Rolling with the Punches!

Rolling with the Punches!

I’ve never been a boxer and the last time I was in a fist fight was in the spring of 1988 when I was actually trying to break up a brawl when one of the combatants jumped me.  But I’ve come to appreciate the phrase, roll with the punches, which is originally from the sport of boxing.  It is the practice of strategically moving one’s head back and forth away from the opponent’s glove to lessen the impacts of blows.  But there is a larger application to the statement than sports.

The first time I remember hearing the phrase was back in 1994 while serving as a missionary in Moscow, Russia. When I heard “we’ve got to roll with the punches, Steve” it came from a mentor who was advising me on how we needed to respond to an unexpected situation.  In daily life the battle phrase is often used as an encouragement to adjust with flexibility and thus withstand and even find victory amidst ever changing and even negative circumstances.

With all the changes going on these days, this phrase certainly seems appropriate.  Earlier today I was looking at my 2020 wall sized calendar on which I had sketched out a general path for the new year back in January.  Now we’re making plans for streaming Easter services online instead of logistically planning for people to gather in our church building.  Life has changed.  While the present COVID19 situation is certainly a unique example, the reality is that life seldom goes exactly as we would like. Accidents happen, people get sick or make choices we weren’t expecting, and often our plans are sidetracked by something or someone else.

But we don’t have to allow the blows of life to dictate our thinking and actions. We can roll with the punches.  As noted, I’m not a boxer and don’t know how long I’d last in the ring.  But here are three simple starting pointers that will help maneuver through the punches of life that come our way.

1.  Decide to take a deep breath and keep calm.

One verse that has continuously rung through my head over the past month is from 2 Timothy chapter 4 where the veteran apostle Paul is encouraging the young evangelist Timothy. After a charge to continue preaching Christ no matter what, Paul told Timothy to “keep his head in all situations.”  We don’t know everything that Timothy was facing in his day, but this exhortation would obviously apply for us now.  It’s so easy to let our imaginations run wild or to begin making judgement calls when we don’t have all the data. This is especially true when we are bombarded with a news media that thrives on fanning the negative while ignoring the positive.

2.  Deliberately look for good.

In thinking of Paul again, I’m reminded of the book of Philippians which was written when the apostle was in prison for Christ. Despite his bondage, Philippians is truly a book of encouragement in which Paul concludes toward the end; “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Yes, this season of COVID19 will bring pain.  But we can choose to look at the recovery cases which don’t always show up as headlines and the tiny pieces of good around the globe which are often swept under the rug of panic.  One example in this season of chaos, is that we are seeing people take stock of what is really important in their lives and that is a good thing. 

3. Do what you can control.

Personally for me, fear has not been a big emotion in this season. Anger on the other hand has been something I’ve had to wrestle with. I know that there is usually something deeper at play with anger and I suppose that probably one underlying issue for me is just all the things that I simply cannot control.  This past fall a wise man rightfully encouraged me to leave most of the uncontrollable things alone and focus on what I do have control over.  This principle is something that made U.S. Grant such a great general in the Civil War.  While many Union officers were consumed with worry about what general Lee of the south was doing, Grant continued to push forward with what he could control and eventually brought the Army of Northern Virginia to it’s knees and a conclusion to the war.  So maybe a huge help for us would be to honestly admit that there are things in life we cannot control.  Then we can let them go and have the freedom to focus on what is in our power right now to change for the good.

Today, right now, I can . . .

-Own my own mistakes.

-Get up and keep fighting after a failure.

-Continue to readjust and plan for the future while all the while holding it gently in my hands.

-Make the most of the immediate and present relationships and opportunities right in front of me.

-Thank God for the small blessings around me each day.  Wow, I really do love hearing those birds early in the morning each day in my front yard.

-I can encourage someone else who is struggling and trust that God is still on the throne no matter what life brings.

What would you add?

It’s funny, as I actually recounted the “roll with the punches” phrase a few days ago to one of my children.  After I shared it, I had to stop and wonder if they even knew what I was talking about. It was a life lesson for them and I hope that it will be an encouraging pointer for you as well.

The Holy Next Step!

The Holy Next Step!

Sometimes the best thing to do when you’re at the end of the rope is to trust God and just do the next thing. A while back on a Sunday afternoon, I was physically exhausted and emotionally spent after preaching that morning. I was also handling a number of church projects and concerns that felt like a mountaineering backpack filled with lead, all the while knowing I had an important meeting that night. But after a short crash on my bed and watching my favorite football team get beat, I threw some water on my face, stood still for a moment, asked Jesus for physical help, and put one foot in front of the other. 

We don’t see that a lot in the Bible, but that’s pretty much what life is. We like the action stories of David whopping Goliath, but we silently ignore all the days that David was in the desert waiting on God. Eventually, God worked through that normal Hebrew teenager who was stepping out in faith on a daily basis.

