Do You Have 53 Minutes to Spare?

I don’t typically do this, in fact, I cannot really think of any time I have done this except for one time I think I shared a link to one of my sermons (no, I don’t usually preach for 53 minutes. It just seems like an hour.)

But, I came across this video about a year or so ago, and I feel compelled to share it with folks who might not know how, or even care, to find it on their own.

This video is just wow – just wow. It has such an important message about seizing the moment, about doing what your heart calls you to do, about having dreams and setting goals.

And, it’s pretty tootin’ funny as well!

I hope you enjoy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kIMTJRgyn0

 

I’m a Card-Carrying Member – Except For ….

[Trigger warning – if you are susceptible to major denial or anger issues, maybe you should skip today’s rant. And, yes, the pun in intended.]

I write today of a conundrum, a curiosity, a perplexity. I write in the hopes that someone might be able to enlighten me, to remove the opaqueness of my vision.

I have recently been able to renew a long lost passion – well, maybe not a full-blown passion, but certainly a serious interest. That interest is with shooting guns. When I lived in Colorado previously I had the privilege of knowing a number of shooters, and at least one reloader, and they helped me immensely with my shooting skills and my knowledge of everything firearm. In the intervening years I lacked both the opportunity and a driving desire to shoot, and the world of guns, especially handguns, has changed dramatically in the past 25+ years.

So, I have been pushing myself to catch up on my firearm education and my opportunities to shoot. As I have learned, I have also come across something I find humorous, strange, baffling, confusing. One of the huge changes that occurred while I was “away” from shooting is the explosion of polymer constructed, striker-fired, semi-automatic pistols. Back in the day pretty much all you had was a revolver (commonly nicknamed a “wheel-gun” although I think a “rotating cylindrical shaped magazine gun” might be more accurate. What do I know?) Today one of the leading names in this area of gun manufacturers is Glock. Glocks are Austrian made, are reliable, easy to maintain, relatively inexpensive – basically a very solid product. They have a huge, devoted, and almost maniacally committed following. (I happen to think they are hideously ugly, but, again, what do I know? And please, if you own one of those hideously ugly things, don’t shoot me with it. It would hurt.)

That is what I get. Here is what I don’t get. As I read about Glock lovers, they never really own a stock, out-of-the-box Glock. The first thing most of them do is to replace the sights – the sights on a Glock are one of the most universally disliked items on the Glock. But, refusing to stop there, Glock “fan boys” will replace the trigger mechanism, the trigger springs, drop in a customized barrel, swap out the grips and maybe add an after-market laser or optic sight. Then, “properly” outfitted, the ecstatic Glock owner will boast that his (or her, but mostly his) $500.00 Glock looks, feels, and shoots “just as good” as an expensive Beretta or Sig Sauer. The irony is that after they paid for their $500.00 Glock, they spent almost as much (or more) “improving” their wonder gun, and they could have just as easily purchased the said Beretta or Sig Sauer and had a better firearm straight out of the box. (Actually, they could have purchased a Smith and Wesson for the same price as their Glock and had a better gun, but as I keep repeating, what do I know?)

Like I said, I don’t get it. I guess it is something us Smith and Wesson (or Beretta, or Sig Sauer) owners will never comprehend.

But, lest you think I have taken leave of my senses and have forgotten that this is a blog concerning all things theological and ecclesiastical, I have the same dumbfounded reaction to various and sundry church members who are “card carrying members” of their favorite denomination, yet refuse to accept (or flatly reject) basic, fundamental doctrines of said denomination.

Take, just as an example, a Roman Catholic who would not even consider attending a different church, but who considers the idea of Papal Infallibility or the concept of the Magisterium to be silly notions, steadfastly to be ignored. Consider the Methodist who rejects one of the hallmarks of classical Methodism – a commitment to exacting norms of biblical morality – particularly in regard to sexual purity. Pity the poor Presbyterian or Episcopalian (Anglican) who wonders where his or her church disappeared to following the headlong plunge of both denominations into complete gender dysphoria.

