Monday, August 18, 2014

A Branson Vacation

Well, we just got back from 5 days and 4 nights in Branson, Missouri. We've talked about this trip for about 15 years, and finally got yo it. We've talked about an anniversary trip for several years, and finally got around to it. I'm glad we did.  I want to tell you about our favorite stops, our not-so-favorite stops, and a few things I learned from the trip.

It seemed like everywhere we went there was a show. Someone was singing at Mel's Hardluck Diner, at Grandma's Rolls, and everywhere else we went. We attended a couple of paid-for shows - Jonah at Sight & Sound studios, and the Hughes Brothers 'It' show. Jonah was hands down the best show we saw. The story of redemption was told with incredible singers, acting, and special effects. If you get to Branson and see one show, this is it.

Our favorite attraction was riding the Branson Duck. Ducks are revamped WWII amphibious vehicles. The one we rode had a great group of passengers - a mom & dad and four grown sisters with their husbands. They sat in front of us and they were hilarious, but the driver of the Duck was just a hoot. He informed us, drove us, captained us as we went amphibious, and made the trip the best hour we spent in Branson. We got to watch the Branson Belle paddleboat leave dock from the Duck. It was great.

Here are some of the things I learned:
1.  No one who lives in Branson is from Branson. They've all moved from somewhere else.
2.  Branson has a family-friendly, very moral atmosphere.
3.  There are more flea markets in Branson per capita than anywhere else on earth.
4.  Even family friendly can be worldly.

Let me talk about that one. If you've never been worldly, then it won't register. If you have, it may. We stayed in a boutique hotel - meaning small & one-of-a-kind. It was a romantic spot that catered to couples who weren't bringing their kids. Denise told me I did good. It wasn't wild and crazy. It had a wine bar/cafĂ©, outdoor garden-like seating, and live music each evening. The guests listened to music, didn't get rowdy, and were civilized. I mean, this was a nice, romantic place. But . . . that whole music, beer/wine garden, live music scene is seductive to me. It's a draw, not back to my wild west days, but rather to my worldly days. And, I've discovered that worldliness is a much greater danger than wildness for me. So, I'm thankful for the wake up / reminder from the Lord about that.

Now, on to the last thing I learned:
5.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most precious thing I possess. 

Where to worship last Sunday. Would we stay in Branson? Would we side-step to Fayetteville to hear Ronnie Floyd? Well we ended up stopping at Summit Church in Little Rock on the way home. It was good to worship with them, and  hear their senior pastor, Bill Eliff (co-founder of One Cry), share the first of three sermons that were sort of a vision-casting for the next year for their church. He shared, with his church of over 1,000, mostly younger adults, that this year they would equip every one of them to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By the end of the year, every person in their church will know how to present the most precious gift to the people in their lives. He shared his testimony with tears, and I was renewed and reminded.

The time away was a blessing. The time with my best friend, Denise, was a blessing. Jonah, the Ducks, the flea markets, all blessings. The reminder from God about worldliness, a blessing. We met a lot of people, enjoyed our time, and were reminded that we already have the most precious gift in the universe - the privilege of knowing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Nowhere To Run To: Robin Williams

I love Saturday mornings - always have. Cartoons only showed on Saturday mornings when I was a kid. On Saturday mornings we mounted bicycles with fishing poles in hand and headed to the pond. After marriage, we cleaned, did the yard, washed cars on Saturday mornings. Then Robin Williams joined us.

He'd starred in Good Morning Vietnam, and I bought the soundtrack on album (yes, vinyl), and every Saturday morning I made coffee, cranked the volume on my stereo and dropped the needle on "Gooooooood Morning, Vietnam!!!" shouted by Robin Williams, followed by Martha & The Vandellas singing Nowhere To Run To. My wife has never forgotten.

Is that what happened? After fighting the drugs, the alcohol and the depression, did he finally get to the place that there was just nowhere to run to anymore?  He was so funny, so singularly funny. And, funny, the really funny kind of funny, often comes from a mind and soul that is prone to deep, dark hopelessness.

