RSS

Our Broken World…and Our Longing for Another

The deep darkness of the world has come home to us in recent days. It’s a combination of things, really. The shooting of innocent young black men, the shooting of police, our nation’s finest, and then two political conventions with two candidates that, more than any election I can recall, define the idea of voting for the lesser of two evils. Truly this is a “Come, Lord Jesus” moment in our nation’s history. But there have been a lot of such moments, haven’t there?

So…I was moved to tears last week listening to Gary Sinese read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I hadn’t read the classic since high school (sophomore or junior year?), when I wrote a thesis on how the book shows that “man is basically good.” How I ever came up with that out of this book, I can’t tell you 35 years later. It sure wouldn’t be what I would say now.

But what touched me was one of the familiar scenes in the book when Lennie asks George to tell about the dream the two of them have. Do you remember? It’s a dream of a place of their own. It’s a dream of a place where they don’t “buck barley” for a task-master. But mostly, it is a dream of hutches, and rabbits and hope. And as I heard Sinese’s masterful reading, I realized that George and Lennie’s dream is really the dream of all mankind…a better place. A safe place. A place of belonging. A place, sadly, that is not of this world…

Lennie drummed on the table with his fingers. “George?”

“Huh?”

“George, how long’s it gonna be till we get that little place an’ live on the fatta the lan’— an’ rabbits?”

“I don’ know,” said George. “We gotta get a big stake together. I know a little place we can get cheap, but they ain’t givin’ it away.”

Old Candy turned slowly over. His eyes were wide open. He watched George carefully.

Lennie said, “Tell about that place, George.”

“I jus’ tol’ you, jus’ las’ night.”

“Go on— tell again, George.”

“Well, it’s ten acres,” said George. “Got a little win’mill. Got a little shack on it, an’ a chicken run. Got a kitchen, orchard, cherries, apples, peaches, ’cots, nuts, got a few berries. They’s a place for alfalfa and plenty water to flood it. They’s a pig pen——”

“An’ rabbits, George.”

“No place for rabbits now, but I could easy build a few hutches and you could feed alfalfa to the rabbits.”

“Damn right, I could,” said Lennie. “You…damn right I could.”

George’s hands stopped working with the cards. His voice was growing warmer. “An’ we could have a few pigs. I could build a smoke house like the one gran’pa had, an’ when we kill a pig we can smoke the bacon and the hams, and make sausage an’ all like that. An’ when the salmon run up river we could catch a hundred of ’em an’ salt ’em down or smoke ’em. We could have them for breakfast. They ain’t nothing so nice as smoked salmon. When the fruit come in we could can it— and tomatoes, they’re easy to can. Ever’ Sunday we’d kill a chicken or a rabbit. Maybe we’d have a cow or a goat, and the cream is so…damn thick you got to cut it with a knife and take it out with a spoon.”

Lennie watched him with wide eyes, and old Candy watched him too. Lennie said softly, “We could live offa the fatta the lan’.”

“Sure,” said George. “All kin’s a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We’d jus’ live there. We’d belong there. There wouldn’t be no more runnin’ round the country and gettin’ fed by a Jap cook. No, sir, we’d have our own place where we belonged and not sleep in no bunkhouse.”

“Tell about the house, George,” Lennie begged.

“Sure, we’d have a little house an’ a room to ourself. Little fat iron stove, an’ in the winter we’d keep a fire goin’ in it. It ain’t enough land so we’d have to work too hard. Maybe six, seven hours a day. We wouldn’t have to buck no barley eleven hours a day. An’ when we put in a crop, why, we’d be there to take the crop up. We’d know what come of our planting.”

“An’ rabbits,” Lennie said eagerly. “An’ I’d take care of ’em. Tell how I’d do that, George.”

“Sure, you’d go out in the alfalfa patch an’ you’d have a sack. You’d fill up the sack and bring it an’ put it in the rabbit cages.”

“They’d nibble an’ they’d nibble,” said Lennie, “the way they do. I seen ’em.”

