Faith when your legs fail

DahlkeGrad    This is David Christian Dahlke at his graduation from Bryan College. When he left his wheelchair in the wings and struggled across the stage, the crowd at the commencement program rose to its feet with a deafening ovation. Tears flowed generously down the faces of those who knew him. It was a memorable moment.

At Bryan, David inspired many with his outlook, humor and faith. He had every reason in the world to be bitter and faithless – the victim of a broken world. But he chose to be more than a conqueror. David was born with Cerebral Palsy and it was clear that he would never walk. His parents embraced his physical challenges and saw to his emotional and spiritual growth. His life was grounded in reality:

Yes, I cannot walk, he seemed to say.  But I am not going to waste time asking, “Why?” I am focusing on “What now?” 

As he grew, healthcare professionals and therapists set the bar low for David and his future. They said he would never finish high school; college absolutely was out of the question. But David thumbed his nose at their prognosis. He not only finished high school, but achieved far beyond anyone’s expectations but his own.

When David came to Bryan College, he discovered that our campus was not very “handicapped friendly.” He helped us retrofit sidewalks, hallways, and doors to accommodate those who moved through life in a wheelchair. He never once complained about how difficult it was to get around. He saw every day as a gift.

David found out that I really did spend time with students, so soon he and I were going out for dinner on a regular basis. Why? Because he asked. David was fearless. Nothing was going to get in his way. I miss our regular meals and spirited conversations. We keep up on Facebook but it’s not the same.

davidDahlkeBill  I spoke in Dayton, TN at Bryan College last month and David drove up from Chattanooga. It was great to see him.

David’s faith in God is relentless. I’ve learned a lot from him about perseverance, trust and friendship.

I have never once pitied him. His presence and personality just won’t allow it. He’s had his down moments when he wanted to give up; but they never lasted very long. God always brought someone along to comfort and restore his spirit.

He talks about the first time he will stand and walk on his own will be when he stands before his Savior. He can’t wait. But about 20 years ago, he decided he wanted to get a glimpse of that day at his college graduation ceremony.

David wanted to “walk,” literally, to receive his diploma. His idea was that he would use arm braces – the metal crutches you see in the photo – to walk to the podium and receive his diploma.

He started preparing twoyears before. I would see him agonizingly pulling himself along one of the sidewalks by his dorm for a few steps and then collapse. Then he would pull himself back up and take another step or two. He had his heart and mind focused on the commencement.

At Bryan we held the commencement program outside in the Triangle, a park-like area in the middle of campus. Every year we kept our eye on the weather forecast and every year the weather allowed us to celebrate outside.

The alternative was moving the program into the chapel, which was much too small for the large crowd. We would have to set up overflow rooms with televisions for the many without seats in the chapel.

One year, the forecast was for rain. Outside, we set up the stage, the chairs, and the sound system, fully expecting to move inside if the rains came an hour or two before the program.

As our staff prepared the Triangle, we looked up at the dark clouds moving in. When decision time came, I said, “We are doing it out here.” The staff stopped and looked at me for a moment and then looked skyward.

It began to drizzle.

But only for a few minutes.

The commencement went off without another drop falling.

But the morning of David’s commencement we were expecting good weather. As the temporary stage was set up and the chairs arranged, David came out to make final preparations for his walk across the stage. In a few moments, it was clear that it wasn’t going to work. The runway part of the stage was not wide enough to accommodate David and his braces. There was no way to make it work.

He would not be able to walk at his commencement.

I felt sick.

All I could think about were the years of agonizing practice for his final collegiate act of defiance against the naysayers, his physical challenges, his own fears.

Then it began to drizzle.

I didn’t even look up.

“We’re moving it inside,’ I said.

The chapel stage was wide and would easily accommodate David. The preparations were easily struck and Plan B was put into motion.
But this was God’s Plan A.

 

Soon, it was pouring rain.

In all my years as President of Bryan College, this was the only year we had to move the commencement program inside.

On May 4, 2002, God made it rain for David Dahlke and he walked across the stage.

David looks forward to not only walking, but running and jumping. He loves basketball and I think the Lord is going to let David dribble, shoot and slam dunk to his heart’s content.

