Thursday, December 20, 2007

18 Years!

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Eighteen years ago today my life changed forever! It was a day that ranks in the top three most important days of my life, the other two paramount days being the day of my birth and the day of my re-birth! Eighteen years ago today, I took Maria-Luz Roda Bautista as my Bride. It wasn't an easy accomplishment! In the course of our courtship, she had turned me down three times! When she was finally convinced of my sincerity, we had to grapple with our respective governments, immigration, inoculations, her Mission Agency's approval, my seminary's approval, our families' approval and most importantly the certainty and conviction that we had the Lord's approval. Praise God, everything came together in God's timing and we were married just a few days before Christmas at Youth With A Mission's Balut Base in Manila, the Philippines, on a sunny and hot afternoon on December 20, 1989. It was a wonderful wedding. As the ceremony progressed it occurred to me that while I had given a lot of thought to marriage I had not given much thought to a wedding, but the wedding was just the kind I wanted - unique and personal, in an exotic location with a lovely woman who loved me and who was right by my side - all in the presence of the Lord and people who loved us.

That day, I took the beginning step of the adventure that is marriage with all it can entail - romance, passion, problems, insecurities, fatherhood, adult-childhood, triumph, failure, pride, shame, teaching and ever learning, laughter and tears. Luz and I have seen our family grow together, buried two parents together, and buried a child together. We have soared to tremendous heights, and trudged along life's terrible swamps. Marriage continues to be all I have hoped for and more than I can handle. When I look at what the Lord has done in and through Luz and me these 18 years, I am so thankful for seeing Jesus' power and mercy manifested in our lives. Without Him, our marriage would never have come to be, let alone survived 18 years after its beginning.

As Luz and I celebrate God's provision and grace over 18 years as a married couple, we will commit ourselves anew to asking the Lord to keep us abiding with Him. The marriage journey is a wonderful adventure, but a perilous one as well. We are as vulnerable as any other couple to the myriad of traps, pitfalls and obstacles that can undo any marriage, good, bad or ugly. We will not just be praying for ourselves, but for others who have embarked on this journey as well. Bringing a man and a woman together in the holy institution of marriage is a God-sized task. Our Almighty God is up to challenge and able to do more than we imagine or could ever hope for. Spend some time today asking the Lord to bless the marriages of people who are dear to you and please include Luz and Sam in your list. Continuing the journey in faith...


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Leave a Worthwhile Legacy TODAY!!

Last night, after finishing some everyday and holiday shopping,my wife Luz and I began discussing plans and strategies for the New Year. As we discussed our hopes and dreams for the approaching 12 months, we were careful to end our discussion with the prayerful refrain, "If the Lord wills." A number of recent events involving friends and family have humbled me and made me even more appreciative of life's unpredictability and brevity. One recent event in particular has given me pause to once again take into account that tomorrow is promised to no one.

One of my West Point Classmates, a wonderful woman named Jamie McCloud Perez, passed away on November 29 due to complications brought on by an autoimmune disorder. Jamie was an unforgettable person. Though I had not seen her face to since since my days on the plain at West Point, I had no trouble remembering her and had heard of her great success as an Army Officer and in life in general through e-mails and updates from others. She was a ball of energy, take charge, extremely witty and just generally "squared away". She never backed down from a challenge and had a can-do spirit that saw her through Desert Storm 1 and other challenges as well. When I read the Obituary and memorandum pages dedicated to her I was struck by how much she had crammed in to her too brief life - easily enough outstanding accomplishments for 2 ordinary people.

I don't think Jamie lived a life full of accomplishments for the accolades of others. I believe she did it out a a strong faith that gave her a sense of responsibility and purpose - that life is meant to be lived for today by doing as much good in each day as God can allow one individual to accomplish.

As you might expect, an unexpected passing leaves behind unexpected heartache and unanswerable questions. Jamie leaves behind a loving husband and a 2 and a half year old daughter who will not directly remember the kind of person her mother was or soon understand the legacy her mother left her. Nevertheless, the days will come when through the memories of others, pictures, videos and letters, she will become aware of just how wonderful a foundation was left to her by her mother.

The challenge for those of us who remain is easy to understand and important to reconsider every time a loved one or friend passes: We don't know when our time will come. A few of us will live extended long lives that will cause others to marvel at how we could make it for so long. Many others of us will live reasonably long lives that will see us into the senior years within the bounds of acceptable normalcy. A few of us - hopefully VERY few or none of us - may meet with untimely deaths that seem to leave dreams unfulfilled and missions unaccomplished. Whichever of these circumstances may befall us, let us endeavor to be the kind of people who do not leave the good we can accomplish today undone. Tell your family you love them TODAY. Make that donation to a worthy cause close to your heart TODAY. Kiss your spouse TODAY. Call your folks TODAY. Settle your accounts with the Lord TODAY. If tomorrow comes, do it all over again and keep repeating it until your final TODAY arrives. You may have heard this all before - I have - but the lesson of living for today is a lesson worthy of repetition.

Therefore, my tribute to Jamie's memory will be to follow her example of doing all the good I can and being a blessing to the greatest extent possible today and everyday the Lord gives me. If I am faithful in that task, perhaps I will be able to leave a legacy that someone else may someday find worthy of emulating. That's my desire and my lifelong prayer. What legacy are you trying to leave? Start working on it TODAY. Until next time,


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Uncommon Political Position

When we think of political posturing, we most often think in terms of left, right or center. We want to know if the candidate or official in question is a conservative or a liberal and will they seek to execute public policy with government assistance or bootstrap private solutions. We want to be assured that our leaders are people who can hold their own and stand on their own two feet. We don't expect our leaders in these "enlightened" times to fall on their knees or to call for us to do the same. Well, that's exactly the position that Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has taken. In the face of a withering drought and on the threshold of a potentially crippling calamity not seen in our lifetime, Governor Perdue is calling his state to fall on its knees in prayer.

I should note that Gov. Perdue is not advocating doing nothing except pray. Instead, he is calling the people of Georgia to change their lifestyles - to conserve, to recycle and to repair. But, having done all that can be humanly done, the Governor is asking the citizens of Georgia to call on the One who has the ultimate power over the elements. It seems that the Governor remembers the stirring refrain from the children's worship song that the Lord has "...the wind and the rain - in HIS hands - Yes, He's got the WHOLE WORLD in His hands!"

The Governor's position is uncommon in a day characterized by a supreme confidence in technology and an unrelenting certainty that progress and human effort will solve all of humanity's problems. It is considered foolish and humorous to humbly to trust God in the midst of each and every human activity including times of trouble. In our current cultural climate, one cannot expect to be taken seriously - especially as a politician - if one persists in the belief that God is involved in human affairs and that He desires for us to turn to Him in the midst of every circumstance whether good or bad.

Nevertheless, for followers of Jesus Christ, a humble and prayerful attitude should characterize every aspect of our lives, including the way we carry out our professional and civic duties. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says it so well:

If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Humility, prayer, and righteous living. Not common political characteristics - or common characteristics for anyone in the public eye these days - but valuable and precious traits that can make us a better people and a stronger nation. Don't forget to pray for the drought that is hammering not just Georgia, but much of the Southeast. And don't forget to pray for leaders like Sonny Perdue who cares less about what people think and more about what God requires - a call to live responsibly and a call to live in humility before the Lord. That's a political position I can kneel with. Until next time...


Monday, October 15, 2007

Is This Black Enough For You?

Over the years I have read countless publications with various takes on the life stories of a variety of polarizing black people of influence. One example is seen in reactions to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The reactions are especially strong regarding his claims to having himself been victimized by racism, especially by those with different political perspectives. The picture often painted of Justice Thomas is one of a man who is out of touch with his people and whose life and achievements have little value for the average Black person in the United States. Though it generally goes unsaid, the inference is that somehow, Justice Thomas "just isn't Black enough". Justice Thomas has some unexpected company in this "Not Black Enough" Club of Distinction. Though the reasons differ, Barack Obama has had to deal with the the same perception because of his father's African roots and his mother's mainstream White American heritage. It appears that because the specifics of his background differ somewhat from that of others who share his ethnic blend - his parents met voluntarily in contrast with other African Americans whose heritage is of a slave past - many simply do not believe Mr. Obama's background is "Black enough."

This issue reminds me of the movie "Cotton Comes to Harlem" where a popular Big City politician began and ended his campaign speeches with a long listing of the "proofs" of his "blackness" followed by the ringing refrain, "Is THAT Black enough for you?" Justice Thomas seems puzzled that his background does not appear to be "Black enough". Though he was born into a difficult economic situation, raised by grandparents and worked hard to overcome a stack difficulties, his story is often presented one that has no relevance to the difficult times facing many Blacks today. President Obama had a more cosmopolitan upbringing that helped give him perspective and compassion that transcends many differences and allows him to connect with a variety of people. Yet, there are those who question his ability to speak meaningfully into the "Black Experience" in the 21st Century because he's just too hard to pin down in terms of background.

