One of the Great Ones Is Gone: Going Full-throttle to the Finish

And a counter-cultural way to think about those "retirement years"

Harry and statueThe only way to get to San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta is to drive down a dry riverbed.  We bounced so much down the boulders in outback Guatemala that I arrived brain-rattled and bruised.

On a missions training trip, we had come with our new friends Harry and Patty Larson to encourage and equip the leaders of a small church there. Together with their young son Peter the five of us bedded down in a tiny room off the back of the church, “air conditioned” by a 12-inch gap between the walls and ceiling.

Lying there in the dark we could hear the soft flapping of something swooping through the gap, in and out of our room. Unsettled, I asked, “What is that?” From his bed Harry began singing in a perfect Sesame Street Transylvanian accent, “One bat hanging in the steeple, One bat flies in through the door….” Patty chimed in, “That makes two bats in my belfry, Wonderful!”

We giggled at The Count’s perfect tribute to our adventure and drifted off to sleep. I was awakened by dogs barking and a rooster crowing. In the middle of the night. And then the bed started to shake.
“Jack,” I half-whispered, “what is that?”
“It’s just a big truck going down the street.” And he rolled over.
As if a big truck could have made it down that riverbed.

The shaking grew worse. And worse. Earthquake!!
I sat bolt upright. “What do I do?!”
Harry responded, “It’s ok. You’re ok!”
The shaking grew worse.
“What do I do?!!”

Transgender & Bathrooms: FAQ’s from a Christian Worldview

A young mom and I were eating lunch at Chick-fil-A when she asked me, “I saw your Faith and Culture website…What do you think about the boycott of Target?” Thinking that some of you may have questions about the bathroom wars over the transgender issue, I’ll answer her question and others in this post.

To begin with, it’s always helpful to clarify the basics:

Q: What is a transgendered person?
A: Although they get lumped into the LG BT acronym, a transgender person is very different from a gay or lesbian person. A gay or lesbian experiences a same-sex attraction in their sexual orientation. A transgender person is one who feels like the sex of the person they are inside does not align with the biologically endowed person they are on the outside.

The live in constant tension between the two, which is why many try to resolve the tension with hormone therapy or sex-change surgery. They believe that if who they are on the inside could be chemically or surgically aligned with who they are on the outside that they could finally live a more peaceful and happy life.

Q: So their bodies and their brains don’t match?

One big cultural reason for Trump’s success and what it means for our future

There’s this scene at the end of the movie of The Truman Show where Jim Carrey, who plays the unwitting star of a reality show about his life, finally figures out that none of it is real. Like the voice of God speaking out of the “sky,” The Truman Show producer tries to persuade him to stay, “You were real,”…that’s what made you so good to watch.”

Truman/Carrey pauses at the foot of a stair case leading up and out of the giant dome of his set, then takes his final bow and makes his exit. The millions who have watched him since he was a toddler explode into cheers, hi-fives and laughter. In the control room the order is given, “Cease transmission.” All the TV sets go to crackling “snow.”

Two security guys eating pizza look at each other. “What else is on?” asks one.
“Yeah let’s see what else is on.”
“Where’s the TV Guide?”
And the credits roll.

Because the show is over. Transmission has ceased. Time to change the channel. Those of us who have followed the 2016 Great Republican Presidential Race Reality Show find ourselves in the same place. Some breathless with the thrill of victory. Others incredulous over sixteen defeats. Millions of us a bit deflated that the primary “show” is over.

Many of us are trying to parse how such a promising field with so many good candidates has ended with the choice shaping up before us.

After Indiana…Trump or Hillary? Four practical ways to respond with faith and strength

Trump vs Clinton

If you listened closely on Tuesday night, you could hear the collective exhale, the sssighing deflation of many who had hoped for Donald Trump’s mojo to grind to a Midwestern red-state halt. Instead, the concern faded to resignation and the quieting of the contested convention tambourines.

