Friday, October 18, 2013

A Little Thing Called Compassion

Yes, it has been a while since I posted. No, I am not returning with a safe topic. I want to talk about our nation's new healthcare law.

But, it's not what you think. I don't have all the answers. Honestly, I don't have any answers. I still think we're months away from really knowing the final impact of the law, and I am sure there are good things and bad things tucked away in it's still unfolding pages.

However, I am prepared to say this: we could all learn a little compassion while we debate it.

Just this week, time in and time again, I have seen individuals post the new reality of the law on their social media site, often indicating that their health care costs are more than doubling next year.

Inevitably, they are then lectured condescendingly by somehow who fully supports the law and who believe there are many, many out there who will be helped by its impact. Which is likely true, to some degree or so . . . but it's really beside the fact.

When did one person's pain (i.e. the individual whose post indicated their costs were going to double), become the entry for a political lecture and a brow-beating for taking one of the greater social good?

When I have a friend say, "Man, my root canal hurt today," I don't typically respond with, "Well, I know someone who had a root canal and it was pain free." Or, "Every root canal gives a dentist a job." Or, "Every time there's a root canal, an angel gets their wings."

Okay, well, maybe that last example is a bit absurd, but this whole healthcare debate is entering the realm of the absurd.

Undoubtedly, both liberals and conservatives alike are manufacturing stories to prop up their political persuasion -- everyone knows an Aunt Sally who lost her job, her healthcare and her right arm because of Obamacare . . . and surely we know, most of the time, it can't be that bad.

Both sides deserve more than a little scolding for embellishment and fear-mongering.

But here is my point: I don't know Aunt Sally from Topeka. I don't know every page of Obamacare like the back of my hand. But I do know the individual who posted on their Facebook wall that their healthcare costs were doubling. That's a real person, in the real world, and they deserve real compassion, not a lecture.

When people are hurting, they deserve our compassion, not our political tirades.

I watched this same thing play out during the government shutdown. We all have our views on our nation's debt and that big, long debate, but my heart hurt for the federal employees who were caught in the wash, wondering when or if they would get paid.

Those were real people with real problems . . . and they deserve better than to be used for fodder for your favorite political rant.

So there's my simple call for a little compassion. I know, in 2013, it will fall on deaf ears. It will garner complaints and criticism, because that's the age we're in. But it is my suggestion we treat people as people, not political posters.

And show just a little compassion on our way to our own political hobby horses.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Ridiculous Pursuit?

We live in a world that certainly scoffs at the idea of holiness. Even in Christian circles, the idea of holiness has been marginalized, to say the least.

We live in a world that wants sex without consequences, thus the abortion movement. It's that simple. And now we are moving to normalize other behaviors that are clearly immoral according to God . . . but our society has been moving that way for a long time.

Even the church has looked the other way as adultery, pornography, premarital sex, and divorce has spiked. We can argue all we like, but the truth is that our culture mirrors our own lack of holiness.

So forgive me for being old fashioned, but I tend to think a movement toward Biblical holiness would do us all a little good. And we all need it. We are all sinners, in need of both a Savior and a new way of life, a life that looks as much as possible as God's best intends for it to be.

In this regard, I was challenged by the words of J.I. Packer this morning from his book, "Rediscovering Holiness." I would like to just share a few excerpts, because he has stated the case for holiness so well. He starts by reflecting on what Romans 8:13 means by telling us to, by the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body.

"It is a matter of negating, wishing dead, and laboring to thwart the inclinations, cravings, and habits that have been in you for a long time. Pain and grief, moans and groans, will certainly be involved, for your sin does not want to die, nor will it enjoy the killing process."

And please hear me, friends: Packer was not writing to lost people. He was not writing to those who deny God. He was not writing to those who relentlessly live in rebellion toward God. He was writing to you. To me. To those of us who love Jesus. We, too, have a massive problem with sin and need to pursue holiness daily. He continues, quite boldly:

"Jesus told us vividly that mortifying a sin could well feel like plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand or foot -- in other words, self-mutilation. You will feel like you are saying good-bye to something so much a part of you that without it you cannot live."

Sounds rough, right? Sure it does, which is why we must walk daily with the Lord, depend on His Spirit, soak in His Word, yield ourselves to accountable relationships, and pursue God at every turn. As Packer adds, helpfully, "Outward acts of sin come from inner sinful urges, so we must learn to starve these urges of what stimulates them. And when the urge is upon us, we must learn, as it were, to run to our Lord and cry for help, asking Him to deepen our sense of His holy presence and redeeming love, to give us the strength to say no to that which can only displease Him."

