BEWARE BLACK FRIDAY

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus (Luke 12:15)

One of our church members, who worked in a well-known department store, mentioned something one Thanksgiving week that made me gasp. “I have to be at work at 2:00 AM next Friday morning.”

The next day, at the teen ministry I co-sponsored at the middle school, one of the kids said, “I can’t believe it. My mom is waking me up at 1:00 AM Friday to go shopping!”

I confess that I am not a serious shopper. I know that it is sensible to try to save money by taking advantage of sales. But let’s be honest about this, Black Friday is a Greed Fest, a singularly American celebration of buying and selling that rivals any other holiday on the calendar. (Note: Holiday is a word derived from Holy Day – a special day for celebration of the deity). Our dedication to getting THE DEAL on the latest trendy toy or 4G gadget is so fanatical that we will stand in line in sub-freezing temperatures at two in the morning and then literally run over each other for the limited supply of DOOR BUSTING BARGAINS! (Lucky for you southerners this year, the temps will be mild).

Let’s not kid ourselves. This is worship. Worship includes sacrifice, adoration and celebration. Fanatical dedication to Black Friday shopping has all the ingredients. There is sacrifice. Can you remember the last time you got up at two in the morning to pray or give or serve or go to a worship service? There is adoration. “Wow! I’ve always wanted one of these!” And there is celebration. “Can you believe it? What a DEAL I got!” We don’t like to admit it but this kind of activity is what worship is made of. It is the great American sin that we never condemn. But the apostle Paul puts it right up there with the sins we do condemn.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these…( Col 3:5-8 NIV)

One day in the department store is no different from any other. Shopping on Black Friday is not a sin. Looking for bargains is not transgression. And if you are going shopping on Friday I hope you find what you’re looking for. But beware the ethos of Black Friday — the culture that celebrates the abundance of possessions as life’s highest good. There is much, much MORE to life than finding Friday’s best bargains.

WHEN A WARRIOR FALLS

When a pastor’s phone rings late at night it is never good news. That was true one year ago this week, when Marilyn, the wife of my friend Hank called from the local emergency room, clearly in distress. I jumped in the car, heart racing, uttering the only prayer I could manage: “Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” I knew from past experience that when the nurse had me turn left, into the staff lounge, instead of right, to the exam rooms, that Hank was gone.

I have lost so many youngish friends and family like this, suddenly and without warning, that making sense of it has been a lifelong endeavor. You know the deal: a few seconds one way or the other, a decision to go left instead of right, a slight medical miscalculation, fragmentary details that tip the balance between life and death. That huge two letter word IF. Who can calculate the odds? And what does it mean?

Some things can only be understood by faith. I want to share my conclusions about that shortly, but first I want to remember my friend Hank.

Hank the Warrior
Hank gave a talk at our 2014 men’s retreat on success and told us about several occasions with various companies where he had been given the privilege to, “resign to pursue other opportunities.” He said that most of us would share that privilege and told us how to handle it: “Never lose your confidence. Get up, brush yourself off, and say, ‘Well, that was fun,’ and get back in the game.”

For that and many other reasons, I saw Hank as a warrior. Not a Seal Team Six kind of warrior. Hank was a spiritual warrior, an Ephesians six kind of warrior.

Eph. 6:10-12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Hank was the kind of guy that the world could just throw stuff at and he could stand there and take it, and not lose his cool, and not betray his Captain, Jesus, and then lead.

For me and our church he had so many of those spiritual warrior qualities that a Church and a pastor need: A cool head, sober judgment, sound theology, engaging personality, the gift, with Marilyn, of hospitality, the abilities to teach, and lead and administrate. Hank was a good and faithful steward of everything that was and is our church, and all that with the heart of a servant. Because of that he was my personal friend and mentor, a guide stone when I was clueless, and a true partner in faith and ministry.

So what do you do when you lose a man like that? What do you make of it? Here are some of the conclusions I’ve come to.

