Friday, December 13, 2019

In Pieces...Or...Peace?

Finding your way in Chaos with Agile techniques - Cynefin Framework

A while back, a bit of family trivia flashed-back in my memory: both of our kids, Peter, and Sarah, were born in the middle of a blizzard. For Peter, it was a blizzard in Baltimore, MD, in January 1982. For our daughter Sarah, it was a blizzard in St. Charles, IL., in February 1985. But in both cases, the evening was much the same. In both locales, everything was in disarray; you might say, ‘in pieces.'  Why power lines were down, cars were in ditches, white-out conditions prevailed, creating eerie darkness, making it hard to see. But we ventured out anyhow, into the darkness, and we made it; we made it to the hospital! And then things got focused, real quick! Why authority figures took over. Lights were positioned and turned on. And in no time flat – I mean my wife Robin delivers fast -- God showed up, and a miracle happened, on a messy night as a baby was born! And the baby changed everything! Sure, the blizzard was still blaring, but a baby was now smiling! And the baby changed everything!

As we enter Isaiah 9, a classic Christmas text, a blizzard is blaring. Why Israel is disoriented, walking in darkness, Isaiah 9:6 suggests. And for a good reason. Why Israel has given up on God, forsaking truth (Isaiah 8:16), turning to superstition (Isaiah 8:19), and neglecting the hungry (Isaiah 8:21). And the result is devastating. Why Israel enters darkness, a total white-out, groping “…for the wall like the blind…groping as if [they] had no eyes… [stumbling] at noonday as in the night…”  (Isaiah 59:9-10). But there’s still reason to hope, for miracles do occur in messes. Look Isaiah prophesies: during your blizzard, "…a child is born…a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6) -- a baby is birthed. And the baby changes everything!

The baby still changes everything, for at Christmas we celebrate: the baby is Jesus! And so, where are you in a blizzard during this holiday season; where are you disoriented, groping as if you have no eyes, stumbling at noonday as in the night? There is every reason to hope! But only if you believe the baby does change everything. Continuing now with Isaiah, we discover how to believe again – how to claim a life-changing Jesus – and His life-changing path of illumination, direction, and peace.  For starters... 

Be A Peacebuilder, ‘Standing In The Gap.’   

It’s interesting the life-changing Jesus doesn’t just have one name, but four names, technically called ‘throne names,’ the first being: “Wonderful Counselor…” (Isaiah 9:6). Literally ‘Wonderful Counselor’ is best translated: ‘Extraordinary Leader, With An Extraordinary Plan,’ reminiscent of Micah 4:9, where Israel’s leader, Israel’s King, is referred to as a counselor, with a very different plan.  And what is Jesus’ plan? It’s a plan for peace, detailed in Isaiah 11: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat…and a little child will lead them…”  (Isaiah 11:6). Thus, as Jesus leads as Wonderful Counselor, He does so as a Prince Of Peace (Isaiah 9:6; yet another throne name) -- modeling a new, peace-full strategy. Just as Jesus models a new peace-full strategy, we need to model a new peace-full strategy, helping wolfs and lambs, and other feuding folk, to connect with a new message, a message of reconciliation and goodwill.
In March 1936, King Edward VIII assumed the throne as King of England. As he did, he prepared to make a radio speech emphasizing the need for brotherhood and peace. But right before Edward’s broadcast, an engineer in the control room of WJZ in New York, now WABC, stumbled over a wire and snapped all communications between Britain and America. As you might imagine, the staff at WJZ were frantic because of the importance of Edward’s speech. But then, just seconds before airtime, a quick-thinking apprentice grasped the two broken ends of the wire and held them together through the grip of his own hands and reconnected the two countries. And so, the King’s words, a message of peace, were indeed transmitted, but through the body of that quick-thinking apprentice. Quick-thinking folk are still needed to step in and transmit the King’s message; to grasp broken ends, estranged people, feuding folk, and bring them together to hear a message of peace. Where are there broken ends in your life? Where are folks fighting, bickering, ‘at odds’ this Christmas? If we want peace, we must step in and work for peace, standing in the gap, bringing folks together.

But not in our strength. We can only transmit peace if, indeed, we receive the power and fortitude of the prince of peace. And so...

Don’t ‘Go It Alone,’ Draw On The Might Of The Savior.  

