Thursday, March 14, 2019

Saint You, Saint Me

Over the last few years I've read about Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.  Quite the story!  Here's a link or two if you want to learn a wee bit more.

No doubt about it, Patrick deserves the title "saint".  A great evangelist to the then-pagan Emerald Isle, his mark is still seen throughout.  He even is supposed to have done some miraculous things, which makes him even more worthy of saint...right?

Are you a believer in Jesus Christ?  I mean "believer" in the sense that you have personally trusted in Him alone as your Savior.  Lots of people recognize Jesus as the Son of God, etc., but have never done the new birth decision, putting total faith in His life, death and resurrection for forgiveness of sin and everlasting life.

So are you?  If not, I invite you to visit this Facebook page and learn how you can become a Christian.

If you are, then may I call you "Saint _______"?  That's who the Bible says you are.

The word "saint" in the Greek language penned by the Apostles means "holy ones".  Not "perfect", but "holy" or "set apart".  Once you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior He then sets you apart from the world around you, and for His service.

The New Testament writers, Luke (in the book of Acts),  the Apostle Paul (in most of his letters to the churches), Jude and John in Revelation used the term saints to address the Christians in the churches or to speak about them.  Never was the word "saints" used to designate a select one or few from the church, but included them all.  For example:

To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints. - Romans 1:7

To God’s church at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus and called  as saints, with all those in everyplace who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lordtheirs and ours. - 1 Corinthians 1:2

All the saints greet you. - 2 Corinthians 13:12b

If you are in Christ you are a saint.  His expectation is that you and I will act like it! Just don't expect to have a cathedral named in your memory.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Tipping Point?

In 2008 my daughter-in-law, who has lived her entire life with Cystic Fibrosis (a disease inherited from parents who were carriers of the gene) found herself at the point of being put on the lung transplant list at Duke University Medical Center.  Adding to her dire condition was her pregnancy.  She wasn’t supposed to get pregnant.  Her doctors warned her not to get pregnant.  And after years of trying, she and my son assumed she was unable to conceive due to her disease. 

But, on the eve of a scheduled trip to Duke to be evaluated and likely placed on the transplant list she discovered she was, indeed, pregnant.  The next day the doctors expressed their dismay.  One even cursed when hearing the news. The obstetrician there said she had never recommended termination before.  But this time she said, “You can’t risk your life like this.  You need to abort.”  Due to their deeply held conviction that life is sacred, especially in the womb, they told their doctors, “No.”

In January 2008 she was at the place where her diseased lungs could no longer supply her with the oxygen she needed.  The growing child inside her (not part of her body, but housed within her) only exacerbated the limited air her lungs could take in.  So, the plan was to intubate her, putting her on a ventilator to breathe for her.  The doctors told her this had never been done at Duke – placing a pregnant patient in need of a transplant on a ventilator.  In fact, they told her by doing this, her chances for receiving a transplant were near impossible.  Again, it had never been done.

Less than an hour before the surgery to ventilate her she and my son were told they had to make a choice.  If her vitals dropped to dangerous lows during surgery, who should be saved, mother or baby?  They were told that if she began to crash, they would perform a Caesarian.  But there were no guarantees that either would/could survive.

We hear a lot of arguments for terminating a pregnancy revolving around protecting the life of the mother.  With that rationale no one had a greater justification for aborting than my daughter-in-law.  The baby was just barely 24 weeks. 

Prior to going to surgery our son and his wife called my wife and me into her room in ICU.  “What do we do?”  I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked a harder question.  But my belief is that God alone has the authority to determine life and death.  So, to the doctors’ question their response was, “Do everything you can to save them both”.   

My granddaughter was born just after noon, weighing in at 1 lb. 6 oz.  Her chances of survival were slim.  Her mother was successfully intubated and place on a ventilator.  Her chances were equally small.  Nearly three months later she would “write the book” at Duke and receive new lungs.  Four months later her daughter would be released from the NICU to come home, and today she is a beautiful 5th grader. 

Life’s not fair.  Sometimes the choices we must make are next to impossible.  But, we’re not God, who alone can accomplish the impossible.  He’s the same God who declares that He created us knew us when we were in our mothers’ wombs. 

