Dying to Live

I’ve been in and out of hospitals a lot recently. No fun. Sadness galore. Sometimes there’s no spiritualizing away the harsh realities of our lives.

In fact we shouldn’t. We should experience our sadnesses for what they are, knowing that God is sovereign over them. But that doesn’t make them unsad.

Speaking of hospitals, I just read of Robert and Ellen Hughes. Robert and Ellen had to drive their 33-year-old autistic son, Walker, to Loyola Medical Center in Chicagoland. Walker was in a fit of rage, and he sat in the back seat pulling his mother’s hair and attempting to strangle her. The much-loved son was having a terrible reaction to a medicine which was supposed to calm him down. Walker even bit his dad.

Not really a Hallmark moment. Maybe you can relate on some level.

Our Lord Jesus said something very interesting (John 12:24): “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

Interesting indeed. I think I get it, at least in part: my pathway to life is through death. God desires that I bear spiritual fruit, but I have to get there by dying.

Jesus was talking about His own cross. He is that grain of wheat. He would give His life as a ransom for us. He, by His death, would bring us to glory. Only He could do that.

But, in another sense, Christ was setting an example for us. His ministry on earth would be short, but it would mean constantly dying to Himself as He loved others. Kind of like the foot washing experience among the disciples. The culmination of Christ’s dying would be the cross, but He would die all along the way in order to get there.

The same is true of us. As you and I die to ourselves – all along our way to glory – we find ourselves reproducing the Spirit of Jesus. That’s fruit. As we serve others instead of ourselves, Christ is glorified. Way cool.

Now back to our friends in Chicago. Just as they reached Loyola, Walker bit his mom. She let out a yell, and uniformed men surrounded the family in an instant. They were public safety officers with stun guns attempting to subdue a large and violent man. Walker’s exhausted parents had witnessed these kinds of scenes before, unfortunately, and usually they did not end well.

Ellen was sadder than she’d ever been in her entire life. Can you relate, at all?

That’s when things turned on a dime. Instead of a fight, the officers creatively lured Walker into a game. At first he jumped off the exam table, but then – for three amazing hours – the officers cheered and clapped for Walker until he was lulled into a completely different state of mind. These men, in their bulletproof vests, sang songs. They harmonized the theme of “Mister Rogers,” and grooved to some James Brown. They impersonated characters from Sesame Street. And they danced until Walker – who has great difficulty communicating – was completely calm. All because one of the men, Sgt. Keith Miller, picked up on an important clue: Walker mentioned Mary Poppins.

I’ll give you a quote from Walker’s mom: “Walker loved it. He was kind of mystified and charmed and started smiling.”

Sometimes, for life to flourish, you and I have to be set aside – just like those tough-turned-tender officers. May God grant us the grace to set ourselves aside! Daily. It will not be easy, but this is our tremendous privilege in Christ.

Regardless of what type of plant we have in mind, the seed must fall off of that plant and die before it can produce any more seeds. Though it may be necessary for the seed to be on the tree for a time, sooner or later it must die. Its death means, in reality, more life. Same with ours.

Some days, you and I are hurting. And, every day, there’s someone hurting nearby. The way to life, for all of us, is dying to ourselves. As Ellen thought about what had just happened to her son that cold winter night, she expressed her profound gratitude on social media: “They were men his size who considered him a real person. It’s scary when people don’t think you’re a real person.”

I’ll close with one more of Ellen’s descriptions of those kind and selfless men: “You can’t train that kind of spirit.”

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

When Life Gives You Ice

Eileen and I have dear friends in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Barb has been updating us on the temps via Facebook. We have another friend where we used to live on Chicago’s North Shore, and Bill has been updating us on the frigid weather there as well. Brrrrrr!

What are we to do with circumstances that test us? I don’t have to tell you that sometimes life hands us a whole lot more than an unseasonably cold day, and we have to adjust. We have to live and learn. As a matter of fact, I’ll never forget a mantra which Barb and her husband Wayne used to tell their kids as they were growing up: “Attitude is everything.” (By the way, all three turned out to be great adults.)

Attitude is everything, isn’t it? We all make mistakes, and we all face situations beyond our control which feel like anything other than what we think we signed up for! So the problem is not only in us – it’s beyond us. Not only that, but everyone around us makes mistakes as well. And every person we know is confronting some of the same harsh realities of life on this fallen planet. Nobody’s summer lasts forever. Lots of things make no sense this side of heaven. Life is not always easy, and it’s not always fair.

