Monday, July 19, 2010
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
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
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...