Okay, I am neither Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian or Episcopalian (Anglican), so maybe I should not pick on them. But I am seriously galled by individuals who consider themselves to be members of the Churches of Christ who reject basic, fundamental doctrines that have been hallmarks of our heritage for over two centuries. There are the bedrock issues such as the inspiration and infallibility (reliability and truthfulness) of the received texts of the Old and New Testaments, the basic historical/critical method of interpretation of the text, and our oft-repeated if not always observed intention to speak where the Bible speaks, and to allow silence to be silence. That leads to other issues such as male spiritual leadership, the practice of baptism for the remission of sins, the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, and congregational, acapella singing in worship.

If you don’t believe that what we read in our printed editions of the Bible is true and reliable, if you think that the text should be interpreted in light of modern “feel first, think second” hermeneutics, if you think that biblical silence is more important than biblical content, if you believe there are no differences between male and female, if you have bought into contemporary evangelicalism’s “just invite Jesus into your heart” soteriology, if you have to have a “praise team” or “worship band” in order to get your emotional fix for the week – then good on ‘ya, but for all things high and holy do not call yourself a member of the Church of Christ (and, I might cautiously add, church of Christ universal, either).

The heritage of the Churches of Christ in the United States is a heritage of dissent – Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone (and their predecessors in New England) did not come to the church out of a spiritual vacuum – they were committed Presbyterians (or, in the case of the New Englanders, Congregationalists). But – and this is what I credit them with far and above today’s “change agents” within the church – they had the courage of their convictions and when they could no longer abide by the teachings of the Presbyterians (or, later, Baptists) they consciously and unambiguously left those fellowships. They made it clear to friend and foe alike that they were embarking on a different path.

Those who want to “change” the church today are moral and religious cowards. They don’t really like what they see in the Church of Christ, but they want to be seen as brave, heroic even, in their attempts to “save” or “redeem” the church. Well, the church of Christ only has one savior, one redeemer, and he died on a cross. I don’t see any of these modern day Moseses or Joshuas quite willing to make that step. They don’t even have the courage of Campbell or Stone and say, “I can no longer accept the teaching of my parents and my heritage. I have a new understanding of truth, and I must follow that call of truth.” No, what they say is, “The Church of Christ is too patriarchal, too fundamentalist, too tradition bound, but if we would just act and teach like those fun-filled community churches, we could turn everything around, and I’ll show the way with my skinny jeans and my ripped t-shirt and my totally hip and relevant sermons!”

If you don’t like what you see or hear in the nearest Church of Christ, at least have the courage of your convictions and leave and either find a better nest or build your own. Many, many “Evangelical” churches do not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, they observe no boundaries between male and female, they have praise bands and praise teams and fog machines and strobe lights and all kinds of emotion generating accouterments. I’m sure you would feel very welcome in such an environment – far more so than in the confining, stifling, oppressive settings as you find in so many congregations of the Churches of Christ. Stop being miserable, and stop trying to change what you obviously neither love nor respect.

Seriously, if the only thing on your pistol that says Glock is the slide and the frame, don’t brag about your Glock. All you’re doing is confusing the non-gun speaking world, and irritating those of us who see through the charade.

I May Disagree With the Decision, But I Must Defend the Right to Make It

I just read a horrifying story out of the state of Oregon. A judge has forced a 13 year old girl to undergo surgery for a rare form of liver cancer, over the objections of her mother and the 13 year-old herself. (Here is a link, as long as it is good. story here

I have no idea about the intention of the mother, or the accuracy of the story, or if the girl has been adequately informed of the options and possible outcomes. My issue in discussing this story is the terrifying reality that a state can step in between a parent and a child and compel the child to undergo something as traumatic as liver surgery against the wishes of the parent.

I would imagine that most of us are aware of the reality that a young girl can obtain an abortion without the informed consent of her parents, but this decision launches the debate into entirely new – and dangerous – territory.