In reality, that’s a very good thing. If life really were “fair,” we’d all get what we deserve: eternal death and separation from God. But our Lord continues to rain down His grace upon both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), and Christ’s mercies are new every day.

And here’s the thing about attitude. You and I can learn to “be of good cheer” – an instruction of Jesus in John 16:33 – even when we just don’t understand the imperfections of our lives. We can lean in on the comforting testimony of Job: “Though he slay me, yet I will trust him.” Our coldest nights can be warmed by the positive report of Joseph to his betraying brothers: “What you meant for evil, God meant for good!” We can stand strong on the words of the prophet, who surveyed his corrupt and crumbling nation, and yet somehow affirmed: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

So – winter or not – be of good cheer!

In the midst of this last Arctic outburst, a massive pileup of more than seventy cars happened just outside Montreal. Thankfully and amazingly, no one was seriously injured. On-the-scene news accounts from Canada revealed a surprising twist. It seems that even a wreck of that magnitude couldn’t stop some of the stranded drivers from having a little fun. As crews worked for hours to clear the route, the icy road was transformed into a makeshift hockey field!

I suppose hockey players are used to pileups. But, when it comes to making the most of our messes, we could learn something from our neighbors in the Great White North.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Justice, Judgment, and Jamie Lee

Last Friday morning, there I was in our nation’s capital posting on Facebook how peaceful was the situation in Washington, D.C., in the hours just before the March to Life. It was all true. I guess I should have known that “peaceful” wouldn’t last forever.

Here’s what happened in a nutshell, as my purpose in writing today is not to revisit the events in detail, but to help us learn something from them. Partial video footage of students from a Catholic high school in Covington, Kentucky, went viral. In the video, taken in front of the Lincoln Memorial and after the March for Life, the students appeared to be harassing a Native American elder. This provoked widespread condemnation of the kids on social media. Various media figures and Twitter users called for them to be publically shamed, and punished, along with members of their families.

This quickly escalated into death threats. The high school responded with administrators promising to consider expulsion. Eventually the school had to temporarily close over safety concerns. I’ve just scratched the surface, but you get the point. As junior Nick Sandmann became the face of the controversy, America – as it is now prone to do – went nearly crazy in a frenzy for revenge. Many people concluded that these boys in red MAGA hats had simply proven that Middle America is a breeding ground for nativist bigotry.

Now that much more video footage has been made available, and more eyewitnesses have been able to offer their accounts, many contributing factors have come into view. For example we know that, early on in the incident, the “Black Hebrews” were hurling racist and gay slurs at the Covington students. I won’t go any further with the retelling of the surrounding circumstances and events, but I did want to establish something of the wacky climate that led to multiple erroneous conclusions – and to subsequent retractions of earlier reports and comments which had been issued and published by both professional media and private citizens. In other words, a lot of people concluded that they had gotten key facts wrong in their first reactions to the sidewalk standoff.

Hopefully we as Christ followers will always remember these truths.

  1. We judge at our own risk. It’s impossible to function without making judgments – that’s simply part of life – but we better humble ourselves and seek God for sound ones. Jesus doesn’t mince any words when, in Matthew 7:1-5, he warns of us of the dangers of our hypocritical judgments in matters where we have no business judging.
  2. If we want to walk in love, we will work really hard at listening before we speak (James 1:19-20). The best way to de-escalate a potential controversy is to seek to understand what’s really going on (including what’s really being felt by the other person, or what’s really being asked of us) before we swoop in with our reactions or indictments. Patience and grace go a long way when things seem to be getting out of hand.
  3. There’s probably more to the story. Proverbs 18:17. I won’t say much here because I don’t want to take away from the text. Just read, and reread, that one powerful verse.
  4. If we need to speak up, we should be careful about hiding behind our keyboard or screen. The Bible is replete with reminders that taking a concern to the wrong person is damaging to our public testimony (e.g., Matthew 18:15). Real reconciliation is most likely to happen in a one-on-one conversation, when there is a spirit of humility and a desire to come together under the banner of Christ. We must avoid overreacting, or reacting too quickly, on social media. The danger is: it really can’t be taken back.
  5. Don’t stereotype the people who seem to be on “the other side” of an issue. Our role in every sphere of influence is to be Christ’s light and salt (Matthew 5:13-16). We risk losing both when we attempt to marginalize anyone, or to throw anyone under the bus in a harsh – and what almost always ends up being unfair, if not even untrue – emotional reaction.
  6. (My wife is really concerned about this one.) We must not join in on the growing phenomenon of mob rule. The Bible sets forth the priority of settling disputes equitably (e.g., Deuteronomy 19:15 and Second Corinthians 13:1), and these principles undergird our American system of justice for all under the rule of law. WE DO NOT WANT TO LIVE IN A SOCIETY WHERE PEOPLE ARE SENTENCED AND DESTROYED VIA SOCIAL MEDIA. Don’t even be a part of it.
  7. Romans 12:9. Christ’s love is still more powerful than all the political power or social influence in the world. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Notice that we’re never given permission to hate anyone. We have to remember who is our enemy really – and who is not.

