blood-moonIt was a very normal sort of Monday. I had taken Caroline to school and arrived at the church office early, around 8:00 a.m., as I usually do. That’s when my brother called me on my cell phone to let me know that Dad was not doing well. Somehow what we thought was a somewhat routine hospitalization shifted into what would inevitably be his final one.

When Keith’s voice cracked with emotion, I knew I needed to leave for Mississippi. Soon. Despite my earlier assumptions, this Monday would not be ‘business as usual.’

I made a few contacts to cancel some meetings and let our staff know what was going on. Then I gathered everything I needed to take with me and headed home to pack hastily for an unplanned trip. I knew I’d be hanging out at the hospital most of the time, so I threw some random casual clothing in a suitcase. But something told me I needed to take dress clothes too — just in case.

The six-hour drive from Little Rock to Jackson was filled with mixed emotions: concern, fear, anxiety, regret, hope. It was a mixed bag indeed. Mainly I filled the time with prayer and praise music, thanks to my handy iPhone playlists.

I’ll never forget this particular anniversary, and not just because it was tax day. Shortly after I stopped for lunch, my phone started going crazy with news alerts about the chaos at the Boston Marathon. Explosions. Injuries. Fatalities. Confusion. Mass hysteria. My drive from Lake Village to Jackson was filled with constant live coverage from news radio in Boston.

Though in a much different way, I remember thinking to myself that all these people were also dealing with an unplanned interruption in their day. And like me, most of them were probably feeling pretty powerless to do anything about the situation they were facing.

Life is filled with many unexpected twists and turns. Just as I’ve come to understand that real-life ministry often happens during the interruptions of life, so too does personal and spiritual growth. As much as we love the view from mountaintop experiences with God, we know in our hearts that we can’t stay there. And that’s by His divine design.

Anyone who has spent time in the mountains knows that the views are surreal, but there’s always evidence of the order of His creation. The treeline ends well before the peaks of high mountains. And the air gets very thin — too thin to support life for very long. Just as God didn’t intend for humans to set up house on the top of a physical mountain, He doesn’t intend for us to ‘camp out’ on the periodic emotional mountaintops either. Those ‘big moments’ like weddings, the birth of a child or grandchild, graduations, and such, are Kodak moments precisely because we know they are quickly fleeting.

Mountains always co-exist with valleys. In fact, they are mutually dependent on each other for their very identity. Valleys don’t provide the panoramic vistas, but they provide the practical necessities of life. That’s where we find water, food, and oxygen. From a spiritual perspective, our souls find their nourishment in the valleys — in the low points of life. It’s when we acknowledge our need for God that He steps in with just the right amount of grace, at just the time when we’ve exhausted our own energy and effort. His grace shows up in different ways — sometimes through an overwhelming sense of peace, sometimes through the quiet presence of a trusted friend, sometimes through special memories and recollections of other hard times when His grace has been more than enough.

Here I sit in the wee hours of a very chilly spring morning so that I can catch a view of the total lunar eclipse. It’s kind of funny, actually. One of the last conversations I had with Dad (during a visit home last March) was marked by his fascination and enthusiasm for the tetrad of ‘blood moons’ that he had heard San Antonio pastor John Hagee talk about many times. Dad always had a keen interest in Bible prophecy — so much so that as a child I can remember being frightened by some of the conversations I overheard. Dad was absolutely convinced that Jesus was coming back today — and I still wanted to hang out on earth for a while.

Tonight I again have some very mixed emotions. I didn’t always have the best relationship with Dad. And I’m not sure, to be quite honest, exactly how I feel right now. That’s pretty bad for a counselor, isn’t it?

I don’t know for sure if Dad really even knew I was with him those last few days of his life. But this I do know: relationships are hard, but reconciliation is worth the effort. Life is short. Life is wildly unpredictable. And I don’t understand how people make it through life without faith in Jesus Christ who will ultimately restore everything to its pre-Fall perfection. I get excited just thinking about it!

For now, I’m resigned to the reality that Dad has a front-row seat for tonight’s viewing of the much-anticipated ‘blood moon.’ And I know he wouldn’t trade seats with anyone on this ol’ planet.

Tonight, for me, God’s grace is the moon.

Blue QuestionThe tides are changing in our culture today. It is obvious that churches and parachurch ministries are struggling to respond to all the changes. For me, it is important to base my worldview on the authority of Scripture — not the latest trends and opinion polls.

After reading this post, some will offer me encouragement for boldly taking a strong biblical position on Christianity’s latest intra-familial feud — the firestorm over World Vision’s earlier decision to begin hiring legally married homosexuals. Others will just as passionately criticize me as a non-thinking simpleton intent on keeping the proverbial pot stirred and giving a bad name to Christ. Yes, unfortunately, that is an accurate description of the diversity that exists among professing Christians. Whatever the case may be, please understand that this post at its core is not about me; it’s about a vital missing piece in church teaching today.

There’s no escaping the fact that the issue of homosexuality is frequently held out to be the sin that many evangelicals prefer to condemn. You can see this in news stories and especially in the comment threads on Christian sites. I contend that such condemnation of sin is, in most cases, not grounded in fear, hate, or contempt for sinners, as many would prefer us to believe. Rather, it is grounded in the biblical teaching that those who trust Christ for salvation will be constantly striving to die to sin — not deny it, excuse it, minimize it, justify it, or re-classify it. Indeed, each of us as believers must instead confess our sins and REPENT of our sinful ways. And we are ALL guilty of sin, or else we wouldn’t need a Savior.

