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Unlike fast food, which is served and sometimes even consumed with considerable haste, “slow food” grants you time to linger; time to savor; time to let your mind wander to far away places, then return home again; time to think; time to thank.

The first meal on my sabbatical and silent retreat two weeks ago was a rather simple one: a cup of potato soup, a small plate of salad, a piece of whole wheat bread, a slice of cheese, and a glass of water.  But, the meal was so much more than initially and superficially met the eye.

I knew from home gardening that potatoes take about 90 days to grow and mature to harvest.  I wondered, “Were these grown locally?  Were they raised, processed, and shipped from hundreds of miles away?  How long did it take for the iceberg lettuce to grow for my salad?”  Ditto the cumulative growing time for the spinach, carrots, celery, radishes, and tomatoes.

The wheat in the bread came from heads of grain that at one time had waved in the wind.  I remembered Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life,” and, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  It was leavened bread.  Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to yeast at work in a batch of dough.  According to the warnings of Scripture, evil influences also spread like leaven.  The salt that I sprinkled on my soup made an immediate, noticeable, positive difference. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said.

How old was the cow from which the milk came that went into making the cheese? Did I mention it was aged cheese? Tack on even more time!

This meal had been years in the making!

Just a glass of water, but… the waters above the expanse, and the waters beneath it; waters gathered into seas; the mist that irrigated the Garden of Eden; water pouring from the windows of heaven and gushing from the fountains of the deep for 40 days and nights; the Red Sea; water flowing from a rock; the Jordan River; Jesus’ baptism by John; six jars of water; no, wait; correction; six jars of wine; the Sea of Galilee; water to wash the disciples’ feet; “I am thirsty”; water and blood; 3,000 immersed on the Day of Pentecost; my own baptism into Jesus Christ and the washing away of my sins; the gift of a glass of clean, clear, uncontaminated drinking water, a blessing sadly unknown to millions of people in this world.

A simple meal?  Hardly!  It was an amazing meal!

“Thank you, Father, for your gracious and abundant blessings. Thank you for my daily bread.”

november-azalea

november-maple

I posted a couple of photos on Facebook on Tuesday that captured the odd juxtaposition of seasons that we are experiencing in our yard right now: pink azaleas in full boom and a maple with its leaves set ablaze in incendiary red.  Despite the climatic prankster who keeps radically moving the thermostat up and down (a high of 84º yesterday and frost likely by this weekend), the spring-like blooms and the autumn foliage are complementing each other beautifully.

While summer is enjoying a last gasp, colder weather will soon be here for its seasonal stay.  Plants that become dormant during the winter will invariably do so again this year, even if they’re currently staying up a little past their normal bedtime.  Those that always flower in March, April, and May will burst forth in bountiful botanical color again, keeping their unbroken bloom streak alive.  It’s simply the ongoing fulfillment of the postdiluvian promise: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease,” (Genesis 8:22).

I’ve commented recently on Facebook and in my weekly bulletin article about the splendor of the night sky and the tranquil beauty of daybreak that I have experienced on early morning trail runs over the last couple of weeks.  Setting out from the house at 5:00 a.m. yesterday, I wasn’t really anticipating being overly impressed after having experienced the simultaneous setting of the supermoon in the west and a picturesque, pink dawn on the eastern horizon on a crisply cool and windless morning earlier this week.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  Though the moon was beginning to wane from its fullness, it was no less brilliantly lit in the cloudless sky, still bright enough to cast shadows on the trail.  It was as if the Lord had left the porch light on for all who were out in the darkness.  Then, just for good measure, He traced a lightning-fast backslash in the northern sky with a shooting star.  Yes, yes, I know; it was a meteor and not really a star!

Big and small; terrestrial and celestial.  Thank you, Father, for daily reminders, both subtle and sublime, of your creative power, majesty, sovereignty, wisdom, goodness, and grace!

 

one-another

One:  “having the value of 1; used to refer to a single person or thing.”

Each:  “every one of two or more people or things considered separately.”

As they relate to all of the people in our lives and those who surround us every day, the gist of the words “one” and “each” is: a single person considered separately.

