Shadow Rider

I learned long ago that nothing about me is enough—not good enough, smart enough, talented enough—the list continues ad nauseam. The very best of me emerges only fleetingly and even then is merely a thinly veiled version of the despicable me in default mode—a shadow rider striving desperately to conceal the dominant dark side, shrinking from the light while longing for it at the selfsame time. What is demanded is not self-improvement or selective enhancement but transformation, and transformation comes only through death and resurrection. “A guilty conscience is a great blessing, but only if it drives us to come home” (John R. W. Stott).

Just in the nick of time, enter Easter. Praise be to Christ our risen King, He proffers life through death, brokers eternity from finality. Christ bids me come and die so that I may be raised to new life in Him and by Him. I will never be adequate in my current state. Only the Cross and empty tomb are enough.

Intervening Against Injustice

I wept as I watched the recording of Ukrainian President Zelensky as he addressed members of Congress yesterday. After delivering most of his speech in Ukrainian through a translator, Mr. Zelensky closed by speaking in English:

“Peace in your country doesn’t depend anymore only on you and your people. It depends on those next to you and those who are strong. Strong doesn’t mean big. Strong is brave and ready to fight for the life of his citizens and citizens of the world. For human rights, for freedom, for the right to live decently, and to die when your time comes, and not when it’s wanted by someone else, by your neighbor.”

As Mr. Zelensky delivered these statements in English, Senator Angus King said later, “There was a collective holding of the breath.”

President Zelensky closed his historic address with statements that should not be ignored or easily dismissed:

“Today, the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine, we are fighting for the values of Europe and the world, sacrificing our lives in the name of the future. That’s why today the American people are helping not just Ukraine, but Europe and the world to give the planet the life to keep justice in history.

“Now, I am almost forty-five years old; today, my age stopped when the hearts of more than one hundred children stopped beating. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths. And this is my main issue as the leader of my people, great Ukrainians.

“And as the leader of my nation, I am addressing the President Biden, you are the leader of the nation, of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world; being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.

“Thank you. Glory to Ukraine. Thank you for your support. Thank you.”

Suffering anywhere should break believers’ hearts; however, we are not called to simply grieve over injustice. We are commanded to intervene. Are we sincere when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?” Will we act for those who cannot act and defend those who are defenseless? Consider carefully God’s own admonition:

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4, ESV)

(Photo from http://www.wuft.org)

Sleep Quietly in Your Beds

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (Sir Winston Churchill)

For those who consider Russia’s relentless and unprovoked attack on the citizens of Ukraine as an unfortunate humanitarian crisis from which we are securely insulated in the scheme of things, it may serve well to remember what Neville Chamberlain learned too late—tyranny allows no room for isolation.

“On September 30, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain received a rowdy homecoming after signing a peace pact with Nazi Germany. For days, dread had blanketed London like a fog. Only a generation removed from the horrors of World War I, which had claimed nearly one million of its people, Britain was once again on the brink of armed conflict with Germany. Hitler, who had annexed Austria earlier in the year, had vowed to invade Czechoslovakia on October 1, 1938, to occupy the German-speaking Sudetenland region, a move toward the creation of a ‘greater Germany’ that could potentially ignite another conflagration among the great European powers.

Just two days before the deadline, Hitler agreed to meet in Munich with Chamberlain, Italian leader Benito Mussolini and French premier Edouard Daladier to discuss a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. The four leaders, without any input from Czechoslovakia in the negotiation, agreed to cede the Sudetenland to Hitler. Chamberlain also separately drafted a non-aggression pact between Britain and Germany that Hitler signed.

On a rainy autumn evening, thousands awaited the prime minister’s return at London’s Heston Aerodrome, and the thankful crowd cheered wildly as the door to his British Airways airplane opened. As raindrops fell on Chamberlain’s silver hair, he stepped onto the airport tarmac. He held aloft the nonaggression pact that had been inked by him and Hitler only hours before, and the flimsy piece of paper flapped in the breeze. The prime minister read to the nation the brief agreement that reaffirmed ‘the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.’

Summoned to Buckingham Palace to give a first-hand report to King George VI, Chamberlain was cheered on by thousands who lined the five-mile route from the airport. After his royal audience, Chamberlain returned to his official residence at No. 10 Downing Street. There a jubilant crowd shouted ‘Good old Neville’ and sang ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’ From a second-floor window, Chamberlain addressed the crowd and invoked Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s famous statement upon returning home from the Berlin Congress of 1878, ‘My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.’

Then he added, ‘Now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds.’ As Britain slept, the German army marched into Czechoslovakia in ‘peaceful conquest’ of the Sudetenland. The bombers did not roar over London that night, but they would come. In March 1939, Hitler annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia, and two days after the Nazis crossed into Poland on September 1, 1939, the prime minister again spoke to the nation, but this time to solemnly call for a British declaration of war against Germany and the launch of World War II.