There has been ample news coverage of late regarding the parental decision not to immunize their child(ren) against various diseases. In these cases I believe the state has a compelling interest to require those immunizations if the child is going to take advantage of such state funded institutions as schools, daycares, and some sporting events. In these situations I still side with the rights of the parents if they decide against immunization (although I think it is dangerous, and founded on bizarre conspiracy theories). But, the parents must also be held accountable and be told that if they refuse the immunizations, their child will not be allowed to participate in federal or state funded programs. I believe they must also be formally educated about the need for such immunizations, and the cost to the community as a whole if they refuse the immunity, and what can happen in cases of outbreaks of diseases that have almost been eradicated through such immunizations. There is a community component in these cases that is not present in the case of the solitary girl who has liver cancer.

However, taking a child away from the custody of a parent and forcing her to undergo radical surgery is just Orwellian in the extreme, and, if I understand the story correctly, nothing but pure evil. If this decision is allowed to stand, what will be the next step? Will a state decide it has the moral and legal right to remove children from a home and forced to undergo LGBTQ indoctrination if (and when) Christianity is effectively labeled a “disease?” You scoff. You label this a non-sensical “slippery slope” argument. I counter – since when has it been deemed appropriate or legal for the state to physically force a 13 year old child to undergo a radical, and potentially dangerous, surgery when the outcome has, by their own admission, at least a 30 percent chance of failure?

I have written repeatedly in this space about how we are no longer living in the same cultural context that described this nation even 30 years ago. Dear brothers and sisters – it appears that the time for disciples of Christ to stand up and resist these abhorrent decisions is coming far sooner than later. Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated the power of non-violent resistance – the power of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands, of like-minded individuals who simply refuse to comply with unjust laws and lawmakers. Will we have to employ those methods in the effort to protect our constitutional right to the free exercise of our religious beliefs? And what should happen if that freedom is somehow abridged? Will we still have the courage of our convictions to stand and protect our children?

This case may be a tempest in a teapot – or it may be the canary in the coal mine that lets us know that the death of religious freedom is surely coming.

I may not agree with this mother’s decision, but for the sake of the freedom of every parent to raise their children as God has given them the authority to do so, I must defend her right to make it.

But, What Can We Do?

Kind of been in a funk lately. Everywhere I turn all I see are opportunities for me to throw my hands up in despair and to ask, “What use is it? What can I do?” I look around and in every aspect of our lives we are confronted with a nauseating concoction of racial animosity, open hostility, sexual dysfunction, and a paralyzing narcissism that threatens to destroy our nation. I cite just one example, although many more could be given: as I survey the political landscape two things are beyond debate. One, the Republican party has no answer for Donald Trump. I was desperately hoping that someone with a modicum of composure and decency would step up and challenge him for the nomination for the 2020 presidential election. Nope – be it from a lack of courage or just political calculus, no one wants to challenge his Donaldness. Too bad. Our nation deserves better. But, second, the crop of Democratic challengers is simply beyond stupefying. They are so beholden to the abortion/LGBTQ/socialism cabal that there is not ten cents worth of difference between any of them. Seriously – is it even possible to be a Democratic leader and to think independently or with originality? From what I hear and read, I doubt it.

So, once again, I ask – what can I do? Is there not something that a mere mortal can do while swimming in this vacuum of moral and ethical standards?

On the one hand, I would say unequivocally, “NO.” Just to be realistic, there are some situations that are just too big and complex for individual humans to change. Serious, lasting, and meaningful change can only be effected by large groups of people who are united, not only in purpose, but in courage and resolve. I know there are many who see the same things I see, but are just not disturbed by them (or, certainly not to the degree with which I am disturbed). Others are far more disturbed than even I am, and propose solutions that not even I am willing to consider.

But, beyond those basic realities, there is a greater reason why I tend to be more reserved in looking at global (or, at the very least, national) problems: I have what can be described as an “apocalyptic” outlook, and I believe that God remains in control of this world, and that if there is to be any kind of meaningful and lasting change, it will only come about by the working of His Spirit and under His control. Stated another way, God gives humans whatever kind of world they ask for, and right now we are receiving exactly what we have wanted for the past 75 years, if not longer. We have demanded a country that is focused entirely on the individual, so God has said, “Okay, you’re not going to like it, and it is not going to end pretty, but here ya go!” I believe that if we humbly and sincerely asked for a country that truly reflected God’s kingdom ethics, he would give it to us in such volume we could not measure it.