The questioning of the "Blackness" of these men, highlights a significant challenge that confronts the contemporary African-American community. Will African-Americans allow ourselves the latitude to enjoy a variety of experiences and perspectives that will benefit the nation as a whole and stimulate new ideas and solutions that will build us up as a people, or will we allow ourselves to be pigeon-holed and stereotyped in a way that will reduce us to a caricature of a people with only superficial cultural markers left as our defining cultural legacy? I'd like to think that while the school of hard knocks is part of our legacy as a people, so is the school of hard work. Style and chic wardrobes may characterize much of our dress, but the style manuals of academic communication ought also to be part of our cultural arsenal. And while we all admire the undeniable strength of athletic excellence and achievement on the athletic courts and fields, the strength of character should characterize the way we do business in our neighborhoods, in the board room and in the courts of law.

There may be a number of valid reasons that Americans question the divergent political stands of Justice Thomas and President Obama. Nevertheless, let's not devalue the real arguments by focusing on what amounts to a 21st century "Paper bag test" - a test where a paper bag was used to measure the "Blackness" of one's skin tone, be it too light or too dark. Let us instead recognize that in a nation as large as ours, there will be a variety of expressions of Blackness - some with which we are familiar, others with which we are not - that all come together to make us all better people regardless of our backgrounds and a better country over all. This variety of expression must be allowed for our nation to shine to its greatest capacity. This is a critical cultural necessity that speaks to the wellbeing of our nation and I hope that's Black enough for you!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More Walking and Less Talking

"Walk a mile in my shoes." An age-old truism and the title of a great 70's song that reminds us that we best understand the plight of others when we allow ourselves to be exposed to the full force of their life experience up close and personally. For some reason, the talk shows I have found myself listening to over the past few days have all been tackling the issue of race relations in the US. What usually bothers me about such discussions is that they are often based on theoretical and ideological assumptions that have very little foundation in real life cross-cultural experience on the part of the pundits. There is an abundance of sound and fury that yield very few meaningful solutions and tend to add only more hostility and confusion. Even when the discussions are positive, they are often Utopian visions of "togetherness" that leave listeners feeling good, but offer few insights that address the situation in an applicable and practical way.

After days of listening to discussions that seemed to always go to the aforementioned extremes, as I was about to throw my hands up in frustration, I received an e-mail with a commentary from Mark Early, the President of Prison Fellowship ministries. In the e-mail, he addressed the case of the Jenna 6, revolving around six African American young men who faced the possibility of prison time after being involved in a fight with a young Caucasian school mate who needed serious medical attention after the incident. What really encouraged me about the commentary was Mr. Early's avoidance of the highly charged and significant, though secondary issues and his dead-on assessment of the real issue the incident brings to the table - the disproportionate number of African American males incarcerated in the US. In a very straight-forward yet earnest manner, Early cites a few well-known statistics and issues a somber warning:
[Inequitable justice] and the disparities that cause it are issues that should concern every Christian. Not simply because it is unjust that one group of people should be punished in such a disproportionate manner—that's bad enough—but it should also concern us because it undermines confidence in the rule of law. It makes it easier for people to suspect the worst in places like Jena.

How could Early come to such a conclusion? Especially when his identity as "A conservative Evangelical" is considered? Easily! He spends day in and day out ministering to inmates around the US and the world, not only hearing their stories, but getting to know them personally and seeing the impact of inequitable justice on families and communities. Early particularly cites the drug enforcement laws that punish African Americans disproportionately when drug usage by Caucasians is statistically much higher. He doesn't' cite these statistics to advocate drug usage or to go "soft" on crime. He simply points out that while "creative" solutions are offered to some elements of our society who struggle with substance abuse, others are offered only incarceration - a solution that neither eliminates drug usage nor rehabilitates the user. Early has observed that race plays an undeniable role in how justice issues are often handled and that the disparity that sometimes manifests itself poses a threat to the very democratic ideals upon which our nation has been built.

For this reason and others akin to it, discussions of race need to turn a corner. We must progress beyond theoretical talk and distant, sterile statistics. We need to emulate the examples of Mark Early, Prison Fellowship's founder Chuck Colson and other countless and unknown Christian servants to engage ourselves in actively walking by putting our hands on the plow of ministry to see life from the viewpoint of those around us. Our overall well-being is at stake. Good intentions and token efforts are insufficient and unacceptable. It's time for us as Christians, whatever our ethnic, economic or social backgrounds, to see those different than ourselves as more than statistics, but as a part of our human family - folks we must love, serve and help as Jesus commands. This is hard work that takes resources, time and energy, but it must be done by those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ.

So, put down the charts, put away the graphs, turn off the pundits and put on your walking shoes. Go approach that co-worker you've never really gotten to know personally. Invite that neighbor from a far away place to have a cup of coffee. Ask your church leadership how you can become involved in the outreach efforts your church has to offer. It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. We may have a long way to go, but we'll never get there if we don't start walking now. Walk a mile in my shoes. I'll walk a mile in yours too. Then we can walk together and light a few candles instead of cursing the darkness.

Until next time...


Monday, September 17, 2007

A Joke That Should Lead Us to Tears and to Change

In the 60's, the Bee Gees recorded one of their early breakthrough hits entitled, "I Started a Joke." The song told the sad story of a man who had "joked" his way through life to the point that he had become a parody of himself, ultimately finding that the joke was on him. I'm afraid that this song could apply to many individuals who share the profession to which I have been called - The profession of vocational Christian Service and Christian Ministry.

The stories abound of pastors who have been caught behaving in unbelievably shameful ways. Just last week, a shocking account came to light of a high profile ministry couple who had gotten into a physical fight that was of such intensity that the minister husband's violence against his well-known minister wife resulted in her hospitalization for several days! After making a press release regarding the incident, the wife filed for divorce a few days later and the husband has made know his plans not to contest it.

If this were not disturbing enough, the husband actually returned to his pulpit the following Sunday, and his congregation gave him a thunderous and sustained ovation before he commenced to deliver his message!! There are other high-profile cases involving Pastoral families exposing heart-breaking troubles out there in Pastor-land. Something is terribly wrong.

Of course, such troubles from "People of the Cloth" make for fertile ground for the cynical and for late night comedians. Ministers are seen less as trustworthy servants, dedicated to help, nurture, protect and comfort and more as under trained crooks who are out to benefit themselves and "stick it" to anyone naive enough to fall for their sleazy tricks. I get a real sense of this disdain for preachers as I rub elbows with folks who aren't "buying" what we as Christians are "selling". They are particularly turned off by the lack of accountability that it seems characterizes many preachers and the lack of adequate professional preparation that accompanies it. I was having lunch with a group of secular employed friends who shared story upon story of self-appointed "ministers" who received their ministry "credentials" in a matter of days, if not minutes, simply by sending money to a less than reputable credential factory over the Internet! There was howling laughter all around. Obviously, i didn't find the matter at all humorous. Nevertheless, we Christians have no one but ourselves to blame.

How can we expect people to respect us and our leaders when we don't take steps to scrutinize our leaders according to instructions laid out by the very Book we say we follow? Biblical standards for spiritual leaders are extremely clear. James warns anyone who desires to pursue the pastorate that they will be judged by harsher standards. In any profession one can name, there is an expectation more is required of leaders. This should be especially true of those who serve as Spiritual leaders. Here are the Biblical requirements for a pastor:

Pastors must possess the desire to serve (1 Tim. 3:1).
Pastors must be sober and temperate (1Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8)
Pastors must be of good behavior (1 Tim. 3:2).
Pastors must not be given to wine (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7).
Pastors are not to be strikers or brawlers, but are to be patient with others (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7).
Pastors should not be investing time in ministry for monetary gain and must not be greedy or covetous (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7).
Pastors must not be new converts (1 Tim. 3:6).
Pastors must be given to hospitality, receptive and open to help others (1 Tm. 3:2; Titus 1:8).
Pastors must be monogamous, not married to more than one woman or trivial in marital commitment (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6).
Pastors are to have orderly households that are not prone to chaos and disorder (1 Tim. 3:4).
Pastors must be able to teach and instruct with sound doctrine (1 Tim. 3:2)

It is important for me to note right here and now, lest I open myself up to failure brought on by pride and self-righteousness, that I do not claim perfection nor do I claim I am above the ability to fail in my calling. As a good friend who is also in the pastorate shared with a group of pastors after the fall of a colleague, " I am a man of like passions. Nevertheless, because of the Grace of God, the close fellowship of friends who hold me accountable and the restraining power of the Holy Spirit, I have not acted on them."

