My lesson from the life of Jack Daniel

Today, my family is celebrating the life of and mourning the loss of Jack Daniel. Uncle Jack (Wendy’s uncle) was a great man that lived an impressive life. As I write this he is being honored with a full military burial at one of our national cemeteries. My prayers and thoughts are with Wendy and her family as they are there with each other during this time.

Jack was a special man. He has a unique life story and leaves a powerful legacy. Today, I want to share with you what I learned from Uncle Jack. In the 13 years since I met Uncle Jack I have gotten to spend some unique moments with him, but not as many as I would have liked. I wish I could have had more moments like the ones that I will share that gave me my insights into the life of Jack Daniel, but they are limited. I will simply share what I had the great privilege of hearing, observing, and learning from him.

I will start by saying that Jack Daniel was a man I greatly respected. By nature and personality I am a leader. I am also a leader by calling and profession. Men like me tend to gravitate toward other leaders that we see great leadership qualities in. Jack was such a man. In the often short but meaningful times I spent with him I always walked away with some observation or story that stuck in my mind.

In observing his life from the lens of his nephew by marriage, I gathered the opinion that this verse in particular would describe his life well. “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)

One of the first personal memories I have about Uncle Jack was at Grandma’s house in Winnfield, LA. It was Memorial Day weekend and some of the family had gathered. I remember sitting outside on the porch and listening to Jack talk about the Vietnam War and his experiences there. This man served bravely in that war along with a lot of great young men in our nation at that time. He rose to rank of Major during the war and would later retire from United States Marine Corps as a Lt. Colonel. The story he shared is one I will not give the details of, but it was a particularly tough day in the war. The day included casualties and loss. I could sense in his telling of the story (which by the way story telling was one of his many gifts) that this memory was one that was still vivid and real in his life. That day he made some decisions (although not wrong ones) that had consequences that were unforeseen. Jack had to live with those types of decisions everyday as a military officer.

I share this to tell you that what I realized about Jack Daniel was that he was a man willing to make the decisions at hand, but he was not a man that lived in the past. His life was shaped by those days in Vietnam but it was not defined by them. Jack was simply not a man that lived in the past, yet he loved the past. He was a history buff especially his own family history. He could retell and recall the smallest details of life in the Daniel family and loved to share that family’s heritage of love and faith with others. Yet I believe he left behind the past and always lived in the present.

I learned this from him on the golf course too. Jack was a prolific golfer. While visiting him this summer – while he was sick and weak from chemo – he and I went to the driving range. Jack, in a weakened condition, consistently hit the ball further and better than I did for the entire time we were out there. He lived a life goal by shooting his age. A goal few golfers accomplish and then not usually till their late 70’s or early 80’s. Jack did it at 69.

He helped me with my golf swing every time we played – mostly because I REALLY need the help – but that was not what I learned from him on the course. Jack had the ability to not allow one bad shot to become two bad shots. He forgot what was behind on the course and focused on what was ahead. That is a difficult thing for a competitive person to do, yet he did every time I golfed with him. He did not push back to where he failed, he pressed forward to where he would succeed.

His military career was quite impressive. This summer I learned – along with some other members of the family – some of the details of his service for our nation. Uncle Jack has a display case with his military medals and honors presented in it. In it was his White House staff badge. I had never known he worked at the White House. I asked about his time there and learned some new and impressive things about Jack.

Uncle Jack served under 3 presidential administrations. He was military debriefer to the President and was a military liaison there at the White House. One of the roles he held during his time there was to carry the “football” – that is the nuclear code brief case often seen in movies. Jack was a man trusted by our nation with one of the codes necessary for launching nuclear war. (I have to admit that when he told me that my “man crush” level increased even more. As did my respect for him.) I did not know what to say to such a neat thing presented in such a nonchalant way, so I said, “You realize they put you in movies. They just have never used the right name.” Then he told me that he was also in charge of the President’s evacuation plan in case of attack and would sit at the desk in the oval office and “play” the part of the president when they would run the drills. How cool is that. And yet he had not really talked about it to that many people. I don’t know why. Maybe some of that was not something he was supposed to talk about at the time, but I think there was more to it than that.