It is this vital aspect of repentance that is so gravely missing from the teaching and preaching of many churches today. I’d go so far as to say that it’s the primary reason we’re facing such an increasingly hostile anti-Christian culture here in America. And it’s not hard to see why it’s so tempting for Christian pastors and teachers to not mention the R word — because it makes people very uncomfortable. Let’s face it: it makes us uncomfortable too.

When the world sees the church take seriously our own heterosexual sins (i.e., lust, adultery, fornication, debauchery, cohabitation, pornography, etc.) — often hidden and intentionally unaddressed –  then perhaps we will stand a greater chance of being heard when we speak against homosexual sin. After all, the capacity for sexual sin is not limited to those who engage in homosexual acts and relationships. It has been suggested that the porn industry in the U.S. would be dealt a serious financial blow if Christians suddenly stopped supporting it. My personal and clinical experience in Christian churches and counseling centers tells me this is not an unreasonable claim.

Only by the power of Christ at work within us are we able to resist our proclivity to sin — be it gossip, gluttony, slander, etc. It is a lifestyle of daily repentance and abiding in God’s Word that leads us to personal holiness. In their stated attempt to promote unity among professing Christians, the leadership of World Vision, like some mainline denominations and self-described progressive Christians, demonstrated a flawed understanding of the process of discipleship — not to mention a careless disregard for the historicity of Christianity.

Perhaps no one said it better than my Public Catholic friend Rebecca Hamilton (D), state representative in Oklahoma, on her own blog on Tuesday:

The little g gods of self say that whatever people want to do is morally right. We refuse the real God and chase, like a dog following its tail, after this most picayune of gods — our ever-changing, never-satisfied desires. We fix our course on self-love, selfishness, self-righteousness, self-promotion; everything but self-awareness.

We lie to everyone to excuse our behavior, but most especially we lie to ourselves.

When a well-known Christian organization publicly departs from 2,000 years of Christian teaching on a matter as serious as the definition of marriage, it can not legitimately claim, as World Vision has done, that it is doing it to “unite Christians.” That’s a specious argument if I have ever heard one.

Here’s the inconvenient truth: Blessing sin is not an option for believers, as there is no basis for it whatsoever within the pages of Scripture. There are some extremely messed-up and shallow theological interpretations being championed as truth in today’s world. Sadly, many are being led astray by church leaders who espouse a very different gospel — not the gospel that leads to abundant life and eternal life, but one that appeals to the lowest common denominator and tramples upon the grace of God.

To be sure, World Vision is not known for its assertive evangelism strategy, yet it has always claimed to be unashamedly Christian in its mission, its action, and its hiring and staff conduct policies. Therefore, it was no surprise to me that the immediate and overwhelming outcry by World Vision’s partners, and subsequently by the evangelical community as a whole, was one of shock, dismay, and disbelief. There are, of course, many humanitarian organizations which do good work but which have no ties to Christianity, and many World Vision supporters clearly began to wonder if their organization was on track to become one of them.

Loving people in a very practical way involves caring for orphans and widows, feeding the hungry, serving the poor, and being advocates of justice in our communities and our world. But loving people also involves pointing them to the truths of God’s Word — because it is in the truth of Christ that we find freedom from the bondage of sin and self. The truth is that one cannot claim to be in Christ yet continue to live with unconfessed sin and an unrepentant spirit. We are to be constantly working out our salvation until the glorious day when we meet Jesus face to face.

I applaud the leadership team at World Vision for reversing course, identifying some of the blind spots that left them vulnerable to worldly influence, and confessing that their earlier decision was inconsistent with both the traditional evangelical interpretation of Scripture and their own mission statement. While I am grateful for the public acknowledgment of mistakes and missteps, I regret that great damage has been done not only to their own credibility but also to the Christian community as a whole. And when that happens, there really are no winners apart from Satan himself.

But more than all that, I am grateful that within the reversal letter Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, provided an example of repentance — which is something rarely seen on such a lofty scale. Many will see this as mere political pandering to the so-called religious right. Others will view it simply as a business decision to appease the organization’s evangelical base and thereby cut their losses. I prefer to see this decision as a heartfelt acknowledgment that one can love and care for sinners without compromising the integrity of Scripture. Certainly trust has been damaged, but the beauty of true repentance is that, in humility, it paves the way for reconciliation. I pray that for the sake of millions of children all over the world that this organization, through its ministry partners, will continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. Surely that is something upon which we can all agree.

Christians in this country are facing difficult times. This week’s very public debacle is merely a premonition of things to come as we move forward in an increasingly post-Christian culture. I share Hamilton’s concern, as expressed in her follow-up post:

I am certain without doubt that the challenges to Christians are just beginning. We are not even really out of the gate when it comes to the dissolution and dissing that is heading our way.

Can they (World Vision) take it?

Can you?

I’m pretty sure that we’re all going to get the chance to find out.

As growing disciples of Christ, let’s strive to live our lives in accordance with the Scriptures, realizing that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The philosophies of this world will shift and shake, but the Word of God is a solid foundation on which to build our lives. May our love for Christ be evident to all, may our efforts to speak truth always be couched in love, and may we closely examine the nooks and crannies of our own hearts first and foremost.

After all, the world is watching. And they need Jesus.

For a more eloquent and historical viewpoint, be sure to check out Kevin DeYoung’s post: “Why Is This Issue Different?”

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