“Ever’ six weeks or so,” George continued, “them does would throw a litter so we’d have plenty rabbits to eat an’ to sell. An’ we’d keep a few pigeons to go flyin’ around the win’mill like they done when I was a kid.” He looked raptly at the wall over Lennie’s head. “An’ it’d be our own, an’ nobody could can us. If we don’t like a guy we can say, ‘Get the hell out,’ and by God he’s got to do it. An’ if a fren’ come along, why we’d have an extra bunk, an’ we’d say, ‘Why don’t you spen’ the night?’ an’ by God he would. We’d have a setter dog and a couple stripe cats, but you gotta watch out them cats don’t get the little rabbits.”

Lennie breathed hard. “You jus’ let ’em try to get the rabbits. I’ll break their…damn necks. I’ll . . . I’ll smash ’em with a stick.” He subsided, grumbling to himself, threatening the future cats which might dare to disturb the future rabbits.

George sat entranced with his own picture.

When Candy spoke they both jumped as though they had been caught doing something reprehensible. Candy said, “You know where’s a place like that?”

George was on guard immediately. “S’pose I do,” he said.

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men (pp. 55-56). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

When Facing an Enemy, Remember This…

When I worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car almost 25 years ago, one day someone in the office took lunch orders for sub sandwiches and made a run for the whole gang. When I saw the bag full of subs, I grabbed mine and took a bite.

Except it wasn’t mine. It was the sub marked for our assistant manager, Mike. Mike was a cocky, good-looking guy who thought he was all that, busy climbing the Enterprise ladder. He was not much into grace.

So…when he found out I had taken a bite out of his sandwich, he was hot, and he looked at me like I was dumber than a toothpick. And ever after that, he treated me just that way. You know how when someone treats you like an idiot, you end up acting like one? Yeah, that was me. Mike made me nervous, and therefore fouling up got easier and easier around him.

Once I asked him a question about a particular procedure. He replied: “That’s a dumb question. Don’t ask dumb questions.”

Any questions?

Eventually I was transferred to another office, and we lost contact. Some time later I heard through the grapevine that he was demoted…or passed over for promotion, or something along those lines. Whatever it was, he and Enterprise parted ways.

Time passed, and one day at the office, I got a call for a rental…from Mike. I remember the sense that things weren’t going so well for him (surprise, surprise), and I think he needed some sort of a favor in the rental deal. It was within my purview to grant it, and I did. Then, realizing that he hadn’t been so kind to me in the past, he expressed surprise at my helpfulness. I don’t remember how I responded, but Mike knew I was a Christian.

Hopefully he connected the dots.

Maybe you have had an enemy like Mike at the office…or in the neighborhood…or in your own family. If so, you know they can definitely make life horrible. And if you’re going through life facing an enemy lately, I have a thought from Scripture that might just help you to respond like Christ.

It’s a line from the song Moses sang before he departed from the Children of Israel…

For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves. Deuteronomy 32:31 (ESV)

By themselves. Isn’t that stark? Your enemy may be after you, but he or she is…all alone. I think of that classic lyric by Eric Carmen, in his song, All by Myself:

Livin’ alone
I think of all the friends I’ve known
But when I dial the telephone
Nobody’s home

All by myself
Don’t wanna be, all by myself anymore
All by myself
Don’t wanna live, all by myself anymore

If you are a Christian facing an enemy, you do not face him alone; you have the Rock! And conversely, no matter how powerful he seems, he is still all by himself. And if it is a group of folks plotting your demise, they receive no supernatural help. All alone…in a cold, dark world. How sad and broken. How hopeless. How much they need Christ.

How much we all do.

…for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6 (ESV)

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

On Parents Passing the Faith on to Their Children

In the midst of reading for my Father’s Day sermon, I ran across some wisdom about passing on the faith to our kids from one of my favorite writers. Here it is…

From D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home and Work:

One good rule is that we should never foist our views upon our children. Up to a certain age it is right and good to teach them certain things and insist upon them, and there will be no difficulty about that if done properly. They should even enjoy it. But shortly they come to an age when they begin to hear other views and ideas from their friends, probably in school or other associations. Now a crisis begins to develop. The parents’ whole instinct, very rightly, is to protect the child, but it can be done in such a way as, again, to do more harm than good. If you give the impression to the child that he has to believe these things simply because you believe them, and because your parents did so, you will inevitably create a reaction. It is unscriptural to do so. Not only is it unscriptural, but it betrays a dismal lack of understanding of the New Testament doctrine of regeneration.