Jack’s life was not defined by such important roles and responsibilities. He did not live his life as a former important person at the White House. He enjoyed that and served faithfully while doing that and then he pressed on. He forgot (without forgetting) what was behind and pushed on toward what lay ahead. He went on to a successful career in a business that carried some military contracts and then started a cabinet business that makes some of the finest cabinets I have ever seen.

His life was full of successes and accomplishments. In sports he was multi-sport letterman in high school, made the varsity basketball team at Arizona State University, played football for the Marine Corps, and won the club championship several years at his home golf course in Virginia. As a marine he was a highly decorated officer. As a business man he was successful. But I don’t think any of those things best describe this man’s life and legacy.

Wendy summed it up well when she said this about her Uncle Jack as I started writing this tribute this past summer. “Whatever he is doing at that moment he is the best at it. If he is playing golf it is golf. If he is a soldier then he is the best soldier. When he is with me, he is the best uncle. He listens and cares and truly interested in my life. When he is dad, he is being the best dad he can be. When he is making cabinets he is making the best cabinets he can make.”

Jack was a man that understood that life, faith, and love are built on past experiences but are lived in present life. That life cannot be lived in what lies behind, it must be lived in what lies ahead. I thank God for great men like Jack Daniel. Our country needs them. Families need them. The world needs them. I think this world is best impacted by those whose stories rarely get told because they do not desire them to be told because they are too busy living them. These types of men and women leave the greatest legacies because they are always living life now.

Jack’s love for God, family, and country was evident in his life and will continue to be evident in his legacy. My prayers are with Aunt Karen and her children, their spouses, and his grandchildren today. My prayers are with his brothers and sisters and family members. Yet in this moment of loss, I am thankful. I am thankful for such a great example of what it looks like to not live in the past and to live a life that grabs hold of what is ahead.

So, learn from yesterday, but don’t stay there. Press on for what lies ahead. You never know where it might take you.

Brokenness not Broken down

Sunday I had the privilege of sharing a word from the life of David. David – a man after God’s own heart – was also a man that committed adultery and murder. He was a man that was not allowed to fulfill his life-long desire to build a temple for God because of the shortcomings in his own life. This man loved God but he was very imperfect in living that love in all he said and did. He was like the rest of us…he failed. Yet it says of David that he was a man after God’s own heart and that he was faithful in his own generation.

There is nothing I would rather have said of me than those two things. I think that is why David is one of my favorite people in Scripture. I want to be known as a man after God’s heart and I want God to use me in my own generation. I so want those things that I often allow them to become burdens in my life.

It is an interesting spiritual issue when our desire for God and for being who he wants us to be becomes the stumbling block for us having a proper relationship with God and being who he wants us to be, but it can happen. In my life this burden is often attached to the fact that I feel there is more God desires from me and my ministry. I believe he desires to use me for some purposes than are bigger than what I can see and do right now. And at times, I so desire to be successful for that reason that it gets in the way of me being that.

It is odd how being who God wants you to be – if you are not careful – is what prevents you from being who God wants you to be. God wanted David to be king. David acted like a king the day he committed adultery. He said to his servants go get this woman. He got what he commanded. He was being king, but he was not being the king God wanted him to be.

Today as I was dealing with some things that are bothering me in my own life and spirit, God really spoke to me through a Psalm I was reading. Psalm 144:2-4 is a powerful passage from the heart of David about God. He says that God is his loving God…fortress…stronghold…deliverer…shield. God was those things in his life. Then he says who is man that you are mindful of him. Who am I that even though my life is but a breath of air you care about me?

This passage really hit me because I think the reason that I often feel burdened is because I am not good at allowing God to be all those things in my life. I too often think I can be that person in my life. I would never say it that way, but I live it that way. I have confessed that in blog before, but it is just the back and forth in my own spiritual life. So this morning, God once again began to do some breaking. He showed me some brokenness I have been lacking. And in an instant, the burden became lighter. It is not gone. I still have some things to do right now that I know God has told me to do that are going to take a lot of time and effort. But they are not really mine to do.