Those of us who supported sixteen other candidates are faced with a rock-and-a-hard-place decision. How do we respond? Here are four practical suggestions:

20 Ways to Reach out and Build Warm-Weather Relational Connections

(in a world that constantly divides)

Brunch tableWeary of the way our culture wars are dividing us? Maybe you long to be used as a person of more influence for good right in your community. Perhaps you’ve often thought about reaching out to people in your neighborhood and building more bridges of friendship. Maybe you long to share the good news of forgiveness and hope in Jesus but you find yourself stuck in your Christian bubble.

With the warmer spring weather and a little creativity we can take practical steps in our own homes and neighborhoods to build relationships up in a world that tends to tear them down. Whether it’s casual and messy or organized and lovely we can shift our focus away from the macro problems to micro solutions. Here are 20 suggestions to stir the pot and help you think more intentionally about doing something good. Taking a little risk:

1. Stay outside in the front yard longer, sit on the porch, let the kids play. Maybe even invite passersby to stop for a snack or refreshment.
2. Throw some shrimp on the barbie and have people over. Or grill hamburgers. For something new, Google a different recipe. Or, rather than lunch or dinner, invite others over for brunch. Food shared within a circle of faces warms and disarms, gets below the surface and opens up discussions of deeper thoughts and needs.
3. Pray that God would enlarge your heart for these relationships, that you would see people as the Lord Jesus sees them. That he would give you the strength (and sometimes the courage) to move beyond the default to TV and social media to connect with real people.

Is Hitting Back “Twice as Hard” Really the Way to Win?

Is the way of Machiavelli more effective than the way of Jesus?

Donald Trump Machiavelli Jesus-900If leaders treat people with contempt, insulting and belittling them, and violating their dignity, can it ultimately serve their best interest? Can it best serve the people who follow him or her? Can leaders hit others back hard and win both power and the hearts of the people?

Donald Trump lives by the advice he dispensed in his best-selling business book The Art of the Deal: “Fight Back–always hit back against critics and adversaries, even if it looks bad.” He has run his campaign under the banner of “You hit me, I hit you back twice as hard.”

For example, back in August, at the first Presidential debate, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Donald Trump some pointed questions about the way he treated women. What many (most?) journalists considered a fair question Trump considered unfair and hit back hard with an unrelenting stream of negative tweets against Kelly. In January, when Fox refused to remove Kelly from moderating the Iowa debate, he dropped out and held a competing event.

On January 27th Fox News journalist Bill O’Reilly challenged Donald Trump to move past the exchange and rejoin the debate broadcast.

BILL O’REILLY: In your Christian faith, there is a very significant tenet and that’s the tenet of forgiveness. I think you should forgive not only journalists who come at you in ways you don’t like, but I think you should be a bigger man and say, you know what? I didn’t like it and you should make that case all day long. But, I’m not going to take any action against it. You know, don’t you think that’s the right thing to do?
DONALD TRUMP: It probably is. But, you know it’s called an eye for an eye I guess also. You can look at it that way.
O’REILLY: No, no, no, no. That’s Old Testament. If you’re the Christian, the eye for the eye rule goes out. Here’s what it is: turning the other cheek (taps his cheek).
TRUMP: You’re taking this much more seriously than I am. I’m not taking it seriously.

Many Beautiful Things Movie: Why have we never heard of Lilias Trotter?

A remarkable artist chooses a hidden life of love over "success" and celebrity.

“This film is a miniature masterpiece.”–Os Guinness…“The whole world should see this movie.”–Michelle Dockery…One of the most lovely and personally inspiring films ever–Lael 

A new movie, Many Beautiful Things, introduces us to a true-life young beauty of means in Victorian England. An extraordinarily gifted artist, she is mentored and celebrated by John Ruskin, the leading art critic of the era, an Oxford professor and founder of its drawing school. He hailed her as one of the most potentially celebrated artists of her time. Ruskin’s challenge: “to give herself up to art.”

If she would dedicate herself to this great gift she would take her place among the cultural elite of England. She would change minds, as she had changed Ruskin’s, about the potential for women to paint great art.

She would also have an extraordinary platform from which to expand her work on behalf of poor and disenfranchised women–prostitutes whom she coaxed into the fledgling YWCA for shelter and job skills, the working women of London forced to eat their lunches on the streets, until she helped build London’s first public restaurant for women.

