Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolved without Resolutions

The resolutions have begun! As the ups and downs of 2010 are remembered, the victories are celebrated while the losses and setbacks are lamented. Many will vow to do better and be better in areas in need of improvement or even outright change. Yet, by the end of the first quarter, many of the promises made will have quietly disappeared from view and patterns of living will proceed unchanged from the year last lived.

It’s not my aim to discourage anyone who takes the time to make New Year’s resolutions – it is always a noble thought to strive to be a better person or to desire to improve some area of life. I do want to encourage those of us who may tend to “go through the motions” of making resolutions we have no real intentions of keeping to take advantage of the changing of the calendar by engaging in a more meaningful and doable exercise.

In the 90th Psalm, titled “A Psalm of Moses, the man of God” the author delivers a prayer that offers a simple guide for reflection that is very appropriate for the beginning of a new year. The prayer asks, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” None of us can guarantee the content of our tomorrows. We make plans that can evaporate into irrelevance when our circumstances unexpectedly change. A well thought-out plan for self-improvement can reasonably be relegated to the “back burner” of our daily priorities when a matter of extreme importance arises that calls for our immediate and undivided attention. However, obtaining the wisdom to navigate the uncertainties and manage the goals and aspirations in the ever-changing landscape of daily living is a priority that is never misplaced and always has the potential to bear fruit. Considering the words of the prayer of Psalm 90:12, remember that each day is precious. Make every day count. Don’t forgo telling friends and loved ones how you feel and allow opportunities to do good for others to pass you by with the thought, “I’ll get to it some other time.” The “other time” may not come. Also, seek to grow in wisdom and understanding each day. Learn from your mistakes and learn from your good decisions too. No experience need be counted as a total loss, when we allow that experience to add to our deposit of lifelong wisdom.

This year, be resolved to make everyday count for something good and seek to gain wisdom from every day you live. These truths may not be as “sexy” as New Year’s Resolutions, but they are much more applicable to the real situations you will encounter day in and day out. Do your best to put them to work this very day. Happy New Year and all God’s blessings on you as you continue on the journey! Until next time…


Monday, December 20, 2010

21 Years of Confidence Amidst Uncertainty

Today marks the 21st year I have been blessed to have Maria-Luz Bautista Jackson by my side as my beloved wife. Each year as the day approaches, we generally find ourselves reflecting on some aspect of our wedding day and how far the Lord has brought us since that time. Last night, as we shared some of our thoughts, we both recounted some of the uncertainty we felt on our momentous day. When we met, though our initial contacts were hit and miss, it wasn’t long before we were both certain that something special was underway. Our love grew rapidly and deeply and before long, we were seriously discussing the possibility of marriage.

There were a number of challenges to consider and initially, there were many questions and concerns on the part of our most trusted friends and family members. After a time, however, it became evident to all that God was the architect of our relationship and “all systems were go for launch”! Nevertheless when our wedding day arrived, we both found ourselves staring in the mirror and wondering “What in the world am I doing?”

As we snuggled and reminisced about our doubts, Luz remembered having the urge to escape through a bathroom window and run for her life! I remembered having a strange inclination to do my own Jesse Owens imitation as the wedding party marched towards me and a strange flash of terror momentarily washed over me! Both were fleeting feelings, but sentiments that belied an acute understanding of the enormity of the step we were about to take!

What was it that overcame those instances of self-doubt and uncertainty? Our fears were mathced by a confidence that was built on what the group Boston referred to as “More than a feeling”. Our relationship began with a common commitment to our faith in Jesus Christ. We both had surrendered all of who were were and what we did to His control and authority. We both were committed to the institution of marriage and an unshakeable conviction that such a commitment is not to be made trivially or on the basis of a whim or hyped-up emotions. We both shared an understanding that left to ourselves, we were vulnerable to wreck our marriage as by definition of being human, we both brought baggage to the relationship – we would need God’s guidance, friends’ support and a commitment to working hard day in and day out if the marriage was going to work. We also believed we would need to love each other without stopping, understanding that love is ultimately based on action not emotion and a commitment to grow together and to give each other our all as long a we both lived.

The Lord has blessed us to work towards our commitments – notice how often that word creeps up – for 21 years today. We have not reached perfection, and in this life we never will. We are still very vulnerable to any and all of the torpedoes that routinely undo any marriage tragedy that has taken place in the totality of human history. Nevertheless, we have confidence in our great God, the presence of loyal friends and count ourselves as blessed for what we have enjoyed thus far in our journey. Why do we celebrate and why do I post an anniversary thought each year? Because “thus far the Lord has met us.” As the Apostle Paul said, if I boast I will boast in the Lord! God has been merciful to us through His goodness and your friendship and I am compelled to take this moment to say “THANKS!” Thanks for loving us, praying for us and standing by us! We feel the love and have been all the better for it. We promise to continue to do our best to make good on your investment in us through a staying the course through a life-long commitment of love within our marriage and a commitment of service and devotion to you our friends as well! Blessings on you and again thank you! Until next time…

Sam J.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wrestling With My Inner Grinch!

The words have been rendered timeless by the well-deep baritone vocals of the late Thurl Ravenscroft (also the voice of Tony the Tiger), who declares without pity the sorry state of one of Christmastime’s most distasteful souls: “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch!” The song’s first play of the season is guaranteed to bring a smile to parent and child alike. It is also a sure-fire conversation starter as listeners share fond memories of the first time they saw “The Grinch” or recall a favorite memory from the show.

One of the factors that make the Grinch such an embraceable story is that it is a tale about someone else. It’s about those “Other guys” who “just don’t get the real meaning of Christmas”. It was written to confront those “Poor Fellows” who, as they get caught up in the season, forget what Christmas is all about and wind up becoming a tragic display of self-centeredness and ill-will. The story of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” could never really be about me…or could it?

A few days ago, in the midst of an unrellenting schedule of back to back ministry events, my phone buzzed. It was my daughter Joana. She was informing me of yet another change in her daily schedule that would encroach on my plans for the day - plans that were already strained painfully near the snapping point. Alone, I groaned and growled out loud. As my growl disappated into thin air my phone chirped again, this time with news from Luz that there were some more changes to our holiday schedule that called for my immediate attention. After hanging up, my growl became a roar. ARRGH!!!! I gnashed my teeth and turned on the radio for some consolation. As the signal kicked in, there was my song right on cue, “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch! You really are a Heel! You’re as cuddly as a cactus, you’re as charming as an eel, Mr. GrinnnINCH!” As I backed out of the parking lot, I snickered at the words as usual, until I glanced in the rear-view mirror and thought for a nanosecond that my expression bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the subject of the song. When I looked in the mirror again, I saw someone more recognizable as myself, but the first image remained in my mind. Was I becoming “The Grinch”? Was I allowing the hustle and bustle of Christmastime not only to distract me, but to transform me into the personification of everything un-Christmas-like imaginable? It appeared to me that there was no denying that I was indeed becoming – The Grinch!

In just a few short moments, I had allowed my self-absorption to dampen the joy I desired to flow through me during this most holy season. My pursuit of “Holiday Madness” was coming dangerously close to causing me to forget the essence of what that first Christmas was all about. In my frantic pursuits, I was forgetting just how the power of that wonderful day should influence each day that I live as a Christian. In the 2nd Chapter of Philippians, not generally approached as a “Christmas Passage”, the Apostle Paul explains how Jesus’ birth and life among us should radically transform our attitudes in everyday life. He writes:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Humilty. Service. Obedience. Self-sacrifice. These are the attitudes that Jesus perfectly displayed in His Incarnation. His example reminds us that we must not be “Grinched” by our circumstances, our problems, or our inconveniences. Instead, we must focus on serving others, so that true joy can be manifested in us. This joy springs from the satisfaction of knowing we have conformed to the will of God by serving as His ambassadors in a hurting world. This Christmastime, I have already seen many examples of this joy as brothers and sisters in the faith reach out to the families of inmates, sing songs to shut-ins, and deliver holiday food packets provided for families who are “down on their luck”. I’ve also seen Christmas ambassadors at work in acts of kindness as simple as giving hearty holiday greeting or opening a door for someone who just needed a little help. As you navigate the maze of holiday activities, “Grinch-proof” your Yuletide by remembering the Reason for the joy of the season. Allow Him to adjust your attitude to one that is characterized by service to others and a mighty love that shines though at Christmas and all throughout the year. If the Grinch can be changed, you can too! Merry Christmas and God Bless us – Everyone! Until Next time…

Sam J.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sky Pilots – Bishop Long and Preaching Scandals

Over the last few weeks, I have carefully pondered how to respond to yet another scandal involving the alleged sexual misconduct of a high profile preacher. Many friends have asked my opinion on the matter and I have remained relatively silent until now. Unfortunately, the subject is not a new one and I have posted my thoughts on pastoral misconduct on other occasions. However, as I grow older and more wary of ministry pitfalls, I am increasingly concerned that I not address such an occurrence in a spirit of arrogance, smugness or self-righteousness. With this consideration in place, let me share some thoughts on the matter at hand.

