Bookends of a Life Well-Lived


Remembering Paul D. Stanley
November 29, 1941 – November 26, 2020 

Paul D. Stanley, West Point Football 1963

My first picture of Paul Stanley was just that: a picture … of an Army running back in the 1963 West Point yearbook. Across the page was pictured another man I knew something about: Navy quarterback Roger Staubach, one of my heroes. For a 14-year-old boy who loved football, it was the beginning of something special. After all, if this stranger in whose house my family was living was in the same league as Roger Staubach, I knew good things had to lay ahead.

It wasn’t long before the Stanley’s home became more than just a place to live during my own family’s first month in Germany. It became a home away from home, and the Stanley’s became a second family. And so to Phyllis, Deb, Paul, Scott, Kim … thank you.

But Paul was not just a second dad during my high school years; he has been, for the past four decades, a mentor, encourager, and champion.

The last time I sat with Paul three years ago, I was preparing for an as yet unknown ministry as a lead pastor. Paul’s charge to me then was different—profoundly different—than any counsel I’d been given about that daunting task.

He didn’t tell me to love the people, though he knew that was vital. He didn’t tell me to preach well or to guard the important doctrines of our faith; again, that was a given.

Paul’s charge was simply this: 

Find two men and disciple them. Then do it again.

As I look back on Paul’s life … as I look out over the faces here and imagine those of you watching online from around the world … I realize that’s all Paul ever did: He found two men and discipled them. Then he did it again. And again. And again….

Paul simply charged me with the same mission that he had lived. And when a man like that influences your life the way Paul Stanley did mine, you don’t take that charge lightly. 

We honor Paul today. And I can think of no better way to honor him than by continuing his mission. I pray Paul’s legacy will live on through me. I pray I am up to the task.

This was my tribute to Paul at his memorial service, December 1, 2020.

Intentionally Intrusive Community


I need to commit myself to living in intentionally intrusive,
Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive community.

—Paul David Tripp in Dangerous Calling
(written specifically to and for pastors; but this line is for all of us.)

Think about each of those words, each of the two-word adjectives. Christ-centered is—or at least seems—easy for us, a no-brainer. Grace-driven, as well. (At least until we’re faced with actually giving grace to someone who has screwed up royally!)

Redemptive—well, who wouldn’t want that? There’s hope in that word.

But we almost choke on two of the words: intentionally intrusive. After all, intrusion is bad, isn’t it? We don’t want others to intrude on us. I don’t. I bet you don’t, either. So why would I want to live in community that is intentionally intrusive?

Because sometimes my thinking, believing, behaving isn’t what it ought to be. Sometimes I need someone to point that out to me. My wife and kids might do that; they will and they have. But how do I receive it from them? Seldom with the humility they need to hear.

That’s why I need others in my life. That’s why my family needs me to need (and have) others in my life. Not just random others who stick their noses in uninvited, but true community. True Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive community. And only when THAT community exists will I dare commit myself to allowing that community to intentionally intrude. Only that community is safe.

Do you have that community? Can you be that community for others? Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive? Only that type of community is safe enough to also be intentionally intrusive.

Division: An American Math Problem


“These united states” are in trouble. We can add and subtract; we’re fair at multiplication; but we seem to have become quite adept at division. Consider this problem:

Two hundred forty-four years ago, fifty-six men signed one document containing 1,337 words, creating two nations out of one, and one nation out of thirteen colonies. Eighty-five years later, the one nation would divide into two. More than 600,000 men would die on battlefields—some in the service of unity, some for division—before one man would give his life to bring the two nations back together as one.

One hundred fifty-five years later, we are still dividing. It sounds like bits and pieces from a Dr. Suess books:

Red-state, blue-state, white face, black face. 
Faces with masks and Faces with none.
Unbudging Zaxes, don't take my taxes.
Speeches by Sneetches and Leeches, my son.

(I’d wonder what the good doctor would write about today’s state of affairs but between the Sneetches and the Zaxes and the ever troublesome Cat in the Hat, I think he already has.)

It’s hard to put a timeline on our propensity to “divide to conquer”—it is, of course, in our blood—but it seems that the pace of division has increased in my adult lifetime. I know I have bought into it … sad proof enough that I’m a Patriotic American doing my civic duty to keep these united states divided. But at least I’m in a recovery group: Dividers Unanimous.