Readers of my column, my blog and those who have heard me preach know where I stand on the the abortion issue.  For me, it is not a political hot-potato as much as it is a moral and ethical issue.  Of course, being a man whose faith has determined my personal worldview, and whose faith is grounded on the concept of absolute truth, I clearly see the abortion of pre-born as a violation of the basic building block of our society that every man and woman has the right to life.

Lest someone suggest that I sit in some sort of ivory tower without the experience or understanding of life circumstances that might justify the termination of a pregnancy, please know that because of my family, I have been up close and personal with the options -   closer than I would ever want or choose to be.

I believe we have reached a tipping point in our country.  The state of New York has now legalized abortion up to the point of birth at full term.  In New York, convicted murderers cannot be put to death.  But now, unwanted, innocent children can be and will be. 

Reaction will either be for other states to follow their lead or for this national sin to be reversed.  Our soul, our future is in dire jeopardy if this is allowed to continue.  May God have mercy on us.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

First Date: Hoops and Pizza

Monday, January 26, 1976.  Forty-three years ago. 

She must have picked me up, since she owned a car and I did not.  It was a yellow ‘71 VW Bug.  She insisted I drive.  Old-school.  I learned to drive a stick on a VW my senior year of high school.  My friend Don owned one.  They’re actually a lot of fun to drive.  Later that year I bought my own yellow VW bug.  It was a lemon for sure.

So I drove to Jefferson Forest High School in Forest, about a 15 minute drive.

I really don’t remember much about the game.  The only thing I remember about being there with her was the lady who sat behind us commented on how pretty her hair was.  If you’ve seen pictures of Gail from college you know she had long brown hair.  Gail was tall - 5’8” and slender.  I’m 5’10”, so I felt a bit short next to her.  The lady was right.  Too bad she couldn’t see her green eyes.

Mission accomplished, I guess.  That guy never did ask her out again.  The decoy must have worked because another guy did ask her out.  He also took her to a basketball game (we had free admission).  But that was only a one time thing.

After the game we went to Duffy’s on Old Forest Road for pizza.  It was a rainy night, and from the walk from the gym to the car, then from the car to the restaurant we got wet.  “I’m going to the bathroom to dry my hair”.  They had hand dryers in the restrooms and a few minutes later she came out with her hair dried.  I would never had thought of such a thing.  But then, I didn’t have long hair.

We ordered a pizza and talked.  I don’t remember about what.  But it was all friend to friend kind of stuff.  I drove back to my house, got out of the car and she got back into the driver’s seat and drove off.  I think we both had fun.

The End.

Sort of.  

Until just a couple of years ago Gail and I never knew the date of our first date.  Some couples apparently keep track of such things.  But, not us.  We don’t know the date I proposed or when I gave her a ring, although I might be able to figure one or both of them out.  

But a couple of years ago I got curious.  Knowing we went to a basketball game on a rainy night in January gave me a good benchmark.  Using the internet I searched for the basketball schedule and then the home games.  At the same time I found a site that gives weather history and found rainy days in that month.  Then it was just a matter of finding the two that matched: basketball game on a rainy night.  The only one was January 26.

Our plan for this January 26 is to go out and eat pizza.  Maybe a movie, too.  It’s too far to drive to Lynchburg for a basketball game.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Where does the blame belong?

Yesterday both houses in the New York legislature approved a bill that ultimately allows abortion up to the point of birth.  It's a horrible, immoral law. 

News feeds are showing pictures of Gov. Cuomo signing the legislation, making it the law of the state.  Both he and the NY state Senate and Assembly are being demonized by pro-life organizations, news outlets and individuals.  But, they're the tip of the iceberg.

None of those who voted for this bill nor the governor who signed it into law could have done so without being placed into their offices by the voters of New York.  The weight of the blame falls on the citizens, either those who support this kind of legislation or those who do not, but did not use their right to vote for those who support life.

And the same is true nation-wide.  We have a government "of the people", and it wields its greatest power in the ballot box.  That's where all this begins.  Not in protests and marches.  It changes with the vote.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

First Date: the ask

When we met in November Gail was coming off of an on-again-off-again long term relationship.  Not being in the same social circles at school we had not met prior to my becoming her co-worker.  I might have bought a donut or two from her my freshman year when the cheerleaders sold donuts in the dorm to raise funds, but I don’t remember.  I did, however, know who she was, since she had cheered my first two years at school.  And it was a small school in those days, not much bigger (or smaller) than most high schools.  Everyone knew who the cheerleaders were.  

