Friday, December 19, 2014

Celebrating Our Silver - We Got By with a LOT of Help From Our Friends!

Celebrating Our Silver – We Got By With a Lot of Help – and a Little Heat – From Our Friends!

25 years ago, today, I stood in the garden of the YWAM Philippines Balut Missionary Base in Manila without stateside friends or family present and committed to the most important decision of my life.  As one very close friend recounted during our celebration of this momentous decision a few weeks ago, at the time, the decision was controversial and was met with a great deal of skepticism.  Of the many people I approached for blessing, my pastor opposed the decision, several professors in my seminary did, and some family friends were fearful to say the least.  My mentor’s wife and her friends were very vocal in their opposition to my decision and a few acquaintances were convinced I had experienced a break with reality.  On Luz’s side, fear was the most prominent sentiment, with many of her friends voicing concerns and advising caution.  One trusted mentor reasoned that this scenario of the “American Knight in Shining Armor coming to the rescue” was the worst thing that could happen and just not what Luz and the girls needed.  In many ways, it felt like we were astronauts poised for lift off, while the Mission Control specialists ticked off all of the broken systems that pointed to a need to scrub the launch: “Finances – no go.  Time acquainted with each other – no go. Living space – no go.  Definitive plan for the future – no go.  Plan for immigration for Luz and the girls – no go. Broad support of spiritual leaders and advisors – no go.”  With all of these elements in question, why in the world did we take the bold and seemingly crazy step of getting married anyway?
Things were not quite as they appeared.  Both of us were blessed with the support and blessings of our immediate families and our very closest friends.  Those who knew us best and heard all of the facts, understood that our situation was somewhat unusual, but felt that the two of us were rather unusual as well, and that based on knowing us, our histories and our way of thinking and approach to life, the scenario actually made sense.  Our friends had first asked us tough questions, tested our motives, closely scrutinized each of us and confronted us with unpleasant and challenging possibilities of the future.  After subjecting us to a gauntlet of tests, blessings were given.  In addition, Luz and I also scrutinized each other. Luz tested me on all fronts, observing how I dealt with anger, disappointment, difficulties and being out of my comfort zone for extended periods of time.  I had the privilege of observing Luz under pressure, in tough situations and saw in her a woman who was capable of handling any challenge that life could throw at her.  Besides testing each other, we prayed – and fasted- a lot!  We didn’t pray out of desperation but in preparation.
While apart from each other, we spent one day a week for 6 months coordinating a time of fasting and prayer where we replaced our physical nourishment with the spiritual food of prayer, meditation and contemplation.  We searched our own hearts and focused on preparing ourselves for the challenges that awaited us.  We allowed further scrutiny from supportive friends and targeted areas that clearly need work. We then continued to ask each other the toughest questions we could formulate. After being ruthlessly candid about our life views on every subject we could consider, and sparing no effort to discover the real people behind our smiles, we KNEW we were made for each other.  At that point, the opposition mattered very little to us.  We had faith in each other as the team that had to “fly the rocket” and we had absolute faith in the Director of Mission Control – the Lord – believing that He was not only with us but had indeed orchestrated our coming together. 
Why look back on the naysayers and challenges to our coming together as we celebrate our Silver Anniversary?  To stick out tongues out at those individuals time proved to be wrong? It is tempting, but no, that’s not the reason.  I remember those who questioned our coming together and I am as thankful for them as I am those who were supportive from the beginning. Because of the tough questions these dear friends asked, and the skepticism with which they viewed our potential union, Luz and I were forced to look beyond the surface into the depths of the realities of the heart.  Because of friends who were courageous enough to ask us if we really knew what we were doing and if we had seriously counted the costs and the risks, we actually counted the costs and risks and prepared ourselves for the journey that awaited us.  I look back at those individuals because once Luz and I were committed to each other in marriage, these friends committed themselves to walk with us in support and encouragement in spite of their doubts – even my mentor’s wife and her entourage! That commitment to help us and to basically work to see that disaster did not happen, has provided a testimony of love and faithfulness that all involved can now celebrate! 
Our 25th anniversary has provided us with the opportunity to thank God for all of our friends, as we realize that we’ve made it this far because so many cared and so many shared – even when they thought we were wrong!  That’s what makes this Silver Anniversary such a shining moment! Through each step of our journey as a family, we’ve been blessed to have committed friends stand with us.  We appreciate all you have done to make it easier for us to fully experience the love God gave us for each other. Luz and I have committed once again to continue walking together in life and we invite you all to continue to walk with us in encouragement, advisement and love.  With friends like you and God’s love binding us together, we can’t wait to see what will unfold in the years ahead.  Thank you for being our friends – it has made all of the difference!