But another Voice was calling her.

Is there a bright future for the American family?

Dr. Allan Carlson shows us how natural families contribute to human flourishing

Carlson bookMany experts in today’s culture would have us believe that the nurturing of children and family relationships are not as important to our flourishing as individual fulfillment. And, as we pursue individual fulfillment, the changes to the family mean a march of social evolution toward freedom and happiness–being on “the right side of history.”

Despite the leftist lean of the social sciences over the last sixty years, the best research tells a different story.

The Post-Easter Challenge: What do we do now?

My publisher, Crossway Books, has given me a beautiful book of the Masonite drawings by Robert Doares picturing the life of Christ, Immanuel, God with Us. The originals hung in the Billy Graham Center Museum at Wheaton College, wide-angle compositions and sweeping vistas fifteen inches high and four feet across.

Doares Great Comission

Before and after Easter, I lay the book out on my entry hall table, turning a page each day and letting the pictures take my imagination across two millennia, back to Jerusalem and Galilee.

In one of the final double-spread pictures, several paths converge on the top of a small mountain in Galilee. From the artist’s helicopter view, a lofty cloudbank rises toward the northwest where the gospel would spread (too wide to be included in this picture).

A small robed figure thrusts one arm toward those distant lands, directing the gaze of eleven men seated in a half circle before him. The Scripture underneath the picture is Christ’s commission to go out and invite others to follow him (Matt. 28:19-20).

As I walked by the table yesterday, I looked at that tiny group sitting in the curve of a path across a broad stony terrace in the sweeping landscape. The sheer measure of Jesus’ invitation stopped me cold. Eleven men are invited to change…everything?

All those miles and miles and city after city? How do you imagine a church? How you imagine missions? How do you take what Christ said and did and roll it out to a world that has never heard of Jesus of Nazareth, or the God of Abraham, or a church?

Walking Away from Baseball: $13 Million │ A Little Divine Affirmation: Priceless

Adam 2014

Jack and I visit with Adam before a 2014 game at Turner Field in Atlanta.

A friend and a timely dream encouraged White Sox hitter Adam LaRoche in his decision.

“I had the strangest dream,” my husband Jack told me at breakfast last Tuesday. “I dreamed I was walking with Adam down a long corridor headed to the field and he told me he was retiring from baseball.

“It was unlike any dream I’ve ever had, extremely vivid and high-def. Adam was sad so I put my arm around him to comfort him. I prayed for him. Then he walked on down the corridor and out onto the field to make his announcement.

“After all these years that would be sad,” I said.

“And then I woke up. It was only 5:30 am so I took it as a prompting from God to pray for Adam.”

Jack and I have known Adam since his family joined our church back in the 90’s. He baptized Adam and took him on his first hunt, a squirrel-control patrol. We’ve attended his Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals games. His mom is one of my best friends. So we didn’t think it all that unusual for Jack to have a dream about Adam. Until later.

United: Getting Over Our Differences

eg_shopicon_36Everyone interested in the Republican presidential primary hopes that at some point we can pull together. But at this point, it’s getting harder and harder to see how that will happen.

The challenge to resolve deep differences tears up families, churches and workplaces as well as political parties. The differences can feel as visceral as a punch in the gut.

For example, when Ben Carson, whom I respect so much, endorsed Donald Trump for president, I joined millions of evangelicals in a collective gasp.

eg_shopicon_36I called a friend of mine who has worked in support of his candidacy. “What has Dr. Carson done?” I moaned. “What?” she replied, “I haven’t heard.” “He’s endorsed Trump.” I informed her, “I feel like the world is tilting on its axis. How can this be?” She moaned with me.

When it comes to faith and politics, we wrap our opinions in heavy blankets of emotion. Beginning with our very first perception of any person, especially a political candidate, we’re not just taking in a scene.

Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous. We see something and immediately evaluate it and enfold it into an emotional response.

When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election

cracked-ground-913-580“Why are you concerned about this presidential primary?” I ask.

“Because,” a friend said over dinner, “someone I don’t trust may gain control of our military might, our nuclear codes–someone who seems easily offended and vengeful.”

