A View From the Edge of Heaven

starry-night

“Raphael, there you go again! Always standing at the brink!”

“Ah, Yuriel, I can never get over the view from here! You can see all of creation from this spot.”

“All of creation? Not hardly! All you can see from there is that little playground the Creator made. What’s it called again?”

“The ‘Universe’.”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Ahh, but it’s so magnificent, isn’t it? And it does seem to be one of His favorites, after all.”

“Hmm. Well, I suppose it has been a while since I’ve taken a look that way. So. Show me what you are staring at so intently down there.”

“I’m looking at that little galaxy over there. Do you see it? I think something important is going on.”

“Raphael, there are literally billions of galaxies out there. You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“Heh-heh. I guess you’re right. Well, it’s hard to describe, actually. It’s that milky white one over th– Wait! Look! The captain has just dispatched one of our squadrons — they are exiting out through our gates over there on the right. Just keep your eyes on them. They’ll show you the way. Dispatches have been going out all morning and all of them are travelling to the same spot. If you watch them for a moment, unless I miss my guess, you will see them head straight to the galaxy I’ve been studying.”

“Wow, Raphael. That’s not just a squadron. That looks like an entire battalion! I think you are right — something important definitely seems to be stirring. They’re off now. My, it’s difficult to keep my eyes on them. They certainly are fast, aren’t they? Oh, I see now. They are headed over — wait! They are travelling to that galaxy?”

“Yes. Troops have been headed there all morning. Do you know the place?”

“Know the place? I’ve been there! That’s the place we call the ‘stain’. Selaphiel and I were posted there on an assignment ages ago. There is a tiny little dustball in that particular galaxy — it’s called ‘Dirt’ or ‘Earth’ or something like that. A horrid speck of a place. It’s crawling with little germs they call ‘people’. Such a nasty rabble. Worst post I’ve ever had, to tell you the truth. I was thankful when it was done. I’ll tell you, Raphael, that little stain is the filthiest place in all of creation. They must be sending a cleanup crew down there to finally wipe that planet clean. And none too soon, I’ll tell you. I’m surprised they’ve waited this long.”

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, Yuriel, but I’m afraid that is not what’s going on.”

“It’s not? How do you know?”

“Like I said, I’ve been keeping my eye on this place for some time now.”

“Have you, now? Whatever for?”

“Well, it’s been said (and I have this on very good authority), that His Royal Highness has — (come over here, so I can whisper this) — His Majesty has grown particularly fond of that little ‘speck’, as you call it.”

“What?! Why that’s prepostorous! That gritball is the most despicable and vile spot imaginable! The King wouldn’t be caught dead there (if you will pardon such an unspeakable expression).”

“Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous. But it’s true. Gabriel himself was sent there not too long ago.”

“The Captain of the Guard? Down to the speck? What business could he possibly have down there?”

“I understand he was sent there with an urgent communiqué for one of the inhabitants of that place.”

“A message for the stain-people? What did it say?”

“Oh it was all top secret, of course. Strictest levels of security. But I am fairly certain the message originated from the highest levels.”

“Is that so? What makes you so sure?”

“Well, ever since I first noticed the heightened activity down there, I was eager to find out more. (I long to look into these things, you know.) So anyway, a short time ago  I began scouring the communication logs (don’t let on about this, now, will you?); I was studying the old archives, reading every message I could find that was ever sent down there.”

“You had clearance for this?”

“Well, here’s the thing: there has been a whole chain of communication that was sent down there without any security locks. Some of the messages were lightly encrypted, of course, but with a bit of cross-referencing it wasn’t difficult to work out the gist of the content.”

“And what did you uncover? Warnings of coming judgement, I’ve no doubt.”

“Indeed, many of the messages were of that sort. But not all. Here — take a look for yourself. I’ve got a copy of one of them right here.”

“Let me see that. Hmm. ‘For unto us a Child is born; Unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end’.”

“Astounding, isn’t it?”

“Raphael, that’s, … well, I’m speechless. I can hardly believe it. These titles — why they seem to be speaking of the Royal Highness Himself. Are you certain this is a genuine message?”