We are all familiar with the multitude of “one another” and “each other” passages in the New Testament; fifty-nine of them according to one list that I found online.  While many of these reiterate the same imperative instructions, it is still quite an extensive list.  Love one another.  Forgive each other.  Serve one another.  Encourage one another.  Carry each other’s burdens.  Be kind and compassionate to one another.  Pray for each other.  Offer hospitality to one another.  Be patient with each other.  Stop passing judgment on one another.  Simple statements.  No difficult words.  Pretty straightforward, right?

The challenge is that, given our great familiarity with these passages, it is all too easy for us to subconsciously begin to view the intended targets and recipients of these attitudes and behaviors as the vast, vague, all-inclusive aggregate of humanity.  “One another” starts to mean everyone, which in effect means no one; i.e.,  everyone in general, but no one in particular.  Au contraire, mes chers frères et sœurs!!!

It’s not “everyone in general,” but “that person in particular” that God has in mind. That person with their own distinctive face, name, date of birth, Social Security number, workstation, address, cell phone number, and Facebook account.  Love him.  Forgive her.  Serve that man.  Encourage that woman.  Carry that grieving person’s burden.  Be kind and compassionate to that exasperating, insensitive, tiresome individual.  Pray for that politician.  Offer hospitality to that stranger or homeless person.  Be patient with that brother.  Stop passing judgment on that sister.

You know who they are.  Look for them.  They are everywhere.  They are us.

november-3-2020

(Do Not Open Until Election Day 2020)

November 3, 2020

 

Dear followers of Jesus,

It’s Election Day!  Wow!  Has it been four years already?

Today, the people of the United States will either: 1) re-elect President Donald J. Trump to a second term, 2) elect another Republican in the rare event that someone successfully challenged President Trump in the primary elections to become the party’s nominee, or 3) elect the Democrat candidate in the 2020 Presidential race.

I’m writing this letter to bring some things to your remembrance and to ask some things of you, especially if the third possibility becomes a reality today and a Democrat is elected to lead our nation as the next President of the United States.

1)  Keep praying. 

Four years ago, in the days following President Trump’s election, many Christians composed some beautiful and deeply meaningful prayers on behalf of the President-elect and our nation.  Some posted and shared these prayers on social media.  They acknowledged and praised God’s sovereignty, credited His wisdom and His guidance upon the electorate, professed their confidence that His divine hand had been decisively active in the outcome of the election, and petitioned His richest blessings to be upon the new President.

I hope that you saved those prayers in an easily accessible place.  Please retrieve them and pray them again today and in the days ahead… verbatim.  Change them only to reflect the name of the new President-elect.  They would be splendid prayers for you to continue praying over the next four years.  I’m asking this of you simply because I don’t recall the composition of such prayers in 2008 and 2012, and it would be a real shame to reserve such lofty petitions only for candidates of our liking and choosing.  Or is it possible you believe that God only selectively involves Himself in our elections, with unfavorable outcomes serving as an unmistakable signal as to which ones He has chosen to sit out?

Oh, and the countless public prayers that I have heard in Christian assemblies over the last four years that specially requested heavenly blessings upon President Trump, openly and unashamedly mentioning him by name… those would be great to continue as well.  Again, my mind isn’t quite what it used to be (I’m nearing 60 now), but I just can’t remember such prayers being offered with any regularity during the eight years prior to President Trump’s election.

2)  Keep reciting and living out Scripture.

Do you remember those Scriptures and memes that were so prolifically posted on social media when President Trump was elected?  They included Biblical texts like:

“First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good and it is pleasing in the sight of God who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:1-4)

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good… Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:13-17)

That was so great!  Please do that again!

Many Christians experienced a miraculous measure of renewed interest and dedicated commitment to these Scriptures on November 8, 2016.  I just don’t want to see these texts fall back into the depths of obscurity, neglect, and disuse that they suffered from 2008 to 2016.

3)  Keep calling for unity, healing, and overcoming divisions and differences.

Following President Trump’s election four years ago, there were repeated calls from Christians for the nation to come together, unite, support our new President, and heal the wounds of division within our country.  Harsh rebukes were offered to those engaged in post-election protests, urging them to get over it, accept the will of the people, and respectfully support the President-elect as the incoming leader of one nation under God.