He tries hard not to let the weariness of his life get him down. It’s hard but David says he waits on the Lord. I know why.

. . . those who wait in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).

 

DavidSpeaking   David continues his courageous life of purpose. He works in Chattanooga and just started a work called MINDS Ministry (Meeting Immediate Needs of Disabled Souls), where he coordinates collecting, refurbishing and distributing of wheelchairs and other medical devices for those who need it most. He got this vision while on a mission trip to Ecuador where he saw the desperate difficulties the physically challenged endured. Check out his Facebook page and give him a shout.

 

 

Robin Williams and the Christian Response

RobinWilliams       Soon after Robin Williams died, I was saddened by the many Christian leaders, bloggers and others posting that he “got what he deserved,” that he “chose” his death, or that he is “not in a better place.”

For Christians to use this as a “preaching moment” to criticize and condemn Williams is not unexpected. We confirm again the perception that we are mean-spirited and uncaring. We are pedantic and naïve and lack a sense of appropriateness.

There is a time to mourn and a time to weep. This is not the land of the living, this is the land of the dying. All creation groans for redemption.

Those of us who help family and friends with clinical depression know the darkness, the despair and the irrationality that overwhelm the individual’s ability to make good choices – or even remember what choices they make.

Why are we not investing our efforts and emotions in developing communities where it is OK to talk about our struggles, our doubts, our fears, our failures? The brokenness of the human soul is embarrassing to our culture of self-perfection. But God calls us to create a culture where you forgive 490 times a day and grace is a bloody cross. We always give each other the benefit of the doubt because love covers a multitude of sins.

“By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

But sadly, it is not so. I have friends who say their church is the local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There, everyone is trying to make it through the day by the grace of God. There, if they are late, everything stops and they are embraced for showing up. They all know how it is.

“Can’t handle church,” one of them told me. “They don’t like it when I show up. They don’t understand.”

Last week, the suicide of Braxton Caner caused some soul-searching. His father, Dr. Ergun Caner has been the object of attacks from Christian leaders and bloggers, many of them pastors. The attacks grew ugly, however, when some of them turned their public assaults against his fifteen-year-old son for some of his adolescent tweets. The attacks were humiliating.

BraxtonCaner

Then Braxton took his life.

Some of the attackers have issued apologies for their words. Some were very sincere; others were more, “Whoops. Sorry!”

Many Christians around the world are fleeing for their lives from the terror of genocide by those who are committed to destroy them. Harassment and oppression are part of the everyday life for many followers of Christ.

Yes, Christians in America are being antagonized, attacked and abused.

By other Christians.

I was reading an article discussing a particular Christian leader. Below the article was the long string of vitriolic comments and accusations by Christians.  Somewhere in the middle of the hundreds of messages was a comment from a reader whose ID was “atheist456” or something similar.

He posted: “See how they love one another.”

God: Where are you?

A Broken and Dying World

Crucified

Last Sunday, I stared at the headline from the UK Telegraph: “Christians Crucified Again for Refusing Islam.” The word “again” almost made it sound like a joke until I followed the link and saw photos of Christians in Syria nailed to crosses – dead or dying. Former Muslims all, they converted to following Christ. They were given an opportunity to recant their faith in Christ and return to Islam but they refused. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) accused the young men of ridda, “defection from Islam,” a crime that carries the death penalty.

As I was reading, a breaking news report popped up on the screen:  “A strong earthquake in southern China’s Yunnan province toppled thousands of homes on Sunday, killing at least 367 people and injuring more than 1,800.” The death toll has grown to over 600 with 2,400 injured.

Now we have reports and gut-wrenching videos of ISIS beheading the children of Christians, their mothers raped and their fathers hanged. CNN reported 300,000 Christians are fleeing Iraq to escape the genocide.

syria-baby-hostage

What kind of God allows such evil and suffering in the world? When people struggle to believe in God, that’s the question that tops the list.

But the tragic headlines don’t tell the full story. Personal loss, pain and suffering can crush our hopes.cnn_ted-turner

At a young age, Ted Turner, founder of TBS and CNN, considered being a missionary. When his younger sister, Mary Jane, died of leukemia at 12 (Ted was 15), he rejected his religion. He explained later, “I was taught that God was love and God was powerful and I couldn’t understand how someone so innocent should be made or allowed to suffer so.”