“It’s straight from the Top. It was clearly designated as a Word from the Lord.”

“But how can that be? ‘A child’, it says ; a ‘Prince of Peace’, an un-ending kingdom. Who could it be speaking about?”

“I wish I knew. If only we had more informa– Wait a moment! Look: There’s more commotion going on at the gate.”

“Another dispatch.”

“Yes, and it is the largest one yet. Do you recognize anyone among them?”

“Well, let me see. They don’t have any weapons, so it is not the infantry. I think it might be — Oh my!

“What? What is it, Yuriel?”

“It’s the Royal Color Guard!”

“What? Why, they are only dispatched when the Majesty Himself is accompanying them.”

“Yes — the personal regiment of His Majesty’s Only Begotten Son. But I don’t see Him among them.”

“Well, I’m not surprised about that. No one has seen him anywhere — ever since Gabriel took that top secret message that I told you about.”

“This mystery grows deeper every moment.”

“Look, Yuriel! There’s more troops deploying now — at the rear of the guard.”

“No, Raphael, those are not troops.”

“They’re not? Who then?”

“It is the Royal Vocal Ensemble.”

“A choir? What on earth are they needed for?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. I wish I could get a closer look.”

“Here, I can help with that. Let me zoom in. There. That’s better. Look, you can see it now: the deployments all seem to be congregating in that one valley down there.”

“Hmm, yes. I can see a small building… and animals. (Ahh! The animals! The only unstained creatures on the planet, dear things!)”

“There are people, as well. I can see two of them…Wait… no. Do you see what I see? There’s a third one with them — he is much smaller than the others. Do you see him, Yuriel? … Yuriel, what — what are you doing?”

“Get… get on your knees, Raphael. Do you not see what is happening? Do you not hear the holy choir singing even now, calling all of Heaven to give Him glory? Do you not recognize His Royal Higness?”

“Do you mean — our Creator? That’s Him? But how could… why would He…?”

“Hush, Rafael! I cannot answer your questions. All I know is … our Great High King is there. And He… He is a child. Bow, Rafael. Bow lower than you have ever bowed before. And give Him glory…. Glory in the Highest!”

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Lessons from the Transmission

pushing-car2I’m no car genius, but I know when something’s wrong. My first thought was that my ’97 4-Runner had just lost its transmission, on a cold and snowy day miles from home. Thankfully, something else entirely was going on. Something I’m still chuckling about.

So I was out doing errands around town. The parking lot I was in was quite icy (and, as it happens, my car was a little more cluttered than normal, due to the paperwork from all my errands). Anyways, I climb into my car, put it into gear, and begin to pull forward – slowly at first out of caution for the ice. Once I got it rolling, I proceeded to give the engine more gas, but I was surprised that the car didn’t accelerate. I gave it even more gas, and still the car just crept along slowly. I figured the ice must be more slippery than I had realized, so I put it into four-wheel drive. That didn’t help at all, and now my car was slowing to a stop. I was starting to fear the worst. “This is either really slick ice,” I thought to myself, “or else I’m going to have a whopper of a transmission bill.” I said a quick prayer, and thought about my options. It occurred to me that maybe if I put it into a lower gear, I might somehow get more traction, so I reached to the automatic gear shifter, intending to switch from drive to low gear. It was then that I realized my mistake.

As it turns out, the clutter in my car had hidden the fact that the gear shifter had been in neutral the whole time! The only reason the car had pulled forward at all was the fact that the parking lot just happened to be sloped gently in the direction I had wanted to go. As soon as I pulled the shifter from neutral to drive, my car’s behavior returned to normal. I laughed out loud and thanked the Lord for answering my prayer so quickly.

Well, after the embarassment wore off, a new realization dawned on me: I can have all the power of a 183 horsepower engine, but if my drive-shaft isn’t engaged with the power source: I ain’t movin’ unless I’m just drifting.

