Strict//EN" ""> EAGLES' REST: March 2013

Friday, March 29, 2013

Guns & Sins: Treating the Wrong Problem

Many years ago .. 1969 as I recall, I was a counselor at the Bill Glass Crusade. Bill was an ex-football player, having lettered at Baylor for 3 years, and subsequently playing pro ball for 11 years. He's both a college All-American and member of pro football's Hall of Fame.  But then, he became an Evangelist in 1969 after a few years of having given testimony at Billy Graham Crusades, etc.

He came to Indianapolis while I lived there, and my friend Dave Van Veld suggested that we volunteer as counselors. Even though I was still in somewhat of a turmoil about my own salvation, I said OK. In retrospect, I was as saved as I'd ever be, but hadn't been in the Bible enough to know it. That was one side benefit of the Bible study at the Van Veld's.

God revealed some things to me during the Crusade and all that went with it, that are still useful to me, today. But one thing stands out above all the rest. Bill told us, during our counselors' briefings, that if someone came forward at the invitation, and wanted to pray about sin in their life, don't pray about the sin! His reason: repetitive sin, over which a believer was struggling, was a sign of a weak or non-existent relationship with Jesus. Instead, Bill said, pray about that.

In the current brouhaha about "gun control", I'm reminded of the same thing. The problem isn't with the guns. It's with the people. And it is about as expectable as anything I can think of. Consider the things that influence society, other than the simple fact we're all sinners. I think of 4, off the top of my head:

  • The family. Do I need to say a lot about that? In my lifetime, I have seen the entirety of the gamut from the norm being the nuclear family, to the situation today where that's the exception rather than the rule. During all my schooling .. through High School .. I recall one classmate whose parents were divorced, or where their mother was widowed. 
  • The schools: We started the day with the Pledge of Allegiance, and prayer. As Bill Bennett, one of President Reagan's Secretaries of Education, told me personally, the removal of prayer from the schools had one major effect: Prayer was an acknowledgment of higher authority, and taking it out of schools led to a decline in recognition of authority in school children. He said that we could trace the loss of respect for teachers, police, elders, parents, etc. to the day they barred those prayers in school. I tended to believe him .. he was a very believable guy.
  • The church: Churches used to be revered and respected. Not any more. Folks sue churches, and remonstrate on zoning to allow a church building, just like they do any other organization. Not to mention the fact that many denominations are losing their "saltiness" and looking more like society every day, complete with infighting, ordination of homosexuals, and even allowing for same-sex marriages. 
  • Society: Tell me who is teaching morality, respect, obedience and the like, besides the churches? The Television? I can recall a time when married couples .. think the Dick Van Dyke Show, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, etc. .. couldn't even be shown in the same bed. And how about "The Partridge Family" not having a toilet in their bathroom? Today, nearly anything goes. On Cable, it already does. I've heard it said that every great nation that fell from within, has first condoned the public acceptance of immorality, as well as experienced a breakdown of law & order .. actually the enforcement of laws. Tell me we're not there....

So .. look around and tell me how swell things are now. Given all those factors, that have arisen in my lifetime, how can we expect anything else to happen in our nation, other than just what's been going on?

I didn't think so.

NOW: along comes a seeming increase, and way too much, of course, in violence. Including that employing guns. And the President seems dead set on enacting some sort of legislation aimed at reducing gun violence. Well, Mr. President, it won't accomplish nuthin'!

One of the points bandied about is mandatory background checks. Oh, that'll weed out criminals from buying guns. WHAT? If you were a criminal, one who made a living by robbing, stealing, etc, why would you even consider BUYING  a firearm? No, you'd do what you've always done ... STEAL IT!

Can you spell "UNTRACEABLE"?

And then, he tosses up the tragedy at Newtown. Here's a flash for you, Mr. President: His MOM  owned all those guns. How would a background check have stopped THAT? 

It's just like the issue at the Bill Glass Crusade, of praying about  the sins and not the cause. The cause of gun violence is shooters, not guns. Until and unless we get back into the business of raising people America can be proud of, we don't have a ghost of a chance of solving the problem.

