Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fruit That Remains

As a pastor, I have conducted and attended many funerals. As a rule, funerals are sad affairs, particularly when death is unexpected and seems premature. Just over a week ago a dear friend of mine, Gerwayne Taylor, lost his father, George Taylor, unexpectedly . George was also a cousin of Emma Twymon, who along with her husband Ken and Daughter Brianna have blessed us as friends and mighty and active members of Eastside. The funeral for George was held this past Saturday, in Detroit, and my wife Luz and I attended. We arrived at the church not knowing exactly what to expect. When we arrived, we found the atmosphere full of peace and joy! There were tears, of course,but the warm greetings and the confidence of family and friends who knew George Taylor well, bore witness to the fact that these people KNEW that this departed loved one's "house was in order" and we were all going to be treated to a tribute and a celebration of a life well lived.

The service began with powerful songs of praise to the Lord and words of comfort and wisdom from the Parish Pastor. He recounted George's service to others all throughout his life first in the US Army and then in a career that lasted for 31 years as Detroit Police officer. He likened George's service to the community to that of a "good shepherd". George had not just done his duty, but he had served from the heart, willingly facing dangers daily, and encountering some of the most terrifying situations imaginable, but yet, never becoming calloused or cynical. He was the kind of person who once apprehended a man and so affected him with his presence that the man later returned to say this encounter with George had saved his life. The pastor reminded all present of the scores of children George had personally invested in as a mentor, boy scout troop leader, and particularly as a coach. George hadn't just coached youth in sports - he had coached them in life. There were scholarships earned, pitfalls avoided, and potentials realized all because of this man's care and concern for the "sheep" of his community.

Even after all the honors and accolades, George's good shepherding skills shone at their brightest in his family. He had the testimony of almost 36 years of marriage to his beloved wife Glenda. This loving union produced what was the most powerful legacy of George's life - 6 amazing children - 5 boys and 1 girl (You can see them all in the photo on the upper left). The excellence of the shepherding George exerted in their lives was evident in the way the children grieved the loss of their father. They were sorrowful but not pitiful, mournful but not inconsolable, hurt but not hopeless. George's children exhibited a strength and resolve in the midst of their pain that was royal in its dignity and powerful in its purity. I watched as his offspring read, prayed, shared and led the congregants in loving memory of their father. I will never forget the awe that struck everyone present as Gerwayne danced in concert with a ballet group that performed in honor of his father. The see him leap with such love, power, control and artistry at such a moment brought tears streaming down my face. Only people of huge character and heart could rise up to one of life's hardest moments with such beauty and excellence.

As the service concluded,the Pastor reminded everyone of the obvious - the world was a better place because of the way George Taylor had lived. He had crammed 100 years of service into 61 years of life. Not by being busy, but by being present and active and living not for himself, but for others. As I thought about George's legacy, I remembered Jesus' desire for His disciples and for those of us who follow Him today to bear much fruit, good fruit and fruit that remains. George's presence will be missed and he can never be replaced. Nevertheless, he invested himself in others in a such a way that he empowered them to multiply the work he was doing. Every time you meet someone that knew George and was touched by him, you get a little of George too. As I watched his children hug each other, console their mother and lead and direct others as the procession made it's way out of the church, it was evident to me that though George had advanced to his reward, he left behind much fruit, good fruit and fruit that will not only remain, but be multiplied for years to come. What kind of fruit are you going to leave, when your appointment with eternity comes? Until next time...


Friday, January 25, 2008

The Only Savior ?

Today, the greater metro Detroit community is recovering from the fresh revelation of yet another scandal on the part of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Through the surfacing of past text messages, it has been discovered that the Mayor had an affair with his Chief of Staff Christine Beatty - an affair that both the Mayor and Ms. Beatty denied under oath during a whistle blower trial where the Mayor and Ms. Beatty were accused of firing two police officers who were investigating wrong doing in the mayors office including the then-alleged affair. This is yet another misstep in what has become a series of missteps by the Mayor who once seemed like a dream come true for the city of Detroit. The recurring nightmare of scandal stems directly from the Mayor's taste for pleasure and self-gratification and repeatedly undermines any attempts to accomplish good in his administration.

Nevertheless, it seems that all across the political landscape, there is a willingness to confer a special and privileged status to anyone who is entrusted with the responsibilities of leadership to the point of allowing them to lie, cheat and steal, as long as certain interests are served. This is a political reality that is characteristic of almost every level of government, be it municipal or national. Because of this reality, the mayor's resignation is not yet a foregone conclusion. Hopes were extremely high for this once bright political star, and many of the investors in his leadership are hesitant to jettison him even in light of this huge embarrassment. Detroit News editor Nolan Finley explains the hesitancy this way: phone calls Thursday revealed a business community desperate for Kilpatrick to survive this latest self-inflicted wound. The people whose money, time and energy are so heavily invested in Detroit's turnaround still see him as the guy best equipped to get the job done.

