Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Today I woke up burdened. My heart was heavy, my mind was troubled and my spirit grieved. I cannot readily attribute my sentiment to any particular cause or situation. At first I thought I had "the blues" but what I felt was more spiritually profound than merely "feeling low." It wasn't melancholy or any emotive state that could be easily explained by some natural occurrence or impending event. What I felt was a very deep spiritual stirring that evoked emotions I wasn't sure how to express, but that I knew needed to be released. As I sat puzzled by my state of mind, I reflected on a verse that provides a strong spiritual principle too often overlooked or by-passed by "Book of James," action oriented Christians like me. What verse? Psalm 46:10 - "Be still, and know that I am God." After I had taken the time to just sit, be still and listen, I understood the burden that God had placed on my heart. It was really a very simple, straight-forward impulse that tugged at my very soul - "Talk to Me." Luz and I pray daily as individuals and we also pray together every morning for a multitude of requests and for the variety of unknown circumstances we know we'll face on any given day. What I felt the Lord communicating to me in the quiet stillness of just waiting and contemplating was something even deeper. He wanted me to truly "unload" on Him so that He could truly minister comfort, direction, peace and guidance to me. In other words, He didn't just want me to execute the daily discipline of prayer - a good thing - He truly desired for me to communicate to Him from the depths of my heat with tears, laughter, anger, pain and joy - in spirit and in truth - the BEST thing. Jesus said,
...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth(John 4:23-25.
It is important to note that the beginning of the Psalm 46 passage I quoted earlier says,
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
We may fail to recognize this, if we don't take the time to be still and listen to Him so that we can meaningfully commune with Him not just from our lips, but from our hearts.

So let me challenge you. Make the time and take the time to slow down, sit still and let God speak to you in a way that opens your heart to freely and honestly communicate with Him so that the cloudy burdens you have can be transformed into shining rays of sunlight and God's joy that you can share with others. This transformation will result in God's glory, their blessing and your own fulfillment and satisfaction as you learn and carry out the will of God in your life. Stop fretting, worrying and scheming, rather be still and know that the Lord is God! Until next time...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

When Kings Die

I had never felt so sleepy. We had only been in Germany for a few days and I was still trying to recover from jet lag. My mom and dad were enjoying catching up on 6 months worth of news and Dad was eager for Mom to fill him in on all that I had been doing while we stayed with Grandma in Mississippi waiting for quarters to become available so that we could join him in Europe. The radio was tuned to the Armed Forces Network (AFN) and the program was cranking out oldies from the '50's. Suddenly, the music stopped and an announcer's voice woke me up and broke news that just didn't seem possible. He said, "Ladies and Gentleman, The King is dead! Elvis Presley died today of undetermined causes in his Memphis home of Graceland. We are interrupting all programming to bring you exclusives on the life and times of Elvis Aaron Presley."

And so it all began. There were precious archival interviews with Elvis that had been conducted when he had been stationed near our location as a soldier in Germany with the 3rd Armored Division. There were on the street interviews with Germans who had known Elvis, special reports from the States, Wolfman Jack specials, etc. EVERYONE seemed touched by this unexpected passing of an American Original. Elvis, The King of Rock and Roll, was dead and even in far away Deutschland his music and persona had touched millions.

Eerily, I was reflecting on that time earlier this morning as I painted our front porch and listened to some old Elvis standards, including his MAGNIFICENT southern Gospel arrangements. (If you think his Rock and Roll is awesome, you should hear his Gospel tunes - WOW!) I thought about how much he had to offer and did offer, yet how much he failed to accomplish due to his inability to really find any anchor of normalcy in his life. As I was pondering his demise, the one pop icon who approached his stature came to mind and I thought, "Well at least Michael has more time. Perhaps he can redeem his last troubled years." Of course I didn't realize then that Michael Jackson only had hours remaining at the moment I expressed my thoughts.

