Observations of death during the Christmas season…

OK, this one is heavy, really heavy.  My heart is heavy.  Death surrounds me and it strikes me as a very odd time for this given we are in the week of Christmas.  Or, maybe it doesn’t.  Stay with me on this…

My assistant’s brother-in-law died of a heart attack at his desk in mid-November.  He was a man full of life.  He was a craftsman and built a reputation for doing remarkable landscaping and rock-work.  He loved life.  Loved being on his tractor with his dog in the cab with him.  He loved his grandchild.  He loved the Lord and the mission field.  In the blink of an eye with no warning, he is now gone.

At my office complex there is a man who occupies the suite below us.  He parks his truck outside my window and I see him coming and going daily.  We never talked to each other.  About 6 weeks ago I noticed his wife’s car at the office a lot and saw her dropping him off from time to time.  It turns out he had bypass surgery and was on the mend.  Something went wrong around Thanksgiving and he passed away suddenly, the victim of a rare post-surgical complication.  His truck remains in our parking lot and I’ve watched his wife and two sons come and go as the boys try to pick up his responsibilities running the business.  His truck is parked right next to mine and yet he is gone.

A couple we used to go to church with had two daughters.  The oldest is engaged to be married.  The youngest is in college and loved the Lord and the mission field.  Beautiful girls.  A bright future.  Last weekend the youngest was killed in a one car crash on her way home.  Gone and a family will never think of Christmas the same way.

There was a high-profile story this week in the business world – a New York investment banker and his business partner were headed to Atlanta on a business trip.  He had his wife and two young children with them to stay in Atlanta for the holidays.  They took off in his private plane from NYC on their way to Peachtree DeKalb airport.  The plane experienced severe icing and crashed on a New Jersey turnpike killing all 5 on board and leaving another family of three small girls, fatherless.  Beautiful, smart, talented people with children with bright futures…gone.

Wow….this is heavy.  I’m sorry, I just need to get this out.

Christopher Hitchens – a well-known writer and commentator passed away this week after a short battle with cancer.  He was an atheist.  Actually he said he was an anti-theist (a term he hoped would catch on).  An atheist doesn’t believe in God and can wish God was true but can’t find evidence to support the existence of God.  Hitchens didn’t believe in God and didn’t even wish God was true.  He radically didn’t believe in God.  He loved scotch whiskey, cigarettes and he loved his intelligence.  He was smarter than God.  He mocked God and those that dared to believe.

I wonder how he feels about that now?

So I see all these bright, talented people with hopes and dreams and plans and they are gone.  Quickly.  In some cases, in an instant.  So we can be smart and accomplished and wealthy and in the end, it all goes away.  We can be so “evolved” in our thinking and so intelligent that we can begin to discover that we are indeed smarter than all the rest of the world and then cancer shows up.  In the end, it all ends.  We can swear off meat and fried foods and become a vegan.  We can become a triathlete and only eat organic food. But we cannot out-live or out-smart death.

None of us know.  We don’t know when our day will come but rest assured, it is coming for every single one of us.

And so yes, this is very depressing and it seems it has nothing to do with “LiveUP” but it does.  It so does.  It is all about LiveUP.  These deaths are a reminder.  They remind us of our priorities and our eternity in Jesus.  The remind us that we live in a fallen, broken world but God so loved us that He gave His only Son — He GAVE His only Son — to die — for us.

Christmas was an invasion.  God sent Jesus, as a baby, into the world to rescue and set-free the hostages He so loves.  Jesus is the great liberator.  He breaks the walls of the prison we live in and sets us free.  We are free from the worry about death, free from the burdens of trying to keep up with a world speeding towards a certain destruction.  We are free from the hurts and pains and loneliness.  We are free to live radically in pursuit of Jesus and this desire, this craving we have to be closer to Him.

The call to LiveUP is a call to freedom.  It is a reminder to men that have been beaten down and dulled down to an average life that they were bought at a great price.  They have been redeemed and the God that set them free wants them to live an abundant life.

Make the most of today and tomorrow and next week for none of us know when it will be our last.  Live today better than you lived yesterday.  Live 2012 better than you lived 2011.  Spend more time in the Word and less time on ESPN.com.  Love your wife and serve her and build her up in new and creative ways.  Die to your needs and put hers above yours.  Write down 5 things you want to do for/with your children in 2012 that you have been putting off and do them.  Make it your desire to share your faith with at least a dozen people in 2012.  12 in 2012.  One a month.  Be bold with that co-worker or the mechanic or the deer processor or the guy at Starbucks.