“Because,” another said, “I’m afraid I’m losing my homeland. It’s changing right under my feet.”

“I wonder,” said another, “what are people thinking?! They don’t appear to care about issues and substance. They seem charmed by the personality of a Pied Piper.”

It’s getting harder and harder to govern America by politics. The interests of different groups are getting further apart. As political compromise and deal-making breaks down, gridlock sets in. Anger boils.

David Brooks reminds us that, historically, when politics breaks down, the other alternative is a dictator. People give up on politics and look to a perceived strongman to fix the mess.

The strongman promises what he can never realistically deliver, which sets people up for more frustration and anger…

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats)

Yesterday I was speaking to another friend who confided that it was getting to the point where she didn’t even want to let her thoughts go to the state of our nation or the coming election.

How can we not feel threatened, frustrated, distraught…?

I was feeling the same occasional spasms of dread in this wild ride of an election process. Then Sunday two things happened:

Between Rubio and Cruz, Vote Shrewd: A Tale of Two Rallies

Why I've decided to vote for...

You can feel the difference between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz simply by walking into their rallies. In spite of the 35° raw drizzle, about 900 people are chanting, cheering and waving signs to the upbeat music, waiting for Rubio’s bus to roll in.

Rubio Cruz graphic 2

We can see our breath in the three-walled party barn.  Sleek, long-haired college interns in galoshes mix it up with all ages in the suburban Lexington venue.  The advance team has set up the stage in the round with bleachers on the two sides facing the bank of cameras in back.

The bus pulls up and Rubio bounds down the short walkway with US Representative Trey Gowdy (of the Benghazi hearings) and US Senator Tim Scott.

Praying for America with Franklin Graham in SC: Frustrated but Hopeful

Undeterred by the 40° weather, we stand in front of the South Carolina capitol, thousands of us, joining Franklin Graham to pray for our nation. It’s the fifth stop on his Decision America Tour to all fifty capitols.

DSC00423 (1280x950)

 

No other speakers. No political endorsements. The only piece of campaign literature I see is underfoot.

Following Jesus: What Really Shapes Our Decision and Desire?

Is it a question of God empowering our reason and will, or is something more fundamental at work?

Godsight labelYou are praying for your children/siblings/spouse and suddenly you find yourself no longer praying but “writing the book” on how their challenges will sweep them away. The book ends in court or the hospital or the cemetery. Your stomach knots up. Will you give way to fear?

How do you picture that decision-making process between choosing fear or choosing to trust Jesus? Do you see it as I have often seen it—a daily taffy-pull between what our hearts fear here and what God promises over there? Between what the culture rewards over here and what God wants over there, leaving our souls feeling thin and stringy in the middle?

If you’re like me you’ve been taught to view our decisions to love and follow Jesus in three stages:
Perception:
We perceive a threat: I may lose my job, my husband, or in today’s culture, my child. Our candidate may not win. America will go in the wrong direction. We face a choice: Will we give way to fear?
We perceive a temptation: More time dialed in to our phones. Eating fat instead of healthy. An attraction to someone besides our spouse. Will we indulge our desires?
Reason:
I submit what I perceive to logical reflection. Will my desire/choice honor the Lord Jesus? Does it line up with Scripture? Is it loving to others? Will it help me move toward the long-term joy Jesus has for me?
Will:
Life is a contest between a torrent of sinful desire and the way of God. My heart wants this, but my will chooses that. On a good day, my will is stronger than my sinful desires. But not always. (See Romans 7 (“what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”)

We focus and teach our kids so much about surrendering our will to Jesus. Logically processing our decisions through the grid of God’s Word.

But what if our battle is not primarily fought at the level of our will, or even our reason? What if our greatest battle is fought at the level of our perception?

Mad as hell…or mad as heaven?

Getting mad like Jesus did.

It feels like we are living in the 1976 award-winning film Network. I feel surrounded by people throwing open their windows, leaning out and yelling, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  (Caution for a bit of R-rated language in the clip)

Although the movie came out forty years ago in the midst of gas lines, recession and spiraling inflation, it feels even more relevant today, when we are living more from emotions than ever before.