The global pandemic that is coronavirus—or COVID-19—or both—has taken advantage of all that is the best and the worst of America: we are fiercely independent, with an emphasis on fiercely; we are scientifically adept … when it suits our independent purposes; we are loyal … to those who agree; we can overlook the faults of others … especially when those others are our heroes; we have for generations led the world … in both morality and immorality; we have staunchly defended the freedom of worship … and kneel religiously at the altar of our god, Mammon.

But the coronavirus is not the true villain in this story. Neither (I can already feel my church friends shuddering) is the villain our national rejection of Jesus Christ and the Word of God. (Does that play a part? Absolutely! But you only need to read the last half of the New Testament—from Romans through Revelation—to see that claiming allegiance to Christ doesn’t immediately solve all the world’s problems.)

The problem—and perhaps this will placate my faith-filled friends—does, indeed, go back to our rejection of God. Not the idea of God; but of God himself … of God as Person, God as Ultimate, God as good and loving and perfect … of God as Sovereign. The problem goes all the way back to our Declaration of Independence from God. It is not a document written on parchment two and a half centuries ago, but with a single bite of a graciously-forbidden fruit—the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

With that bite, humanity suddenly knew the difference between Good and Evil. But the knowledge was too much, and ever since we have been either judging between the two or trying to erase the distinctions.

With that bite, humanity took on what only God could handle.

With that bite, humanity declared its desire to replace God.

With that bite, humanity began to divide. We have been dividing ever since. And Americans have perfected the art … if division can be called an art.

So is there a solution? Is there a way out? A way up?

My hopeful side says yes. And it comes in the words of my wise mother, from a scene that has played in my head for nearly four decades; words she said I—as an almost no longer teenager—needed to learn: I may be wrong.

I may be wrong.

If you’re not used to these four words, you may choke on them. They are incredibly difficult to say. They are nearly impossible to mean. And yet they hold unimaginable power to heal … to cancel out division.

Two days ago—on our nation’s birthday—a friend wrote on her Facebook page what I feel but have not had the courage to write: “Sometimes I am NOT so proud to be an American.” If I were only an American, it would be even harder to admit that; fortunately—no, better, by God’s grace I am infinitely more than an American. My higher citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, which offers me a future and a hope.

But I am grateful to live in a nation united by a common cause, a common history, a common freedom … a common dream and vision. And I yearn for the days when what unites us will be so much greater than what divides us. I don’t think those days are past, but …

I may be wrong.

Life Matters. Truth Matters.


This past week, two separate and disparate events caused me to stop, think, and respond. One was the death of a black man at the hands (or, in this case, the knee) of a law enforcement officer. The other was pastor friend’s post disparaging some good translations of the Bible. As I reflect on these events and my responses, I feel a mixture of pain, indignation, and wonder.

Why these events? What is it that moved me to respond at all, and to respond the way I did to each? Because both are about things that matter. A lot. Top-of-the-food-chain sort of mattering: LIFE and TRUTH. We need to stand for—and speak for—what matters And life matters. Truth matters.

Yesterday I read the words of a black man who will only take a walk in his own neighborhood if he is with his 8-year-old daughter and their puppy … because they make him safe. I’ve talked with law enforcement officers who fear for their safety because of the actions—real or perceived—of a very small few of their own. I have a black friend who helps me understand why “#AllLivesMatter” so deeply wounds him—and so widely avoids the accountability our nation is in such desperate of. I have a white friend who expresses growing fear for law enforcement officers. These responses are real. These responses are legitimate.

But this isn’t about #BlackLivesMatter versus #BlueLivesMatter versus #AllLivesMatter … or even #UnbornLivesMatter or #OldLivesMatter. In truth, none of those lives matter until we can say with our whole hearts, #LifeMatters.

But life won’t matter until truth also matters. Why? Because if we reject truth—if we reject even the possibility of objective, unchanging truth—then we have no moral foundation on which to base our pleas for life to matter. Life can only matter if there is something outside us, something bigger than us, that declares “life matters.” If life stems only from some cosmic accident, some random collision, some freak happenstance in uncreated nature … then you and I and black men and white police officers and unborn babies and old, debilitated grandmothers … none of it matters. None of us matters.

But if truth matters…. If we can somehow wrap our heads around the idea of a Creator and Sustainer of Life who declares that #LifeMatters because human life was created in the very—and very good—image of that Creator … then, and only then, will life really matter.