His statement provides some important keys to helping those called to ministry succeed in excelling their calling. First, we who are called must realize our vulnerability to failure. Left to ourselves, each of us has within us the ability to fall in such a way that we could bring disgrace on ourselves, our families, our congregations and our faith. Secondly, none of us should serve without accountability. We need close friends with whom we can share our personal hurts, issues and struggles and we need parameters within which we can be held to task for the ministry that we carry out. None of us is above scrutiny and we should be able to give an accounting for what we do and how we do it. Most importantly, we need a genuine faith, and a walk with God. If we don't believe and we're not walking, we shouldn't be serving.

Some final notes to you my friends who are in the "laity". You have responsibilities as well. You should not be following someone who clearly falls short of the pastoral qualifications outlined in Scripture. Note, the word "must" that begins the sentences outlining pastoral leadership. The spiritual growth and health of many people rides on the fulfilment of these qualifications. Also, be certain that individuals who are voicing the conviction that they have a "call" and desire to pursue vocational ministry show evidence of the qualifications in their lives and that others see this evidence as well. I was not comfortable in pursuing my own calling until a virtual chorus of others confirmed my inner convictions and informed me that a failure to pursue using the gifts that were evident in my life would be tantamount to disobeying the Lord. They then exposed and led me to the path of preparation for ministry that took almost five years for me to complete - remember, even Jesus' disciples walked with Him for more than 3 years before being launched into ministry. There is no substitute for preparation.

Moral failure in ministry is no laughing matter. Let's do our best to police our own ranks and to make sure that if someone rejects the Gospel, they reject it as a matter of their own hearts, not because we've reduced the Good News to nothing more than a good joke. Until next time,


Wednesday, September 5, 2007


This past week, I had the privilege to visit my father at his home in Fayetteville, NC. For those of you who are familiar with the US Army, Fayetteville is the town adjacent to Ft. Bragg, NC, the Home of the Airborne. On this particular visit, I found that my father had aged a bit more than I expected. He had grayed a lot since I last saw him. He is facing a couple of significant health issues and his gait is a bit slower. He is very pensive and enjoys watching his grandchildren. Yet, even as he ages, he still remains a man of action who prefers to approach life in a "hands-on" manner. He is still the first person to offer help whenever a need arises and always willing to encourage and support at all times. I was most surprised at how much of him I saw in myself - the way I walk, the sound of my voice and rhythm of my speech -the way I see life - even the influence of the Army's "Airborne" culture.

As a paratrooper, my father has an incredible "can-do" spirit about him and a confidence that shines through, even as his walk slows. He has stepped out of an aircraft in flight with full combat equipment, with nothing but sky underneath him and prevailed as a stronger individual. He has served his country proudly and with distinction and passed on all he has learned and embraced to me. I am an inheritor of a great tradition handed down from generation to generation - a tradition I respect, cherish and attempt to honor everyday of my life.

The importance of passing on the truths and values that are dear to us really hit me as our entire family visited the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville. There I saw my grown daughter and her husband, my teen aged daughter and my toddler daughter interacting with the marvelous exhibits - each taking in their Airborne heritage in their own way as my father beamed. The power of handing down what is precious to us from generation to generation hit me again when I saw the welcoming exhibit. In this exhibit, a life-size mock-up of a WWII paratrooper hangs in the forefront of another mock up of a contemporary airborne warrior. This fantastic display serves as a powerful reminder that what is now can only truly be understood in the context of what has gone before.

Over the past month, I have bid farewell to three church members who have taken that leap into eternity that we all know as "death". I have participated in two funeral services and will have officiated one more by this week's end. During these times of remembrance, the importance of heritage and values passed down through the generations shines through in the most significant way possible. Funerals are the most important reminders of all that each of us stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before and that only arrogance or near sightedness can prevent us from respecting and appreciating all that has been done to make us who we are and to give us all that we have.

My time with my dad this past week was an important reminder for me personally that we all age and must face our own mortality - a reality that should cause us to pause, inspect our lives and reflect on what is valuable to us. At the same time we must savor the life the Lord has given us and spend our time being about our Father's business sharing not only our earthly heritage, but the rich heritage of faith that has been passed down to us from generation to generation that all might enter into a personal relationship with Lord and know that He is God and that he is good. The Apostle Paul stated it this way when he communicated this truth to his understudy in the faith Timothy
But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.
We must never forget what we have and from whom we have received it. Today, as you go about your daily routine, take time to reflect upon your personal heritage and renew your commitment to never forget the origins and responsibilities of your heritage of faith. Blessings on you - AMEN and AIRBORNE!! Until next time,


Thursday, August 16, 2007

VBS - The Church at its Best!!

This past week, our church spent every afternoon ministering to about 45 children per night through our Vacation Bible School Program we call Kids Adventure Week. This ministry was coordinated by our amazing children's ministry leader, Nelda, and a platoon of dedicated members who extended hard days of work into the twilight hours by serving children, interacting with their parents and teaching them about Jesus.

What made this year special is that several of our members are in seasons of personal challenge. They are dealing with issues like terminally ill parents, uncertain job futures, chronically ill spouses, their own chronic illnesses, and a host of other life challenges that would send many people into a downward spiral of despair. Thes members, however, proved their belief in Jesus' ability to carry their burdens, their church families willingness to share their burdens and their hearts readiness to put the needs of others first.

It was truly spectacular to see brothers and sisters in the Lord in the midst of their own problems taking up the slack when others had to take a day or two to care for pressing personal needs. It was was even sweeter to the others returning the favor when those who had served for them needed respite. It was a true manifestation fo the Body of Christ at its best!

When I think of the bottom line of how church should be, I believe this week sums it up for me -God's people, in the midst of their own problems, leaning on Jesus and living out His love everyday to the surrounding community and also to one another. That's true Christianity!

Until next time,


Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Trouble With Fame and Fortune

As the father of four daughters, I have been troubled by the very public struggles of several young female Hollywood personalities. The latest exploits of Lindsey Lohan, Jessica Simpson, and Britney Spears have proven to be fertile ground for the tabloids and a rich source of gossip for celebrity watchers everywhere. On a human level, however, the stories are troubling and ought to touch us at a deeper level. These stories expose some age-old truths to a new generation and should cause those of us who are parents to think carefully about the futures we wish for our children and the goals we encourage our children to pursue.

High on the life pursuit priority list for most of us is a deep hope that our children will one day achieve fame and fortune. What could be better than knowing that our children have arrived and that they will be well-known and well-compensated for what they do vocationally? Who doesn't relish the thought of one's children being power players in the world, able to call the shots and mingle at will with all of the beautiful people? All of us would love to have this happen to our children - at least on the surface! It's clear, however, that fame and fortune do not necessarily lead to a care-free life. In the cases of these young women, fame and fortune have led to temptations, trials and tests that have left them diminished professionally and damaged emotionally. It seems like forever since their carefree days of seeming innocence with the Mickey Mouse Club and other kids' adventures.

These women achieved their fame initially as young stars - full of promise, hope and wholesome images. A powerful underlying theme in all of their lives is a relentless pursuit of fame at the cost of their childhoods and normal progressions of development. Celebrity biographies expose astounding tales of children behind the scenes playing perilously close to an adult world with only a facade of youth. We often see children dealing with demanding work schedules, incredibly unsupervised pursuits of pleasure and intense experimentation with some very undesirable lifestyles. Nevertheless, all is justified because they have "arrived" in that they are recognized and admired around the world and can anesthetize themselves with anything money can buy. But fame can't assure contentment, and as to paraphrase what the Beatles sang, "Money can't buy [you] love".

Jesus warned us of the limitations of monetary pursuits. He asked, "What profit is it to gain the whole world and lose one's own soul?" Scripture further tells us that "A good name is better chosen riches" Note that it doesn't say a famous or well-known name, but a good one. It is interesting to note that in our day, we seldom differentiate between fame and infamy or the goodness or lack thereof that has helped someone the achieve a well-known name.

We need to remind our children of the importance of seeking to be known by God and to be known for pursuing His blessing and His will. Many years ago, a young man named Jim Elliott penned words that serve as a challenge to every generation to pursue the things that really matter:
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

We can't keep the fame and fortune of this world forever. Jesus warned that these things rust, decay, or are taken away. Let's pursue and teach our children to pursue the indestructible riches of godly character, selfless service and faithful resilience that comes from walking with the Lord and being dedicated to His purposes for our lives. These are true riches that will pay dividends beyond ourselves to other people for generations to come. Until next time,


Monday, July 9, 2007

A Funeral for the "N-Word"? If only it were that easy!!

