We Ain’t Edward VIII — The Great Boomer Abdication

Caricature Blog HWCMAbdications acquired a kind of romantic glow when Edward VIII of England abdicated to marry his American fiancé, Wallis Simpson. Many Americans gushed with the prospect of a King of England giving it all up for his “colonial” sweetheart. Simultaneously, many in the British Empire were aghast at the prospect of a royal not doing his duty.

Whatever we feel about abdications, we must, as a baseline, acknowledge the essence of the word: they are, well, abdications–a willful surrender of inherent responsibility.

Christianity in the West faces a crushing abdication–it is, in fact, a generational abdication as Baby Boomers decide (and the culture tweets in celebration) that it is time to abdicate–to step aside–to surrender responsibility–to retire.

Fueled more by cultural preference for the young and Social Security retirement income thresholds than by biblical mandate, Boomers have (in large part) decided to “move on and take it easy” (thanks, Eagles) rather than stay the course.

I am reminded of an interim pastorate experience I had in a small church in the coves of Massachusetts’s North Shore. The founding pastor had passed away, but I was entranced by stories congregants told of him sitting in worship (when he could no longer stand) and sharing the truths of God’s Word with the people he loved and who loved him dearly–right up to near the very end.

Most ministries will not end that way. Our youth-obsessed culture won’t let it. And there is genuine wisdom in the older pouring their lives into younger ministry leaders; finding the appropriate time to let go of the back of the bike and watch younger ministry leaders head off in their initial wobbly ways. But that is not, I believe, supposed to take place on a time table established by the Social Security Administration nor should it be triggered by the maturation date of Individual Retirement Accounts.

When God wants us to “retire,” He has specific and obvious ways of letting us know. The ultimate way He lets us know is by calling us to the retirement home whose threshold is the mortuary door.

This retirement phenomenon was highlighted in what I thought was a panicky sort of way when the Barna organization released its recent reports on the State of the Church and the State of Pastors. There was angst over the fact that the average age of pastors has increased and an implied wonder about what will happen next. As I read the report and heard the presentations, there seemed to be palpable distress over the rising average age of pastors.

All of this, I believe, runs counter to the consistent biblical teaching: respect the elders, listen to their counsel, watch them lead, watch them “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [them] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Boomers, let’s “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). It is certainly a relay race, destined to be continued by those who come after, but let’s not drop the baton before God Himself calls, “Time!”

Winston Churchill, speaking in the early days of the World War Two horrors, said these oft-quoted words: Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Of course, Churchill was not speaking from within a Christian world view, but his point remains: stay until the job (your job) is done. This was likely made more poignant by him giving his speech a slight five years after the abdication of Edward VIII.

But, here’s the question: do we honestly think that God will not raise up leaders for His Church? Do we think God doesn’t have a “succession plan?”

This cuts many ways, as I know some Boomers who have been shunted to the side who would joyfully engage in ministry, were the opportunity restored to them. And I know many Millennials who are hungry for ongoing investment in their lives by ministry leaders who have an abundance of notches in their belts.

Ben Sasse, in his book, The Vanishing American Adult, calls ours “an age that gives short shrift to the transmission of wisdom from old to young.” No kidding–and the Boomer abdication is not only a result of that but, in my view, likely a primary cause of that.

Perhaps we should look more to the sovereignty of God and rest in the reality that His plan for His Kingdom is not undone by “aging” pastors. And, perhaps Boomers should get back on the job.

© 2017, All Rights Reserved. Scripture quotations from the NIV.

 


Anti-Trump Trumpeting

Caricature Blog HWCMI did not vote for either of the two major party candidates in last November’s presidential election.

I could not vote for Donald Trump. He was so egregious in his remarks and evident attitude toward women that I could not countenance showing support for him by checking his name on the ballot. I have a wife and a daughter and granddaughters and nieces (and many, many women in my life–friends and ministry partners) who deserve better. I have a son and grandsons who need to know that they are to never disrespect women–ever. In addition, while it is likely that many of our presidents have been closet narcissists, Donald Trump seems desperately in need of personal approval in a way not even assuaged by actually winning the presidency. His conduct on the campaign trail; his apparent lack of grasp of public policy issues; his failure to analyze any of those issues (beyond either, “It’s terrible!” or, “It’s great!”), gutted any potential I may have had to mark a ballot for him.