Romans 12:2 ... (NIV) says "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind". And that is something this world, and its governments, simply cannot do. But then, we're not even doing what we CAN!

p.s.: I just figured out why I'm so grumpy today .. WE TV is having a "Roseanne" marathon. Yeah .. that's it. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Throw Away The Scorecard

Peg and I have a little "ritual", most mornings. We eat breakfast .. regardless of how big or small .. at the kitchen table. The one with the pretty view through the big picture window. After breakfast, we play a game of Phase 10.

It's a game using dice, in which the objective it to roll .. you get three tries per turn .. different combinations of dice.

See Score Sheet for details.

There's just a little bit of skill involved. Just a little.

After the game, I always wad up the Score Sheet and toss it in the trash can that sits by the cabinets, next to the table. And, in thinking about it, I think that's one reason why it's been so much fun. See, we play a game, and then somebody wins and somebody loses (albeit we have tied, twice). But after the fun's over, that's it. There's nobody running up a "string of victories", and at our age, we never remember who won yesterday anyway. So it's good fun, with no downside.

It brings to mind the years in the late 60's that I coached Little League, in Indianapolis. I was in the League with the youngest players, just above T-Ball. Now, the stated purpose of Little League, as told to us at that time was "To let children have fun playing baseball". And that's one thing I drilled into my kids .. let's have fun with this, and we can do that whether we win the game, or not. And let's be the "good guys" out  there .. let's be the ones to go over and congratulate the other team, whether we won or lost. And everybody got to play 3 innings. And, by that, I meant three full innings.

See, some coaches would put the weaker players in after 2 outs in the bottom of an inning, and take them after one out in the top of the inning, 2 innings later. Technically, they played IN 3 innings, but they were only in for 1 inning plus 2 outs.

We just didn't play that way. And I told all the parents that, too. I recall one lady .. the exception .. who thought so highly of her kid's ability that, when I told the parents that, she switched her son to another team.

We had a lot of fun that year, and guess what .. by the end of the year, we were the best team in the league. Last game, we played the team with the best record, and the one that the kid who switched teams was on. Not only that, but we turned a real double play, and the clumsiest kid on the team hit a home run. And we beat them!

Since I was not an experienced coach, and since I didn't have any "stars" on the team, I can only conclude that being happy, doing your best, and just enjoying the game was the secret to being the best on the field.

I wonder if there isn't a Spiritual application to that. Could it be that the Westminster Shorter Catechism is really right (despite that dreaded "Westminster" label)? It says"

 "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever".

I also buy John Piper's explanation of how man glorifies God. There may be several things we can do, but Piper said "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him".

I've harangued my SS class for years that we should live as who we are: Christians, and happy to be so. As open about that as we are about being married. And we wear a ring, which tells even the casual observer we're married.

And, for the church: do I even need to go into the fact that loves keep no record of wrongs? That we should throw away that scorecard, too?

I'm a follower of Jesus. I'm going to live out this life on earth, with all the troubles God said I'd encounter. And, despite the woes, He's given me gifts that enable me to join Him in His work here. Even at that, there's no need for a scorecard, since He's the one that's producing the results .. and the thrills .. anyway. 

And then I'll get to go to heaven. 


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

For Whom Did Jesus Die?

There's been lots of flap about this question lately, hasn't there? Hold that thought a second.

It always struck me as funny that folks would get into long discussions about why Jesus would heal one person and tell them to tell everybody about it, but heal someone else and tell them not to tell anybody. Now I realize that may strike us as odd, but I must ask why we want to know that.

Could it be that WE want to know what WE should do if anything like that happens to us? If that's the case, I have to wonder why we wouldn't just depend on God to reveal that to us, should we ever find ourselves in that position.

Same deal with the question above .. why do we want  to know "Who Jesus died for"? What difference does it make?