For the life-changing, Jesus has yet another throne name: “…Mighty God…” (Isaiah 9:6). Literally the word mighty in Hebrew means not just strong, but the strongest one in any battle. Isn’t that incredible! And so, no matter the battle, the struggle, the blizzard, God is stronger than the blizzard. 

Growing up, I always loved to be around my Uncle Bill because my Uncle Bill was an FBI agent. Translated:  he was a G-Man! And so, to me, my Uncle Bill was invincible, able to whoop anybody. I mean, he probably didn't actually tangle with gangsters. Still, I always imagined he tangled with gangsters, taking on the likes of ‘Baby Face Nelson’ – ‘Buggy Siegel ‘– ‘Crazy Joe Gallo’ – ‘Legs Diamond’ – ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ – ‘Ice Pick Willie’ -- and my favorite ‘Butterfingers Moran’! And so, I figured he could take on my biggest bully, my biggest adversary, the very terror of Halfway, MD, ‘Big Toes Gearheart’! But there’s someone even mightier than Uncle Bill to handle ‘Big Toes,’ or any other bully threatening life.  And that someone is our Mighty God! 

One of the forgotten characters of the Christmas story is Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor. Frankly, that’s surprising for two reasons:  First, 1) the Christmas story begins with Caesar Augustus.  "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census be taken…So Joseph…went up…to Bethlehem…and the baby [Jesus is] born” (Matthew 2:1; 4; 6); but secondly, 2) Immediately after that, Caesar Augustus is never mentioned again!  Only the baby, Jesus, is mentioned again. But that’s shocking because the baby, Jesus, had no apparent power.  Caesar Augustus had all the power! Because Caesar Augustus wasn’t just any emperor, but the greatest emperor to ever live!  Why Caesar Augustus expanded the Roman Empire in unprecedented ways, oversaw the golden age of Roman literature and architecture, and established the most significant era of Roman peace, the famed Pax Romana. Yet the baby, Jesus is remembered, and Caesar Augustus is forgotten. And for a good reason:  the baby, Jesus turned out more powerful, more able to produce peace than the most powerful man in the world. Never forget that, when you confront your bullies, your blizzards, your challenges. All power, the greatest power is yours, not because Caesar Augustus was born, but because the babe of Bethlehem, Jesus was born. An anonymous author puts it best: “We forget that the cradle of Christmas is not just any cradle, but the cradle that rocks the world.”  

So, let that cradle rock your world! Believe again, that the baby -- Jesus -- changes everything. And so, peace is possible. Not just family peace or world peace but personal peace. So... 

‘Settle-Down,’ Address Anxiety, Believing Jesus Never Forsakes

The theme of betrayal dominates the news on a reoccurring basis. Whether its sexual abuse by clergy, extra-marital affairs by entertainers, or embezzlement by financiers – a lot of people feel let-down and forsaken. And so, is it any wonder we lack security and peace? But Isaiah 9 makes a strong declaration:  though men and women forsake, the baby – Jesus -- never forsakes! Why Jesus is not just any parental presence, Isaiah 9:6 tells us, Jesus is an EverlastingFather (Isaiah 9:6). And His government, His rule, is not just any rule; it is a rule, an influence that is forever, with “…no end…”  (Isaiah 9:7). Count on it, Isaiah 9:7 declares, the zeal, the determination of the Lord Almighty ‘will deliver’ “…the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:7) coming through for us – faithfully -- every time.

One of my favorite stories concerns my first year in college, a terrible year for me when I felt really distressed. I mean, nothing was going right, and I felt really forsaken. I mean, my teachers were picking on me. I wasn’t making any friends.  And the cafeteria food was awful, just awful!   To be blunt:  I was lonely, anxious, and far from peace.  But then one Saturday morning I looked out my dormitory window, and I could not believe my eyes. Why outside was a familiar car, a ‘hometown car,’ a Hagerstown (MD) car. But not just any Hagerstown car, an old beat-up Mercury Comet car – my father's car – and my father was inside! Rushing out to the curb, I just looked at him: ‘what are doing here?’  ‘Oh,' Dad said, ‘I just was in the neighborhood, and thought I’d drop in.'   Far from it: he had driven all the way from Hagerstown, MD to Baltimore, MD, just to drop in. Why? Because he sensed I needed him, and you know I did. And so that visit —my father’s visit – became a turning point in my semester, making all the difference!