Reflecting on this, I couldn’t help but ask myself: how much of my life is lived in neutral? I’m trying to make headway, I’m gunning the engine and pounding the steering wheel and not getting anywhere. I’m stressed out with obligations and responsibilities and fears of inadequacy, and I just can’t seem to get out of the driveway. I complain to the Lord and say, “God, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you helping me? I’m trying so hard and I’m getting nowhere! Where are You?”

And the Lord chuckles to Himself and says, “I’m here, child. I’m all here. I’m ready to help. My power is unlimited and it is completely available to you. The question is, Where are you?”

This humbling little parking lot episode was just a reminder that I need to be engaged with the Power Source. My drive-train needs to be tightly coupled with the One who is my life. But if I let my soul get so cluttered with “stuff from all my errands” I will be blind to the fact that I’ve lost that connection. I think perhaps it was that kind of blindness that Paul was concerned about when he said to his friends in Ephesus,

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may KNOW…  the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe — that extraordinary power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” (Eph 1:18-20)

So, if you find yourself spinning and sweating and stressed out this busy Christmas season, I encourage you to take some time to inspect the transmission of your soul and revitalize your connection with the Savior. And, in the words of that great philosopher, Captain Jean-Luc Picard,

“Engage!”

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The Bible Tells Me So?

stanley

I was recently alerted to a blog post about Andy Stanley, a well-known pastor and one whom I have a great deal of respect for. The blog implied that Pastor Stanley is turning to liberalism, and suggested that he has begun to cast doubts on the reliability of the Bible.  The blog pointed in particular to a sermon entitled “The Bible Told Me So” (available here). I decided to reserve judgement about the matter until I had listened to the sermon for myself. What follows is my response.

After a short introduction, Stanley launches into a message (which he cautions his audience to listen to very carefully so as not to misconstrue his words), and he begins with an admittedly provocative statement (“our problems began with the Jesus Loves Me song”). What follows were some words that will surely raise your eyebrows if you are a conservative Christian as I am. I hesitate to summarize his message for fear of mis-quoting him (and I invite you to listen for yourself), but essentially what I understood him to say is essentially this: A lot of Christians have left the faith (“de-converted”) not because somebody proved to them that God wasn’t real, but because somebody unsettled them with “evidence” that some of the verses in the Bible have mistakes. And because these Christians had been taught to “rely on the Bible because it is inspired”, the possiblity of a mistake in the Bible undermined its authority in their life, and therefore undermined their belief in God. The introduction of a doubt in Inerrancy became, for these Christians, as consequential as a crack in the foundation of mighty dam — everything crumbled.

Now I will admit that I found some of Andy’s words slightly unsettling. A few of his points seemed to be intentionally provocative, and perhaps overly so. A casual listener might led astray (which, of coure, was why he warned his audience from the outset NOT to listen casually). Perhaps an argument could be made that he should have been a little more careful in what he was saying. But the assertion in the critic’s blog post was that Stanley was using age-old arguments right out of the liberal’s playbook. Is that accurate?

I don’t think so.

The careful listener will notice that Stanley spends the second half of his sermon powerfully arguing for the reliability and historicity of the Bible (and favorably recommending a book by an extremely conservative apologist). He also asserts that the scribal copyists of the original manuscripts were “username-and-password careful”, and that the modern editors of Scripture keep no secrets about the uncertainty of certain fragments of the manuscripts.

And then Stanley lays down one of the central principles of his argument. He asserts that the early Christian scribes treasured the manuscripts that they were copying NOT because they believed them to be “inspired”, but because they believed them to be TRUE.

If I understand him correctly, the point that Stanley is making is this: our evangelistic apologetics must not rest on the presumed inspiration of the Bible (“the Bible says it and that settles it”). That is backwards and it won’t be effective. How do I know the Bible is inspired? Because it claims to be? (That’s circular logic, and unpersuasive.) No. Our faith must rest on historical fact FIRST, and then go on to reliability in the Bible.

Now, that might be a troubling statement for some, but let me try to unpack it, because it expresses what I believe too.