One thing I get from the parable of the sower and the seed is that there was no criticism of the farmer for "wasting seed"! I'm sure he knew it when he was tossing the stuff onto the path, or among the rocks, but he was just slinging the stuff out there anyway. In concerning ourselves with the Big Question, aren't we wanting to know .. as in the case of Jesus and healing people .. or is it that we don't want to "waste our breath" telling someone about Jesus unless we're assured that "Jesus died for him".

I heard one seminary president say he'd never hire a professor who couldn't look anybody in the world in the eye and tell them Jesus "died for them".

As John MacArthur once said "If Jesus died for everybody, what are all those people doing in hell?"

Is that how we witness to people? I hardly think so. What I've always been trained to do is to tell folks that we're all sinners, and sin separates us from God. And that the only remedy for that, and for the condemnation it brings, is to repent (change our mind) about our sin and turn to Jesus in faith, for forgiveness of sin. If someone does turn to Jesus in repentance, for forgiveness of sins, they'll be saved ... regardless of whether they ever heard the words "Jesus died for you". Conversely, if they don't repent and turn to Him, they won't be saved even if they've heard .. and even if they accept the statement .. "Jesus died for you". 

I'm a fan of what the Calvinists refer to as the "L" in TULIP ... limited atonement. I believe it was Spurgeon who said it's unthinkable that Jesus died, atoning for my sins, and then I die and spend an eternity in hell because I hadn't trusted Christ .. as punishment for sins that Jesus had already atoned for.

And while I'm at it, where on earth did Baptists ever get the idea that Calvinism is in any way contra to evangelism? Just look who came up with the Evangelism Explosion program .. it was Dr. Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. We liked that enough that we copied it!

But I have an example that's even closer to home, for me: 30+ years ago, my family was one of the Charter Member Families at the formation of Covenant Presbyterian Church in the Birmingham area. As I was already ordained, I served as one of their first Elders, and sat on the Mission Committee. When the first budget was set, all the essential expenses for the year's operation .. salaries .. rent (we met in the Chapel at Samford University) .. materials, etc, was figured out in advance. Then, we added 50% to that figure. That extra amount .. 1/3 of the entire budget .. was designated to missions.

Care to name me some medium-sized .. we had 200+ people as I recall .. Baptist Churches that give 1/3 or their budget to missions?

From their perspective, then, missions was a commandment from God. A matter of obedience. And they were all about obedience, with no consideration of "election" or "predestination" in outreach efforts.

Come to think of it, I never even heard preaching about that, either. Despite what some Baptists seem to think.

So I repeat, why do we want to know "who Jesus died for"? And why do we throw rocks at folks who believe that Jesus died for anyone who will come to Him in faith?

Friday, March 22, 2013

What World Are We Preparing Them For?

I read an article today telling that a certain school Principal, somewhere in the Northeast had instructed children not to make "best friends" in school. Her rationale was that she wanted to shield them from the pain of losing a best friend.

Wow. I immediately wondered what world it was that she was trying to prepare the kids for. Surely not planet Earth ....

I was immediately reminded of a couple of incidents that happened while I was in school. I remember having a friend named Bobby, in perhaps the third or fourth grade. He seemed a rather frail child, although I am not sure I paid any attention to that, then. One Monday morning, our teacher stood in front of the class, with tears in her eyes, and told us that Bobby had died over the weekend. He'd had a cold on Friday, and it went into something else, and killed him.

OK. I'd been aware that people do, after all, die. So a friend died. And that was the last mention of the issue. He'd died.

A few years later, in High School, 3 of my friend were walking along some railroad tracks, and were hit by a train. One of them, perhaps the better of my friends of those three, had been killed. I heard about that in the school cafeteria at noon that next Monday. And there never was any formal announcement. Only word-of-mouth from my peers.

OK. He'd died.

Today, I'm pretty sure there'd have been teams of counselors on scene to head off all the damage that doesn't seem to have happened.

And I wonder about that in church, too. The Upward programs .. basketball and football .. giving trophies for participation, not for winning. I really, seriously think that's sending a very bad message to those children involved. And not keeping score, making it a matter not of winning or losing, but just participating? Well, here's a news flash for you: those kids KNOW who's winning and who's losing. But we're telling them winning doesn't matter, apparently.