I know this isn't very 21st Century or 2013, but this is truth, my friends. This is the daily spiritual struggle that consumes all of us, and the sooner we admit this and join the fight, the sooner we will begin to experience victory and greater intimacy with Christ.

As Packer concludes, "No one who is a spiritual realist will ever pretend otherwise."

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Turning the Page, Slowly

Admittedly, I've tried to downplay my injury. I've tried to laugh, and I've laughed along with those who excel in making fun.

Maybe it's a coping mechanism, maybe it's just been my way to roll with the punches.

But I've got to be honest today: the severity of my injury is slowly dawning on me.

My stitches have been removed and I'm no longer wrapping it up in bandages each day. So I see the gaping wound, the blood-encrusted flesh, and the awkward, swollen tatters of my right pinkie throughout the day.

I'm trying to use it, to flex it, to slowly rehab it . . . but it is slow going. It is painful, certainly, but it's equally awkward. My finger no longer fits like it always has; it's just not right.

I still can't write -- I can't quite figure out where to put my stub. Typing is painfully awkward, too. Brushing my teeth, flossing, even shampooing my hair are oddities. And I'm realizing I'll never shoot a basketball again or throw a baseball without a complete makeover of my approaches to those activities.

In one thoughtless act, little things I've always taken for granted have been changed forever.

Yes, I've had my moments of flashback, reliving the accident, recradling the severed digit, watching the blood . . . but none of that changes the past. And, to be frank, it doesn't change the future, either.

Now is the time to turn the page.

Fortunately, these are the events that are informed or shaped by my faith. Yes, it was a foolish accident, but it happened and I completely trust that God saw it coming. He has a plan; He does, indeed, make all things new.

I'm confident that my accident will yield good. I already know I'm experiencing a humility I didn't have before -- I'll get to be the punchline for jokes for several more months, I'm sure. And I know I have a greater sensitivity for friends who've got things in their past -- be it sin, failure, physical illness -- that changed their lives forever.

God sees, God knows, and God has told us to turn the page.

So here I sit, trusting my injury to God. Asking Him to help me adjust while thanking Him for giving me the strength and faith to endure, to change, to move forward.

Yes, it's a little thing -- just a pinkie. But it's the same way I would approach the loss of a family member, the loss of a job, any significant shift in my life.

It's the only way we turn the page and keep God on the throne. He can and will bring good from our mistakes, if we rest in Him.

And yes, there is a part of me that looks forward to the beautiful moment when He finally does make all things new. For me, friends, that moment is not a dream or a fantasy -- it's a reality.

A day is coming when He shall come out of the clouds, and bodies will be made whole. Spirits will be reunited with their old bones, a sin-sick earth will be remade in its full glory, and, yes, even pinkies will be reformed.

Now I look forward to that day with a little more expectation than before. Call it petty, call it ridiculous, call it what you will -- I'll call it faith.

Time to turn the page and look to the day when all will be made new.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Good Question

It always astonishes me that we have the opportunity to reach the nations from right here in little ol' Russellville, Arkansas.

Just this past Sunday, I had the privilege of greeting a couple of our international students during our invitation time. They were wanting to publicly declare their faith in Christ and join our church. Amazing stuff!

And, then, during a luncheon designed to thank our children's ministry volunteers, I had the privilege of visiting with another of our international students. This young lady is from China, but she is a strong believer in Christ and one of the faithful servants with our children.

As we we were eating, she hesitantly asked if I would be willing to answer a question. She is a little self-conscious of her English, but the truth is that she speaks beautifully. I reassured her that I'd be happy to answer any question she had about our church and then she said it.

She said it humbly. Politely. Almost innocently. But she said it without all of the baggage of the established church and a cultured Christianity.

She asked, "How come there are people who come to church on Sunday, even with their entire families, who do not live like they are Christians the other six days of the week?"

Again, she was hesitant. Humble. Partially because of her background from a very polite culture, partially because she did not want to offend.

But she was also very confused. And rightfully so, I'm sure you would agree.

I wonder what you would have told her in my stead. You might take a moment for formulate your thoughts before you read my response.

My reply was a bit fractured. It's not an easy subject. But I started with an apology, a simple affirmation that what she was witnessing was not what Christ has called His children to live. It's unfortunate, to say the least.