At Christmas, our Father God just drops in, and His visit makes all the difference, too! Oh, He’s not in the neighborhood, but He travels all the way from heaven to be in the neighborhood, just because He knows we need Him. I know it’s surprising someone would do that, but Father God does such things; for Isaiah is right: unto us, a child is given, a baby is born.  During difficult seasons, when blizzards blare, Father God just shows up. He always shows up. 
 you believe that? You will if you show up for others, standing in the gap, working for peace. You will if you draw on the might of the savior. You will if you settle down believing Jesus never forsakes. Believe:  Jesus never forsakes! For Jesus is an everlasting presence – an influence with no end – a zeal that always delivers! 

Wow, that’s a lot to expect from a little baby! But remember this is no ordinary baby, this is a Christmas baby, born in a Christmas cradle, that does rock the world! And so, let Jesus rock your world! 

I know a lot is in disarray; I know much is ‘in pieces.’  But Jesus can ‘peace’ together the pieces; Jesus can reorient life. Because Jesus makes all the difference. 

Because a baby is born -- because God ‘shows up’ -- because Jesus ‘comes to the neighborhood’ – Jesus makes all the difference! 

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Day You Will Surely Die

When will you die?

I can't tell you the literal day when your 'form and frame' cease to function on earth.  But I can tell you precisely the day you will die in terms of your true self, essence, and God's intent.

It's the day you stop dreaming; the day you stop having the next goal and vision for your life.  

Frankly, many reading my words have already passed that day.  I mean, many feel the best days of their life are behind them, and there is no reason, or purpose, or promise, ahead of them.  

Rather than thriving, they're merely surviving.  No goal setting.  No aspirations.  Just 'putting one foot in front of the other.'

But this summer is an excellent time to 'kick-out' of your funk, because this summer we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.  Bottom line: Apollo 11 teaches, that a new dream can occur -- even -- amid impossible, funky, circumstances.

Travel back with me to the summer of 1961.  The United States was in the early, anxious stages of the Cold War, as East Germany began construction of the Berlin War. Civil Rights tensions accelerated as Freedom Riders took buses into the South to confront segregation.  And anti-nuclear protests multiplied, as the first 2,000 troops were deployed to Vietnam.   

But John F. Kennedy lasered through such angst, offering a dream, a compelling vision, nevertheless. Addressing a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, Kennedy declared: 
"...I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the of goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth..."
Elaborating on his vision in an address at Rice University on September 12, 1962, Kennedy said: 
"…We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade…not because they are easy, but because they are hard...
"...[Thus] we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away...a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of [a] football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun...
"...[But to] do it right, and do it first before this decade is out -- then we must be bold..."  (emphasis added)
It's important to note, that Kennedy's bold, audacious dream was the primary reason the mission to the moon (Apollo 11) succeeded -- literally.

As the surviving Apollo 11 astronauts reflected last week on why their mission was fulfilled, they repeatedly referred back to John F. Kennedy's compelling vision and the specificity and simplicity of his dream:  to the moon -- via a manned rocket -- within ten years -- with a successful return to earth.  Period.    As Michael Collins reflected:
“…(Kennedy’s) masterpiece of simplicity gave us our marching orders. It told us what to do, when to do it, and then the-how-to-do-it was up to us, and that’s what we spent days working very diligently at…As we went through all of the training and preparation, we used Kennedy — ‘Hey, you guys got to get more on the ball. You know what he said. The time’s running out. Get with it. We’re going to be late for this. We can’t do that. You’re falling behind in this part of it.’’ 
That's the power of compelling vision, a driving dream, even amid the raw and discouraging reality of life.  And so what is your vision?  What is your masterpiece of simplicity -- your direct dream -- giving you marching orders?

And often quoted verse is Joel 2:28 -
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  (Joel 2:28)
The call of this text is powerful, summoning any of us, at any age, to have a new vision and dream for life.  

Sadly, however, many of us give-up, especially as we age.  This is largely because we have, in the words of Louise Aronson in her new book Elderhood, portrayed the later years of life as a disease to be "...dreaded, disparaged, neglected, and denied..."  But in reality, in the opinion of Aronson, the later years of life can be filled with ", wonder...and hope..." despite the necessary losses of the aging process..."   