Bishop Eddie Long has been accused of having an inappropriate and sexual relationship with young men for whom he was serving as pastor and spiritual mentor. He has denied all of the accusations and has publicly introduced other young men who stand by him and deny the possibility of any sexual misconduct on Bishop Long’s part. The veracity of the charges remains to be seen. Nevertheless, what has brought even more scrutiny to the Bishop is the opulence of his lifestyle and the level of power and influence he seemingly has over the congregation without any visible corresponding accountability. His possessions include a Bentley, a private jet and a $1 Million home. Perhaps the most telling insight into Bishop Long’s thinking on the matter of his lifestyle comes from his own words. When challenged to consider that his standard of living is not the best representation of a Christian leader, the Bishop responded:

"We're not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can't talk and all we're doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with presidents around this world. I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation," Long told the paper. "You've got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that's supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering."

The Bishop’s words are a challenge to swallow, especially when one considers the avalanche of Scriptural support calling for pastors and other church leaders to be defined by humility, service and a laser-like orientation to the well-being of others. Here are 2 well-known examples:

1 Timothy 3:2-6
“Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”

Matthew 20:25-28
“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

These two passages place a premium on leaders possessing solid moral character, a gentleness of spirit, a freedom from the love of material wealth and a dedicated heart to serve others These are not the characteristics that seem readily apparent in Bishop Long’s life when one considers his words and deeds.

Perhaps part of the problem can be found in the lack of accountability that characterizes Bishop Long’s ministry and the ministries of many others in pastoral service. In the Scriptures, we see a very strong emphasis placed on this aspect of church life. The New Testament presents a clear call to accountability through the bearing of burdens, sharing of sorrows and joys and the mutual confession of sins for members as well as leaders. There is no Biblical basis for a church leader who is not in some way connected to people who have the ability to speak truth into life situations and offer guidance and support for the maintenance of Biblical standards of leadership. It seems that in the light of having achieved numerical greatness and public acclaim for his ministry, Bishop Long developed a confidence that may have caused him to forego precautions that might have provided accountability and protected him from situations and choices that even appeared to be unrighteous. One well-known evangelist never travels alone and from the beginning of his ministry has surrounded himself with a team of friends who are able to ask him any question regarding his lifestyle and to challenge him in every aspect of his life. This strategy has protected him from set ups aimed at discrediting him and helped him to maintain a reputation of trustworthiness and honesty that has lasted for more than half a century.

Another major problem contributing to shaky moral church leadership is mistaking verbal giftedness and the ability to entertain and maintain a crowd for a call to ministry. Just because someone can speak persuasively is not to say that they can preach effectively, when one defines preaching a bringing froth a Biblical message about Christ. Skills of elocution and an uncanny ability to charm are not necessarily measures of a call to spiritual leadership and may be nothing more than the heralding of feel good, motivational speaking. Granted, we all like to feel good and motivational speaking has its place, but it is not by definition preaching and it is not necessarily challenging the listener with a word about Christ. There are too many gifted speakers who have not been vetted sufficiently to truly see if they are qualified to be pastoral leaders, and the reputation of Christians and the Church is suffering as a result. We see too many instances of stylish, self-appointed “preachers” who have placed themselves behind the “Holy Desk” without one meaningful endorsement from a mature body of leaders who have had the opportunity to scrutinize them, verify the call on their lives and guide them through a rigorous path of preparation before unleashing them on a needy flock. We are truly sending out too may wolves in the midst of God’s lambs.

Consider this. Would you board a plane with a pilot who looked good in a uniform and could make the science of aerodynamics enjoyable and entertaining to the point of brining the passengers to emotional euphoria but had not been to flight school and had crashed a significant number of the planes he had flown? If not, why are we Christians continuing to entrust ourselves to fly the hostile skies of life with people who claim to be “sky pilots” leading to Eternal Life, when they are in reality exhibiting behavior aligned with the culture of death? It’s time for us to stop seeking to be entertained and to start pursuing the goal of being Biblically trained. Don’t check your brain at the church door. Be sure the people you honor as spiritual leaders are worthy of the title. Don’ let the size of the church, big or small, lull you into laziness or tempt you to forego the due diligence of personal Bible study and spiritual discipline. If your only preaching is via a TV preacher and you’re not a shut in, repent, get up and go out and find a church with godly leadership and sound Biblical teaching. There are truly called people, dedicated to serving the Lord and others that need your gifts, talents and your involvement. The guy with the Bentley will do just fine without you. After all, consider that he might be doing just fine without God.

Until next time…


Monday, September 27, 2010

When Christians Disagree

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. This maxim has served as a guidepost for Christian conduct concerning debatable issues for centuries. Nevertheless, there are times when Brothers and Sisters find themselves at junctures where differences of opinion strain relationships at the least, and lead to a parting of ways at the worst. How can Christians maintain Christ-like love when tensions are high, feelings are raw and dreams of accomplishing great things together for God seem out reach? As a vocational Christian servant who has logged in almost 25 years of ministry, I have witnessed some significant church conflicts. Scripture has comforted me in these times and given me some clear guidance to navigate the stormy waters that sometimes pose a challenge in the Christian journey.

I have come to recognize that though it is preferable to have a walk of faith free of conflict, tensions among Christians are part of the Christian life. This was true even at the genesis of the church. After the Apostle Paul’s Emmaus Road experience during which he become a follower of Jesus, his former life of persecuting Christians was a persistent memory in the minds of other Christians; so persistent, that church leaders were hesitant to accept the credentials of faith he presented. It took the strong advocacy of missionary leader Barnabas to gain Paul’s acceptance into the Christian community. This stance led to a deep, thriving friendship and ministry partnership between the two men. However, even this seemingly unbreakable bond of brotherhood was tested when a disagreement arose between them regarding another brother’s readiness for ministry. Acts 15:36-41 recounts how between them there arose “such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” Who could claim to be more zealous for the message of Jesus than the Apostle Paul? Who could claim to be more gracious, loving and accepting than Barnabas? Not many if anyone! Yet, even between these two spiritual Titans, a difference of opinion over a non-doctrinal issue arose that caused these two righteous and upright brothers to part ways. Conflict happens. Differences of opinion and approach arise, yet how we conduct ourselves in the midst of conflict says much about our hearts and the maturity level of our faith. The New Testament record seems to indicate that the two evangelists eventually arrived at a point of mutual respect, sharing resources and people even though they continued ministering independently, and never seem to have directly partnered in ministry together again.

Scripture calls Christian believers to act, speak and conduct our online activities with civility and love. It is not necessarily wrong to disagree, but the manner in which one disagrees and the attitudes displayed will dictate whether the debate leads to long-term resentment or to mutual respect. Colossians 4:6 admonishes us to “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Gracious communication should be reasonable, careful and courteous. We must handle our disagreements in an agreeable way. We have to constantly ask ourselves questions such as, “Am I venting or sharing?” “Am I being kind or cutting?” “Am I sharing in the proper context?” “Do I really need to share what I am feeling or is it best to ponder my thoughts a bit more?” “If I believe I need to share what is on my heart, what can I do to communicate my love for those I am trying to convince?”