We'll see how that plays when the kid grows up and gets a job and thinks that just participating will get him a trophy.


I understand the church's role in helping prepare children for heaven. But how about helping prepare them for THIS world? Or at least NOT doing anything that misleads them about how life here is really going to be?

I read an article in the Jamaica Gleaner some years ago, entitled "Why Men Don't Go to Church" (it's a lot bigger problem there, than here). They cited several reasons .. one was that our songs say things that men don't say, like "As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul panteth after Thee". Guys just don't say stuff like that. But one reason they gave was much more pointed:

Men like challenges, like to rise to the challenge and win, and men like to strive for greatness. Church doesn't seem to challenge much in ways that motivate men to action, and the whole atmosphere seems to discourage striving for greatness (NOTE: Don't confuse that with glory, which is a different matter). And that's a big mistake in my mind. My personal goal in teaching is to be the greatest Sunday School teacher in the world. Now, I know I'm not, since I've sat under the teaching of the greatest, and I can never compare to him. But if my goal is less than that, then I'm going to short-change anyone who sits in my class. They deserve the best there is.

I've heard it said that when you settle for less than what you deserve, you will get less than you settled for. I think that applies in Spiritual matters, too. If you settle for less than what God has in mind for you, then you're probably going to get less than you settled for.

That's how it is in the world we're living in. The one we're helping prepare those children for. God help the church if that's the case, as we'll have had a hand in causing the eventual stumbling of those little ones, when they grow into adults.

God would be up to making a millstone that'd fit a whole church, no doubt. Let's hope we don't ever find out.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

One PSA Test and Tomorrow's Funeral

As regular readers .. all two of you .. probably recall, I had prostate cancer, and subsequent surgery, in 2008. However, the PSA didn't reduce much post-surgery, and the ensuing scans revealed a greatly enlarged lymph node in the same area. I went on Lupron right then, and also began 39 Tomography X-Ray treatments, concluding in January 2009.

My PSA has been generally zero since then. However, in December of 2010, I spent a few days in the hospital owing to a severe bladder infection, coupled with bigtime dehydration. At that time, they did every kind of blood test imaginable .. all of which results were abnormal (owing to the infection).

Sepsis does that, apparently.

When they found lots of things in the abdomen to be enlarged, I pointed out the details of the prostate adventure, so they immediately ran a PSA test. At that time, it was 0.01. So something was producing an infinitesimal amount of the antigen. My urologist-surgeon consequently began regular PSA monitoring, after that.

It's been 0.01 until mid 2012, when it elevated to 0.15. Then this past November, it showed up at 0.2. This week's test returned 0.3.

For those who aren't familiar with this, PSA is a prostate-specific antigen, produced by abnormally growing prostate cells. 0.3 would be a wonderful number for a guy that still had a prostate gland. Since I ain't got one no more, it's indicative of something going on. There are some other rare things that could cause it, but there's a good chance there are still some of the cells lurking out there in the lymph systems, cranking out the antigen. Hence there's no prediction possible as to where it might go. But the doctor said the increase wasn't even enough to indicate I should start hormone treatments.

By way of information, my PSA pre-surgery was 5.0, and 4.1 after the surgery. So the level is really really low at this time.

So here's the deal: Matt Chandler did some posts about his episode with a brain tumor. In one of them, he commented on the support from some of his members, who'd experienced cancer. And, in an unexpected (for him) development, some of the folks that had experienced a cure of their cancer had said they felt they'd "lost something" when told they no longer had cancer. That its presence had led them to count every day precious, and when that factor was removed, it was all too easy to forget that preciousness.

Matt said it was a real-life reflection on the truth of Psalm 90:12, which says, in the NIV:

"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

I have personally found that to be true in my life. Facing one's own mortality is a great way of keeping your focus on what matters, and that's not the number of my days. Personally this experience has done two primary things .. one is the previously-mentioned treasuring of our days, and the other is a renewed passion for teaching. Not that I have a passion to stand up in front of a bunch of folks and talk, but I really want the Bible to impact lives, in practical ways it took me entirely too long to learn.

