Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?

Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music? If you believe the question sounds like a rallying cry from a Jesus Freak in the 1960's, you're only partially correct. The question originated with none other than Martin Luther during the Protestant reformation. The identity of the "Devil" in the quotation is somewhat debated, nevertheless, the question has relevance regardless of whom Luther was targeting. I became familiar with the quote through the songs of a Contemporary Christian Music Innovator who passed away this weekend - a brother named Larry Norman.

I first heard Norman's music through the unorthodox but solid ministries of two Army Airborne Chaplains - Chaplain Spears and Chaplain Crews. Neither one looked the part of a Christian Rocker. Chaplain Spears was nearing 50 and gray haired, but was tremendously fit with youthful energy and had a heart for soldiers and their families. He also had a tremendous partnership with his piano and tambourine playing wife - a fireball of energy and action - and three amazingly talented guitar playing sons who looked like cast members from the Original Jesus Christ Superstar. They brought a then-new style of music from the West Coast that nobody had heard in chapel before. While hanging out with his family and practicing for a youth concert, I heard the song for which this blog entry is titled and thought, "Now THAT'S a GREAT question!" When I shared the question with my mom, she agreed and must have laughed for half an hour. My mom was quite a singer in her own right, and used to replace the words from her favorite secular songs with Bible verses or Christianized lyrics. She was just a little ahead of her time and would tweak obviously positive songs like "Lean On Me" and overhaul not-so-wholesome one's like "Just My Imagination" or "Me and Mrs. Jones" - really! She did it and the songs rocked!

For our family, the Spears were a breath of fresh air. But as I mentioned earlier there was another key player in this ministry team. Chaplain Crews was the perfect compliment to Chaplain Spears. He was young, a rocking guitar player himself, who was also blessed with a ministry-involved and musically-gifted wife as well as a huge repertoire of West coast Praise music that really cranked up the 1100 Hour General Protestant Worship Service about 12 notches. Chaplain Spears had wonderful personality and kind of reminded us of Donny Osmond, except that he was a Charismatic Presbyterian with an Airborne Haircut and Jump Boots!

These two chaplains revolutionized the way I saw worship and by extension, the way I viewed the Lord Himself. In a very racially charged time, these men reached out across boundaries and mobilized a small military faith community of many backgrounds and origins into a united force of ministry and compassionate outreach. I learned from them that not only was "Jesus Alright!" as the Doobie brothers had proclaimed, but that He was calling people to know Him personally, and follow Him obediently. That obedience meant recognizing our own sinfulness and allowing Him to change us from within and lead us in a new and living way that put the needs of others above our own according to God's Plan. Because of the example of these men and their families, some critical spiritual issues came together for me and I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ and became a Born-Again christian in the summer of 1974. They were the leading edge of a new breed of chaplain - the types that would continue to shape my spiritual formation - people like Glen Bloomstrom, Tim Leever, Mike Belue and Scottie Lloyd- brothers who loved the Lord and took the call to make disciples to heart, transforming lives in new and creative ways wherever they were assigned.

All of this happened in my life because a long-haired Jesus Freak dared to ask the Question, "Why should the Devil have all the good music?" I doubt that Larry Norman realized that while his music was reaching west Coast hippies and transforming their lives, it was also reaching military families - even Black Folks originally from the deep South - and transforming theirs too. He always insisted that his worship songs be a part of the public domain to be distributed as widely as possible, not worrying about his own financial benefit. I guess I'm living proof that his strategy was the right one. It's also comforting to know that now he's reaping the full benefit of his heavenly investments and hearing first hand from the heavenly choruses that the Devil isn't even close to having any of the best music. Until next time...


Monday, February 25, 2008

Playing The Hand You're Dealt

At one time or another, most people have to contend with a life situation that just doesn't seem fair. The injustices range from inconveniences as trivial as being out jousted for position in traffic or a supermarket line, to more significant setbacks as frustrating as being overlooked for a promotion or being misunderstood by a good Friend when trying to help them. These everyday trials affect virtually everyone, and every mature individual learns to take them in stride. There is another level of trial, however, that defies easy explanation and requires much more than average maturity and focus to digest. This level of trial is truly life altering and involves a level of commitment and endurance that engages all of one's being - heart, soul, mind and strength. This weekend, I was reminded of how jolting this level of trial is when I heard difficult news involving 2 wonderful women involved in ministry in our area.