I have been able to observe a few truths in action that I’d like to share. In my experience, no matter on what side of an issue Brothers and Sisters may have taken – even disagreements sharp enough to cause a parting of ways – those who walked in the light and love of Jesus were the quickest to heal and the first to reach out for some sort of reconciliation. Humility and love must guide truth and light. Right facts presented in a wrong way, “still ain’t right!” People we love deeply will sometimes disagree on a matter that hurts us greatly. Nevertheless, we must do all we can to peacefully follow our convictions while trusting that the brother or sister on the other side of the matter has righteous intentions but for whatever reason, just can’t see the situation the same as I do.

We should always seek to present our case in a way that demonstrates Christ in us and bears witness as His love shines through. In John 13:34-35 Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” It should always be our goal that in all our dealing, whether verbal, written or electronic, that others be able to clearly see our love for each other, even when we disagree. 1 Corinthians 13 gives us beautiful and unfailing instruction regarding the power of this kind of love – Jesus’ love:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away…When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

If along the walk of faith you find yourself in disagreement with a fellow believer, remember that the way you voice your disagreement is just as important as the truth for which you are trying to stand. Make sure that in everything you do you are representing the Lord with excellence and love. Bathe all your actions in prayer. Finally, as you press forward doing your best to prove your point, make sure that as you win your argument you do your best not to lose your friend.

Until Next time…


Monday, August 16, 2010

Thankful for Pesky Brothers and Sisters!

They just wouldn’t stop bugging me. I received mysterious e-mails and grinning faces would appear at my door repeating the same two-word message: “Family Camp!” John and Randy were the worst! It was almost a mantra with them. It got to the point that I would look for cover whenever I saw them, but there was no escape. The message came through loud and clear – “FAMILY CAMP!” After months of persistent yet friendly pressure, I gave in. “Okay, I’ll go! Let’s see what this Family Camp is all about!” I feigned enthusiasm, but was anything but eager to attend.

Luz couldn’t believe I’d committed us to go. “We’re not a camping family!” She reminded me. “What are we going to do there? It’s in Iowa – there’s nothing there but corn!” I agreed, but it was too late, we were Iowa-bound with our two youngest daughters Joana and Victoria and Joana’s best friend Feven. What had I gotten us into?

When we arrived, we were shown our quarters. Everyone was in the same bedroom and the accommodations were tight. It was Family Camp and families were housed in a bunk-house style to promote interaction, which meant a lot of shared space. Luz’s world-class resourcefulness went into high gear and she fashioned a “Wall of Jericho” from extra sheets we had brought with us to divide the room between us and the girls, providing a sense of privacy in our shared environs. We were pleasantly surprised to find we had air-conditioning which made our room very comfortable. There was a full-service bathroom with hot and cold running water! This wasn’t the way I was used to camping back in the day! I could get used to this!

Nevertheless, the first day was still a bit of a struggle. We had missed an introductory session and didn’t know how things functioned, what activities were planned and how we were supposed to make sure the girls were plugged into all their activities. Besides that, I was speaking and had responsibilities related to our chapel sessions and worship times. We felt a bit out of our element, like we had landed in another country, but my dear friend and Lead Teaching Pastor Paul, who was in charge, slapped me on the back, grinned and said, “You’ll get used to it!”

Luz and I awoke after a surprisingly good night’s sleep. We prayed together, got everyone else going and were greeted by our family counselor, Andrea, who was assigned to us to assist us with Victoria and to make our stay less stressful. When we realized that we could go through the day with the kids all fully engaged in activities while having the freedom to do things we wanted to do, the week was looking a lot better! The food only sweetened the deal. Breakfasts were fit for royalty, lunch was varied, tasty and filling and dinner always delicious with nothing less than the word “heaping” best describing all the portions. By mid-week I was wondering if we really needed to eat anything else before Saturday!

The fellowship times were warm and uniting. We had great worship times and I certainly enjoyed doing the teaching for the week. The messages came from my heart and the feedback I received was encouraging. There was also plenty of time to get to know folks over meals, in casual conversations, and special activities. There was also opportunity to get to know ourselves a little better as well. My best time for becoming reacquainted with myself came on the challenge course named the Leap of Faith (It could have been called the "road to perdition", but it probably wouldn't sucker in guys like me!) On this course, I joined my daughter Joana and her best friend Feven for a rugged half-mile hike up a steep, rocky hillside, climbed 35-40 ft up a tree, had an extended battle with a mini-zip line (which I won but not without getting a MAJOR wedgie and using my reserve of strength for the next 3 years) and finally took the "Leap of Faith" where I didn't land where I wanted to, but learned I still had the courage to leap out into the uncertain without fear.

Parents night out was like a crown jewel to our week! We feasted on a sumptuous buffet, sang karaoke with such vigor and joy that for the first time in human history, sober people cleared the in restaurant bar with only the sonic weapons of our voices! They just couldn’t believe we were having that much fun without drinking! There were more opportunities to interact and share, building deeper friendships and lasting memories.

We had two camp-related injuries as one member of our group sprained an ankle and another had a severe leg break. The love, help, courage and compassion that manifested in these tough situations were a testament to the commitment to each other than sprang from our common faith and shared experience on church and at camp.

When Saturday arrived and the time to leave had come, I couldn’t believe how much my family and I had enjoyed our camp experience. I’m so thankful for the pesky Brothers and sisters who pestered us for months to come and held our feet to the fire when we tried to flake out. This is what community is all about – caring enough to force our friends to do something that is good for them, even as they sometimes kick and scream along the way. I’m thrilled to say I’ve joined the ranks of the Family Camp Fan Club and look forward to the privilege of doing a bit of pestering myself to get someone like me to leave another one of their comfort zones to experience some sweet and transforming community and fun! So look out, here I come wanting to see YOU at the next Family Camp!

Until next time…

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Apologies To Trigger

The sound rang in the air. At first I wasn’t sure, but there was no mistaking it. It came through loud and clear. I got in the car and told Luz about it – that ignominious greeting that had flavored many of our ministry experiences in the hard-nosed, rust belt cities of the Midwest and the polite and genteel haunts of the Bible Belt in the South. I heard it. Just as I stepped out of the post office, walking towards my car, in the dark of night, I heard it above the roaring engine of the passing vehicle and background noise of a near-by gas station. It came in a cacophony of voices, united in purpose and intent on delivering an age-old greeting that in one word delivered an avalanche of messages. “[N-WORD!!!!]”

My first reaction was actually one of satisfaction. I thought, “I must still look pretty intimidating if they had to use the cover of darkness, passing by at a high rate of speed, heading in the opposite direction to gather up the courage to say ‘it!’” I tried to process the occurrence to see if there was some action or attitude I had displayed that had initiated such a greeting. I took note that I wasn’t wearing a Vikings or Bears jersey and had no bumper stickers or paraphernalia that disparaged beer or cheese. Nope. It was simply a drive-by shooting off at the lip. As I put our minivan into gear, Luz nervously asked “What are you doing? You’re not going to chase them, are you?” “Nah!” I replied. I might still look intimidating, but I know my limitations and I doubt very seriously that the Lord would take kindly to my chasing down some misguided souls who had no better way to amuse themselves than to “call me a name that rhymes with the name of Roy Roger’s horse – ‘Trigger!’”

Nevertheless, it was still a noteworthy moment in our Wisconsin existence. I’ve now had an “N-Word” experience on every continent that I have visited and in every ministry venue in which I have served. I’ve had “N-Word” encounters feeding the poor overseas, in dangerous neighborhoods stateside and in places as classy as the Hotel Thayer at West Point, even as I wore my Full Dress Grey Uniform! There seems to be no rest or escape from its tentacles. Having said this, my latest experience has not angered or frustrated me. It has simply served as another reminder that in this land of warm greetings, cheese wheels, Kringles and the Green Bay Packers, there are people who need to experience the love and forgiveness that Jesus calls all Christians to display, and there is no time to go on vacation from loving, reaching out and forgiving, even if it hurts.

