David and Bill

Earlier this week, pastor David Wilkerson passed away as the result of a car accident near Tyler, Texas.  He was 79 years old.  David Wilkerson was a pastor in rural Pennsylvania in 1958 when he followed God’s call to start a street ministry among drug addicts and gang members in New York City.  He wrote about the experience in The Cross and the Switchblade which was a best seller in the 1960’s.  Soon after, Wilkerson founded Teen Challenge, a Christian addiction recovery program which now has centers around the world.

In the early 1980’s, I had the privilege of meeting several Teen Challenge “participants” at a banquet in Anchorage, Alaska.  I also met Bill.  Bill was an evangelist whose parish was the seedy 4th Avenue section of downtown Anchorage.  Here Bill shared the gospel message and brought rescue to a number of teenagers who had lost their way and pointed them on the right path through their subsequent entrance into life at the Teen Challenge facility.

I was struck at the time and still am all these years later by Bill’s humility.  He tried to deflect the attention that came his way at the banquet as teenager after teenager personally thanked Bill for their rescue and recovery.  I don’t even know Bill’s last name.  I don’t know if it was ever mentioned.  But God knows, and based on my limited understanding of God’s reward system, I believe Bill and a million “Bills” like him will be the surprise of heaven when their obscure, but life-changing, work will finally be revealed.

The legacy of David Wilkerson will live on, not only at Times Square Church which he founded, but also through Teen Challenge and its related ministries.  And so will the legacy of Bill, the obscure evangelist, in the young people God touched through his ministry.  Your work in God’s kingdom may be more similar to Bill’s than the national platform that God placed in front of David Wilkerson.  Whatever our circle of influence, may our part be characterized by a consistent response to follow God’s call.  You do have a platform.  And you may have no idea of its extent.  I doubt Bill, the Alaskan evangelist, knows the lasting impression and encouragement he gave to a lowly Texas geophysicist.

Being There

You have probably heard it said, “You can accomplish a lot in life by just showing up.”  Now this isn’t an excuse for mediocrity once you arrive, but it does contain an element of truth.  Especially when it comes to parenting.

The number one rule for creating the home that you have always wanted is “being there.”  It starts right here and is just that simple.  When that first bundle of joy arrived, you couldn’t think of ever not being there.  But life changes.  A temporary busy stretch at work becomes semi-permanent.  Your child’s strong will, a natural bent he was born with, feels like a reflection of your parenting quality and you lose confidence.  Selfish ambition begins to compete with your at home responsibilities.  Soon your lofty parenting goals are being swallowed up by fatigue and time pressure.  What are Mom and Dad to do?

Checking out, which unfortunately is not that uncommon of a reaction, is not an option.  Did you hear me?  Not an option.  So if we are going to see this parenting task through to completion, where do we begin?  First, if the downward path described above is your current experience, start by sticking your foot out and slow down the merry-go-round.  Remember that rotating playground apparatus we pushed each other around on as kids; hoping to go fast enough that our compatriots lost their grip while we held on for dear life?  If you picture your life spinning out of control, as ours has been from time to time, then you can see the need to put your foot in the dirt and slow it down just like we did on the playground.

Don’t know if you have what it takes to slow it down?  I know you do.  Because you are a parent.  You are in charge.  You are driving the bus and I am confident that you have what it takes to throw it into a lower gear if you are serious about the task at hand.  Always beware of allowing what started as a temporary time of busyness or stress to become a permanent situation.

If you have somehow let the “being there” in your kid’s lives get away from you, it is never too late to get it back.  Commit as a couple to a child focus in your home while the children are young.  Other things may have to just wait for another stage of life.  I did not say “child-centered.”  There is an important difference.  But “child-focused” is altogether appropriate while your kids are still at home.  My friend, Greg Despres, likes to remind parents, “Children of all ages spell love:  T-I-M-E.”  I wholeheartedly agree.  Being there.  It’s step one.  You can’t parent from the bottom of the stairs.

The Happy Dinosaur

Several years ago, while attending the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Annual Meeting, I had an opportunity to catch up with an old friend I had worked with in Alaska.  We hadn’t made a connection in quite some time, but Dean is the kind of friend you can easily pick up the conversation with no matter how long it’s been between visits.  This salt-of-the-earth fellow shocked me when he announced that he was divorced and remarried since we talked last.  As we compared notes about other co-workers from our Alaska days, Dean observed, “I think you are the only one who is still married to his first wife.  How does it feel to be a dinosaur?”  I wasn’t sure what to say.  I didn’t want to make light of his situation and the pain involved, but all I could say was the first honest thought that came to my mind, “It feels good.”

Yes, it feels good.  It feels good to keep your promise.  Again, not to ignore or minimize the circumstances and pain of divorce, but it feels good to be a dinosaur, if that is what keeping your promise is called.  I am also probably the happiest dinosaur you know.  But the happy part is a long story for another time.