Though often posted, I never tire of listings of the remarkable breakthroughs of persons as they age.  A sample follows.  
  • At age 70, Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence. 
  • At age 71, Katsusuke Yanagisawa became the oldest person to climb Mt. Everest. 
  • At age 75, Barbara Hillary became the first black woman to reach North Pole.  
  • At age 77, John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space
  • At age 87, Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Science Monitor
I especially love the story of Frank Lloyd Wright who in 1937, at age 70, completed the most famous, visionary house in the United States: Fallingwater. But Wright's dream-house emerged out of a gigantic slump in his career, with most believing he was 'washed up,' and his architectural approach anachronistic.  In addition, the United States economy was in crisis in the wake of the failure of hundreds of banks.  Yet, Wright kept dreaming, launching with Fallingwater, one of the most fruitful seasons of his career, resulting in a series of renowned architectural feats, including the Monona Terrace Civic Center in Madison, Wisconsin and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, New York.

Even more remarkable is the Old Testament character, Moses. Why, in the later years of his life, he worked for 40 years as a shepherd for Jethro in Midian. No longer marked by his previous power as a leader in Pharaoh's Egypt, Moses is, for all practical purposes, a 'has-been,' characterized as the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12:3).  Yet, at age 80, God calls Moses to a new visionary role, as God calls Moses to return to Egypt, and free the Israelites from slavery (Exodus 4:18-20).  Amazing!   

Both Wright's story and Moses' story reminds me of the image-laden promise in Psalm 92:
"...But you’ve made me strong as a charging bison, you've honored me with a festive parade.  The sight of my critics going down is still fresh, the rout of my malicious detractors.  My ears are filled with the sounds of promise...Grow tall like Lebanon cedars...grow tall in the presence of God -- lithe and green -- virile still in old age..."  (Psalm 92:10-14, The Message)  
It's encouraging to sense that the prospect of new vision -- lithe and green, virile still in old age -- flows not only from the lips of John F. Kennedy in regards to a space program for an 185 year old country (at that time) -- but also -- from the lips of God in regards to the advancement of our aging days.

New vision.  Lithe and green.  Virile.

I like that.

And so on this 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11, I am newly encouraged to 'shoot for the moon' -- at any age -- and thus truly live at any age.

For I will surely die if I doubt the prospect of a next dream.

But I will surely live, if I keep growing tall like a Lebanon cedar -- growing tall, toward the presence and promises of God!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

How To Pray For Any President

It's been a difficult twelve days for David Platt.

Sunday, June 2, 2019, appeared to be a routine Sunday at McLean Bible Church, where Platt serves as lead pastor, filled with Christ-adoring music, and rooted Biblical teaching.

But then, as McLean's 1 pm service was entering its celebration of communion, Platt was pulled aside, as he was centering himself for Christ's table:  the President of the United States was about to arrive, unexpectedly -- and the President was requesting prayer.  

Platt gives the details in a letter he sent subsequently to his congregation. 
'...As soon as I heard this request backstage, the passage from God’s Word that came to my mind was 1 Timothy 2:1-6:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” 
Based on this text, I know that it is good, and pleasing in the sight of God, to pray for the president. So in that moment, I decided to take this unique opportunity for us as a church to pray over him together. My aim was in no way to endorse the president, his policies, or his party, but to obey God’s command to pray for our president and other leaders to govern in the way this passage portrays.

I went back out to lead the Lord’s Supper and then walked off stage, where the president was soon to arrive. In that brief moment, I prayed specifically for an opportunity to speak the gospel to him, and for faithfulness to pray the gospel over him... 
Then I walked back out on stage, read 1 Timothy 2:1-6, and sought to pray the Word of God over the president, other leaders, and our country...After I prayed, the president walked off stage without comment, and we closed our gathering..."   
Well, in spite of Platt's letter and explanation, the floodgates opened, both pro and con. Favorable comments were largely predictable:  thank you for honoring 2 Timothy 2:1-6. But critical assessments were also rampant.  An unusually pointed critique was offered in a tweet by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, an associate of progressive pastor William Barber:
"...“The question isn’t whether to pray for those in authority but how to pray for someone who’s abusing authority...Would Platt have offered a similar photo op to an abusive husband who’s publicly gaslighting his spouse & kids?”  
In fairness to the current President, many Presidents have abused authority, specifically in the arena of gaslighting, e.g., manipulating/deceiving their spouse and kids. In fact, of the last fourteen  Presidents, only four (Truman, Ford, Carter, Obama) have not been accused of some expression of adultery.  

But Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove does surface a prime, factual reality:  photo-op.  

Frankly, that's the issue.

Not the character of the President.

Not praying for the President.

But the photo-op with the President...

...that served the President in political ways, far beyond his spiritual needs.

Translated:  Platt's praying with the President probably would not have 'exploded' -- if Platt had prayed for the President privately, allowing no photography or recording of the encounter.

That way there's no opportunity for a photo-op depicting not only a spiritual need -- but also -- political 'push'  --  benefit -- and -- expediency.

Now, in fairness to David Platt, he had little time to discern how best to entertain the President's prayer request.  As Ed Stetzer observed:
"...Yes, he could have prayed behind the scenes. Yes, he could have refused to have the president on stage. To some, he should have thought of all of those options in the few minutes he had while the president of the United States was asking for something else.  But let’s give David Platt the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned it. He did what he thought was right in that moment...."

But now... just in case...any of us are caught in a similar circumstance...we now know: 
Avoid any picture of prayer that can be construed as an advancement of any other agenda, than the agenda of Jesus.
For in addition to 1 Timothy 2:1-6, another relevant scripture is Matthew 10:6:
"...Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack...Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. (Matthew 10:6, The Message)
Politics is part of the wolf pack.

And, most, if not all politicians, have a mixed agenda:  advance the common good -- public policy -- and -- self!

In fact, some believe, advancing 'self' is on the increase in the political world, often manifesting itself as narcissism.  In an article entitled, "Narcissism:  Why It's So Rampant In Politics," Leon Seltzer observed:
"...One of the primary characteristics of narcissists is their exaggerated sense of entitlement. It's hardly surprising then that so many politicians...[have a] grandiose sense of self...inclined to believe they can get away with most anything...Ironically, despite the steadfast ethical values they profess, these politicians can be viewed as "moral relativists"... [removing] themselves from the rules and standards they impose on others...The ego gratifications available simply from [their political  office] are truly extraordinary: such an unusually prestigious role can't but pump up their self-esteem to levels that further confirm their bloated sense of self. Whereas before they put themselves on a pedestal, now the whole country obligingly seems to follow suit. Moreover, once ensconced in office they may well feel accountable to no one but themselves—free to play their competitive power games with impunity (and frankly, the public be damned)..."
And so as we pray for the President -- or any other politician -- we must be serpent-like -- not just dove-like -- acknowledging that their motive in asking for prayer is not just for God's Will to be done -- but - for their will to be done, as well.

The one President who might be an exception is Abraham Lincoln.  

As the story goes, Lincoln once met with a group of clergy.  As Lincoln did, one of the ministers implored: “Mr. President, let us pray that God is on our side.” “No, gentlemen," Lincoln replied.  "Let us pray that we are on God’s side.”  As Jim Wallis has noted:  
"...Lincoln had it right. The biggest problem with religion is that people, groups, institutions, nations...sometimes try to bring God onto our side...The much harder task... is to ask how to be on God’s side, as Lincoln was suggesting. And that often means changing our minds and hearts about many things, and learning a whole different perspective from the one we already agree with.  Agreeing with God is much more important than getting God to agree with  us..."  us 
To David Platt's credit, his actual prayer, prayed over the President pointed in this direction:  
"...O God, we praise you as the one universal king over all. You are our leader and our Lord and we worship you. There is one God and one Savior—and it’s you, and your name is Jesus. And we exalt you, Jesus..."
But the picture of prayer -- of a President appearing to 'push' his way onto a church-stage, last-minute -- smacks of manipulation -- yielding too much to Caesar, in a sanctuary, where Jesus alone is to be Lord.

Having pastored in Frederick, MD, in the shadow of Camp David for 20 years, I empathize with David Platt.  What would I have done if the President had swung off Route 15, onto our church campus, and walked into our sanctuary, on his way to the Catoctin Mountains?  
Would I have avoided a photo-opt?

Probably not.

But now, I get it:  any picture of prayer -- in particular -- that suggests manipulation -- and/or -- competing loyalties between Caesar and Jesus, is a picture to avoid.  

That's difficult to discern.  But as we run "...through a wolf pack...[we must be] as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. (Matthew 10:6, The Message).

I'm not certain of how that is lived out in all circumstances.

But I'm certain:  we must never risk any impression that suggests, that any other entity has more sway than Jesus' Supreme Sovereignty.