If the “N-Word” persists, we who know Jesus and all those who are committed to good will and peace among people must stubbornly cling to the way of truth, love, forgiveness and righteousness that Jesus exemplified. After all, even the noble “Trigger” - Roy Roger’s trusted equine collaborator - consistently displayed honor, integrity, good manners and good will towards all, though nothing more than a beast of burden. Unfortunately, it seems that when it comes to decent and loving behavior, some humans still don’t have horse sense. Trigger I apologize for my misguided friends, and commit myself to extend a hand of friendship and pray that others will persist in extending their hands too! Until next time…


Friday, July 16, 2010

He’s Got The Wind and the Rain In His Hands

After months of preparation and anticipation, I couldn’t believe the weather forecast for the opening day of our Kids Summer Outreach - Vacation Bible School – “Thunderstorms throughout the day – hot and humid with showers continuing throughout the evening.” “Wonderful.” I thought. All the work that had been put towards this very important step up in our church’s outreach efforts, could be put on hold for our opening day or at least significantly weaken our start, most probably putting a damper on the entire week to follow. If that news didn’t take the wind out of our sails, the same forecast was predicted for Thursday, the last day of our outreach too. Great.

Just as my joy started to creep away, I remembered a friend’s response to a similar situation back in Seminary when we faced a potentially disappointing start to a ministry opportunity due to circumstances beyond our control. While several of us moaned and complained and fretted about what we would do next, our friend Henry began to smile. He put his arms around our shoulders and began to sing, “He’s got the wind and the rain in His hands. He’s got the wind and the rain, in His hands. He’s got the wind and the rain, in His hands – He’s got the Whole World in His hands!” The power in that simple children’s song immediately changed our perspectives. We laughed. Prayed and gave the situation to the Lord, knowing He was in control. With that memory in mind, I hummed the tune to myself, prayed and went to sleep knowing worry wouldn’t help, everything was in His hands!

When I woke up the next morning, I was so happy I had trusted the situation to the Lord. At 5:45 AM, sunbeams were already shining through the window and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. When we arrived at the beach for set up and throughout the rest of the day, it seemed as if the weather had been tailor made for us – warm and embracing heat greeted us in the open sun and gentle breezes that felt like brand new, top-of-the-line air-conditioning welcomed us in the shade. The adult volunteers and middle school students who came to serve, came in force and the families who came to participate in our “Son Games” Olympic-themed week, came in strength throughout the entire week! Even as Thursday arrived, with torrential thunderstorms raging throughout the early morning hours, and dark gray clouds menacingly hovering at daybreak, the sun powered through by midmorning and the rains stayed away from our ministry site, though they fell in abundance only a few miles to the south of us! We felt a special sense of God’s grace and provision for our week of ministry in the City of Racine along the beach, letting our lights shine for the Glory of God!

Let me be careful to clarify that we did not control the weather, nor do we expect the weather to always fall “in our favor” when we do outreaches. I also understand that in many professions, the work marches on regardless of what’s happening outside. Nevertheless, when atmospheric conditions have mattered, I have seen some amazing changes in the weather all over the world when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being shared and God’s people are about God’s business with His agenda and mission as the driving force behind ministry efforts. Our Kids Summer Outreach at North Beach Racine provided a strong testimony to that point. Even when the weather has gone afoul, I’ve seen “Plan B’s” have much more impact and effectiveness than the “Plan A’s” originally undertaken when people cry out to the Lord for help and direction.

The Lord is constantly teaching us lessons and reminding us of basic spiritual truths as we walk the journey of faith. For me, this week was a reminder that no matter how much one plans or how much experience one has, prayer humility and trust in the Lord MUST be an indispensable component of ministry preparation EVERY time one serves. As you plan your activities in the days ahead, and check out the weather report, take some time to consider the One who has the “wind and the rain in His hands” and to contemplate how he might want you to direct your day, whether you bask in the sunshine or fight against gale-force winds. In the words of the timeless 70’s song, “Put your hand in the hand of the Man who stilled the water” and take confidence that he can get you where you need to go whatever weather your day may hold. May the Son shine in your life today, whatever the weather may be! Until next time…


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Caught In The Act!

Since the early days of my vocational Christian training and service, I have heard the warnings surrounding the many pitfalls that can lead to ministerial misconduct. Throughout my ministerial service, I have witnessed a few colleagues succumb to various temptations related to these pitfalls, leaving a trail of broken trust, broken hearts and broken lives behind them. In most cases, the revelations came by way of being “caught in the act” of doing something contrary to their calling. Fortunately, the bulk of my ministry experience has not been comprised of these types of happenings. In fact, I as have reflected on my life of ministry, I’ve been reminded of the many times I have stumbled upon a situation where I have actually caught someone in the act of carrying out a beautiful example of ministry service that before my unintentional intrusion was known only to them and a few others or only to them and the Lord.

During the last few months, as I have kept my eyes open, I have had the blessing of stumbling across a brother on his knees in fervent prayer in a hideaway out of view from the general public. I have witnessed sisters in prayer on a Saturday morning, walking throughout the church, asking for the Lord’s blessing for the day of ministry ahead. I also have knowledge of a Sister physically on her face before God praying during a critical time of decision for a major church ministry. I have seen a preacher washing dishes during a meeting while another brother taught, not calling attention to himself and only appearing as the crowd was heading home. In another instance I witnessed someone assisting in the kitchen so that the kitchen crew for the next day could have a head start on their duties. I’ve beheld sisters gifted in administration doing heavy lifting in the middle of their busy days to expedite set up for a big ministry outreach, people visiting infirmed friends out of the view of others. I’ve also been shown cards and letters written, heard the impact of phone calls of encouragement, and heard the testimony of the power of a hug, or even a quiet smile and warm greeting – all delivered off-line and all done for nothing more than the blessing of others and the glory of God.

In these days where scandals get so much attention, let’s not forget to praise the Lord for those faithful servants who consistently and faithfully carry out their Christian duty out of glow of the lights. After all, these are the kind of people who don’t need lights or glory, for the glory of God shines through every act of service they do. Let’s be like them and let our lights so shine before people “…that they may see [our] good deeds and praise [our] Father in heaven” (Paraphrase of Matthew 5:14).

Until next time...


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grip Hands

No one attains success or satisfaction in life totally free of the contributions of others. No one can truly contribute to the benefit and well-being of society as an independent player. Throughout the years, I have been reminded over and over again of the blessings I have received from the input and contributions of others in my life and been continually humbled by how those who have helped me continue to stand by me in prayer, encouragement and love. One such individual with whom I’ve been able to reestablish contact through online social network is COL (ret.) Barry Willey. Barry came into my life when I started attending a Bible Study he taught at my then home church, the 82nd Airborne Division Memorial Chapel. He was teaching a study on Job, a study that had my undivided attention as my plans for a career as an Army Officer seemed improbable at best, and I was at a critical time of soul-searching and contemplation. Then Captain Barry Willey, came alongside me and joined a dedicated cadre of other godly men to encourage me, uphold me and challenge me not to wallow in self-pity, but to search out just what God might have in store for my life. Through Barry’s encouragement and with the blessing of the other brothers in our Chapel, I began to take on more leadership in our congregation and took steps that would eventually confirm God’s gifting in my life and lead me to vocational Christian Service as a Missionary and Pastor.

I caught glimpses of Barry over the years as he continued to serve the nation, overjoyed to see him on television as the US Military Spokesman for U.S. rescue and security operations in Haiti in 1994. We exchanged a few e-mails over the years, but intense involvement in our nation’s security on his part, and deep involvement in starting new ministries on mine, limited our interactions to short greetings and “attaboys”. Nevertheless, Barry was never far from my thoughts and remained in my prayers consistently. A while back, I took a chance to look him up on a social networking service. After a few false starts, we were finally able to get back into the groove of communicating. We began to recount what the Lord had been doing in each of our lives, and Barry shared that he had written a book about a friend and leader who had impacted him and countless others in a way that continued to make a difference even now. He encouraged me to read the book, and I was moved deeply by the story of Jon Shine. Here’s the review I wrote for the book much as it appears on

“Powerful and compelling, Barry Willey’s tribute to his friend and mentor Lieutenant Jon Shine, the book Out of the Valley stands tall as a monumental literary salute to the life of a good and godly man who in the brief span of 23 years left a spiritual legacy that continues to bear fruit more than 40 years after his death. Willey’s prose is crisp and forthright, chronicling the cadet, soldier and man of faith that was Jon Shine in an engrossing and easy to read manner. Shine’s story is both as comforting as an evening with a dear friend, and as jarring as a one’s arrival as a new recruit to the first day of military training. It is above all, inspiring – as a story of the eternal and unquenchable hope that exists between men sharing faith in the risen Christ and as a story of men bound together by love, duty and honor. It is also a practical work, complete with questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, allowing the reader to consider the spiritual truths and leadership principles that overflow in abundance from each chapter of Jon Shine’s life that is shared. If you’re searching for a compact, applicable and uplifting book that will leave you forever changed, you’ll find no finer work than Barry Willey’s Out of the Valley.”