We weren’t much more than acquaintances from our time working together before the holidays.
So, it wasn’t my business, nor did I know that she was unattached romantically.  And, honestly, as I said in the earlier post, I wasn’t interested.  But, she was coming off an on again-off again relationship of a couple years when we met. 

After finals, Christmas break came and I got lots of extra hours at work.  The other students were gone for the holidays, and being a local resident with nowhere to go, I worked.  For Gail, it was probably the first Christmas in a long time when she didn’t have a boyfriend.  My hunch is that during that week or two while she was at home she came up with a plan.  Unbeknownst to me, I was part of the scheme.

Such are the wiles of a woman.

After her break-up she had been out with another guy, but it wasn’t anything she wanted to continue.  Like most young ladies, who struggle with telling a guy “thanks, but no thanks”, she wanted to let it be known that she was not in a committed relationship to anyone.  And how would she do that?  Oh, yeah. The plan. (At least this is how I surmise what happened.)

So, it’s after Christmas break, sometime in January, and I get asked this question: “Would you go with me to a basketball game so others can see I’m not dating so and so.”  In essence I was a decoy.  IF (big IF) she had any interest in me at all, I had no clue.  You’ll have to ask her,  I saw it as an opportunity to do a friend a favor.  And honestly, I wanted to hear from my friends when they saw me at the game with Gail.  As one later asked me, “Aren’t you a bit out of your league?”.  

I’ve never played bush league anything.

So, I agreed to escort her to the game at Jefferson Forest High School, where Liberty Baptist College played its home games.  

No big deal. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

First Date: How we met

Mostly for my kids.  

The older I get the more I appreciate writing down stories for them...stories that tell our heritage.  Actually, I’m discovering that I enjoy writing them down and telling them for my own enjoyment.  I’ve always been a history freak, ever since my great-grandfather (born in 1883) would sit me on his knee and tell me about being in the Marines during the Boxer Rebellion at the very end of the 19th century.  His tales not only captured my imagination as a boy, but gave me knowledge about my roots that I otherwise probably would not have known.

If you’re not my kid, you are welcome to read my meanderings about the life God has given Gail and I over the past 40 plus years.  

This coming weekend she and I will celebrate our very first “date”.  I put quotation marks around it because it’s purpose wasn’t for us to get to know each other better, hoping for a continued dating relationship.  Not at all.  

I was at the time in a long-distance relationship with a girl I had met the previous summer while doing an internship in Florida.  And that relationship was growing stronger, even though since summer we would only see each other for a few days in December when she came to visit.  I already had a girlfriend, thank you.

In November of 1975 I was a 20-year old unemployed junior in college.  A job would have been great, but I was carrying a full load of classes, was living at home and wasn’t overly ambitious to go out and find one.  So, I was broke. And broke at 20 means (among other things) no social life other than the occasional pickup basketball game at the gym.    

My mom worked in a doctor’s office.  She came home one day to tell me that one of the patients, a sales associate at JC Penney mentioned to her that the store was looking to hire in their shoe department.  The busy Christmas season was cranking up, and they needed extra help.  I had worked my senior year of high school selling shoes for Kinney Shoes in Alexandria, so mom said something like, “You should go over there and apply”.  

Having no car was not an issue.  Pittman Plaza shopping center, where Penney’s was located was just about 4 blocks from our home.  So, I applied, got interviewed and was hired.  Having occasionally shopped there, I was somewhat motivated to go for the job since I knew that there were three or four LBC coeds working there, and all were cute girls.  As fate would have it, one of them quit after Christmas break, so I was given her job.  Thanks, Betsy

It was there, selling shoes that Gail Ballentine and I became friends.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Lesson from the Unborn John the Baptist

Two of our grandkids spent the night with us Monday.  It's always fun to have grandkids in the house...unless they're arguing over something!  (Not that a brother and sister would argue.)

Our morning routine is to read a daily devotional and pray together before I head out to work.  That includes a cup of coffee.  With the two kids up and about in the house our routine wasn't going to be the same.  So, while I was finishing up my bowl of Special K Gail texted me.   (Yes, we've slid down that slippery slope, it appears.)