The memories of many were apparently instantaneously wiped clean of any recollection of the divisiveness, disrespect, incivility, insults, name-calling, demonizing, venom, and vitriol in which far too many Christians had been deeply involved for the previous eight years.  I lost count of the number of believers I know who stated or wrote, “Barack Obama is not my President.  He will never be my President.”  I regularly heard President Obama’s name spoken with derision and contempt.

You can’t speak like that and behave like that for eight years, and then, upon the election of your favored candidate, wave a wand, flip a switch, sweeten your tone, invite everyone to grab a hand and sing “Kumbaya,” and expect to be taken seriously.  You can’t repeatedly toss grenades and verbal weapons of mass destruction, and then glibly pontificate about the need to heal.

So, if “the other candidate” wins this 2020 election, please commit yourself to be among the first to call the nation to unity, to demonstrate solidarity and show support for the President-elect, and commit yourself to sincere and ceaseless prayer on his or her behalf, and for our nation under their leadership.  Whatever you thought “God is in control” meant in 2016, try to speak and act as if you still believe it now.

Only when we’ve lived it can we credibly prescribe it.

When we fail to do these things, the light of Christ becomes shrouded by our duplicity, our hypocrisy, and our blatant double standards.  We ensure that those who are skeptical and dubious about our belief in Jesus will find it even more impossible to accept our faith as genuine and authentic.

If we believe that our God’s sovereignty and the successful working of His will is dependent upon the election of a particular candidate or the dominance of a single political party, then our God is far, far too small.

Lest you think I’m being overly critical of believers or unduly “beating up on fellow Christians” to the neglect of pointing out the faults and failures of those in the world, please understand that the latter is not within my purview as a minister of Christ.  “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.” (I Corinthians 5:12-13)

My desire is that our light shine more brightly, our convictions more consistently, and our witness more credibly as disciples of Jesus.

Grace and peace always,

Tim

hill-duh

For the benefit of those who are westbound on the Creek Turnpike Trail near Memorial Drive in Tulsa, there is a warning sign that alerts cyclists and runners to a steep downhill grade.  You’ve likely seen such signs before.  The lower portion bears the word “Hill”; the upper portion features a bicycle headed down the hypotenuse of a right triangle.  A couple of days ago, I noticed that some whimsical, enterprising, athletic, smart aleck had spray painted “Duh!” on the upper portion of the sign.

While lamenting this blatant defacing of public property, I’ll have to admit that I did chuckle when I first saw the vandal’s commentary on the sign.  I could somewhat relate to the mindset of the graffiti artist.  “Thanks for the heads up, Captain Obvious!  I would have never guessed that this was a hill!”  However, as is often the case, further reflection allowed me to see the sign in a more helpful and needful light.  What about first-time riders and runners on the trail who unsuspectingly approached the abrupt onset of the slope?  What about those who cycle before dawn or after dusk?  Not everyone has been on the trail multiple times before.  Not everyone knows the lay of the land.  Not everyone is “from around here.”  The sign serves a purpose, if nothing more than a courteous and cautionary reminder.

In public announcements during our worship assemblies, I try to remember to make references to the Outreach Center instead of the O.C., or to Vacation Bible School instead of V.B.S.  Who doesn’t know what the O.C. is?  For starters, all first-time visitors and most new members at the Broken Arrow church don’t know.  Who in the world doesn’t know what V.B.S. is?  Well, just about anyone who didn’t grow up in a church context or a Christian family, a segment of the U.S. population that continues to grow.  For all they know, V.B.S. might refer to the Venezuelan Broadcasting System!

A newcomer to our congregation would have a lot of legitimate questions.  What’s B.O.B.?  What’s W.O.W.?  What’s Mission Forum?  What’s New Heights?  What’s Take-a-City?  What’s a City Leader?  Are they the people who Took-a-City?  At one level, such esoteric terms, insider abbreviations, and in-house acronyms are naturally to be expected and are quite useful as convenient shorthand in our congregational communications.  However, churches should never lose their sensitivity to the fact that they likely mean absolutely nothing to newcomers and to those uninitiated in our ways.  If we express disbelief at their unfamiliarity or fail to patiently offer explanations, it makes them feel even more as if they just landed on an alien planet, that they don’t speak the local language, and that they don’t belong.