Tim-Allen-02Actor Tim Allen’s father died when Tim was 11 years old. A drunk driver crashed into their car as his dad was driving home from a college football game. Nearly 50 years later, Allen still claims that his father’s death “changed everything forever.” In a recent interview he said, “Part of me still doesn’t trust that everything will work out all right. I knew my father was dead, but I was never satisfied with why he was dead. I wanted answers that minute from God. ‘Do you think this is funny? Do you think this is necessary?’ And I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with my creator ever since.”

Where is God?

If God is all powerful and all good, then why is the world he created so seriously broken and why doesn’t he do something about it?

Anyone who thinks that this is not a legitimate question is not living in the real world. It is at the very heart of understanding the very nature of the universe and our place in it.

And it’s not just Christians who are challenged by the problem of evil. Every worldview struggles with the real presence of evil and suffering in the world. For the atheist, the existence of the very concept of moral good/evil is difficult to explain arising from a materialistic universe. Why are such categories pervasive throughout cultures and history? Some try to claim, “Moral codes are so different among different cultures.” That is true in the margins but the core moral code is historically and cross-culturally consistent.

C. S. Lewis describes his struggle with this when he was an atheist, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

And for the transcendentalist who claims that good and evil are just words for neutral actions, the idea that cruelty and kindness are two sides of the same coin is not only silly but disturbing.

So how do we respond?

Giving an Answer for Hope

If you are looking for a survey of comprehensive answers to the problem of evil, I won’t give them here. If would like some practical or academic approaches you can check here and here, respectively.

But comprehensive arguments are not usually needed. What most people are looking for is hope there is some resolution to why the world God created is so broken and why he apparently does not intervene to make it right. Finally tuned arguments have their place, but God’s story in Scriptures takes evil head on with no apologies.

Let me give the elements of a resolution in the form of bullet points that address key parts of the struggles we have.

1. Evil is not a thing. It is not the opposite of good. Evil is a parasite. It cannot exist on its own. It needs good to feed off of, to twist and pervert. In fact, everything that we call evil is something good that has been twisted or perverted. Good can exist without evil but evil cannot exist without good.

2. God did not create evil. He created a world in which evil was possible. This is a variation of the “free will defense.” Because God imbued humanity with the freedom to choose to love him, necessarily they had the choice not to love him. This choice and its catastrophic consequences are described in detail throughout the Scriptures.

3. The flash points are God’s goodness and God’s power. If God is all-good, wouldn’t he want to eradicate evil and suffering? If God is all-powerful, isn’t he able to do it? So what is he waiting for? How bad does it have to get? Maybe he isn’t all-good or all-powerful; which is the same as not being God at all. But, God is all-good and all-powerful, and he will. . .  (see the next point).

4. God will remove the presence of evil and its consequences. This is the beautiful truth of the biblical worldview. God wants us to have confidence about what the ultimate future holds for us. Right now, we are distressed because of the timing. Like the Psalmist we cry, “How long?” (Psalm 6:3). So, if someone says, “God has not destroyed evil;” he must really say, “God has not yet destroyed evil.” He knew we would be troubled by this so he said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

5. God endured the consequences of evil himself. God did not sit in the situation room and watch his creation struggle through the ravages of evil and its destruction. He became a man and endured the worst that suffering can inflict on a man.

God with us

A favorite writer of mine is Shusaku Endo, one of Japan’s most celebrated novelists. As a Japanese and a Christian, Endo realized that he could not rely on a religious heritage as a backdrop for his books. So he fashioned his stories reflecting the Buddhist first truth, “Life is suffering.” His characters are flawed, awkward and sinful. Yet they labor to remain faithful to Christ and serve others.

endo

He captures the apparent lack of God’s intervention in suffering in his most celebrated book, “Silence” (which is being made into a movie starring Liam Neeson and directed by Martin Scorsese, 2015 release).