"Come here with age appropriate devotion for all of us.  And another cup of coffee."

Hmmm.  I'm a Bible teacher, so here was a challenge I would accept.  On the fly.

With it being eight days before Christmas I thought of something with a Christmas theme.  My thoughts went to the story in Luke 1 of Mary's visit to her older cousin Elizabeth, herself about six months along, carrying John the Baptist in her womb.

I read from the Bible app on my smart phone (yes, I'm there, too) some of the story, keeping it age appropriate.  When Mary (recently impregnated with her consent* by the power of the Holy Spirit) arrived after a long journey from Nazareth to Judea she greeted Elizabeth.   "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."

"Did you know that babies inside their mothers can hear sounds and people's voices?", I asked them.  "That is why when a baby is born and his or her mommy or daddy speaks to him/her ("it" is not an appropriate word for any of us) that baby will focus on the person speaking because the baby recognizes the voice".

Then I continued with the seed I hoped to plant in their young minds.

"Was tiny John the Baptist a person inside his mother?"  You could see them thinking, because in their experience a "person" is someone who can be seen.  I followed up with pointing out that he (unborn John) responded to Mary's voice, which was not familiar to him, but got his attention at just six months gestation.  OK, I didn't say "gestation".

They got it.  Unborn babies are people, too, with the ability to respond to voices.  More than anyone else, being unable to protect themselves, they need our protection

I hope they never forget that.

I still believe that "Jesus loves the little children of the world."  Certainly He doesn't exclude the littlest ones.

* "My it be done to me according to your word."  Luke 1:38

Thursday, December 6, 2018

"I Remember He Was Tall"

Our young family, ca. 1992, was given tickets through a Congressional office for a White House tour.  I'm a native Washingtonian, but had never been in the presidential mansion.  This was not not a tour opened to the general public where you stand in line and buy tickets (do they still do that?), but a bit more lengthy and comprehensive.  Our guide was a Secret Service agent.  My kids were all in elementary school and George H. W. Bush was President.  #41.

At one point in the tour we went through a room with garage doors.  It was just to get from point A to point B in the tour.  Our guide, with a bit of a surprised look gathered the group - maybe a dozen of us total, and had us stop.  Suddenly another door opened and in walked several Secret Service agents with President Bush.

Clearly, they were a bit surprised to see us in that room, and wanted to hurry him past us to get him outside and into his awaiting vehicle.  But, he would have none of that.  He walked around to us, greeted us and expressed that he hoped we were enjoying the tour while shaking hands.

I leaned down to my kids and said, "He's the President."

Gail remembers, "some men in suits coming down the steps and making a path. Followed by more men in suits, I was starting to wonder what was happening. Then I saw President Bush in the middle of all the men. He stood out because he was taller than the others, a big smile, and we all gasped, we just weren't expecting to see him. Then he stopped to greet some in our tour group. I was holding Rachel's hand, picked her up so she could see him (then later explain who he was). I think that he would have shaken everyone's hand if he was not being encouraged to move along by all the men. Then he was gone and we were all so excited that we got to see our President!"

My son Nathan, who is our oldest and would have been about eleven at the time says, "We were walking down a hall. I was near the front of the group and didn’t know who it was until he was past me. He shook hands with people behind me.  I remember he was tall."

It all took maybe a minute.  Then he was whisked away to some other location where he was needed, solving, no doubt the country/world's ills.  But, that he would stop to welcome us and shake a few hands said something to me about this kind, gentle man, at the time the most powerful man in the world.  We've heard so much of him the past few days.  I have no problem believing the eulogies.

He was the last of the greatest generation to lead our nation.  Tall, indeed, in many ways.

After President Bush exited, our tour guide looked at us and in amazement said, "That never happens".  I'm glad I was there when it did.

RIP, Mr. President.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Searching for Humility

“He must become more important. I must become less important.” - John the Baptist

My years of shepherding Jesus’ flock have continued to prove that the greatest challenge in the life of a disciple is to be selfless. When my walk with the Lord is conditioned on my wants and not His I’m walking alone.

To paraphrase John, “It’s not about me.” He recognized that Jesus was the "lamb of God who takes away the world's sin".  As popular as John was at the time, he knew he was no Jesus. 

No wonder Jesus called him the greatest man ever born.

