Thursday, August 30, 2007

Michael Vick

There are some scripture verses that I wish NFL quarterback Michael Vick had read before he got caught up in dogfighting.

The Atlanta Falcons star has now pleaded guilty to charges that he participated in this cruel, heinous activity that mercilessly abused a number of dogs. There is no excuse for his actions. This is despicable conduct. He has confessed, though, and is awaiting sentencing, and now all of us should hope that he will be rehabilatated.

If only he had been exposed to Proverbs 12:10 years ago. It says that "A righteous man regards the life of his animal." In other words, someone who knows and loves and walks with God will give evidence of that even in the way he treats creatures. He will demonstrate a sensitive, tender compassion that shows up not just in the way he responds to other people but also in the manner with which he deals with dogs, cats, birds, and horses.

God values animals. They are not created in His image like we humans are, but He still delights in them. He made them, and made such a variety of them. One of the very first assignments that the Lord gave Adam in the Garden of Eden was to give names to this vast array of creatures. The first man and his wife, Eve, were given responsibility for, and dominion over, all the birds and beasts that give color and creativity and wonder to our life on planet Earth.

Of course the first sin messed all of that up. Animals became wild and carnivorous and slipped through man's leadership grip. Now a suspiciousness and sense of fear exists between creatures and people. The animals fear being hunted or captured or abused or killed. We humans are afraid of being attacked or bitten or even devoured. Though many creatures have been tamed and domesticated and loved as pets, and despite the fact that most individuals show kindness to animals, it remains true that people and beasts view one another cautiously and warily. What a fall Genesis 3 describes for us. What a departure from God's beautiful design for our world.

What Vick and his friends did shows the extent of the disconnection and discord that is a reality in the realm of nature now. Hurting and terrorizing these creatures and using their pain for sport is a far cry from God's mandate to humanity to protect and love the animal population.

It would've been good for this athlete to have also read Isaiah 11:6-9 and Isaiah 65:25. These passages seem to speak of a future time when harmonious relationships will exist again between people and beasts. Some Bible teachers believe that these texts refer to the Millenium, when Jesus will literally reign on the earth and peace and abundance will prevail worldwide. Other scholars see these verses as referring to Heaven. There is poetic language here, to be sure, but these scripture portions appear to be dealing with something literal. They offer good news, anyway. Along with passages such as Romans 8:19-23 and Hebrews 2:5-8 they point to a coming era when the curse will be lifted and a marvelous bonding and affection will be seen once more between humans and the animal kingdom.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not part of the animal rights crowd. Their approach is so often naive and even silly, and they ignore other biblical texts that discuss creatures from a different angle. What I'm saying is that if eventually there's going to be a restoration of a warm, beneficient tie between the beasts and us, shouldn't God's people be an advance battalion of the approaching change? Shouldn't we model for our culture now a new and better way to relate to the creatures all around us? Isn't it true that the love and compassion the Lord pours into us believers should spill over into how we treat anyone and anything He has made? And couldn't it be true, too, that if we mistreat animals, we may be prone to harm children and other persons, because after all, it's a heart issue when all is said and done?

I deplore his behaviour but I feel sorry for Michael. What he has done was so misguided. Rumors of a recent conversion to Christ, if true, are encouraging. Perhaps then the spiritual blindness caused in part by his pride and his wealth can be lifted and he can slowly, steadily begin to see and understand the truth. He can be forgiven, just as we can for our different, but nevertheless, offensive sins.

Go to the Book, Michael. Not some football playbook, but to God's Word. It will show you the path to a new life.

Meanwhile, we'll be praying for you. The Lord just might give you a future far more exciting than anything you've experienced yet.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coming Soon

Over the next few days I hope to post blog entries on Michael Vick, Mother Teresa, beautiful wife, Vicki.

Be watching!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Road Work

It's just not much fun these days.

Driving on Warwick Boulevard between J. Clyde Morris Boulevard and Nettles Drive here in Newport News, that is.

