Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I believe that the first person I met upon my arrival at Towerview Baptist Church (other than the pastor search committee) was Bill. Actually, if you do not count my wife, Bill is the first person I meet at church every Sunday morning and every Wednesday night. That is because he takes the responsibility of "Chief Greeter and All Around Nice Guy" very seriously. It is nearly impossible to enter the front doors of our church without being greeted by Bill and handed either a Sunday morning worship bulletin or a Wednesday evening prayer list. And they both come with a complimentary hand-shake.

You cannot help but love Bill.

Unfortunately, he has not been well for some time. The last year has not been good to him. Bill has been fighting a nasty battle with cancer. And if you look at things from a purely worldly standpoint, he is losing. Quickly. Like maybe this week.

Today I walked up to Bills front door and put out my hand to ring the doorbell. I had not visited with Bill since last Thursday. On that bright, sunny, tornado-less day (that matters around St. Louis this year) he was feeling quite well. I found him sitting in his recliner. His sister was visiting from the Lake of the Ozarks. We had a nice visit and I gave Bill a book. "One Minute After You Die." It was authored by Irwin Lutzer and I strongly recommend that you read it while you still have the chance. Then I shared a moment of prayer with my friend and excused myself to continue my day. But that was Thursday and this was Wednesday. Bill's health had plunged rapidly since that time. The end is drawing near. And I came to see if maybe he needed to talk. As I put my hand out, finger pointed toward the doorbell button, all of my physical and mental processes ground to a halt. I don't know how to explain it. I have paid many visits to many dying men and women over 3.5 decades of pastoring. But today, before I could push that button a thought rushed through my brain with all of the intensity of General Sherman's burning of Atlanta.

I was about to speak to a man who within a couple of days would very likely be speaking face to face with Jesus Christ. THE Jesus Christ. The creator and Lord of creation. The gentleman I was about to address, perhaps give advice to, certainly pray with, would listen to me today without a doubt. What I said he would take as the gospel truth. However, by the next time we have a Wednesday roll around every word I was about to speak would be proven true or false by almighty God Himself. I will be Bill's "under-shepherd" for a matter of a remaining few hours. And then he would report directly to The True Shepherd. The Alpha and Omega. He will be seeing the nail scars and the marks left from a crown of thorns. But right now he was my responsibility. And when he stops being my responsibility he will be the direct responsibility of ... The Son of God.

I cannot begin to tell you what that did to my heart. I realized in a very fresh and new way the gravity of the assignment that God has bestowed upon me. My greatest fear is to fail in that assignment. My greatest honor is in having it bestowed upon me in the first place. And tonight it feels like the weight of the universe is resting on my shoulders. It is the most intimidating thing I have ever felt.

I am not worthy.

And I cannot think of one other word to say.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Life On The Broken Planet

I remember April 22, 1967. I did not know it at the time but it was precisely 18 years to the day until my last child would be born. Nobody can look into the future and see something like that. I remember April 22, 1967 because on that day I was looking back about 18 hours. I was 11 years old and I was in a car with my pastor and other kids from the youth group I had just grown into. We were driving to downtown Chicago for a "Jesus Rally." I remember the rally, but again, that's not what is so memorable. On that beautiful Saturday morning we drove through the suburb of Oak Lawn, Illinois. The previous day it had been devastated by a monster tornado. These pictures <----- from Oak Lawn remind me of what we have been looking at all week in the unfortunate town of Joplin, Missouri. My juvenile brain went into overload as we drove through block after block after block of homes that looked as though they had been smashed by God's angry fist. I had a difficult time wrapping my mind around it. And I had a hard time understanding why the God I was on the way to worship at Chicago's Civic Center would allow that to happen. I still don't know the answer to that one.

A hospital full of sick and injured people got blown apart on Sunday night in Joplin. The current death toll stands around 124 in that city. And it is frightening to realize that roughly 1,500 people are still unaccounted for. No doubt most of them are with friends someplace and safe. But other people do not know that and so they found their way onto the list. There is also little doubt that many of the 1,500 are not at all safe. They really are missing. How can something blow the bark off of trees? How can a storm literally blow the pavement off of roads leaving only an ugly scar on the ground? How can a child be sucked out through the sunroof of his parents car? How can debris from the havoc the tornado creates soar 18,000 feet into the air? That is 3.4 miles UP. How can medical x-rays from the aforementioned hospital land in another city 70 miles away? I mean, what kind of force can do that?

I am afraid that I have more questions than I have answers. The older I get the more I realize that what I once accepted as acceptable reasons just doesn't really measure up. There are no answers available that make me go, "Oh. Okay. I get it now."

And so here is where I land. The planet we live on is broken. We broke it. It all started with an act that seemed tiny. The eating of fruit from a tree that God forbid a man and a woman to eat from. You can read about it in the book of Genesis. Chapter 3. So the guy and the girl break God's only rule. They decide to eat out one evening and make the unwise choice of restaurants. And thus we have the first "sin." It's just fruit, right? Hmmm. Do you know what the second recorded sin is? Murder. One young man killed his brother because of jealousy. From fruit to fight. From meal to murder. And the spiral continues on this very day. And the mayhem does not just effect people. It effects all of creation. It has resulted in earthquakes, tsunami's, hurricanes ... and tornadoes.

God help us.

But lest you think that is the end of the story, consider this. Do not for a minute think that we have been deserted and left alone on this spinning ball in space. God is still in charge. He paid the ultimate price to defeat the sin that so easily entangles us. He surrendered His Own Son to the powers of evil in order to buy us back. And because of that ... for those that believe ... everything ends WELL.

But for now we still live on the broken planet.

I pray though that you will find encouragement in these facts. God directs every lightening bolt. God counts every rain drop. God sees the impact of every hail stone. And not one single tornado will ever be spun out of a cloud without either God causing it, or at the very least, giving it permission. And now add this into the equation. He knows where you are. Every second of every day. People die under tragic circumstances. And yes, Christ followers sometimes get killed by tornadoes. We are not immune to the effects of the broken planet. Perhaps ... I'm not certain but just perhaps ... every time a lost person dies from tragic events God allows a Christ follower to die from tragic events also. Why? So the world will see the difference.

I sleep well regardless of the weather. Oh sure, I take precautions. I have a couple of flashlights. I have a sturdy and fairly safe basement. I have a battery operated weather radio. That is only smart. But the reason why I sleep well is because my Father watches over me. And someday He will call me home. If it's because I'm in a truly bad location when a tornado comes by ... well ... alright. I can think of better ways to go. But I'm His. I settled that long ago. And my earthly father taught me when I was a child that he would watch out for me and provide for me. My Father in heaven has done the same thing. So I think I"ll go to bed now. He's got His eye on me. It's on you too. And that gives me more rest than the best sleeping aid on the market.

Nighty night.