With great love and appreciation,

Sam and Luz

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Honoring Your Parents As the Lights Grow Dim

Today as I spent time with my father, this familiar passage marinated in my soul: "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you." This is the Deuteronomy repeat of the Exodus commandment. As I watched my dad falling asleep this evening, it came to mind that many of you are also caring for ailing parents. It is a bittersweet duty, possessing the sweetness of being able to direct tenderness towards one so close yet also presenting the bitterness that comes with seeing a person once so strong, suffering agonizing indignities that only people of great depth and substance could endure. Today I fed the man who taught me how to eat and groomed the man who taught me how to dress, tie a tie, shine my shoes and blouse my boots. All of the intangibles of manhood were taught to me by this man I now serve in some ways as if I were the daddy. Yet the total surrender and trust displayed by my father towards me for spoonful after spoonful is an honor that cannot be matched by titles or awards save this one: son. To all of you who find yourselves in a position similar to mine, please stay the course. Serve your loved ones well. Introduce them to their professional care givers. Advocate for them as their voices grow quieter knowing that years in the past as they cared and stood for others, they wondered if anyone would ever stand for and care for them. Be encouraged that in their current vulnerable state which they knew would come someday, you are their "Yes and Amen!" A salute to all those who care for others. May the honor you are giving be multiplied 100 times over for you and for all those you love! God bless us all!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

To Protect and Serve

Social media has emerged as one of the premier means of expressing opinions in contemporary society. The ability to sit behind a keyboard as reach out to countless others, out of sight and out of reach has emboldened people as never before to make their deepest thoughts known on numerous aspects of the human experience – some light and entertaining, others heavy and thought provoking. The combination of social media and the discussion of racial tensions in the United States has become a raw and uncomfortable dialogue that is testing our collective character and what we believe about ourselves as a nation in new and uncertain ways. I have witnessed an exchange of ideas, experiences and information charged with emotions that is reaching a point of testing decades long friendships and challenging long held perceptions of the broader American experience. I believe this exchange of ideas is a good thing. I also believe that taking the dialogue on race in America beyond the superficial is not only desirous, it is necessary if ultimate meaningful and sustainable progress is to be made. Nevertheless, I believe that as we plunge forward into a level of candor we’ve not experienced on such a wide scale, we must understand the dangers of this collective journey and take steps to guard our hearts as we share and to protect our relationships as we uncover truths that cannot be allowed to remain obscured behind fears of hurts the truth may expose and press on in serving each other in community in the bond of love and peace. We must protect and serve.
In our desire to better understand the racial dynamics within the United States, we each must share the truth. I have seen two sources of information used to communicate truth in most discussions on race: experience and statistics. Both sources offer tools which can assist in defining and understanding what’s going on in society. These sources represent the dynamic combinations of head and heart, intellect and passion, light and heat. Both are necessary in any discussion that seeks to discern and understand what truth is. As the facts and the feelings are experienced together, one responsibility must guide our attempts to have a dialogue, especially with friends – the responsibility to protect friendships. As we share information and receive it, we must protect ourselves by steeling our will to remain committed to one another as friends as we hear hard things. One of the truths I am attempting to lash to the walls of my heart as I discuss race is this: No matter how raw the information that I hear from another perspective and no matter how painful what I hear may be, or how unreasonable I may perceive it to be, I will not allow the personal hurt to kill my friendships. In this spirit, as I express a differing opinion, I will not intentionally engage in targeted, attacking responses but seek to communicate the “truth in love” seasoning my words “with grace”. If race is going to be discussed in a meaningful way, each of us must prepare to hear things that hurt. We all have to be prepared to discuss the hard things. We also must be prepared to do the hard work of presenting the truth in a manner that maximizes its likelihood to be heard, steering away from inflammatory language, course characterizations and incendiary language. We present facts as we see them heavily seasoned in gracious language and loving tone – The Truth in Love.
As we share, we must also continue to live among one another and to serve each other in the broader context of life. As we discuss race, the common challenges of life continue. Sicknesses, tragedies, setbacks, disappointments and deaths rage on as we dialogue on the critical issue of our national existence. Even when the sharing becomes heated to the point of disgust and anger, we must take a few steps back to pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens, encourage each other and help one another as we press on through the challenging and mountainous journey of life in which we all exist as fellow travelers. We must talk about the hard things – no more pretense or surface interactions – but our hard conversations must keep the broader scope of our friendships in mind at all times, and the goal or our dialogues must not be the winning of an argument, but the pursuit of understanding and the building of community.
“Come, let us reason together.” Let us protect ourselves from the poisons that would divide us; surface interactions – vitriol-laced discussions – and let us pursue the truth in love as we honestly dialogue and lovingly sharing our hearts as we continue to serve one another, aware that we’re all literally in this together and that the value we have individually and collectively is worth the work we must exert in achieving the unity that we all so desperately desire. Let’s protect and let’s serve.
With Respect and Love,