Nelda Hart is one of those rare people who seems to have no enemies. She is the kind of person who always has a smile on her face and never stops thinking of ways to help others. While others approach a ministry opportunity seeking the lowest level of commitment and challenge, Nelda eagerly volunteers for those behind the scenes hands-on tasks that involve coming early, staying late and getting very, very dirty. she absolutely epitomizes Christ-like service. What makes her attitude so special, is that she exhibits her amazing attitude while enduring all sorts of personal trials. After a recent accident, Nelda had to have one of her legs amputated. While the average person would have been crushed by such a tragedy, Nelda spent her time comforting those who mourned for her and inspiring them to allow God to use their problems to encourage others to apply their faith when it mattered. When someone close to her asked how she could possibly be so upbeat in her situation, Nelda simply replied, "It's the LORD!" This weekend, Nelda joined a group of women from our church for a getaway retreat. On the first night of the retreat, Nelda mentioned that she wasn't feeling very well and complained of chest pains. An ambulance was called and Nelda was rushed to a nearby hospital where it was found that she had suffered a heart attack. When the women of our church visited Nelda she was true to form, trusting God in the midst of her pain and displaying more concern for their emotional well-being than for her own situation. Even in this terrifying and uncertain situation, Nelda continues to be committed to trusting God and displaying His comfort for the encouragement of others through His abiding presence in her life.

On the heels of hearing about Nelda, I received news that a strong woman of faith in our church's association had gone on to her Eternal Reward. Trenise Lowe was a person you would remember forever if you had the privilege of meeting her even once. She was extremely outgoing, highly motivated, totally committed to serving the Lord and had a particular passion for missions. A few years ago, Trenise learned that she had a malignant form of cancer that had grown behind her eye. While this is the kind of news that would paralyze many with fear, Trenise took a different approach. Whether she lived or died, she would seek to live every day as a testimony to her faith in Jesus Christ and encourage others with her testimony of His faithfulness in her trail. Of course, Even with this resolve, the questions came. One question that tugged at Trenise's heart was this - why would the Lord seemingly confine her to limited mobility when she had such a Passion and willingness to go wherever the Lord would send her to serve as a missionary? With so many people unwilling to surrender to this type of service, it just didn't seem fair that someone willing like her should be placed on the "disabled list" and not allowed to go because of ill health. She soon found the answer to her question. In receiving care for various stages of her treatment she found that everywhere she went, she was encountering people from all over the world. She summed it up by saying, "When I couldn't go to world, the Lord brought the world to me!" Seeing the great opportunity the Lord had placed right at her feet, she began sharing Jesus' message of hope with those who cared for her and those who suffered with her. Some were so amazed at the mighty faith she consistently displayed that they asked for one on one time to hear how faith in Jesus had given her such strength in the face of certain death. What a ministry, what a mission and what an impact for the Kingdom of God!

I believe there is a straightforward life lesson to learn from these extraordinary women of faith - play the hand you're dealt! Life will bring you trials and tests. Generally, we cannot choose our trials or select our tests, but they do come. The one factor we can choose, in most cases, is our response to our difficulties. One response we can employ is spending our time complaining about our trials and growing bitter in disbelief about how unfair our tragedy is. This response is understandable. Nevertheless, the two women whose stories I have highlighted have shown us what the Apostle Paul described as a "more excellent way." The way of Jesus is The Way that calls us to live with the understanding that our life was never meant to be all about us. We are here to live for God and to serve for others. Everybody suffers. Christians are called to embrace the God of all comfort in our own suffering that we might be able to show others the comfort we ourselves have received from Him. Rather than murmur about the hand the Dealer dealt us, we should play out the hand we have received for as long as we can with all the strength we can until our hand has been played out.

The next time you find yourself in the midst of a trial remember Nelda and Trenise and ask the Lord to give you the strength and resolve not to complain, but to grasp how He might use your trusting and faithful response to encourage others as the face trials of their own. It's the reason you've been placed on this earth. Play the hand you're dealt! Until next time....


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Religion and Politics - Too Important To Evade!

For centuries, shade tree sages have waxed eloquently regarding the perils of debating "religion and politics". Nevertheless, when one considers that the issues in question deal with one's eternal destiny, the daily governance of people and the maintenance of personal and corporate freedoms, these challenging yet important matters beg to be discussed. Therefore, considering that the nation has reached the Super Tuesday mile marker in an increasingly exciting election year, I thought it might be an appropriate time to share a few foundational principles I try to keep in mind when engaging in the political process as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Principle 1: Know what you believe.