I just finished reading of the Funeral The NAACP just held for the "N-word" here in Detroit today. If only it were that easy! The problem is, of course, that the issue isn't the word itself, but the hearts of people who use derogatory language towards others they have learned to hate. Like many African Americans, I remember the first time the "N-word" was directed towards me personally. I was about 6 years old, and playing with a new friend, a blond of European descent, in front of my families quarters (military housing apartment) when my friend fell off of her bike. Having been taught that a gentleman always helps those in need, I proceeded to assist my friend when her mother stormed out of the house, grabbed my friend away from my hands and wagged her finger in my face screaming, "[N-word], get your hands off my daughter!" Assuming she had misunderstood what my name was, I answered, "Ma'am, my name is not [N-word] Jackson, It's Samuel Darrell Jackson and I was merely helping your daughter." The most bewildered look you can imagine crossed my friend's mother's face and her mouth gaped open as she searched for a response, but found none. By that time, my mother came bounding out of our quarters and asked to speak with my friend's mother. My friend and I couldn't hear what they said, but the conversation was lively. Nevertheless, after their words ended, they nodded in agreement, took their respective children by the arm and returned us to our homes. When we got inside, my mother gave me an abbreviated history on the [N-word], but told me that my response was really the best one I could have given. She also informed me that no one could define, demean or devalue me by calling me a name. God had created me and THAT gave me, and the person hurling the insult, all the worth we needed. It was a precious moment.

Since that time, I have been called the "N-word" more times than I can count, usually in one of two contexts - 1. By someone who doesn't know me and has made assumptions about me due to my ethnicity or 2. By someone who does know me, usually of the same ethnicity, who is using it as a "term of endearment." I share this simply to be honest about how the word is used, and how I have experienced it, NOT to make a statement about politically correct speech regarding the word in question.

According to Scripture, when we use offensive speech to demean others, it is an indication that we have failed to surrender some part of our heart to the Lord's control. It's as if we've attempted to keep a piece of our will away from God's control, so that we can retain the luxury of hating whom we choose and loving whom we choose. Jesus takes this privilege away by calling us to love our enemies and to good to those who persecute us and by calling us to control our tongues. The Apostle Paul says that it isn't' the words that need to be put to death, but our "Old selves" and our old ways. This would not only deal with the "N-word" but with other vile utterances that have become common place in our contemporary US culture.

So, while I can appreciate the symbolism of a funeral for the "N-word", I feel the time for symbolism has passed and the need for reality is upon us. Let's put our old ways and our old selves to death and allow God to raise us up as new people devoted to a new way of thinking and a new way of living. It is a more dignified solution and a more practical on as well.

Oh, a little epilogue to my earlier story. Fortunately, my blond friend and I would actually play together again for years to come. We walked to school together everday and I even ended up defending her from a bully who saw her as an easy target! I actually got a hug from her mother and a hearty handshake from her father and was a good as an honorary member of the family after that! Later in High School, someone remembered that incident and chose me to diffuse an explosive situation becuase they beleived I had been raised to be fair and not to be afraid to get hurt for standing up for what was right! It shows that when we use a difficult situation to seek understanding instead of division, as our parents did in that initial confrontation, God can make something very beautiful that bears fruit for years to come - even from a very ugly word! That works a lot better than a symbolic funeral!

Until Next time,


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Not just what we say but how we say it!

The spouse of a well-known presidential candidate chastised a popular political pundit on the basis of a statement the pundit made, where she voiced her wish that terrorists had killed the candidate rather than to have him continue to annoy this pundit with his particular political philosophy. This followed the outburst of another acid-tongued pundit who a few months ago, lamented out loud that the vice-president of the United States himself escaped harm in a terrorist attempt against his life overseas.

I know of Christians from different political perspectives who, while having strong political stances which might be considered either "liberal" or "conservative," would always demand that the points of view that they espouse be presented in a Christian way - seasoned with grace - as the Apostle Paul admonishes Christians to speak. The problem is that we as Christians are becoming less concerned about how we present the truth and about how others who hold to points of view with which we agree present the truth as well.

The way we speak truth is as important as the very truth we seek to communicate. The Bible is replete with warnings to take be careful about the way we speak. In the book of James, we are told to be "Quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger" and we are reminded that while the tongue is a small part of the body, it is able to cause great evil. James further states that the tongue betrays what is in our hearts and that just as a water source will either produce clean or polluted water, so the tongue will produce the evidence of a clean or polluted heart.

It's time for Christians to call political people into account for the way they make statements as well as for the statements themselves. We shouldn't feel any obligation to support someones statement because of a political point of view we may share, when the way they represent that point of view does not represent the most important title we hold as followers of Jesus Christ.

So, my fellow Christians, stop glorying in your political party and start giving God the glory by distancing yourselves from ANYONE who misrepresents any ideal you hold dear by presenting it in a way that would displease the One Whom you serve. Until next time...


Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Little Help From Our Friends

This week, our congregation was blessed to host a Sports Camp conducted by 30 Youth of the First Baptist Church of Lewisville, Texas. This group came to the Detroit area eager to work and ready for anything. During the evenings, they form a concern choir of well over 120 people, putting on performances throughout the Metro Detroit area at homes for troubled youth, senior citizens centers, and local churches - even a few places as far as an hour from their base of operations! During the day, they break up into four teams and conduct Sports Camps like the one they held for us. They even stopped in various cities during their 3-day bus trip here to do one day events and concerts during each travel day!

Missions like this are of incalculable value for a smaller church like ours. We have been blessed since our beginning by brothers and sisters from other cities taking to heart the Great Commission call to serve the Lord all over the world. It was wonderful to see young children being encouraged to try new sports and make new friends in a safe and secure setting where they also experienced the unconditional love that is the hallmark of true Christianity.

There was nothing fancy about the work this wonderful team did. They came armed with loving hearts, willing hands, and a little time that made a world of difference throughout the metro Detroit community. When they left they didn't just leave behind memories, they left ALL the sporting equipment they brought with them so that we could share the joy in future events we will hold to minister to the community on our own.

The Beatles were right when they said "I get by with a little help from my friends", and I thank the Lord for friends like First Baptist Church, Lewisville, Texas. I think with friends like them, we'll do more than "get by" - we'll actually surge ahead in the work the Lord has given us to do. Until next time,


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Song For Fathers

In preparation for Father's Day, I began scrolling through my mind for some songs we might use for a church PowerPoint presentation highlighting good fathers and godly manhood. I was somewhat surprised when the songs at the forefront of my mind that related to fatherhood all pointed out the downside of "Dear ol' Dad." The Temptations "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" jumped into my mind first about a father who never met the responsibilities of his household but instead, spent his life hustling and occupying different beds for his own gratification. I then thought of Gladys Knight and the Pips song, "Daddy Could Swear, I Declare!" about a sharp-tongued father who was never at a loss for words or venom to accompany his words as he let his tongue fly with reckless abandon. I finally thought of Harry Chapin's working man's lament, "The Cat's In the Cradle" which tells the sad and oft repeated tale of a dad so engaged in his work that he fails to engage his family, thus unintentionally modeling a lifestyle of family alienation that his son will emulate to perfection.

It bothers me that I can't think of many good songs about dads from the top of my head, and that these snapshots of problematic fatherly examples were readily available in the forefront of my mind. As a son who has reached adulthood with my own children - two grown, one in adolescence and one toddler, I have many thoughts about fatherhood from a parental and child's perspective. I have found in my own life that it is easy to criticize your dad. As young children, we place our dad's on such a high pedestal - a near super-hero status - only to learn of their humanity as we grow more mature and sometimes, we continue to hold them to superhuman standards, not giving them the understanding and compassion that they truly need, especially as they get older. I think that as a dad who is oh so human, it has helped me give my dad a very precious gift that I hope my children will also give to me - Some Slack.

A year or so ago, I heard an interview with Bruce Springsteen in which the legendary rocker reflected on his evaluation of his father. "The Boss" very wisely commented that many of his teen-aged and young adult evaluations of his father were terribly inadequate, because he didn't have an appropriate context from which to see the problems his father dealt with and the complications that made his father's struggle and day to day survival a truly remarkable feat, though it went totally unappreciated by Bruce. Bruce's wise words gave me a greater appreciation of him as a person and challenged me to re-evaluate how I judged my own father in some of his failures and struggles.

So, as I continue to search my brain for songs that exalt the virtues of fatherhood, I will also make it a point to remember the good things my father has done for me over the years. I will celebrate his victories more than I criticize his failures and remember to give him praise for modeling fatherhood to the best of his ability. My dad wasn't perfect and still isn't, but he sure is great and I am thankful for the role he has played in helping to understand the importance and impact of being a good father. I encourage you to praise your father if you can, and if you've had a difficult relationship with a father who has been less than stellar, I encourage you to pray for him and ask the Lord to touch your father's heart and transform your father's life as only God can. Never forget that God is in the business of transforming lives, even when it seems hopeless. Here's to fatherhood. May the Lord give us more Father's with His heart and some new songs to sing to their example and to His glory. Until next time,


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

No Words Required

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt.