A promise is a powerful thing.  I hate to break a promise.  I have and it hurts.  Why is breaking a promise so painful?  As Michael Card observes in his book Immanuel:  Reflections on the Life of Christ, when you make a promise you give away a part of yourself.  Something as simple as “I’ll be there at 3 o’clock to pick you up” gives a part of yourself to another person.  And something as serious as “I promise to love you for the rest of our lives” gives yourself completely to another person.  That is why divorce is so painful.  In marriage, you are giving yourself to another person.  In divorce, you have lost something you will never get back.  You have lost a part of yourself.  God’s intention in marriage is to give yourselves away to each other and to never get it back.  May I encourage you?  Keep your promise.

The Power of the Resurrection

As much as we celebrate the power of the cross, we mustn’t neglect the power of the resurrection.  Many have died on a cross -though only one as the Son of God – but the spectacular coming-back-to-life is the experience of Jesus alone.  God the Father confirmed the power and sufficiency of Christ’s death to forgive sin and His identity as God’s Son, the sinless One, by raising Jesus from the dead (Rom 1:1-4).  The resurrection sealed the deal and confirmed our salvation won at the cross.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy had caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet 1:3).

In Philippians chapter 3, the apostle Paul writes, “Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:9-11).

In one verse, Paul takes the power of the cross; “the fellowship of His sufferings” and “being conformed to His death” and puts it together with the power of the resurrection in his desire to know Christ in His fullness.  Paul follows a similar pattern in Romans 6:5, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.”  This hearkens back to the previous verse in chapter 6, “As Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).

To walk in newness of life.  Somehow we have landed on my favorite word in the New Testament; the word new.  Nothing goes together better than the words “new” and “resurrection”.  We were raised with Christ to experience all the “new” that He has promised His children.  So as we approach this Resurrection Sunday, take a minute to thank the resurrecting Father for both the privilege and responsibility, and might I add the godly desire, to walk in the power of the resurrection.

The Power of the Cross

It is nice to talk about good communication in marriage, developing your family identity, and “building a cathedral,” but without the power to make this part of our daily experience these are just romantic notions.  Each of us carry inside a remnant of the old nature – somehow still active even though it’s dead – that seeks to thwart our godly efforts.  The Bible summarizes its manifestation as selfish ambition.  How do we find the power to overcome our nearest enemy:  ourselves?

In Luke 9:23, Jesus warns His would-be disciples, “And [Jesus] was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’ ”  The concept, taken from this verse, of “bearing one’s cross” is a prevalent theme in the literature of Christian discipleship.  We often take the term to mean putting up with some physical infirmity, dealing with a challenging relationship, or some other difficult situation.  But to Jesus’ first century audience the meaning of “bearing one’s cross” cut much deeper and was explicitly vivid.  Being 2000 years removed from the cross as an instrument of execution has so softened the intensity of this phrase for us that we almost miss its potency.

It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for a convicted criminal to literally “bear his own cross,” carrying the crossbeam of his cross through the streets to the place of execution.  Jesus Himself suffered this fate.  When Jesus spoke these words, this literal “cross-carrying” was what his hearers visualized.  The equation of “cross equals death, not difficulty” was common in their experience.

I believe we can take at least three applications from Jesus’ command to take up our cross.  The most direct is this:  as a disciple of Jesus we must be prepared for physical death that may result.  This was not only the outcome for some of His listeners that day (nearly all of the apostles), but continues to be the experience of Christ followers in many places.  That Jesus had this in mind is clear from the verse that follows.  “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Lk 9:24).

Application two is hinted at in the preceeding phrase of verse 23, “He must deny himself.”  Similar to the cross representing physical death is the idea that the cross represents death to self, death to selfish ambition, death to your own hopes, dreams, and plans, even death to relationships that hinder one’s discipleship loyalty (Lk 14:26).  The word “daily” following the command also fits this application as it suggests this death is a continuous and ongoing aspect of discipleship.  Taking up our cross in this sense does indeed defeat our last enemy:  ourselves.  Our desires and agenda are now subservient to the call of Christ.

Application three moves beyond this specific verse to look at the over-arching message of the New Testament.  When we take up the cross, we are not only embracing its death-to-self message, we are also embracing its power.  We generally ascribe the “power of the cross” to the one time event of our justification.  We rightfully acknowledge that Christ’s death on the cross was powerful and sufficient to deliver us from the penalty of sin.  But could the power of the cross also be our ongoing experience?  The answer is a resounding “Yes!”  I refer you to the first several posts in this blog that examine the practical ramifications how Christ’s death ushered in everything new about who we are and empowers us to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

As our Good Friday remembrance approaches, may I encourage you to take a minute to thank our Savior not only for His one time gift of redemption but also for your new identity in Christ, your new nature, your new heart, and the ongoing presense of His Holy Spirit.  In these gifts we experience the power of the cross every day.