I believe the Bible because (and I’m speaking for myself now, not for Stanley, but I think this reflects his message too) … I believe the Bible because I am convinced (for a whole host of reasons) that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical EVENT. It is that EVENT that validates the person of Jesus. And by extension it validates his WORDS. And because his words indicated that he had confidence in the Scriptures, it validates those as well. And therefore, in my evangelism and in my own personal faith, I don’t start with the assumption of inspiration and thereby reach the conclusion that the Bible is true. My faith begins with an empty tomb and a historical death-to-life event, and that event by implication, leads me to the conviction that the Bible is reliable and trustworthy. And because this book that I now consider trustworthy CLAIMS to also be infallible, I am led to the conviction that indeed it is. And now, like a child who slowly transfers faith in his parents to faith in his parents God, I have now transfered my faith from a belief in an Event to a conviction of an inerrant Bible.

What Andy is saying (in his characteristically powerful and compelling way) is this: if we try to reason the other way around, we will lose our children, because once they leave our home and their belief in the accuracy of the Bible is shaken by non-christian professors, their faith in God will be shaken as well. And if we insist on telling non-believers that Jesus loves them because the Bible tells me so, they will walk away un-persuaded, because that is not how the Apostles and original evangelists persuaded people.

Is Andy Stanley going liberal? I can’t tell you. I don’t know him personally. If you have any question about that, I urge you to listen to this sermon yourself. But I can tell you this: when I listen to this sermon, I hear a man who is rock-solid in his belief in Scripture is true and reliable. But more importantly, I hear a message that brings me to tears, because it reminds me that the Bible is precious not because it is “inspired” (though I believe it to be), but because it tells me about Jesus. And because Jesus said, “I love you.” And because what Jesus said is TRUE.

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Bible Study, Day 1

Bible Study2

It began today. I honestly had no idea what to expect. I invited 20 guys over the last two weeks to come to this weekly Bible Study, and I had no idea how many of them would actually show up. I knew there would be at least two of us, and I figured, if that’s enough for the Lord, it would certainly be enough for me.

Turns out, there were six of us, all together, which was totally awesome. I was especially thrilled that one of them told me he hadn’t gone to church since he was a little boy — and he’s nearing retirement age. I can’t tell you how excited I was to have him in the room with us.

We’re studying the book of Ephesians. I selected that book for several reasons: First of all, because it’s short. This group is planned for the 14 weeks of summer, and we only have 30 minutes a week. (I wish we could spend 30 minutes per verse!)  So we’re going to have to keep a good pace. Second, because it is such a gem of an epistle. It is so dense. As I said to the group, “All the major themes of the entire Bible converge in this one little letter. From Creation, to the Cross, to the Coming again; from grace, to peace, to love, to warfare. It’s all here in one condensed little book.”

But the main reason I chose it is because it sets out the gospel so clearly and beautifully. Grace, through faith, from God’s rich love. That’s it. That is the real message that I hope to proclaim loudly and clearly this summer.

To all of you who prayed for me last week, I want to express my sincerest gratitude! God definitely answered your prayers! If you would like to continue to support me in this way, please pray that I would know how to lead the group wisely and winsomely. (Those of you who know my background know that I could easily preach at these guys for 30-minutes-straight without coming up for air! But I want to leave room for the Lord to work through others and not just me. So I will need to know when to just keep quiet.) And pray also that if there are any other would-be attenders that are still on the fence (particularly like my friend with little church background), pray that I might be attentive for more opportunities to extend additional invitations.

There were so many times over the last few weeks that I found myself wondering, “What in the world am I getting myself into?” But the Lord has shown me time and again that He has His hands on this thing. Once I finally rested in that, I had great peace.

But today, it was just plain fun.

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Workplace Missions

bible study

I don’t remember exactly what the topic of our conversation was —  I was probably whining about some frustration I had at work, or maybe complaining that my job didn’t seem very “significant” in the grand scheme of things.

That’s when my friend Dave asked me a piercing question. He said, “Kevin, imagine for a moment that your church raised your support and appointed you as a missionary… to your office building. How would that change your attitude about work?”

That question stopped me cold and convicted me deeply. Because, of course, I have been called as a missionary to my office. God gave me this job (miraculously, by the way), and He has appointed me to view it as my mission field. And while I have always known that, there was something about Dave’s question that made it much more real to me.

