Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Best Laid Plans

All we wanted was a place where we could quietly do our devotions. The first day of the retreat had been glorious. Kim and I had hiked (yes, I really hiked) on some of the trails around the beautiful Glen Eyrie campus in Colorado Springs. We had some wonderful fellowship with some of the others attending the Innovo Retreat. And we were enjoying a rare chance to re-connect with each other. But during this stretch of the afternoon, we pursued some quiet time with a determined purpose.

The area around the Prayer Garden was filled with people. While it was largely overcast, there was enough sun poking through from time to time that we were looking for a shaded area. Then we found it. On the corner of the patio at the castle. It was completely empty. No one was nearby, so we picked out a choice spot which was well shaded. We could see all over the lush grounds. Blooming flowers. Green meadows. And of course, the mountains!

We unpacked our Bibles and our books. Kim got all of her colored pencils out, lined them up and was fully prepared to highlight to her heart’s content. It was glorious.

And then they came. Three college-aged girls, talking and laughing and making more noise than three people should. But I wasn’t worried. It was a large patio. They could see we were trying to read. Even if they stayed on the patio, surely they would make their way to the other side.

How foolish of me. They plopped down just a few tables away. And they continued to talk and laugh as though they were the only ones there. I looked at Kim. She looked at me. The best laid plans. After a few minutes, it was obvious they were there to stay. And with the noise they made, I couldn’t concentrate. So we moved to another location.

It was much quieter, with just one young man at a table nearby, and he was reading too. But it wasn’t very scenic. It was inside the courtyard. There wasn’t much to look at (especially for Kim, who only had me). And our view was further compromised because we were sitting in a little alcove, which made it kind of stuffy.

I wasn’t thinking very charitable thoughts at that moment. About the time we got settled, we heard a loud clap of thunder. It suddenly got very dark, and within a few seconds, it was pouring down rain. But it didn’t matter, because we were sitting in this protected alcove. We didn’t get a drop on us.

And then it dawned on me. If we had stayed where we were, we would have been drenched. There wasn’t time between the first clap of thunder and the first drop of rain to have gone anywhere. God used those giggling, loud-talking girls to move us to someplace where we were dry and protected.

How much like life is that? God sometimes has to inconvenience us to get us where He wants us to be? We get irritated, frustrated, even angry at Him when our plans go awry. Why can’t I just sit here and enjoy my book?, we ask. But because He knows when the skies are going to open and the rain is going to fall, He may want to move us someplace where we won’t get wet.

Or sometimes, in His sovereignty and wisdom, He may leave us on the patio to get soaked. But even then, as Christians we know we’re getting soaked for a reason.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We're All Still Here

The sun came up in the east this morning.

Now, maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, but after all of the mourning, wailing and gnashing of teeth at the funeral of Michael Jackson on Tuesday, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. Surely life can’t just go on, not after the “King of Pop” was buried. Not after MJ was put in the ground. Not after “the greatest performer ever without a doubt” (I actually heard that phrase verbatim twice in the past 24 hours) would never be heard from again.

Why were there no earthquakes?

How can rain still fall from the sky?

I mean no disrespect to the dead. But on Tuesday, you couldn’t log onto the Internet or flip through the channels on TV without running into wall-to-wall coverage of his funeral. An alien visiting from another planet would have thought that we were burying the man who found the cure to cancer, or solved the world’s financial crises or at least had figured out the secret as to why the same number of socks never come out of the dryer that you put in.

Silly alien. No, we were simply engaged in one of our frequent celebrity love-fests. Here’s a guy who’s last record was released in 2001 and his last hit was in 1996. He was frequently the butt of late night comics’ jokes as he demonstrated increasingly bizarre behavior. He looked more like a casualty of some natural disaster than a mega-star. And yet people—including influential, even powerful people—were falling over themselves to shed tears and offer condolences on his behalf.

Again, I don’t want to seem insensitive, but it all seems a little much. I think of some of the dear old saints I’ve known through the years who have made great sacrifices in their service to the Kingdom who left this world with barely a whisper. No TV coverage. No reporters, politicians or athletic stars bid them farewell. No Congressional Resolutions were passed in their honor.

These wonderful folks recorded no number one albums. But some were faithful teachers of the Scripture. Some loved and taught our kids. Some baked pies or drove the church bus or cleaned the restrooms in the church. Some visited the sick in the hospitals or took food to shut-ins.

I don’t know for sure what Michael Jackson’s relationship with the Lord was. I was under the impression that he shared the faith of his parents and was a Jehovah’s Witness, although over the past few years there have been a lot of stories about his interest in Islam or “spirituality” in general. None of that gives me much reason to believe that he knew Jesus Christ as his personal Savior.

And if in fact he was not a Christian, then I hope that he enjoyed his crowds, homes, cars, planes and riches (though all the evidence suggests he really didn't). Because, apart from Christ, it’s all downhill from here (literally).

But for those Christ-followers I mentioned earlier, even without the fame and fortune of this world, they can say along with the Psalmist, But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. (Psalm 49:15)

In light of all that, who would you rather be?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Ripped From the Headlines

I’m sure you’ve heard the story by now.

A powerful government official who openly talks of his faith and his relationship with God commits adultery. For nearly a year, he keeps the transgression under wraps, though there are occasional whispers about the illicit relationship. When he is finally confronted about the affair, he owns up to it. It was wrong he said. It shouldn’t have happened. The damage is done.

King David sure screwed up.

His story is so well known, as are the consequences. Surely no one would ever mess up like that again, right? Oh, that it were so.

Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, is just the latest and most prominent to repeat the mistakes of the former King of Israel. But in the days since the news of his adultery and betrayal became public, Gov. Sanford’s response to the situation has revealed a vast difference between his character and that of the man after God’s own heart.

Both men shared some of their deepest thoughts and feelings in the aftermath of their indiscretion. David wrote two Psalms detailing his emotions. Gov. Sanford granted several interviews. The emotions they expressed in their respective forums reveal the world of distinction between the two.

David writes of his anguish: When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. (Psalm 32:3-4, NLT) He acknowledges his actions as pure sin: …I have done what is evil in your sight… (Psalm 51:4).

Contrast that with the reaction of Gov. Sanford. In interviews conducted recently, he spoke longingly of his mistress, calling her his “soul mate”. While indicating he recognized the inappropriateness of his actions, he expressed surprisingly little remorse. He seemed especially insensitive to his wife and children. He has humiliated his wife, and he has shamed the Sanford name. During a time when should be devoting himself to salvaging what is left of those relationships, he’s making excuses and digging his hole deeper.

It’s not my intent to pile on Gov. Sanford. There’s enough of that happening in the public realm, including the secular media. But these transgressions point out a right way and a wrong way to respond to sin. Gov. Sanford, for all his professed faith and religious beliefs, seems unable to follow clear Scriptural guidance concerning repentance and restoration. And David, despite the heinous nature of his sins (which included not only adultery, but murder!), demonstrated how we can get right with God when we sincerely repent and seek forgiveness.

The proper response for us now is to pray for the Governor’s wife and children. Pray for the woman with whom Sanford had the affair, and for her family. Pray for those who are disillusioned over the fall of this once vocal Christ-follower. Pray for those who will use this occasion as a further opportunity to cast aspersions on all Christians, especially those in the public eye.

And pray for the South Carolina Governor. Pray that he would truly repent of his sins. Pray that he would seek and accept God’s forgiveness. Pray that he will serve as a Godly example for others. And pray that ultimately, he, like King David, will find again the joy of his salvation.