"He can work his way through this," says S. Martin Taylor, chairman of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. "The momentum doesn't have to stop. It may be that this prompts others to step up and work a little harder to keep things going."

The great fear is that if this latest scandal distracts Kilpatrick from his work, efforts to attract new investment to Detroit, provide more education options and bring life back to the city's suffering neighborhoods will wither. There's also very real concern that the national conversation about Detroit will move away from the city's successes and back to the mayor's foibles.

That's why people who should feel severely burned today are once again trying to work up the energy to ride to the mayor's defense.

They know he's far from a perfect savior. But at this moment, he's still the only savior they've got.

As might be expected, the nature of the charges against Mayor Kilpatrick have been characterized by him as a personal matter which should remain private. Christian themes of forgiveness and restoration are being touted as indicators that "we all need to move beyond this" and let the man do his job. There lies the problem. This alleged misconduct appears to have happened while he was on the job and seems to have had a direct impact on how he exerted his authority in "moving and shaking" the city government. Scripture indicates that though sex may be "personal", there are usually ramifications to sexual misconduct that bleed into the rest of one's life as well, especially when conducted in conjunction with one's vocational duties. But politics tends to blur the lines on the playing field and what seems like a cut and dried situation, may end as another head-shaking example of how power and money enter in to push integrity and justice out of bounds and out of reach.

All of this leads me to offer a reminder to all who walk in faith with Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Only Savior. Various leaders will come and go with agendas that may or may not tickle our fancy. As one national publication pointed out, the only characteristic that any candidate for any office can be guaranteed to possess is that of driven ambition. That can be ambition for good or bad, but that is a distinction that is largely undetectable. Still, Christians should participate in the political process and seek to promote the candidate they believe best represents the values and way of life they hold dear. Nevertheless,Christians should beware of placing Messianic expectations on anyone other that Jesus. Scripture tells us that ultimately all human effort to straighten things out will fail. Yes,we must do our best -vote, serve, lead, and participate in the process in the meanwhile - but any thought of bringing about Heaven on earth is a sure path to failure and any view of a politician as savior is bound to disappoint. The old hymn said it best when addressing the source of true hope for the future:

My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus Name. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

With that thought in mind, keep your eyes on the Prize - not the prize of political victory - but on the upward call of the Only Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lord. Until next time,


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The People Who Matter

A few days after Christmas, I was standing in line at a local grocery store buying a few items to replenish our cupboards when a headline from a national publication caught my eye. The magazine in question was reviewing the more spectacular stories of 2007 and heralded the subjects who made their top list as "The Events That Counted, The People Who Mattered, The Stories We'll Remember"." I stared at the cover full of pictures of the famous, the powerful, the wealthy and the influential and thought again about the headline, especially the phrase that spoke of - "The People That Mattered."

I am somewhat bothered by the headline because of what it implies. It strongly implies that there are life events that don't count and "ordinary" people who don't matter. It is particularly bothersome when one considers the wording of the founding documents of the US which declares in bold rhetoric that the equality of all people is a God-given truth; self-evident to all humans in their intrinsic being, and inalienable by anyone. Who could imagine how US history might have differed if the framers had penned, "We hold these truths to be self-evident - that some people are more important than others. That they have a worth - determined by powers deemed acceptable and respectable - above that of others. It is their lives, stories and undertakings that have value in our culture"? I understand that some stories and events that capture our collective imaginations more than others and that there are issues that are of mutual importance to large numbers of people that demand our joint attention. Nevertheless, we must not imply on any level, that some people matter and others don't.

In the coming year, this planet will be faced with innumerable challenges and trials, most involving nameless, faceless masses that will go about their daily lives in relative obscurity. As a follower of Jesus, I know that I have a responsibility to see to it that as much as it is possible with me, I ensure that the people with whom I come in contact understand that they have a God-given worth, and that they are loved and cared for by a loving Heavenly Father who has established a Kingdom not built on human egos, but through a sacrificial Divine love, shown "on a hill far away on an old rugged Cross". I must be willing to assure each person that I meet that they matter, because they have been created by a loving creator who knows the number of hairs on their head (Matthew 10:30) and is well acquainted with the comings and goings of all people to the point of knowing every time they rise and every time they are seated (Psalm 139)!

In 2008, don't fall into the trap of only focusing exclusively on whom and what popular opinion says is important. Remember that in God's economy, while a community celebrated the high profile donation of a rich and powerful mover and shaker, Jesus celebrated the anonymous donation of a lowly, humble elderly woman who went unnoticed by everyone but God(Mark 12:41-44)! Everybody matters and everything counts. Do your best to remind the people you encounter every day this year that they matter to God and they matter to you. Until next time...