So, I have finally decided to do something about it. Something real. I’ve been thinking about doing this for years, but I’ve never had the guts to actually give it a go. But this week it’s real: I’m starting a workplace Bible Study. I got permission from my boss and H.R. to use one of the conference rooms, and I have found one other Christian to join with me. I even made some business-card invitations:

guys bible study (work)

I know very few Christians in the building, but that’s okay because that’s not who I’m planning to invite, primarily. I have several non-churched friends, and they are the ones I am praying for.  And so, tomorrow, I plan to make the rounds to invite them. Quite frankly, I am scared to death. It will probably be quite awkward, walking into their office and saying, “Yeah, I uh, know you haven’t gone to church in the last 10 years, but how would you like bringing your lunch into a conference room once a week to talk about the Bible?” But, Lord willing, that’s exactly what I plan to do. It’s exciting and scary and nerve-wracking and feels like the most adventures thing I have done in years.

When I confessed my lingering doubts about this whole idea to my partner (who’s been meeting with me to pray about this for the last few weeks), he encouraged me by saying, “We could fail at a far less noble goal.” Indeed we could.

I would sure appreciate any other prayers that any of you might be willing to cast up on our behalf. Like — you have no idea how much I would appreciate it! Because, after all, if I am going to be a missionary, I really need to have prayer support.

So consider this my first missionary prayer letter.

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Defending the Homestead

Steve Smith and company -cropped2

Dads:  Critical question –  How vigilantly are you protecting your family?

A good friend of mine lives with his family on a gorgeous ranch in Idaho. Steve grew up in the big country, so he knows his way around the back woods. Unfortunately, not all is well on the Smith homestead: Steve has a wolf problem. Some time ago, a decision was made by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to re-introduce wolves into the region surrounding Steve’s ranch. This environmentally compassionate and well-intentioned effort has brought with it unintended consequences.

Steve began  noticing the problem when his cows started disappearing. He has lost 7 calves to the predator so far. The wolves’ ferocity is staggering: “They can kill and clean up a 400lb calf so that when you come by in 30 hours, there’s nothing left but a blood stain on the dirt and some hay on the ground that spilled out of the rumenant, and a fly tag and an ear tag. No bones nothing.”

And it’s not just the cattle that are victimized; other wildlife in the region are faring no better. “I have noticed a 70% decrease in wildlife on our range alone just this year,” Steve says. “I am convinced that those who love the wolf, hate the deer, elk, moose, and antelope…. I get tired of being on the range and seeing antelope with half of his butt ate out and he is running off packing one hind leg and bleeding. You never know if they make it or not.”

But what concerns Steve even more than the wildlife is the danger that the wolves represent to his family. “Our kids can’t play in the forest like they used to,” he explains. “You have to carry a gun everywhere you go, even to change irrigation wheel-lines in the hayfield, and if you break down in your car at night-there is no more walking to the nearest farmhouse for help.” Understandably, in an environment of such ever-looming danger, Steve admits, “My hair is constantly raised up on the back of my neck… But I’m getting used to it.”

It is not surprising then, in a situation like this, that Steve has decided to do what any loving, protective father would: he’s taking the heat to the wolf. Not content any longer to sit idly by while his loved-ones and livelihood remain under threat, Steve courageously set out to eradicate the enemy from his property and his range.

And when I say this requires courage, I’m not exaggerating. This is not some feeble little pest that’s roaming around Steve’s fence-line. The Canadian Grey Wolf is a ferocious animal. And they don’t travel alone — they hunt in packs… vicious packs that make Harlem gangs look like Cub Scouts. Steve, of course, doesn’t hunt alone either… or limit himself to a single gun. “You don’t want to run out of ammo in an encounter,” Steve explained to one of his friends. “You can’t just scare them off. Even if they are wounded they will still attack. Your only defense is shoot to kill.”