His novels explore the Christian faith in ways that are uncomfortable to the Western Christian mind. Whereas American Christians may say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life;” Endo explains, “Life is suffering. God came and suffered with us and for us.”

The hope that we have in the risen Christ, whose sufferings secured the beachhead for the eventual reclamation of creation, helps us to endure whatever miseries come our way. To paraphrase Pascal, life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. We know what the ultimate future holds, so that gives meaning and hope to today.

And when live it, people will ask what we believe that gives us hope in a world that groans with hatred, death and despair (1 Peter 3:15).

 

Here are some helpful books if you are interested in reading more about the problem of evil.

D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990.

Philip Yancey, Where is God When it Hurts? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. New York: HaperOne, 1940

John S. Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problem of Evil. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.

Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1986.

Alister E. McGrath, Suffering & God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995.

Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974.

Music, Beer and Christian Apologetics

chicken

 

“If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC.”
- Kurt Vonnegut

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us happy.” – Benjamin Franklin

 

Kurt Vonnegut and Benjamin Franklin (above) had different criteria for acknowledging the existence and character of God. Both of their well-known statements are tongue-in-cheek, and neither falls into the category of intellectual apologetics. Good thing because it seems people are giving up on Christian apologetics. I can’t blame them.

Donald Miller rightly complains about current apologetics and concludes “. . . the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.”   Blogger T E Hanna follows up with 3 Reasons Why I Gave Up Christian Apologetics. The reasons are: 1. It is Rarely about Evangelism; 2. It justifies our Pride; and 3. It Fuels Negativity.

Before we drown the baby in the bathwater, I want to look at it from a different perspective. The idea of apologetics, of course, comes from the ancient Greek meaning “to speak in defense; give an answer.” Many interpret this as a confident recitation of the various arguments supporting Theism and Christianity and a refutation of arguments from opponents. Simple.

My Crash Course in Apologetics

I spent a number of years speaking in the former Soviet Union to educators, most of them life-long atheists. I would speak for an hour and then answer questions for another hour. Those trips remain a highlight of my life. However, they did not start off so well. On my first trip (Moscow) I thought I was smart enough and clever enough to convince the 750 educators attending the conference that God exists and Christianity is true. I knew the evidence well and all they had to do was listen and they would be convinced.

I was mistaken.  I was not smart enough and too clever by half. The educators were on the edge of their seat the entire time; not mesmerized by my speaking but challenging every point I made. I felt physically beaten up after every exchange.

It took me a while to recognize that it wasn’t the content but the approach. I realized that I made the educators see me as an adversary. I made them defend themselves and their non-belief. I made them think of ways to counter and ridicule theistic arguments.

I looked at how the Apostle Paul confronted his multicultural world and came across his charge to the Christians in Colossae: Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:5-6).

A New Approach

After that first trip, I took a different approach and found myself in the thick of it but in a different way. I opened the conference inviting the educators (in Yaroslavl) to join me in a quest for understanding. I said to them, “I know that most of you wonder why so many thinking and well-educated people in the West believe in God and embrace Christianity.” I saw heads nodding. “This has not been your experience here in Russia so I was hoping you would allow me to explain to you why they believe. I think it is important for all of us to understand these important issues because they are not only at the heart of a person’s life but form the very soul of a society.”  More heads nodded all over the auditorium. “After I explain we will have lots of time for you to ask any questions that you wish.”

I could see the people relax and sit back in their seats. Ready to listen, evaluate, and seek to understand.

The exchanges were lively, honest, and engaging. The conversations continued in the hallways, the dining halls and hotel rooms. One of my favorite stories is from Kiev. On the last day of the conference, a group of 13 teachers gave me a coin commemorating the independence of Ukraine from Russia. “We want to give this you to remember us,” they said. “Last night we changed our worldview.” They told me they had come to the conference as confirmed atheists and found themselves discussing and arguing about the topics of God and Christianity every evening. On their last night, they all found that they had come to embrace Christ. They all agreed to present the coin to me as a gift of appreciation.

If apologetics is merely dueling arguments about Christian beliefs then I agree it is usually fruitless in an evangelistic sense. The evidence for God’s existence, the reliability of the Bible, the confirmation of Christ’s deity and so on have greater value for Christians to shore up their commitment and understand their faith.

