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When Christian Leaders Fail

June 25, 2015

I may have posted this before…but in light of this week’s events, I thought it worth reposting. Let’s not forget to pray for those caught in the wake of sinful choices.

My house is surrounded by huge oak trees. I am not good at estimating sizes but most of them are about 6 to 8 feet in diameter and rise to a lofty height of 100+ feet. These are magnificent giants. I enjoy their shade and watching the squirrels romp along their long, sturdy branches. They are messy trees in the fall as they drop millions of acorns not to mention leaves. In the spring their stringy pollen clogs gutters, drain pipes and it is tracked into the house where I try to keep a futile effort to keep it out. In the summer the squirrels begin to build their drays and drop leaves and branches. Each morning I arise to find a new crop in my yard. And it’s sort of fun to see how they travel from one yard to the next making a mess on different lawns – “The case of the traveling squirrels”. They have a whole neighborhood going in on my street! Anyone who lives under oak trees can identify.

This summer we had a violent thunderstorm one night and lightening struck hard. I knew it had hit close but didn’t think much about it. The next morning I was up early to fix my coffee and noticed one of my trees had split bark. I looked twice thinking, “I don’t think that tree looked that way yesterday.” When I went into my yard a little bit later to weed my flower beds there was shredded bark everywhere. Even on my roof! Still, sort of clueless, I picked up the large chunks of bark to throw out. As I got closer to the tree I could see that the bark had been skinned away – not off – just away from the trunk. It was a huge gash that went all the way down the tree. Then it began to dawn on me that the tree had been hit by a powerful bolt of lightening.
But I was hopeful. Since it hadn’t been girdled I thought perhaps it would survive. I hate to see big trees being cut down or dying. The tree expert came out and informed me that when lightening strikes a tree the sap boils and causes the bark to explode outward. Sadly, he said that a tree that size rarely survives. It wasn’t long before I noticed that the topmost leaves were withering, turning brown and falling. It would have to be cut down – and that will be quite a project!

It will leave a huge gap in my skyline. The shade it provided for my yard will vanish. The breeze in its’ branches will cease. The playground for the squirrels will go. It makes me sad and I wish somehow I could save it.

In all of this I have thought a lot about giants falling.

In the past few years we have seen giants fall very publicly and in very ugly ways. Politicians. Preachers. Actors. People we respected. It is painful. It makes us cynical. Too often we feed on the titillating details. We buy the gossip magazines. We think, “If they did that, then maybe I am not so bad after all”. In a perverse way we feel better about ourselves. How many of us stop to pray for them, their families and those affected by their fall?

I would hope that at some point we would examine our own lives. I would not like to have my deepest failings and sins paraded out on the evening news. Where are we, where am I, vulnerable to lightening strikes? In ethics? Morality? Finances? Addictions? Anger? Our leaders stood tall because we put them in that place. We like to put people on pedestals. We look up to them. Yet fail to recognize that they are just humans – like you and me. We stood in the shadow of their leadership. True and righteous leadership is found in God alone. We felt stronger because they appeared strong. Our strength comes from God alone. We listened to their wisdom forgetting that true wisdom is embodied in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Sadly we have hewn out cisterns that leak. Don’t hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13) And we are surprised when they fail. They, we, all need grace and forgiveness. The good news is that God is a God of grace and forgiveness. He redeems and wastes nothing – even our faults and failures.

This giant tree fell. But it doesn’t mark destruction alone. It marks a new beginning. Knowing God does not waste anything I began to think about the positive side. The shade may go but a new vista shows as mountains become visible. More sunlight will shine on my yard which will be good for my flower beds. The breeze in the tree tops may cease but the lumber will be used to build new homes. The play ground for the squirrels will go but the squirrels will find another tree to build their drays. God has already provided for them. And just think there will be fewer leaves to rake this fall!

It will be fun to discover what grows. There will be more sky and space. I’ll have more sunshine in my back yard. And I love sunshine!

So it is when giants fall. It is a time for a new beginning as God gets rid of the dead wood in lives. Sometimes His pruning is hard – lightening strikes – we feel stripped, exposed, angry, hurt, humiliated, ashamed but His purposes are always for our good. New areas for service and growth show themselves. God’s light will shine in ways not possible before because the giant blocked the light. Look at the change in Charles Colson after he fell.

When giants fall it is a time for forgiveness, grace, humility and self-examination. The scriptures say in Galatians 6:1-2, “…even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and thereby fulfill the law of Christ”. And again in II Corinthians 2:5, “But if any has caused sorrow…sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.”

When our giants fail us and fall when we fail ourselves and fall, God doesn’t abandon us. He already has a new plan in mind. As we yield to His purpose for us we begin to see that what He has in mind is far better than we could have planned for ourselves. He gives us a new beginning and it is good.