He got it.  Our innate human nature is not to be humble but to find some reason for human pride; not to be selfless, but to exalt self; not to remove pick up the towel and serve, but to demand to be served. 

And this applies even to the most sincere Christ followers.  Ask Peter.  As the old Pogo cartoon aptly said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

I'd like to be more like Jesus' cousin John, although I know he would tell me to look, not at him, but at Jesus.  What better time of year to do so than when we remember that the Almighty willingly chose to not only become human, but to do so as a baby in a poor family whose first cradle was a manger.

 [Jesus Christ],  who, existing in the form of God,  
      did not consider equality with God 
      as something to be used for His own advantage. 
7      Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, 
      taking on the likeness of men. 
      And when He had come as a man in His external form, 
8      He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
      to the point of deatheven to death on across.
Philippians 2:6-8 (HCSB)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Let’s Stop the Hate

I heard the news Saturday afternoon of the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.  Finding out that something like that has happened again in the “land of the free” brings (at least on me) a cocktail of emotions.  Shock is followed by incredulity.  I felt anger toward the hatred that overcame the perpetrator and sadness and compassion for the victims and their families.

That this followed so quickly on the heels of another hate-filled man sending pipe bombs to targeted men and women who have been either leaders or vocal in their support of a particular ideology underscores the evil hatred that lurks somewhere nearby, just under the radar for most of us. 

That such an attack happened in a house of worship should give us all greatest alarm.  One of the highest virtues of our system in America is the freedom to worship without fear of governmental control, and without the fear that what happened Saturday could ever happen.  We’re still recovering in many ways from a similar incident in a Texas Baptist church 51 weeks ago, proving that any faith, any house of worship can become a target of deranged hatred.

Disagreement is part and parcel to a free society.  Debate is the discourse that allows us to present the rationale, hopefully a rationale that is reasoned and moral, in our democratic republic.  Healthy debate, healthy disagreement is a good thing, allowing us to not only understand differences but to work toward living together with them in peaceful ways.

If you read the news and especially the commentary (which is what this piece is) you’ll find finger-pointing and blame being passed around.  It especially concerns me that those claiming to follow the Prince of Peace can spread vitriol toward others with whom they find offensive rather than seeking the “ministry of reconciliation” to which they’ve been called.  Look up 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. 

Sadly, somewhere in the last decade the notion that disagreement equaled hate became popular in many.  That translates into the idea that a vote for one is hatred for the other.  That translates into the idea that if one’s world view is influenced by a particular theology it must by default hate those who adopt a different world view.  That notion has in itself resulted in a growing hate between us in so many ways.

Hatred for another because of those differences, whether religious, political or racial is destructive to the foundation of our society.  And there are societies built on foundations of hate, who only seek to either convert infidels or if that is not possible, to kill them off.  In a small way, that is what took place Saturday morning.  That is what was attempted last week as bombs were mailed.

There has to be a better way.  The Good News is that things can change and that anyone can become a new creation, allowing the Creator to fix what’s broken in each of us.  I’m actually a believer that indeed, things will change for the better.  It’s why I pray, “Your Kingdom come”. 

Ultimately the blame is on the brokenness of humanity.  Of course, we’re not all haters.  We’re not all terrorists or mass-murderers.  Some are broken in ways far deeper than most.  And it is true that words, more than anything flame the misguided passions that become hate, whether those words emanate from the church house, the White House, or your house or mine. 

I can't get past Saturday's synagogue massacre. How is it rational or moral to hate people because of their religion? (Of course, the answer is, "it isn't"). I'm unashamedly Christian, and I disagree with many other religions' basic tenets. But disagreement and hate don't need to hold hands. Not in a Christian's hands.

Let’s cry out against hatred while at the same time keeping our disagreements civil.  Let’s realize that to truly hate one of us is to hate us all, regardless of color or creed.   

Let’s realize that to hate Jews is to hate Jesus.  Jesus said hate is the moral equivalent of murder.  And to hate Jesus has many ramifications, none of which are to anyone’s benefit.  To hate Jesus is to hate Christians – His followers.  To hate Jesus is to welcome an eternity separated from Him in Hell. 

Hate is just wrong. Let’s stop the hate.

Rick Lawrenson is the Lead Pastor of Nags Head Church.

© 2018 Rick Lawrenson