A few hours later, I turned on the TV thinking I was gong to catch up on other news which included Farrah Faucett's death from cancer, which had been expected. The screen suddenly lit up with breaking news banners that seemed too spectacular to fit the "normal" range of "breaking news." The words were hauntingly familiar, and the name attached was simply shocking. "Ladies and gentleman, The King is Dead! Michael Jackson has died of what appears to be a heart attack at the age of 50. The King of Pop is no more!" I felt the same level of disbelief I had felt some 32 tears earlier. This time, instead of listening to my dad recalling the Elvis's budding career, Luz and I began recalling when we first heard the Jackson 5, tracing their careers and Michael's solo emergence. This was amazing considering that we were discussing his impact on us from the perspectives of two different continents! Luz even recalled how during her last trip home to the Philippines just a few years ago, MJ's presence was the major factor to consider in planning local transportation, public events and intra-island travel! With thousands of miles of ocean between us, The King of Pop had been a major influence on our cultural identities and our remembrances of our growing up years.

After such reflection, the question arises, what does the death of such a famous person really mean in the Grand Scheme? Why does the passing of someone we really didn't know touch us so personally and so deeply? One explanatory comment I made in responding to a friend via IM's who expressed his own surprise at how the Michael Jackson's death had affected him was this, "You can't hear someones voice for [30 years] without their passing touching you!" All of us who enjoyed Michael's music can attach specific memories to it. In elementary school, there were incessant arguments about who was better, The Osmond's or The Jackson 5? In Junior High and High School, Michael's solo career began to emerge with Off the Wall which fueled the "disco infernos" for countless school dances, picnics and gatherings. Thriller took everything to another level during college and early adulthood and the rest is History.

These memories are sweet. Nevertheless, as with everything in my life, I find it necessary to glean some spiritual truth from the nostalgia. We all should take note that MJ's life demonstrates a too oft told tale of extreme fame and riches failing to bring ultimate happiness and peace. Even with a large family behind him, it does not appear that Michael ever found peace for his heart or rest for his soul. With all the joyful, carefree memories his music brings for many of us, it is a tragedy that he never found that kind of carefree enjoyment for himself, but rather lived a stress-filled life filled with pain, controversy and an unfulfilled quest for personal peace and contentment. In many ways, having achieved everything anyone could want, he possessed nothing we all ultimately desire. His shocking death serves as another jolting reminder that the basic aspects of human existence are common to us all. As John F. Kennedy stated in his commencement address to Washington University in 1963, "...[I]n the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."

When "Kings" die, their passages serve as reminders that no matter how great or small, we are all given a limited amount of time to make good use of the gifts, talents and intellects that the Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us. Ephesians 5:15-17 puts it like this:
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.
With all of the accomplishments of the two Kings of our musical heritage, it is a shame that there is an almost universal understanding that somehow for all they accomplished, they still fell short of their intended purposes.

As we remember the good times they brought us, let us also remember the difficulties they suffered and the mistakes they made. Let us display godly wisdom as we live our lives and let their struggles and failures serve as warnings and motivators for us to make the most of every opportunity to do good and glorify of Father in Heaven. It is the one sure fire way we can each make sure that their lives and ours shall not have been lived in vain. Remembering the kings, Farrah and Ed with deepest respect - until next time...


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Every Bullet Has Your Name On It!

Today the airwaves were replete with fresh political gossip as South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford held a press conference to confess that his mysterious 5-day disappearance wasn't due to a trek along the Appalachian Trail to clear his head as had been reported, but rather the result of a desperate adulterous rendezvous with a secret lover in Argentina whom he has known for 8 years. His confession was predictable - complete with tears, words of remorse, an apology directed towards his wife and four sons and a verbal resolve to carry out his gubernatorial duties in spite of the incredible drama and chaos he has injected into his administration.

The political talk shows are awash with pundits analyzing the effects on Sanford's office and his family. Psychologists are also being called upon to try to discern what could cause an otherwise fine and upstanding man to commit such an act of disloyalty and stupidity. One psychologist attributes the moral slide to a mid-life crisis. Another blames narcissism. Ben Stein, political analyst, commentator and pitch man was simply stumped. On tonight's Larry King show, Stein just couldn't make sense of it. He said, "His wife is a knockout. I can't imagine what this woman in Argentina looks like!" A part of me understands the psychologists conclusions and Ben Stein's logic, but what I know of Scripture points to something more profound and disturbing. Jeremiah 17:9 puts it this way,
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?

