Monday, June 27, 2005

Free from What?

“We have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we will be set free?” (John 8:33). I don’t know if those who spoke those words were blind or forgetful. One or the other, though. I do know they were wrong. The Israelites had been slaves a number of times in their long, colorful history. In fact, they were slaves to the Romans, in a sense, when those words were uttered.

Jesus was less concerned with the reign of Rome than he was the reign of sin, though. You can tell because of what he accomplished. Dying on a Roman cross wasn’t intended to bring down an empire of men. Dying, then resurrecting was intended to defeat sin and death! The Roman Empire lasted for a while after Jesus rose. The dominion of sin came to an immediate end!

You can also tell which slavery Jesus was concerned about because of his response to their ridiculous claim: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Slavery to sin is worse than any national slavery can ever be. Slavery to sin lasts longer, and its effects are more devastating.

When the people in the American colonies began to feel enslaved because of taxation without representation, they signed a Declaration of Independence; and then fought and won a war for freedom. To this point in our brief history, we can say “We’ve never been slaves of anyone.” But let’s neither be blind nor forgetful. We have all sinned. We have all been slaves to sin. Guns can’t win our freedom from this reign of terror. The Son and His truth are the only way to being truly free. That’s Life at Work.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Paul and The Crisis

Life at Work
Do one “word association” with me. I’m going to type a word in all caps. You tell me the word that comes immediately to your mind. Ready? “JESUS”. What did you think? What word came to mind? Savior? God? Lord? Christ? There would have been times that if you had done that word association exercise with Paul when you said, Jesus” he would have said “death.” Paul wrote that he and his gospel preaching companions “always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4:10-12). He wrote to the Galatians, “I am crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). He had earlier written to the Corinthians, “I die every day….” (1 Corinthians 15:31).

This was not just a choice that Paul made for himself. He was a follower of Christ and Paul understood that his life was not his own. He knew the words of Jesus, “… anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

If you know the history of Paul from Luke’s stories in Acts, you aren’t surprised to read words like those from his pen. One of the greatest stories is one that Luke witnessed with his own eyes:

“A prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
(Acts 21:10-13)

Thomas Paine wrote “The Crisis” on the occasion of General Washington’s retreat across the Delaware River. Washington was so moved by the words he ordered them to be read to some of his soldiers whose courage seemed to be failing. The first words are famous ones: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” These words, also from “The Crisis,” help me understand Paul’s resolve to go to Jerusalem: “Tis the business of little minds to shrink but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”

Paul knew that the Jerusalem journey was his path. The hungry there needed the funds he was bringing. The Christians there needed to know about the concern of their Gentile brothers. Everybody there needed the message he would give from God. He needed to do what he was convinced was right.

What’s the right thing that you need to do? That’s your path. That’s Life at Work!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The End is Near! So What?

Life at Work
As Peter wrote about the judgment and the end in 1 Peter 4:7-11, he gave four instructions that were perhaps intended to keep the readers from sitting in their spiritual rocking chairs and waiting for Christ to come. The Christians who heard this letter read were not to be asleep like Peter was in the garden with Jesus. There are things to do.

I haven’t known of many who expected the return tomorrow and ceased all activity waiting for the clouds to part, but there have been a number of groups and individuals who have done just that. I encounter people, rather, who give little thought during the week, much less the day or hour, of the coming. The instructions that Peter gave fit that situation, too.

1. Be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.
2. Love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.
3. Be hospitable without complaining.
4. Use your gifts from God for all their worth.

You see, just because the end is at hand doesn’t mean it’s time for life to shut down. While we continue living, though, keep the end in mind. That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Adventures in Fatherhood

Life at Work
We’ve put our hand to the plow, so to speak. We’ve marched into the battle. We have framed our building. When Jesus employed those word pictures, he was telling his hearers that they needed to count the cost before striking out on the Christ Adventure.

The pictures are equally applicable to the Adventures of Fatherhood. Before you have kids, count the cost. There are many blessings and there are many sacrifices. What is best for you and your wife right now?

Surely, though, there are readers who have already stepped out in faith, but are asking, “What was I thinking?” They didn’t consider some of the cost before, but they are paying the price now. Christianity often calls us to a higher level of courage and conviction than we dreamed in the beginning it would.

There are a lot of us who are fathers who often feel like we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. Some of us felt that way the first time that we had to change a diaper by ourselves. Others of us felt ahead of the game until we met our match in our teenage children. Maybe you’ve asked the question, “What was I thinking when I thought I wanted to have kids?”

Here are three things that I think are important for fathers to do so that fatherhood doesn’t become a burden:

First, create the fun. Be imaginative, make the appointment (if you have to call it that to keep it), and have some fun with your children. You’ll need to do a little research to discover what they would really enjoy doing, but get yourself out of the house and away from your other irritations. You might just find that you aren’t so much frustrated with your kids as you are other demands that have become irritants.

Second, allow room for mistakes. You’re a Christian for goodness sake, practice a little grace.