These wise words are attributed to Abraham Lincoln and were a favorite quotation my mother used in dispensing wisdom to me. This week, in our church's one-year through the Bible reading program, we studied the remarkable man Job, who experienced a series of personal tragedies and losses that seem to be too much for anyone to bear. Job lost all of his children, all of his property, all of his wealth and his health. It seems that only his wife was spared and she spent a significant amount of time chastising him for maintaining his trust in God.

After his suffering had reached its apex, a few of Jobs friends show up to comfort him in his distress and to search out the cause for his unbelievably bad fortune. Their initial reaction actually proved to be their finest hour - they said absolutely nothing and merely sat in quiet contemplation with their friend. It was only when they tried to offer counsel and speak words of explanation to solve the riddle of his suffering that they strayed into foolish speculation and off-target analysis.

Sometimes, when we seek to comfort friends who suffer, we are tempted to find some pearl of wisdom that will solve all the mysteries of the ages, explain the cause of their suffering and offer the one bit of advice that will motivate them to dust themselves off and rise above their adverse circumstances and march triumphantly into a new and bright future. The reality is that these efforts usually fall short of our lofty expectations. We shouldn't be seeking to be saviors, but rather friends and comforters.

The case of Job's friends teaches us that our primary concern for a suffering friend should be comfort and encouragement, not detective work and judgement. If you find yourself in the position of Job's friends, remind yourself of the power and beauty of silent comfort. You'll be amazed at the effectiveness of holding a hand, wiping away a tear, or just being available as a visible reminder that someone cares. Don't be put off by awkward silence - Silence really can be golden and the most valuable gift you can offer a friend in need. Until next time,


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Humpty Dumpty, Miss USA and Lessons in Restoration

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.

This age-old children's rhyme warning of the irreparable effects that usually accompany a fall from greatness came flooding to mind this week when I heard of a major league moral failing of a dear friend and former ministry colleague. His fall doesn't seem like "just a slip" or a "moment of failure", but appears to be a full-fledged, head-long, face in the dirt, "prodigal eating with the pigs" turning away from a lifestyle and life way of walking with and for Jesus Christ. The news has left me numb and scratching my head wondering, how could this happen? I am also wondering is this really another instance of ol' Humpty Dumpty, damaged beyond repair and beyond any possible redemption?

In my heart, my hope is in the Lord, knowing that with Him, redemption and restoration is possible, though with consequences. I see a parallels to this truth in the recent Miss Universe contest. Most of us have heard this week's amazing account of how Miss USA 2007, a strikingly beautiful young woman, full of confidence, charm and swagger, sashayed across the floor during the evening gown competition, only to find herself suddenly and unexpectedly on her posterior to the shock of the entire audience. The swiftness and jolting nature of the fall caused me to reflect on Howard Cossell's memorable chant "Down goes Frazier! Down goes FRAZIER!!" announcing to the world the shock of George Forman's thorough and destructive pummeling of then-champion Joe Frazier. Unlike Frazier, however, Miss USA wasn't down for the count and quickly returned to her feet and continued seemingly unfazed with as much grace and poise as when she began her walk. Apparently, the judges were impressed with her recovery, and awarded her a spot among the final 5 contestants. The very partisan Mexico City crowd,however, was not moved, and jeered Miss USA during the interview portion of the contest. Nevertheless, Miss USA displayed great courage and dignity not losing focus during her interview and submitting a respectable and motivational answer chronicling her philanthropic service in South Africa. When all was said and done, however,the judges awarded her a 4th runner-up position - the fall had its impact - but Miss USA managed to finish the contest on her feet with a prize and title, albeit a diminished one from the one she originally sought.

There are a few lessons here for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ and seeking to walk victoriously in His Name.

Firstly, the Scripture warns us to take heed when we stand, lest we fall. A nanosecond before her fall on the stage, Miss USA was brimming with confidence and attitude, when BAM! suddenly,she was down. Just before his fall, my friend was known to all as a tower of strength and dependability. It is when we feel we are at our strongest that we must especially depend on and look to the Lord. The Scripture says,
'Not by power nor by might but by My Spirit, says the Lord.'
Whatever our capabilities, whatever our gifts, whatever our strength, it all comes from the Lord, not from us. We must take great care to humbly acknowledge our abilities with the understanding that they all come from God should be used in subjection to His leading and direction, not our prideful self-absorbed display.

Secondly, if we do fall, we need to keep in mind that restoration is possible. Like Miss USA, the faster we can grasp the reality of our fall and get back on track the better. Scripture leaves no doubt that all of us have sinned and fall short of God's glory. It is also emphatic in declaring that forgiveness and restoration are abundantly available and readily dispensed through Jesus Christ. Like the father in the Prodigal Son parable, our heavenly Father is eager to forgive and restore. I hope my friend will grasp a hold of this reality and do so quickly.

Thirdly, we must remember that falls have consequences. Though she received a prize, Miss USA failed to achieve THE prize and will never be known a Miss Universe, though being known as Miss USA isn't at all shabby. King David retained his throne after his adultery with Bathsheba, but at a price which cost him a son and established violence within his own household for years afterward. Should my friend return to himself and to a lifestyle of walking with Jesus Christ, he will find that he has lost some credibility and trust and that some people will always see him as "The Guy Who Fell." He will certainly find wounds within his own family that may take years to heal and may never completely heal. He will also find that it may be that he will never again hold the title of Pastor or minister that he worked so hard to receive and that he represented so well in the years before his fall. The title of "servant of the Lord" is still available, and would not be a bad title at all with which to spend the remainder of his life. For my friend and for us, forgiveness is possible and restoration is available, if only we are willing to let go of our sin and grab a hold of Jesus who is willing and able to save us.

So,even though "all the king's horses and all the king's men could put Humpty together again", and even though Miss USA's reign extends only "from sea to shining sea" as opposed to the whole world, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is able to restore us to a meaningful life when we fall and more importantly He is able to preserve us before we fall if we will just walk with Him and never let Him go. That's no fairy tale or nursery rhyme, that's the Gospel Truth! Until next time,


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Running Over Hurdles

Yesterday, I watched with great joy as my third-born daughter Joana ran the lead-off leg in her Middle School track team's 4x100 meter relay and gave her squad a lead that brought them within 3 one-hundredths of a seconds of setting a school record. All of us who watched knew it would be a blistering time, as their team came within a few inches of beating the boys relay team (the boys and girls run relays together to save time in the meets, which often run rather long, though their times and places are recorded separately.) I really enjoy these meets. In fact, if one observes carefully, there is as much intrigue in the preparation of the races and post-race reflection as there is in the actual races themselves. I was particular interested in the great care the starter took to remind runners of important aspects of racing like maintaining lane integrity and carrying out clean exchanges without dropping the baton. These aspects of track and field translate very well into life lessons and make it easy for us to see why the Bible uses racing imagery in describing the Christian way of life.

With this imagery in mind, Hebrews 12:1-3 instructs us as follows:
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

"Let us run the race marked out for us - fixing our eyes on Jesus" These words really speak to me this week. In the midst of some pretty significant Christian Life challenges for me, this verse reminds me that I need to stay on track, maintaining "lane integrity" by running the course the Lord has laid out for me and to endure. I got some excellent perspective for this verse through the feats of one of Joana's teammates in yesterday's meet. A spectacular athlete, my daughter's friend set a school record in the long jump earlier in the season and broke her own record 3 times in 3 successive contests including yesterday's meet! On a record smashing blitz, she set out blazing through the 200 meter hurdles, certain to obliterate the old standing record, when the unthinkable happened - she fell over a hurdle! A lesser runner would have lost it and given up the race. The record was now out of reach and she could have quit with every one's understanding and affirmation. But my daughter's friend is not a lesser runner. Picking herself up with grit and determination, she refocused on the course set before her and ran like a woman possessed! In the manner of the legendary Eric Liddel of "Chariots of Fire" fame, through herculean effort, she caught up with the field, and though she didn't break the record, she amazingly won the race!

Upon hearing of this amazing display of heart and courage, I couldn't help but think of some of the hurdles of life that often knock us down and seemingly out of the race - life tragedies, the betrayal of friends, goals and dreams that go unrealized and all sorts of unplanned life interruptions that knock us off of our feet and for a moment, out of the race. It is then that we must emulate and appropriate my daughter's friend's actions - to pick ourselves up, refocus on the course Jesus has laid out for us and the goal, Jesus Himself, and run with all our might. Even if we don't "win" as my daughter's friend did, the Lord expects us to run until we reach the finish line to receive our "Well Done!" from the Lord.

