Thursday, May 31, 2012

A More Excellent Way

It’s an issue that won’t go away.  North Carolina votes it down.  The President announces he’s for it.  We’re talking about gay marriage.  Polling indicates a growing acceptance of gay marriage among Americans.  Certain branches of the church (who for 2000 years believed and taught that homosexual behavior was sinful and outside of God’s boundaries for sex) have either endorsed such behavior, sanctioned such marriages, ordained practicing homosexuals to ministry, or are at least arguing about it in heated division at their annual conventions.  A reformed Jewish rabbi asked me if homosexual practice and gay marriage were issues I had to deal with in my congregation.  “Not really,” I told him.  “We Baptists are still fussing over what women can and can’t do in church.  'Gay' issues are barely on our radar.”  Sometimes I wish we Baptists were more cutting-edge on cultural issues, and sometimes I like being the last team in the race.  I like being among the last on the issue of gay marriage.

And here’s why: we can’t make a winnable argument in our culture.  “But what about the Bible?” you ask.  Well, the Bible, in both Old Testament and New, makes no bones about the fact that homosexual behavior is sinful.  Leviticus 18 includes this behavior among a range of sexual sin.  Paul includes homosexual behavior in a list of various sins in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1.  And in Revelation 21, the Lord told John to write down the fact that along with the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, sorcerers, idolaters, and liars, the sexual immoral (which would surely include practicing homosexuals and adulterers and pedophiles and those who practice casual sex with just anybody who’s willing) will be left out of heaven and consigned to hell.  “Case settled!” says the Bible-believer.  Sure, it seems simple enough if we take the texts at their face value and accept the Bible as our moral authority.  But we can’t make a winnable argument from the Bible when those who want to endorse homosexual practice and gay marriage don’t accept the Bible as a moral authority. 

And this is really the crux of the issue: most of us want to be our own authority.  If we don’t believe in God or accept the Bible as our authoritative guide for faith and practice, then we’ll either pitch out the Bible altogether as archaic, irrelevant rules that have no bearing on today, or we’ll twist the Bible to make it say anything we want it to mean.  Really, isn’t that the heart of the matter?  We only want to submit to authority that views something the way we want to view it—which means we want to be our own authority and make up morality as we go along to fit our changing values and views.  So while an argument from the Bible might persuade people who believe the Bible is their authority, it won’t persuade those who think the Bible is mostly a bunch of hooey.

The same goes for the Bible text from Genesis 2, a text Jesus quotes in Matthew 19, that God created them male and female, and that a man should leave his father and mother and unite with his wife and the two should become one flesh.  And then there’s that text in Genesis 1 where God tells the man and the woman to be fruitful and multiply.  I like what Frederick Dale Bruner wrote in his Matthew commentary on the Bible's teachings on marriage:

They were, as we say, “made for each other.”  If God had supremely intended solitary life, God would have created humans one by one; if God had intended polygamous life, God would have created one man and several women; if God had intended homosexual life God would have made two men or two women; but that God intended monogamous heterosexual life is shown by God’s creation of one man and one woman.  (The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28, p. 251.)

Again, it seems pretty clear to me and to pretty much every civilization we know about in history, that marriage is a man-woman thing, not a man-man or woman-woman thing.  But if one refuses to accept the Bible’s statements (and the practice of civilizations from the get-go) then no biblical argument opposed to gay marriage will find any traction among those who favor it.

See what I mean?  I’m not sure we can make a winnable argument in our culture against gay marriage.  When there’s no standard of authority beyond an individual’s personal preferences and tastes and what makes a person happy, we can’t even argue from common ground.

So maybe we can make a better argument from our behavior.  In his book Bad Religion, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a practicing Catholic, wrote these words:

The Christian case for fidelity and chastity will seem partial and hypocritical if it trains most of its attention on the minority of cases—on homosexual wedlock ….  It is the heterosexual divorce rate, the heterosexual retreat from marriage and the heterosexual out-of-wedlock birthrate that should command the most attention ….  The Christian perspective on gay sex only makes sense in light of the Christian perspective on straight sex, and in a culture that has made heterosexual desire the measure of all things, asking gays alone to conform their lives to a hard teaching will inevitably seem like a form of bigotry.

Douthat is right.  We do seem hypocritical to espouse the virtues of appropriate heterosexual behavior and marriage when plenty of church folks are shacking-up or pursuing divorce simply because one claims to have "fallen out of love."  So many of us don't practice our own ethics; how then we can condemn those who practice theirs—even when we believe their ethics are out of step with God's ways?