That sounds harsh. But after 25 years of ministry and interacting with diversity of people from a variety of backgrounds, not to mention knowing myself and my motives and inner struggles, the words ring absolutely true! People who seem to have it all together, sometimes commit the most heinous acts imaginable, and I can even find myself in an unguarded moment entertaining a thought that is simply outrageous. The danger in committing the stupid acts comes from convincing yourself that you are impervious to them.

We see this kind of bravado in all aspects of life, all the time. Mike Tyson's self- proclaimed "Baddest Man on the Planet" title sounds silly now, but prior to Buster Douglas seemed plausible. As a man after God's own heart, King David's character seemed incorruptible, but after his catastrophic affair with Bathsheba, his weaknesses seems all too obvious. For that reason, when it comes to sin and committing acts of disobedience, a very wise mentor of mine put my own vulnerabilities - and his - into these terms: "EVERY bullet has your name on it! Every opponent can knock you out! The second you think you're above falling into temptation is the second you've already lost the battle. You'll never be above falling for some stupid trap. Don't you dare think that there isn't a situation or person you might encounter that couldn't lead you to dishonor yourself, devastate your family and render your minstry impotent. If you remember that and remember that God can provide the escpe from your own sinful desires, you have a chance to make it."

The Bible offers several lines of defense to help us when we are highly pressured to give in to temptation. The first is to keep a reign on your affections. Proverbs 4:23 admonishes us to this course of action:
Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.

I can remember back in High School cultivating crushes I knew were not particularly beneficial because there was just something so sweet about being in love, regardless of whether or not it made any sense - especially if the person flirted with liking you back. When we play with those kinds of emotions later in life, the results can be disastrous. What begins as "innocent but deep sharing" can subtly evolve into a dependent relationship that given the right circumstances can evolve into an affair that neither party had anticipated, but that neither party wishes to give up because it just feels so good. A monster 70's hit explained, "It can't be wrong, when it feels so right!" Unfortunately it can be wrong and our hearts are more than able to trick us into thinking otherwise.

The second line of defense is to run. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says,
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

When you see the onset of the possibility of temptation, leave! Take the long way home. Shop at another store. Choose a different time to go to the gym or better yet, go to a different gym. Whatever it takes to avoid the tempting situation, do it! The costs will be much less than the cost of trying to repair a broken marriage, torn up family or stained reputation.

Thirdly, remember the battle is not just physical but a spiritual one. Ephesians 6:10-13 gives this command in preparing us to fight against all sorts or evil:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Will power will not equip you to stand against the barrage of bullets and arrows the enemy is prepared to rain on you. Humble dependence upon the Lord and a relentless determination to draw close and cling to Him will protect you when all else seems to have failed. God is able to preserve you when the temptations and tests come raging in like a mighty sea. Isaiah 59:19 comforts us with this reminder:
When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him.
God can protect us when all hope seems lost.

As you hear more news on the unfortunate developments in Mr. Sanford's life and the inevitable other moral failures that will be exposed as the world turns, don't gloat and don't pontificate, but rather consider the situation with sober judgement, pray for all those involved, help guide and direct for healing and restoration when you're close enough to be directly involved and truly remember that but for God's mercy and grace you too might stumble in a similar way. As for me, I will not forget, "Every bullet has my name on it!" Thank God for His complete and effective armor! Until next time...


Will that be chariots or horses?

Today I woke up with a profound sense of gratitude and thanks for a number of possessions and services with which I am blessed, but have all too often arrogantly used without a thought to the level of blessing to which these "things" have lifted me. What things? Well, things like air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter, running water, virtually uninterrupted electrical power, in house refrigeration and freezing, medicine, 24/7 news access, books, audio recordings of my own favorites musicians and video recordings of my Hollywood favorites and so on ad infinitum! All of these wonderful blessings are possessions which have come to define a lifestyle for me - a lifestyle I keep taking for granted and in which I continue to place my trust for security, happiness and well-being. Am I knocking these possessions as wicked or evil in themselves? Of course not! I am, however, "knocking" an attitude to which I too easily surrender that fails to take into account the Who behind all of these "whats". It is important that I keep this attitude in check, because a failure to reign my perspective in can result in my looking to the wrong sources for my strength, joy and well-being.