After having viewed only one photo of Sandmann from the D.C. incident, and because of it having made what she now calls a “snap judgment,” Hollywood star

Jamie Lee Curtis used social media to remind her followers that there are “two sides to every story.” The Hollywood icon acknowledged on Twitter: “I know better than to judge a book by its cover. I wasn’t there. I shouldn’t have commented. I’m glad there wasn’t violence. I hope these two men can meet and find common ground as can WE ALL!”

What she said.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

March On

It’s always fun to be in Washington, D.C., even in the middle of a government shutdown. Simply rubbing elbows with folks from some 190 nationalities is exhilarating! I’m here for the “Evangelicals for Life” conference, sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as well as for the 46th annual March for Life. The route takes us from Constitution Avenue (at 12th Street) to the steps of the United States Supreme Court.

In The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt take our culture to task for being so concerned about “safety” that we actually harm our young people, in that we consistently fail to expose them to the hard truths which they desperately need to confront. As a result, claim the book’s authors, America’s young adults are fragile instead of resilient. I’m glad to say that today I’m in the company of thousands of young people who are standing strong for the sanctity of human life.

I’m also happy to report that the pro-life ethic in our land appears to be broadening its horizons. It is not enough that we are anti-abortion, but we must be PRO-life. By that I mean that we must be humbly concerned about all of the conditions which prevent the people around us from flourishing. After all, all people are created in the image of Almighty God. Because our God values life, as Christ followers, we value life. All of life.

A film crew in the Pacific Theater during World War II documented the rescue of a 20-year-old American airman, and drew the attention of a Japanese official who remarked: “There is no way that the Japanese Navy would have sent any vessel into harm’s way, simply for a single aviator. They would have written them off.” This was not surprising at the time, really, as Japan had dedicated itself to the worship of their earthly king. Only the life of the emperor was sacred, so that made all other life expendable. The narrowly rescued airman, by the way, was the man who would become President George H.W. Bush.

Do you and I still believe that every life matters? Are we willing to defend and protect the vulnerable: unborn or otherwise? Are we willing to sacrifice so that others might prosper because we dared enough to serve them in love?

To love “the least of these” is the way of Christ (Matthew 25:31-46). It is a hard way, but it is the way.

I’m grateful to be walking along the way with you. Steven Curtis Chapman said it right here yesterday morning: “We’re on this adventure together.”

 

Pastor Charles 

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Of Ferdinand and Freedom

Almost simultaneous with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, in 1936, The Story of Ferdinand was published. Written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, this timeless children’s tale is set somewhere outside Madrid. In a nutshell, Ferdinand is a bull, but Ferdinand is not interested in bullfighting. He would rather smell flowers. Expanding on the book’s principle theme, Disney released an animated short of the story in 1938, and a full-length animated film adaptation was released by Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox in 2017.

Ferdinand is large and strong, and on one humorous occasion is mistaken for a ferocious bull. But in reality the banderilleros, the picadores, and the matador are unable to provoke him. Ferdinand simply is not a fighter. In its earliest days, The Story of Ferdinand from multiple directions faced accusations of being a stealth political attack, but I think such assessments miss the point entirely. So here’s my take on it.

Boldness is a noble virtue, but sometimes the boldness we most need is the boldness to just be ourselves. God our Creator has granted each one of us a unique set of gifts, strengths, and abilities. These may be uncelebrated and even unnoticed, by us and others, so part of our Christian maturity is discovering who God designed us to be for His glory (Psalm 139:1-18).

