Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Size of a Briefcase

Sometimes a news item hits especially close to home and provides food for thought worth sharing. Following is one of those stories for me:

“A Sprint executive died Friday night when a boulder fell off a Colorado mountain and landed on his car. Thomas Murphy, 45, and his family had just finished their vacation and were on their way back to their Kansas City area home. The Colorado State Patrol said they were driving on Colorado Route 82 in Pitkin County, which is where Aspen is located. A boulder that was the size of a briefcase fell off a mountain and hit the family’s Chevrolet Tahoe. It hit Murphy and knocked him unconscious. His wife, Jennifer, put the SUV in neutral, hoping it would stop. After traveling a little more than one mile, Jennifer Murphy, working from the front passenger seat, finally managed to get the vehicle stopped. Thomas Murphy was transported to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, where he was pronounced dead. The Murphys were traveling with their three boys, ages 6, 8 and 11. The 11-year old boy was injured. The other two were not. Murphy had worked for Sprint since September 1996, most recently as a vice-president in the Corporate Brand Marketing Division.” (, 8/15/09)

At one point in his ministry, some people tell Jesus about a group from Galilee whom Pontius Pilate killed while they offered sacrifices in the temple. Their apparent implication is that these people were being punished for sin in their life. Jesus refutes this, and cites eighteen people who had died when a tower fell on them. “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

This is about as close as Jesus comes to saying “Stuff happens.” Contrary to the prevailing view in the ancient world, Jesus states that tragedy and suffering are not necessarily the result of wrongdoing; they are simply part of our broken and sinful world.

Mr. Murphy seemed to be doing everything right. Hard worker. Devoted family man. Probably even driving the speed limit. But a boulder the size of a briefcase fell out of the sky and killed him in front of his wife and three children. My heart aches for his family.

There is no lesson here other than the following: Be ready to die. I wish I could make it prettier than that, but there you have it. You never know when your time will come. Here are four particularly important questions to ask yourself:

1) Am I right with God? Am I confident through the grace of Jesus Christ and my faith in Him that when I face God in the Judgment I will enter into eternal life?

2) Have I left anything unsaid or incomplete with the key people in my life? Are there any relationships I need to repair? Do my beloved ones know with confidence and clarity how much I love them?

3) Are my affairs in order? Do I have a will? Life insurance? Do my children have assigned guardians? Will I leave my loved ones with just the grief of my loss or also with the mess of my life?

4) Am I presently living in such a way that if I died I would be remembered with love and respect, and face God with a good conscience?

It’s not fun to think about and plan for death. But it’s one of the most important parts of life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Walk the Path

A young preacher whom I do not know personally but whose blog I occasionally read recently posted some thoughts which challenged and intrigued me greatly. He narrates how he was “burned out, depressed, and stuck in a coffin-sized rut” in 2008. His doctor prescribed some medication, which helped, and he began doing an intense work-out routine called Crossfit while adopting CF’s recommended nutrition plan, The Zone. A year later he is off his medication, is planting a church in Austin, and feels fantastic. He notes:

Walk into a Crossfit gym and visit with a trainer and he or she will say something like this: Learn the fundamental movements, do the program, clean up your diet, and stick with it and you’ll get in the best shape of your life. You’ll be stronger, faster, leaner, and feel better. Follow this path and it will change your life.

Why does Crossfit have a cult-like following? Why won’t Crossfitters shut up about Crossfit? Why are we always inviting our friends to give it a try? Because it delivers on its promises in a way that few programs do. Crossfit works. Guaranteed.

When was the last time you said something like this to someone who was checking out your church: Walk this path with us as we follow Jesus, learn the basics of the gospel, listen to the collective wisdom gathered here, stick with it, and you will be transformed. You’ll find spiritual freedom, emotional peace, deep relationships, and the ultimate purpose for your life. Being part of our community will get you ready for anything life throws at you. We’re walking an ancient path that has been validated by the countless experiences of those who have gone before us. The gospel works. Give it a try. You won’t be disappointed. (see www.; July 20)

Hodges ends with this challenging assertion: “I’ve experienced more positive life change in myself and in others in the one year I’ve been doing Crossfit than I’ve seen in twelve years of church work.”

The Christian apologist G.K Chesterton famously noted that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Hodges is not implying that Christianity is a spiritual self-improvement program, because it is not. It is a religion, a worldview, and a way of life. Having said that, Jesus tells us that he came that we might have abundant life (John 10:10). Implicit in the gospel message is that we will experience transformation if we follow Christ in a significant way.

Following in a casual way won’t do. Again, Hodges: “One of the biggest differences between my experience with churches and with Crossfit is that in most churches there is very little expectation that what they are doing will actually change someone’s life.”

What expectations, indeed what desires, do you have for being changed by your relationship with Jesus? If you worship deeply, pray regularly, study the Scriptures, love and serve others, and give Christ the throne-chair of your life, you will experience change over time.