Before issues or candidates can be evaluated, one must know what the Bible teaches and allow the truth of God's Word to guide one's stance on issues. The Scripture warns that there is a way that may seem right, but in the end it can lead to death. For that reason, understanding and discernment are vital in the evaluation of political systems and candidates. A strong grasp of the content and context of the Scriptures can enable people of faith to build a strong foundation upon which a sound and godly political philosophy can be constructed. It is not enough to rattle off a party line. One should be always be able to address one's philosophical stances from a biblical perspective and a deeply held sense of informed personal conviction.

Principle 2: Don't ascribe inerrancy or infallibility to a political party's platform.

No one political organization's platform exhaustively addresses the truth of God's Word point by point. The spectrum of issues addressed in Scripture is wide and includes instruction on everything from addressing social justice to pursuing individual holiness. The topics addressed in the Bible are often not addressed in a political party's planks at all and omissions regarding issues the Bible considers essential often occur. For this reason, Christians shouldn't expect any political machine to "scratch every ideological itch", especially when those machines primary objective is to appease and to ease the collective "itches" of an incredibly diverse population, which includes many non-Christians. American Christians must do what every US citizen does - weigh and balance a party's stances in the light of the truth and make the best choice possible from the information available as their convictions would lead.

Principle 3: Don't assume it is necessarily possible to know a person's political affiliation based on their walk with the Lord.

The reasons that people choose their particular political affiliations vary greatly, and vilifying or beatifying someone based on their choice of political party is iffy work at best. All people are shaped by their personal experience. Even people who are in total agreement theologically and may consider themselves cut from the same theological cloth may differ on issues based on how their background causes them to process certain aspects of the theology they believe. Ethnicity, gender, social background, and life experience all play a part in shaping how individuals see the world. Don't be surprised if someone who genuinely says "Amen!" next to you in church, asks, "What you talkin' 'bout" when politics enters the equation. There is unity in Christ, but not always unity in political opinion.

Principle 4: Don't expect any political leader or system to solve all of your problems.

Christians have to remember that it is in GOD that we trust, not the government. God has created governments for our help and benefit, but only the Lord can meet all of our needs! Whenever we confer faith and power that belong to God upon the government, we not only set ourselves up for disappointment, but also for the limitation or loss of our freedoms as well. While we should reasonably expect the government to serve us for numerous things, we must trust only God to meet our needs in everything!

Principle 5: PARTICIPATE!

In the United States, the preamble to our constitution begins with audacious words that apply to each of us and keep us "on the hook" with regard to the state of the Union: We the PEOPLE! The People are the engine that drives the government, not the government the people. That means people must participate in the processes of serving in government and in maintaining communities and the nation. Voting is an obvious and important way to participate in government, but it is not the only way to make things happen. We the People must serve at every level, and must have the kind of industry and initiative that does not depend on the government to move our communities forward and to keep our nation on track. That means in addition to voting, we must truly put our money where our mouths are, and I'm not merely talking about paying taxes. If someone believes that abortion is wrong, protesting is one's right, but adopting unwanted children, mentoring single teen moms, and training young dads to be responsible and faithful to one woman is much more righteous. Demonstrating against racism is one tool in promoting racial harmony, but refusing to laugh at ethnic jokes, refusing to leave a neighborhood when different ethnicities move in, and refusing to leave someone's side who is being castigated because of their heritage is a demonstration of true reconciliatory conviction. Each of us has the power in our everyday lives, in ways we often ignore due to laziness, lack of conviction or beacuse of inconvenience, to make the kinds of differences that may or may not impact the ballot box, but cannot help but impact the world in which we live.

As the political season progresses and choices must be made, please don't forget to vote with your hearts. Most importantly, don't forget to vote with your hands and feet - putting your hands to work to do good everywhere you go, and making your feet swift to go and to serve as far as your strength, your abilities and your courage will allow. For those of us who are Christians, remembering that our strength, abilities and courage are all supplied and maintained by the Lord should carry us extremely far indeed. Until next time...


Monday, February 4, 2008

True Champions

Before there was ESPN and dozens of sports channels giving you 24/7 coverage of every nuance of every sport known to humanity, there was ABC's Wide World of Sports. In the introduction of each weekly installment, Wide World of Sports summarized the magnetic attraction of intensely fought athletic contests in these immortal words,
"Spanning the Globe to bring you the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat; The human drama of athletic competition! THIS is ABC's Wide World of Sports!"

