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…