As I’ve been reconnected to Barry and after reading his book, a phrase from the West Point song “The Corps” keeps coming to mind. This phrase symbolizes the active connection West Pointers maintain with each other as the “Long Gray Line” continues to grow as the years go by. It is the phase “Grip Hands”. It’s the phrase a friend and classmate used to call each of us to comfort one another as we heard reports of other classmates who had died in defense of the nation. It is a phrase that invokes images of care, encouragement and support through all the circumstances and situations of life. It is a phrase calls us beyond selfish living and calls us to an awareness that we have not become who we are by ourselves, and we cannot continue throughout our lives with only our own well-being in view. It is a phrase that clearly characterized Jon Shine’s life, and represents the truths Jon passed on to Barry Willey and others who in turn passed on those truths to me. With whom are you connecting for support, encouragement and care? To whom are you passing on the legacy of the lessons you have learned in your life? I challenge you today to reach out beyond yourself and commit yourself to be connected to others that you may reach higher heights in your own day and so that you can pass on a legacy of faith, truth, and love that will have an impact on generations yet to come. Grip hands!

Until Next time,


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Taking Tests

“Stagger Desks!” Two words that can produce chills down the spine of anyone who has spent time in a classroom at the United States Military Academy at West Point! With that command, cadets begin to arrange their desks in preparation for rigorous intellectual testing that will expose their brilliance or ignorance regarding a particular area of academic focus. I remember the warm and welcoming feeling of confidence I felt in the humanities and language art classes that came rather easily for me, knowing that my testing would produce satisfying results and provide me with a maximum opportunity to excel! Unfortunately, I also remember the icy terror that gripped me in the torrential current of the Math and Science classes, as tests in those areas manifested my need for much improvement!

I am now grateful for all of those testing experiences, as they provided valuable life lessons for me in success and failure that continue to bear fruit in ways I could never have imagined during those cold, wintry days on the banks of the Hudson. Since that time, I have learned that every one faces tests all throughout life. We are all confronted with a lifetime series of trials, tribulations, dilemmas, difficulties and inconveniences that continually examine our character and indicate our level of faith, maturity and decency at various stages of our personal journeys. In my life as a minister, husband, father and adult son, I have faced and continue to face “real life” tests that have brought me to sometimes excruciating life junctions that either build up or tear down, depending on my reaction to the situation. Even as I share my thoughts this very moment, Luz and I are in the midst of a challenge involving the selling of our home that is testing the source of our confidence and the true foundation of our trust. This season of testing is reminding us in a new and wonderful way that our confidence and strength will never find adequacy within ourselves, but only in the Lord Who has made us and sustains us. The Early Church Leader James lays out the process and purpose of life testing and God’s desired response for us like this:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

I certainly would never have chosen most of the tests I have faced or the ones I now face for myself, but I am beginning to learn that I can positively choose my reaction to and negotiation of those tests as they come my way, knowing that I cannot mature and be all that God intends without them. Are you facing a critical test today? Remember testing is common to the human experience, and largely out of individual control. Your reaction to your test IS in your control. Remember that even the most withering trial can be an opportunity for the most glorious response if we choose to trust God’s working in our lives through it. With godly perspective in our times of trial, we can encourage, teach, model and lead through perseverance by faith in the Lord who is not only looking out for our interests as individuals, but desires for us as maturing individuals to minister to others who are hurting too! Be encouraged in your trial! Lift your eyes to the Lord in your time of testing! Let the Lord lead you through the School of Hard Knocks with honors! See the power of God at work in you and through you as you allow Him to use the tests in your life for your growth and the blessing and benefit of others. Until next time…


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Conduct Unbecoming

Several days ago, I was doing some work on the computer and casually watching the morning sports talk show “Mike and Mike”. The “dynamic duo” of mouthy morning sports chat were discussing the atrocious behavior of Pittsburg Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who managed to dodge criminal charges of sexual assault related to his forced rendezvous with a intoxicated woman in a public bathroom. Though the “Mikes” conceded that “Big Ben’s” behavior was abominable, they argued intensely that his behavior had nothing to do with football itself. “What do you want the Steelers to do?” One Mike bellowed. “Charge him with conduct unbecoming an NFL Quarterback?” Actually, that would be a great start!

As an NFL Quarterback, Big Ben qualifies as a sportsman. A sportsman is expected to exhibit sportsmanship on the field of play AND off. Because of their high public prominence, professional athletes are particularly expected to be sportsmanlike in all areas of their lives, understanding that their conduct will be emulated by others, especially children, the world over. Here is a standard definition of sportsmanship found in numerous dictionaries: Sportsmanship is “Conduct and attitude considered as befitting participants in sports, especially fair play, courtesy, striving spirit, and grace in losing or winning.” Fair play – courtesy – grace. All character traits desirable not just in quarterbacks, but in men in general. So Ben’s conduct is not just unbecoming of a quarterback, it is unbecoming of a man – period!

In 1 Corinthian 13:11, the Apostle Paul makes the case for maturity:
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” It’s time for professional Athletes to grow up. As a man, it is imperative for me to talk, think, reason and act as a man. I must be ready to be responsible, ready to be considerate and ready to lead others in the way they should go not following along as one of the boys, or acting is if exceptional physical abilities entitle me to immoral, harmful and demeaning behavior.

As a man who has grown tired of excuses, I’m throwing down the gauntlet and issuing this challenge to other men, including professional athletes: Think like a man. Walk like a man. Stand up like a man - the man committed to standing up for righteous, standing up for justice, standing up for the helpless and standing up for future generations to take notice so that the stand they take will be a stand worthy of a champion. Anything less, is Conduct Unbecoming. Until next time…


Wednesday, April 21, 2010



One of my favorite activities has become the action game Dance-Dance Revolution. For those not familiar with “DDR”, it is a game that plays songs of various intensities while displaying a series of steps one must follow on a sensor pad, with the steps recorded and one’s performance graded at the song’s end. In an effort to get a higher grade, I dance along with my 5 year-old thinking that whatever she does, surely I can do as well. Not quite! Quite often, my grade is a C or lower and my daughter will look at me with pity and casually say, “Daddy, you’re old and weak but don’t worry, I’m young and strong and I can help you!”

The last few weeks have been a non-stop adventure of personal and ministry challenges that have given me the opportunity to see weaknesses in areas in my life well beyond DDR. Nevertheless, I have come to see these weaknesses as blessings. First of all, my weaknesses help me to realize, I cannot do everything perfectly. They have sensitized me more and more to needs around me and caused me to see how what I face in my day to day life and how I handle the challenges can be of benefit to others. My weaknesses also allow me to respect and value the experience of others who reach out to help and comfort me with the wisdom they have gained from facing their own struggles in life. Most importantly, my weaknesses help me to begin to grasp a little better Jesus’ call for every Christian to devote themselves to service – serving God and serving others.

All these limitations have allowed me to look at life with an increasing God-centered focus. My limitations expose my mortality and my awareness of my own mortality heightens my understanding of God’s desire for me to apply myself to issues of real importance and values of eternal significance. It becomes less of a big deal personally that I’m getting weaker because it slows me enough to see and help with the weakness of others. It also causes me to more readily value and recognize the strength of others around me. My weakness helps me to see that it really doesn’t matter that I’m getting uglier, because while I can’t find a soap strong enough to wash off the ugly, I can find buckets of truth, love and wisdom from the Lord through His Spirit, the Scriptures and from those around me to continually transform me into an Adonis on the inside.