A massive widening project, costing millions of dollars and taking a few years to complete, is underway.

It's certainly needed. Traffic in that corridor has greatly increased over the last few decades. It sure isn't a joyous experience motoring through that construction zone right now, though. It's like an obstacle course out there. Lanes shift almost every day. Barrels and cones and signs and marking tape are everywhere. Speed limits are reduced and vehicles sometimes move at a crawl. There are huge holes and lots of dirt, dust, and mud. Businesses along that strip are inconvenienced and detours abound.

It'll be fabulous when the work is completed and a wider, more expansive roadway is in place. Moving along that stretch will eventually be so much smoother and quicker and more pleasant than in years past. But while all this construction is going on, it's a chore and a drudge to take that route.

All this has set me to thinking about the Christian experience.

Our lives are like highways that God is working on. He's trying to widen us and deepen us and add to us and make us better and richer. Luke, in chapter 3, quotes from the prophet Isaiah and describes the ministry of John the Baptist in preparing for the approach of Jesus. Road building imagery is used. Read it. Verses 4-6 picture this mammoth endeavor of straightening and widening and leveling and smoothing. The scene is reminiscent of workers in ancient times who would renovate roads in advance of an upcoming visit by a monarch. Every effort was made to insure that his journey would be a comfortable one. They wanted to please him. Well, Luke uses that metaphor to suggest that the forerunner was seeking to get people ready spiritually, in their character, for the arrival of the Messiah.

Jesus has, of course, come, but the renovation project continues. It's called sanctification. The Holy Spirit is laboring inside us to mature us and make us more like Christ. He's digging. He's stretching. He's stripping away old habits and building in new patterns and pathways. It's not always pleasant or easy. It sometimes involves loss or changes or sacrifice. Occasionally pain. Often waiting...and more waiting. But God knows what He's doing and the end result is going to be incredibly wonderful. So the barricades and warning signs and construction noises and twists and turns of divine activity in us are for our long-term good and should be bourne with patience. Slowing down isn't always a bad thing, anyway. Becoming more alert to God's work in us is so important.

I'm gonna try to remember to meditate on this stuff when I'm traveling up Warwick and get aggravated at the delays and the maze of road work that seems to be taking forever.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

One More Movie Tip

Yeah, I saw another movie the other day.

It was "Stardust", with Michelle Phieffer, Robert DeNiro, and others.

I happened to really enjoy it. It's a fantasy and a fairy tale and a love story all rolled into one. Beautiful scenery. Neat special effects. The narrative moves along with interesting twists and turns.

I won't go all into the plot. Just go see it. It's a refreshing, entertaining escape.

It's hard to resist the opportunity to draw out the "lessons" that I picked up as I viewed it. Let me simply say that I observed that most of the characters were on a quest of some kind. The wicked witch Lamia was seeking eternal youth and beauty. The sons of a recently deceased king were vying to succeed him, doing whatever it took to attain power. Captain Shakespeare, who commanded a pirate air ship, sought to hold on to a position of respect among his men despite his conflicted lifestyle. Our hero, young Tristan, was trying to win the heart of a girl and thus was looking for love. All of them desperately wanted to connect to a falling star who turned out to be a lovely maiden. Some of these persons end up being destroyed by their anxious hunt, while others find what they were looking for and more.

It occurs to me that all of us are on a quest. Sometimes we're looking for the wrong thing. Sometimes we're looking for the right thing, but in the wrong places. Others have stopped dreaming and searching, and so are simply existing, biding their time until death shows up.

Whether we realize it or not, what we're really seeking is Jesus. Augustine said a long time ago that "our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." When we find and embrace Christ, the scattered pieces of our lives begin to come together. Life starts making sense, even if it's not any easier. We sense fulfilment. Verses like John 10:10 and John 14:6 and Matthew 11:28-30 and Proverbs 3:5-6 seem to address that.