I am particularly mindful of the placement of my confidence as President Obama is scheduled to hold a carefully orchestrated, nationally televised question and answer session outlining his plans for improving health care provision for the United States. Since I have not seen the presentation, I will not criticize it in this entry. Nevertheless, having observed the pre-broadcast reactions to this presentation from people of virtually every range of the political spectrum, I do have a few reflective thoughts on ultimate trust that I'd like to share.

Anyone who pays attention to Biblical history can't help but notice an astonishing characteristic of the human psyche - even when god provides everything we need, it's not enough! Think back to the book of Exodus. People were struggling with issues akin to those with which we struggle today - the suspension of human rights through slave labor, general abuses inflicted by an authoritarian Government, infanticide, extravagant lifestyles maintained at the expense of common laborers, etc. The Israeli people had developed some powerful questions in reaction to these heartbreaking conditions - Where is God? What is He doing to do about it? Fast forward through the book just a bit, and we see Moses in a face to face encounter with God. When one considers the essence of Moses' questions, they are similar to questions asked in our own time. To paraphrase and condense Moses' conversation, he makes two important observations: "Sir, how can truly call on You when we don't know you Name?" and "How can we follow You, when we can't even SEE You?" Pretty good questions! The amazing and wonderful reality is that the Lord answered both questions for Moses. First of all, He told Moses His Name - "I AM" - second, He manifested Himself in a form that Moses and the people of Israel could literally see and follow day or night. What makes this so remarkable is that each time you read of a rebellion amongst the people of Israel, the rebellions occurred WHILE they could see the presence of the Lord with them, knowing His Name and character, but totally ignoring the reality of God's provision in their lives at the same time! They grew tired of the food, tired of the protection, tired of the direct guidance, tired of the very presence of God!

This history should serve as a warning for us as we seek to live, move and have our being in the 21st century. I believe that the core of the warning is this: If God Himself couldn't satisfy the deepest needs of human beings having created them and known them from the beginning, inside and out, what makes any of us think a government or anyone else can satisfy us? There is something within that makes us given to complaint and ungratefulness, even when we are drowning in abundance. I am not arguing that good health is a luxury, but rather cautioning against thinking that even the provision of flawless health care would result in ultimate happiness. Actor George Hamilton, as suave and sophisticated as a debonair playboy can be, was asked that having achieved virtually everything, what he really wanted out of life. His answer was simple: "More!"

The pursuit of "More" or even the struggle our basic needs amounts to living a life in pursuit of rainbows. While the Lord has given us gifts, talents and abilities designed to give us the tools we need to live and to help others, we must not ever allow the pursuit of happiness or even better health care to replace the One Who provided the ability to pursue happiness and health care in the first place. Nothing can replace God. We were made to have deep and meaningful fellowship with Him. All of our struggles, hurts, pains and pursuits should lead us back to the place where we realize that we will never attain satisfaction without an acknowledgement of God and relationship with Him. Why talk to the inanimate toy, when you can have wonderful friendship with the Living "Toy Maker"?

As we continue to struggle on this "Terrestrial Ball" with issues like peace, the economy, the environment, education, poverty and health care, let us remember the ultimate Source of our confidence. Psalm 20:7 puts it this way:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

If you are a Christan, don't forget that leaders come and go as do their philosophies and administrations. Yet, our God reigns forever! He no longer needs to put the Pillar before you, because now He has placed the Pillar within you by abiding with You through the person of the Holy Spirit. So when you're tempted to look for "chariots, horses" or other worldly sources of security for your personal sense of well-being, remember that the Fire within is able to see you through whatever this life or the world might throw your way. Don't trust the chariot, don't depend on the horse, but "light the Fire" within your soul, knowing that God will not disappoint, but longs to satisfy you in ways that no Army, health care plan or World Leader ever could. Trust in the Lord! Until next time...


Monday, June 15, 2009

When Sammy Became Daddy!