One of my favorite movies is "A Family Thing". It had a lot of profanity in it, but the real money line of the movie was Robert Duvall's statement to a conflicted young man: 

"Happiness ain't nuthin' more than havin' somethin' to look forward to". 

I agree with that. And it rings clear in the passing of Dot Meacham just this week. As I write this, her funeral will be tomorrow.

For the 32 years we've been at FBC Pelham, Dot and Edgar have been a model couple. Very devoted to one another. Always paying attention to their spouse. Always active in the life of the church .. Edgar particularly taught men's classes for more years than I can track. But now, with Dot's passing, and Ed in a wheelchair owing to recent surgery, the life they had together for 69 years, as they knew it, is over. 

My hope .. my prayer .. for Edgar is that there will be things in his life that will give him something to look forward to, here on earth. Ed's in his early 90's, and my hope is that the wisdom and perspective he has aren't wasted .. that God will put him in a position to, and the heart & motivation to, share what he has, that so very few have. I know God has ways to use Ed in His Kingdom work, and I hope God shows the way for that to happen. 

Impacting lives for Christ. I can't think of a better thing to look forward to....

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Experience With The Black Howling Dog...

Marty Duren wrote a blog post a day or two ago, concerning depression. In it, he cited Winston Churchill .. and others .. as referring to depression as that black dog. Having experienced it myself, I understand that term completely.

Now, a lot has been said about "post-partum depression", which is very troublesome for women who've recently given birth. It's good that PPD has been publicized; I'm glad they did. But men, too, struggle with depression from time to time, and most particularly when what's called "male andropause" overtakes them. And nobody ever talks about that.

This usually comes in the mid-to-late 40's, but can come sooner or later. I'm no medical expert, but in the same spirit that leads me to teach that followers of Jesus simply need to tell folks what they do know, even though not perfect, I shall relate my experiences with that howling black dog. I'm not a medic but I am an expert on what happened to me.

In early 1983, I was working for the company that had hired me to come to Birmingham. I enjoyed the job very much, and by every objective standard I could discern, I'd done a good job. Part of my salary for the first 3 years .. 1975-1978 .. had been paid in stock, so I had an ownership stake in the company. Plus, I'd borrowed the money to buy all I could under my stock options. Then, we sold the company in 1982.

We all did well in the sale. But after a short time, the big Insurer who bought us out sent in their own president. I won't comment on him other than to say the company is no longer there, and it wasn't a lot of years later that the big Insurer itself was bankrupt. In the end, my opinion of the man they brought in to be my boss .. I was a one of two Sr. VP's at the time .. was vindicated.

At the same time, our older son announced we were going to be grandparents.

Both of those events represented stress. According to what I learned later, good changes bring as much stress as bad changes. A promotion can affect you as much as a demotion. And that stress triggered depression in me.

I had always been one, at least for the previous 30 years, who had a good handle on my own feelings. Suddenly, I felt helpless, pointless, useless, and depressed. BIGTIME. Now, I hadn't totally lost my intelligence, so I realized something was wrong, so I went to see my family doctor.

He suggested I see a clinical psychologist, which I did. She gave me a book, by Gail Sheehy, called "Passages". She said just read Chapter Eight, as I recall; the one that dealt with Male Andropause.  And was it EVER an eye-opener.

Briefly, here's what it explained: Men are principally motivated by our dominant hormone, testosterone. That's what makes us "hunter-killers" and makes us want to close the sale, win the argument, kill Bambi's mommy and daddy, and generally act like guys. And, as has been pointed out in countless ads for testosterone remedies on TV, that hormone peaks in our early 20's and then starts a long slow slide into history.

I've heard 2% per year, so do the math.