I don't know how all of the hurdles that have come my way this week will alter my placement in "The Race", but I know that Jesus has set the course and that He wants me to run all the way through, with integrity and with everything that is within me. I invite you to run the course Jesus has set up for you in the same way. Don't stay down. Get up and keep on running until the end! Until next time,


Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Who really represents Christianity in the public square? The Pastor? The Apologist? The Mega Church? Who has the credibility to be the face of Christianity for those who are searching, seeking and even challenging the Person and Message of Jesus Christ?

Recently, there has been a great increase in forums established for debating issues of faith and truth. Various persons of renown within the Evangelical community have stepped forward to don the mantle of faith, using a variety of approaches in their attempts to accurately represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ via the mass media.

Some have attempted to meet the skeptics on their home court as crusaders, venturing into territory filled with hostile audiences and limited by preconditions that all but put them at the mercy of their opponents. For these defenders of the faith, every encounter is a do or die battle that must be won whatever the costs.

Others, seek to defend the faith by presenting themselves as pop psychologists who dish out a feel good message that is aimed at winning over listeners by "killing them with kindness" and giving audiences an opportunity to "taste and see that the Lord is good." This approach often stays as far as possible from elements of Christianity that might "offend" such as "Hell", "Sin" and "Repent" in favor of a "kinder,gentler" approach that sometimes leaves important questions unanswered.

Personally, though I am grateful for every opportunity that arises for people to meaningfully discuss matters of faith and particularly faith as defined by trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I am also concerned that we may have relegated our discussions of faith in Jesus to forums that are more focused on market share than sharing truth. Big names and big ministries have become equated with big credibility. In an media-driven age, it is certainly understandable that people look to the faces and names they see most often, doing work on a level that seems to be "world-class" or "high-powered".

There are more than a few problems related to such a dependence on "big name ministry" as the front-line representatives of our faith. For one thing, most people are not part of such ministries. Research has consistently shown that the mean average of most congregations is less than 100 people. These are small, intimate congregations where needs are known along with names, and trust is evident as everyone knows what's going on and who does what needs to be done. Are there vulnerabilities associated with being small? Absolutely, but the small size forces people to become involved to a greater extent and makes it harder for people to skate by while expecting others to do what they themselves should be doing. Simply put, every Christian needs to be involved in accurately communicating what or more correctly, Who Christianity is all about. It's not Billy Graham's job, Rick Warren's job, Kirk Cameron job or Tony Evan's job to be the main ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

Everyday Christians who work in the market place, serve at home, live in communities are the real front line soldiers serving on the real front line of faith who need to be adequately equipped to "share the hope" that within them. So, while we rejoice when a "big name" Christian represents us well in the media and cringe when they do poorly, we should not put all of our apologetic eggs in the mass media/big ministry basket. Your friends and family know you best of all, and it's up to you to live a credible life and to be intellectually prepared to explain what you believe and why you believe it. That's effective representation that is within your grasp and that truly effects lives to the glory of God.
Until next time,


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

How To Honor Your Mom All Your Life

My mom passed away unexpectedly over 10 years ago, and Mother's Day always brings mixed emotions. On the one hand, I have a great deal of joy remembering what a great Mother she was and the wonderful mother my wife is. On the other hand, I still feel a bit of sorrow at not being able to honor my mom personally with cards, flowers, gifts and other tokens that symbolize the great love and respect I have for her.

Nevertheless, as I thought about it, I realized through reading Proverbs 31, that there were some substantial ways that I could honor my mom for all the days of my life that go beyond the token efforts of cards, candy and flowers. In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel (aka Solomon) receives valuable instruction from his mother on how to live his life with integrity and goodness. His mother gives him advice in the areas of relationships, economics, compassion, justice and leadership. These life lessons are capped with a call to fear the Lord above all. Ephesians 6:1 tells children to obey their parents in the Lord, for it is the right thing to do. There is no statute of limitations on godly instruction which can be applied effectively for a lifetime, not just one's childhood.

Therefore, the wise words of Proverbs 31 provide each one of us with a template for living in a manner that allows us to honor our moms long after they have departed this life and long after our hair has turned grey. Are you honoring your mom today? Micah 6:8 lays out the template in terms that are easy to understand:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Live by these words and honor your mom today! Until next time,


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Age and Perspective

It's great to be young! Youth is filled with the promise of things to come and, in most cases, a body, mind and spirit fully equipped and freshly prepared to make a new path towards conquering the world! One of the great challenges of youth, however, is that it is frequently accompanied with a lack of perspective. Our youth can sometimes cause us to miss beauty, truth and wisdom as it stares us squarely in the face cleverly disguised by age and experience.

A few weeks ago, I read the blog entry of a new church planter who visited a church with which I'm well familiar, pastored by a brother that I deeply respect. This new planter's observations were critical, and painted a portrait of the church my friend serves as a congregation that is out of date and struggling for relevance. As I might have expected, my friend accepted the criticisms with class, grace, and an earnest desire to hear the criticisms and improve.

Nevertheless, as an onlooker who knows about this church and who is sandwiched between these two brothers in terms of age, I would offer some gentle cautions to this fired-up, eager and well-meaning younger brother. I myself have been the "young gun" in the corral and have made some pretty bold judgements of other churches and leaders before really seeking to understand and appreciate their histories and life journeys.

Experience has made me cautious about measuring a church's relevance based on styles of expression. Preaching and worship styles are as varied as the humans who define them. Some individuals are dynamic and extremely expressive in their communication while others are more subdued. I have found that when my heart's desire is to connect with the Lord by hearing a word from someone who is genuinely walking with Him and prepared to share a meaningful word, I have been blessed by "Pew Jumpers" and the "Frozen Chosen" alike. I have my own preferences to be sure, but I can never allow my preferences to put "God in a box".

I believe there are more reliable and biblical factors that measure a church's relevance and effectiveness regardless of their style. A relevant church will have a hunger for God. Above all, there will be a burning desire among the leaders and the rank and file to know God and walk in intimate fellowship with Him. This desire can be found among the most stoic of Christians and the most vivacious. A relevant church will also have a passion to reach people by sharing the Gospel and leading people to a personal relationship with Jesus. This desire will be accompanied by an unshakable commitment to love others. People who love others are willing to get their hands dirty and to serve others even when it comes at great personal expense. A trademark of Christianity is a love for people that meets needs and is demonstrated through acts of compassion and service. There are churches of every conceivable style who display this kind of love all day, everyday to the glory of God.

I have served in more "traditional" settings where the people had a passion for God that allowed them to touch the lives of others and make differences in all kinds of extreme settings where appearances might have made their ability to be effective seem unlikely. I've also been a part of ministries that pushed the absolute limits of convention that compassionately served others from every imaginable background - even very "conservative" types - because the love of Jesus in them was so strong. Whether folks prefer a "rockin' good time" in worship, or a more "liturgical and ceremonial" approach there are no limits for a congregation that is determined to show the love of Jesus in reaching the world for Christ.

When Jesus was asked what was the most important aspect of following God, He answered without hesitation, "Love the Lord your God with all of heart, all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength, and a second is like it - Love your neighbor as yourself." These are true measures of a church's relevance. Styles come and go, but godly character and passionate service is always in vogue in God's economy.

With the aforementioned considerations in mind, I say to my younger Brother in the Lord, feel free to observe and critique, but don't be so blinded by the light of your eagerness to do something relevant that you lose sight of God in action right before your eyes. The church that in his estimation appeared to be out of touch , has spent over 20 years seeking to effectively reach its community and the world for Jesus, never allowing itself to be stifled by style, but always willing to put every aspect of its operations under the subjection of Christ's leading and authority wherever and however He might direct. If every congregation were follow that example of humble and faithful service, the Kingdom of God would be well served whether we're rockin' in the aisles or rockin' in our chairs. Until next time,


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

There's STILL Work to be Done!

Celebrations are fun. Work many times, is not. The pursuit of building understanding between people of different backgrounds and cultures can generate as much cause for celebration as it exposes the need for more work. This week in the news, I came across two stories - one that gives us cause to celebrate why it pays to be tenacious in breaking down barriers - the other gives us more understanding in just how much work remains for building cultural understanding and undoing damage from the past.

First, the cause for celebration. Thanks to the determination of the leadership of the Class of 2007, one Georgia High School is having the FIRST integrated prom in its history. The school itself has been integrated for many, many years, but up to this year, students have been content to keep their school relations strictly on a scholarly or athletic basis. Social contact just wasn't welcomed. The leaders of the Turner County High School Class of 2007, however, decided that enough was enough. Starting a grassroots movement for school unity, they began by convincing their fellow students that it was time to come together. Once they had the support of the student body and then the approval of administration, the school crowned its first solo Homecoming Queen in the Fall - there had previously been two queens crowned for each Homecoming, one Black and one White. This success naturally spawned the pursuit of a unified Prom. The development has become a source of hope and a much needed breath of fresh air to a community that has experienced hard times due to increasing economic difficulties. Though work remains to be done, one lingering vestige of a meaner, harsher era has come tumbling down due to refusal of a few dedicated student leaders to "let dead dogs lie."