To be sure, after we meet Jesus there'll still be quests. He'll send us out on adventures and hunts and exploits. In fact, I think He'll do that with us in eternity, too. Other galaxies and universes, maybe? But the difference for Christ-followers, both now and then, is that we'll have settled, satisfied hearts at the core. And we'll not need to search for power or fame. We'll not have to bother with frantically pursuing love because we've found that in Him. There'll be no reason to grasp for unending youthfulness and energy and attractiveness since we're gonna possess that one day even if it is slowly dissipating now. If you have Jesus, you have everything! Both body and soul will ultimately be complete in Him.

Now our quests are for other people to introduce to our Saviour. Now our hunts are for ever more godly character as we wind and work our way through trials and troubles. These days we seek to know Him better as we wander about His Word. Sometimes we go out on dashing mountaintop experiences with the Lord while at other times we move slowly and painfully through valleys alongside Him.

Okay, so "Stardust" is just a movie. Relax, get some popcorn, and sit back and let the intriguing story and dazzling images refresh you. But rejoice inwardly at the prospect that for ages and ages to come there'll be wonders and jaunts and journeys for us all under the protecting guidance of our awesome God. And, oh, by the way, Jesus is the "bright morning star" who came to earth once upon a time, literally, to transform our lives.

And He is infinitely more beautiful than the fair Yvaine!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Happy Birthday

Today Wes celebrates his 23rd birthday.

I well remember that hot summer morning at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, VA when I sat just inches behind my wife as she lay on the surgical table awaiting the caesarian delivery of our second son. Shortly before 9am he was born...and I almost fainted after having witnessed the procedure! The nurses had to temporarily take care of me before they could resume their ministrations to my wife and my newborn. I have to say, though, that it's a pretty amazing experience watching your child come into the world.

Wes brought incredible joy into our family. God gave us a great gift when He loaned him to us.

It's hard to believe that in a few short months he'll be graduating from college. What a wonderful young man he has become. I see so many traits and characteristics in him that I wish I possessed. He's always been so relaxed and at ease and comfortable with who he is. He seemingly lives without fear or any anxiety. He's a risktaker and is always willing to try new things. He makes friends so easily, and is intensely loyal to those friends. A terrific athlete, he has excelled in soccer, basketball, baseball, and tennis...and yet has sought ever to be a team player, allowing others to shine. He loves to travel and often says "I wanna go everywhere." He doesn't appear to be worried about death, and frankly, has such a spirit of adventure that he'd go to just about any place either to serve or explore.

In family discussions we can count on Wes to keep us laughing or seriously thinking. Many times I've been prompted to see things in a whole new light after conversing with him. And after 23 years he's still bubbly and bouncy and just plain fun to be around. He's independant and likes to think for himself, too.

Wes, your Mom and I love you so very much. We are more proud of you than we can express. Thanks for making our world a better place.

We have no idea what God has in store for your life. He created you, though, and has a purpose for you. Seek that, first seek Him and love Him and walk with Him and He'll show you that purpose. Commit yourself fully to Him. Don't ever forget Proverbs 3:5-6. And no, Wes, I don't expect you to become a preacher, that is unless the Lord should call you to that. If He wants you in social work or law or teaching or coaching or whatever, you go His way. It's there that you'll find perfect fulfilment. Let God lead you to your future wife, too. I have this feeling that you're gonna make a tremendous husband one day...and a terrific dad, too.

These days I miss seeing you out on the basketball court making those awesome lay-ups or beautiful 3-pointers to the delight of cheering fans in your old high school. Or watching as you kick those goals out on the soccer field as the crowd roars with joy. Now you're in a much bigger arena and court--the field of life. Keep doing your best now. Maintain the zest and the initiative and the energy and the passion. Do what's right, even when those on the sidelines don't understand or like your convictions and decisions and actions. Stay honest. Fair. Truthful. Open. Kind. Pure. Curious.