Third, learn to laugh again. Kids laugh four hundred times per day. Adults laugh less than twenty times. Look how much happier they are! Laughter really is the best medicine – that’s in the Bible nearly (Proverbs 17:22).

Don’t give up. You fathers are already in it now. Get determined again. Don’t look back. Finish this tower and win the fight over the temptation to give up. That's Life at Work.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Father's and Good Foundations

“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4; NRSV)

Dads, as Father’s Day approaches, meditate on that passage. Consider that as Paul details the really important things in relationships; his instruction for you is about the training of your children, not providing for your children. I thought about that when I read Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. In regard to the amount of energy a family gives to work, he wrote this:

“The place to start is not with the assumption that work is non-negotiable; it’s with the assumption that family is non-negotiable. That one shift of mind-set opens the door to all kinds of creative possibilities” (p. 118).

Covey warns us not to get addicted to the stimulation of the work environment and a certain standard of living. When we do, we are compelled to make all other lifestyle decisions based on the false assumption that lifestyle is high on the list of important foundations for children.

The discipline and instruction of the Lord is what your children need most from you. Don’t set aside that priority for anything. That’s Life at Work!

Monday, June 06, 2005

No More Wasted Time

Life at Work
The Eagles sing in “Wasted Time” about a girl who has given herself in a number of relationships that have ultimately faltered. She is distraught over having no close relationship after long-time personal, emotional investments. Having reminisced, Henley sings:

So you can get on with your search, baby,
And I can get on with mine
And maybe someday we will find,
That it wasn’t really wasted time.

We aren’t always concerned about wasting time while we are wasting the time. Something happens periodically, though, that causes us to reflect; and when we realize that time will be short, or has gone by too quickly, we mourn wasted time.

Peter wrote about wasted time in a letter to people who had invested part of their lives in wicked ways. He wrote, “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do-living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry…” (1 Peter 4:3). Paul asked the Christians in Rome why returning to the kind of life in which they found shame and death would even cross their minds. He told them that the beneficial life was the one in which the slave to God would be led to holiness and to the great ending: eternal life.

I don’t want to say, “Get on with your search, and I can get on with mine.” I want to tell you instead that Jesus has called us to the abundant life. For either of us to pursue any life course without heaven as the goal will prove to be wasted time. I don’t want to waste anymore time! Do you? That’s Life at Work!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

That There May Never Be Another Case Like Emmett's

Life at Work
The ground in Burr Oak Cemetery is being turned near the headstone of Emmett Till today. The FBI is exhuming his body while his family looks on in order to dispel rumors that the body in that grave might not be the body of the thirteen year old killed in Money, Mississippi in August 1955.

Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam were charged with murdering Emmett, but were acquitted by an all white jury. I wonder if they experienced even a moment of imprisonment by guilt for killing that young boy. They are dead now, but before they died, they confessed to abducting, beating, and shooting Emmett because he whistled at Bryant’s wife.

Emmett’s home was in Chicago. He was visiting his family that summer in the Mississippi Delta community where he died. He was found in the Tallahatchie River three days after he was abducted from his uncle’s home and killed. His body had been held under the surface of the waters by the weight of the seventy pound gin fan that was tied to him. A strand of barbed-wire had been wrapped around his neck and tied to the fan to keep him under the water.

They will find that the body they found and buried thirty years ago is Emmett, I’m confident. A momma knows her son, and Emmett’s mom had the casket open during the funeral to expose the violence of the crime against her son – and against humanity. I hope they will find some evidence that will link someone else to the murder, if in fact anyone else participated, or knew about it and said nothing. And if that someone is alive, I hope they will be charged, found guilty, and live the rest of their lives in prison.

I was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in March of 1966 - eleven years after the brutal hate crime against Emmett Till. I lived in Mississippi for twenty-three years. I can say without a moment of hesitation that the hatred that was prevalent among some my fellow Mississippians in the fifties and sixties did not infiltrate my heart in the least.

From the days of my earliest memories in elementary school, to my experiences in Mississippi churches where we were members or frequently visited, and to my high school experience, I encountered many people of various races. While we were obviously different – we looked different, we talked different, and we worshipped different – we were all God’s children, and I knew that.

There are a number of reasons why I could love anybody – even those of different races – in a state where hatred was at an epidemic level. No doubt, the impact of the civil rights movement in the late fifties and early sixties, exposed race hatred for the horrible thing it is. I believe, though, that what made me appreciate people of all skin colors was the influence of my parents who appreciated people of all skin colors. You see, if my parents had been racists, the likelihood is that I would have been one, too, until I developed enough maturity and/or saw the idiocy of racism to bring about change in me. Since, however, my parents were equal opportunity lovers, I learned it from them.

One of the most powerful things you can do to stop racism is to model respect for all people to your children. If you haven’t been doing that, another Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam are a generation away. If you have been modeling respect for all people, your children have seen the reflection of God in your life. That’s Life at Work!