So, in that regard, certain passages from Scripture come to mind:

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:10)

Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s . . . You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf . . . Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. (2 Chronicles 20:15, 17)

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. (Revelation 14:12; see also 1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10)

On the other hand, there is not only something that I can do, there is something that I have to do. I have to get, or keep, my own house in order. It does absolutely no good to preach to the world about its failures if the church of which I am a part promotes the same sinful behaviors in which the world indulges.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ll preach it straight and plain: the church needs to be restored and purified if we even have the slightest inclination to reach out to a bent and broken world.

We bemoan the sexual depravity of our western culture, and yet we allow – if not actively protect – divorces and illicit affairs within our congregations. We protect sexual abusers and predators under the guise that they are respected members of the community and even elders/deacons/Bible teachers of the church. We prohibit the man who does not have a tie or sport coat from leading worship in a public capacity, yet we turn a blind eye and glorify the man who beats his wife or physically abuses his children. And we think that God does not see?

We preach against the greed of the pagan world, and yet we violate the clear teaching of James 2:1-17 on a weekly basis. Elders and deacons are chosen, not on the basis of their spiritual maturity and godly natures, but on the basis of their success in business and their social club memberships. We cannot stock a decent food pantry or maintain a decent benevolent fund, yet we drive to our multi-million dollar church buildings in the most opulent vehicles that we can drive (note, not necessarily afford, but that we can drive).

We hire our preachers not based on their ability to challenge and confront us, but on their ability to soothe our itchy ears. Where is the voice of the prophet among Churches of Christ today? Where is the voice of John the Baptist saying, “Who told you to come to church, you bunch of snakes?” Where is the voice of Amos crying out, “Listen to me, you filthy rich heifers, you fat and lazy bums!” We have the best educated, most theologically astute core of preachers that we have ever had, and, at least from what I can see and hear from national publications, we are probably more biblically illiterate today than we have ever been in our entire history. Our preachers and elders “lead” by holding a finger up to discover which way the wind of culture is blowing so they can jump out in front of us lemmings.

Read the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation again. Underline every time the Spirit of Christ tells a congregation to repent. Underline the references to sexual impurity. Underline the references to greed and idolatry. Stop and ask yourself, “What is John’s message to these churches – are they not God’s people, are they not the saved, are they not the ransomed?” But, then read the last two chapters of the same book. Notice who John says will be excluded from the new heaven and new earth. He is not writing to pagans. He is writing to members of seven congregations of the Lord’s church in Asia. Christians. Just like you and me. Just like our congregations. And he is telling them they stand under judgment for their immoral behavior.

In a very real sense, it bothers me that I am more upset, and more indignant, with the behavior of a world that does not know any better than I am with people who – at least on the surface – should know better and act better. It is really sad that there are people whom we would consider “lost” who behave more in line with God’s kingdom than many who wear the name “Christian.”

I cannot change the world. I cannot overcome forces that the apostle Paul clearly identifies as “demonic” and supernatural. But I can, I must, make sure that those who bear the name of Christ are walking “worthy” of the calling they have received. (Ephesians 4:1; 4:17, 22, 24; 5:1, 9)

Lord, restore your church again!!

Two Hundred Years in a Couple of Minutes

Every once in a while I like to back up a little bit and try to take a “bird’s eye” picture of what is happening. In recent years that process has been defined as taking the “view from 30,000 feet.” Curiously, I’ve never known of a bird flying 5 miles above the surface of the earth, but I suppose anything is possible. When we back up and look at the entire forest, it helps us understand the current condition of each tree that comprises that forest. Now, if I have not completely mixed all my metaphors to the point of obscurity, let me move on.