I hate to sound pessimistic, but I'm not sure we can make a convincing argument on this issue.  But we can practice a more excellent way.

  • We can keep our marriage promises.  Weather the storms, get help if your marriage is struggling, but work to stay together for a lifetime.  That's a more excellent way.
  • We can be sexually faithful in our marriage.  We can commit to practice sex only within the boundaries of heterosexual marriage.  Premarital sex, adultery, and same-gender sex are outside of those boundaries.
  • We can seek God's help to rid ourselves of hatefulness and malice toward others and season our rhetoric with grace and love.
  • We can be as vocal in our opposition to heterosexual sins as we are to homosexual sins.
  • We can be as forgiving and loving to hurting homosexuals as we are to hurting heterosexuals.
  • We can befriend homosexuals as the opportunity presents itself.
  • We can lovingly communicate to all people that life has a higher and nobler purpose than indulging one's sexual fantasies or achieving orgasm.
  • We can honor celibacy and singleness as a valid way to live a holy life.
  • We can encourage heterosexual and homosexual sinners with the good news that in Jesus Christ we can have victory over our temptations.
  • And we can encourage all people, regardless of their sexual sins, that in Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection and saving power, people can change.

I'm sure there are better ways to address this issue.  I confess that this feels like a rather clumsy attempt to do so.  But I submit these humble proposals in the spirit of the apostle Paul who, after addressing an argument among the Corinthian believers concerning spiritual gifts, offered them a more excellent way: the way of faith, hope, and love—the greatest of which is love.

So, what do you think?  What are your ideas?

Monday, May 21, 2012

All for One and One for All

As I was driving to work this morning, in my typical deep thought on the roadways, I decided it’s time over the next few weeks to enjoy a Tom Hanks movie marathon.  I’m no film critic, but I consider him the greatest actor of my generation.  The man can become anybody and convince you he’s the real thing: an AIDs victim in Philadelphia, an overgrown kid in Big, astronaut James Lovell in Apollo 13, a hit-man with a moral compass in Road to Perdition, a prison guard in The Green Mile, a mentally challenged man in Forrest Gump, a stranded Fed-Ex employee in Castaway, a record producer in That Thing You Do, a lonely single dad in Sleepless in Seattle.  And that’s just scratching the surface.  But the one I plan on watching this Memorial Day weekend as we all consider the price of freedom is Saving Private Ryan.  Hanks plays the role of Captain John Miller.

The film brings home the costly price of freedom to every post-World War II American who sees it.  The first twenty minutes of the film take the viewer to the beaches of Normandy among fierce combat footage so realistic that the viewer starts looking for cover himself.  It’s hard to look at.  It’s hard to behold.  It’s hard to imagine the sheer terror of the men who joined that battle.  A friend of mine who was in the second wave of landing at Normandy watched the film and was stricken with tremors and sleeplessness for three days afterward.  It’s frightening footage.  Yet such courage, such sacrifice is inspiring. 

And the sacrifice didn’t end at Normandy.  In the film, Captain John Miller is ordered to take a small squad of soldiers and find a certain Private James Ryan.  Two of Ryan’s three brothers were killed in the D-Day assault, and his other brother had been killed in New Guinea.  In the wake of such news and in pity for the Ryan’s bereaved and broken mother, the powers that be were not about to let the last Ryan get killed too.  So Miller and his squad are sent on a search and rescue mission: find Ryan somewhere in France and get him out of there a.s.a.p.

That’s an odd mission when you think about it—risk the lives of many to save just one.  And while the soldiers question the mission, while they wonder why Ryan’s life should be deemed more important than their own, they do their duty and carry out the mission.  And it is a costly mission too.  In that curious wartime mixture of courage and cowardice, monotony and irony, they do their best to do their duty to get Ryan safely home.

It’s a powerful film.  As the film ended in the theater where I saw it, I heard muffled cries and sniffling all around the room.  People moved slowly from their seats and filed out of the theatre with barely a word.  I’d never seen anything quite like that at a movie before.  I left the film with a deeper appreciation for my freedom and a profound appreciation for those who have paid the price to secure it. 

Some suggested the plot of the film was unrealistic, but the film still moves me every time I watch it.  The courage, the sacrifice, and the commitment of a group of men to risk their lives for the life of just one other soldier they didn’t even know, moves me.  And that’s the story of Saving Private Ryan.  It’s a story about the price of freedom.