Building Bridges

However, as I learned from my experience, there is value in the give and take of philosophical apologetics. Some people need to cross an intellectual bridge before they can consider the possibility that God exists and that Christ has uniquely revealed him to the world. I let the Russian educators help me build that bridge.

Another good example is C. S. Lewis. While Lewis had left his atheism and acknowledged that God possibly existed, he questioned how Christianity alone could be true. It was a long conversation with J. R. R. Tolkien on September 19, 1931 until 3 am that helped him see how the question was resolved. (You can read about it in Alistair McGrath’s wonderful biography of Lewis; C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, chapter six).

Many people have an emotional bridge to cross as well. The number one cry of the heart is, “Why does an all-good and all-powerful God allow such widespread and indiscriminate suffering throughout the world?” Responding to this is apologetics at its most important and sensitive focus. Of course, every worldview struggles to explain this problem of evil but it festers in the wounded souls of those trying to make sense of a good God in a world wracked with suffering. [I will address this in my next post.]

Apologetics follows Peter’s direction to: “Always be prepared to give an answer (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). The implication is clear: we are to be living in such a way that our lives scream “there is hope!” We give, serve, love, sacrifice, and even die for others because we know the One who died for us and what He has next for us. Then people will ask why we live this way. And we must be prepared to explain.

And they will probably need something other than music and beer.

God shows up in your brain . . . and vegetables.

GodBrain

Scientists are claiming that humans are hard-wired for belief in a Supreme Being. The natural inclination of the human brain, they say, is to explain the existence and functions of the universe as the work of some sort of cosmic, divine being.

Matthew Alper, author of The God Part of the Brain, explains it this way: “For every physical characteristic that is universal to a species, there must exist specific genes responsible for the emergence of that particular trait. The fact, for instance, that all cats have whiskers means that somewhere within a cat’s DNA, there must exist what we can informally refer to as ‘whisker’ genes.

What if we were to now apply this same principle to the fact that every known culture from the dawn of our species has believed in some form of a spiritual reality? Wouldn’t this suggest that spirituality must represent an inherent characteristic of our species, that is, a genetically inherited trait? Furthermore, wouldn’t this then also suggest that our ‘spiritual’ instincts, just like our linguistic ones, must be generated from some very specific region within the human brain? I informally refer to this site as the ‘God’ part of the brain, a series of neural connections from which our spiritual beliefs are generated.”

The answer to all of his questions is “no.” Applying the same formula of physical inheritance to “metaphysical beliefs” is not obvious and it is not science.

We know why they are so excited about this conclusion. It makes no concessions about the actual existence of God. It is a simple attempt by naturalists to explain an overwhelming truth: most people believe in God. To avoid making a statement that appears to give credence to the actual existence of God, scientists relegate the pervasiveness of “God-belief” to the subjective experience of people whose brain makes them believe without the benefit of any external evidence.

This is a good try by cognitive scientists but it is a swing and a miss. For metaphysical thinking to emerge from the physical world is nonsense. But for a physical universe to emerge from a metaphysical Being, as the Scriptures describe, makes perfect sense. The Scriptures do not try to prove God’s existence, they assume that as beings created in his image, we inherently know he exists.

Cognitive scientists seem to hope that this “scientific conclusion” not only explains the pervasiveness of belief in God but also the nagging thoughts professed atheists have about the possibility of God’s existence. Even the most celebrated public atheist, Richard Dawkins, has changed his motto from “There is no God” to “There probably is no God.” That “probably” says a lot.

If God on our brain doesn’t convince you that he is real, then how about God in an eggplant? Yep, an eggplant.

godeggplant

Louisiana chef, Jermarcus Brady came across this remarkable divine message while he was sautéing vegetables at a Gino’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge. Brady is a man of faith and he claims the organic memo was God’s way of letting him know, “Hey, I’m real.”

There may be skeptics, but we already know that God speaks through vegetables.veggietales

Expect a renewed and growing appreciation for Veggie Tales (although God may not speak through Silly Songs with Larry).

Finally! What’s Next for us

Finally!

We had to wait for LeBron James to decide where he was going before we could make our decision. Now that he is coming back to Ohio we are free and clear to move on.