I shared these thoughts in my bulletin article this week.  Each Friday afternoon, an electronic copy of our weekly bulletin is posted on the church’s website, and an email is sent to current and former members with a link to the new upload.  Within 20 minutes of the link being sent out on Friday this week, I received an email from friends who recently moved out-of-state after spending 30 years at our congregation.  It was great to hear from them and to catch up on family news.  She wanted me to know that she had just read the article and offered their full confirmation and complete verification of these realities as they have been settling into a new church home over the last few months.  “We are the very people you referred to as the newcomers,” she wrote.  It’s real, people!  It’s very, very real!

What might seem like a “Duh!” statement to you, may be precisely the kind of helpful and insightful information that is desperately needed by someone else.

Don’t spray paint the signs!!!

i-want-to-go-to-church

As he is often prone to do, Coleman woke up extremely early on Friday morning.  I know that the term “early” means different things to different people, but last Friday it meant 4:15 a.m.  I was already up for the day (don’t ask!) when I heard his bedroom door open and the distinctive “thump.. thump.. thump” of his bare feet coming down the stairs.  As we met at the base of the stairs, he signed “cereal,” which, in this case, clearly meant the Strawberry Frosted Mini Wheats that Kim had purchased for him at Reasor’s on Thursday.  When either of us returns home from grocery shopping, Coleman pilfers through all of the bags, taking inventory and making detailed mental notes.  He must have dreamed about Mini Wheats on Thursday night: a pleasant dream in which the healthy grains of the cereal were totally negated by the sugary syrups and artificial dyes that make up the frosting.  There’s no “real strawberry anything” in it.  Trust me.  I read the list of ingredients!

As I filled his bowl with cereal, Coleman picked up his iPad, touched the screen a couple of times, and, using the pleasant, young adult male, synthesized voice of his communication software, stated, “I want to go to church!”  In emphatic reiteration of the point, he patted his hand on his chest a couple of times, the part of his chest where “In His Image” appears on the church t-shirts that he wants to wear ALL the time!  Coleman regularly digs through my computer bag, retrieves my folio of paperwork, rifles through the pages until he finds a bulletin or a sheet of letterhead, and points to the word “church.”

Your attention, please:  Coleman loves to go to church!  “Oh, but Tim, you do realize, don’t you, that we really don’t go to church… we are the church; you see, the Greek word ekklesia means…”  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Whatever!  You explain all that to Coleman while I keep writing, okay?  Coleman LOVES to go to church.  He loves seeing his sweet friends and the people who so lovingly interact with him, visit with him, and sit with him in the Caring Corner during services.  He thinks about it during the week.  He “talks” about it.  He anticipates it.  He can’t wait to get there.  It means that much to him.

Isn’t that the way it ought to be?

finish line

Running with Coleman; 2016 Bedlam Run 10K; Tulsa, Oklahoma

Uphill.  Downhill.  Level Ground.

That pretty much covers it.  There are variables to be sure.  It could be a smooth road, a rocky trail, or a muddy track.  But, regardless of the surface, the grade is either uphill, downhill, or level ground.  Just those three.  That’s all.  That’s enough!

So it is when we walk, run, ride, and drive.  So it is with life.  So it is with following Jesus.

Recently, I’ve become more highly sensitized to the significance and impact of the grade of the ground.  In 2016, I’ve done more running, by far, than in any year since 1985.  Why have the entries in my running log multiplied and the distances grown?  It’s not because I’m getting younger.  It’s not because running is getting any easier.  It’s not that my knees don’t ache and periodically swell.

It’s because I have a new motivation: Coleman!

About a year and a half ago, we purchased a jogging stroller so that we could get Coleman outside more, for longer periods of time, and in places where a wheelchair is less practical or functional.  While Coleman is ambulatory, he wears over-the-calf AFOs (ankle-foot orthoses) on both legs.  He fatigues very quickly, which makes long walks difficult and extended excursions an impossibility for him.

The jogging stroller has far exceeded our hopes and expectations regarding the level of enjoyment that it brings Coleman to be outside and on the move in the fresh air and warm sunshine.  Mind you, this isn’t your average jogging stroller.  It is a specialized push chair designed for older children and small adults with disabilities, engineered to accommodate an individual weighing up to 200 lbs.  The stroller has been worth every single penny we spent on it, and is one of the best investments we have ever made.