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Personal Response to Ferguson - A Call to Hard Core Commitment

America is not unfamiliar with social upheavals.  As far back as our own revolution, Americans have witnessed an unending series of incidents brought about by the illusive and taxing pursuit of some of the most powerful ideals of the human experience.  Americans have fought other nations and each other over almost sacred concepts like liberty, justice, equality and freedom.  These concepts are so mighty in our collective psyche, that we have killed our kindred and our kind and willingly given “the last full measure of devotion” of ourselves sin our attempts to ascend to “higher ground.”  Some of our actions in pursuit of the collective good are noble.  Sadly, on tragic days, our search for truth and beauty finds us trodding an ignoble path, characterized by shameful actions and pitiful expressions of our frustration with the failures of our society.
In light of the aforementioned history, the chaos that now characterizes Ferguson, Missouri is nothing new.  We’ve had Tea Parties, tar and feathering mobs, lynchings, a War Between the States, and a string of riots between various groups over the years, including a riot in 1930 between Filipino-American farm workers and local anti-immigration townspeople in Watsonville, California in 1930 over labor issues in agriculture!  In my lifetime, there have been riots in the 1960’s in reaction to Dr. King’s death.  Riots over compulsory school bussing in Boston in the 70’s, and there were riots in California after the Rodney King Trial.  There was great debate and heightened racial tension in the nation after the O.J. Simpson trial’s conclusion and we now have national tension and rioting revolving around the Grand Jury decision surrounding the Michael Brown shooting incident.  Unless we are willingly partaking in revisionist history, it is clear that our American experience has always been punctuated with episodes of civil unrest – sometimes violent, sometimes not but always a bit scary. 
Among the questions that persist in all of the discussions I’ve seen since the Brown situation emerged on the national landscape are, “What do we do?” “How do we deal with this?” “Is there any hope?” As a Jesus follower, I believe the answers to these questions are straightforward, yet extremely difficult to apply in real life, real time.  The solutions are not difficult to apply because of a lack of opportunity to put one’s money where one’s mouth is, but they are difficult because of the high personal costs of doing “the right things.” The answers to bring real progress to our ongoing national conversation on race require costly, hard core commitments to some of the simplest to understand, yet most difficult to carry out life principles outlined by Jesus.  I’ll cite two principles for us to consider in how we can make a difference in times of upheaval and controversy. First, Jesus calls us to love our enemies!
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
As a pastor, I can tell you that one can effortlessly formulate a “rip roaring, feel good” sermon on this passage a feel great about one’s grasp of the content.  I can attest to the fact that one can feel downright “Christ-like”, warm and fuzzy down to one’s toes until someone curses you to your face. Or, someone lets you know verbally and literally that they hate you. Or, someone uses their power, position and resources to persecute you and make your life a living hell.  Those realities make the passage come alive with the costs of what Jesus is calling us to do when we’re punched in the gut in a way that messes up our day, disrupts our harmony of life and wrecks our hopes and dreams. 