Unless we have our Ferdinand breakthrough, we will never serve Christ the way we were designed to serve. Unless we experience some of Ferdinand’s freedom, we are likely to spend the rest of our lives trying to be somebody else.

The Lord who fashioned us is very creative, and He knows exactly what He’s doing! He gave each of us a personality and a temperament. He gave each of us a communication style. He gave each of us particular passions, for creativity and expression, which are uniquely us.

Why? So we can serve one another in love (First Peter 4:8-11). So we can grow in unity, and in appreciation and respect for one other. So we can exalt Christ and His gospel in ways which would be impossible if we were not together in mission and ministry.

So don’t be who you’re not (First Corinthians 12:4-13). Let’s be bullish on that point, shall we?

 

Pastor Charles

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Surrounded

Happy New Year!

Eileen and I are enjoying our time in Atlanta at Passion 2019 with some of the college-age gang from First Baptist Paducah. We’re in the arena right now, so I’ll write for just a few minutes.

Last night I was blown over by a very simple worship song. I remember that “Surrounded” was written by Michael W. Smith, but last night it was performed by the Passion band. I’ll include the main lyrics of the song …

“This is how I fight my battles … it may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by You.”

That’s it. As we embrace 2019, I hope that you’re encouraged by those life-giving words. Will this year be easy for us? Of course not. Like I preached Sunday: we’re not home yet.

But. But. But. But we have hope. We are not doing this alone! In fact we are never alone.

I am reminded of Second Kings 6:8-17. When the battle rages fiercest, we are surrounded by an invisible army dispatched for our benefit. Why? Because God is on our side! He is FOR US. He is oh so FOR US.

I’ll close by quoting Matt Chandler: “Grace is for the journey.” May even the hardest fights of your 2019 journey be full of Christ’s amazing grace.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

More Than a Spoonful of Sugar

Perhaps, while the kids or grandkids have a few days off from school, you’ll indulge in a bit of butter popcorn and Mary Poppins Returns. The film opened in theaters nationwide December 19. Mary Poppins is exceptionally well done, and I think you’ll particularly appreciate the appearances of Angela Lansbury, Meryl Streep, and Dick Van Dyke. Eileen and I enjoyed the movie from start to finish. It’s a Disney reboot of the beloved American classic from 1964 – and it’s still set on Cherry Tree Lane. This time the Great Depression has intruded, and times are tough for everybody in London. Michael and Jane are grown up now, and they’ve lost the wonder of their childhood years. John, Anabel, and Georgie are the children now.

In case you take me up on it, I’ll offer a few points of post-viewing discussion with those you love:

  1. It is normal to feel uncomfortable because of the changes happening around us. Can’t we all relate to that message? Whether I’m a child or a grown-up, sometimes life just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Maneuvering the twists and turns can be exceptionally difficult, especially when it feels like somebody keeps changing all the rules. It’s hard to keep up with “progress” that doesn’t feel much like progress. Many of the Disney classics espouse – though sometimes subtly – a romantic and anti-modernist worldview. Just like in the original Mary Poppins, in Returns the bank symbolizes the modern world, and it’s not such a pretty picture. (This may be a great launching pad to talk about the complexities and pressures of our contemporary culture.)
  1. Sometimes our worldly ambitions are not all they’re cracked up to be. This theme is reminiscent of the 1964 film, and it still holds. An unquenchable thirst for profit eventually wearies the soul. So does the relentless pursuit of rational order. Thankfully, mysterious and gracious forces are often at work to free us from the chains that bind us – namely, us. The reason that we can’t come up with a satisfying ordering of the events of this world is because what we really need is a radical restoration of the perfect and holy order which was intended all along. We need Christ to do for us, in us, and among us what only He can do as the One who is sovereign over every circumstance.
  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Redemption can come from the seemingly strangest of places. How does a young widower raise three small children? One thing’s for sure: there is a plan. It will require pressing on and sheer determination, but it’s well worth finding. It will be in Mr. Banks’ absolute weakness that he will find his unshakeable strength. Family and friends might be rallied to our aid when we least expect it.
  1. Even in the bleakest circumstances, there is room for hope. Faithful perseverance always matters. Believing in the “impossible” may make no sense to those around us, but we don’t answer to those around us. Courage in the face of life’s obstacles requires a steady vision even when no one else can see what we see. Sometimes we all need a friend like “Jack the lamplighter” to show us how to navigate the fogginess of life. The fog will come, but so will the light. (Hopefully this will help you bridge into the good news of Jesus, who is our Light in darkness, and whose Word is our lamp.)
  1. In the end, the right prevails. In the words of the movie’s song: “There is nowhere to go but up!” But you and I know the rest of the real story. The British Empire, or any other empire for that matter, is no match for God – whose Word promises far, far more than a magical and happy ending. Human history is already worked out! The conclusion of all of it is clear: it’s a fait accompli. The future is just as settled as the past – just as settled as the “It is finished” of Jesus. You and I need not doubt or fear. Christ’s gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). God will take us home to be with our Lord, forever. God wins! Speaking of the Incarnation of Jesus, C.S. Lewis wrote: “The door we’ve been knocking on all our lives will open at last.”