An important principle arises at this point which applies not only in this realm but in many other realms. I am constantly having to tell people who have become Christian and whose loved ones are not Christian, to be careful. They themselves have come to see the Christian truth, and they cannot understand why this other member of the family – husband, wife, father, mother, or child – fails to do so. Their whole tendency is to be impatient with them and to dragoon them into the Christian faith, to foist their belief upon them. This must on no account be done. If the person in question is not regenerate he or she cannot exercise faith. We need to be “quickened” before we can believe. When one is “dead in trespasses and sins” one cannot believe; so you cannot foist faith on others. They do not see it, they do not understand it. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Many parents have fallen into this error just at this point. They have tried to dragoon their children in the adolescent stage into the Christian faith; they have tried to foist their views on them, they have tried to compel them to say things that they do not really believe. This method is always wrong.

“Well, what can one do?” I shall be asked. Our business is to try to win them, to try to show them the excellence and the reasonableness of what we are and of what we believe. We must be very patient with them, and bear with their difficulties. They have their difficulties, though to you they are nothing. But to them they are very real. The whole art of exercising discipline is to recognize this other personality all the time. You must put yourself into his place, as it were, and with real sympathy and love and understanding try to help him. If the children refuse and reject your efforts, do not react violently, but give the impression that you are very sorry, that you are very grieved for their sakes, and that you feel they are missing something most precious. And at the same time you must make as many concessions as you can. You must not be hard and rigid, you must not refuse everything automatically without any reason, simply because you are the parent, and this is your method and manner. On the contrary, you must be concerned to make every legitimate concession that you can, to go as far as you can in the matter of concession, thereby showing that you are paying respect to the personality and to the individuality of the child. That in and of itself is always good and right, and it will always result in good.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

One Glorious Hour in Maximum Security – Part 3

 

Part 1 of my tale of preaching chapel at Waupun Correctional Institution is here and part 2 is here.

I would guess the Walls chapel has a capacity of 200, but for crowd control, only 80 “offenders” – as their nametags declare them to be – are allowed in. Chaplain Francis brought me a jug of water, and we went over the uncomplicated “order of service”: three songs and then me.  And the service started.

Prison chapel worship was led by a choir of 8 men.  There was also a guy on keyboard, a lead guitarist and a drummer.  The music elevated me.  Now, I can’t remember the name or the melody of the first song, but I remember the chorus: one word…Jesus.  All the songs were slow and swinging, smooth jazz like, and nothing like what I’m accustomed to in the worship that I’m regularly exposed to.  A couple of years ago, I baptized about 15 prisoners, testimonies and everything, and the prison choir showed up to sing us through.  Oh, happy day…

The second song we sang on Saturday was Kirk Franklin’s “Silver and Gold.”  A great song, but what I remember most was the solo that one man sang:

Woke up this morning, feelin’ kinda down,

Then I called my best friend; he could not be found.

Then I called Jesus…

He sang this particular part at two different places in the song, but I could never get the next line, because when he said, “Jesus,” the place erupted…both times.  Suffice it to say that the overall sense was joy, O so good.

We closed up with Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready, There’s a Train a Comin’.”

You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear diesels humming
You don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord

I’ve got baggage, so to speak, but I love that I don’t need a ticket. Thank you, Lord.

Then it was time to preach, which went fine, if I can say so.  Preaching at the prison chapel, of course, is different than preaching at Edgewood because…well, let’s just say that there is a lot of audience participation. You might call it a team sport. Can I get an Amen?  Every so often when I’m preaching at Edgewood, we get a visitor or someone who will say “Amen” as I preach.  It’s okay, of course, as long as they “Amen” with the right timing.  Not just anyone can “Amen,” you know; there is a rhythm to it.  And if you’re gonna help the preacher, you got to do it right.  The timing was ON Saturday afternoon, and the men helped me preach the same message I delivered to our church at Easter – the parable of the man who was forgiven much but who himself refused to forgive: The Lesson: Forgiveness always involves suffering. Hence, the cross. When I understand how Jesus has suffered for me, I am naturally willing to suffer to forgive the debts of others.