Consider what was occurring “on or about” the year 1819. The “Second Great Awakening” was gathering wind. It was a heady time. The smoke from the Revolutionary War could still be smelled if one tried hard enough. It seemed as if the United States was quite literally at the vanguard of a new millennium, the blessed arrival of God’s Kingdom on earth. Alexander Campbell had been in the United States barely a decade, and the “movement” that he would become so much a fixture of might have been toddling, but it certainly was not running quite yet. It would still be another decade before Joseph Smith would publish his novel, The Book of Mormon. Religious fervor was, quite literally, in the air. The Holy Spirit was running amok, or so some would say, and the Shakers were not the only ones left shaking in the wind.

Flash forward to 1919. The brilliant hopes of the Divine Millennium, the earthly Kingdom of God, had been crushed first by the Civil War, and most recently by the War to End All Wars. The smoke from that war was clearly still hanging in the air, but only in Europe, not in the blessed United States. Stateside there was a renewed religious fervor, albeit not quite as rambunctious as that seen one hundred years earlier, but still robust. The eighteenth amendment had been passed in 1917, and in 1919 it was ratified. The next year prohibition would be the law of the land, and with “demon rum” removed from Satan’s arsenal, surely God’s Spirit would not have as much opposition in the battle for man’s heart. The “Roaring Twenties” were just about to get going, and the “Great Depression” was simply a bad nickname for the Grand Canyon. Adolf Hitler was just an unemployed former corporal, and a world-wide peace that he would soon obliterate was not just a hope, but for the majority, it was a reality that could not be shaken. It was perhaps not the full-bodied Kingdom of God as envisioned one hundred years earlier, but it was still a peace – or so it was believed.

Flash forward to 2019. Nothing of 1919 is recognizable anymore, and certainly not anything of 1819. Not only is “demon rum” legal again, but so is the most decadent, the most horrific, obscene pornography. Homosexual marriage is not only legal, but glorified. Biologically born men are removing the physical attributes of maleness and are becoming “women.” Same with biologically born women, surgically removing their breasts and ingesting massive doses of testosterone so as to appear “male.” Millions, not just thousands, of babies are aborted under the umbrella of “freedom of reproductive rights” (nothing could be more of an oxymoron!!). The millennial fervor of the early 1800’s is just a footnote in some dusty history book, and not even a whiff of the resurgent spirituality of the early 1900’s remains. All that the world sees of the “Kingdom of God” is an anemic, lethargic, and basically complicit, institutional “church.”

Sorry to be the source of so much joy and happiness – but from where I sit this is the “view from 30,000 feet.” In a scant (speaking geologically) 200 years, the United States has moved from being on the doorstep of a realized and eternal Kingdom of God on earth to being a bastion of narcissism the likes of which this world has never witnessed (and, taking into consideration the narcissism of the Persians, Greeks and Romans, that is saying something!). Barely 75 years ago legions of 20 something year-old men were dying from the beaches of Normandy to the outskirts of Berlin, sacrificing their lives in the cause of freedom. Today those young men are dying on our streets, the result of unrestrained gang violence. Today the greatest existential crisis occurs when a biological male is called a “he” that he is, instead of the “she” that he wants to be. Life is simply unsustainable if the WI FI goes down at the neighborhood Starbucks. We can no longer allow a dissenting voice on our university campuses (something archaically enshrined in the First Amendment of our U.S. Constitution), we have to insure that only one voice – the voice of unrestrained paganism – be spoken to the tender ears of our future leaders.  We are living what Os Guinness has labeled A Free People’s Suicide. (I highly recommend the book by that title). I could go on. The view from 30,000 feet is expansive.

If Dietrich Bonhoeffer could identify his world as a “world come of age,” what would he say of America in 2019? Above I described the church as being “anemic, lethargic, and basically complicit” in what has transpired. Fighting words, I grant you, but does anyone dare dispute me? When, in the last 100, or 75, or 50 or even 25 years has the church stood up and dared to be sent to its crucifixion by proclaiming in Christ and only in Christ is there to be health and wholeness? We have ministers of the gospel defending behavior that the Bible describes as an abomination to God. We accept the most reprehensible behavior in our Presidents (Democrat and Republican) simply because they represent our chosen political party. We depend on scientists to answer all our questions and politicians to solve all our problems. We depend on the government to feed and house the poor, we depend on the government to take care of our elderly, we depend on the government to educate our children, we depend on the government to protect our right to assemble and the right to speak freely and forthrightly. Well, since we have surrendered every other responsibility to a pagan government, it should come as absolutely no shock that that pagan government has no interest in protecting the freedom to protest what we have carelessly ceded to it.