Yes, it's the thrill, agony and the drama that draw us. Wide World of Sports went beyond filming games, it took you behind the scenes, humanizing the contestants, showing everyone that the struggle you watched was more than an exertion of strength on a weekend afternoon - It was a microcosm of life itself - a journey of blood sweat and tears that tested character and exposed what was inside the heart of individuals - win, lose or draw. The sporting world was treated to an amazing presentation of "human drama" this past weekend as the mighty and here-to-fore "perfect," AFC Champion New England Patriots faced the determined and not-even-close-to-perfect NFC champion New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. To the extreme satisfaction all who watched, the game more than lived up to the pre-contest hype and will go down in gridiron history as one of the most dramatic, heart pounding displays of football competitiveness ever to be displayed on Superbowl Sunday.

The Giants played like a team possessed - especially the defense! It seemed as if they had a singular, almost maniacal obsession from which they never relented - Get Tom Brady at all costs! After every New England snap of the ball, the Giant defense caved in on Brady as if someone had told them he had insulted their mothers. Brady faced a human tsunami of Giants every time he touched the ball, and only incredible talent and professional excellence enabled him to put points on the board and to lead his team to come within minutes of glorious perfection and Professional Football Immortality. But history had a different, and much more dramatic ending than Brady, his coach Bill Belichick, and the Patriot Franchise had in mind. Two words that have described the New York Giants throughout the entire 2007-2008 football season are "Determined" and "Undaunted". These words were in full evidence in one phenomenal play by New York quarterback Eli Manning and receiver David Tyree that led to a subsequent touchdown pass that changed the course of the game and history making the New York Giants the come-from-behind victors!

What a turn of events for the Patriots; to come so tantalizingly close to doing what only one team in NFL history has done, the 1972 Miami Dolphins who emerged from the 1972 Super Bowl as the undefeated NFL Champions - to came so close to football immortality - only to fail! The shock, disappointment and pain were obvious. The Patriots perspective was summarized by Brady who basically stated that the other 18 victories during the season meant nothing. They lost the most important game of the season, and in the end, for them, that was all that mattered. For the Giants, obviously the drama was different. They had started the season 0-2 and it seemed as if Eli Manning would be forever in his big brother Peyton's shadow - always the bridesmaid, never the bride. However, in the face of long odds and almost universal doubt on the part of others outside of the Giants organization, determination, perseverance and a reliance on team effort enabled Eli and his teammates to embrace one of the most satisfying victories in NFL History and to assure their own place in the chronicles of NFL Legend.

As a Christian, every life experience ultimately causes me to reflect on eternal values and broader life truth. As I reflect on this year's Super Bowl, first, there is the realization that the drama on the field played out for our entertainment has real life repercussions for the players and franchise staffers themselves. For those people, their victory or defeat in the Super Bowl is a matter of professional success or failure. This Game of all games is a matter of dollars gained or loss, contracts renewed or terminated and a very big determinant of how their professional life's work is viewed for years to come. It's somewhat easier to understand the pain in the Patriots loss when one considers that because of this particular loss, the Patriots are now seen by some as failures when they have been to 4 of the last 7 Super Bowls and won 3 of them! It is sad to think that Tom Brady and his coach Bill Belichick may actually be portrayed by some as losers in their over-all careers because of failing to achieve this historic opportunity even though they have already been victorious in the Super Bowl three times!

One sports commentator stated that because of their failure to achieve a perfect 19-0 season, this will certainly be the most bitter loss for the Patriots in their careers and that they will NEVER get over it! I dare to counter that though it may be true that will be the most monumental professional and personal loss in their careers, the 2007-2008 Patriots HAVE to get over it! I speak from experience. I've had my own share of failures and losses, a few of them public ones and one pursuit in particular very noteworthy in the level of ambition involved in my pursuit of it and the level of consequence involved in my failure to achieve it. Nevertheless, I've learned that I cannot succeed in going forward to pursue future success, if I always look backward and cling to my past short-comings. In seeking to allow the Lord to teach me in victory and defeat, my eyes have been opened to other human dramas much more critical that any I have experienced - life and death dramas where people face real life struggles such as broken families, inadequate housing and substandard education. I was exposed to the challenges others faced as they lived from day to day with debilitating illnesses, chronic pain, or the loss of a close loved one. I have also witnessed the spiritual blindness of people who didn't understand God's love for them or how this love was freely available to them and could empower them to overcome many of the tremendous challenges they faced. In my own losses, I was also exposed to my responsibility to share my God-given gifts with everyone I meet, understanding that most people aren't so concerned about my past failures - they are more concerned about my involvement, dedication and commitment to walk along side and helping others in their journeys.