I could not vote for Hilary Clinton. She was, in my view, deeply flawed as a candidate in many ways but–and this was the key point for me–the Democrats’ migration over the last couple of decades from being euphemistically “pro-choice” to being aggressively “pro-abortion” was one I could not countenance. There is simply no room in the Democratic Party (at least at the national level) for pro-life persons. This, despite recurring and reflexive references to “children” as the rationale for policy proposals. We have many stains on the national fabric: 50 million (and counting) aborted babies is, in my view, the deepest crimson stain.

So, I didn’t vote for either of the major party candidates. In my state, a ballot write in was not available–a vote for a third-party candidate as a way to say “none of the above” was my only option. I cast my “none of the above” vote, even while realizing that one of the two major party candidates would be the winner on November 8th.

Given Trump’s Electoral College victory, there are at least three realities in the face of his presidency: He gets to try to govern. The opposition gets to oppose. And the public (in support or opposition) gets to protest. Those three realities have been at the heart of our republic since its inception.

By now I have likely lost or incensed many who read this. That’s fine. But a more pressing issue, for those who embrace Christ, is: how do those three realities play themselves out now that Donald Trump is president? For those willing to venture on, I offer these thoughts.

As Christians, we have multiple responsibilities: preach the Gospel, disciple those who come to faith, deepen our relationship with Christ, tend to the marginalized, pray for our leaders. And, in a democratic republic like ours, we also have a stewardship responsibility for our government–we get to vote for those who make our local, state, and national decisions. We must listen, engage, vote, protest. But having entered into the arena, we also have a responsibility to accept the outcome–win or lose. If we win, we celebrate magnanimously. If we lose, we lose graciously. If the other side wins, we give them the chance to govern.

However, there is another issue. Sometimes the civic responsibilities of governance collide with the compassion responsibilities of Christians. Biblically, the first responsibility of governance is the safety of a nation’s citizens (Rom. 13:1-7). Biblically, the first (but binary) responsibility of Christians is to love God and love people (Matt. 22:37-40). Sometimes our efforts to love people–particularly people “in the ditch” (Luke 10:30)–will run counter to (or at least complicate) the government’s responsibility for safety.

We must, in those cases of conflict, speak the truth of biblical compassion to those in authority and encourage them to continue to enable the American model as the refuge for the teeming masses who need protection and a place to launch their lives afresh. We must hear and speak truth. We must know that refugees coming to this country through the legal channels are among the most thoroughly vetted people to ever land on our shores. I am heartened by statements from evangelical leaders in support of compassionate refugee and immigration policies.

When we protest (and this president seems on a path to prompt much protest), we owe it to our neighbors to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15, 29). Truth is the content of our speech; love is the manner in which we speak that truth. Failure to be people of truth belies the essential content of Jesus’ message. Failure to be people of love betrays the very nature of God’s relationship with us and our call to reflect His love in our relationship with Him and with others.

If our sympathies lie with those in opposition to this chief executive, then we get to (must) oppose. But this is not opposition for the mere sake of opposition. This is a call to measure each and every proposal against biblical standards for truth and justice and oppose, in principle and by any lawful means, those policy proposals that run counter to biblical standards.

Christians should not, in my view, be people characterized by sore losing. We’re not to be the player who kicks dirt at the umpire or “rushes the mound” because we think the call at the plate was wrong. Baseball fisticuffs can be fun to watch, but Christians should be trying to break up the fight–not get in a few discreet punches of our own (Matt. 5:9).

Because–and here is, I think, a key point–this president gets to try to govern. The Christian call to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:2) is an important element here. If the Roman Emperor Nero was a worthy prayer focus, a democratically elected leader can be no less. National success is in everyone’s best interests. Certainly, there are debates about the elements of national success. But to hold that each and every element of the president’s agenda is intrinsically evil, just because he is the person proposing the agenda items, is simplistic and runs counter to Christians’ biblical warrant to be persons of discernment (Phil. 1:9,10).