I saw Williams interviewed dozens of times, and never felt I got a glimpse beyond the mask. He would always sidetrack into an impersonation or some crazy rabbit trail when things got personal. Did the funny cover up the real man?  Maybe the funny was the man. I don't know.

I just know a human being is dead. People still say, "Suicide is the most selfish thing you can do."  Really? I've seen alot of selfish. I've seen narcissists live for decades, using up every person in their path. I've seen people drive $60,000 pickups away from church after dropping a $20 bill in the plate for world missions. There's a lot of selfish in the world, so let's just move on.

Yes, it's wrong to kill yourself. God gives life, and it's wrong to take it even if it's your own. Suicide, though, is just the wrong at the end of a long line of wrong. See, hopelessness is nothing more than the fruit of unbelief. Unbelief is the greatest sin. It's the one sin that puts everyone in Hell. That's what Jesus said. He said he came, not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved by believing in Him. He said the world was already condemned, and that it remained condemned because it did not believe in Him. Unbelief is the one consistent, universal sin in Hell.

It's wrong to take my life, but it's also wrong to believe my sin is greater than God's ability to forgive. It's wrong to believe that my failure is greater than His ability to restore. It's wrong to believe that my addiction is greater than His ability to deliver. It's wrong to believe that my wound is greater than His ability to heal. It's wrong to believe that my understanding is greater than His. That's what I'm really saying when I find myself in the pit of hopelessness because some tragedy has made me doubt the inherent goodness of God. "Why me, Lord,?" is nothing more than me accusing God of not living up to His end of the bargain. All of that is sin. All of that is found in Satan's playbook.

We need to identify the players in this deadly game. Jesus came to save sinners, not condemn them. They, we, are already condemned. Satan lives to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus came to rescue us from that pit so that we might life. 

Jesus' plan was simple. Leave Heaven. Enter the pit. Offer life. Pay for passage out of the pit with His life. Save people who trust Him. Empower those previous pit-dwellers with His Word and His Spirit, and then leave them down here amongst all the people in all their pits to tell them that there is a way out and the way out is named Jesus.

So, pick your side. Condemn the man who takes his life, or join Jesus in His mission of rescuing people still living in their own pits. 

If you find yourself sliding off into a pit, or you're already at the bottom, don't believe the Satan, the snake. Believe Jesus, the Savior. It may seem like there's nowhere to run to. You are just so far down in the pit that you can't see over the edge, but there is an edge. There is life beyond the pit.

And . . . listen, this is so important . . . pay attention to others who are in their own pits. Jesus has left. He's in Heaven, but YOU ARE HERE. And, you are here by design. And that design includes carrying Jesus into the pits of others.

If there is such a thing as a greater sin, which is it . . . the sin of suicide, of the sin of avoiding people who are in their own pits?  Both are against the nature of God. Suicide is antithetical to life, and Jesus is life. Failing to love people who are in their pit is antithetical to love, and God is love. Which sin is worse?  You tell me.

I'm not trying to guilt trip you. You may have had a friend who committed suicide. I have. So, hear me. You can't save anyone. It's not your job to be Jesus. It's not within your ability to pull people up out of the pit. It is your job to love people in their pits with the love of Jesus. It is your responsibility to move toward them, not away from them. It is your responsibility to tell them about the hope that is found in Christ Jesus.

If you have a friend who is in a pit, don't wait for the professional or the preacher to show up. You're the friend for a reason. Move near. Encourage, intervene if necessary. If you are afraid that your friend or family member is about to reach that nowhere to run to place, do something. DO IT NOW.  Talk to your pastor. And, if he doesn't know what to do, then talk to a professional.

And, listen, if you are the one in the pit, don't do it. I know you feel like there's nowhere to run to, but there is. I know you can't see it now, but believe me. There's someone in there with you who loves you and wants you to live, not just exist, but really live. His name is Jesus. Maybe you can't see Him now. Maybe you can't believe in Him now, but taking your life is not the answer. Trust me. Trust someone. Don't do it. Call for help. Call now.

If you think someone is thinking about suicide, or you are, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800)273-8255.