During the early years of my childhood, I called my father by his first name. It wasn't out of disrespect. It was just that as an only child, I only heard my parents refer to each other by their first names and mimicked what I heard. "Good morning Sammy!" I would greet him each morning. "Sammy, can we play horsey?" I would ask. He was always ready with a quick smile and a "Yeah Man, let's play!" This really bothered Mommy, but my father was simply so delighted about the world of fatherhood that he insisted that as long as he could have a relationship with his son, he could care less what his son called him. So, the name stuck.

When I turned 3, "Sammy" had to go far away. He had been away many times before, but this was the first time that I would be old enough to remember. The far away place was on the news all the time, and there were lots of pictures and film footage of people dressed just like Sammy. They called the place Vietnam, and Mommy and Sammy said lots of prayers and shed lots of tears before he left. After he departed for Vietnam, Mommy and I prayed everyday for Sammy to be OK and for a lot of other things that I didn't quite understand. We saw the patch that I remembered being on his shoulder on the news all the time - Mommy said it meant Sammy was in something called the 173rd Airborne, and that they were doing very important work. We stayed with both sets of grandparents in Mississippi during that time, and we would make unedited reel to reel recordings of family conversations, including arguments, chaos and everything. Sammy wrote back and said that he and his friends in Vietnam loved those tapes and listened to them over and over again.

Everyone in Mississippi worked hard to make sure Mommy and I had a good time and didn't worry about Sammy too much. One project Mommy had was that every day she would show me Sammy's picture all throughout the day and say, "Daddy!" It seemed that at least 100 times a day, she would show me his picture and repeat, "Daddy!" No lectures, no speeches, just a constant repetition - "Daddy"! Mommy said Sammy was Daddy.

After about a year, Mommy and all my relatives got very excited. They said that we had to get everything ready, because Sammy was coming home! It looked like we were going to have a big party! There was so much food being cooked and people I had never seen before were saying that they knew me, Mommy and Sammy. They were always pinching my cheeks and saying how cute I was and how much I looked like Sammy. After a day or two of getting ready, Mommy said it was time to go to Jackson to pick up Sammy. I didn't quite understand where Jackson was - I thought it was our last name and was a little confused that now it was a place! Anyway, off to Jackson we went! There were so many people at the Airport, it was hard to see, but I wanted to help and looked as hard as I could to see if I could find Sammy. I searched and searched - as did everyone else - and still no sign of Sammy. Then, as I gave it one last try I saw that smile - I would know that smile anywhere! Then I saw his Khaki uniform and his spit-shined Jump Boots and there could be no doubt! I broke away from everybody and ran to him as fast as I could, "DADDY!" I blurted out! If I thought he had been smiling before, I thought his smile would light up the whole airport after he heard me shout for the very first time, "DADDY!" I was surprised by it myself, but somehow, it just felt right. We all hugged and laughed and cried and prayed and celebrated! Sammy was my Daddy and I was so happy and I was so proud!

In a little more than a year Daddy would once again leave for Vietnam and travel to many other places. The reunions were always sweet and his smile was always the first thing I saw. In short order, however, I began to understand that not everyone who went away was fortunate enough to come back alive. The losses our military community suffered always hit close to home. My teacher lost her son, our school librarian lost her fiance, and some friends lost their dads. I was amazed by the strength of character showed by these friends during times of crushing loss and the dignity and hope they displayed as they pressed on. It would be an understatement to say that their courage was inspiring.

Though I am no longer directly connected to the active military community by service or relations, I am nonetheless Army born and bred and by virtue of rearing and training inextricably bound to the ideals and values that continue to characterize a community that serves without reservation and at a cost not easily understood by our society as a whole. My personal understanding began when Sammy became Daddy. I am committed to honor and remember his many sacrifices and the sacrifices of dads and moms, daughters and sons and their families who have served and supported so that the rest of us can pursue the blessings of liberty with joy and abandon. As Father's Day approaches, take the time to remember the "Sammies" in your lives who are away from their loved ones and homes and to thank them for what they do to make our world a better place in which to live. You may not have experienced their world, but you can use my story as a beginning point of reference. They will be grateful and your expression of gratitude will make a difference for them and the ones they love. Until next time...

"Little" Sammy :-)