But then I added a second layer of truth, at least from my perspective as a pastor. I used to think such hypocrisy was convenient, even preferred by those engaged in a worldly lifestyle . . . but after years in the ministry, I've been forced to reconsider.

There are certainly folks out there who get their "fire insurance," so to speak, proclaiming faith in Christ, and then pursue a worldly lifestyle for the sheer pleasure of it. But that's not the norm. It's not the rule.

What I see most of the time are individuals that are struggling with their sin, their worldliness, their hypocrisy. They don't want to appear double-minded. But they are.

Their addictions, their vices, their compromises equally haunt and control them, and this international student's perception is right -- their lives are contradictions.

But the key is that they are miserable. Behind closed doors, their marriages are disasters. Their families are in chaos. They are unhappy at work, at home, and even at play . . . but they've never managed to yield their lives to Christ long enough to truly experience the life our Savior intended.

In my youth and hot-hearted zeal, I used to think the solution to such hypocrisy was heavy-handed discipline, rebuke, and condemnation. But I'm about ready to admit I've been a part of the problem.

Such sin and compromise is born from the frailty of our flesh, from a culture saturated with temptation and addiction, and from homes filled with similar hypocrisy, judgment, anger, and materialism. The answer isn't wrath and legalism.

The answer lies in God's grace and mercy. The freedom of the abundant life. The reception Christ gives the adulterous woman in the New Testament -- love, renewal, protection and then a gentle but stern, "Now go and sin no more."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Roast Beef

If you had the pleasure of joining us at FBC recently for our night with Andrew Peterson, you're probably unaware of one treat we missed.

Although AP plays a variety of shows with a variety of musicians, there are two pretty steady influences in his life: pianist/producer Ben Shive (who accompanied him at FBC), and guitarist Andy Gullahorn.

We missed Andy that night, and we missed a blessing. I've had the privilege of seeing this threesome perform several times and it is always special. Their friendship, humor, and love for the Lord always shine through.

Which brings me to the odd title of this blog: roast beef.

Believe it or not, AP and Andy have a friend in Nashville who -- like me -- once suffered the loss of a digit . . . in his case, a toe. The digit-less musician's name is Andrew Osenga (a talented man in his own right), and Andy actually composed a song to memorialize the loss of his toe to a lawnmower.

Considering the response to my pinkie problems, I thought some of you might enjoy a link to Andy, AP, and Osenga in concert, laughing and performing "Roast Beef." Just click on the title of the song below to watch the video.

Here's "Roast Beef."

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pinkie Problems, Part Two

If you want the gory details about how I lost my right pinkie, you need to read "Part One" of this blog post. This section is sort of the moral of the story.

How do you redeem the lost of a digit? Ah, friends, we must first learn that God can redeem everything -- including me and you. But let's get back to the story.

I picked up my shattered pinkie, raced into the house, and promptly shouted at my wife (she was in the far end of the house and I didn't want to trail blood across the floor), "Honey, get your keys, and take me to the ER. I cut my finger off."

I grabbed a dish towel, filled it with ice, and wrapped it around my hand. Jamie raced to the van and I followed, a little rubber-legged.

Yes, it was already starting to hurt. And, yes, I was already replaying the incident in my head.

Truth is, lawn mowers are like Satan's familiars with me. They never start. They never run. They never work. And they always test my patience and attitude.

And it wasn't a shock that one had consumed my finger.

What struck me, even as the pain was racing through my arm and blood was accumulating in the towel, was that I had been impatient and grumpy, as usual. I hadn't been paying attention, and I sure hadn't slowed down to evaluate all of my options. Truth be told, there had been an issue from church that had kept me frustrated through the afternoon and served as a distraction while I mowed.

Here, let me come clean and save time: I'm a perfectionist. I want everything to work perfectly. I want my mowers to start and run like charms. I want my grass to bend before the blade in the right direction and fall in uniform patterns. I want plans to work perfectly. And I want our entire congregation to be completely happy all the time.

When something isn't perfect, I stew. I mutter. I ruminate. And I complain under my breath to the Lord.

And sometimes that perfectionism causes me to forget what I'm doing. And I don't listen property to my wife. Or pay attention to my family. And I cut off fingers.

Of course, I didn't really process this fully at the time. But God found the time to drive it home several days later.