I took a sabbatical from most social media for the past 6 weeks. Not only have Lynne and I been praying and talking through our options but I have been speaking and mentoring almost non-stop. From University commencements to international pastor coaching to high school leadership conferences; it has all be a blast for both of us.

Deciding what is next provided a lot of time to think about how God will use us to continue to make a difference. Lynne and I are weary of agendas. We want to be involved in works that have a vision. As we mentioned before, our request to God was (and is), “Where are you working and how can we help?” The many opportunities that came our way were fascinating.

And they came immediately. After I announced my intention to resign as the President of Cedarville, I had not even gotten to my car in the parking lot when Continue reading

God shows up at the airport

When you look for God’s hand in life, it is amazing how often you see him at work. The Scriptures tell us that our lives should be dripping with good works as we encounter people who need a touch from God (Ephesians 2:10; Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12) Sometimes it is a small act of kindness. Sometimes it is a major investment of time, effort and even money. But we are in it all the way. We are grateful stewards of all that he has given to us.

The past weekend I spoke at a university commencement in Kansas. In the airports, I ran into an actor (a star of Arrested Development) and a college basketball star (projected to go number one in the NBA draft). It’s always fun to see “celebrities” but it’s also sobering to realize again they are just normal people thrust into abnormal lifestyles.

But my favorite people during the trip were not the celebrities, but this little girl and her brother. photo (1)photo

I encountered them and their parents at the Wichita airport. They are Vietnamese and for one reason or another missed their flight out of Wichita to Ho Chi Min City. No, it wasn’t a direct flight. They were flying from Wichita to Minneapolis to San Francisco to Taipei to Singapore and finally to Ho Chi Min. Missing this flight meant they couldn’t travel that day. The young father was angry and his wife was in tears. Unfortunately, they couldn’t speak English and the airline agent was dismissive (“It’s their fault; they should have been here earlier”) and unhelpful (“They will just have to buy tickets for the flights tomorrow”). She walked away, leaving them standing at the gate alone.

I spoke with them since I am fluent in Vietnamese. Just kidding, I don’t know even one word. But I did know that I was supposed to help somehow. Through miming and interpretive dance, I found out they did have a place to stay for the night. I corralled the gate agent and got her to call and see what could be done. After a while – and a few more slick dance moves – I identified the Asian travel agent who had scheduled their travel. I asked the agent to work with the travel service to get them rescheduled for the next day.

While they were engaged on the phone, I looked and saw their two children sitting despondently all alone in the gate area. The boy was five and his sister almost two. The boy knew a little English. So do I. I pulled out my iPad and he immediately knew what to do with it. We played chess, he and I, for the next hour. The little girl climbed up on my lap and watched. I told her all my funny jokes (both of them) and showed her how to play a puzzle game on my phone. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves for quite a while. Several people stopped by and said, “Your children are beautiful!” I wasn’t sure how to respond. To say, “They are not my children” sounded a little creepy.

When time came for my flight to board, I looked over at their parents and they were sitting patiently across the gate area (you can see them in the back of the photo of the little girl). Their mom came over and asked if I was leaving, at least I think that’s what she asked. When I said, “yes,” she smiled and said “Thank you” and took the children and the four of them left the airport. The agent said everything had been arranged for the next day. They would be OK.

It was then I realized that they had calmed down and completed their travel arrangements with the agent about fifteen minutes before. Then they sat quietly as the children and I played and laughed.
I think it was more for me than for them.

I thought about the many times I am too busy to be of any help to anyone. Let me rephrase that: “I think I am too busy. . .” Being busy is a pathetic excuse; it is never even an acceptable reason.

After Jesus told the memorable story about the Good Samaritan, he said, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

I pray that whatever kindness we can show others is a step in their journey to know that there is One who loves and cares for them.

He speaks their language.

Slam Dunk Moments

thA couple of years ago, Lynne and I attended the playoff basketball game between the Miami Heat and the Philadelphia 76ers. The game was played at Wells-Fargo Arena in Philadelphia and, if you know anything about sports fans in Philadelphia, the intensity and volume were at high levels. In particular, the animosity expressed toward the Miami Heat stars was passionate, constant and (at least on this blog) unrepeatable.

