Weeping with Those Who Weep

I don’t want to write about murders in the church.

From its earliest days the American church has gathered in meadows, in barns, and buildings to meet with the Lord Jesus. Among the group of fellow believers we feel safe. These are our brothers and sisters who share a common love for our Lord, each other, and our community. For a few hours each Sunday the problems of living in a sinful world remain outside our walls as we experience of bit of heaven’s glory in prayer, singing, and hearing from God.

It’s only been a little over two years since a killer entered the midweek prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. He killed 9 that evening. It seems like a distant memory.

Last Sunday another killer passed through the doors of a small Baptist church in Texas and virtually decimated the entire congregation in satanically driven hatred. 27 dead and scores more wounded by injury and scarred by trauma perpetrated on family, neighbors, and friends.

Every Sunday morning before the church arrives at our building, I pray for the safety of God’s people who will gather that day. When we come together this Sunday morning, I will pray again. We are vulnerable not merely because we are a church but because we are human beings living in a world dominated by a murderer and a deceiver (John 8:44). Yet, we are not paranoid to gather together because we are confident in the promises of our Lord to bring us to himself (John 14:3) and we assert the testimony of Paul that “to die is gain.”

So, I will see you this Sunday not in defiance of the human haters but in defiance of the usurper to God’s throne. I will gather my family with yours because my confidence in my Lord is greater than my fear of Satan.

In recent Sundays Protestant churches across the globe sang Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We do well to remember a portion of it.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

Brothers and Sisters from Texas,

Your faith is now sight. Your eternal rest will not disappoint. While your deaths leave us bewildered, weeping, and cautious, your life with Christ makes us hopeful. Would to God my last acts on earth before joining you in the presence of our Lord were joyful singing and trusting prayer before I breathe my last.

Until then.

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

Christians Do Not Celebrate Death

Wait. What? Americans will spend more than$15 billion on candy, costumes, and decorations this Halloween, including $350 million on Halloween costumes for…wait for it…their pets. Yep, all across America Fido and Fifi will roam the neighborhoods as UnderDog and Jerry.

Some Christians have strong opinions about celebrating Halloween in any fashion. That’s completely understandable. They argue Halloween is a pagan festival in which Christians should have no part. Other Christians see the day as part of American culture; any connections to evil or spiritual darkness are the exception and not the norm. To them wearing an amusing costume and passing out candy to neighborhood children is simple fun. Wherever you land, there is a point at which all Christians should agree.

“I don't begrudge dress-up, can't complain about meeting neighbors and candy, but there's something sick about death as a decorating theme.” R.C. Sproul, Jr.

Dead figures swinging from front yard trees, decapitated bodies across the lawn, and the Grim Reaper silhouettes are the accepted Halloween trimmings in nearly every neighborhood. Otherwise sane people dress as vampires, It the clown, or the Headless Horseman either to scare the unsuspecting or to make a joke. And the zombie craze…

Can we Christians agree that decorating ourselves or our homes with elements of death denies the very core of our Christianity?

Death is our greatest enemy. Over and again the Bible tells us what we know by experience, death is coming for all of us. Abel died. Adam died. Seth died. They all died. The Bible tells us “It is appointed for man to die once” and “Death passed upon all men.” Death is part of God’s judgment upon humanity for its open rebellion against Him since the Garden of Eden. Why would anyone want to dress their little boy as a deliverer of death or their little girl as one who has already died? There’s something wrong with that.

Jesus conquered death. The celebration for Christians must be the victory Jesus achieved over death. As Paul wrote, “O Death, where is your sting?” Because of Jesus’s death on the cross, death no longer reigns in the human experience. Where man brought death by his sin against God, Jesus brings life by His obedience to God (Romans 5:19). Christians always celebrate life. We mourn at every death and every expression of death.

If you so choose to welcome later today to your front door the children and families in your neighborhood, have the best treats you can give away. Be the smiling, happy, generous guy or nice lady all the kids talk about in school on Wednesday. Meet and talk with your neighbors who never seem to have the time other nights of the year when you are trying to build a bridge that leads to gospel conversations. Just do not applaud death or any of its agents.

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

The Church at Prayer

We believe in the importance and power of prayer for the life of the church. We value corporate prayer in large settings like a worship service, in our church-wide small groups, when some gather midweek, and at special occasions like our upcoming 12-Hour Prayer Emphasis. Among the many benefits, we believe corporate prayer promotes unity and benefits from our unity.

In a recent adult education class we considered many ways to pray for our church. The list* appears below. What would you add to the list?