Afterwards I got to the back and shook a number of hands. The men “glorified the worm” and then headed back to their cells. And then it was time for Chaplain Francis to walk me out through the many doors and bars…to freedom.  I dropped by to see my family serving at a Piggly Wiggly brat fry, and headed back to my office a mile or so away.  I had to finish a sermon for a whole different set of folks who would be coming to Edgewood at 5:30 that night.

My brief afternoon with the inmates of Waupun Correctional Institution was over.  We only spent an hour in one another’s company, but I’m hoping that, at least with many of these men, one day…we will spend eternity together.

(This is a repost from May of 2012)

 
3 Comments

Posted by on June 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: ,

One Glorious Hour in Maximum Security – Part 2

My story of preaching at Waupun Correctional Institution Chapel this past Saturday begins here

Chapel at the prison is electrifying. That’s the word for it. Reminds me of Johnny Cash’s classic live album, “At Folsom Prison,” except with Jesus. There’s a saying that goes, “You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have” and the men walking into chapel on Saturday had Jesus and not much else. I was thinking about that as I sat down near the front and watched the guys come in.

There was James, a guy who attended my study for 5 or so years, and I would guess is one of the godliest men I’ve ever met. He’s about 35, has another 12 years or so on his sentence. I don’t know what he did – I never ask the guys – but I’ve thought he would make a great pastor on our staff. Of course, I’ve never mentioned that to him.  If my misty memory serves me correctly, James is one of the many men who have testified that prison is the best thing that ever happened to him.  And by the way, in all my years of doing prison ministry, I have never heard a guy proclaim his innocence (think Shawshank Redemption).  I’m sure many prisoners do, but most of the guys I minister to seem to feel that for the most part, they have gotten what they deserved.

And I saw Luegene, who appeared really glad to see me. He once told me about stealing 20 bucks as a little boy and then feeling guilty about it. So he did the only right thing you can do with a guilty conscience and a 20 spot burning in your pocket – he flushed it down the toilet to “give it back to God.”  You’ve got to hear him tell the story, though. Your sides will split from laughing so hard. (Side note: as this is a reblog, I found out later talking to Luegene that I had confused him with another guy who had come to my Bible study also – easy to do as Luegene the kind of totally delightful character who would tell a story like that. I believe the guy’s name is Corey who gets credit for a weird kind of honesty)

The gospel I preach has brought me to a rock – solid conviction that I believe makes prison ministry possible: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12 (ESV)  I cannot, therefore, sit in judgment of these men, for I know my own heart.  I have never taken a man’s life…except perhaps that is, in the darkness of my own imagination, as Jesus said that anger and hatred make me an accessory to the crime of murder.

First, second, third or fourth degree murder – before the Judge of all the earth – what does it matter?  I’m guilty, and so are they.  Our only hope is mercy.  And our only hope for mercy is a substitute, Someone to serve the sentence for us.

Three years ago, I began visiting and sharing the gospel with a man in a hospice in Fond du Lac.  This man told his son about our church; the son started attending, and along the way, came to faith in Christ. The son’s name was Mike – he was the warden at the Walls.  Now, Mike is a wonderful friend who is serving the Lord alongside the rest of us at Edgewood.  He was baptized a couple of months ago.

Prisoners, wardens and pastors…the ground is truly level at the foot of the cross.

(This three part story concludes tomorrow and is a reblog from May 2012)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: ,

One Glorious Hour in Maximum Security

Waupun prison

Waupun Correctional Institution, affectionately known around town as “The Walls”.

I went to prison on Saturday, but thankfully, only for an hour or so.