In Memorial: Elisabeth Elliot

June 15, 2015

Elisabeth Howard Elliot stepped into God’s presence today. What a welcome that was! She had long served the Lord under very difficult circumstances. Her first husband, Jim Elliott, along with four other missionaries, was murdered by the Auca Indians, she remarried a seminary professor but he died of cancer four years later. She remarried a younger man and he cared for her – they had wonderful years of life and ministry together. He cared gently for her in the last years of dementia.

She was a prolific writer: Through Gates of Splendor, Shadow of the Almighty, The Journals of Jim Elliott…and one that meant so much to me: A Path Through Suffering, originally published as The Path of Loneliness. She hosted her own daily radio show. She had great spiritual wisdom and depth. (Please read about her on line – her biography is too long to repeat it here. A remarkable woman.) Many saw her as intimidating. But she had to have the strength of character and conviction to endure what she did.

I first met her when she and her daughter, Valerie, came to visit my grandparents, the Bells, in Montreat after they came back from Ecuador. I was assigned to keep Valerie company – we had a good time. Then Elisabeth’s parents, the Howards, came to visit my parents. Mr. Howard was blind in one eye but could imitate any birdsong! I remember walking in the woods behind my parents’ home and a bird would sing out. Mr Howard would name the bird then imitate it perfectly! Mrs. Howard got me hooked on the Little Colonel series. A series of books by Annie Fellows Johnston that, at the time, were out of print about a little girl growing up in the South. Mrs. Howard was so dear to help me collect them all. That meant writing to various out-of-print bookstores (before Amazon!) and helping me locate them until I had the whole series. I treasured them. My daughter read them and now has them for her daughters.

I knew Elisabeth’s brother, Tom Howard, when I was in boarding school on Long Island. I would go into NYC to visit my dear friend, Clare Davis (My granddaughter is aptly named for her.) Clare was a “bigger-than-life” character. Very dramatic, loads of fun and always made me feel like I could do anything. She introduced me to Tom Howard who was, also very dramatic as he walked down the streets of NYC with a top hat and cape – something out of Dickens!

All these relationships stemmed from family connections and missionary ties. I went to the same boarding school in Florida as Clare and Elisabeth. Though older, they treated me with respect and were interested in what I was doing and becoming. Plus, being alums of the same school, we had lots of interesting people and stories in common. I felt included in all they did – for a young teenager it was so affirming. I was blessed.

As I said, many felt she was intimidating. And she was! I remember going to our boarding school reunion some years ago; she was one of the alum speakers; I was recently divorced and feared she would condemn me. She sat behind me in the meeting. As we stood for the break, I turned to greet her; Elisabeth said to me, “I am sorry for your heartache.” I was so relieved. I expected her to be harsh but she was gracious and warm.

While she had strong convictions she was a loving and gracious lady. I know my Mother was at the gate to meet her…It was a grand welcome.

Real Heroes

June 8, 2015

I am not sure I would refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex union reception. I haven’t been confronted with that dilemma. But if I were I want the freedom to follow my convictions.

I may get into trouble here…so be it! I have attended a reception for a same-sex couple and had great time! I was happy for them. Did I agree? No. But for me that wasn’t the issue; the issue was to love them even in disagreement. If we refuse to associate with those we have disagreements, it will be a lonely world! Certainly Jesus set us an example of associating with sinners, loving them, engaging them in dialogue in an uncompromising way while being winsome. It’s called grace!

There are bigger brains than mine that will argue this until Jesus returns but, in the meantime, I think we can be gracious without compromising – and I would hope without being ostracized.

I am more than disgusted by people holding up the former Bruce Jenner as a hero. He isn’t. To be honest, I am not sure what he is, but he isn’t a hero. He’s out for money. A whole heap of it. This isn’t new – this whole issue was dealt with years ago with Renee Richards, the tennis pro who was a public transgender. What’s new is the voyeuristic age we live in and reality TV. Lots of money is to be made by people behaving very badly and letting it be taped for TV.

I know the LGBT agenda is powerful. I know it has concerns about how those in its constituency are treated. I know there is injustice, in some cases. But to be honest, I’m still trying to get my head around the whole issue and it is being pushed down my throat. I’m tired of it. I have quit watching ABC’s Good Morning America. They are supporting, if not pushing, the LGBT agenda. Let ’em go right ahead but I won’t be watching or buying anything that sponsors them.

I do not think if I refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex couple that my business should be shut down. Or be taken to court. Doesn’t the court have better things to do? If the shoe was on the other foot and a homosexual business refused to serve a heterosexual couple there would be no legal repercussions or outcry. There is an organized effort to “trap” people in their convictions making them seem like bigots, racists, homophobes… They aren’t. They are everyday people standing up for what they believe. Since, when in America, did that become a crime?