Live large for the Lord in 2012 and savor your days.  May God bless you.

Your eyes…

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  Matthew 6:22

There is a dangerous battle underway for the attention of our eyes.  It is subtle.  It is deceptive.  It is tempting.  It has an allure.  It is also very poisonous.

If we keep our eyes healthy, our body will be full of light.  If we expose our eyes to temptation, darkness will enter our body.  That’s powerful and convicting.

I read a story about a man who kept a journal for a month of every time his eyes were tempted.  Whenever he became aware of a sexual image or message, he had to write it down along with his response.  He began to write down the shampoo commercials when a woman soaped up, the banner ads on ESPN.com with a young woman in a low-cut top, the books on Amazon with suggestive covers right next to the innocent book he intended to see.  He noticed the billboards, the sit-coms that suddenly took a sexual tone, the display ads in the mall.  He found he couldn’t spend a few hours watching TV with his wife without having to jot down 12-15 times when his eyes were tempted.

In a month, he had more than 200 journal entries.  Frankly I am surprised he didn’t have 2,000.  But this man was very careful going into the experiment – he doesn’t watch HBO, he stays away from movies with sex scenes, he doesn’t look at pornography, he was careful to avoid websites with any hint of a sexual nature.  So he was very careful and he had to write down more than 200 incidents where his eyes led to a fluttering of his heart.

That’s 200 “electronic mistresses” he flirted with in the past month.  2,400 a year.  2,400 flirtations in a year and he was being careful!

We shouldn’t want these temptations.  They should pain us when we see them but when we are bombarded with such images it is quite easy to become numb to them.  They become just a part of every day life.  That is insidious – it is diabolical.  It is the nature of our enemy.  He seeks to steal, kill and destroy.  These images, temptations and messages that we face 20-30-40-50 times a day are seeking to destroy.

They seek to destroy our marriage.  They seek to destroy our integrity.  They lead us to wonder and fantasize and compare.  They seek to destroy our testimony – as I write this, I’m immediately convicted of some of the TV shows I routinely watch and I’m convicted of the glances I’ve taken at women other than my wife.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought at a price.  So glorify God in your body.”  1 Corinthians 6:19-20

I should despise these temptations.  My sin nature is drawn to them.  I can’t stop them from coming at me but I can do something about my heart and what I am willing to let my eyes see.  I should remember that my body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  He lives in me.  When I take crap in through my eyes, I am telling the Holy Spirit to make way for the lewd images I want in my body.  I’m asking God to give up some territory in my soul for lusty images.

As much as we need to take care of our physical bodies – more so we need to guard and protect our heart and our eyes are often the gateway to the heart.  If I can’t see temptation, I won’t allow it near my heart.

So the call here men is to LiveUP.  To live up to a higher standard.  To learn to be disgusted with the temptation.  To call it out when you see it.  To call Satan what he is – a liar.  Those images we see on TV aren’t “real”.  The billboards and magazine covers and web images are not real.  They are lies.  They are being presented to you to bait you into believing you too can have this.  You can’t.

I know you agree.  I know you remember as a kid the scary movies you saw and the images of horror and I know you realize those images are permanently burned into your psyche.  Even as you read this, you remember.  And we have other memories of mistakes of the past, actions and deeds on our part that if given the chance we’d give anything to “undo” and we wish we could erase those images and actions from our past.

And so it is going forward.  Carefully, prayerfully guard your heart.  Realize that we are in a world at war.  Realize that diabolical, tricky forces are waging for your heart.  Don’t let darkness in through your eyes.  Covet the light.  Desire only to “intake” good.  You know that “junk in = junk out” – if you take in junk, you’ll produce junk.  The same is true for “light in = light out” or “good in = good out”.  If we take in the good and the light, we’ll produce fruit.

There is so much more to say but I’ve said enough.  We fight this battle together.  You were bought at a price.  He gave it all – for you.  He lives in your soul.  He occupies your territory.  Be careful – very careful – the images you invite to sit alongside The Holy One.

Pursuing Him alongside you…..

Stepping through the wardrobe…

I love CS Lewis’ classic story The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  It is a great read and Hollywood actually turned it into a very good movie.