When a Warrior Falls Remember:
That Hank and you and I and every other follower of Christ serve the Creator of the universe in the Great War between good and evil. Jesus is our great Captain and we serve at his pleasure, in life or by death. He chooses the day we depart.

That He loves us beyond anything that we could ask or imagine.

That He takes care of his widows and orphans. How well I know this.

That in his own life of poverty and service, and unjust and brutal death, Jesus has identified with all who suffer, with all who are taken “before their time.”

That His resurrection proves that this life is not all there is. That Hank now lives in a world more real and so glorious that when we see it, all of life on earth will seem a mere shadow.

When a Warrior Falls Remember:
What the Apostle Paul wrote in the last few days before his martyrdom:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim 4:6-8 NIV)

Remember that he goes to a reward, to be with his Captain. Remember to long for Christ’s appearing.

When a Warrior Falls Remember:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Phil 1:21-24 NIV)

I know that Hank prefers his current location over this world. And I have this great fear that I’m going to outlive everyone that I love. But that is up to my Captain. Either way, I will keep doing what he made me to do.

When a warrior falls remember to keep doing what your Captain made you to do.

Hank became an elder at our church in 2005 and I wouldn’t let him resign until 2014. Our board meets twice a month and begins every meeting by praying; first for the needs of people, then the various ministries of the Church, and finally for ourselves and the things before us a board. We go around the table and pray.

It’s easy for prayers like that to become perfunctory, like saying grace at meals. Sometimes you’ll hear yourself or another man drop into a pattern and you wonder if he’s “checked out.”

Hank developed a pattern over that last year, a close to his prayer that sounded a common theme, but it was never perfunctory. In fact it was so urgent within him; it was coming from such a deep place, that it became at once a riveting call as well as a benediction from my friend. It went like this:

“Father, no matter what we are able to do as a Church, no matter what we get involved in, never let us lose sight of Christ. Always draw us back and keep us centered on Christ and his Cross; the salvation and grace that come through him alone.”

And now dear friends, we cannot tell you how much we long for you to have the same hope and to follow the same Captain that Hank now knows face to face.

SUCCESS UNDER STRESS

Are you feeling stressed? Pressured? Overloaded?

Many of you are returning to school soon, some to totally new environments, some to increasing responsibility as you near the end of your educational career and the beginning of your working career. That’s stressful.

Some of you are under tremendous pressure at work. One guy described his day as “walking into a buzz saw.” Here’s a little research on the subject:

The average office worker gets 220 messages a day—in e-mails, memos, phone calls, interruptions, and ads.

A survey of 1,313 managers on four continents found that “one-third of managers suffer from ill health as a direct consequence of stress associated with information overload. This figure increases to 43 percent among senior managers.”

The sheer volume of information you have to screen, absorb and respond to can make you sick.

Then there are those other “little” stressors that anybody with a lot of responsibility and little authority can relate to:

 Dealing with spin – information comes to us like a Clayton Kershaw curve ball. It looks like the straight stuff until it gets to the plate. The truth gets lost in the rumor mill or shady ethics.
 Office Politics – strained relationships between others in your organization make your job more difficult.
 Political Correctness – rears its head conscience requires you to say things no one wants to hear.
 Administrative Hassles – you want to hire the best qualified person, you know who it is, but you have to jump through a bunch of hoops first to keep the watchdogs happy.
 Communication Breakdown – they say the package would arrive Monday, but you heard them promise it would be there Friday.

If you can connect with any of that you can connect with Pastor Tim of the first Church of Ephesus. He was dealing with the same issues dressed in church clothes.

 Spin – Legalism, Gnosticism and superstitious mysticism were confusing the church.
 Politics – Strained relationships between church members put him in the middle.
 Political Correctness – The role of women be in the church had to be addressed.
 Administrative Issues – Who could serve as elder? Deacon? How would they be qualified?
 Communication – Tim had to set the example of clear communication and following through on commitments.