How can I be certain that a non-verbal, developmentally disabled, autistic, 23 year-old young man actually enjoys riding in the stroller?  It constitutes crystal clear communication when Coleman goes to the garage, stands beside the stroller, and repeatedly points to it.  Ditto, when he sets out my running shoes and a running shirt.  While riding, he sits perfectly still and beautifully contented, moving only to periodically sign “bird” or “train” or whatever other sounds he hears in the great outdoors.

Long walks with Coleman in his stroller turned into short jogs.  Short jogs gradually morphed into longer runs.  An average week now involves two solo training runs (my creaky knees don’t allow me to run every day) and an outing with Coleman in the stroller on Saturdays.  In addition to our regular Saturday jaunts, we’ve recently competed in three official 5K road races.  We upped our game a couple of weekends ago with our first 10K.

Back to the subject of uphill, downhill, and level ground.

The Challenge of Uphill

 Uphill is hard.  Uphill hurts.  Uphill is a beating.  Uphill makes you want to quit.

All of us experience uphill challenges in life.  It may have been growing up in a dysfunctional family or a broken home.  It may have been academic struggles as a child, social awkwardness, or frequently being the target of bullies or mean-spirited classmates or neighbors who took sadistic delight in tormenting you.  Perhaps it was the deeply scarring trauma of being physically, sexually, or psychologically abused as a child or as an adult.  The heartbreak of rejection by someone you love.  The loss of employment.  The end of a marriage.  The death of a child.  A diagnosis of cancer.  Bankruptcy.  A shattered dream or an abandoned vision.  Questioning your faith; not just the common “unanswerable questions” that most people grapple with at one time or another, but seriously doubting the core tenets of your belief system, including the very existence of God.

Life has lots of uphill.  But, it’s not forever.  Every hill has a summit.  Uphill is seasonal.  Uphill is survivable.

Before I started pushing Coleman in his stroller, I would have sworn that most streets that I frequent were almost entirely flat.  Deception!  Trickery!  It’s a lie!

The stroller is so well designed and constructed that pushing Coleman on level ground is not too much of a challenge.   However, since he weighs 170 lbs. and the stroller 30 lbs., even the slightest uphill stretch is immediately apparent.  On steep grades, you become painfully aware of the gravity of 200 lbs. pushing back in the other direction, naturally wanting to go back down the hill.

Uphill calls for adjustments.  Gone are the days when I could simply charge a hill, frenetically grind it out, and get it over with as quickly as possible.  Now, I have to slow my pace and dramatically shorten my stride, or I’ll be fully spent long before I reach the summit.

Uphill is time to focus.  Uphill is time to pray.  Uphill is time to dig deep.  Uphill is time for positive self-talk.  Uphill is a reminder that extraneous things really don’t matter.  Uphill is minimalist.  Uphill is simple; a simple, singular struggle.  Uphill is time to channel Dory with a bit of terrestrial, poetic license, “Just keep running, running, running…”

Coleman keeps me from quitting.  He doesn’t say anything.  Quite literally, he doesn’t say a word.  But, he’s there, and he’s why I keep running.  “We’ve got this Coleman!  We’ve got this!  Almost there.   Almost to the top.  Almost over.  We’re not going to stop.”

Whatever form your uphill is taking right now, don’t give up.  Don’t pack it in.  Don’t quit.  Don’t bail.  Don’t stop.  I know it’s hard.  I know it hurts.  I wish it were different.  It will be different.  It will be better.  I don’t know when, but it will be.

Until then, remember who (or Who) you’re running for.  Others are counting on you.  They love you.  They’re pulling for you.  They believe in you.  They are with you.  You’ve got this!  Uphill makes you stronger!

The Deception of Downhill

Downhill comes as such a relief.  Downhill lets you breathe.  Downhill makes you want to extend your stride, pick up your pace, and make up for lost time.  Downhill makes you feel like you could run all day.  Downhill makes you feel younger, lighter, and fresher.  Except, I’m not.  I’m older, heavier, and have logged 53 years already.  53 isn’t fresh by any definition!

Downhill is where I’m tempted to get a bit (or a whole lot) overconfident. The ease of downhill can make me cocky, complacent, and inattentive.  Going downhill, it’s all too easy to turn an ankle or allow a stroller wheel to drop off the edge of a paved trail.

