Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tim Russert

I've been grieving a little bit this week.

I'm gonna miss Tim Russert.

I was stunned last Friday by the news that this political commentator and "Meet The Press" host had died suddenly at his work. I sat in front of my TV for a few hours, wiping some tears, as his colleagues at MSNBC paid tribute to this fallen giant of broadcast journalism.

Because his weekly show came on during Sunday morning church time I wasn't able to watch, on a regular basis, his keen interviewing of fascinating individuals in public life. But at other occasions during the weekdays when he'd be asked to provide some analysis and interpretation of unfolding events in politics, I'd perk up and pay careful attention when he was on camera. He knew his stuff. He did his homework. His remarks were always crisp and fresh and usually right on the mark. He was so interesting to listen to and seemed so passionate about what he was discussing at the moment.

It's hard to believe that he is gone and that his voice is stilled and that his sharp, creative mind will no longer inform and stretch ours with his well-crafted incisive insights. He seemed to be too young to be snatched away like that. He pulsated with energy and with enthusiasm for what he did. I agree with columnist and commentator Peggy Noonan who borrowed a line from a novel and said that Tim died "in his joy". At the top of his game. Immersed in something he loved. Busy and active right up until the moment that the unexpected divine summons came.

And he had other great loves, too. He cherished his family. He wrote so movingly about his close, warm relationship with his dad. He cared so much for his wife and son. He drew tremendous strength from his Christian faith. So many are telling of the encouragement that he gave to others. He will truly be missed.

Each of us will have a date with death. We don't get to pick the year, or the day, or the place, or the circumstances.

When the time for our appointment arrives, will we be found at our post? Will we be enjoying the life that God has given us or be whining and complaining? Are we blazing a trail for those coming after us? What will people say about us when we're gone? How many will show up for our funeral? How will we be remembered? Will others say that their lives are richer and better because we passed their way? Will others genuinely be sad when we breathe our last?

Something to think about. Thanks, Tim, for stimulating our thought processes all these years about candidates and elections and blue states and red states and exit polls and all that. But thanks, too, for getting our minds awakened and stirred now, at your departure, about the most important issues of life.

And thanks for being such a great human being.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mission Readiness

We have our assignment. We know what we're supposed to do.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus gave us our mission. Just before His ascension, He charged us to be witnesses for Him in the power of the Holy Spirit until His return. The mandate is quite clear. The command given on that hilltop has not changed in all these intervening centuries even though the gospel message has penetrated throughout the world. There should be no confusion about what the basic activity and responsibility of the Church must be in these days. On the surface, the text, which is a good outline of the whole book of Acts, appears to suggest that there was to be a gradual, progressive outworking of the message of good news from where the disciples were in Jerusalem ultimately to the far reaches of the globe.

Devotionally, there is more than one approach or application in trying to understand the geographical venues in this challenging verse.

Obviously the point is made that when it comes to evangelism, you begin where you find yourself. We have a lot of Baptists signing up for overseas mission trips who never share their faith in their own neighborhoods. That reminds me of that thought-provoking statement, "how can we expect God to use us as lighthouses somewhere else if we're not willing to be used as candles where we are?" Congregations should pay a lot of attention to the local communities right around their doors and prioritize and plan to have an impact on them.

Some have looked at this text's soulwinning destinations metaphorically. In that case, Jerusalem would represent the cities, the great urban areas or perhaps instead, evangelism among those already entrenched in religion or maybe talking up Christ among people in our own families. Judea would illustrate the hard, rocky, barren places--witnessing to the bitter, the argumentative, the resistant. Samaria could well picture testifying of Jesus to people of other races and ethnic groups. Then "to the end of the earth" would speak of not giving up and not getting apathetic but always pressing on and looking for fresh, creative methods of outreach.

Certainly you can view these place names as suggestive of concentric circles that lay out an unfolding track for our evangelistic efforts. You sow the seed in your hometown, your state or region, on the national level, and then around the world. It's interesting that in denominational life we're structured missionally that way with our local associations, state conventions, and the large umbrella SBC. Churches relate voluntarily but do so to cooperate in the massive enterprise to which God has called us. We can accomplish more together. Nate Adams develops all of this so well in his book The Acts 1:8 Challenge(Lifeway Press, 2004).

The bottom line is that we've got work to do! And it's on a global scale. But our strategy should be glocal.

Churches dare not say "well, we're gonna spend all our mission dollars here locally. There are plenty of unsaved individuals right here on the Peninsula. We don't need to send vast sums of money overseas somewhere. Besides, we want to be able to see how our funds are being utilized." What a short-sighted approach. By the same token, though, we must never assume that we're faithfully carrying out the Great Commission if we're throwing large monetary allotments to our missionaries across the oceans, and salving our consciences when we see poverty-stricken third world children on the nightly news if we're not purposely, actively reaching our nearby communities with the saving gospel and social help!

Read Acts 1:8 again. It's not either/or but rather both/and. By the way, we may not have much time left, either. It's time to rise to the challenge...in our generation.