Facing his own weakness the Apostle Paul said this:
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it [Paul’s weakness – suffering] away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The Lord has a wonderful way of using our external and circumstantial weaknesses to make us stronger, by helping us to impact the lives of others through our service and to be more useful in living out the realities of our faith for the Glory of God. As you inevitably encounter your own weaknesses, don’t allow them to beat you down, but instead, allow the Lord to show you how He is using your dealing you’re your weakness to bless and encourage others and to glorify Himself. Until next time…


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Not the Sharpest Knife in the Drawer

Tim Tebow is taking hits again. This time, it’s in the area of his intellectual capacity. As part of his processing during the NFL Rookie evaluation gauntlet, Tebow, like all NFL prospects, was required to take a “mini SAT” of sorts called the Wonderlic Test. Wikipedia defines the test as, “twelve-minute, fifty-question test used to assess the aptitude of prospective employees for learning and problem-solving”. The object of the test is to get as many correct answers as possible within the time allotted, with one point given for each correct answer. The average score for professional football players is 20 and indicates average intelligence. Only one player in NFL history has scored a perfect 50 with the 2nd highest score being 48 and both of them were Harvard graduates. Tebow scored a 22, just above average, but many media outlets have heralded the score as an indication that he is at least one brick shy of a load. In case you’re wondering, some other NFL quarterback Wonderlic scores are: Dan Marino – 15, Vince Young – 15, Donovan McNabb – 14 Tom Brady – 33, Eli Manning – 39, and Brett Farve – 22. Had it not been for a willingness to do a quick search on the nature and parameters of the test, I might have been reduced to thinking that Tim Tebow was a great guy, possessing a great arm, a strong back and yet a very weak mind. Even a little research clearly shows that this is not the case. Tebow is a fine young man of normal intelligence and extraordinary character gifted with tremendous physical ability. My new perspective made me consider how it must feel being characterized as “dumber than the average bear”? It is actually an experience with which I can somewhat relate.

In my college days, I had my share of less than stellar academic moments where my greatest efforts to “Dazzle ‘em with brilliance” resulted in lack-luster performances that left others baffled with my dullness. In those moments I always had to make a decision; Would I see myself as a stunt double for the stars of “Dumb and Dumber” or would I use other measures to evaluate what I had to offer the world? I imagine Tim Tebow could be asking himself the same question and that he might derive his answer from the same source from which I derived mine – The Bible. The book of Colossians has comprehensive instruction regarding how we are to use the gifts, abilities and talents we possess:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Colossians 3:23-24).

One of my seminary professors warned of the dangers of seeking the applause of people and living in fear of failure in pursuing our calling. He wisely shared that, “People tend to be fickle and their view of what you do and how well you do it may or may not be based in reality. If you have done your best before the Lord – your absolute best with all your heart according to your abilities - it may not meet the standards or approval of people, but for God, your best is good enough. Remember, you will ultimately be evaluated by Him.”

Let me be clear that I am not championing mediocrity or sub-standard performance. I’m simply acknowledging that there are times when our best efforts fall short of our desired goals. When that happens, we cannot allow our failures to become defined by others who are observing us or allow their dim view of our poor performance to limit us in our overall ability to overcome our disappointments and to contribute meaningfully to whatever the Lord has called us to do. In Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul challenges us in this way:
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but in the Lord’s hands, at my best, I’m sharp enough to be of use to Him anywhere and anyhow He desires to use me – and so is Tim Tebow and so are you! Until Next Time…


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Earthquakes, Blizzards and Other Disasters – Is This The End and What Should We Do?

I am blessed to be a part of a pastor’s fellowship that meets monthly in a simple and laid back format to share a devotional word, pray and offer encouragement for one another as vocational Christian servants. This morning, we discussed some of the amazing weather-related events that have taken place so far this year and the implications for Christians around the world.

Consider this: In the first quarter of 2010, natural disasters and anomalies have given the media plenty to report and everyday people plenty to talk about. In the last month alone, we’ve seen back to back mega blizzards and back to back earthquakes that have shattered the record books and more significantly shattered countless lives. Whenever people experience the extreme forces of nature at work at such a magnitude, questions arise and issues of eternal and cosmic consequence become part of the daily discussion. Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 come readily to mind:

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

The looming of the year 2012 and the Mayan Calendar’s purported prediction of that year as The End of All Things begins to cause disquiet in many hearts and stirs up thoughts of “Doomsday” and “The Apocalypse”. The Mayan Calendar not withstanding, there is no doubt that the Bible does indicate that “The End Times” will be characterized by a level of human upheaval unmatched in all of history. Great gains will be accompanied by great pains and there will be no easy solutions or relief from the trouble of those days. These observations bring a very important question to mind, “Are we in the end times?”

Many generations of humans have read the troubles of their times as indications of the immanence of the end of all things. Since the establishment of the New Testament Church, Christians have watched for Jesus’ return at any moment, measuring the experiences of their times against Jesus’ signs and warnings. As I read about the number of cataclysms we are experiencing around the world and the increasing intensity – much like “birthpangs” – the term that Jesus used to describe the troubled times of the end, I consider it a possibility that we could be in the end times. I temper those considerations with awareness that none of us are privileged to have God’s “Cosmic Calendar” on our wall and that as bad as things are, there is still far to go to completely match the level of devastation outlined throughout the Scriptures. Jesus’ complete phrase, “…the beginning of birth pangs” seems most appropriate. This would mean that though “The End” may not be in full swing, the clock is certainly ticking.

In the pastors’ fellowship I mentioned earlier, my friend Jon Nelson shared a well-known passage from 2nd Peter that describes the horrendous world-wide trauma that will be part and parcel of the end, but focuses not so much on the horror as it does the Christian response to the horror. Peter asks simply that as Christians understand the gravity and horror of human suffering that places every person in the shadow of a date with eternity, “What kind of people ought [we] to be?” “How, then, should we live?” With all the cataclysms Peter mentions he does not call Christians to stockpile weapons, food, clothing or to make sure they vote for certain candidates. He does give this specific admonition:

You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Peter is calling Christians to not lose sight of their basic and unwavering goals of holy and godly living, being on guard not to be derailed by enticing distractions, erroneous teachings, or temporary and destructive pleasures. Instead we must grow in grace and grow in our knowledge of the Lord. Practically, this means that as we see others suffering in these most troubled times, we must make it our business to work to minister to their physical pain and, as we comfort them, introduce them to the Lord and His Great News of life-saving salvation and hope. We must also oppose false teaching that uses hard times to manipulate, distort and abuse the pure teaching of God leading to the physical and spiritual destruction of those left vulnerable in their suffering. We must also see the difficult days as opportunities to grow in gracious living and to seek to grow more in knowing Jesus and allowing our knowledge of Him to transform us to be more like Him day by day.

Are we in the end times? Perhaps. Whatever your view on the timing of “The End”, consider this: whenever a person dies, that individual faces “the end of the world” for them in that moment! Daily untold numbers of people face their own personal “consummation of all things.” Therefore, regardless of whether we are in the “Macro” end times of history or the “Micro” end times of individuals, the mission we have been given does not change – To be witnesses for the Lord Jesus here, there and everywhere, letting our light shine before everyone so that they will see the good we do and glorify our Heavenly Father. The end is near for someone, let’s be about our Lord’s Business until He comes again or until He comes for us. Until next time…


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

No More Average Joe!

A few days ago, I stumbled across a program that I found irresistible. It’s called “Fight Science” and for me it was a perfect blend of action, technology and fun. In the episode that grabbed my attention, the Fight Science hosts were setting up challenges designed to test the breaking points of US Special Operators in their various fields of expertise. They had assembled a 3 operator team that consisted of an Air Force F-16 Pilot, A US Army Ranger, A Marine Scout Sniper, and a US Navy SEAL. Their goals were to disorient theF-16 pilot to the point of losing his focus and not being able to fly, to fatigue the Ranger by exposing him to simulated extreme altitudes, to distract the Marine Scout Sniper with extremes of hot and cold, and by immersing him in a tank with thousands of insects, and to drown the SEAL by binding his hands and feet while weighing him down with extra weight.

In each case, the Special operators were placed in extreme situations and emerged triumphant. The pilot never lost his lunch, the Sniper never lost his cool, they couldn’t exhaust the Ranger and they couldn’t drown the SEAL! Each of the Special Operators made their amazing tasks look easy - So easy that one was tempted to think, “I could do THAT!”