Four children are forced to leave London during the Blitz and are sent to relative’s country home to escape the Nazi bombing.  There isn’t much to do and they spend their days playing hide and go seek.  It is sort of drab and boring and they quickly grow tired of the game. 

One day the youngest of the group Lucy steps into a wardrobe to hide.  As she backs deeper and deeper into the wardrobe, she discovers she is walking in snow covered woods.  She has stepped into another world.  This world is held captive by an evil white witch who ruthlessly rules the kingdom and turns her enemies into stone. 

As the story goes on, all four children step into this world and get caught up in the battle to save Narnia and free the kingdom from the clutches of the white witch.  They befriend a pair of beavers who tell them of Aslan (the Christ figure).  The most powerful line of the story is when the beaver says…

“They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed.”  And then Lewis continues to describe what happened as the children first heard the name of Aslan… “And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. AslanPerhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning—either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.”

Mission field – the mission field, ministry itself and what we’ve seen at Carver very much reminds me that the call to serve the Lord is very much like stepping through the wardrobe door.  Yes – we are stepping into a strange new territory.  Yes – we will see, first hand, the struggles of the people we are there to serve.  Yes – it can be dangerous and thrilling at the same time.  “Wouldn’t it be easier to not do this?”  Of course it would.  Are there people on the other end that desperately need liberation and freedom that only Christ can bring?  Absolutely!

When we go into the field and are dependant on God, it is thrilling to see Him on the move.  As we labor we sometimes get a glimpse of the kind of synergy that only God possess.  With Him 1+1 = 7 (or 70…or 700).  To be able to see this synergy first hand is glorious.  God orchestrates and creates things that only He can take credit for.  Think about Carver this year and all the pieces that came together – donors that contributed money and food, the Courageous movie and “oh by the way wouldn’t it be great if Carver would go with us…” and it happened.  The prayer warrior who prayed every week by name for every single player at Carver calling out 100 names to God weekly.  The random connection that heard about the Carver ministry and got us in touch with Ken Bevel (and we had no idea what his story was – and wow, what a story!)  That Coach McGee asked us to give devotional talks at the end of the meals.  Only God could have made all this happen and we got to go along for the ride!

But…we had to step through the wardrobe door in order to see it.  You know, it is like the old saying, “A ship in the harbor is safe but that isn’t what ships are built for”.  We were made for the field, made to play the game, designed to fight the fight.

God in His gracious mercy saved me from my wretched sin.  I’m not a “basically good” person.  My heart is deceitfully wicked and my natural inclination is away from God.  I very much want to eat the fruit of the tree and like being my own God.  And yet despite my rebellion and, in reality, almost my hatred for God’s authority…He saved me.  He saved me from my assured destruction.

And so, now I can coast.  I’m saved.  I can live out my days in relative comfort doing minor good works or I can boldly, radically, passionately step through the wardrobe door and go into the field to serve my Master and Savior.

What will you do?

LiveUP !



The role of the King

posted by Keith Cowart

This is from the book, Gates of Fire.  This is the lone survivor of the story of the movie 300 (a great man’s movie by the way).  It is based on the story of the 300 Spartans who, according to legend, held off almost 2,000,000 soldiers of the Persian army for 3 days at Thermopylae.  The Persian king led his slave warriors off to war and he’d sit far from the battle field, dressed in regal clothes while sitting on an ornate throne.  By contrast, the survivor is telling what it means to be a king from what he witnessed his king, Leonidas, do in battle and in life.

I will tell His Majesty what a king is.

A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field.

A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall.

A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold;

He earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake.

That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last.

A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them.

He serves them, not they him.

You want a concrete picture of what it means to LiveUP?  You’ll be hard-pressed to find one much better than that!  Is it any wonder that those who followed Leonidas were so willing to die with him?

The challenge to LiveUP involves many things, but certainly one of them is the call to be servant leaders – at home, in the marketplace, in our community, and in our church.  We may not feel much like a Leonidas, but here’s the good news: we belong to and follow a King who is even greater!  Jesus Christ, the King of Kings!!  As we take up our cross and follow Him, He will show us the way; He will fill us with His Spirit; and He will RAISE US UP to be the authentic men He has called us to be.

In this coming Christmas season, this is a great reminder of what the one True King has done for all of us.  He served us.  He became weak so that we may become strong.  He suffered so that we may live.  He died and took the punishment fully due for us.

Praise be to the Lord!