Jesus is calling us to a radical way of life to radically address the mountainous challenges of our times.  What do I mean by radical? I mean that the Lord is calling us to obey our spiritual training, not our natural instincts.  What distinguishes heroic effort from cowardly failure? Is it superhuman ability? Is it uncommon courage?  Is it exceptional aptitude?  More often than not, it is unwavering commitment to the truth of one’s training and the ability to adhere to that training and aggressively apply it when one’s natural inclinations would lead one to act otherwise.  It is the commitment to not walk by the person in need in the spirit of the Good Samaritan.  It is the dogged tenacity to pray for those who are killing you, like the first martyr Stephen. It is the iron clad grip on the ways of Jesus, emulating his example of complete love and forgiveness, as he prayed for those who were killing Him as He was being crucified saying, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” It is the commitment Jesus had to see the opportunity to transform and enemy to a friend when one who has mocked you sees the light, as did the thief on the cross, leading Jesus to stop dying and minister to his new ally, assuring him of a home in Glory in the midst of His own anguish.  It is the ability to see past one’s own pain and suffering to love and serve others.  Jesus managed to care for his mother and follower John even as He suffered because His mission centered on the needs of others, not His own comfort and relief.  For the Christ follower who feels the weight of oppression, persecution and injustice, we must speak the truth in love but always IN LOVE. We must persevere for justice but always loving and praying for our enemies – especially if they’re our friends!  We must recognize that withstanding the pounding of evil doers in the strength of holiness doesn’t make one a chump, it crystalizes one’s identity as a righteous warrior poised to shake up the world for the good.  Jesus never stopped speaking the truth.  He also never adopted the tactics of His enemies.  Our actions must solidify our identity as Jesus’ people never relenting in speaking and doing what is right – even if we get hurt.
On the other hand,  if you find yourself in a position of strength and control in these stormy times, what should you do?  Micah 6:8 has some excellent marching orders: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” DO justice. In all one’s undertakings and interactions. Be the person who can be counted on not to “take a side” but to speak and act for what is just. Be the person who has a heart of compassion and mercy when others are looking for ropes.  Remember God’s mercy towards you and walk in the humility of that knowledge.  Be the change you’re seeking to experience.
The illusive healing we all seek will also call for a willingness to cross cultural, linguistic, racial and social barriers over and over again. I have spent the majority of my ministry time intentionally reaching across barriers, not only seeking to establish dialogue, but seeking to build a life together with people different from me.  I have been and continue to be hurt in the process.  I say again, I have been and CONTINUE TO BE hurt in the process.  I’m no one’s fool and I am very realistic about my calling.  But if I give up now, what good will all the effort have been?  I’ve come to the conclusion that true faith calls one to experience true pain and to die figuratively every day to one’s own comfort and could even call one to one’s literal, physical demise.  Yet, the words of Jesus compel me to press on: “What profit is it to a man, to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  The pursuit of comfort has many benefits, but missing from among them is “a satisfying grasp of eternal purpose, a peace of heart and a peace of mind.”
Why the rant?  Because tough times call for tougher resolve.  Because riots will happen again and we can’t spend our time wondering if we’re resolved to press on for a better nation and a better world every time our cities burn or react in shock when they do.  The fight is a life-long and our commitment must be life-long as well, with a call to the next generation to pick up where we leave off.  I may not have all of the answers for every specific situation that arises, but Jesus has provided me with what is necessary to stand in faith, courage and effectiveness, making a difference however I can, wherever I can until my time is up.  To this end I am committed. Hard Core! All the way!  Is anybody with me?