So, there is anti-Trump trumpeting. As, I am sure, there would have been anti-Clinton caterwauling had she been the Electoral College victor last November. But perhaps the trumpeting can be tempered by some appreciation for the three realities mentioned above.

Besides, there is the primary means of protest in our democracy coming in 2018–the midterm elections. Not happy with President Trump? Energize your congressional district to empower the democrats. Happy with President Trump? Continue to empower the republicans with the possibility of national governance.

© 2017, All Rights Reserved.


This Little Life of Mine

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I heard the old Sunday School song the other day: “This Little Light of Mine.” It got stuck in my head–the way I think it was meant to. It’s been rattling around ever since, but one of the words oddly transmogrified. The word, “Light,” got replaced by, “Life.”

This Little Life of Mine.

“Little Life”–has more meaning as I (ahem) age. Is it my imagination or does every physician, dentist, ophthalmologist, and CEO look like they are 15? Here’s a telltale sign you’re aging: they give you the senior discount WITHOUT. ASKING. YOU.

I’ve reflected more on this reality as life moves on. And I’ve written on this before (Unpotential Realized)…but it somehow seems more central to my thinking these days. One of the advantages of the pre-social media era was that we could convince ourselves (the “small” ones among us) that we mattered–that we were somehow “big”–at least in our local context–whatever that happened to be. The other six billion people on the planet were hidden by distance and the infancy of technological connection.

With the advent of all media “social,” it’s crystal clear that there are lots of people out there–living lots of “big” lives–lives that seem to dwarf other lives–or, at least, dwarf mine.

None of this diminishes the “big” things in a life–in my life: a wife who loves me (warts and all [my warts, not hers]), kids who have turned out great (part of their greatness being the delivery of terrific grandkids), some very special friends, some energizing experiences serving the Lord.

But as time creeps along (or moves at warp nine–depending on the day), it seems as if life has become smaller. The significant aspirations of my younger years have bumped into the realities of personal ability and opportunity. And it is truly depressing to see one’s life potential shrink away. Oh, I know, Ben Franklin served on the Declaration of Independence committee when he was 70–and he invented bifocals when he was in his late 70s. But here’s one of the realizations of aging: frankly, I ain’t no Ben Franklin. (Get it? “Frankly?” Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

Trusting that the actuaries know what they’re talking about, and hoping that family history is somewhat predictive, and trusting that an Oklahoma twister will not yank me out of my shoes, I likely have about 20 years left. What to do with those years, given the aforementioned constraints of ability and opportunity?

This Little Life of Mine, Let it Shine. Whatever comes my way, in terms of opportunity–whatever tasks can be tackled by my feeble skills, I can still do this one thing: This Little Life of Mine, Let it Shine. My life can shine for Jesus wherever I am. The luminescent capacity may be limited, but my life can still shine. The opportunities for illumination may be circumscribed, but my life can still shine. It may only be a very small corner in a very small part of the world, but a life of shining is still within reach.

I am not saying that I am completely at peace with this. I am not saying that I am “content” with this ever-present realization of personal limitations–because I am not. I am saying that This Little Life of Mine can Shine. The hows and wheres and whens–beyond the obvious family connections–are all in God’s hands. But…

This Little Life of Mine, Let it Shine, Let it Shine, Let it Shine. Please, God, Let it Shine.

© 2017, All Rights Reserved.


Oh for Two

I have to say that I love the disciples of Jesus–the original twelve. I listen to them in the Gospel accounts and I keep saying to myself, “Those dopes!” They never, ever, ever got it on the first go. I have taken to calling them the “Remedial Boys” because of their recurring need for another go at the lesson at hand. Calming the sea? Not enough. Feeding 5000? Not enough. Raising Lazarus from the dead? Not enough. Never enough.