And it reminds me of a Bible story concerning the price of freedom too.  Only this plot is an about-face from Saving Private Ryan.  This plot is about how one man died to save the many.  Old Caiaphas, an enemy of Jesus, prophesied as much even though he didn’t have a clue about what he was saying.  Afraid of further Roman intrusion upon their freedoms, the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Jesus.  Because of the way the common people took to Jesus, the leaders feared rebellion and riot and Roman retaliation if Jesus had his way.  So Caiaphas told his cronies, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (Jn. 11:50).  Caiaphas was speaking in the political sense.  He didn’t know he was also speaking spiritual truth—a truth Jesus would affirm when He told His disciples, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).  In Saving Private Ryan, the many die for the one.  In Saving You and Me, the one—Jesus—dies for the many.  He dies to save us, and in saving us, He sets us free—free from the power and penalty of sin, free from joy-stealing guilt, free from hell, and free for the life that is really life.  As Jesus said, “When the Son makes you free, you are free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).

So during this Memorial weekend, I'll be watching Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, and remembering the many who died to keep America free.   But I'm going to be worshiping Jesus and remembering the one who died on the cross and rose from the grave to save my soul and set me free forever.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pomp and Circumstance

So I'm preparing my sermon for our Graduate Recognition Sunday this week, and I stumbled across some remarks I made at my son Nathan's baccalaureate service in May 17, 1998.  Somehow the world survived the feared Y2K and my son got to graduate from high school.  I was asked by the Baccalaureate Committee to give a brief talk on behalf of the parents of the graduates.  (Since they were asking a preacher, the word brief was emphasized, as I recall.)  And since it's graduation season, I thought I'd reproduce those remarks for my blog.  Though they are 14 years old, they still feel pretty fresh to me and will probably feel so to any parent whose child has a cap and gown hanging on the door.  I consider it an oldie but goodie.  And in that light, I give you A Parent's Response


Did you ever see Fiddler on the Roof?  One of the classic songs to come out of that musical seems fitting for us parents on a day like today:

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don't remember growing older.
When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn't it yesterday when they were small?

Sunrise, sunset; sunrise, sunset;
Swiftly fly the days.

For most of you graduates, the speed of the last eighteen years may have felt like a round of golf on a busy day: hit and wait; hit and wait; hit and wait.  But for us parents, these years have felt more like a fast break in basketball; like an 80-yard touchdown pass—just a few seconds and it's over.  So cut us a little slack if we seem a little more sentimental, a little more nostalgic than usual.  Be patient with us if we run through a box or two of kleenex dabbing our misty eyes.  This is all pretty emotional for us.  We're happy for you, but we're a little sad all at the same time.  It's sort of like swimming through a bowl of sweet and sour sauce.

You see, we remember.  We remember how our hearts leapt when the doctor told us you were on the way.  We remember lying in bed at night trying to come up with a name we could both agree on—we hope you like it okay.  We remember the thrill of holding you in our arms for that very first time.  And when we did, well, something happened inside of us, that let us know we would be connected forever.  You were bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.  And if you have been adopted, you are the very child of our choice.  And we are bound together—bound in ways words cannot articulate.  We dads remember proudly pointing you out to others through that nursery window at the hospital—and even though we may not have said it out loud, we believed in our hearts that you were the pick of the litter, the finest looking baby in the bunch.  We still do.

And we remember taking you home.  Video cameras cost about a zillion dollars in those days so most parents didn’t have them.  But we had an instamatic camera, and we got plenty of snapshots of that Kodak moment.  Now I know you don't remember this stuff, but trust me, you were there.  And some of us parents can see it as if happened yesterday, and we remember it.

And we remember when reality set in.  We quickly discovered that you weren't a doll in a box.  You were a person, and you were determined to let us know that you were in the house and you were claiming your space.  You woke us up a lot those first few months.  We dads usually pretended to be asleep so mom would have to tend to you, but you woke us up too.  And before any teacher ever schooled you in the "three r's" of "reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic," you gave us a thorough education in the three p's—pee, poop, and puke—and you were very undiscerning about when and where you did all three.  You took a lot of patience in those first many months.  I read about a young father in the supermarket pushing the shopping cart which held his screaming baby.  The father could be heard muttering gently under his breath, "Easy, Freddy, calm down now.  Everything's all right, boy.  Come on, Freddy, don't get upset."  A woman customer gave him a real pat on the back by saying, "You are very patient with little Freddy."  To which the young father replied, "Lady, I'm Freddy."  Most of us parents, we've been there—many, many times over these last eighteen years we've been there.