It was a good meeting and teaching time that Sunday night. I was still physically beat when I got home, but there was more of a smile on my face than when I left. I’m not sure what caused the positive change in my demeanor that night. It could have been something as simple as the additional dopamine in my brain chemistry caused by the physical action of getting up and moving. Maybe it was a swath of encouragement from the Holy Spirit. Or maybe it was just a sense that if I kept climbing, I’d eventually reach the summit of the mountain, and that’s a good thought.

What is the next step before you today?  What will it cost you to take it?  What will it cost you if you do not take it?

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You can find more encouraging narratives in the book, Confessions: “Finding Hope Through One Pastor’s Doubt.”

The Decisions for Divisions.

The Decisions for Divisions.

I hate it and it breaks my heart.  Over the past six months I have witnessed up close the division in two churches unleashing emotions of sorrow and anger but for different reasons.

In the first situation, a church was searching for a new senior minister and one of the associates asked to take the lead role even though he had no formal Bible college experience.  While the younger leader did have some great qualities, the eldership reasoned that this position required a more solid theological background than what the associate possessed.  The request for the position was denied.  Instead of choosing to accept the decision of the eldership, the associate first attempted a church coup to overturn the elder’s lead and when that proved unsuccessful, he initiated a church split and took half the people with him.  There was no immorality on the part of the eldership or foreign doctrines; they simply required a higher standard of education for the lead role than what the associate had.  Because he didn’t get what he wanted – he initiated a split.

In the second occasion, the church eldership asked the lead minister to resign.  In this situation, there was no immorality on the part of the minister or practice of heretical teaching. Rather, he was working to take the church out of complacency toward a more aggressive and missional path.  The eldership on the other hand was satisfied in playing life safe and controllable.  But the real difference in the two situations was in how this leader responded to the decision of the elders.  He had enough people who loved him in the church that he also could have initiated an eldership overthrow and if that did not work, could have launched a full church split.  However, what he chose to do was humbly release it into God’s hands and step away.

In both cases, my heart goes out to someone. In the first situation, for the people of the church body that kept their cool and suffered the wrath and hysteria from those who split the church. In the second, for the minister and his family who cared more for the church even though they were the ones wronged.  They could have staked their claim in pride. They however, humbly blamed no one, chose peace, and walked away leaving the whole situation in God’s hands.

In thinking again about the Bride of Christ and how we treat the church, these two real illustrations remind me of a very profound passage in 1 Corinthians chapter three dealing with divisions in the church.  In verse 17 Paul warns the readers that “if anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him, for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”

Early on when I read that passage, I thought Paul was talking about persecution and that those who attacked the church would eventually receive God’s wrath and judgement if they did not repent.  While there is probably some truth to this assessment, that interpretation does not fit the context.  The section deals with divisions within the church at Corinth with various factions following different leaders. Some followed Paul and some followed Peter or someone else.  Thus they ended up putting human leaders ahead of unity in Christ. This was not about differences in imperative doctrines, but personalities and possible preferences.  They divided on what they wanted instead of what was really important and Paul made it clear this was no small deal.  As noted in a blog post a few weeks ago, Jesus loves the Bride of Christ and so should we.  From 1 Corinthians we should also glean a little bit of fear and trembling.  Messing with the church for selfish reasons is not only destructive to people, but insulting to Christ and Paul indicates this can be a very costly mistake.

What about the church body that you are aware of or connected to?  Are you working to put the mission of Christ and the local church ahead of yours?  Are there times of clear heretical teaching, such as denying the deity of Christ or the clear teaching on sexuality in a world of confusion?  Yes. Such issues should be dealt with and are worth going to the mat for. However, the sad reality is that many of the divisions in churches are usually because of personal choice rather than real doctrine.  The results are both bloody and sinful.

We can, however, live another way.  What can you do today to strengthen the unity of your local church?

A Remembrance of Praise!

A Remembrance of Praise!

One evening during my study break this past summer I found a documentary over George Washington on Amazon Prime.  As Debi and I watched the preview for the docudrama, she got the sense the flick was more hero worship than historical.  We didn’t take in the show so I can’t make a review.  But I did wonder if maybe a little hero worship might not be a bad thing these days.

You see, we live in a culture of criticism today where anything that is not 100% aligned with our feelings is speculative and everything is open for potshots.  Cynicism is supreme and praise is problematic.  No, we don’t want to deify people nor turn a blind eye to blatant sin.  However, when we are geared toward tearing down, we miss so much good intertwined with the weeds that we pull up the whole plant and have nothing to encourage ourselves with or learn from.

One arena where this is especially seen is in discussions about the church.  Even celebrated Christian writer, Francis Chan, noted that his objective in a recent book was to “point out areas where the church is lacking.”   Areas where the church is lacking?  We all know that local bodies of Christ have issues.  I’ve been in some form of Christian ministry for over 25 years and I can tell you plenty of stories of dysfunction.  The question though is one of focus.  What will we choose to spend our time looking at; the problems or the praise?  This is especially true for followers of Jesus.  Yes, there are issues to be discussed and strategies to be employed for improvement.  However, when we do nothing but throw stones at the church, we are ultimately harming ourselves.