And I guess it goes without saying that you probably don’t want to miss.

big wolf

Now, I’m not narrating this story as some diatribe against environmental conservationism, and I’m no NRA activist. What Steve has chosen to do is both brave and commendable; there’s no doubt about that. But there’s something deeper in Steve’s story than just wilderness survival. The lesson that I take to heart goes beyond rifles and side-arms. After hearing Steve’s description of his tenacious resistance, a question came to my mind that I can’t escape:

How valiantly am I guarding my own household from the predatory enemy that prowls around my children like a hungry beast?

I don’t have wild animals in my suburban neighborhood. It’s been years since I’ve heard the coyotes in the fields. The most formidable critter we’ve seen around here was the skunk that got pancaked by a car last week up on the main road. (Poor car!) But as I stare in the face of the wolf in the picture that Steve posted, and as I imagine the ferocity which that beast must have exhibited while it was still on the prowl, I am sobered by the realization that the Enemy who seeks to devour my family is no less fearsome, and no less dangerous. So what am I doing to protect and defend my home and my loved-ones against this snarling adversary? 

If I understand 1 Peter 5:8 correctly, I’ve got to believe that the devil and his minions are actively engaged in a protracted campaign aimed at nothing less than the savage destruction of my family. His various strategies are as numerous as the wolves: moral sabotage, spiritual distraction, materialistic complacency, relational discord — the list could go on and on. He wants to take me down. He would be delighted to see my family shredded. He has every intention of ripping us apart.

~~~~

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to wild animal attacks. According to 1 Cor 15:32, he “fought wild beasts in Ephesus”. But, as harrowing as that encounter must have been, it barely garnered a mention in his personal bio-reel. There was another danger that he was far more concerned about  — a threat to his loved-ones so menacing that it actually brought him to tears. At the twilight of his career, he gathered together some of his dearest friends — members of his church staff in Ephesus. Knowing this would be his final words to them, he laid out a dire warning (using an analogy that perhaps reminded them of that beast-fighting encounter I just mentioned — which occurred in their own town). He looked them in the eyes and said,

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock… Be shepherds!…. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)

Of course, Paul is addressing elders, and the flock that he is referring to in this context is the church of God. Nevertheless as a dad, I am charged with shepherding my own flock (my family), and clearly I must do so with equal vigilance. This passionate and tearful plea should ring in my ears as much as my pastor’s: Be on your guard!  Savage wolves will come! Protect your homestead!

As I was mulling over these words this week, I happened to come across a statement from Jesus that bore a striking resemblance to Paul’s. Interestingly, the Lord chose the very same imagery to broadcast his own warning:

 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matt 7:15)

Hold these two passages side-by-side and you will notice several parallels. They both begin with the same greek word: prosekete, which basically means “keep your eyes open”. The implication is that this danger will sneak up on you if you are not watching diligently. Furthermore, both passages make it clear that these wolves are not to be trifled with. Jesus calls them “ferocious” (literally, “rapacious”, from the word for cutting) and Paul labels them “savage” (which comes from the word for “heavy”, and may be translated “oppressive” or “ruthless”). The point is sharp: the enemy is beastly and fierce. These wolves mean to do you great harm and they will not be frightened off, even when wounded.

But the most sobering warning — and one highlighted in both of these passages — is that these wolves are exceptionally crafty. They won’t look like wolves. Instead they will be “wearing sheep’s clothing,” (Matthew) and “coming from your own number” (Ephesians). The point is that, unlike the menacing varmints in my friend Steve’s back woods, these ravenous creatures won’t look dangerous. In fact, they just may look like friends.

If I understand what Paul and Jesus are saying, the basic principal seems to be that the most dangerous influences in our children’s lives are the ones that we casually invite into our homes. As a dad with young teenage children and toddlers, I’ll have to admit — this is a warning that chills my spine. Who, or what am I allowing into my children’s lives that may appear perfectly acceptable, but may in fact be perilous to their well-being and character?

Now I don’t mean to be overly-dramatic; I am not suggesting that we strictly isolate our children from every worldly diversion. But as a concerned father, I am obligated to be keenly observant regarding the influences that I allow in my children’s lives: the entertainment, the music, the media, the friends. It is my job to astutely defend their hearts and their souls. And in this culture of ubiquitous electronics which stream incessant messages of self-centeredness, indulgence, immorality, and dishonor, this is no easy task.