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. – Matthew 7:6

The churches and religious organizations in the United States have attempted to domesticate a serpent for the past 200 years, and it has not turned out pretty. You can domesticate just about every animal on earth, but a snake – and here I am thinking about a rattlesnake or a water moccasin or a cobra – cannot be tamed. They are by nature serpents, and it is not by accident that the Bible first speaks of Satan as a snake.

After 200+ years, we are not going to change things by electing more “Christian” politicians. We are not going to change things by appointing more “Conservative” judges. We are not going to change things by getting more strict and “moral” laws passed. We are not going to change things no how, no way, at all.

What we can do is pray that God breathes fire back into his church. We can pray that God revives and restores us, the body of his Son. We can begin by acting like we fully believe what we have been preaching. And, we can pray that God in his power and wisdom will give us the chance to once again be his “ministers of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18) before he decides to permanently purify his creation.

Two hundred years – from literally the threshold of heaven to the basest pit of hell. Maybe, if it went that direction when we turned our backs on God, just maybe it can go the other direction if we return our hearts to him. (See Jeremiah 18:7-10; 26:3, 13)

D-Day, June 6, 1944

Thinking about, and writing about, past wars is difficult for me. I am, by all accounts, a pacifist. Now, I am not the 1960’s hippie version, sitting around a campfire smoking weed and singing “Kumbaya,” but never-the-less, I just do not see any sense defending war. I believe that I stand in the best tradition of my forefathers in making that stand. I believe with all my heart that Jesus taught peace making and self-less surrender over taking up arms. Maybe I just missed the verse that says that we should love our enemy, but yet spend billions of dollars inventing ways to blow him and his children to oblivion.

On the other hand, the Bible speaks just as clearly regarding defending the weak, and standing up for those who have no voice. So, while I struggle mightily with the concept of an offensive fighting force, I honestly have no problem with maintaining a defensive force, so long as there is a bright line dividing what is an offensive and a defensive military confrontation. So, in my mind, the last truly defensible war the United States has fought was World War II. (Word of explanation here: you cannot defend a war using the “just war” defense, if there was no war declared. No military action  whether it be Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, or any other “operation” since WW II, was officially declared by the President or Congress as a “War,” and therefore, cannot be defended using the “just war” precepts.)

World War II was, in my opinion, the last time our nation has correctly applied the concepts of a “just war.” The definition of a just war varies depending on who is making the distinction, but most definitions include having a definable goal, avoiding civilian casualties to the best of an army’s ability, the clear declaration of a war on a legal basis, and the humane treatment of captured enemy soldiers. Even in WWII the lines were blurred, as the fire-bombing of Dresden was unconscionable.

All of that was a long pre-amble to this: today, June 6, is the anniversary of perhaps the greatest single effort to liberate a conquered continent in the history of mankind. Thousands of allied soldiers died in just a few hours that morning, as well as even more thousands of German soldiers. What I have learned over the past few days is that even more French civilians died during the invasion and weeks following!! June 6, 1944 was literally the turning point in the war in Europe, and without the sacrifices paid that day, Europe would have never been freed from Nazi control. The hundreds of graves in the cemeteries of the Allied soldiers, and even those graves in which the soldiers of Germany lie, are a testament to the brutality and inhumanity of man.

World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Then there was World War II. Then there was the Korean “conflict” and the Viet Nam “police action.” And then there was “operation” Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom – the names are a mockery of the English language.