So what does brokenness look like? Brokenness is actively, honestly, and pursuing pursuing change in yourself. God reminded me of that this morning. When your life’s work is about seeing other lives changed it is easy to forget that your life must be the one first being changed…even when you say it in sermons.

So, what are you going to do today to actively pursue change in yourself? What are you going to do to honestly pursue change? What are you going to do to personally pursue change?

Well, whatever you do, remember that ultimately it is God that changes us. It is not our activity, our honesty, or our person that changes us. It is God. David forgot that. I sometimes forget that. I imagine sometimes you do, too.

Brokenness is not the state of being broke down. Brokenness is the state of being open to God. Open to who He is. And that brokenness requires us to know who we are not.

So, are you willing to live broken?

Here and Now

“For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep, he was buried with his fathers, and his body decayed.”  Acts 13:36

Our current sermon series is looking into the lives of great leaders that experienced change and caused change.  David is one such leader.  This passage about David is a profound and deep truth too few people ever realize in their own lifetime.  It is the truth that I preached about last week by looking at the lives and Biblical truths from the life of Daniel.

Faithfulness is a necessary ingredient in our lives if we are to live lives that are so changed they are delicious with Christ.  The flavor of faithfulness is, however, unique.  The issue about faithfulness is that faithfulness will never taste the same way twice.  It will never look the same in any two lives.  Sure there will be commonalities.  Two lives lived in faithful following of Christ will live in obedience to common commands, but they will live it out in different circumstances.

Each of us must learn to be faithful here and now.  In our own generation and our own time.  We must be like Daniel and be faithful where we are and when we are.  Daniel would never have chosen to be the wise slave-servant leader for the kings of Babylon.  Daniel would have chosen a life leading a free and independent Israel.  But that was not his time and place.  Daniel had to be faithful with his own here and now.  David had to be found faithful in similar ways.  He wanted to build the temple but he could not because God said not.  Yet he was found faithful with his own here and now.

So must we.  Each of us must learn to be faithful where we are, when we are, and as who we are.  It says in Scripture that God “ordained the times and places for us.”  Where are you right now in your life?  That is where you are called to be faithful.  If you are a student be faithful in study and in the classroom and in your social life as a student.  If you are a career professional then be faithful in your professional ethics and to your job description and position.  If you are a full-time mom then be faithful in your home and in the lives of your children.  Each of these times (or stages) in life are valuable and important.  So be found faithful there.

You can never be faithful with someone else’s talents, gifts, and abilities.  Nor can you be faithful with their salary or their position in life.  You have to faithful with what you have.  Quit telling God you would do something for him if he would just allow it be                                           .  Tell God I will do exactly what you have gifted me and called me to do and I will find joy in that.  Quit telling God you would tithe if you made the amount of money so and so makes.  Quit telling God you would be faithful at your church if they would just do things this way or that way.  Be faithful in your place and your position.

Some times in my role as pastor I have to deal with people who are unfaithful but like to think that they are faithful.  Often these people have justified not living up to the truths of Scripture and feel very righteous in that disobedience.  Some times these people feel it is their place to make decisions and influence things that are in no way form or fashion their calling or role in life or the church.  Honestly these issues are just obvious results of an issue we all struggle with – selfishness.

Selfishness is that which robs us of faithfulness.  We are not able to be faithful because we are too focused on what we want and not what others need and God desires.  The difficult part of this issue is that we think we want to faithful with someone else’s life, money, or position, but in reality we know nothing about it. 

That is why the flavor of faithfulness is unique.  You can not be faithful with where you are not, with what you do not have, and with who you are not.  You must be faithful here and now.  So quit bribing God to give you what you need to be faithful because you already have everything you need.  Quit trying to convince God that he needs to cause others to do things your way because they are most likely already being done His way.  And be faithful here and now because in the end you too will fall asleep and your body will decay, but can it be said of you were faithful in your own generation?

Be faithful here wherever you’re here may be.  And be faithful now.