With all my love, your friend and brother,
Sam J.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Preserving One's Good Name - Lessons from the Stumblings of the High and Mighty

“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.”
William Shakespeare – From Othello

How exceedingly painstaking it is to build a good name, yet how amazingly effortless it is to destroy it!  When one’s good name is stolen it is indeed a tragedy, but how painfully pitiful when we ourselves are the thieves!  As one witnesses the colossal implosion of Bill Cosby’s reputation and the name he built over the years based on the appearance he has given of champion of the family, model integrity and paragon of goodness, it leaves one with a hollow, sickening feeling. It also serves as a reminder that we must “abstain from every appearance of evil” knowing that appearances become reality to those who witness behavior that seems questionable, let alone behavior that is outright wrong.  Mr. Cosby’s situation demonstrates that anyone in leadership or at the forefront of public notice must protect themselves from their own weaknesses, and from situations that create a distance from accountability. 
I happen to serve in a profession that is rife with examples of fallen heroes. From biblical examples to present day ministers, people who have been called as spiritual leaders often begin with strong reputations, noble intentions and sterling records of doing good, only to fall on their faces later with the exposure of some moral lapse or unnoticed weakness in their personal character.  These failures are painful, shameful and always set back the cause for good a few degrees as skeptical observers ask pertinent and understandable questions regarding the falls from grace that have taken place.  What is our reaction to such a fall and how do protect ourselves from similar destruction?
The first reaction should be acknowledgment.  I, Samuel D. Jackson, acknowledge that left to myself, without accountability or responsibility, I can do everything that Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, or anyone else who has fallen has done. Left to my own devices, thinking I’m “good to go” and have no need of others to call me out, ask me questions, or speak into my life to keep me on track, I am bound to certain moral and spiritual failure.  The second I fail to acknowledge this, is the second I draw dangerously near to falling on my face.
The second reaction should be humble reliance on trusted friends in light of my recognition of my own vulnerability to keep me in line.  I need people in my life to speak to my heart, soul and mind.  Those who can tell me where I am, without varnish, and who will “go upside my head” asking me, “Are you out of your mind?” if I wander into "Stupidville" undeterred.
These reactions should be bound together by a commitment to good. For me as a Christian this means a commitment to the Lord, trusting Him and His Word to keep me on the path, rather than veering into my own direction where I can rationalize stupidity, immorality and evil in my life.  The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death!”  I need to walk with God and His people in such a  way, that the ways of death are clearly marked and the Way of life never departs from my view.
These are some very basic, foundational principles of living to avoid the traps of moral failure that surround us all.  I hope that in this sad development regarding the iconic Mr. Cosby, the truth will be found, repentance enjoined, forgiveness extended and received and healing achieved.  I also pray that each one of us will self-inspect, aggressively correct and with humility and trembling press onward with the recognition that truly, “There but for the Grace of God, go I.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Renewal Vows - Sam and Luz Jackson November 15, 2014 - 4pm

Here are the personal vows Luz and I prepared, then shared during our renewal ceremonon November 15, 2014 - verbatim:
Luz to Sam:
"My Husband Sam,
I love you. I have walked with you side by side in all of life and in the work of the Lord for 25 years. I have kept the vows I made to you and will continue keeping those vows until death separates us from each other. It is my promise to love you, to help you and to encourage you when times are good or bad and to stand by you as I have for 25years, every day, no matter what challenges that life may bring. I promise to honor God, our family and our marriage with all my heart, soul mind and strength all the days of my life. I love you and I give you my solemn word!"
Sam to Luz:
"My Dearest Luz,
25 years ago, I made a sacred vow before the Lord and many witnesses that I would love, honor and cherish you, in under any conditions, for all time. Today, I renew my vows to you not because I have forgotten my pledge or that I am entertaining any intention to renege on the promise that I made that day in Manila. I am simply taking a moment in our life together to thank you for being my best friend, my fiercest and most loyal supporter and the best soldier in my Army in a journey that has been wonderful – yet a journey that has given us many challenges that the Lord has enabled us to endure and overcome together as one. In a world of broken promises and corrupted loyalties, I feel compelled to restate my commitments on this our Silver Anniversary, and to reemphasize my honorable intentions and to renew my vows to you and to our family. It is for that reason - understanding that the best and the most challenging years of our lives remain before us - that I pledge to you my unconditional love, my unflinching loyalty and my undying commitment to stand by you and for you in any and all circumstances - be they the highest of successes or the lowest of failures now and for all time. Other than Our God, I will place no one else before you, or allow another to occupy the place in my heart and life that is reserved exclusively for you, Maria-Luz Bautista de Jackson y Roda. I further devote myself to the advancement and protection of our entire family: our daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren until death or mental incapacitation prevents me from leading as I have been called to lead. This is my solemn oath to you; pledging my heart, my body, my soul and my life to you by my sacred honor according to the grace and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, from this day forward until He comes again or until He comes for me."