As if they could read minds, it was at this point that the FS team introduced a “special guest”. A fellow we’ll call “Average Joe.” Average Joe was - well - average. Average height, average weight, average smarts and average ability. Nothing special. Average Joe was just a regular guy, willing to attempt some extraordinary tasks. As you might imagine, Joe didn’t fare as well as the experts when he attempted their grueling tests. Joe lost his lunch during the flight simulation, wouldn’t even attempt the Ranger’s test, couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat as a marksman, and started to drown before his feet touched the bottom of the diving tank! It was quite a spectacle. The Fight Science hosts summed up A. Joe’s problems like this: Joe was ill prepared and had not pursued proper training.

That truth struck me as pertinent to the ups and downs of life all people face at one time or another. We’re often confronted with extreme difficulties that we fail to negotiate with success or excellence because we’re unprepared for adversity or unpracticed in our spiritual disciplines. The Special Operators succeeded in extreme conditions because they’re special, certainly, but even more so because they were mentally prepared and skillfully practiced. 2 Timothy 2:15 challenges Christians to not be content with just an “Average Joe” spiritual life but to…”Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” We are not to be content with going through the motions of Christian ritual which only provide external polish without internal transformation. Instead, we should be devoted to the exercise of Christian disciplines such as daily prayer, a deep study of the Bible and spending time with other Christians for encouragement, accountability and support. The regular and rigorous exercise of these disciplines help us to be prepared for times of testing and trouble when our trials seem to turn us every which way but loose, give us no room to breathe and even seem to try to sink us. When we prepare ourselves for difficult days by training ourselves in the ways of God, we are better able to cope, adapt and ultimately overcome in Christ Who promises that we can be more than over-comers if we don’t give up the Good Fight.

Are you spiritually training and preparing for the trials you will face like a Special Operator or are you “coasting and ghosting,” hoping that you’ll make it on “a wing and a prayer” when trouble comes you way. I pray that you’ll start seriously preparing today, so that when your times of testing come – and they will come - you won’t find yourself standing in your own strength as a battered and confused “Average Joe” but instead, you’ll be standing in the Lord’s strength well-prepared and ready to seize the moment with faith, hope and love. Go Joe!! Until next time…


Monday, February 8, 2010

A Personal Connection to The Tebow Commercial

Over the years, I have been blessed with many friends who have not just known me, but have also challenged me to do more and go farther than I might have without having the benefit of their friendship. Rick Duncan, the founding Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church in the Cleveland, Ohio area, is one of those friends. Rick took a chance on Luz and me, by leading the effort to call us as inner city church planters to Cleveland. Rick and CVC could have simply called us and left us alone with token inquiries about our ministry efforts, but that’s not his style. Rick is the type of person who takes friendship seriously and is not content to let things alone, but rather attempts to forthrightly yet lovingly speak into the lives of the people God has brought into his path. Because of Rick, Luz and I were welcomed as part of the CVC family and weathered many storms that could have been our undoing. Furthermore, we benefited from opportunities that might have remained out of reach. Our experiences ranged from the lows ofdealing with ministerial misconduct on the part of a fellow missionary to the highs of traveling to Ghana where I not only had the opportunity to share the Gospel but also had the unforgettable experiencing of reconnecting with my West African heritage. These are experiences for which I will always be thankful and experiences in which Rick’s friendship played a major part.

Thanks to facebook, I have kept up with Rick through direct messages and blogging. In Rick’s latest Blog entry he reveals his personal friendship with Florida Gator quarterback Tim Tebow’s family. As many of you know, Tebow and his mom took part in a Super Bowl ad that caused a bit of controversy and stirred up some questions about just who these people are. Wanting to shed some light on that subject, Rick shares a personal story in his latest Blog entry recounting the effect Tim Tebow's parents had on his life and what he knows personally of how they live their lives, spotlight on or off. In a way, it was their mentoring of Rick and his wife Maryanne that led Rick to a life decision that had a direct effect on my life and service for the Lord. Please check out this link, and in the process, consider how you are impacting the lives of those around you. You never know, just how far the hand you lend may ultimately reach.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Child's Thoughts On Death and Heaven

Earlier this week, I had the solemn honor of officiating the funeral of a much beloved Matriarch of a church family in the congregation in which we now serve, Grace Church located in Racine, Wisconsin. While I was getting dressed for the funeral our youngest daughter, Victoria, asked why I was putting on a suit and tie (Not typical dress for the ministry in which I am serving)? I informed her that I was leading the funeral service. She asked, “What is a funeral?” I explained that it is an important ceremony used to say good-bye to someone who has died. She then asked me, “Isn’t that when someone goes to Heaven to meet Jesus forever?” I answered, “Well, for the woman we’re saying bye to today, yes.” Victoria’s eyes grew wide. She clapped, jumped up and down and said, “How exciting Daddy! Getting to be with Jesus forever! I think she’s going to learn a lot!” I was shocked by her matter-of-fact faith and her obvious attention to what we say at home and what she is taught at church. No wonder Jesus delighted in the faith of children! In Mark 10:13-16 the Scriptures give the following account,

“Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.”

Victoria’s joy in contemplating just what it will be like to encounter Jesus at the moment of death convicted me. Though certainly, and rightfully, we possess a strong desire to live and there is so much for which to live, we should always keep the eternal perspective in view, fixing our “eyes on the Prize”. We must also realize that when the time of our passing comes, it will ultimately be a time of total fulfillment and ultimate joy as we enter into the joy of the Lord.

Unfortunately, there are times when I’m pondering the subject of death that I tend to focus on what I would be leaving behind, not what lies ahead. In Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul reminds us of just how to adjust our focus on eternal heavenly virtues. He states:

“…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

As a Christ follower I must recalibrate my goal setting beyond savings accounts, insurance policies and real estate. I must focus on the reality that the day will come – an eternally glorious day – when I will encounter the Jesus I have served face to face and give an account for the life I have lived. Because of that powerful truth, I need to align all my thoughts, words and deeds with the reality that whatever difficulties I might have encountered in this life will not have been in vain and that my most important treasures will not be found in a bank or in a Will, but rather in the minds and hearts of the people I have encountered in my life and written on the ledgers of Heaven.

If you know the Lord and inevitably find yourself wrestling with the deep and complex theological volumes written about death, let me challenge you to remember Victoria’s joy that reflects a straightforward embrace of Jesus’ simple declaration:

Jesus said… "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

I believe Lord. Forgive my temporal preoccupations and help me to embrace child-like faith expressed in this simple children’s song:

Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with Glory and Grace
I want to see my Savior’s face
Heaven is a wonderful place!

Until next time…


Monday, January 18, 2010

Chasing Dreams

Today, January 18, 2010, we celebrate the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. almost 42 years after his assassination. A question that continues to stir vigorous debate among Americans of all backgrounds is this: “Has Dr. Kings Dream been realized?” Responses fall along a wide spectrum, ranging from, “Of course it’s been realized – we have a Black President!” to “Not even close! Racism and prejudice have only gone underground. The struggle for equality lives on!” Perhaps it would be helpful to take a look at a part of Dr. King’s speech that are less well-known but no less important in evaluating our progress towards fulfilling the dream he shared so powerfully and eloquently many years ago.

Dr. King prefaces the heart of his oratorical masterpiece with which we are all familiar with a word of admonition for his fellow African-Americans. He states:

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.

Dr. King warns that the Dream of equality in America will never truly be a reality without a commitment to righteousness and unconditional, Christ-like love. This is a love that is selfless, sacrificial and not dependent of how one is treated, but rather it is dependant upon one’s commit to the God of History Who ultimately vindicates all who stand firm for the good. To you, my friends, who are committed to a better day and a brighter future, I solemnly charge you to walk uprightly and to take no shortcuts in seeking to gain societal ground. Shun evil. Do the right thing. Beyond that, I challenge you to look beyond your own neighborhood for others of different backgrounds who share a passion for what is right and who are prepared to pay the price to see that good triumphs over evil. Dr. King makes it plain, that moral lawlessness will only set back the clock that measures or progress towards equality. We must have a commitment to good that respects and empowers women, protects and prepares children, and upholds and guards the dignity of every man. ANY rhetoric, entertainment or action that violates this solemn trust which has been given to us by those who have preceded us is nothing short of treasonous.