Downhill is where I have the urge to stretch out my stride so that I don’t appear to have such an “old man gait.”  Therein lies a serious problem.  My particular knee ailment (owing to surgery on both of them in the ‘90s and sundry injurious tweaks to them in the two decades since) is made much worse by not keeping a short running stride.  I don’t understand all of the biomechanics, kinesiology, and physiology of it, but downhill is much harder on my knees than uphill.

So, I’ve got to keep it slow, short, and steady on the downhill slopes.  Thankfully, Coleman’s stroller is equipped with a handbrake, connected to the front wheel, that keeps me from being pulled downhill too fast by the 200 lbs. in front of me.

I imagine that running downhill slowly and methodically appears rather odd to some other runners, especially those who are younger, stronger, faster, and who breeze past us with ease.  That’s okay.  When tempted to join their accelerated romp, I audibly repeat to Coleman, “Our race, our pace, buddy!  Our race, our pace!”

Don’t measure yourself in comparison to anyone else, regardless of who they are.  They’re not living your life.  They’re not where you are.  They may be opinionated about the circumstances of your life, but they’re not responsible for it.  It’s not their load to carry.  Let them run their race.  You run yours.  When I asked a young friend as to how I could best pray for him, he answered, “Just pray that I’ll be best version of me that I can be!”  Keen insight and wise counsel!  Your race, your pace!

Downhill is temporary too.  There’s a bottom to every hill, beyond which may either be level ground or an immediate steep incline that will suck the wind right out of your lungs.  Don’t lose your focus.  Don’t assume it will always be this easy.  Enjoy it while it lasts.  Keep it real!

Doubling Down on Level Ground

The challenge of uphill and the deception of downhill has caused me to really relish, embrace, celebrate, and maximize those stretches of level ground.

Level ground is an opportunity to reestablish my pace, restore my running rhythm, regulate my breathing, and get into a groove again.  Normalcy is relative, but whatever normal is for you, that’s your level ground.

Double down on level ground!

Take advantage of the relative calm to become more disciplined, more tenacious, more resolute, and more zealously committed.  In terms of discipleship in Jesus, utilize times of level ground to restore the rhythms of spiritual discipline in your life through regular times of prayer, mediation on the Word, silence, and service to others.  Allow the wind of the Spirit to refresh you, equip you, and strengthen you.  You’re going to need it for the next hill.  There’s ALWAYS another hill!

target store

I needed to purchase a few household items on Tuesday, and I just happened to be driving past the SuperTarget store that is near our home. I was vaguely aware of Target’s recent policy statement regarding the use of their restrooms by transgender individuals, and I had also seen an online headline or two about the American Family Association’s initiation of a petition to boycott the retailer. If you find it hard to believe that I wasn’t thoroughly steeped in all the sordid details of the “outrage du jour” among some conservative Christians, trust me when I tell you that my father’s death and funeral last week have kept me from being overly concerned about this latest skirmish in our nation’s culture wars.

So, I walked into Target on Tuesday and… everything seemed so perfectly normal. The people looked perfectly normal. Well, normalcy is relative; everyone at least looked “big box department store normal.” Things were just like they were the last time I was in Target, and just like I expect they will be the next time I’m there.

Ironically, I found myself in need of a restroom while at Target this week. To the best of my knowledge and remembrance, I have never used the bathroom facilities in this or any other Target. Ever! That’s just not why I go to Target, or to any other store for that matter. If the need does arise when I’m traveling or out shopping, I, like many other Americans, generally seek out the facilities of the nearest Cracker Barrel. That’s why they’re conveniently located near interstate highway exits. Surely my family can’t be the only ones who do this!

I don’t know if there was something at work in my subconscious on Tuesday, or if it was just my two morning cups of coffee, but I headed to the restroom immediately upon entering the store. The entrances to the restrooms were clearly marked “Men” and “Women.” Signage also identified a more private Family Restroom. I was grateful not to encounter any protesters, anyone asking me to sign a petition, or anyone demanding to see my birth certificate on my way into the men’s room.