The game was a close one which only raised the temperature and the volume to a fever pitch. Near the end of the game, with the score tied, Chris Bosh of the Heat took a long jump shot from the left side. The ball hit the back of the rim and caromed out. The roar of the crowd had just begun when Dwayne Wade of the Heat, flying down the lane, grabbed the ball in the air and ferociously slammed into the basket.

For about two seconds, the arena went silent. Moments before, these Sixers’ fans had been hurling vile insults at Wade. Now, there was a sense of “Wow!,” awe, admiration for his incredible athletic play.

I think about this as a good model for the Christian life. We should live in a way that has “slam dunk moments;” moments when we rise about the crowd. The people around stop, take notice, and wonder what it is we believe that makes us do what we do.  Even those who are critical of Christianity should find in us a life that commends its truth. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil” (1 Peter 2:15-16).

History is filled with examples of slam dunk moments.

For example, in the eighteenth century, the Clapham Group changed the world. With people such as politician William Wilberforce, playwright Hannah Moore, mathematician William Dealtry, India governor John Shore, and others, the Group put their Christian priorities into practice working tirelessly to provide education for needy and abandoned children and clean up the abusive prison system in England. The most well-known efforts were directed against the slave trade. Wilberforce devoted his life fighting against wealthy and powerful businesses to end the slave trade and free those in bondage.

The passion and compassion of these followers of Christ took the non-believers by surprise. Their criticism of Christianity sounded ill-informed and petty. Those who worked so hard for so long for no personal gain except to do the right thing in God’s eyes changed English society and ultimately, the world.

Slam dunk!

The 1958 movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman, recorded the true story of Englishwoman Gladys Aylward. Aylward traveled from Liverpool to a remote area of China to serve as a missionary in the 1930’s. She and another woman ran an inn for merchant travelers where they provided food and a place to sleep. Aylward would read stories from the Scriptures to the Chinese merchants as they ate.

The local leadership belittled and even humiliated her. The made her perform demeaning tasks or difficult jobs that no one else would do. Yet her steadfastness and integrity won out. The Mandrian himself, moved by her life of faith, humility and service, proclaimed his faith in Christ. This little lady went on and saved an entire orphanage from the invading Japanese army.

Slam dunk!

Thousands of Christian organizations, schools and churches invested hundreds of millions of dollars in supplies and human hours of labor after hurricane Katrina. Cedarville was a part of that number, our students raising over $150,000 and more than 600 of them traveling to the gulf coast to work.

Roy Hattersley is an atheist and a journalist for the U.K. Guardian in London. He came to Louisiana to report on the efforts to clean up, restore and provide relief for the gulf coast communities devastated by the storm. He was overwhelmed by the Christian organizations sacrificially serving, giving, and working for the benefit of people they did not even know.

In his Guardian article, he noted the absence of “teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers’ clubs, and atheists’ associations—the sort of people who scoff at religion’s intellectual absurdity.” Hattersley admitted that it is an unavoidable conclusion that Christians “are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others.”

Slam dunk!

Slam dunk moments are not always before an arena full of fans or impact national policies. Slam dunk moments come from slam dunk lives. When everyone around us is looking for an easy path, our commitment to excellence and quality stands above the rest. When human needs arise, large or small, our lives are marked by deep caring and sacrificial giving.

When people around us buy into our culture’s ethic of absolute personal choice, we maintain our moral commitments with humility and joy. When we see prejudice towards those who are different, our lives shine with acceptance and grace towards everyone.

So why do we do it? We are not motivated by reward or applause. But there will be moments when people stop in wonder and want to know what it is that we believe and we can tell them that we belong to Christ who gave himself for us. When He said, “Follow me;” we believe He really means it.

So I want to live a slam dunk life. We have both the ability and the opportunity to rise above the common, the norm; to rise even above the celebrated, yet empty. Ask God if we can help him – and watch he will do with our lives.