The former Bruce Jenner is not a hero. My nephew who is an Army Ranger and fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan is a hero. The men and women who come back with limbs missing but get up each and every day to fight through the pain are heroes. The mothers who fight for their children in the ghettos are heroes. The fireman who rushes into a burning building is a hero. The father who is working a second job to support his family is a hero. The mother who sits day in and day out by the side the hospital bed as her child struggles with a terrible disease is a hero.

The former Bruce Jenner isn’t even in the same league.

So please, let’s not dumb down the word “hero”.

Soul Restoration

May 26, 2015

Psalms 23 is a “go to” Psalm. We use it in so many situations – illness, funerals, uncertainty, sleeplessness…we turn to its familarity for comfort. Not only the familiarity but its truth that has stood the test of time and echoes down through the ages to our hearts in today’s world.

This morning I was reading it. There is a progression. First He is my shepherd. The all-mighty, all-knowing, Potentate of time is my shepherd. He knows me. I am His. He calls me by my name. He knows the very number of hairs on my head. He is tender with me. He delights in me.

He knows I am weary and tired. Tired from trying too hard. From uncertainty. From loneliness. From noise. From too much. Too little. Just weary. He knows so He makes me lie down. Sometimes when we get busy, running to and fro, we are on a roll…He has to make us lie down. Make us stop. Make us quit. Take a breath.

But He doesn’t make me lie down just anywhere – in green pastures. We have just come through Spring – the grass is such a pretty color of green – soft and new! That’s where my shepherd wants me to lie down.

He cannot lead when we are still in our hurried agenda, in the noise around us. When we are still making our plans, listening to other voices, searching for a strategy. It is when we are quiet, rested, quit our own efforts we hear Him best. Then He leads us on. It is only after we are rested that He can lead us into serenity and quietness.

To the still waters. Is there a more peaceful and serene picture? Crashing waves do not bring me comfort – they inspire me, they create awe – but not serenity, not peace. It is in the quietness, calm that I find peace. And in that place, my soul is restored.

Before that can happen, we have to know God as our personal savior by repenting and asking forgiveness. He doesn’t barge into our lives. He waits to be invited then becomes the gentle Shepherd of our hearts.

And in return He gives us just what we need.

America the Beautiful

May 22, 2015

I love the old hymn…America the Beautiful. There is a lot that isn’t beautiful…
But our heroes are.
God shed His grace on us, unworthy as we are.
God mend our every flaw and confirm our soul in self-control.
May it be… Lord, may it be…

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Have a reflective Memorial Day!

How to Pray

May 11, 2015

I spoke at a local National Day of Prayer event on Thursday.

I worked hard on a message I thought would be appropriate for the occasion, “How Jesus Prayed”. I dove into the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew chapter 6, though that is more accurately described as the “Disciple’s Prayer”. Jesus taught it to His disciples as a form for prayer.

There are more books in my personal library on prayer than on any other subject perhaps than suffering. So many books, articles, sermons, studies have been written on prayer. I became overwhelmed. And with all of the information we still don’t pray!

During the week, in my own devotional time, I ran across some scriptures that caught my eye. Daniel 8:17-19. Daniel, the prophet, is asking God to hear his prayers and for favor not because he was righteous but because of God’s mercy. Daniel says, “For your sake” – for God’s sake not for Daniel’s or the people’s but for God’s sake.

How many times have I prayed for my sake or the sake of my loved ones? I’ll tell you now my prayers are far more self-focused than that. And I will tell you that it is wrong. I was humbled by the greatness of Daniel’s prayer an the greatness of Daniel’s God.

In John 12:27, Jesus prays that God would glorified in His suffering and death. Jesus would like very much not to have had to go to the cross – and told His Father as much. But He prayed, “Father, glorify your name!” Is that the way I pray in situations? Is that my ultimate goal? Yes, I have to say that is the ultimate goal but in between I’d like to have some ease, some relief, some answers…

Jesus didn’t have an “in the meantime”. He went right to the heart of the matter, laid it before God as an act of obedience and trusted God with the outcome.

I’ve got a long way to go in learning how to pray.

Now they begin to understand…

April 5, 2015

As they went to the tomb early in the morning, they found an empty tomb and an angel. Who asked them a question, “Why seek the living among the dead?” What did he mean?

That is not what they expected. Did they dare to believe? Did they dare to hope?

Do you believe? Have you lost hope? The significance of this day is that we can believe in Someone Who is not dead but alive. One Who loves us passionately. So much so that He died for each one of us. And He offers complete forgiveness.

Now that is something to celebrate on this glorious Resurrection morning!

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