My oldest son is a bit like his father. He's ultra-competitive, wound tight, a perfectionist . . . regardless of the task. He wants to memorize his math tables on the first try. Or hit a home run every at bat. Or save the day yesterday.

And last night, he was struggling with a little extra emotion, kicking himself for not meeting his own standards, and Jamie asked me to come talk to him. She knows I can relate, obviously.

And I stood in the hallway and told him these words (as closely as I can remember): "Son, I love you, and you're a lot like I was as a kid. I wanted to do everything perfectly. I wanted to master everything. I never settled for less than an A, or a perfect score, or the best. But no one can be perfect . . . in fact, Jesus had to die for us because we're never perfect. You know that when it comes to your sin. But it's true of the rest of life; we're never perfect. And it wasn't until I was much older than you that I realized I was wasting a lot of my life and losing a lot of joy and missing a lot of special memories because I was always so consumed with being perfect. Life was passing me by -- fun times, special times, things God had designed me to enjoy and appreciate -- and I was missing them because I was consumed by being perfect."

As I said those words, I suddenly realized I was really standing beside my son and God was speaking to both of us.

Because of my perfectionism (which I obviously haven't fully outgrown), I had been frustrated and distracted by one simple issue out of thousands that were going well. Life was passing me by . . . and I was focused on the wrong things. Even to the point that I should have been thankful to the Lord for my house, my lawn, my mower, rather than grumbling and complaining that it's too much work and they weren't working just perfectly.

And, as my bandaged pinkie throbs while I type, I realize now I will never have 10 perfect little piggies that are going to the market . . . my hand will be forever disfigured to some degree. Which is perfect for me. I need the reminder; perhaps I'll finally learn my lesson.

Or at least remember what I'm missing while I focus on the small problems rather than the blessings of life.

Pinkie Problems, Part One

Yes, I severed my right pinkie last Friday.

The rumors and jokes are accurate. And, yes, it still hurts like the absolute dickens (insert polite Southern colloquialism here in lieu of crude language).

I know a very sadistic few want the full story, so here goes. My lawn mower broke the first time I used it this spring, and a gracious friend loaned me a replacement while mine was getting fixed. And that was the beginning of my downfall.

I never looked at the replacement mower. Never tinkered with it. Never gave it even the most cursory glance. In fact, I hoped to have my old reliable back before I ever needed it.

But, last Friday, in the midst of a long, hot mowing of my yard, I reached a point where I felt I need to push mow a small swath of my yard (the rest had been done on my riding mower and with a weed eater). All I had to mow was quite literally a 10-foot square of lawn -- it wouldn't take two minutes.

I pulled out my replacement mower and pulled the chord, again without really looking at what I was operating. For two minutes' work, who cares what the thing really was? As long as it's a lawn mower. It just needed a blade and an engine . . . let's finish this thing.

Predictably, it was cantankerous. It took several minutes to start, and then it didn't seem to be running right. It sputtered and acted like it was going to die. I mowed a little bit with it and it lurched and wanted to quit.

And then I did something I have done many times with my mower and all the mowers I've ever owned. I reached down to flip the "discharge" flap, to make sure there wasn't some wet grass or weeds collecting at the edge of the mower, choking the blade and preventing it from running right. And yes, I kept the mower running because I didn't want it to die . . . because I didn't want to have to fight to restart it.

Now, please follow this: on my mower, the discharge flap is about a six-inch piece of hardened plastic that juts out from the base of the mower and the blade. To "flip" it or rattle it, my pinkie doesn't come within seven inches of the blade . . . and I had the mower parked on concrete so I knew it wouldn't throw a rock out at me.

But my loaner mower wasn't a regular mower. It was a "mulching" mower. The picture associated with this blog is exactly what my loaner looked like, and I've never operated one, never owned one, never seen one up close and personal. It didn't have a discharge flap -- it had a plate fastened to the chassis, tight up against its side and bordering the blade mechanism. And in my hot, frustrated haste, this never registered with me.

I reached down to flip the discharge flap with only my right pinkie (being careful, mind you) and inadvertently slipped my finger through the mulching plate and directly into the blade of the mower.

And suddenly I was holding a shard of my pinkie in my free hand and facing the obvious: I had just severed a finger. Joy.

If you want the moral of the story and to hear God has used this little incident to minister to me, you'll have to tune back in for "part two" of this blog, coming tonight or tomorrow. Right now, I need to elevate my surgically repaired pinkie and take a break from typing, before the pain renders me incoherent.