Dr. King also unequivocally asserts that no one group of people can make progress towards realizing the dream alone. We must learn to create an atmosphere of trust that allows us to share our hurts without hurting each other and to share our dreams without overlooking each other. We must own the fact that our histories as people groups are part of a larger collective history we all share as people period. As we cherish and protect our unique histories, it is our collective history we must all learn to respect and celebrate in unity and love.

Dr. King also reminds us that there will always be those who seek to destroy our dreams, but we must never allow ourselves to be dragged backwards by them. We must NEVER allow ourselves to be brought down in despair to the point of using methods that would set back the cause of righteousness or pull down the good name of those who have gone before. We must always march ahead!

Ultimately, the struggle for all people to be treated equally is a lifelong one. Though many of the goals for which he and others strived have been realized – we can now all eat side by side legally and we can all utilize common public facilities and services – I’m sure Dr. King would be disappointed to see how much ground has been lost because of our failure to live up to his WHOLE speech. I have trouble feeling a sense of progress, when there are more broken homes, more single parents, more aborted babies and more community violence than at the time the speech was made during my first year of life. It’s difficult for me to whole-heartedly celebrate integrated schools when there are more young African-American men in prison than in college. It’s hard to feel completely good about neighborhoods integrating when the neighborhood I left behind in metro-Detroit was for a brief period a microcosm of Dr. King’s dream of Blacks and Whites as neighbors but has now become yet another statistic of White flight. It’s a struggle to get worked up in the euphoria of the first US President of African descent, when it seems people are content to live vicariously through his achievements rather than consider how they might break down barriers of their own and work for a better society. As I review D. Kings speech, I’m not sure that we’ve really he understood what he was challenging us to pursue.

In chasing after the American Dream, we seem to have forgotten a much bigger vision, built on much better promises. Jesus commands us to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all else will be added unto you.” In our pursuit of rights and dreams, we’ve too often neglected what is right and forsaken the development of character that makes the pursuit of dreams possible.

As I reflect on Dr. King’s speech, I’m not going to be content to lament where we have fallen short or to vicariously experience it through someone else. I’m going to pursue how I can walk a more righteous walk, live in a more inspiring way and love with more sincerity, forgiveness and helpfulness in my life and ministry. I’m going to take action to make a difference every chance I get, over and over again, rather than complain about what might have been if I only I hadn’t failed before. If you truly want to live out Dr. King’s dream, don’t just watch me, join me. Perhaps if enough of us walk together someone, someday just might be able to say, “Those people don’t just talk about the Dream. They live it.” Still chasing the Dream - Until next time…


Shaken and Stirred

A 7.0 earthquake rocks Haiti causing incalculable death and destruction. The numbers are so great, that we struggle not to become stupefied or impotent in response to the crisis. We seek to comprehend just what this level of devastation means and we work earnestly to consider what we can do about it. The ruthless Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin reflected the sinister side of this struggle in his infamous observation that, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” How can we prevent ourselves from sinking to a level of cynicism and doubt that muffles cries for help around us and stymies our sense of responsibility to others in need? The life of Jesus presents the strongest example of how we can be empowered to make a difference when the desperation of our circumstances attempt to render us powerless.

Jesus was immersed in a society filled with terrorism, poverty, sickness and death. Nevertheless, His relationship to the Father and His focus on carrying out the Heavenly Father’s will framed everything that He did in His earthly ministry. Furthermore, it prevented Him from experiencing powerlessness in the face of overwhelming needs and protected Him from despondency in seemingly hopeless situations. As Jesus stands in the midst a hungry crowd, he is pressured by His disciples to send the people away. Yet, in the midst of this seemingly impossible situation, within earshot of cynical comments and open criticism, Jesus turns to the Heavenly Father and prays. Having followed the Father’s will in obedience, even while seeming helpless, the glory of God is exposed through Jesus and through a young boy’s offering of all he had. The result? Thousands are fed! In situation after situation, Jesus meets each crisis head-on, always trusting the Father, and always managing to make a difference. Even in His most difficult time of trial, as Jesus’ faces His own crucifixion, He once again turns to the Father and surrenders His will to the will of God. As the soldiers approach to arrest Him, we see Jesus full of godly confidence, ready to face His death not as a victim, but as The Victor, with God’s glory and our redemption as the spoils of His victory! How does knowing what Jesus did help us to cope with situations like the one in Haiti? It helps in many ways!

Whenever a calamity hits, we are jolted back to the reality that life does not revolve around us as individuals. Whether troubles are global or local in scope, they remind us that we need to always be prepared to bring Hope and help whenever and however we can. We cannot be content to remain isolated in comfort and insulated from the pain and suffering of others. It is God’s desire that we do good in this world that others might see Christ in us and know where true hope lies. The 12th chapter of Romans offers some straight forward instruction to guide us when difficulties arise and we wonder what to do:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay, "says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We must continually endeavor to be over-comers who do not tire of doing what we can to be of service to the Lord and to others. I am once again reminded of the wisdom of the serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

For months to come, we’ll hear more news about the extreme challenges facing Haiti. Certainly, we’ll also be faced other difficulties that come to our attention through the news or that directly cross our paths. Whenever possible, let’s not relegate our response to hand wringing or head wagging, but let’s seek ways to help – Let’s pray to the Lord for His help and strength in the midst of our troubles. Let’s give to reputable charities that know how to practically help in times of trouble and crisis. Let’s go and lend a hand ourselves, using the gifts and talents we possess that can be of use to those in need. Let’s allow Haiti’s shaking to stir us up to make a difference, doing all the good we can, whenever and wherever we can, for as long as we can. Until next time…


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Search of Aliens

Anyone who frequented theatres in the 1970's can tell you all about a blockbuster called "Close Encounters of a Third Kind". The film featured actor Richard Dreyfuss in the role that put his career on the map and presented the story of a man who began to receive supernatural telekinetic messages from another world declaring that aliens were on the way. Dreyfuss and other "special" people who had also received the messages searched and waited for days until they were all drawn to Devil's Tower, Wyoming, where the friendly visitors made their appearance and brought along with them a host of passengers thought to have been long lost including Bermuda Triangle victims like the legendary post WWII Navy Flight 19. Highlighting the Aliens' visit was their communication with the world at large through music and hand signals. As I think back on the movie with 21st Century eyes, the plot and presentation seem a bit hokey and sugary sweet for contemporary tastes, but that premise - to search for aliens. Hmmmm.

This outlandish idea of searching for Aliens came to mind as I read a meditation this morning from the Our Daily Bread serial devotional. In today's reading,Christian writer Julie Acerman discusses the issue of Christian Credibility and she challenges believers to pursue the standard of behavior outlined in 1 Peter 2:11ff by Peter the Apostle:
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

The challenge is a serious one. Peter calls Christians to display love and forgiveness even while in life circumstances as dehumanizing as forced servitude! He instructs the faithful that a dynamic Christian life must be characterized by goodness, perseverance and forgiveness regardless of the response of those inflicting the harm! He asserts that persistently doing good regardless of one's situation has the power to silence evildoers and bring glory to the Name of the Lord! That kind of response to adversity and affliction is simply supernatural! It is certainly not human. The lifestyle that Peter demands is truly alien to common human experience, yet precisely the kind of lifestyle that humanity desperately needs to experience.

As I look at the task I face as an Outreach Pastor, called to mobilize people to touch lives through the hands-on application of the Gospel, I've come to the conclusion that I'm searching for aliens! Not the kind with silver uniforms and advanced space vehicles who repeat canned phrases like, "Take me to your leader," but folks who have a supernatural connection with and are inextricably devoted to Jesus. I'm looking for people in this world who are "peculiar" (1 Peter 2:9 KJV)- alien sojourners who are not seeking to pattern themselves after the latest fads or popular conventions, but are pursuing a higher calling of otherworldly proportions. I'm searching for people who display a transformed way of living, not through having their bodies snatched or through a Vulcan "mind meld" but through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who produces the fruit of a transformed life: ", joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22,23).

Now that I think about it, I shouldn't be just searching for aliens, I should be committed to being one myself, with my priorities not limited by the baggage of this world, but with a vision that reflects a laser-like focus on God's agenda. I invite you to become an alien too, with your heart tuned in to Heaven, following The Leader's Instructions so that other inhabitants of this planet can see you carrying out His supernatural agenda and surrender themselves to it too! Until next time...