People want good jobs–meaningful work that leaves them time for life with their families, churches and communities. We want health care premiums that don’t break the bank. Safety from terrorists. We want institutions–government, schools and businesses–that hear our voices and respond to our needs. In this political season the candidates cast a vision of the way the future could be, stirring and heating up our desires to a fever pitch. That is their job. It’s our job to keep our eyes on Jesus. Get mad like he gets mad.

We want, we want, we want…we have so many desires–the soil out of which our expectations grow. Unfulfilled, they can set us up for disappointment and anger. How should we deal with them?

Managing Our 2016 expectations

Back in the saddle of weekly activities,  2016 is already barreling along, the stock market and the weather jerking around like a bull in the Houston Rodeo. (Or…maybe that should be a bear?)

bull rider

Whether we write down our goals and vision for the year ahead or not, we all have this picture of the way we’d like things to be. And then life happens. Here are some reminders to think about, pray about, as we try to live on purpose when life starts bucking around:

We hold our expectations with open, God-trusting hands. Like Nehemiah, we may long to see certain outcomes and ready strategic plans for the moment when doors of opportunity swing open, but our God is a God of shock and awe, disruptions and surprises.

He fulfills his promise to be Emmanuel, God with us, by means of the incarnation and a virgin birth. He fulfills his promise to deliver us from sin and death by means of crucifixion. If we weren’t so used to it we would find it utterly amazing. God thinks and acts completely out of the box.

As I look back over the last twelve months of my own life I see so many totally unexpected, disrupting developments: two deaths and a cancer diagnosis on the parent front, five last-minute plane tickets, stepping into the vacated leadership of women’s ministries at our church, surgery avoided and several as-good-as-winning-on-Jeopardy! gifts.

When we look back over the last twelve months in our culture, we see the threat of ISIS, the rise of Trump, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the exposure of Ashley Madison and Planned Parenthood, and in my own state of South Carolina, heart-breaking flooding and church shootings.

All of which reminds us that our strategic plans rest on a sure, but unpredictable foundation: “If the Lord wills.” Control is in the hands of a God who is always, always doing something new, far beyond our imagining, even (especially) n the midst of tragedy.

Did Gabriel sugarcoat the truth to Mary? The beauty of how God deals with us

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Annunciation by Ossawa Tanner, The Philadelphia Museum of Art

I’ve often wondered if Mary was disappointed with God. It’s clear from the way she sings her famous Magnificat that her buoyant expectations do not match the unfolding reality of life as Jesus’ mother. Face to face with Mary, Gabriel made some astonishing promises. Did God deliver?

Ten Faith and Culture Gifts to give or enjoy

Books, art, music and online subscriptions to enrich the year ahead

Seventy-Five Masterpieces coverWhat do all the following resources and activities have in common? Whether you give them as gifts or enjoy them for yourself, these iron-sharpening-iron books, art works, websites, culture makers and commentators will inspire and equip you to live with the truth and grace of Jesus in today’s culture.

In the election-year culture war ahead they will keep you grounded in orthodoxy without being shrill and focus your heart and mind on the good, the true and the beautiful. In today’s postmodern culture the arts open so many doors for bridging the cultural divide. These resources will help you connect with outsiders as well as the under-40’s. To order or subscribe click on the titles. Don’t miss my little Christmas present to you in #5.

1. Seventy-five Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:
From the Book of Kells and Gregorian Chant to U-2’s Joshua Tree and Terrence Malick’s film Tree of Life, this new book by Terry Glaspey offers you fiveish-page overviews of memorable works of art. Think of it as a “quirky” ensemble of “movie trailers,” Glaspey writes in the intro, a “fist full of invitations” to begin your own personal exploration of art and artists that explore truth from a spiritual perspective.

A Christmas Lament

The overlooked dark side of Christmas resonates with the pain and loss of San Bernardino, yet brings us more deeply into the true hope and comfort of Advent

Massacre of the Innocents-Rubens

O Come Emmanuel, Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine Advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

In the midst of joy to the world and hark the herald angels sing
In the midst of employee seminar/Christmas lunch, taking pictures by the tree, ten minute break
Shots rip flesh and fourteen families apart