Parenting is such a roller-coaster ride.  We've walked with you from most of your firsts to many of your lasts in this era of your life.  We remember so many firsts with fondness:  first tooth, first word, first step, first haircut—back when we got to choose the style.  We remember the first ballgame, the first recital, the first day of school, the first date.  Those firsts were happy firsts.  But other firsts were more trying: your first big sin against what you knew was right—that moment when we realized that you weren't as perfect as we hoped you were.  Then there was your first note from the teacher, your first trip to the emergency room.  And then when you started driving, well, that ushered in a whole new set of worries.  Many of us have felt like the dad who received this Father's Day card from his sixteen-year-old son.  The card reads: "Dad, everything I ever learned I learned from you, except one thing … The family car really will do 110."  And your driving offered some of us parents a few other firsts to remember: first wreck, first ticket, first court appearance, first community service.  And then, we struggled right alongside you with other firsts you experienced—like your first funeral of a loved one, your first broken heart, your first big disappointment.  Parenting you has been such a mixture of worry and rejoicing, celebration and sorrow, good times and hard times.  Just like life, I guess.  But it's been a good ride all in all.  There may have been a few times when we wanted to go to PTA meetings under an assumed name, but by and large, the journey has been a joy, and we wouldn't have missed it for the world.

So in light of this journey, may I say two or three things in behalf of us parents?

First, we want to say some thank yous.  Thank you, faculty, coaches, and staff of Lakeside schools.  Even though some of you feel that you have had to endure some of these graduates, and even though some of them feel that they have had to endure you (and we won't mention any names on either count), no doubt every single one of you has had a major impact in the lives of at least one of these kids—a major impact.  You've said something to them or done something for them that they will remember for the rest of their lives.  We parents thank you, and I hope that these graduates will look you up in the next few days and take a minute to thank you too.

We parents also want to thank those in the community who coached our kids in sports, those who employed them in their businesses, and those who encouraged them along the way through other avenues.  And we thank the churches and the synagogue of our city too.  Thank you for reminding our children that in a world that seems obsessed with the pursuit of wealth and pleasure, the things that really matter and the things that last forever are things like faith, hope, love, compassion, service, honesty, family, friendship, and a relationship with God.  It does take a village to raise a child—and it takes a school and a church too.  And we parents say thank you to one and all.

And to the graduates we say, "Way to go!  You survived us, and all in all you look to be in good shape."  How many of you are first borns?—raise your hands.  Well, you were the guinea pigs many of us parents had to experiment with and learn on.  Sometimes I marvel that my son Nathan is turning out as well as he is.  When Nathan was about three years old, I was trying to watch a Razorback game while he was supposed to be napping.  Very few Razorback games made TV in Kansas City, so I liked to devote full attention to them when they were on.  But Nathan wasn't cooperating.  He kept calling me for this or that, and I kept telling him to pipe down and take his nap.  It became a war of words that wouldn't have escalated if I had just gone in there in taken care of the situation.  But I was more interested in my game than I was in my son at that moment.  So I let it get out of hand.  I got so mad at his interruptions that I decided I'd fix him good … at the next commercial, of course.  Since he was being so mouthy, I determined to wash out his mouth with soap—and not just any soap, but dishwashing soap.  So I dragged him by his little arm into the kitchen, put a few drops of that slimy, blue liquid on my finger, and smeared it across his teeth and mouth.  Then he looked up at me, tears streaming down his sweet, pudgy cheeks, and do you know what he did?  He blew a soap bubble.  Then I laughed and he laughed and I scooped him up in my arms and gave him a great big ol' hug.  You know, I knew then that with a dad like me the kid was in trouble, but it's amazing what a little love and laughter and forgiveness can do for a family.  I hope there's been a lot of that in your family.  But even if there hasn't, you survived us.  You made it.  And now you get a fresh new start.  Still, however, let's make a deal right here: we won't tell all our stories on you, if you won't tell all your stories on us.

And graduates, we also want to say thank you.  Thank you for being you.  We delight in you.  We are so proud of you.  There is no way you can know the depth of our feelings until you stand in our place in about 25 years or so.  How we love you!  And how we thank you.  Thank you for including us in your lives, your world, your friends, and your dreams.  That means a lot to us.  And we say thank you.