Other than the obvious, my brief visit to the restroom at Target was uneventful. I had the place all to myself; I didn’t see another living soul. In the event that someone else had been in there, I’m certain that I would have avoided eye contact (as usual) and would have refrained from striking up a conversation; no small talk about the weather, the NBA playoffs, or the first few weeks of the MLB season. I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of questioning a total stranger about their sense of gender identity. “Yeah, this is some weather we’re having, isn’t it? By the way…”

So, about the current controversy…

If you don’t want to shop at Target (for any reason, or no reason at all), then please don’t. Maybe you don’t like their restroom use policy as it relates to transgender individuals, or the values that you think this policy reflects, or perceived dangers you think the policy poses for unsuspecting women and children. That’s fine! Maybe you don’t like the presence of Starbucks in their stores. Remember the Great Starbucks Christmas Cup Controversy of 2015? Plain red cups! Gasp! It’s a miracle that the national economy didn’t crumble or that there’s a shred of morality left in the country after such an egregious assault on Christian faith! Maybe the Target logo naturally reminds you of a target, which reminds you of guns, which reminds you of hunting, which reminds you of the senseless slaughter of animals. Okay! Maybe you’re just a Walmart person at heart. Lovely! Whatever your reasons, take your business elsewhere. I really don’t mind at all, and I will respect your retail values and decisions, regardless of what drives them.

If you want to continue shopping at Target, but choose not to use their restrooms, that’s fine as well, since most shoppers never do. I’ve now made one such visit in the last 30 years, and may well reach the end of my earthly journey without a second visit. If the need does arise, and you’ve got some personal discomfort or concern for the safety of your wife or child, then use the Family Restroom and lock the door behind you.

But, please, please, please…. don’t question or condemn the faith, commitment, or morality of those of us who refuse to panic, who refrain from joining you in screaming that the sky is falling, who won’t stoop to fear-mongering, who aren’t interested in signing your petition, who continue shopping at Target, and may even sip a cup of Starbucks coffee while doing so.

I’ve already seen Christian friends on Facebook who have posted links to fabricated news stories about atrocities that have allegedly taken place in Target’s restrooms since the announcement of their policy. Such things severely weaken our witness as followers of Jesus Christ. Whatever truth you are seeking to defend, don’t discredit it, and the name of Jesus, with falsehood. Check it out on Snopes.com before sharing a link; the story may contain some truth, a smidgeon of truth, or no truth at all.

Can public restrooms be dangerous places and potential targets (no pun intended) for voyeurs, exhibitionists, and pedophiles? Yes! But, that’s always been the case, long before Target’s policy announcement. Vigilance, caution, and common sense have always been advisable. You shouldn’t need policies or laws to convince you of that.

What are the chances that you’re going to encounter a transgender individual in a restroom at Target? Infinitesimally small! What are the chances that this individual will pose some threat to you or a member of your family? Even smaller. What are the chances and likelihood of women and children being victimized, traumatized, harmed, or abused within communities of faith at the hands of trusted individuals whom they believe are sincerely serving the Christ that they claim to follow? Sadly, tragically, and damnably far greater.

A few months ago, we were having Sunday lunch with friends at a restaurant after morning church services. Our nonverbal, 23 year-old special needs son signed to me that he needed to go the restroom. We excused ourselves, walked to the restroom, and I claimed the handicapped accessible stall, as always, simply because there is more room for me to assist him. After our arrival, someone occupied the stall next to us. As we exited the stall to head to the sink, the door next to us swung open simultaneously. The fingers that were wrapped around the adjoining door’s edge were beautifully manicured, with nails brightly adorned in candy apple red polish. Uh-oh!!! As my eyes met with the owner of those distinctly feminine hands, I immediately began apologizing. “I am so, so sorry! We’re in the wrong restroom.” She spotted Coleman, smiled pleasantly and without alarm, and said, “Well, it could be me who’s in the wrong bathroom.” She stepped to the door, opened it, glanced at the sign on the outside, and said, “No, it’s definitely you!!!” We all washed our hands at the double sink, dried them, chuckled again with nervous embarrassment, and headed out the door together. I offered a final, parting apology, and silently prayed that I wouldn’t see her sitting among our guests at church as I preached the next Sunday morning!

Had this circumstance happened in Oxford, Alabama, this week, and if the woman had doubted our intentions in being in the women’s restroom, she could have called in a complaint to the police department, signed a warrant, and I could be facing a $500 fine or six months in jail. We would not be covered by the exceptions to Oxford’s new city ordinance. Though Coleman is my child, he is older than 12, and though considered disabled, the exception would only cover Kim assisting him in a restroom, not two males in a women’s restroom. Such are the inevitable consequences of knee-jerk legislation.