(From an article by Christopher Klein, Jan 3, 2020: https://www.history.com/news/chamberlain-declares-peace-for-our-time-75-years-ago)

Erasing Regret

I envy those who honestly say they live with no regrets. I am not numbered among them, and as I enter my sunset years I am resolved to remove or rectify as many as possible. One of those regrets is the absence of military service. Nearing high school graduation in 1978, I went with a group of young men to Beaumont, Texas and took the US Army entrance exams for enlistment upon graduation. My test results were strong and combined with the fact I was graduating number eight in my senior class, the Army recruiters offered to assist me in entering the United States Military Academy at West Point. Having always dreamed of serving in the United States Army like my father, the prospect thrilled me; however, I sought counsel from some respected individuals and they steered me toward a different tack. I chose the college route, embarking on a forty-plus year journey of pastoral ministry, missionary service, and academic settings, leaving no room for military service. A year ago, I decided to remove this major regret and accepted a commission as an officer and chaplain in the Texas State Guard, a branch of the Texas Military Department along with the Texas Army Guard and Texas Air Guard. I find each step forward in my military training and chaplaincy ministry extremely rewarding, a lingering remorse erased by the grace of God and support of my wife. My advice is carefully examine your regrets and prayerfully act to erase as many as possible while you can.

CH (CPT) Dane Fowlkes

Be My Strength

I have changed the way I pray. I wish I could claim the transition as one of strategic intention; unfortunately, repeated failure and futility of effort are harsh but effective tutors, rendering me unable to perpetuate old prayer habits in their wake. Here is the spiritual bottom-line: I have moved from praying “God give me strength,” to the decidedly altered heart posture, “God be my strength.” What is at stake is far more than syntax. This is an imperative of desperation that shifts the object from me to Him. “Me” is the impotent and improper focus of anything. The fallout is obvious. I can no longer petition God to give me anything; rather, I recognize with each request that He encompasses everything I want and need.

God, be my joy.

God, be my strength.

God, be my song.

You get the picture. The deviation initially sounds minor and nuanced; in actuality, it is as major as the shifting of tetonic plates, altering the ground upon which you stand. Allow the Father to take your place as the center of your existence and your desire in all respects.

Dry Docked Disciples

You’ve read and heard it many times before—you cannot do what you’ve always done and expect anything to be different. The key to moving forward is to think in reverse. Under the Lord’s guidance, what outcomes do you desire this year? Next, what must you do differently in order to realize these desired results? Finally, ask the Lord God Almighty to grant sufficient courage to break free from fear and redundancy. A dry docked disciple is an oxymoron. God’s will demands an intrepid spirit to join Him in the adventure of obedience. Are you up to the call?

Irresistible Future

“Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.” (Oswald Chambers)

Closing the books

Whatever else you choose to do as you close the books on 2021 and move toward the starting blocks of 2022, be sure to reserve time and space for honest self-assessment. Consider yourself not in the light of others you hold in low esteem, but over against the saint Christ created and called you to be.

“The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.” (Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets)

Lives We Touch

I had one of those “it’s a small world after all” moments today. In a large city other than where I live an elderly gentleman walked into the restaurant where I was standing in line to order pizza. I noticed his LSU cap and simply said, “Go (geaux) Tigers!” His face lit up and in conversation he mentioned that his brother once played quarterback for the NY Giants and was in the pro football hall of fame. I asked the brother’s name and he replied, “Y. A. Tittle.” I told him it was an honor to meet him, and then he said that some good things had come out of a small place I’d probably never heard of—Marshall, Texas. I said, “You won’t believe this, but I graduated from East Texas Baptist College there and later served 15 years at the school. Small world!” Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Frederick Buechner: “The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked together. No man is an island.”

Whose life will you touch today for good or ill? God grant that it be a Christ-honoring touch.

Cancel Culture

We are stuck in a black hole popularly labeled “cancel culture.” The media tries to convince us that a majority in this country are either gender confused or unhappy the way God made them. Any conviction to the contrary is not only disregarded out-of-hand, it is castigated as being intolerant—as if intolerance is the basest of all human qualities. The inevitable fallout of the paradigm shift some are promoting is silence from good people who are neither confused about nor ashamed of who they are, all the while acknowledging we are all equally sinful and desperately in need of a Savior.

Make no mistake about it, speaking up in this toxic climate may cost you something, perhaps everything, but we are not called to cowardice. Speak the truth in love—definitely, but for Heaven’s sake, speak truth. Truth is not relative. Experience is obviously unique to every individual, but refuse the tide of pop philosophy and theology that pushes to interpret truth on the basis of experience. Rather, interpret experience in light of truth. I am not ashamed to say God made me a man, flawed as I may be. Condemn me as homophobic if you like, but I denounce same-sex relations and transgenderism as perverse. I am attracted only to a woman, namely, my wife. In addition to standing on biblical truth, I am also proud of my southern roots and unapologetically both salute the flag and bow my head to pray. I say “Yes Ma’am,” and “No sir,” and teach my family by example to do the same. Chivalry is not dead until you kill it, and I choose not to put it to death. Superseding all else, I belong to Jesus Christ heart and soul because I was bought with the price of His precious blood. Know who you are in Christ and never apologize for it.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16 | ESV