And then we ask you something too:  please be patient with us as we work at letting you go.  We've been working on that ever since you've been born, some of us with more success than others.  Whether it was presenting you to the church for baptism or dedication, watching you walk through the door of the primary school for your first day of kindergarten, running alongside of you steadying your bicycle and then giving you a gentle shove and cheering you on as you pedaled down the street on your own, we were learning to let you go.  Giving you car keys on your 16th birthday was another big step.  And now, as we celebrate your graduation and send you off to work or college, we are letting go most of all.  We are going to do it, but be patient with us and understand that it's probably a good bit easier for you to be let loose than it is for us to turn loose.

After all, literally or figuratively, we've been holding your hands for a long time.  And those hands weren't always so large as they are now.  They once were baby hands that squeezed our fingers.  Hands you used to play peek-a-boo.  Hands with which you learned to eat, often getting more spaghetti on your face than you did in your mouth.  They were small hands that turned the pages when we were reading you a book, tiny hands folded in prayer at bedside and at table.  And those little hands were the hands we parents held when we walked you across a street or through a mall.

But now those hands are big and strong.  Hands that in many cases dwarf our own.  Hands strong and gentle.  But hands that offer help to others.  Hands that hold the potential to do much good in life.  Hands that hold a growing responsibility.  Hands that will find new work and challenges to tackle.  Hands that will find new hands to hold.  They are strong hands, big hands all right—hands strong enough and big enough to hold a diploma and firmly shake the hand of the one who gives it.   

So use your hands wisely and well, okay.  We will let them go.  But we encourage you to put your hands into the hands of God.  And then, with our two free hands, we send you on your journey with prayers and this blessing—"You are our beloved sons and daughters, in whom we are well pleased."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Letter from My Mother

Since May 1 would have been my mother’s 84th birthday and May 13 is Mother’s Day, my mother has been on my mind a good bit these couple of weeks.  From Christmas of 1964 till we graduated high school and left home, my mother raised three boys by herself.  Well, truth is: her mother (with whom we lived) helped, and we three boys pretty much raised ourselves in lots of ways too.  For lots of reasons, I was not emotionally close to my mother—emotional closeness was a rare, rare commodity in our family.  Hugs weren’t even a part of our relationship until we boys were grown.  But we knew she loved us and she made sacrifices for us.  There just wasn’t a lot of emotional stuff attached to the relationship.  My mother did some mothering things better than others, and here’s what she did the best: she knew how to let us go.  She accepted the fact that we were never fully hers.  We were always on loan from God to her for a time.

Don’t underestimate the power of knowing how to let your kids go.  As a pastor I’ve witnessed a number of moms (and dads) who just can’t let their kids grow up.  They do for them.  They bail them out when they’re in trouble.  They shield them from the consequences of their actions.  And so many times, they get in the way of God’s refining work in the lives of their children.  But not my mother!  She knew how to let us go in appropriate ways.  Her example helped me let my kids go when it was their time.

Anyway, as I was getting ready for bed on my first night at college, I opened my Bible and found a typed letter in it.  It was from my mother and dated August, 1974.  She must have smuggled it in when I wasn’t looking.  She didn’t title the letter, but if she did, she could have called it John’s Emancipation Proclamation.  So in tribute to her and as an encouragement to all mothers, I want to share it with you.

Dear Son:

     I've tried to think of some pearls of wisdom for you to have in your new life, but again, a solid knowledge of the Bible is the best and greatest wisdom anyone can have…so I commend to you the Proverbs and all that go with them.

     You know that now that you have given your life to God, Satan is waging a constant battle for you.  He could care less about wishy-washy Christians.  He only wants those whom he is losing, the ones who are totally committed to God.  As it is written, put on all your armor, and tell Satan to get behind you, as Jesus did, and all will go well.  He is a sneaky fellow who sounds very reasonable, as you know, so don't let him trap you.  Remember that God allows everything to happen (Job), but He will never allow us to be tested beyond our strength to endure.  So when the going gets rough (and it will because nowhere are we promised a bed of roses or smooth sailing), praise the Lord for caring enough about you to let you be tested and tried.  Rely on Him totally, and the tests will pass away.  You will have gone through your refiner's fire, and nothing for you will be impossible within the framework of God's plans for you.  It is only outside of His plans that things are frustrating and impossible.

     You know I love you very much, and I committed you to God's care (as I have Ray and David) many years ago, but very seriously about 2 years ago, and I totally released you the night you gave your first sermon.  I feel He has great plans for you, and you will pass all of your tests with flags flying high.  I could have said these things, but thought you might find this about the time you realized that you are now emancipated and feeling a little low, and maybe it would help. 

     Lots of good luck, son; keep that red-haired and freckle faced countenance, together with your heart, mind and spirit on things above, and all will go well.  You are always in my prayers.

All my love,

The very fact that I have held on to this letter for 38 years, tells you what it means to me.  God may not have given me the most affectionate mother or the most emotionally engaging mother, but He sure gave me a wise one.  May her tribe increase.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why Me, Lord?

I hear that a lot, you know: “Why me, Lord?”  It usually comes on the heels of something bad: bad news, bad diagnosis, bad break.  It’s often accompanied by tears and anger and angst.  Why me, Lord?

I’ve been thinking about that lately for a number of reasons—but in a different way, a Kris Kristofferson way.  Do you remember his song from the 70s? 

Why me, Lord?  What have I have done
to deserve even one
of the pleasures I’ve known?

I would change the word pleasures to blessings though they are much the same.

Here’s why this has been so on my mind?  It came to my attention near the end of 2011 that it had been 8 years since my last colonoscopy.  I had two in my 40s and both of them revealed polyps.  They were benign but they were there.  And since my dad had colon cancer twice and died from it the second go-around, I’m a risk for the very same thing.  I can’t tell you why, but I began to worry about this.  Maybe it’s because I’m up to my ears in the various cancers people in my congregation battle.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been so blessed with health, I wonder when it will be my turn to lose it.  So I worried.  I worried for the three months it took me to get an appointment to have it done.  I was very disappointed in myself.  I don’t typically worry a lot.  The Lord has my back and has my life in His good hands, so why worry?  Worry does no good and can’t change a thing, so why worry?  The Bible instructs me to pray rather than worry, but I still worried.  I finally had the test near the end of March.  I sort of expected to be told I had cancer.  Well, I had a couple of polyps but no cancer.  Why me, Lord?

Then I had my annual appointment with my dermatologist in April.  I had one skin cancer removed a few years ago and several pre-cancer spots frozen off over the years.  I didn’t see anything suspicious this go around so I had no concern … until the doctor found a small spot on my back that he believed needed a biopsy.  It was dark, irregular, didn’t look right.  “Could be a melanoma,” he said.  “We need to check it out.”  Thankfully, I didn’t worry so much about this for the ten days it took to get word on the biopsy.  And when I got word, the word was good.  Why me, Lord?

And then there’s my family.  I’m blessed with two grown children who have children of their own.  They are healthy, happy, employed, and deeply invested in the kingdom of God and their local church.  Why me, Lord?

And then there’s this church I serve.  I got a call this morning from a man in his 80s.  He asked me to pray for a friend of his who was just diagnosed with a brain tumor and was scheduled for surgery today.  My friend from the church has shared his faith with this man for years.  He’s prayed for him.  He’s loved him.  He’s burdened for him.  And he called me to ask me to pray that God would use this cancer to open his friend’s heart to Jesus and salvation and life.  And here’s the deal: I serve a church with lots of people just like him.  God put me in a church with many people who love God and others and God’s world, people who invest time and treasure and heart into God’s worldwide kingdom.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself to be sure it’s all not a dream.  Why me, Lord?

And then there’s this: today would have been my mother’s 84th birthday.  She went through a good bit of hell in her life, and I suspect I contributed a bit of it along the way.  She had a hellish and violent marriage until she found the courage to walk away (for which I don’t think she ever forgave herself).  She had a stroke of sorts that left her unable to use her right side from her late 30s till she died.  She had to learn to walk and write and do everything left-handed.  She barely had enough money to live on.  She battled two rounds of cancer.  She lived alone the rest of her life, and she developed enough dementia in her last couple of years that the last time I saw her it took her all day to remember my name.  I was not the son I should have been to a woman who sacrificed a lot for my brothers and I and who endured a lot of hardship in her life without ever losing her faith.  Why me, Lord?

I don’t get it—better people than I am are in some pretty deep pits right now.  Why them and not me?  I don’t understand why God has blessed me so.  I don’t deserve it.  But I guess that’s why it’s called grace.  And I guess that’s why grace is best described as amazing.  So for now, I’ll just humbly give thanks, while I scratch my head and shrug my shoulders at it all.  And I’ll pray for the faith and the courage and the strength to be able to say a little something different if and when some serious trouble comes crashing into my life or my family: “Why not me, Lord?  And even then, I pray I’ll never lose my deep sense of God’s blessing in my life.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
And his steadfast love endures forever.
(Psalm 136:1)