Like my friend Steve, I must be constantly armed; I must scan the horizon diligently, sober to the reality that prowls my fence-line.  And at the same time, I also need to be training my children to be discerning observers themselves — not easily fooled by what presents itself as sheepish and innocent. It is so easy for children to parrot our culture’s values. It is not as easy to peel off the sheepskin and reveal the danger lurking inside.

I certainly don’t have all the answers about raising children wisely nor identifying wolves accurately. But Steve’s report from the ranch has stirred me to think more circumspectly about the peril that lurks so near my home. If you have children or grandchildren, I’m sure you share my concern. What are some of the hidden dangers that you have observed in your own family? I would love to read your stories in the comments below about the wool-covered wolves that are on your radar.

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Enough is Enough

interceptionFor some reason I was more emotionally invested in The Super Bowl than I typically get in football games. This made the cattywampus ending particularly difficult to take. In the hours after the game, as I processed the grief, I was reminded of a similarly disappointing athletic event that I participated in long ago. It is embarrassingly silly by comparison (and I haven’t thought about it in years), but it seemed deeply significant at the time — and it proved to be one of the earliest milestones in my spiritual journey.

Hume Lake Christian conference grounds was the annual destination of my church youth group throughout all of my middle school and high school years. This heavenly retreat center never failed to be the emotional and spiritual highlight of my year. It was always off-the-scale fun. Like most church camps, the athletic events were a centerpiece of each day. It was our summer olympics: church against church, cabin against cabin, mano y mano. Unfortunately, my church always seemed to end up somewhere south of 7th place year after year. That is, until my senior year. In the summer of 1984, the Grace Church youth group came prepared to win. And win we did: each day we dominated virtually every event. Each evening when the day’s standings were announced, we went wild as they called out our name in the first place slot. But daily standings aside, the ultimate pinnacle of our ambition was to be declared the olympic champions at the end of the week.

We continued to hold the top spot until the last day, and we were thrilled to learn that the final event was to be the 4×4 relay. This was exciting because two of our teammates were star track & field sprinters back home. We had no doubt that we would own this event and claim that coveted top prize.

I still remember as I watched that race: the third sprint… the final hand-off to our anchor… the baton dropping to the ground… our competitors speeding past us to win… and our amped excitement evaporating before our unbelieving eyes. I still remember the bitter disappointment that swamped our hearts and clouded our minds. It was this heartache that the Seahawks reminded me of Sunday afternoon.

But that wasn’t the only story that God had been unfolding in my heart that summer. In the months leading up to the camp, He had slowly been awakening a brand new spiritual hunger in me. Although I had been a “Christian” since my early youth, I look back on that Spring of 1984 as the real beginning of my spiritual life. So I had arrived at camp that year with a heart that had been freshly stoked with a fledgling fervor for the Lord.

And so there I was on that final day, surrounded by my buddies, all of us grieving deeply for our painful loss. And at that moment the Lord somehow grabbed my attention. It was as if he was surgically probing my heart, as if He was asking me a piercing question: “Am I enough for you?” The thought penetrated to the core of my teenage soul; it was the first real test of my newly emergent faith. And there under the giant sequoia trees, with my cheeks still stained from the tears of dashed hopes, I looked up and said, “Yes, Lord. No matter what happens in my life, You are all I need. Just knowing You is enough…. YOU are enough for me.”

That was a seminal moment for me. Quite literally, in fact: my life pivoted onto a new trajectory that day. (It just so happened that on that very day, in a seemingly unrelated turn of events, I won a one-year, full-ride scholarship to Multnomah School of the Bible, which catapulted me into an even more revolutionary spiritual adventure… but that’s another story). That afternoon in the Sierra Nevada mountains I gained something far more valuable than a trophy… more valuable than even a Vince Lombardi trophy. It was a formative lesson that I have had to learn and re-learn many times over the years, but it all started with a simple question from the Lord in the wake of a crushing defeat:

“Am I enough for you?”

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