Now for the work. A Black Canadian woman of West Indian origin was horrified when her elementary-aged daughter found an official tag stapled to the back of a new couch she had just had delivered to her home listed as "'n----r' brown!" Her child stated that she was familiar with brown, but had never heard that of that other color. When the woman confronted the Store Owner, he denied knowing about the description and himself being an immigrant, expressed ignorance of the meaning of the word. The supplier blamed the word on a computer error it said was traceable to China. Incredibly, the Chinese Company that manufactured the couch admitted that the description had come from an older bilingual dictionary that used the "N-word" to translate the term "dark Brown!" This is an amazing display of how deeply prejudices can effect even the other cultures with which we interact. If you think this story is outrageous and beyond belief, I have a personal story for you. Once,while serving in a severely economically depressed area in the Philippines I was greeted with a loving hug and a beaming smile by a young boy wished to express his thankfulness for my ministry efforts in terms I could understand. In his best American English he stepped back after hugging me, gave me a big thumbs up and said, "God bless you Mr. N-----r!" Talk about mixed emotions! Of course, I knew what he meant and I knew that he had no idea of the impact of the word he had just used and I lovingly accepted his heartfelt gesture. Nevertheless, I was somewhat troubled that in an area where the interactions with Americans were mostly with people involved in either missions or relief organizations - in other words, good and compassionate people who care about bringing people together - this word had emerged as the descriptive term for people who looked like me.

The Bible warns us that our "sin will find [us] out." In other words, the wrongs we fail to completely and thoroughly correct, will continue to annoy us until we do the exhaustive work of making things right. That is why when I am asked to participate in "reading days" in elementary schools, I pick a story written in English and Spanish, and when I speak to High School students, I mention that I was required to study other languages in Seminary - we have to learn about other cultures so that we can spread truth and correct error. This doesn't allow us to remain lazy and rely on stereotypes, but it forces us to get inside the heads of others and the ways they think, discovering both things we have in common and important, but not necessarily negative, differences.

My wife and I took some time to explain acceptable and unacceptable ways to describe Americans of African decent during our mission and I know I'm going to do some more research into just how Chinese dictionaries describe various shades of brown or black for English translation. Somewhere, there's some cultural bridge building work for you to do too. Maybe it's in an employment situation, among friends, family or acquaintances or with somebody who's trying to find out what this country's all about. Just keep working, keep celebrating and don't ever give up! In the end you'll make a difference and you'll have a reward from your Heavenly Father who is well pleased with this kind of effort! Until next time,


Monday, April 23, 2007

The Reality of Evil - A Follow-up on the Virgina Tech Tragedy

How could he do it? Why would he do it? What would drive a college senior to arm himself, casually walk into a dorm and classroom facilities and kill 32 people then himself? As all of us search for answers, we stay tuned to TV news reports and special editions, turn to newspaper articles, log onto blogs and chat rooms hoping to find some explanation that will unlock the secret of exactly what went so horribly wrong.

Chuck Colson, the well-known Christian worker, author and social analyst, has spanned the globe reaching out to the individuals considered the most "untouchable" by virtually every society of humanity - encarcerated criminals. In his travels, Colson often asks the correctional staffs what they believe causes inmates to commit their crimes. Generally, especially in Europe, the answer is "Mental Illness". While it is true that mental illness is a factor in many cases of the crimes committed throughout the world, there is a strong sense that there is something more foundationally causal that fules the fires of mental illness, aberrant behavior and destructive violence that we see in the world around us. The Bible says, that something is evil. Colson explains:

As we seek to understand what happened and why... it is vital that we not exclude an important part of the equation: evil.

Faced with this kind of horror, we automatically assume that we are dealing with a madman—a word the media has already used to describe the killer. That's because we can't imagine ourselves or anyone we know doing anything remotely like this. Therefore, we conclude that something must have been "wrong" with the perpetrator.

And, since our culture is defined by what sociologist Philip Rieff called the "therapeutic ethos," the "something" that's "wrong" must be a psychological defect. Mental illness, not human evil, is our preferred explanation for what happened in places like Blacksburg or Columbine.

I would add this - the types of mental illness that might contribute to a Blacksburg or a Columbine are not adequately explained without the consideration of evil. Scripture warns us that our life struggle is not merely a war of flesh and blood, neurons and synapses, the visible and the measureable, but our struggle is ultimately a Spritual battle against powerful and authoritative forces of wickedness, darkness and evil. Of course, this assertion is troubling and disarming because we are severely limited in and of ourselves to wage war with these unseen spiritual forces. The freedom to bear arms has no effect in deterring the power of Satan. Arm yourself to the teeth with firearms, and there is still no guarantee that some form of evil will not find it's way to vex you.

For this reason, we MUST remember a few truths that will prepare us to effectively fight this battle.

First, remember the nature of the battle:
Ephesians 6 reminds us that,
"...[W]e are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms."
We call these beings, demons. They are not fantasy characters from horror films, but sinister beings aligned with God's archenemy, Satan, who seek to thwart God's plan of redemtion and to bring the lives of all people to ruin and misery.

Second, remember the nature of the weapons:
The Ephesians 6 passage continues to address the "Spritual War by listing and explaining the essential spiritual weapons,
"Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the sturdy belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News, so that you will be fully prepared. In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere."
This spiritual battle is one that requires us to have a personal relationship with the Lord that we continually cultivate through Bible study, prayer, and sharing the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lastly, remember who our commander is:
1 Samuel 17:47 reminds us that we are not to fight our own battles in this realm, but must remember that, "the LORD does not save with sword and spear - for the battle is the LORD’S"! Our Life Commander can strengthen us, encourage us, deliver us and fight for us in every battle with evil. He is able to be all that we need in the most heated part of the battle with evil.

Evil is real and a part of the fallen world in which we live. It is an aspect of life for which the Bible warns us to be prepared at all times. Ignoring the reality of evil in favor of solely "naturalistic and rational" explanations for the inexplicable dangers and tragdies of life is dangerous. Nevertheless, we don't have to live in fear of evil. Let's be confident in the Lord and the spiritual weapons Jesus has given us to fight the good fight and to be prepared no matter what situation may come our way. Until next time,


Monday, April 16, 2007

Depravity and The Violence Among Us

The tragic massacre at Virginia Tech punctuates in a most definitive manner the increasing atmosphere of violence that plagues our nation. Not only are we at war overseas, but we are at war amongst ourselves, fighting for the security of our children on our own shores, with casualty rates that continue to mount year after year.

My first exposure to a high profile, news-stopping murder case was as a Grade School Student at Fort Bragg, NC. The ruthless murder of the family of Green Beret Doctor Jeffrey MacDonald shook all who lived at "The Home of the Airborne" - a tight military community that just couldn't believe such a tragedy could happen on our turf. It was especially shocking because then, as now, we were a nation at war and this unbelievable event was so vicious that it temporarily eclipsed the dominant news of the Vietnam War. At first, it was thought that a band of thugs has committed the crime. This belief put everyone on edge and made our walks to school seem more like military marches with everyone forced to walk in large groups with an escort of Paratroopers between designated rallying points and school. Our parents, trained in the use of weapons, all purchased personal weapons, determined that no wandering band of marauders would catch them unawares. No one could believe it when the discovery was made that Dr. Mac Donald himself, a Green Beret sworn to free the oppressed, had violated the trust of his own family in the worst way, murdering them in their own home. The question plagued us all, "How could someone who seemed to have everything going for him - a great career, a beautiful family and a wonderful and supportive community - do something that so violated everything he and the community stood for?" It seemed that peace was elusive not only abroad, but at home as well.

So here we are, more than 30 years later, and we awaken once again to the horrible scene of violence at home. Emergency vehicles everywhere, a shocking scenario unfolding and at the end of it all, the big questions loom on every one's mind - Why?
How could this happen in such a peaceful. low key, All American setting? We expect this in a combat zone and we half expect it in the "Big City", but Hometown USA? How could it happen there? In spite of the fact that we have more freedom, more comfort, more knowledge, more recreation, and more luxury than any society that ever lived, the "Good Ole USA" is among the most homicidal developed nations on the face of the earth. Where is this violence coming from?

Jesus describes the time of the end as a time much like the "Days of Noah"! Genesis describes those days as "filled with violence." In fact, Genesis tells us that violence and depravity [were] everywhere. The word, "depravity" particularly stands out. Depravity describes a human state of being that does not submit to or consider God and His requirements. It is a word that highlights a human tendency to ignore God in our dealings with a result that is never positive and at it's worst, is perverse, destructive, chaotic and ultimately deadly. I believe it is especially telling that these tragedies aren't confined to our "worst" communities, but occur in some the safest places we know - A Military Post, A patriotic Texas Town, A secure Colorado Suburb, a simple and peace loving Amish Community and an All-American Virginia College Campus. Each event is a stark reminder that depravity is universal and that evil is crouching at the door just as it was at the beginning when Cain's murder of Able shattered the security of the very first family.