In getting a grip on God's perspective in victory and defeat, I have experienced triumphs that have been as satisfying as anything achieved by a championship team. I have seen drug addicts come clean. I have witnessed those who were formerly down and out, lifting up others after their own lives were transformed. I have seen haters become lovers and destroyers become healers. I have certainly seen losers achieve unbelievable victories and inspire others to see that the possibility of victory was within their grasp as well. This is the kind of perspective I wish for the New England Patriots - The kind of perspective that will allow them to hold their heads up with dignity, grace and a powerful humility that will cause them not to walk around like "Football gods who own the earth" but as tremendously gifted mortals who understand all too well, the pain of defeat, and the necessity to move beyond it and help others who truly have to live everyday with pain and suffering. If they can do that, they'll always be champions in my book. Until next time...


Friday, February 1, 2008

Saying Sorry Isn't Enough

Like most metro-Detroiters, I was eager to see the Mayor Kilpatrick's apology earlier this week. It was not a pleasant thing and it was particularly painful to watch his wife during the broadcast. What a difficult position for her. Nevertheless, I believe it was certainly appropriate for him to apologize for his behavior, though he was vague in discussing what that behavior really was. I also believe, however, he has to face the fact that as a public figure and particularly as the leader of the city of Detroit and a recognizable face for the entire metro region, the standards of conduct for him are higher and his actions fueled with public funds and hidden with Mayoral authority cannot be considered private. There is no evading those standards, especially when his misconduct is linked directly to dalliances with his subordinate and gross misuse of the money with which he has been entrusted while supposedly on the job.

It appears that Mayor Kilpatrick is under the misperception that he has imperial rights to behave outside the boundaries of the law, instead of a democratic responsibility to set an example of good citizenship within it. How can he call for law enforcement when he himself does not behave within the confines of the law? How can he address young people and call them to responsible lifestyles, when his own lifestyle is so irresponsible? His word seems to have little value and even less authority. Even when he issued his first public statement after the text scandal broke, saying that this kind of behavior was behind him and he had made things right with his wife regarding this adulterous pattern years ago, his behavior just last week with another woman at a NC hotel is totally at odds with his words. Not to mention, of course, his apparently false statements made under oath last year.

Do I believe he should be forgiven? He says he is a Christian and has sought pastoral guidance and God's forgiveness. This is good and of course God's forgiveness is always available at all times to anyone who earnestly asks. Nevertheless, the Lord calls leaders to a higher standard, and with the forgiveness of sin comes the consequences of poor judgment. We may be saved from the eternal penalty of our sin and from broken fellowship with God, but not always from the damage we have set in motion by our disobedient actions. King David was forgiven, but a child died, a kingdom was divided and his family was turned upside down for generations because of his scheming, adultery and his killing of an innocent man. The Mayor has been given many chances in the past and should have known he would be under greater scrutiny and that his past misdeeds were being overlooked to give him a chance to do better - that's how he won the last election and that's what he promised to keep in mind after his victory. His actions show that though he is sorry for the being caught, he is most concerned about avoiding consequences, not in facing his issues. It doesn't appear that there are any "Nathan's" in his life, including his pastor, who can say to him, "You are the man who has sinned and you are the man who needs to deal with this. In this matter, the Lord is not with you. Stop trying to hold onto your power and start trying to get a grip on your God!" He needs to go to church on his knees in repentance, not stroll into church in his pride for political avoidance.

At this point, what happens to his administration is up to the law. If the Mayor was really interested in demonstrating godly manhood and character to his sons, he wouldn't hide behind his mistress (through her resignation), his bodyguards (through physical intimidation of reporters) or his family (by calling on the press not to harass them, when there is no evidence they have done so). Instead, he would 'fess up, step down and ride higher than he has ever ridden in the forgiveness and restoration that is available in Jesus. The Lord has an amazing way of restoring what the locusts have eaten and even what we ourselves have burned up if we turn to Him in humility. The Bible says that God is "opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble". If the mayor is going to save his life, heal his family and have any chance at real public redemption, he needs to lose his pride (and his job) and find some humility and the new direction that can come with it. That way, even at the cost of his job, he just may find the joy, freedom and power he has been seeking in all the wrong places. Where sin abounds, grace can abound all the more, but only in the light of truth, moral courage and selflessness.

The Mayor desperately needs to find his way and relieve the city of the cloud of shame that his actions have brought on it. My prayer and hope for him is that he will do it by choice not by force. Only time will tell. Until next time...