When I look around at the world today and see all the pains and problems, I am also quickly reminded that Jesus has the answers in his body, which is the universal church.  Loneliness is alieved when people connect passionately with Jesus at the center.  When the local church family is embraced, we find healing and purpose in a world of self-centeredness.  In short, while there are issues arising from our broken humanity, we owe it to ourselves and those who come after us to pursue and praise the local church which is to reflect the authentic universal and eternal Church.

But on a more intimate note, one of my favorite Biblical pictures of the church is the Bride of Christ.  It’s interesting to see the tension of this illustration with a book by Dan Kimball entitled, “They Like Jesus but Not the church.”  Here’s the deal.  I am not perfect nor is my wife. However, if someone began to trash talk my bride and say they liked me, but not her, well then, our relationship would be over with.  You just don’t talk bad about my bride.  Jesus probably doesn’t like it much when people talk down His Bride especially with a caviler attitude.  That ought to challenge us.

I’ll be making some posts this fall on the church and I hope they will be of an encouragement to you. I hope that at the end of all this, you will love the church as much as I do.  Yes, there are and will be problems.  But it is my desire that we might own up to our responsibilities and stand together to praise the Bride of Christ as much as He does.

What are some positive memories or praises that you can give about the universal Church or your local body of Christ today?

Francis Chan, Letters to The Church (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2018), 211.

Serving the Summons and Choosing to Serve!

Serving the Summons and Choosing to Serve!

I received a Jury Summons in the mail the other day.  My first thought when I saw the envelope and purpose within was not a nice one.  My angst was probably driven by a number of reasons.  I was spinning a dozen or more mental and emotional plates all at the same time that day and the thought of driving to downtown Houston in early morning traffic is a favorite of no one.  This duty just added to my present depletion.  Finding a way out of it was probably my second thought.  Reschedule? Quickly move out of state? Join the Marines?  Fake symptoms of the West Nile virus?  After all . . . I had been in Africa three years ago.

When the dust cleared and after a couple of days of processing, I was able to reassess the situation and reminded myself of how blessed I am to be an American citizen.  I have often suggested that the best education for American teenagers would be a requirement to live for a month or more in a third world socialist country before graduation. That would sure reduce the amount of complaining going on these days.  In addition though, I’m also thinking that this might be a good thing for many Americans of every age.

Despite whatever problem we might be dealing with, I can assure you there are other places on the globe where your conditions and contextual expectations would be much worse.  I also thought about whoever the poor souls might be who are facing legal trials over the next month and possibly the ones I’d be expected to serve on a jury for.  If I were in their shoes; would I want someone doing everything they could to get out of this role, or someone being still and compassionately listening to all sides of the case and truly working to discern accurate justice?  Honestly, I’d probably want someone like me who is trying to follow Jesus as a juror member of whom I knew would be praying for wisdom.  Thus, that is what I needed to be.

This whole process also caused me to look at the local church as well.  Often times we look at the local body of Christ as something which exists for us.  We ask questions of the church in regard to what we are going to get out of it.  What are the others going to do for us?  How are we going to get our needs and desires met?  However, when there is a need for our attention or time, we suddenly become too busy with other life pursuits to lend a hand.  Sometimes this is just a sad reality. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it.

Yet when we look at what the authentic church is and what Christ calls for, we have new reason to serve instead of firstly being served.  In numerous places in the Bible we see illustrations of the true church being comprised of many different people who all fit together tightly being blessed by each other and blessing others. Then of course there is the pattern of Jesus who said that he did not come to “be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” and “greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.” Truly, Jesus demonstrated the greatest act of service by dying for your sins and rising again.  Jesus offered salvation and showed us a new way.

America, or any country for that matter, would be a better place when its citizens were first looking out for others rather than for number one.  This application is obviously true for followers of Christ who have tasted the grace of Jesus. The more we look for ways to serve instead of expecting to receive, the more the love of Christ will expand and in fact, we will all be blessed by this sacrificial fruit.

Yes, there will be tough times when our schedules must be interrupted or our desires set aside for others. But the end game will be much more beautiful for all concerned.

What about you?  How can you serve others today?

John Chau, Antagonistic Attacks, and Why We Persevere!

John Chau, Antagonistic Attacks, and Why We Persevere!

It was late Thanksgiving Day when I got the word that a young missionary, John Chau, was killed earlier that week.  John was attempting to make positive contact with a Stone Age indigenous tribe on North Sentinel Island in the jurisdiction of India. Reports from a local fisherman noted that the islanders had shot him with arrows in his final encounter with them.  While there are many aspects to this story, the one that surprised me the most was the enormous negative coverage the media and critics are giving Chau.

The mild attacks simply focused on a fear of Chau spreading diseases foreign to the indigenous people while the cruder referred to John as a criminal adventurer, full of prejudice, and even lambasted him as xenophobic.   One article even called him a villain and most attacked him as being arrogant and in dismay as to why he would feel a need to convert these people to his way of thinking about God. (more…)