Looking for Loopholes

w-c-fields

W. C. Fields, the great comic actor, was on his death bed. Some friends came to visit him and were surprised to find him reading the Bible. Fields was a well-known cynic and to find him reading the Bible was puzzling. When they asked him “Why?” he answered, “I’m looking for a loop hole.” 

Fields is like most people who live their lives without much thought of ultimate issues until they have no other choice. 

Like cramming for a final exam, they hope they stumble on the right answers for whatever questions are asked and what might be required.

 Several years ago, USA Today published a survey in which they asked, “If you could ask God one question, what would you ask”? The runaway number one question was, “Why am I here?” 

Today’s culture tells you that you should decide for yourself, Find a reason to live and live it passionately. It’s your choice; it’s your life. 

Before you start singing, “It’s my life! And it’s now or never . . . ,” let me quote some lines delivered by the same Jon Bon Jovi to the graduating class of Monmouth College: “Nothing is more important as [sic] passion. No matter what you do in life, be passionate.”                            

In some ways that is true. But this approach assumes that everyone has a free choice and no choices are wrong. Some choose wisely, work hard and opportunities come their way for worldly success. We see it in the corporate world, on the playing fields and courts; from Bill Gates to Oprah to LeBron James. 

Passion is important, but it can be destructive. Passion that is untethered from truth often destroys. On a big scale, we can think of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao. We have learned again and again that some choices made by just a few people can lead to lives of emptiness, despair and destruction. Think 9/11, Sandy Hook, Boston Marathon – at one time innocuous descriptive words that now elicit images of violence, death and evil. 

We are the sum total of all the choices we have made. Much has happened to us that you did not ask for but how we have chosen to respond has made us who we are today. So, take responsibility for our choices; don’t blame others, esp. God, – that is an emotional and spiritual black hole. There is no guarantee you will be successful in the worldly sense but you will choose who you become. No one can make you unethical, unkind, or uncaring. You will choose this path. You will not become a good wife, husband, dad, mom by default. You will choose. 

When Joshua stood with the nation after all the great victories in Canaan, his one challenge was for them to choose whom they would serve. He even gave them options. If you don’t want to serve the Lord, he said, fine, here are some alternatives. If they needed any help with their decision, he went on record and told them that he and his family were going to serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14-15). 

But he made them choose. Because not to choose, is to choose. 

All of us, every day, are choosing what we are becoming. Every day we affirm or deny the commitments we say we have made. 

There are no loopholes.

 

The Most Important Person

Who was the most important person in the ministry of Jesus?

Whoever was in front of him at the moment.

A Roman Prefect in his mansion or an adulterous woman at her well; a Pharisee in the dark of night or a mother in the throes of grief. A child, a soldier, a leper. Unknown to them, the one who captivated them was the one who created them and would soon die for them.

woman-at-the-well

Most are familiar with C. S. Lewis’s thoughts in Mere Christianity about our frequent daily encounters: “There are no ordinary people,” he reminds us. “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Just the past few days I have spoken with . . .

. . . a young Filipino woman who was the desk clerk at my hotel in Mississippi. She told me she was a Catholic and then apologized because she believed in ghosts.

. . . the man next to me on the plane judges dog shows. He isn’t very religious and his wife started reading Heaven in for Real and he is interested in what happens after we die.

. . . a Muslim woman works in the restaurant I stopped in. She is desperate to make friends for herself and her son.

Most people are willing to open up their lives if they know there is someone who will really listen and care. Paul says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6 NIV).

My absolute favorite thought on this truth comes from Walter Wangerin’s book, Ragman and Other Cries of Faith. Every time we meet someone, he says, we have a unique opportunity. He writes:

“It’s a chance at holiness. For you will do one of two things, then. Either you will build him up, or you will tear him down. Either you will acknowledge that he is or you will make him sorry that he is–sorry, at least, that he is there, in front of you. You will create, or you will destroy. And the things you dignify or deny are God’s own property. They are made, each one of them in his own image…There are no useless, minor meetings. There are no dead-end jobs. There are no pointless lives. Swallow your sorrows, forget your grievances and all the hurt your poor life has sustained. Turn your face truly to the human before you and let her, for one pure moment, shine. Think her important, and then she will suspect that she is fashioned of God.”

We get to do this.

Every day.