And the reason I love them so? They’re just like me. I am a remedial boy. Jesus moves in my life in small and great ways and, it seems, it’s never enough. That’s why my attention was grabbed during a recent sermon. It wasn’t the sermon itself that grabbed (with all due respect to the preacher). It was a section of scripture from the preacher’s pericope to which he did not call attention, but on which my warped and wandering brain landed.

The Gospel of Luke, chapter 22. Jesus is sharing the Last Supper with the boys. He has (verses 21 & 22) just shared that someone will betray Him. The boys–taken aback–wonder who in their posse might do this (v.23). I’m sure that none of them volunteered that it might be them. I’m sure there was church gossipy finger pointing about the “other guy.” But I am also sure that, in the back of their minds, each of them thought, “It could be me.”

They, every one of them, had many episodes where they failed Jesus. Each of them knew that failure was a daily possibility. Each of them knew that it could have been them. As they pondered the probability of failure, the boys ventured into territory that we all inhabit from time-to-time: the recognition that we are not the persons Jesus has called us to be. Some of us visit this place; some of us live in this place–the place of failure; the place of disappointment with who we’ve become or what we have done (or left undone). Each of the disciples (and each of us) wonder, “Will I be the one to betray Jesus?”

But, for eleven of them at least, the answer was no–it’s not you. You’re not a failure in this moment. They had missed this one–Oh for One.

Then–and only the remedial boys could pull this off–they pivot in v.24 to a fight about who should be considered the “greatest!” One minute they’re wondering who would be the worst; the next minute they’re speculating about who would be the best! And, no doubt, volunteering themselves for the honor. If texting were around then, there would have been SMHs and eye roll emojis all over the place.

But I was wrong when I said that only the remedial boys could pull this off. Sometimes, some of us (at least I know I) have this sense of grandiosity–I’m the greatest! They should see me now! If only they knew how gifted I am! Why aren’t they paying attention to me! Why isn’t my phone ringing?!?  I AM GREAT!  Not.

At least not in the ways we think of greatness–all tied to accomplishment and the myth of indispensability. Would be kings and queens and presidents and preachers and superstars and singers and craftsmen; we think we are the greatest (or, at least pretty darn great) in the Kingdom. But, like the remedial boys, we are not. Oh for Two.

It saddens me that I so frequently inhabit the place of performance. Failure or grandiosity—at their core they’re essentially the same thing–a sense that our relationship with God is a function of performance. If only I can avoid letting Jesus down; if only I can make Him smile; if only I can do well on this next test; if only I can bring home the bonus; if only; if only; if only…then people will like me; then Jesus will love me; then I will know that I am special.

This is Advent. I am sitting in Chik-fil-A. I am listening to Christmas carols. I am hearing the songs remind me: it doesn’t matter if I am Oh for Two–Jesus loves me because He called me into existence and chooses to love me despite my resonance with the experience of the remedial boys.

It is His Spirit at work in me to conform me to His Image. It is His work in me to accomplish His purposes. It is His call on my life that leads me to act on His mission. It is He who picks me up when I fall; it is He whose strength is made perfect in my weakness; it is He who walks me through the Valley of the Shadows; it is Jesus who says “come to me.”

So, Oh for Two (really, Oh for Oh So Many), I’m going to Jesus. Greatest or worst, despite my self-assessment, He calls me. He calls you too.

© 2016, All Scripture quotations from the New International Version.

 


Waiting to See Jake; Wondering about Wonder

I had just sat down for my haircut. The stylist asked me how I wanted my hair cut and I said, “Number two all over and rounded in the back.” Stylists love to cut my hair; it takes five minutes, they pocket the tip, and then they move on to someone with actual, you know, hair.

And…just to note…I am not a haircut conversationalist. If God had wanted me to talk to people, He would have said something like, “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have.” Oh, wait, He did say that.

So, when I get a haircut, I throw the “extrovert on demand” switch, and settle in for a chat—a short chat, but a chat nonetheless. This time the haircut person said, “Have you seen Jake Gyllenhaal; he’s in town making a movie. I thought and said, “This town?!?” It’s not that the town is a bad place, it’s just kind of not your typical movie magic destination. The stylist said (cue excited utterance music), “Yes, he was in Jumbo (local grocery store) and Walmart (planet wide purchase stuff cheaply but endure Walmartians store)! I drove by where they’re shooting the movie but I didn’t see him!!”