I believe that the United States was right to come to the defense of England, Europe, and China in the 1940’s. I also believe (and believe it has been well proven) that with the proper intervention, World War II should never have happened. Political and diplomatic opportunities abounded, but isolationist policies and a resolute refusal for the Christian Church to oppose both Adolf Hitler and Emperor Hirohito spelled disaster for the European continent, and most of the Pacific rim nations. Even after the hostilities began, had the Church been more aggressive in pressing for diplomatic overtures, the resistance in Germany would have eliminated Hitler, and thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of lives would have been saved.

So, I honor those men and women who sacrificed their lives this day 75 years ago. They must never be forgotten. I doubt this world will ever see such courage again – at least not on the scale exhibited that day.

And I fervently pray that no generation will ever again be asked to liberate another continent from a depraved, maniacal, despot. May we learn, somehow and for all time, the skills necessary to solve our disagreements around a conversation table, and not over a battlefield.

The Commencement Speech No One Will Ever Hear

Ah, the end of May and the beginning of June. Time for graduations far and near. And so, completely unrequested and with the full knowledge that it will never be given verbatim, here is the commencement speech I believe is truly the only one that is worth hearing. The intended audience is, obviously, a group of men just commencing their journey as ministers of the gospel.

Friends, graduates, fellow academicians, lend me your ears. I come not to praise you, but to bury you. For only if you have been buried can you send forth new life – and it is to a new life that we send you today. Prepare, then, to have a little dirt thrown your way.

First, I congratulate you. This is indeed a momentous occasion for you. You have, to use Paul’s epic words, “fought with the beasts” and you have emerged victorious. Not everyone can do what you have just done. Not many would want to, mind you, but whether they did or not, they could not finish what you have finished. By your presence here you have demonstrated that you have mastered the art of translating Greek and Hebrew sentences, that you can differentiate between exegesis and hermeneutics, and that you can hold your own in written debate with the likes of N.T. Wright. Your guides, your shepherds, your academic guardians have all attested to your intellectual fitness to hold the degrees which will be conferred to you. Your parents, your siblings, and perhaps your spouses all hold you in the highest esteem. Today is truly a great day.

Get over it.

I’m serious. Enjoy the day to its fullest. Bask in the limelight while it is still shining brightly. Dine sumptuously. Drink deeply of all the huzzahs and congratulations. But, this is just the beginning. If you stopped growing following the great celebration of the day of your birth, you would not be here today. Today is the beginning, not the end. That’s why we call it a “commencement.” But there is another, darker reason why I counsel you to “get over it.” You will learn of this reality all too soon.

I know each of you is committed to a life of ministry – whether in a congregational ministry or perhaps in an academic post or a missionary field. You have no thoughts of failure, or of abandoning your quest. Sadly, the statistics of life-long ministry do not support your optimism. Amid the unbridled euphoria and the sweet fragrance of success that floods the room today, let me caution you about what your future holds. It will not be pretty.

Let me use, as a parable, my life first as a flight student and then as a flight instructor to illustrate my words of warning. As a flight student the second greatest day that you experience is the day you solo – the day that you control the airplane as sole occupant. The feeling is simply beyond description. You know you are up to the task, and your flight instructor has endorsed you to do just that – fly the plane by yourself. But you know, in the back of your mind, that you are still flying on the legal basis of your flight instructor. You can take off and land by yourself, but you are not a pilot. You still have much to learn, much to observe. The talent is there, but it is raw, unrefined. For better or worse, and mostly for the better, your instructor is there to teach, to discipline, to correct, and to protect you throughout the various phases of instruction you have yet to complete.

Chances are you all have experienced something similar to “going solo” while in school. Perhaps you have worked as an intern with a congregation. Perhaps you have even initiated a new ministry, or have taken an existing ministry to a higher level of effectiveness. The euphoria of such endeavors is intoxicating, indeed. But you know, just as the fledgling flight student, that you are still operating on the license of an instructor. You still have the grace, and the forgiveness, of being “just a student.” Those words can be grating, but they are also powerful deterrents against unfair and undeserved attacks. So you serve, as we have all served, under the protecting label of “capable, but not yet quite mature.” The label is at the same time irritating and assuring. You’re getting there, but if the air gets a little turbulent, there is always a more seasoned hand to take the controls.

