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)
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.
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
Thought you might appreciate reading the oath a service member takes and subscribes to when he or she is sworn in to the Texas military forces (other than the Texas National Guard):
“I, __________, do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the State of Texas and to the United States of America, that I will serve this state and nation honestly and faithfully against all enemies, and that I will obey the orders of the governor of Texas and of the officers appointed over me, in accordance with the laws, rules, and articles governing the military forces of the State of Texas.”
Few days offer the opportunity to do the right thing simply by remembering; Memorial Day is one such privileged occasion. The key to making the most of sanctified reminiscence is to move beyond the general to the particular. In that way, honoring is not all that different from interceding. We may pray for certain occurrences or against others while remaining comfortably aloof, tucked safely behind abstraction; that is not intercession. Petition becomes intercession when we willingly and intentionally accept another’s plight as our own and wrestle on their behalf until a desired future outcome becomes present reality. In a similar vein, Memorial Day achieves full significance when we remember certain individuals and offer thanks for them by name.
Two such men come to mind today; the first was well known to me, while the second conjures far fewer memories yet deserves deep appreciation despite holding a far less familiar place in my mind. Henry adopted me and loved me unconditionally. He demonstrated that same commitment by serving this country faithfully as a tank commander in the United States Army during the Korean War of the early 1950’s. I owe to him a debt larger than life; though separated by death for nearly thirty years, he occupies a unique place in my mind and heart I revisit every day. I share his last name and enduring legacy. The other individual is a man to whom I owe a different debt. Though I only learned about him a year ago and met but twice, he is the reason I have anything or anyone to remember at all. I do not bear his name but carry his DNA, and I hope I honor him in a way he will never know. He, too, served this country in the Korean War, as a sailor in the United States Navy aboard the USS Taluga.
Sacrifice is measured best by cost and honored most highly by remembering. On this Memorial Day, I thank you Henry and thank you Pete for standing tall in the face of fear, danger and duty. I am not worthy of your courage, but I will not fail to honor your memory. I salute you both with my heart.
Each new day I stand on a precipice not of my own choosing. I will then either remain perched on its uncertain edge paralyzed by an onslaught of reminders of how miserably I have failed to that point and how utterly inadequate I am for any task at hand, or I will hurl myself forward whooping a prayer like a battle cry that Almighty God may save me from impending destruction. Refuse the hellish lie that you have nothing to offer. Allow the Father to salvage what remains of an abandoned life and make of you a champion of dependence. After all, the companion to reliance is expectation, and another word for expectation is faith.
“If we do not die to ourselves, we cannot live to God, and he that does not live to God, is dead” (George MacDonald).
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 | ESV
Uncanny how closely God resembles ourselves these days. We consistently whittle Him down to size, as if the Almighty is under our thumb and not the other way around. We remain in constant danger of remaking God according to our own image; there is no longer room for an Wholly Other. We encounter fierce rebuke in holy writ, only to worm and squirm our way to a more palatable position. Imperatives are neutered into suggestions; precepts become culturally conditioned preferences. We ridicule those whose ethics emerge from an “everyone else is doing it” attitude, while choosing our own allegiances and establishing what passes for values along much the same line of reasoning. When God offends, we let Him off the hook by shrugging aside the intended course correction and proceed down our own self-determined path.
What in the world are we thinking? The Church of Jesus Christ stands in jeopardy of succumbing to peer pressure as she bends to cultural winds in the guise of remaining relevant. Relevance is essential; trendy is absurd. How long will we obscure holiness? Jeremiah wouldn’t fare so well in our current setting. Elisha would gather a crowd for a time, but numbers would fall off with every “thus saith the Lord.” John the Baptist would be ostracized for being politically incorrect, and Jesus Himself wouldn’t stand a chance. We prefer our savior to be ornamental, certainly not meddlesome in our affairs or demand set-apartness. Friendship is far more palatable than slavery, yet the disciple image cast by Scripture is exactly that—Christ is Master and I am His. This master-slave relationship fundamentally forces us out of sync with popular culture; we cannot remain lockstep with the world while marching under the banner of Christ.
“We are always looking for a religion that has no demands, only rewards—a religion that bedazzles and entertains, in which there is no waiting and no emptiness. And we can usually find someone around who will help us make up some sort of a golden calf” (Eugene Peterson, Every Step an Arrival).
Thingamabob, doomahickey, whatchamacallit—just a few of the words I use when I’m at a loss for other more concrete ones. Advanced academic degrees notwithstanding, I am often at a loss to describe the simplest of objects. That same dumbfoundedness is the common experience of all authentic worship. Much of what passes for religion these days is too easily explained; holy stuttering is in short supply in post modernity. Very little mystery remains after singing choruses in rounds and learning five points for upgrading one’s life, making church more akin to Wall Street than the Via Dolorosa. “Worship” services (I confess I’ve never understood why they are termed “services”—who exactly is serving and being served anyway?) follow a well rehearsed schedule, such that if the Holy Spirit is to show up at all, He had better take care of business in an hour. Performance claims the prize and somehow we have convinced ourselves that grand productions draw ‘seekers’ to the Gospel, like so many moths to the flame. Conventional wisdom would dictate that if I am looking for slick entertainment I will always find it somewhere other than church, irregardless of how much you spend to convince me otherwise.
Whatever happened to sacred mystery? The answer may well explain the evangelical impotence evident on many fronts. When did we decide that we could package the Holy Other into bite size portions, easily digested, and just as readily forgotten? When was the last time that a glimpse of the Suffering Savior or the Conquering Christ seized your heart and wouldn’t let go? How long has it been since the Ground of all Being grabbed you and you couldn’t speak or cry or move in response? If I am able to fully plan and explain worship, the object must be something other than “The One Who Was and Is and Is To Come.” True worship elicits wonder, and wonder eventually gives way to transformation.
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:1-5, KJV)