Truth does matter. And that’s why I responded to my friend’s post about the Bible: because the Bible holds revealed truth from God, our Creator. And when untruth is written about the True Word of God, we need to speak up. My friend may have “just” posted about certain translations. He certainly didn’t intend to diminish the truth of God’s Word (I know that, because I know his character and his convictions, and have great respect for both). But his post was filled with statements that at best are misleading; the combination and result of them is factual error. And if we can’t speak truth about the True Word of God, then truth doesn’t matter. And if truth doesn’t matter, life will never matter. But…

#TruthMatters. #LifeMatters.

I’m Not Good Enough. Neither Are You.


For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20 (New International Version)

I ‘ve been camping out in the Sermon on the Mount lately. It’s always been a hard piece of the Bible for me: while others dove into the water and paddled out to the big waves, I felt like all I could ever do was body surf near the shore. They got the excitement of deep truths; I got sand in my shorts. But this year at my church, we’re getting back to basics, and at church it doesn’t get much more basic than Jesus. I figured we probably ought to spend some time with the longest recorded message from the Master, so here I am, camping out on the mount.

The Beatitudes—that list of “blessed are those who…”—seemed pretty straight forward. Until I actually started studying them. And with some help from Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy), I realized they may not be anywhere near as straight forward as I thought. In fact, they all seem a little upside-down. That shouldn’t have surprised me, coming from a teacher who said things like, “the first shall be last” and “whoever wants to save their life will lose it.”

So I pressed on and came to the verse above. Now, I know enough about the Pharisees and “the teachers of the law” to know that no one—and I mean no one—was going to surpass their righteousness. When it came to following the law, they not only dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, they made sure that every serif was in the right place. (Note: this is written in a sans serif font, which I’m sure the Pharisees would frown on as being too liberal.) What in the world did Jesus have in mind, then, suggesting that the only way to heaven is to out-Pharisee the Pharisees?

I was a high jumper for a few years in middle school. A pretty average one, I admit, but I have fond memories. (Except the triangular poles: those really hurt when you landed on them.) In high jump, they start with the bar at a pretty easy height—one every competitor ought to be able to get over. And as soon as you clear one height, they raise it. That’s where that cliché comes from, “raising the bar.” But Jesus starts out with the bar pretty much right up top. It’s like asking a middle schooler to compete against Dick Fosbury‘s 1968 Olympics gold medal record.

Well then I kept reading Jesus’ sermon, and he wasn’t done! He keeps raising the bar even higher: it’s not enough to steer clear of murder, now I’m not even supposed to get angry at them. It’s not enough to avoid adultery; even looking wrong at a woman can get me in trouble. (The original #MeToo?) And on and on he goes, inching up that bar of righteousness, until it’s definitely out of reach.

By the end of Matthew 5, I’m feeling pretty small. And then, as if all this bar-raising weren’t enough, Jesus slaps one more bumper sticker on the car: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (verse 48). Good grief! There’s no way! Jesus’ expectations are just too high; I can’t possibly meet them. Clearly, I can never live up to his demands.

But then I get another nudge. I turn over a few pages (and a few years of history) to one of the longest letters in the Bible, written by a guy named Paul. A guy who, by the way, was a Pharisee. And as Pharisees, he was tops. If anyone out-Phariseed the Pharisees, it was Paul. For a while, Paul made a mockery of Jesus’ teachings. Paul didn’t just get angry with people (mostly people who followed Jesus), he dragged them off to prison and worse: he made sure they got the death penalty. And then he met Jesus. In a spectacular, blinding, world-changing way. And it changed the world.

And decades after Jesus said “you have to be more righteous than the Pharisees,” Paul wrote that “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law.” (He’s actually agreeing with Jesus, by the way; you just can’t read only Matthew 5 to know that.) Paul went on to write that “the righteousness of God…is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (See Romans 3.)

So here’s the deal: if you want to try to earn your way into heaven, well good luck with that. In fact, you’ll need luck, because no amount of doing good will get you over the bar. (Neither will luck!) The good news is that Jesus already cleared the bar. He lived the sinless life that we can’t; he was the perfect sacrifice, dying in our place; and the faith that we need to have in order to be accepted by God? Well, he gives us that, too. And God, by his amazing, incredible, totally undeserved mercy, looks at you and me and sees one thing: the righteousness of his Son.

I’ll never be good enough for God. Neither will you. But Jesus is. All you need to do is believe.