I’ve never struggled with my sexual identity or questioned my gender identity. It’s always been crystal clear to me. So, I obviously don’t understand what it’s like to be conflicted or confused about those issues. However, as a Christian, I can compassionately show civility, love, and respect to those who do. I can’t imagine what it’s like to honestly and sincerely be emotionally torn about which restroom to use; I simply can’t imagine. This doesn’t mean that my understanding of Scripture has changed one bit. It just means that I can and will treat people, all people, as individuals who have been created in the image of God and as those for whom Jesus died. It also means that I refuse to panic, and I refuse to peddle fear.

I spent a lot of time this week at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where my father had aortic valve replacement surgery on Wednesday.  As I sat with him in his room, spent time in waiting rooms, and walked the corridors of this sprawling medical center, I was struck by just how many different physicians, nurses, and various kinds of technicians I encountered around every single corner on every hallway of every floor.

Cardiologists, pulmonologists, endocrinologists, pediatricians, neurologists, OB/GYNs, anesthesiologists, surgeons, oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, psychiatrists, geneticists, orthopedic specialists, ENTs, gastroenterologists, ER doctors, and on and on the list could go; all of them supported and assisted by countless nurses, techs, and other staff. And that was just one hospital in one city. Multiply that by all of the hospitals in Baton Rouge, and in places like Dallas, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Atlanta. Add to that all of the family practitioners in every town of any size at all across the country. Multiply that by all of the countries around the world.

Why so many medical professionals? Why do they stay scheduled and booked for weeks, sometimes months, in advance? Why do they have such incredible job security? Because there is an incalculable amount of sickness, pain, disease, injury, discomfort, debilitation, and disability in this world.

I was reminded this week about how much of life revolves around sickness. It is everywhere. It is relentless. No family is exempt. No individual is immune.

Such is life. Such is this life. But, such is not the life to come.

The apostle John was granted an apocalyptic glimpse and vision of our perfected existence beyond the brokenness and imperfections of this life. Beside the river of life, he saw the tree of life, the leaves of which brought healing to the nations. No more curse. No more sorrow. No more pain. No more suffering. No more parting. No more tears. No more death.

Nothing, not a single thing, for doctors to do.

I can’t wait!

“So I get the bottle open, but something’s hit a nerve. And I’m looking in the mirror at the face that I deserve.”

These lyrics are from Mark Knopfler’s tune, “River Towns,” which appears on his latest album, Tracker. The song centers on an itinerant tugboat and barge worker who finds himself friendless at Christmastime in a small town along the Ohio River. A chance liaison with a young woman provides only momentary physical companionship, a shallow and ultimately meaningless substitute for what is truly missing in his life. He is left alone in a cheap hotel room with a bottle of alcohol and his own sad reflection in the mirror, a weathered, weary, and worn face staring back at him. “The face that I deserve” strikes me as such a tragic phrase, one that is overflowing with disappointment, regret, guilt, loneliness, lostness, grief over shattered dreams and aspirations, and a sense of hopelessness.

It is truly an unfathomable blessing that, through salvation in Jesus Christ, we are able to see ourselves, not as the world might think us to be or even as we once may have viewed ourselves, but as God sees us. What the Father beholds when He looks upon me as a son is not the face that I deserve, but the face of a child whose innocence and purity have been reclaimed and restored. The spiritual stains of transgression and the moral marring of iniquity have all been removed. The imperfections, wounds, and scars that sin so brutally inflicts upon our visage are entirely erased.

Where there was the sight of scarlet, there is now a blinding, snowy white; the reddest crimson now has the appearance of the whitest of wool. This is no mere surface transformation. It’s not just the creative retouching of our spiritual profile picture. It isn’t cosmetic, it’s intrinsic! Our very nature and essence have been changed. Through the grace and mercy of God extended through the sacrifice of Jesus His Son, God looks upon me just as I look upon Coleman; pure, innocent, whole, and guileless through the continual cleansing of the blood of Jesus.

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:10-12)

“And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (II Corinthians 3:18)

The transformation is still in progress, and I’m still seeing the image in the mirror rather dimly. But, one day, face to face!

The face I don’t deserve.

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