Let me go back to my original question. Are you feeling overloaded? Pressured? Stressed to the max? If so you might be feeling like Pastor Tim: RUN BABY RUN!

It’s apparent from Paul’s very first instruction to Tim that he was ready to bug out. “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus …” (1 Timothy 1:3a emphasis added).

That was not what Tim was hoping to hear. But it’s one of the keys to success in high stress. “Stay there,” he said. “Fight the good fight, hold on to your faith, keep your conscience clear, and stay there.”

If God has placed you in a tough situation, stay in it. Don’t bail out just because your palms are getting sweaty. If you’re sure God is in it, you stay in it. Problems are just opportunities dressed in scary costumes. God has something to teach you and something to accomplish through you in that difficult spot. If you bail out now you may never learn what you can be and you may never see what God can do.

THE MOLECH / PLANNED PARENTHOOD PARADIGM

Everything had to be carefully prepared. The attendants laid fuel for the fire in the rearward facing hearth of the hollow, life-sized bronze figure.  The musicians began softly, building intensity and volume as the fire grew hotter and the statue began to glow. The worshippers, having already made lesser offerings in the first six chapels, entered the seventh chamber to the mind-numbing thunder of pounding drums and clashing cymbals and a now red-hot bronze of a man with the head of a bull, seated on a throne with blazing arms outstretched to receive their infant sacrifice. Welcome to the 15th century B.C. worship of Molech, where the cries of the victims were swallowed up by the cacophony of the celebration.

I paint that ancient picture to remind you that no one should be surprised by what we are seeing in the video expose´ of Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts-for-dollars enterprise. In the first place, syndicated columnist Mona Charen reported on this practice as far back as 1999.  But more importantly, human nature has not changed.

Molech, mentioned in Leviticus 18:20, was one of the gods of the people who occupied the land before Israel came in. From an ancient, near eastern perspective the local deities “held the franchise” on prosperity. If you lived in Egypt you needed to know the Egyptian gods. Ditto in Babylon. But in Canaan you needed to know the Canaanite gods. They held the keys – if you were inclined to forget the real God – to your prosperity, your physical health and wellbeing. When you come right down to it, idolatry was economically driven.

Now, put yourself in the 21st century shoes of a young, unmarried woman. She lives in a culture that prides itself on sexual freedom and expression. Her culture also increasingly frowns on traditional families and motherhood and urges women to find fulfillment in a professional career, in having money, and things, and freedom. Then she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. She learns that the father of the child isn’t interested in being a father. She will bear the parenting burden alone. Perhaps her parents won’t help. She will bear the financial burden alone. She can afford to go to college or raise a child, but not both, her economic chances are being constrained. Or perhaps she is already in a professional career, one that will not make room for a child. What are her options?

Meanwhile the High Priestesses of Choice chant, “It’s about your freedom! Your body! Your rights!” And the drums of fear thunder louder in her ears, and the “clinicians” cymbals clash ‘it’s only tissue’, ‘a simple procedure’, ‘over in a moment’, adding to her confusion, drowning out the silent screams of the baby in her womb.

The arms of Molech wait in Planned Parenthood clinics all over America. The only difference is that they’ve figured out it’s more financially advantageous not to incinerate “the product,” but to sell it.

The question for us is: Can this situation change? Pro-life leaders in Congress are proposing legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, and I hope they succeed. Only when hearts change, however, will we stop the abortion holocaust. We must work upstream of politics with the message of hope in Jesus Christ. He alone can open the eyes and secure the hearts of women in fear. He alone can free us from the greed that drives the abortion industry.

If you are a woman who has undergone an abortion and you feel the brokenness and the guilt of it, there is hope. If you are a person who has worked in the industry and now regret it, there is hope. The guilt you feel has been born by another. The defilement you feel as a human being can be washed away. Jesus Christ, born of a woman, born under the law, was sacrificed as our penalty for sin and was raised so that we could be free. He has poured out his Spirit on us so that we can be cleansed. I urge you to invite him in to your life, to be your Lord and savior today.