Which brings it all right back to Christmas. In the carol lyrics of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.” 

Enjoy the show!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Friends

I spent the last couple of days in Houston, visiting my father. Houston is the city of my birth. It was a quick trip, but important to me as Christmas quickly approaches. Yesterday my dad and I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with his longtime friend, Bill, who is a retired dentist and all-around good guy. I took this pic to capture the moment.

Bill and Dad have been close friends since their years at Lamar High School in the section of town called River Oaks. They went to Texas A&M together, and have been crazed Aggie football fans ever since! Medical school and dental school separated them, but not for long, and they have cheered each other on while watching each other’s children and grandchildren grow up. (To be technically correct, Aggies don’t cheer. They only yell. But that’s another story.) One of my favorite childhood memories was when our two families went to Walt Disney World during its first year of operation. We stayed at the Polynesian Resort (there was no “Village” in its name then), and that was pretty big stuff in 1972!

I am grateful to Bill because he has been so faithful. Not only to his beautiful wife, Elena, for many years, but also to us. Because he has been like a rock of support to my family, through thick and thin, he has been an encouragement and blessing from God. In every chapter, he and Elena have “been there” for us. Priceless. Priceless indeed.

Dad and Bill, I pray for you guys lots more visits to Kyle Field.

Friends …

One of the wonders of Christmas is that the God of the universe, the omnipotent and sovereign Creator of all, would choose to befriend us. This is the message of Bethlehem. God, in Christ, has not just come near. He has not just come to visit. He has not just come to tell us the meaning of life. He has become one of us (John 1:14).

Not only that, but Christ has shown us the full extent of the Father’s love. On the eve of His crucifixion – on the same night when Jesus washed the smelly feet of His disciples, foretold the denial of Simon Peter, and prayed for unity among “those who will believe in me” (that includes us) – Jesus used the most endearing language possible to describe the likes of you and me. Knowing full well that He would have to die in our place the death which we deserved, He called us “friends” (John 15:14). How can we know that we are God’s friends? That same verse is the key: if we do what Christ commands us to do. We’re saved by faith alone, you see, but not by a faith that is alone. Because real faith expresses itself in real love.

Such grace is nearly unimaginable! The Incarnation of Christ would be followed by His life, death, and resurrection. Wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger was the power to make us friends with God (Philippians 2:5-11). That glorious night of Christ’s birth was not just a display of God’s power to save, but an angelic declaration of His purpose and pleasure to save as well.

This Christmas, take the time to thank God for the friends in your life. They are rare jewels indeed. Most of all, thank Him for the reconciliation that changed everything! Because of our sin, we were God’s enemies (Colossians 1:21). But because of Christ, we have become God’s beloved and adopted children (Romans 5:8-11; Ephesians 1:5) – His friends.

I’ll quote another good friend, Linus: “That’s what Christmas is all about.”

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Do You Hear What I Hear?

This Christmas season my heart goes out to those who are struggling. Pain and suffering at this time of year can be exceedingly real. The shorter and grayer days, and longer and colder nights, can’t help.

The idea that everyone is happy in December is pure fiction. An estimated ten million Americans – at least – suffer from what psychologists call Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD). I just call it “the holiday blues,” and I’ll thank Elvis for the prodding on that one.

For all of us, the holidays bring with them a tremendous pressure to be “merry.” All the while, merry we may not be. For a million reasons, including fears about not having enough money to make every loved one’s dream come true, Christmas can be exceptionally difficult. Holiday family gatherings can bring out into the open all of the dysfunction that we’ve managed to hide all year long. It’s kind of like when the White Witch unleashes her wrath on Narnia.