Diversity with Unity 2

(This is numbered 2 because I posted one and took it down because I thought I needed to work through my comments with more gentleness.)

I find myself in an interesting place in ministry these days. Several times in recent weeks and months I have heard interesting criticisms against many of the Biblical convictions I hold about church, ministry, and preaching. Often these comments have come in bland statements in meetings with other pastors or in a denominational setting. They have also come from well-intentioned and perhaps a couple of ill-intentioned church people. Criticism does not frighten me, it challenges me. It does not cause me to think I should back away from what God has told me to do.

It does, however, challenge me to be correct in what I do and say. I am not afraid of criticism because I have found it makes me better and stronger. This year I dealt with some criticism about how I led Fellowship through some significant changes. There were several people that brought criticism with love and passion for the ministry. These people are priceless in my life. God really used them to teach me and to show me his correction. God used them to help me better at what I am called to do and honestly just to be better at being me. On the other hand, criticism not given for the sole purpose of bettering the person you lovingly share it with, is just selfishness and does neither of you any good.

The key to being a person who can bring honest and constructive criticism instead of hurting and selfish criticism is found in the Biblical truth of 1 Cor. 1:10. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly unified in mind and thought.” That sounds like “pie in the sky” to most of us, yet is the Biblical mandate for the Church. Each one of should seek to not cause any division. Actually we should seek to “uncause” any division. We should each feel it our responsibility to seek unity with one another and to do that which prevents any division whatsoever.

Yet, this is instruction is found in a letter in which Paul gives lots of strong commands and disagrees with the believers in Corinth on many issues. Seeking unity and fighting against division does not mean that leaders with Biblical and Godly convictions forget about them to purchase peace at the cost of the work of the Gospel. It also does not mean that any follower of Christ should put away their Sprit-led and Biblical convictions to have ungodly unity with those who stand against his truth.

So, how do we deal with seeking unity while not always agreeing? Paul in this letter speaks of many “disputable matters.” Disputable matters cover a wide variety of issues. Many Christians today, however, build their entire concept of what a Christian looks like on disputable matters. Many people believe “good” Christians like certain types of music and wear certain styles of clothes. Or perhaps your big issue is that good Christians never take a sip of alcohol. Or perhaps you define it by never miss a worship service in a year. Or maybe it is the boxes you check every week on your tithe envelope.

The problem is that many divisions are the result of people desiring uniformity and not unity. The problem is that many people want to turn their convictions into mandates. God is the only one that gives the mandates in Christianity. The issue, that leaders – like Paul – have, is that they have to make decisions concerning disputable matters that affect every person that is under their leadership. I, as Lead Pastor, at Fellowship Church and responsible and will be held accountable for the work of the ministry at Fellowship Church. The Lord will one day call me to account for many things. I must be willing to stand on my Spirit-led, God-given, Scripture-inspired convictions concerning the disputable matters in “church world.”

Such issues as how do we express the Biblical vision of the Church? (The vision of every church should be the Great Commission – but we have to figure out how we will communicate that at our church. For us it is Connecting to Love…Grow…Serve…Go. Your communication of it is disputable – the vision itself is set.) What music style to have. Or what clothes should people wear? What is appropriate in a worship service? How will small groups be done at our church? Etc. Etc. But the truth of the matter is that most of these issues are disputable matters. They can have a wide variety and still please God. But each church can not do the whole variety. It is not possible and is a futile attempt. So, leaders must make those choices. The Bible is most often descriptive about such matters not prescriptive.

As a result of some criticism that has challenged me to be correct in all that I do as a leader, I have decided to spend some time over the next few weeks and months to express in writing the Biblical convictions for the ministry I lead. I believe it will be good for me and perhaps be enlightening to someone else along the way. You will probably see these issues come through in the blog some. I ask that you would pray for me during this endeavor. My prayer is that I will not defend anything, but that I will simply express the truth of Scripture in the convictions God has given me through His Spirit.

The reason I feel led to do this is that I want to be able to share with others my convictions without being critical of theirs. The truth is that I celebrate a church down the road that does it different than us and, therefore, reaches someone different than who we are reaching. I think that is totally awesome. I guess some times when you hear enough criticism (although be it, usually from the same sources over and over again) you start getting critical of others about things they do not deserve criticism over.

The remedy to this problem is to leave no doubt why you stand where you stand. Then stand there. And if you find others that it is difficult for you to stand with because of a disputable matter, then either decide to stand with them and not allow that difference to cause a division or choose to not stand with them. But you must know why you stand where you stand. I know why I stand where I stand, but I need to work a little harder at allowing others to see the depth of it.

In a couple of months I am preaching an entire series on disputable matters. I am excited and terrified to preach it. People live real lives in the disputable matters. Disputable matters cause disputes. Disputable matters often hurt. But they don’t have to if we will just decide to “agree with one another.” Some times that means agreeing on what we can agree on and “shutting up” about the rest without “shutting down” about the rest. Don’t shut down on your convictions but if they are disputable then learn when to keep those thoughts to yourself. Some times what God really wants you to say is nothing. Every time you see something that in your opinion could be done better does not mean it is your God-given job to tell the other person that thought.

Thanks for your prayers as I tackle this God-given and criticism-inspired challenge. My prayer is that God will use this endeavor to help me grow. (My hope is that because of that it will help others grow, too.) Many of my convictions and thoughts about such things began with great books written by great church leaders but they honestly did not do a great job using Scripture in them. I, however, do have Scripture behind those same convictions (as they probably do, too). My goal is to share that – the Biblical convictions.

Are you willing to do what it takes in your life to stand on your convictions? Before you take that stand you need to know why you stand where you stand.

Delightful Deliverance

Life and Scripture entwine themselves in my life all the time. It is amazing how true it is that the Word of God is “living and active.” It is so true that it is useful in our lives in teaching and in correcting and in training. The Scriptures of God are alive because God is alive and His Spirit uses them to speak into our lives. It is amazing how God shows us great truths in the midst of normal moments in life.

This week I had the privilege of meeting with someone who, honestly, has no understanding of God’s grace. They have come out of a religious background that is built upon works. They have been taught that they must do certain things and that only through those actions does a person receive the grace of God in their life. As we met and talked it was wonderful to have the privilege of sharing with this person the truth of God’s grace. The basis of our conversation was Ephesians 2:8-10. They were completely blown away by the concept of grace as a gift – yet that is exactly what grace is – grace is a gift. If grace were not a gift it would not be grace.

So this week the truths of grace have really been on my mind and spirit. Then I read something out of the Vine for this week that really jumped out at me. In is in 2 Samuel 22 (verse 20b) “He rescued me, because he has delighted in me.” The verse really hit me as I realized this is one of the hardest truths for us, as imperfect people, to grasp about God. Salvation (which literally means to rescue from perishing) is a delightful thing to God. He does it because it delights him.

Why does salvation delight God? Because we delight God.

That is right, God delights in you. Your salvation is not the result of you being delightful. It is the result of his delighting. There is a difference. The truth is that “God demonstrated his love for us, in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” In the midst of your very worst moment – your most undelightful actions and thoughts – God showed you his love. At your very worst God delights in you, not because of you, but because of himself.

Our salvation is delightful to God because he delights in us. Our life response should be to be a delight to him. We should strive to be delightful because he is delighted in us – not so that he will be delighted in us. That is why Jesus said, “if you love me you will obey my commands.” Obedience is not so we can love him and he us. It is because we love him because he already loved us. (“We love God because he first loved us.”

So that is the truth rolling around in my head this week. I love to have such truths to meditate on. I love thinking about that over and over again. God has rescued me because he delighted in me. Not so that he could delight in me. Not because I had made myself delightful to him. Simply because he delighted in me.

I pray that God will show you his delight this week. And if you have never allowed his delight to bring you to a place of repentance and confession in Christ, I pray that this week you will find your delight in him, too.

He loves you more than you will ever realize. So experience the delightful deliverance of a Delighted Deliverer. And once you experience it, choose to delight in it by delighting Him.