Some time later comes the one single greatest day in the process of your flight instruction – the day you take your final flight examination. After you land and shut the airplane down, the FAA flight examiner leans over, shakes your hand, and says, “Congratulations, you are a private pilot.” Now you no longer have to ask permission to fly. Now you are truly the master of your own ship. Now you can utter those immortal words, “the sky is the limit.” Oh, the joy!

Except, now the responsibility is ALL YOURS. Now you no longer have the comfort of blaming your instructor. Now when the FAA comes calling, you can not look over your shoulder for your big brother. The world gets a lot smaller, even when it just seemed to open up beyond every horizon. When you fly on your own certificate, you suddenly seem to take all the little decisions a whole lot more seriously. What about the weather? How much weight do I have on the plane? How much fuel do I really need? Have I really gone over my flight plan as seriously as I need to? One bad decision and the FAA can take that little piece of paper away and you have to start all over. Or, worse, lives and property can be at stake.

Today, you have earned your wings. Today we shake your hand and say, “Congratulations, you are now a fully capable, qualified, and endorsed proclaimer of theology and comforter of souls.” Today is what you have been looking forward to for years. It’s done. You’ve finished the race that you started some time ago – and all the plaudits are deeply deserved.

But, little birdie, today we also kick you out of the nest. You’ve got your feathers and your certificates, now get out and fly. And, just to be sure, the air is not going to always be smooth, nor the landings soft. It’s called life. Get over it.

The reality is that many of you – perhaps as many as half or more of you – will not complete a career in ministry, either congregational or academic. You will venture out into congregations comprised of members who think it great sport to destroy the lives of ministers. They have no self-respect of their own, and they gladly share that lack of respect with anyone who dares to claim any authority. Because we send you out to speak with the authority of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, that means they will have no respect for you. Because you will be called upon to challenge their mistaken beliefs and discipline them for their ungodly behavior, they will despise and abhor your work. All the while they will play the martyr and manipulate the situations to make it appear that you are the bully, you are the heavy. They will spare no effort to gather followers to their cause, and your job and your ministry mean nothing to them so long as they win the day and the argument.

You think I am kidding – but this is no laughing matter. Many churches (and university administrations) exist for no other purpose than to destroy the lives and futures of those who dare to challenge their power structures. For some of you the destruction will be complete. I say it now without any hesitation, there are some of you here listening to my words today that will not only leave the ministry, but you will leave the faith. Paul essentially said the same thing to the Ephesian elders, so I am sharing this will pretty good company. Ministry is not for everyone, and for some the pain of rejection is so intense, and so debilitating, that there simply is no rehabilitation. My heart breaks for you.

There are a number of you, who, after being so treated, will decide to leave the ministry for a season – but time and circumstances will so converge as to provide you with a second chance at ministry. So, you will discover that after a decade or so, that the fire is still burning, the hope has not been extinguished. You will return, your feathers clipped, your wings a little ruffled, but never-the-less, alive and kicking. Jeremiah preached for years with no tangible results. We can expect no better – unless you believe you can preach more faithfully and more effectively than Jeremiah. But, Jeremiah kept preaching. I pray for those of you who fit this pattern. Life will not be easy, but I pray that at the end it will be fruitful.

And, to be honest, some of you will skip through life unmolested by the demons your classmates will face. You will be given cars and golf club memberships and have your vacations to the Caribbean fully funded by a rich member of the congregation. Just when that happens, please do not come back to the next reunion and brag about it to the other poor schmucks who go from month to month, and sometimes from Sunday to Sunday, wondering if they will have a job on Monday.

Congratulations, graduates. Today is your day. Enjoy it, because tomorrow belongs to the evil one, and he will not rest until he has tested all of you, and has devoured as many as he can. You wanted this, you’ve worked tirelessly for it – now the challenge is yours. You didn’t study all those hours and spend all that money to earn a certificate so you could sit on a bench and look to the clouds.

It’s time to fly.