But you have to walk the path.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


We drove four days and 1500 miles to Twin Lakes, Colorado and back. We spent another five days rappelling, camping, and backpacking. We started at 9,400 feet, made high camp at 12,000, and ‘summited’ Mt. Oxford at 14,153 after leaving camp at 2:50 a.m. to arrive at the peak by 8 a.m. and be back down before the storms hit at midday. We enjoyed no (zip, nada, nyet) showers, indoor plumbing, or cooked food (other than instant) for five days. We experienced a blown rear van tire and ruptured fuel pump that put us six hours behind schedule. We consumed 837 lbs. of snacks and fast food in the van. We killed 28 hours waiting in line at convenience store restrooms. We listened to Michael Jackson’s greatest hits on CD 37 times. We watched all three Bourne movies on the van’s overhead player. We didn’t sleep enough hours any of the nine nights.

We had a blast!

Last week I was privileged to go along with our Senior High group on its annual summer “Trek” expedition. I thoroughly enjoyed being with these delightful kids, who have consistently distinguished themselves wherever they go on trips. The staff of T.E.A.M. Ascend made a point of telling Cory Jones, Joey Ellmore, Neely McCoy and me that our students were “the best group we’ve had all summer.”

We were led up the mountain and in all respects by the legendary Bob Wood, a 70-year old combination of mountain goat, grizzly bear and teddy bear, who, if he were president of the United States would balance the budget, de-nuclearize Iran, blockade North Korea, and make all U.S. government employees begin their day with pushups, sit-ups, and squat thrusts. This guy makes John Wayne look like a J.C. Penney model. The T.E.A.M. Ascend staff of confident, friendly college students and young adults was an inspiration to be around and learn from.

At the end of the week we gave the following awards: The “Manna” award to Davis John, for spiritually feeding the other students; the “Barnabas” award to Jakob Culver, for being such a strong encourager; the “T.E.A.M.” (trust, encouragement, attitude, motivation) award to Miranda Wilcox, for being the kind of student T.E.A.M. Ascend could envision inviting to be on staff some day; the “Proof Positive” award to Whitney Oliver for her consistently positive and cheerful disposition; the “Heart of David” award to Ian Wulf, for his example of earnestly seeking God; the “Rock” award to Luke Pyeatt for his quiet, dependable and selfless service; and the “True Grit” award to Damaris Wilcox, for persevering through pain and discomfort with determination and a complete absence of self-pity. We also honored our three crew leaders: Jakob Culver, Katie Barnett, and Davis John.

I hung with the students pretty well going up and down the mountains, but spent a lot more time recovering with naps in my tent. This is a blatant and unfair advantage teenagers have over middle-aged adults and I resent it mightily.

The point of Trek is to give people an opportunity to experience the beauty of nature and the challenges of camping and hiking to a 14,000 foot-plus summit such that they push through self-imposed limitations and develop more confidence in what they are capable of doing, all while seeking God and deepening their faith amidst a close-knit group of Christ-followers.

I’ll miss some sleep for that any time.

The Lord's Day Observance Society

Christians on the Isle of Lewis (Scotland) face a dilemma that captures my imagination and reminds me of some of the challenges we face in America. The majority of the 18,000 islanders practice a form of Presbyterian Christianity that observes a strict Sabbath – no television, no housework, no shopping, etc. For decades (centuries?) this has been the accepted culture.

But the Scottish government recently received legal advice that it would be unlawful (discriminatory) to withhold ferry service to the island on Sundays because of the religious views of only one part of a community. Consequently, the Caledonian-MacBrayne ferry company (CalMac), which is owned by the Scottish government, says it has no choice but to run the ferry service on Sunday, lest it be in breach of European laws on equality.

You got all that?

The Christians are up in arms. John Roberts, spokesman for the Lord’s Day Observance Society, declares:

“The Sunday ferry service is a direct threat to this way of life, which stands for Christian beliefs, the Bible and the word of God. We’ll end up with Sundays like they are in the rest of the U.K. or the U.S. where it is just, go to church on Sunday morning and the rest of the day is yours.” (Scottish island’s sacred Sunday under threat,” Ben McConville, Associated Press, July 19, 2009).

Where do your sympathies lie in this situation? Well, let’s consider a few things. First, the Isle of Lewis has a rich history and part of that history is its distinctness from the rest of Scotland, most particularly in its Sabbath observance and its predominant use of the Gaelic language. So this is a spiritual and religious issue but also one of communal identity: Will they remain distinct from the “mainlanders?”

Second, how does ferry service, per se, impede the islanders’ observance of Sabbath? After all, if most of the Islanders refrain from travel, work or play, who will be arriving or leaving on the ferry or working at the terminal? And will non-Christians’ arrival or departure threaten anyone’s Sabbath observance?

Most significantly to me, how faithfully are people practicing their religion if they have no option to do otherwise? For the first half of the 20th century in the United States, most communities had “blue laws,” which functioned to enforce religious standards and most notably prevented retail businesses from opening on Sundays, i.e., they enforced Sabbath observance. Eventually most of these laws were repealed, declared unconstitutional, or simply left unenforced.

What happened in the United States is the very thing the people on the Isle of Lewis are worried will happen to them – they fear that Sunday will become just another day of commerce and pleasure-seeking with (perhaps) church squeezed in. And you know what, they’re probably right. Once the camel’s nose is under the tent, it’s hard to back the camel out.

But if the church has no competition is it really the church? What if the good Christians on the Isle of Lewis said, “Bring on the ferry if you insist. We welcome the opportunity to choose our sacred faith observances over modern practices.”

Now that would impress me.