This Eviland Depravity with which we contend each day can only be held at bay by the Overcoming Power of Jesus Christ which is available to anyone who is willing to surrender themselves to His loving care. Knowing Jesus doesn't mean that one will be spared from the fall out of Evil, but it offers assurance that peace can be enjoyed in the most tumultuous of circumstances. This peace is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he declared "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me." We can endure anything thrown at us good, bad or painfully tragic when we realize that Christ is with us to comfort us and guide us through every storm, even should we die in its raging. This confidence is what we call faith - not a blind faith that is based on wishful thinking, but a faith based on the reality of Jesus' own resurrection and the certain hope of ultimate victory that is ours if we don't faint.

Therefore, don't be surprised by the constant parade of tragedies - such is a world plagued by depravity. Rather seize the hope that is available from the one who left us with these words, "In this world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer - I have overcome the World!" Until next time,


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dealing With Harsh Words

It seems every week a new high profile person is issuing an apology for saying something outrageous. We are seeing an incredible increase in on-the-air outbursts that include racial epithets, comments demeaning to women, statements that are insulting to people of various political persuasions or just plain ole rudeness. One would think in this era of political correctness, our public speech would increase in civility and decrease in coarseness. Sadly, I believe the voluminous increase in embarrassing speech shows we are retrogressing in the area of public restraint and grace in the way we talk.

This increase in hurtful speech is also heard on the streets everyday. As a youth, I remember hearing peers who were "big and bad" cussing like sailors out of the earshot of adults, but converting to the whispering, respectful tones of a monastery if there was even the hint of an adult presence. This is no longer the case. I am at the point where I want to issue ear muffs to my children before we go to the Mall, because I know that 9 times out of 10 we are likely to hear someone with a "potty mouth" hurling obscenities with the efficiency of a Cold War Era Drill Instructor and not caring who hears them! We clearly have a serious cultural problem!

With the celebrities of late who have been publicly diagnosed with "Acute foot in mouth disease" the suggested prescription goes something like this: 1. Apologize profusely on as many broadcast outlets as possible. 2. Seek out the most publicly renowned person of the group you have insulted, beg their forgiveness and seek to open up a dialogue with as many of their comrades as you can. 3. Check into rehab. This is a start. It is appropriate, Biblical, and Christian to apologize when we injure others and it is certainly appropriate to seek to make amends for harm done whenever possible.

The problem with the emotional and relational damage of words is that unlike physical injuries, the wounds words inflict can take generations to heal and can hurt others beyond the immediate group at whom our ill-intentioned words were aimed. The "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" adage just isn't true. And rehab...Can anyone be sure that a week or two of therapy in a comfortable if not luxurious setting can really change behavior? I might be more convinced if there were specialized modules of "Scared Straight" clinics where the offender was forced to face the most intimidating members of the group offended in closed quarters for a month!

Even these efforts leave us hollow and seem to fall short. More than anything, the contrite words and humble apologies come off as efforts to save a career not to truly make amends. What, then, do we do? Well, we can begin first by remembering what Scripture says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Before I begin to beat up on anyone without mercy, I need to check my attitude and remind myself of the times I have made harmful statements and offended others by the things I said. Next I need to remember that Jesus says that the harmful things we say proceed from our hearts, not an empty vacuum or "heat of the moment". Harmful words betray some kind of issue lurking inside us. Even Christians sometimes have areas we have not brought under the Lord's control and spew unbelievable verbal sewage that brings shame on ourselves, other Christians and our Lord - How much more non-Christan's! Taking this fact into account, it is clear that mere apologies and rehab will not ultimately solve the problem of heinous verbal spewage. What is needed is a heart transplant, a spirit overhaul and a mind transformation. Of course, I'm talking about being reborn through a relationship with Jesus Christ and consequently allowing Him to renew us in the ways we feel and think.

The Scripture commands us to stop being conformed to the World System, and to submit ourselves to be transformed by God by having our minds renewed by His Spirit so that we may prove through our actions what is good, acceptable and perfect according to His will. This process would transform and govern everything about us, including the way we think which ultimately influences the way we speak. If my mind is transformed to be like the mind of Jesus, I will consider others before I consider myself, not looking down on them with condescension, but looking directly at them with compassion and an earnest desire to understand and bring healing.

For this reason, when I consider the harmful words of the latest celebrity Bad Boy, my heart goes out to him. If I could say anything to him and others who find themselves in similar situations, I would say, "As a Christian and a gentleman, I accept your apology. However, I challenge you to go beyond trying to save your job, and invite you to turn to the One who can save your soul and transform you inside and out so that you will be far less likely to even have the desire to say something that could be considered harmful or destructive. My friend, let your heart be transformed so your speech will be reformed." That's the kind of rehab we all need.

Until next time,


Monday, April 2, 2007


Labels can be very helpful. They can assist us in understanding the content and quality of the products we are buying and how long the products might be of use to us. In those instances, I like labels and depend heavily upon them to lead me to deeper understanding and to help me make sound choices. When it comes to labeling Human Beings, however, labels can be more problematic and often lead to misunderstanding and a breakdown in communication.

A few days ago, my teen aged daughter was sharing what went on during her day at school and told me of an incident involving "human labeling" that I found absolutely astounding. She recalled having lunch with her classmates and discussing the latest goings on, when one of her friends of a different ethnicity suddenly shared that they liked her because she didn't "act Black." Not being one to back down from an awkward situation, my daughter asked what this individual considered "acting Black." My daughter listened with astonishment as this very misinformed friend listed a series of less than flattering attributes that they associated with "Blackness." When my daughter tried to assist the friend by bringing some positive perspective to the situation and to the friends understanding of "Blackness" in general, the friend didn't miss a beat. "But you're half Asian", the friend answered, "So that kind of washes out the Black stuff." Some at the table nodded their heads in agreement while others stared in disbelief.

Flabbergasted, another one of my daughter's friends who is originally from East Africa interjected, "And what does that say about me?" Undeterred, the friend added, "Oh you're different too, because you're directly from Africa, not one of the Blacks from here." All attempts to educate this friend and to bring awareness to the situation went for naught. The imprint of the labels was just too deep.

To this friend, the label "Black" has an exclusively negative meaning directed only towards African Americans. The adjectives, "unsophisticated", "unruly", "undisciplined", "undependable" and "ineducable" are just some of the flawed descriptions this individual would attribute to American-born Blacks. This label has such power, that even when the fallacious nature of the label is exposed, the label persists - Black American = not good!

Of course, these aren't the only labels used to relegate people to a less than desirable status. We all tend to assign labels to marginalize or demonize people we don't have the desire to get to know. We use terms like "conservative", "liberal", "radical", "fundamentalist", "lunatic fringe", "outsider", "special interest group" to make certain people appear less sympathetic or even worse. less human than ourselves. It's part of the baggage of our sinful nature.

One well known broadcaster of yesteryear attributed this practice of labeling to selfishness and laziness. He believed that people were simply too selfish and too lazy to do the work of understanding others. After all, it takes work to learn a language, courage to engage a culture, patience to understand a way of life and selflessness to take the risk of being rejected as you reach out. It might even take a lifetime to make headway towards really learning about someone beyond a label.

Jesus, however, is calling Christians to do to the redemptive work of getting beyond labels. He has charged His people to be His witnesses in the places familiar to us, the places on the wrong side of the tracks from us and even the places that are totally strange to us to the point of laying down our lives if we must. His imperative, known as the Great Commission, calls Christians to learn unknown languages, eat unfamiliar food and love people long considered unlovable for the purpose of making God's redemption known to everyone. As a matter of fact, Jesus says when we minster and reach out in His Name to those we consider the least desirable, we're really ministering to Him!

My daughter's lunchtime occurrence clearly exposes the need to carry out Jesus' imperative. If American Middle School students in 2007 are labeling each other with such recklessness, much work remains to be done. Hearts must be touched and minds must be transformed - that's the power of the Gospel. For this reason, I still have hope - The Bible unequivocally affirms that people can be changed by the power of God if His people are willing to continue in reaching beyond barriers and labels.

I take some comfort in the fact that my daughter and her friends continue to eat together, and laugh together and still work at trying to get past the labels in spite of the difficulties. I believe that this effort pleases Jesus - people stumbling along, sometimes even stumbling over each other, but never giving up on doing the work God has called them to do in bringing healing and understanding between people. Those kinds of people are called "Peacemakers." That's a label I'd like to see spread around.

Until next time,