On our journeys down long stretches of road, Lil Jan and I sometimes pass the time by playing “3 Questions”. We ask each other three questions, with the goal being to learn something about the person not already known. When you’ve been married 27 years, this is no easy task.
We recently traveled to our alma mater, David Lipscomb University, to attend Summer Celebration…previously known as the Lipscomb Lectures. It involves three days of praising God, hearing great speakers, attending Bible classes, and fellowshipping with other Christians. There’s also a variety of concerts, games, food, and merchandise, along with early morning yoga, fireworks, prayer sessions, and the showing of not-yet-released Christian movies. I will have more to say about what we learned there in a future blog.
On our journey to Lipscomb, Lil Jan was put in time-out by Candy Crush and decided to launch a round of 3 Questions. One of her questions to me was, “If you could meet any living person and talk to him or her, who would it be?” This should have been a softball of a question given the 7 billion people alive on Planet Earth today. But I struggled with it. In my mind, I changed the question to, “Who are the greatest people living in the world today?” I then rationally came up with some categories to think through this question (because that’s what ENTJs do). I’m sure there are some great living scientists and researchers out there, and I would like to think one of them is on the verge of the next great scientific discovery. But sadly, I couldn’t think of any of their names. I thought of the greatest sports stars and imagined what it would be like to meet and talk to them.
Big Steve: “Hey, Lebron, I can’t tell you how excited I am to meet you!”
Lebron: “Hey, what’s up?”
Big Steve: “My son, Kyle, loves you. He defended you even after the disastrous TV special, The Decision, where you announced your intentions to sign with the Heat. Can I have your autograph?”
Lebron: “Sure. You play any ball?”
Big Steve: “I made the All-Star team in 5th grade at Reily Brown Elementary School in Dover, Delaware. I started at forward and scored 4 points per game. Then I moved on to Caesar Rodney Junior High but didn’t make the basketball team. According to the coach, apparently I was “not good enough” and “lacked skills” and should consider “focusing on academics”. More recently I played a time or two at the school playground with church friends, but had trouble posting up Cliff Latimore.”
Lebron: “That’s a lot of information, perhaps too much. Where do you live now?”
Big Steve: “In a van down by the river.”
Lebron: “Sorry, bro, times are tough.”
My imagined conversations with other “great” people…Bill Gates, Sting, and Tony Romo…turned out just as awkwardly. Actually, the people I most want to meet…the Lewises (C.S. and Meriwether), Steve Jobs, Ronald Reagan, and various biblical characters…are already dead (like our dog, Mandy…moment of silence). I ended up passing on Janet’s question, which felt like striking out in softball.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Lipscomb…running into old friends, marveling at how the campus had changed, and reminiscing on our time there two-plus decades earlier. But the highlight for me was on Thursday night, when keynote speaker Dr. Kent Brantly took the stage with Randy Harris to present their thoughts on Revelation 6-11.
Dr. Brantly is impressive in every sense of the word. He had the willpower, intelligence, and dedication to become a medical doctor. More importantly, he has a heart that called him to use his medical training to serve those in the worst situations and conditions. I’m not sure there is a greater medical need or more desperate situation than what is faced by suffering Ebola patients in West Africa. During my military career, there was a common expression that we were expected to “Run to the Sound of the Guns”. Although the natural response is to run away from gunfire, or to remain in your foxhole, we were held to a higher standard. We, like first responders, were expected to leverage our training and courage and run toward trouble…in order to do something about it. I suspect Dr. Brantly’s training, courage, servant heart, and love for God called him to run to the sound of the guns…a poverty-stricken, dangerous part of the world full of suffering people whose very lives are on the line. Dr. Brantly answered the call and served faithfully. He saved lives and changed lives. And then he contracted the Ebola virus himself and nearly died from it. God heard the prayers of many and spared Kent Brantly’s life. Since then, Kent has prayed at the National Prayer Breakfast, spoken to the President, Congress and at various other forums, and been named (along with other Ebola-fighting doctors) Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Dr. Brantly didn’t become a hero by contracting the virus, surviving the virus, or winning an award. He became a hero the moment he decided to risk his life and focus his considerable talent and energy on serving the less fortunate.
In Mark 10, James and John let their egos get the best of them and asked Jesus if they could sit at his left and right in heaven. Their jockeying for status and prominence upset their fellow apostles, and probably broke Jesus’ heart since he had just explained to them that he was about to be mocked, spit on, flogged, and killed. Rather than rebuke them, Jesus used the situation as a teaching moment. In verses 43-45, he says, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Similarly, in Luke 9 we have an argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus responded by placing a little child beside them and saying, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” In both instances, Jesus reminds them that greatness is not about status, popularity, wealth, or any of the other things that society values. Rather, greatness is a designation reserved for those who serve others.
When Dr. Brantly took the stage, he spoke about his experiences in Africa and related them to the text in Revelation. He made a lot of great points. Allow me to paraphrase a few of them…
1. As Christians, we shouldn’t pretend to have all the answers. We don’t. We can explain some things, but we can’t explain everything. We can tell people the future…you’re going to get old, and sick, and then die…if you’re lucky. That’s an appointment we all will keep.
2. Revelation teaches us that God’s people…Christians…ultimately win because God has already defeated Satan. However, that doesn’t mean Christians (and others) won’t experience hard times and suffering while here on the earth. In fact, we should expect difficulty and suffering. Kent knew his time in Africa would be difficult, and he closely identifies with Paul’s sufferings discussed in 2 Corinthians 11. In Africa the locals believe Ebola to be a curse. In a sense they are right because we live in a world which is cursed, as a result of what went down in the Garden of Eden.
3. The low point in Revelation occurs in chapter 11. The powerful, faithful witnesses of the Lord are destroyed, and their enemies gloat over their dead bodies and refuse to bury them (see verses 1-10). Sounds pretty desperate for the faithful, but you have to keep reading. Starting in verse 11, “But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” So, yes, being a Christian…God’s witness…doesn’t mean everything will be okay in the here and now. We are surrounded by chaos. But the happiest of endings awaits those who remain faithful, even in the face of suffering and chaos.
4. We are called to bear witness and have hope in God in the face of chaos. Kent’s hope didn’t magically make any of his patients recover. Rather, his hope is in a God who is who he says he is and who will do what he says he will do. He will one day set everything right. God indeed reigns, not through technology or political majority or Supreme Court decisions, but through and as a slaughtered Lamb (Revelation 5:5-6). Powerful words, my friends.
After the program ended, Lipscomb sponsored an alumni reception and Janet and I had the wonderful privilege to meet Dr. Brantly. He was kind, unassuming, and humble. He told me that his wife would love to travel the country in an RV like Janet and I are doing. He had no “handlers” and no entourage. He is just a quiet, introspective, normal guy. But make no mistake, he is a “great” guy. I know that not because of the things Kent said to the audience or to me that evening, but by the way Kent chooses to live his life. I know that because of the words Jesus gave to his apostles in Mark 10 and Luke 9. Knowing Kent the little that I do, I suspect he would want any talk of “greatness” directed not toward himself, but rather toward the God that created and sustains him. So, we praise God for Kent and for everything that God has done through Kent.
I look forward to future rounds of “3 Questions” with Lil Jan. And next time around, I hope she will give me another shot at the question concerning a great living person I’d like to meet. If she does, I will answer, “I already met him, and his name is Dr. Kent Brantly.”
– Big Steve
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