At any time of year, depression can make a person feel utterly alone – even when surrounded by people and festivities. The high expectations associated with Christmas can exacerbate the feelings of isolation and sorrow.

Don’t get me wrong: the Christmas message is always good news! But that doesn’t mean that the experience of the Christmas holiday will always feel good. God entered the world for us: fantastic! Making sense of my own world: not always so easy. C.S. Lewis, the creator of Narnia, expressed it like this: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

May I tell you something from my heart? Jesus did not come just for the happy who seem to be hanging out on Cloud 9. Jesus tended to focus on chewed-up-and-spit-out sinners, and lepers, and other down-and-outers in fact. He loved the poor and needy. He tended to rescue those who’d made a darn-near wreck of everything about their lives. As I read my Bible, it appears to me that Christ’s heart is drawn to the dreamless and depressed.

May I tell you something else? Jesus knows all your demons. All your blind spots. All your phoniness. And all your darkness. He can handle it. All of it. And, though Christ may not fix everything that’s broken about us as quickly as we’d like, He has promised – ultimately – a far better place for you and me (John 14:1-3). A place of absolute belonging and unbreakable peace. In Christ, we’re already naturalized citizens of that bright and perfect kingdom.

There won’t be a single depressed soul in heaven. Not one.

There is a new world coming, where we will be free from every disability and every disease. Those who suffer from physical and emotional hindrances now will soar and leap and smile for God’s glory! It’s the City of God, and we’re almost there.

I hope you’ll join me in looking around. There’s pain in every palace, and in every pew. People need our encouragement and grace. People need Christ. Perhaps you are His chosen emissary today. Because of His great love for you and for those around you, you may be His intended hands and feet for this wintry moment.

And, if you’re the one who’s hurting, please let someone know. Give us the chance to be the body of Christ. Give us the chance to be, like our Savior, “full of grace and truth.”

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Man with the Dragon Tattoo

Colonel Sanders and J. Edgar Hoover were friends.

Helen Keller and Mark Twain were friends.

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert are friends. At least off the tennis court.

Friendship is a really cool thing. Our world needs more of it.

I want you to meet Brandon. Brandon has cut my hair for the last five years, and a little longer. He also cuts Joshua’s hair. At least once a month you can catch us hanging out at the Chroma Salon.

Brandon and I don’t share everything in common. We didn’t grow up in the same place. We didn’t attend the same schools, and Brandon is half a generation younger than I if we had. I don’t even have a small tattoo. Brandon and I don’t usually align with the same political party. But we really enjoy talking politics and many other subjects, and we often agree on the most important issues. And we laugh a lot – at each other, with each other, and at ourselves. Even when we might not agree on some detail, we’re still friends.

Brandon has the unique ability to enter into your world. Josh loves Star Wars, for example, and Brandon can go there in conversation with Josh in ways that leave me speechless. I can’t even keep up with all the characters! Brandon knows how to speak Josh’s love language, and – from the perspective of Josh’s dad – that is worth a million dollars.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were two of the most prolific writers of faith and fiction in the twentieth century. But they were great friends first, and rich influencers in each other’s spiritual lives. Both men served as soldiers in World War I, and both men survived the trenches. God used those experiences, and that unlikely friendship, to ignite the literary imagination of both men. Had there been no Great War, followed by a great friendship, there would have been no Hobbit … no Lord of the Rings … no Narnia. Think of what the world would have missed.

Like Lewis and Tolkien, you have no accidental friends. Every friendship has a divine spark, and a divine purpose. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).”

One of the most memorable things said yesterday by President George W. Bush in the beautiful eulogy which he gave for his father, President George H. W. Bush, was this: “Dad could relate to people from all walks of life. He was an empathetic man. He valued character over pedigree. And he was no cynic. He looked for the good in each person and he usually found it.” After the viral “candy incident” at the August funeral of Senator John McCain, when Bush handed Michelle Obama a cough drop and it caught our nation’s eye, Mrs. Obama said publicly of Bush 43: “I love him to death.” This is the power of friendship, and we all need it.

Take the time to thank the Lord for the friends in your life. They are gifts.

If you read this, Brandon, I want you know that I’m grateful to God for you. You are a grace-gift to me, and to my family. Merry Christmas, friend!

 

Pastor Charles

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