And never, ever forget that watching you with beaming pride and a tear in his eye way, way up in the stands is a white-haired man who thinks you're tops. Me.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Reading Tip

For a good, practical study on the providence of God, get the new book by internationally known Christian apologist and speaker Ravi Zacharias. It's called The Grand Weaver(Zondervan, 2007). It discusses how "God shapes us through the events of our lives". He uses stories and illustrations and Scripture to make his case that what happens in us and to us is not accidental or solely of our own efforts but is part of a "meticulous and purposeful design in which all the elements are intertwined with breathtaking precision". This work will inform, inspire, and refresh you!

If Statues Could Speak

Some folks are unhappy with the large new statue erected on the grounds of our local university.

It is a likeness of Captain Christopher Newport, after whom that school and our city were named. He commanded that first English expedition to Virginia in 1606-07 and subsequently made several other journeys from England to our shores when the colony was young.

It bothers some of our citizens that this monument portrays the captain as virile and robust, with both arms fully in place, when history clearly documents that he lost his right arm in a tough fight with 2 Mexican treasure ships at the beginning of his career as a privateer. What riles a lot of people is the inaccuracy of it. Others are probably offended by what they perceive as an attempt to hide a handicap, to tidy up the image of someone who, in his natural state, is at less than his best. Thus, a slap in the face to anyone who is physically challenged in some way.

I’m not taking sides in this controversy. I like the impressive look of this iron representation as I drive by it on a daily basis. At the same time, I suppose that those who are disappointed at this production do have some valid arguments.

This whole business has gotten me to think, though, about life and faith. There’s a powerful metaphor here. Some lessons emerge.

For starters, we are indeed strange creatures.

Sometimes we actually like to see someone else fall or stumble or get hurt. It might be a celebrity or a high-profile person or just a next-door neighbor. We inwardly smile at their misfortune or mistake because we’re envious of them. Or because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Proverbs 24: 17-18 issues a pretty sobering warning about that kind of attitude.
At other times we tend to put well-known personalities or ordinary acquaintances on a pedestal, thinking they could do no wrong. Assuming that they’ve got all the answers and have found the secret to success. Believing that they don’t grapple with the problems we face. That’s a fantasy, though, that sets us up for disappointment or disillusionment. Nobody is perfect or free from heartache. The occasional, surreal glimpse of a tow truck pulling a disabled ambulance pictures that for us.

None of us will make it through our earthly pilgrimage without getting wounded. In various ways we’ll get beat up and tossed around and torn by the myriad stresses and struggles that come with being human. In both body and soul we’ll be hurt and scarred and perhaps even disfigured. We’ll lose stuff along the way that meant a lot to us. I’m curious if mariner Newport thought his best days were over when he lost that arm.

Our pain and our losses and our battle injuries become part of our story, our biography. They are just as significant and as formative as the happy, whole, positive portrait we usually try to present to those around us in the hope that they will think that we have it all together. We don’t like defeats. We don’t enjoy vulnerability. But our weakness and failures and illnesses and deprivations are some of the tools that God uses to shape us and make us richer, stronger individuals. He sometimes applies trials and afflictions to work bad things out of us and at other times to develop good qualities into us. That’s why Paul was able to say in 2 Corinthians 12 that he would boast of the weaknesses in his life because they demonstrated that God was active in his experience.

One day, in Heaven, our wounds and handicaps and sicknesses and sorrows will be gone. We’ll possess wonderful new resurrection bodies with unimaginable abilities and powers. We’ll look so good! And we’ll feel so good, too, with energy that never dissipates.

I just wonder if even there, though, traces of our scars and blows might not be evident. Jesus, in his glorified body, still possessed the nail prints (John 20). The hymn-writer speaks of “those wounds yet visible above, in beauty glorified”. It may be that tracks of our troubles will still be dimly seen in our changed physiques as trophies of God’s grace and as reminders that it was our adversities that really molded our godly character. Perhaps there, for the first time, we’ll realize that we all wrestled with something. In the same boat after all.

Stand tall in your wholeness, Captain Newport. You show us our future. We’d be just as proud of you, though, if your right limb was missing.