The other half of that equation is that men also produce some small amount of estrogen, which is .. hello .. the dominant female hormone. And the big rub comes from the fact that the production of that in men stays pretty well constant. Some time in the mid-40's, some sort of threshold is crossed in the balance between the two, and many (if not most) men feel as if they've fallen over some internal "cliff".  I recall not feeling driven any more to close sales, to win arguments, to do anything at all. I had problems remembering things, focusing on anything (I just wanted to curl up and stare blankly at the TV), and had no enthusiasm. And I couldn't figure out what was "wrong" with me.

I was very much in the throes of depression. Deep depression. And it was only made worse because goodness gracious, I was a CHRISTIAN, and everybody knows Christians don't do that. Which caused me to keep up the good front, despite feeling so bad inside.

But Peg knew. At times, I was reduced to a big lump of jello, crying in her lap. Then, I called the doctor.

First thing I found out reading the book was I was normal. There wasn't "something wrong with me". Knowing that fact disarmed it, so to speak. At least in my head .. I didn't worry about something being "wrong", so to speak.

When it got really bad, I got real lucky, I got fired.

Yup. The company that bought us "reorganized" and eliminated my position. Fortunately (thanks, God), I had something over a year and a half on my then-current five year contract, so I left with a nice big check.

Which enabled Peg and me to immediately go on our first real (not visiting relatives, in other words) vacation, to Hawaii.

In reading and talking to the Psychologist during my one visit, here's what I learned:

  • Male andropause is just as real and has just as big an effect on men as the women's counterpart does, to them.
  • Stress can cause a reduction in testosterone production, and hence the syndrome of andropause can be triggered by stress.
  • Both the changes in our company and my impending grandfatherhood were stressful and thus that change in balance of hormones was exacerbated immediately, at just the wrong time.
  • The andropause and all the attendant symptoms furthered my depression.
  • Depression itself depresses testosterone production.
  • Result: a downward spiral in emotions.

Knowing all those things helped tremendously, albeit I still felt that nagging "pointlessness". But I knew what it was and decided I could live with, and even, ignore it.

The check, and a week in Hawaii, helped a lot, too.

As I had time over the following few months to reflect back on my episode with that "Black Howling Dog", I concluded several things:

  • That's the way we're designed. I should embrace and learn from it.
  • Depression is all about feelings .. how I felt .. and those feelings were in themselves, powerless. They could not make me do anything, nor could they keep me from doing anything I wished to do. Oh, they might make me want to sit in a dark room and sort of "drop out" of life, but they could not force me to do that. Nor could they force me to do anything else that my rational mind told me I shouldn't.
  • There is light at the end of the tunnel. And it's not the headlight of an oncoming train.
  • Since there were real reasons for it, there was nothing any more shameful about being depressed than, say, having a cold or a broken leg. 
  • Since it had nothing to do with faith, there was nothing "wrong" with a professing Christian being depressed.
  • Telling a believer who's depressed to "Snap out of it", "Get a grip", or telling them they ought not be depressed is really, really stupid. Well, maybe ignorant (signifying lack of knowledge of the matter).

Interestingly, about a week after the pall lifted, my pastor told me that one of the ladies in church was exceedingly depressed. That was Sunday morning and I asked her husband if I could go talk to her and he said please do. So I went over and found her curled up in a chair in a darkened room. And all I did was to share the things I'd found out, as I outlined above.

Shortly thereafter she told me how much that'd meant, and still remembers it now, decades later.

Over the years, I cannot count the men who've crossed my path, who showed signs of this phenomenon. Just by how they'd answer "How are you?", or simply by observing a change in their demeanor. Without exception, they've said something about my reading their mail or something, and all have expressed enlightenment as I shared my story, and what I'd learned. That has made my experience, and its unpleasantness, more than worth it. Many times over.

Side benefit: when a guy is no longer "driven" to do what he does, he finds himself motivated solely by what's right to do .. not by any inner drive to triumph. And that may be one reason the Bible equates age with wisdom. 

It's the way God made us. Barring physical illness, let's run with it. When the light finally gets to our end of the tunnel, it's more than worth it.