Waupun, population ~12,000, is home to not one, not two, but three prisons – two maximum security and one minimum. I’ve been leading a Bible Study at the maximum security Waupun Correctional Institution for about 7 years. It’s an architecturally beautiful structure right in the center of town. I’m there on the second and fourth Thursdays from 12:30 to 2. No real prep is required for these studies: usually I just take a recent sermon I’ve preached at church and half preach it, half discuss it with the guys who come.

But this past Saturday I went to the Walls to preach at the Saturday chapel. I had done it once before, but Saturday is not the best day for me. It’s usually the day I’m writing out my sermon (I manuscript it, about 95% word for word) so sometimes I think of it like a 12 – 14 page term paper every week. Saturday is always a crunch day for me, so taking 2 hours in the middle of the day can be a little scary. This past Saturday, at the day’s halfway mark, I was at a nice place in my preparation, and I headed off to preach in a good mood.

Shortly after noon, I got to the front gate, and was met by Todd, the correctional officer who oversees the chapel most days when I come. He’s a gregarious guy, friendly, seems to enjoy his work, and though he’s usually not at the front gate, everything is different on weekends. Someone had to be there to escort me in – what the correctional officers affectionately call a “ride,” and Todd was the guy to do the job.  Todd says he’s going to visit our church…and read my blog.  You out there, Todd?

My first few times visiting the prison years back were intimidating. I thought once to count the number of gates and metal doors I had to pass through to get in. Suffice it to say, there were a lot. I don’t know if claustrophobia comes from being in locked places that are not easily exited, but if so, I can see how someone with such a malady would have a very difficult time in the Walls. Todd and I walked through the many accesses until we reached the large inner courtyard. Usually the place is a beehive of activity, prisoners and guards walking about, but on Saturday, it felt like a ghost town.

We proceeded to the chapel building, where I met one of the two prison chaplains at the Walls, Chaplain Francis, a man who has become a friend through the years. He’s a catholic from India, and returns home for a month-long visit almost every year. He greeted me downstairs in his office, and then I went to a medium sized room where I looked over my sermon for 10 minutes or so. Around 12:30 p.m., he escorted me upstairs to the large chapel…

Part 2 is tomorrow…

(This is a repost from May 2012)

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Keeping Yesterday From Ruining Today

I once heard John Piper say that when he wakes up, “Satan is sitting on my face”, and I can relate. If I had to pick a “worst time of the day” in my life, it would be the time of awakening; it’s at this point that failures of the previous day come back to haunt me.

Maybe you know what I’m talking about. In those early morning hours, I don’t know why, but sometimes it all comes back: that moment I was short with a family member, the missed opportunity to speak up for Christ, perhaps wasted time from a too-long lingering in front of nighttime television…you get the idea.

And for this reason I was recently encouraged from Jerry Bridges’ book, Who Am I. Bridges was a long-time staff member with the Navigators who recently passed away, and from what he wrote, it sounds like he might have at least occasionally experienced the same early morning issues. But what struck me was the verse he applied during these times.

Now of course, there are many verses in Scripture that help us when our sin comes back to trouble us, but this verse seemed to be a favorite of this godly man, and it touched me afresh. As Bridges put it…

“Even today, fifty-five years later, that verse brings sparkle to my life. I often wake up discouraged about something. But as I get dressed and walk down the hall to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, 1 Corinthians 1: 30 will come to my mind and I say to myself, ‘God, it is of you that I am in Christ.’ And all of a sudden I will break into a great big smile, and the discouragement is gone.” Jerry Bridges, Who am I

Here’s 1 Corinthians 1:30 in full…

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 1 Corinthians 1:30 (ESV)

Do you see? It is because of God’s love, not my own righteousness, that I am secure in Christ with all the blessings therein. And therefore if I didn’t earn redemption by my good behavior, then neither can I lose it with my bad.

The knowledge of this, called to mind and rooted deeply in my soul, delivers me from paralyzing introspection and guilt that might have otherwise ruined another day.

And more than that, the security and hope I find being in Christ leads not to living for self in the day ahead, but rather to striving to live for the One who has so gloriously loved and saved…a sinner like me.

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,479 other followers

%d bloggers like this: