Monday, May 27, 2013

A Tribute to Our Unknown Soldiers

On this Memorial Day I want to offer a tribute to the unknown soldier—not the one entombed at Arlington, but to the countless multitudes of our armed forces who are known only to their family and comrades-in-arms.  They’ve never done anything particularly heroic.  Either by virtue of serving in peacetime or serving off the battlefront during war, these unknown soldiers have neither fired a shot in anger nor dodged bullets and bombs targeting them.  They’ve gone about their business quietly—swabbing some deck, working in the motor pool, fixing airplanes and helicopters, typing correspondence, cooking for the men and women at their base, or any number of background grunt jobs that have kept them out of the limelight and far away from the glory.

When they pass through an airport, some bystander may say, “Thank you for your service,” and though they smile in return they feel a little embarrassed about it, thinking: “My service?  What have I done that deserves thanks?”  When they return home they don’t have exciting stories to tell and no one holds a parade in their honor.  They are our unknown soldiers and sailors and airmen and women.

And yet, they are the backbone of our military.  Where would the well-known surgeon be if she didn’t have scrub nurses, lab techs, nurse anesthetists, and recovery room nurses, supporting her work?  Where would a much-loved pastor be if he didn’t have a good staff and so many volunteers who do the work of ministry that makes him look better than he is?  And where would the military heroes be if they didn’t have adequate supplies, enough munitions, accurate intel, medics to patch them up, and transport to and from the place where their heroism shines.  Only a very few can be Navy Seals, Green Berets, Rangers, Marine Recon, and fighter pilots.  Most of our military just do their duty day by day wherever Uncle Sam sends them.  They do it for far less pay than they’re worth and for far less appreciation than they deserve.  Ladies and gentlemen, I salute you!

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Prayer for Life

Vince Lattanzio, writing for (May 14, 2013) sums up the trial of Kermit Gosnell.

Former Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies authorities said were born alive before having their necks cut with scissors. A jury found Gosnell not guilty of first-degree murder in a fourth baby’s death.

In addition to the murder charges, the 72-year-old was found guilty Monday of involuntary manslaughter in the overdose death of former patient Karnamaya Mongar.

Gosnell was also found guilty of several other crimes including one count of infanticide, two counts of conspiracy, 21 of 24 counts of abortion of an unborn child of 24 weeks or more and 208 of 227 counts of violation of informed consent of an abortion.

In all, Gosnell was found guilty of 237 crimes. He will now face the death penalty in the sentencing phase, which will begin a week from Tuesday.

This is big news for those who believe abortion is an act of the societally-allowed murder of a human being.  It’s hard to understand the logic that says just the few inches of a birth canal separate murder from a legal and approved “medical procedure.”  Maybe this case will challenge that "logic" in the minds of more and more people.  Maybe the good news of declining abortions in our country will only be all the better as people consider this high-profile court case and jury decision.

It just so happened that I had the privilege of offering a prayer at a pro-life gathering last Tuesday evening in Hot Springs.  This was a long-scheduled event, not a reaction to the Gosnell verdict.  In fact, that verdict was not even referenced during the program.  Prayer has and will always be central to reducing abortions in this country.  Perhaps this prayer will help you pray about this matter too.

We praise you, our Father, that you knit us together in our mother’s womb, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, every one of us an original.  And while we don’t bear your signature the way an artist signs a painting, we bear your image as the last and best of your creation—indeed your fingerprints are all over us.  We thank you that know us when we are but a smile on daddy’s face and a gleam in mama’s eye,  that you know us before we even make the trip from the darkness of the womb into the light of day.  We praise you that you do not create accidents, and that all of us, whether we are born normal or with special needs are still your workmanship and still the object of your love.  We thank you that you have plans and dreams for our lives, that every one of us matters.

And yet, in our culture of death, we have forgotten this, we have ignored this, we have defied you.  We have elevated convenience above life.  We have elevated sex above responsibility.  And in the process we have aborted millions of unborn children.  We have traded diamonds for dust, life for death, babies for a bloody mess.   Forgive us, Lord.  And help us do our part to end the carnage.  Thank you for those who work to this end, whether they offer women alternatives to abortion, argue cases in court, provide a voice for those who have no voice, try to move the political process in more life-valuing directions, or minister to broken women who have had abortions and long for forgiveness and a second chance.  These are huge challenges.  We can’t do these things without your strength.

And now for those who fight the good fight for life, would you please turn their efforts and prayers into lives saved, people persuaded, values changed, consciences spared, and liberty, justice, and life for all.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen

Near the end of the gathering, one of the speakers mentioned that he hoped for the day when, in a way similar to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., there might be some kind of museum to honor the millions of aborted babies who died during some dark decades in our history.  His emphasis was on the word museum—meaning that abortion was now a part of our history instead of a current event.  Wouldn’t that be the day?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Don't Forget the Ascension!

According to the Church Calendar, yesterday was Ascension Sunday.  Of course, we Baptists are pretty selective with our attention to the Church Calendar.  In fact, if you ask most Baptists what they have on the Church Calendar they’ll reply, “We’ve got Deacons Meeting this Sunday night and a church picnic the next Sunday.”  See what I mean?  So yesterday was Ascension Sunday so we celebrated Mother’s Day (definitely not on the Church Calendar).  What are you going to do?

And it’s no great surprise that we would ignore Ascension Sunday; we tend to ignore it all year long.  I got a picture of that one time when Doug Scott.  I knew Doug at the University of Arkansas.  He came from Chicago, graduated from a Catholic high school there, and he told me what happened at his school’s annual passion play during Easter of his senior year.  All was going well in the last performance until the crucifixion scene.  Every performance, the Roman guard would take a collapsible spear and thrust it into the side of Jesus on the cross.  No problem, right?  Well, during the last performance, for whatever reason, the spear didn’t collapse.  The guard literally stabbed Jesus, and the boy portraying Jesus looked down at his wound and shouted, “Oh my God!  I’ve been stabbed!”  Definitely not in the script.  So the curtain quickly closes.  The boy is helped off the cross and taken to receive medical attention at a local emergency room.

But the show must go on, right?  So Jesus’ understudy stepped in.  The resurrection scene came off without a hitch.  All that was left now was the ascension scene.  And they did this with a pretty cool effect.  Jesus was wired to a sandbag weighting system.  He would share the Great Commission with his disciples, conclude with the words, “And lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age,” and then he’d push off the floor to engage the weight system and he’d gently rise into the rafters of the stage.  Curtain closes,  Audience applauds.  Play over.  But what the crew failed to account for on that last performance was the weight difference between the main Jesus and the understudy.  The understudy was several pounds heavier.  So when he gave his little speech and pushed off the floor, he went up about two feet and came right back down.  Three times in all he did this (to the growing snickers from the audience).  And that’s when it happened: the panicked back-stage crew quickly hurled a couple of more sandbags on the weight system, and poor Jesus shot up like a rocket, hit the rafters, someone came unhitched in the collision and crumpled back to the stage floor in a heap.  I suspect that’s the only time an emergency room took care of two Jesus’ characters on the same night.

I don’t tell this story to make light of Jesus or these events.  I suspect even God got a chuckle out of an unintentional misadventure at the end of a passion play.  I tell you this because it presents a graphic picture of an important biblical doctrine—the Ascension of Christ.  In this passion play that doctrine ends up in a heap on the floor.  Isn’t that what happens to the doctrine of the Ascension for most of us?  We talk a lot about the cross, and we should.  We give a lot of attention to the resurrection, and so we should.  But there’s scarcely a word about the Ascension.  It lays around on church floors like a heap of laundry.  We bypass it.  We step over around.  We walk around it.  We figure whoever's job it is to deal with it will do so.  We move from resurrection to second coming and pay so little attention to Ascension.  And when we do, we miss something valuable for our faith.

Consider why the Ascension is important, why it’s a doctrine we can’t ignore.  Consider why it’s important that Christ ascended back into heaven.

1.   So Christ could provide yet another confirmation that His resurrection was a bodily thing rather than merely a spiritual thing.  After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days hanging around earth, making appearances to His disciples.  His disciples (as many as 500 at one time even) witnessed the resurrected Jesus in the flesh.  They recognized Him by His scars.  And they watched His body ascend into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).

2.   So Christ could be exalted.  In that wonderful hymn in Philippians 2, Paul writes of Jesus, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the oint of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore also God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).

3.   So Christ could send the Holy Spirit to us: “But I tell you the truth,” said Jesus to His disciples, “it is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (Jn. 16:7).

4.   So Christ could serve as our Advocate before the Father.  In His post-ascension position, Jesus Christ is described as “sitting” at the right hand of the Father in heaven (with the one exception of the martyr Stephen seeing Jesus “standing” at the right hand of the Father while Stephen was being pummeled by an avalanche of hurled stones).  But don’t think Jesus’ sitting means inactivity: “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin.  And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with eh Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn. 2:1).

5.   So Christ could prepare a place for us.  In getting the disciples ready for His Ascension, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled: you believe in God, believe in me also.  For in my Father’s house are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  But I go and prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:1-3).

6.   So Christ could return for us.  As the angels told the disciples after Jesus was ascended before their eyes, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

See what I mean?  This doctrine is no heap of laundry on the floor.  It’s important.  It matters.  It helps complete the story of who Jesus is and what Jesus did and does for all who believe.  So while most of us may not give it a whole Sunday of attention in worship, I hope that by taking a few minutes to read about it today, you will pause and lift a word of thanks and praise to heaven. 

Jesus came.  
Jesus died.  
Jesus rose from the dead.  
Jesus ascended into heaven.  
Jesus is coming again as King of kings and Lord of lords.  

Don’t you dare yank the Ascension out of that story.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

National Day of Prayer 2013 — Lord, Have Mercy

Lord, please have mercy on our nation?  We need it.  We’ve lost our way.  Opinion trumps truth.  Entitlement trumps hard work.  Runaway debt trumps fiscal responsibility.  Secularism trumps faith.  And the elimination of most all sexual boundaries seems to trump it all.  Lord, have mercy on our nation and our leaders and our culture.  If you don't, it's hard to see how the American experiment can end well.  Lord, we plead for mercy on our nation.

Lord, have mercy on your church in our nation.  We need it just as bad.

We’ve turned worship into entertainment.

We’ve traded the Gospel for self-help techniques.

We’ve replaced prayer with programs.

We’ve worked to build a crowd instead of a church.

Lord, have mercy.

We’ve reduced God to a therapist.

We’ve reduced Jesus to a buddy.

We’ve reduced the Holy Spirit to a tingle up the spine.

Lord, have mercy.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be co-opted for political gain, chasing the illusion that our true hope is in government rather than in you.

We've shouted our prophetic announcements at the world’s sinners with venom in our voices instead of tears in our eyes.

We’ve made a mess of our own marriages and families, seeking our way instead of your way.

We’ve turned our backs on the poor and the needy so we could build our own little kingdoms to take care of our own little selves.

Lord, have mercy.  We need you.  We are helpless without you.

Would you teach us to love like Jesus, to speak the truth in winsome rather than in wounding ways, to chase holiness before happiness, to remember that you are God and we are not, that you are large and in charge, holy and righteous altogether, and yet you love us just the same?

Lord, these are complicated times for your church.  The government doesn’t prop us up anymore, rarely has our back anymore, seldom shares our values anymore.

Lord, have mercy. 

Remind us that none of this catches you by surprise.  Inspire us that his could be your church’s finest hour.  Fill us with a desperate hunger and thirst for you and your kingdom and your righteousness.  And please make us conduits rather than catch-basins of your grace to one another and to the world.

Lord, we’re you’re people, and you’re our only hope.  We seek your face.  We humble ourselves.  We confess our sins.  We so desire to turn from our wicked ways.  Please, God, in the name of Jesus …

Forgive our sins.

Cleanse our wickedness.

Renew your church.

And heal our land.