She was excited and sad at the same time. But, alas, my haircut had come to its end and I got up to leave. As I was paying for the haircut (with the unsolicited “senior discount”—sigh), I said, “I hope you get to see Jake.” She giggled and said, “Me too!”

I thought about the level of excitement and, yes, wonder, that this young woman expressed over the possibility that she might see this movie guy—famous movie guy—who, I suppose, a twenty-something hair stylist might find handsome…cute…hot? Don’t know.

What I do know is that she was genuinely excited…starry eyed, even (yes, pun intended).

And I thought, “When was the last time I had that sense of wonder about anything?” And, in particular, when was the las time I had that sense of wonder about my faith and the author of that faith, my Lord, my Savior, Jesus.

I honestly cannot remember. I go through the things that constitute the practice of my faith, but wonder? Excitement? Can’t remember. I have settled into the steady rhythm of a confirmed faith, but I cannot find wonder; I do not feel excitement.

I know that the reality of my faith does not depend upon my feelings. But I long for some wonder…some awe…some…thing.

And now, Advent and Christmas are just around the corner. If ever there was a season that portended wonder, this is that season. Will I experience that wonder? The angels, the shepherds, the mom, the stepdad, all the other witnesses to the baby king’s arrival–Scripture records that they were struck with wonder. They ran to see; they heralded; they made a stable into a place of wonder and worship.
Jake is in town; he’ll leave and take his starry wonder with him. But Jesus had already been here and He will stay here with us. He calls us to a place of wonder and invites us to dwell in wonder with Him. I am ready for some wonder; are you?

(C) 2016

 


Three Things I Learned from Three Dog Night (It’s a Band; From the 60s…Sigh)

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I went to a Three Dog Night concert last month to celebrate my birthday–the tickets were a gift from my dear wife. Several things surprised me about the concert. First, was that Three Dog Night was still rockin’ and rollin’ after these many years. They got their start in the 1960s (yes, last century). The second surprise was that they were playing in the metropolis I now call home.

But, the concert was fun. The guys played most all their well-known stuff and the crowd rocked along–in actual rockers. (Yes, that was an “old people” joke.) I’m not saying the crowd was old, but the synchronized, motorized wheel chair line dancing was a thing to see. “Reach high, when you sway those canes!” Three Dog Night shouted. “What’d he say?” the guy next to me asked. “Highway cones,” his wife said. “What the what?!?”

I’m not saying the crowd was sedate, but the police officers (all two of them) assigned to S.W.A.T. patrol kept chuckling as the attendees shuffled in and out of the concert hall like they were in the line for the dessert trolley at the cafeteria. By the way, S.W.A.T. stands for Something Will Ache Tomorrow.

A woman seated in front of me tried to dance…it was not pretty. At least I think it was dancing; it may have just been a pacemaker flameout. Then there was that one 1960s-era rebel carrying pot with him…no, not weed; it was an actual pot. The bathrooms were on a distant shore.

I was having a good time laughing at all those old people, up until I encountered the old, bald, fat guy staring me down in the bathroom—I was stunned to realize the old, bald, fat guy was me in the mirror. Turns out, these old people were my people.

But as the concert got underway and I was “present in that space” (sorry, that’s a line that makes me gag that I heard from a chaplain once), I figured out that I was learning a thing or three. So, here they are:

One:  Old dogs should keep doing what they’ve been gifted to do as long as God empowers them to do it. The Three Dog Night guys are old–at least the original members of the band are. We’re talking not leathery skin, but busted up, frayed in all the wrong places, pleathery skin. We’re talking encore appearances that took hours to get underway because the Dogs had to limp off and shuffle back onto the stage. We’re talking that when they sang their hit, “Celebrate,” it was because they had managed to not trip over their mic stands. But they still have it. Those God-empowered vocal cords can still “dance to the music.”  The Christian community has bought the culture’s notion of retirement. So, we look to artificial age benchmarks to begin thinking about not doing anymore what God has gifted us to do. If you want to retire, fine, but don’t stop doing what God has gifted you to do because Uncle Sam thinks it’s time. Or because some young pups think it’s their time.

