Monday, June 18, 2018

The Last Sunset


And just as it is appointed for people to die once - and after this, judgment - so also Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:27-28

     We were fishing with friends and a strange thought drifted through my mind. That's not unusual. Many strange thoughts drift through the vast empty space between my ears, but this one continues to remind me it is there. What was the thought? "This could be the last sunset I ever see," 
     A few days after that sunset, the mother of a friend of mine died suddenly. I had coffee with her only a week or so before. The next day his mother-in-law died. They had both lived full lives in the faith, but those days were numbered. The thought continued to echo in my mind.
     Another friend of mine recently returned to our area. I was excited he was back. He's one of the good pastors - genuine, committed, sincere, joyful. He moved to another church a year or so ago, and we didn't get to see each other as much. So, I was glad he had returned to a church nearby. I saw him on June 4th at a prayer breakfast. On June 7th, he was struck and killed while jogging. He had lived a life of faith, but his 46 years did not seem full enough. That sunset reappeared in my thoughts. 
     One of my best friends was a Navy Chief, who had been saved, transformed, and then retired from the Navy. After returning home, he was called to preach. We flew remote control airplanes together. I love building the planes as much as I love flying them. He and I were working on one. One Friday in March of 2015, we were scheduled to finish it. Our hope was that we could put it in the air in just a few days. His daughter called me that evening, panicked, he had an accident. A week later, I preached his funeral and we laid his body to rest. That sunset echoed in my mind this weekend as we finally cleaned out his airplane shop. 
     Sometimes people get angry with God because someone dies. That's understandable, but unfair. He did promise, after all, that there is a final day appointed for each of us. None of us knows the day, but we know it's coming. Whether it's a sunset, a fishing trip, a cup of coffee, a breakfast, or a special time with family or friends, one of those will be the last one of those.
     Each of us will have a last dance. That thought isn't morbid if your faith is in Christ. If you believe in Jesus and follow him here, you will enter eternity with him at your side. If, however, you have not followed him here, then you will face the judgment with him as your opposition. 
     I'm glad for that sunset and the thought that continues to echo in my mind. It, along with God's Word, reminds me that he's never lied, even about death. He hasn't promised earthly immortality. How awful would it be to have to live forever in this world?  He's promised that one day our suffering will end and our joy will be full. That's only frightening if we don't know him. It's only unfulfilling if we think that the last dance on this earth holds a candle to the first one in eternity.
     So, until that day, let's live as if we were already there. Let's patiently await his perfect timing, holding onto him while we make our way through this life. Let's dance while we can, but let's never forget that nothing here is as wonderful as everything there will be. And, above all, let's believe in Jesus, follow him, and give thanks that meeting him face-to-face will be the best part of life on the other side of the last sunset.  


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Does Father Know Best?


Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:1-4

     Sunday is Father's Day, and since I'm a preacher I'm expected to say something about Fathers. Preachers are warned not to use paternal holidays to lay into mothers and fathers. That's good counsel. The flipside, however, is to pour on the schmooze. Being a father makes that a bit awkward, kind of like me preaching how great pastors are on pastor appreciation Sunday.
     Did you know Father's Day was an afterthought? One story says it was begun in 1909, the year after a mine explosion in Virginia that killed 361 men. Grace Golden Clayton suggested to her pastor that a special service should be held in honor of fathers. The other story of its founding says it was begun in 1910, the year after Sonora Smart Dodd heard a Mother's Day sermon and suggested to her pastor that father's deserved at least a mention. Either way, thank you for the day Grace and Sonora.
     I've been reading a lot about parenting recently. Guess I'm having flashbacks to my good old days working on my family ministry degree. It's interesting that the debate hasn't changed much. Parents are still the most important people in society.  There's apparently an entire generation that hasn't been parented well, since we now have to have "Adulting" classes for young adults. 
     Some say that most of society's problems should be laid at the feet of parents, particularly, it seems from popular opinion, fathers. There's the movement toward more authoritarian parenting, lauded by some and villainized by others. There's a more tempered approach, labelled "authoritative parenting". Parents become more deal-makers than rule-enforcers. Then there's the egalitarian approach, where who knows who's in charge. 
     I can show you scientific research supporting every side of every issue. By the way, scientific research isn't all it's cracked up to be (there was a good article about that in 2013 in in The Economist). The science you trust today will very often be proven inaccurate tomorrow. 
     So, how should you parent? Does father really know best? Whoop (that's spank for those of you who know no rednecks), don't whoop, play let's make a deal or tell them "because I said so", dress boys as boys and girls as girls or let them choose the too-too or the gladiator outfit, make them go to church or let them choose, think there are gender-specific roles or not, father is head of the house or mom is or the three year old is . . . seriously, what do we do?
     Well, I don't know what you do if you're not a follower of Jesus Christ. Punt, I guess. Join the parenting-philosophy-of-the-month club. Do it like your parents because you thought they did great, or don't do it like them because you think they were idiots. I don't think anyone intends to be a bad parent, but, how do you really, honestly, know what a good parent is? Is a perfect child the product of perfect parenting? If it is, then any imperfection is the result of failed parenting, and that's just not entirely true. Both great and totally dysfunctional young adults come from the same home. 
     Here's what you do if you're a follower of Christ. First, stop evaluating your parenting solely on current fruit in your kids lives. You should take an honest look at your parenting, but good parents can have rotten kids. It's the Holy Spirit who produces fruit in your kids' lives. You are just one of the tools he uses. 
     Then, pick up the Bible and read all that God says about parenting, but before that read all it says about being a parent, and before that read all it says about being a child of the Heavenly Father. Who you are in Christ, how you are following Him, is far more important than what parenting method you used. Focus on your own childhood as a child of God. 
     Finally, love learning. Read, learn, evaluate, but don't live your life by the observations and ideas of the world. Live and parent by the design of the designer. That won't make a lot of people happy, but following Jesus never does. 
     Earthly fathers don't always know best, but there is a father who does. . . "our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name."
       
       

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

I've Seen The Stars, I Know Their Maker

 But he (Thomas) said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." He then said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving." Thomas answered and said to Him ,"My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
John 20:25b-29 

I took those pictures years ago with a telescope that I bought with money that I didn't really have. That's what I've done a lot of my life. Telsecopes, bonsai trees, medicine, psychology, flying remote control airplanes, fly fishing, fly tying. I get curious about something, get obsessed, and go get it. I want to know. I want answers. 

We didn't have kids then and had jobs that paid real money. I didn't believe in God, so my time and resources were my own (I thought). I met some guys who were also into telescopes - engineers, NASA scientists, and even a cowboy or two. There was an astronomy club, and we wanted a bigger, better telescope, so we built one with sonotube, plywood, aluminum conduit, huge mirrors, covered it in red Formica, and called it the Eveready Battery, because it looked like one. Here's a picture of the newly completed project in my carport.


We loaded it in my pickup and joined hundreds of amateur astronomers who made an annual pilgrimage to the Prude Ranch in the Davis Mountains of deep, southwest Texas. The event was called the Texas Star Party. Here's a picture of the telesecope with John Dobson sitting in front of it. He's the guy who designed the mount we built. If you're an astronomer, you know he was a famous guy. We looked through eyepieces all night, took pictures, and pondered the answer to life, the universe, and everything.


It was fun, but it wasn't fulfilling. It was just another one of the things that I did to try to answer my questions, fill my hungry intellect and heart. After telescopes, bonsai, showing Chinese Sharpei, painting, solving people's problems as a psychologist, and who knows what else, it just didn't work anymore. When it didn't, guess who was there? Generous, patient, forgiving Jesus, waiting just like the prodigal father in Luke 15, and I believed.

I still didn't have all the answers to every question in the universe, but they became far less important. See, I had found the one who held the universe in his hand. If I hadn't believed, who knows what I would have done or become. My greatest loss would have been not knowing Jesus. But there would have been other losses, too. Two of them are in the next picture. 

Before I believed in Jesus, I didn't want children. Almost as soon as I believed, I did. Just a few months after Jesus saved me, the girl in the hat was growing in my wife's womb. Four years later, the toothless boy on the right was in my arms. I was so like Thomas. I wanted proof before I would believe. When I finally believed without seeing, I discovered that Jesus would indeed bless those who believed without seeing.

God is so generous in his patience and forgiveness. I love the two in that picture as much as I love life. I thank God that his salvation for me included a life in which they existed. If I had not believed, they would not be here. That would be a terrible thing, though I would not know it. Even worse, I would not know Jesus. I have seen the stars, and now I know their maker.