors, teachers, and missionaries, the schools could not sustain existence primarily because of a lack of students. History tells us of multiple institutions of higher learning that still exist but no longer specialize or show interest in training people for vocational ministry.

I do not believe the problem resides in the halls of academia; I believe the problem resides within the walls of our churches.

Last weekend our church celebrated and recognized what few churches experience. We ordained a man to the ministry of the gospel. We’ve watched Chris for years and found his life exemplary. We’ve listened to his sermons and Bible lessons and found his teaching faithful to our Lord. We’ve witnessed his love for the Lord, the church, and the world and determined the call he claims from our Lord is genuine.

Following the Sunday worship where our church “set aside” Chris in a custom we call ordination, a woman in her 20s and new to our church said to me, “That was amazing. I’ve never seen that before!” Think about it, here’s a lifelong Christian, raised in the Christian community, and in two decades she’s never seen her church identify one of its own as the next recognized by the church as one called by our Lord to handle his Word and lead the next generation of Christians.

The problem is not that Bible colleges, Christian universities, and seminaries are not producing enough graduates. The problem is the local church is not praying for, planning to train, and promoting the vocation of the ministry of the Word. There are fewer students in our seminaries because our churches are not sending them.

It is true that the pastors at my home church were powerfully influential in my entering vocational ministry, but they were not the first to suggest I consider the call of the Lord. Ed the electrician and Don the truck driver were two men in my home church. Apart from each other, they planted the thought in my young mind that ministry might be in my future. They weren’t control freaks, and neither of them pursued education farther than high school, but both of them loved the Lord and loved his church. Both of them thought it good to encourage a kid to give thought to a lifetime of handling the word of God. The first to inspire me to do what I do today were not pastors or elders or missionaries but two labor union guys who saw a kid in their church, thought, “Maybe,” and acted upon it. When the time for my ordination came, those two men witnessed me accept my responsibility. I doubt they recognized the impact they had on me or took any credit, but that fact remains, they pushed the first domino.

There are many actions our churches can take to encourage vocational ministry. For example, we can give young men the opportunity to teach and preach, show up when we know they are scheduled to teach or preach (not stay away because it’s not the real pastor preaching), and be willing to endure their early stabs at handling the Scriptures, attempts that probably won’t remind of you of John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Charles Stanley, or Paul Tripp.

We could commit to funding their seminary education like so many denominations do. For example, did you know that a man who is a member of a Southern Baptist Church receives a scholarship equivalent to 50% of the cost of tuition upon entering a Southern Baptist seminary? In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the archdiocese pays for the room and board cost of seminarians preparing for the priesthood. I know of nothing remotely close to that kind of support in the independent church.

An action we can and should pursue is to encourage the young men in our church to consider training for ministry. If we see a boy, a high school student, or a college young man who displays Christian character, whose love for the church is apparent, and who seems always to gravitate to the Bible, we should put in front of him the possibility of becoming a pastor / teacher in the church. How else will it happen? Do you expect God to give the boy a vision in the night? Is God supposed to write it in the sky? Should we hope the kid gets an otherworldly text message or Snapchat imploring him to pick up the mantle of the gospel? Of course not! The impetus comes from the church.

Jesus said, “pray for laborers.” Chris was the most recent that we have had the privilege to ordain, but there is no guarantee of another. We must pray that the Lord of the Harvest would send laborers into the harvest from our church. We must pray that our church would be the kind of soil that grows laborers. We must pray that the next in the chain of succession of Bible preachers does not get sidetracked by a love for this world.

There are many wonderful moments in the life of a local church. From baptisms to weddings to baby dedications and so much more, we share joyful experiences. Hardly anything tops when a local church sees one of its own take up the charge to preach the Word. I hope you will see many more of them.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.