Two:  Old dogs need to stick around to help the new dogs. It’s a shame that old dogs shuffle off the stage (or are shuffled off the stage) at the precise cultural moment when all the research says the young dogs not only want but need mentorship and friendship and the benefit of experience. The young dogs want to be wise, but wisdom is a commodity acquired over time. And part of that wisdom is learning from the old dogs. Shared wisdom is a biblical mandate from the very beginning. It’s one of the reasons that Christians lean into the Holy Spirit-inspired words of the Bible. It’s one reason why we “test the spirits” against the systemic teaching of Scripture. If I want to navigate Snapchat, I’ll ask my grandkids. When I wanted wisdom for navigating life’s speedbumps, I asked my Dad.

Three:  Old dogs can learn new tricks. Three Dog Night introduced a new song at the concert. It was an acapella rendition of Prayer of the Children. It was grand and it was good and it gave lie to the notion that “older” means done. Three Dog Night was self-deprecating about how age had made them a bit slower, but when it came time to create something new, there was nothing “slowish” about it (yes, I made up a word).

I have to go now. I am about to install a new eight-track player in my component stereo system. But I should go to the bathroom first–someone said something about blue teeth–and the bathroom is very far away. 

© 2016, All Scripture quotations from the New International Version.


Permanent Change of Station

As a former military guy, I quickly became acquainted with the acronym, PCS. It stands for “Permanent Change of Station,” which is a tad ironic since a PCS is anything but “P,” permanent that is. In fact, in my day, to qualify as a PCS, the move only had to be longer than 180 days.

I’ve tried to tally the total number of PCS moves I made. I’ve come up with six–which probably doesn’t seem like a lot, until I tell you that I was on active duty for 14 years–I finished my military career in the reserves. So, over 14 years, that averages a move every 2.3 years or so. Okay so it’s 2.33333333333… You got me.

Coupled with the not so “P” PCS moves, was a thing called TDY–which stands for Temporary Duty. You math geniuses have already figured out that, if a PCS is longer than 180 days, a TDY must be 180 days or less.

All that to say, in the military, moving is the norm. Being settled in any one place is a bit of an illusion. Sure, military folks, like everyone else, opt for the trappings of permanence. Houses are bought, schools are attended, friends are made, BBQs are had, life events are celebrated. But it was usually the case that the day someone new moved into the neighborhood was immediately followed by someone moving out. Then, of course, there were the combat-related deployments. No one knew how long those would last and no one knew who might or might not come back.

I say all of this (and, thank you to those who are still reading) to highlight the illusion of permanence in which many of us invest. My wonderful wife and I have just purchased a home. I have said a zillion times (yes, in my head that is an actual number) that I would never be a homeowner again. It seems to me that the home owns me. There is forever something to do–painting, fixing, cleaning, picking up the neighbors’ dogs’ poop. (Can you say “poop” in a blog?)

Many of the things we do in the new-to-us home are designed to make it feel (make us feel) settled—permanent. But we are not…permanent. Nothing around us is permanent. It is all temporary. You and I are on a TDY. It may last a lot longer than 180 days, but “T” it is.

To be sure, while we are here, we are to invest. But we are to invest in the stuff of genuine permanence. Relationships. Invitations to know our Savior. Worshipping our God. Relationships. Sharing the Name of Jesus. Praying. Study of God’s Word. Relationships. Did I mention Relationships?

Those are things that last—and Relationships are among the most profound of the lasting things. No matter what our street address turns out to be in the New Jerusalem, we will not be able to bring any of those prized “home accessories” with us; we will only have our Relationships. The Prime Relationship—with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and those Relationships with others who have given their lives to Christ. Those things will be truly “P”—Permanent. All else is truly “T”—temporary.

“P”–Permanent or “T”–Temporary–what’s it going to be?

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). 

© 2016, All Scripture quotations from the New International Version.


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