  • Pray for the regular preaching of God’s Word.
  • Pray for our witness of unity in diversity.
    Pray for our evangelism and for conversions.
  • Pray for our daily lives this week at work and at home, that we would do good, honor God, and commend the Gospel.
  • Pray that we would see relationships in the local church as part of what it means to be a Christian.
  • Pray that we would understand the need to make our relationships here transparent, to tell embarrassing things about ourselves and ask awkward questions.
  • Pray that we would expect conversations with other church members often to be deep and often theological in nature.
  • Pray that we would think it important to encourage each other with Scripture.
  • Pray that we would see part of being a Christian as being a provider and not a consumer.
  • Pray that we would not see service in the local church as being primarily about meeting our own felt needs by utilizing our giftedness but about bringing God glory.
  • Pray that we would not see it as unusual when our lives become increasingly centered around the local church.
  • Pray that we would see it as unusual when a member’s life seems to keep church on the periphery.
  • Pray that we would see hospitality as an important part of being a Christian.

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

* The list above is from Living As a Church, a Core Seminar at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

Finish Well

It’s the bottom of the ninth inning of a World Series game, and from the bullpen comes “The Closer,” the flame-throwing pitcher whose job it is to shut down the other team’s bats and secure the win. 40,000 fans hope he finishes well.

Under Friday night lights across the United States, teenage boys buried under shoulder pads and helmets hold up four fingers as the clock resets to 12:00 signaling the start of the final quarter of play. For them, no matter what has happened up to this point on the gridiron, they must finish well.

Long distance runners battle their minds as much as their bodies as they push through mile after mile. Most are not in the chase to win the prize. Most just long to finish well. They want to run across the finish line hands held high. They have survived the cramps, the foot pain, the hunger and thirst, and the thoughts encouraging quitting.

Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7).” Now at the end of his life, his estimation of self is “I finished well.”

Some might find Paul’s words intimidating, and they wonder how they could ever make such a claim, let alone arrive at such a point. As the saying goes, to accomplish big things accomplish little things.

An eighty-year-old lives more than 29,000 days, but he only lives one day at a time. A person who finishes today well is on track to finish life well.

  • The semester is long, so finish well today the tasks of a student.
  • Raising children takes a lot of years, so finish well today the leading of those children toward our Lord.
  • Retirement, promotion, and the next pay raise are on the distant horizon, so finish well today “whatever it is your hand finds to do” in the workplace God has for you.
  • Overcoming a stubborn and sinful habit feels like a fight to the death with great victories one moment and devastating failures the next, so finish well today by fleeing the next temptation to return to a rotten place.
  • Growing old together as a married couple is the fancy of every young bride and groom, so finish well today your vows made to each other before God.

There are only a handful of hours left in today. How will the day end for you? I hope you finish today well and hear from our Lord today what you long to hear from him when you see him in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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

First Lesson From the Empty Nest

The empty nest life is nice. For the nearly 30 years of our marriage, Brenda and I have shared a house with another human being. From our sisters, to a brother by another mother, and our children, we’ve lived our married life for all but a handful of months with other people. While I can’t tell you all the crazy fun things about the early days of living together all alone, here’s one thing we’ve discovered: call your mother.

She Doesn’t Want to Bother You

Since August, we’ve thought it and I’ve heard more than one mother of adult sons or daughters say about their kids, “They’re so busy.” What that means is she doesn’t want to bother you. She knows you have a lot going on with your own kids, with work responsibilities, taking care of your house or pets, or getting school work done. She knows your time is limited. Now that you’re gone, she’s learning to fill the time she used to spend on you. But filling that time doesn’t make up for the lack of day-to-day contact with you. Help a girl out, and give her call. She doesn’t want to bother you.

She Wants to Know about Your Life

When you call, she’s more interested in knowing about you than telling you what’s happening in her life. Think about it, for years who knew more about your life than mom? That may not be true for everybody, but for most of us it is. She knew what you ate for breakfast and dinner. She knew what time you left the house and if you snuck out at night. She listened when you told her the good things about the day and the hard things too. For a long time she sang the same songs with you during worship and listened to the same text from the Word of God as your family’s pastor preached to you. She knew when you had a cold, when you needed new shoes, and if you had a crush on girl. She’d still like to know those things.

If she’s a godly mom, she’s been praying about many matters concerning you since before you were born. She hasn’t stopped since you left home. During the day if she’s home alone or if there’s a quiet moment at work, she’s probably thinking about you and likely talking to God about you. When she hears from you, she knows better how to pray for you, and she rejoices at God’s answers to her prayers for you.

Not My Kids

If you’re one of my kids, this isn’t some passive-aggressive way to get you to call your mom. If you’re not one of my kids, please don’t think my kids are cold-hearted freeloaders who don’t care anymore about their mom. We’ve got great kids who continue to make us important. Life is different now, however, and your mom is not as likely to initiate with you because life circumstances have changed. So, give her a call. Respond to her weird-to-you texts. Facetime with her. Send her an email. Drop a card in the mail. You will make her day, you’ll be glad you made the effort, and you will please the Lord by giving honor to your mom (Eph. 6:2).

If you think about it, call your dad too.

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