Silver Bells - Celebrating 25 Years of God's Goodness!

For our many friends who sent us love from near and far on the occasion of the renewal of our vows, here is the message capsulizing our story that we placed in the order of service for everyone who has cared for us so deeply over the years:
Silver Bells! Celebrating 25 Years of God’s Goodness!
In July of 1989 as a representative of my seminary, Columbia International University, I set out, to join 5,000 others who were taking part in an historic gathering of Christian Leaders from around the globe to discuss the most urgent issues facing the church at the end of the 20th century. One of these leaders was a vivacious YWAM Missionary named Luz Bautista. The Lausanne II International Mission Congress was the result of the work of Billy Graham and other world Christian leaders to bring together a variety of dynamic Christian Organizations to pray together, plan together and mobilize the whole church to take the whole Gospel around the whole world.
In the midst of performing our duties during that Congress, my path would cross with Luz’s, our curiosity towards each other would be kindled, eventually leading to a full blown courtship that would lead us to the altar of matrimony on a hot December afternoon in 1989 at the Youth With a Mission Balut Base in Manila, Philippines. As we made those vows of life-long commitment to each other, there were a number of challenges to consider.
As we have reminisced about our courtship, we remember wrestling with some fear as we both possessed a clear understanding of the enormity of the step we were about to take. What was it that overcame those instances of timidity? Our fears were overcome 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 we were and all of what we did to His control and authority. We both were also committed to the institution of marriage and possessed an unshakeable conviction that such a commitment is not to be made trivially or on the basis of whims or hyped-up emotions. We both shared an understanding that left to ourselves as human beings, we were vulnerable to wreck our marriage with our baggage and weaknesses. We knew we would need God’s guidance, friends’ support and a commitment to working through our challenges 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 as we both lived.
The 25 years since we took our vows have been sweet and blessed. Of course, we as a family have experienced the full span of human drama and challenge that life in this world brings. Nevertheless, we have seen God’s faithfulness in every circumstance and trial and count ourselves blessed to have experienced the goodness, grace and mercy of the Lord through the helping hands of our friends. It is with the help of true friends that our marriage has been able to grow, mature and endure. Our friends and loved ones have encouraged us, rallied around us and lifted us up so that we have been able to face life’s challenges with confidence and courage.
It is for that reason that as Luz and I celebrate 25 years of marriage, we want to especially celebrate your friendship us. We thank you for standing with us, standing for us, and cheering us on as our family continues to grow and as we press on in the service of the Lord. We give God the glory and praise our silver anniversary and we salute you for helping to make such a celebration possible through your love! We prayerfully look forward to more years of walking with you and glorifying God together in all of life’s celebrations and challenges! What would we do without you! Thank you for being our friends! Let’s celebrate what God has done!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Strands - The Journey from Alone to Connected

As an only child, I spent a lot of my early years alone - and didn't like it.  I longed for siblings who never came, and faced the challenges of Army Brat life as the new kid in town alone, becoming very skilled at exercising diplomacy when it was evident the odds of confrontation were stacked against me.  As I grew up, I was fortunate to gain friends who became like sibling to me, but the reality of the limits of fraternity by choice hit like a hammer when one of our parents got orders and someone had to move.  Years passed, more great friendships were formed, but I still went home at the end of each day alone.  The last night of my life that I spent absolutely alone was December 19, 1989.  I remember it well because I had been sharing group sleeping quarters with a mission team from New Zealand.  That team had returned to their home and I was left alone in what reminded me of an Army Platoon bay with nothing but my thoughts, contemplating how my life was about to change on the following day when I would inherit a wife and two daughters.  A day later, I was surrounded by a new family and would never be seen as a loner nor feel that same loneliness again.  I have experienced the reality of Ecclesiastes 4 which says:

"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

The strands in our cord have now grown beyond the Lord, Luz and I with the addition  of grown children who have become our friends, along with a younger child, a grandchild, an extended family and precious friends who bring us unending encouragement and blessing.  Tomorrow, as Luz and I renew our vows, I will again contemplate how blessed I am to now have so many strands in my cord!  I thank the Lord for such rich blessings and I thank all of you who remain in my life as faithful strands comprising the rich. multi-tiered cord that has transformed me from a lonely child to a connected man enriched by a wonderful, global family!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Remembering and Renewing

In two weekends, Lord willing, Luz and I will renew our vows in a ceremony celebrating 25 years together as a married couple. As that day of celebration approaches,  I will be posting thoughts about our journey over those years. As we have shared our intention to celebrate, a few reactions have been stirred up in response. One friend's daughter asked, "Why are they doing that?  Did they forget the vows they made the first time?"  That's a good question.  As I considered that very appropriate inquiry, some directives from Psalm 103 came to mind:

"Bless the Lord, O my soul,    and all that is within me,    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity,    who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit,    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."

This Psalm calls us to bless the Lord for all the good He has done and in particular, admonishes us to "forget not all His benefits..." 25 years ago, there was a great deal of uncertainty as to the soundness of our decision to come together.  Our relationship was cross cultural. It was long distance for a time.  Children were involved. We were both unknown to each other's closest and most trusted friends who feared for our well being.  At the time of my proposal, I had no money, was in school, had no job and was living by faith.  By many appearances, our decision seemed risky at best, crazy at the worst.  Of course, the greatest factor that convinced us to unite was an unshakeable conviction that God was at work uniting us. So great was our conviction, that Luz and I felt secure in taking a gargantuan leap of faith, looking past the reservations and skepticism to unite ourselves as one.  One of the decisions we made in light of our step of faith was to promise that if we found ourselves still together at the point of 25 years we would throw down a "mile marker," and celebrate what God had done by recommitting ourselvesto trust Him to keep our family together for more years to come(not that we anticipated divorce, but in humility, we reminded ourselves that no one can guarantee the number of years they will live).  

Keeping with our promise to each other, over the next two weeks, I will be recounting the blessings and lessons of 25 years of togetherness through triumphs, tragedies, sorrows and joys that Luz andI have seen in our union.  While celebrating with us, I also ask you to remember for yourselves, how the Lord has blessed you and call you to devote yourselves to "not forgettting" all He has done!

Celebrating the journey thus far.  Looking forward to what lies ahead!

With much love and thanksgiving,


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Sweet-Severe Duty

Among the most sacred duties of pastoral service is that of ministering to those who are near death and honoring them after they have passed into eternity.  This week it has been my honor to be engaged in this sweet and severe duty for two members of the congregation I serve. One dear member, full of years, passed suddenly in his wife’s arms, crossing the River after a life characterized by service, selflessness, kindness and love.  The other, passed away after a determined 5-year battle with pancreatic cancer, still praising her God to the end, voicing her love for Him, her family and those of us who visited her in her last hours with all the vigor she could muster – a warrior of love to the very end.
By this stage in my ministry life, I do not know how many sacred scenarios like this I have been honored to witness, but I do know that my heart continues to be moved in every case and that I remember details of most of the end of life scenarios of which I’ve been a part.  I can recall my first ministry involvement for a funeral as a very young lay-leader in ministry, serving as a soloist and Bible reader for a fallen soldier who had been killed in an airplane crash in Gander, Newfoundland that claimed his life and the lives of over 250 other Peacekeepers from the 101st Airborne Division in December of 1985.   I remember the first death of a congregation member I experienced as a pastor on a night of record snowfall in Cleveland, OH, when I drove a very rickety Yugo vehicle in impossible conditions to be with the family of this precious member and then burying her a few days later in record below zero conditions.  I also remember the first funeral performed in our newly formed congregation in Detroit, Michigan, when our tiny congregation, my family and I buried our daughter – Samantha-Luz Bautista Jackson on a painful, cold, barren winter Day, as my mind reeled and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever smile from my heart again.
The solemnity of a human being’s death smashes through the callouses of familiarity – if one allows it to – and has the power to link souls together in an experience that can never be precisely duplicated.  An openness to experience the reality of the pain, rather than hide it, can potentially give one the capacity to actually feel more alive than one might feel without ever having experienced the pain of loss. The special and hallowed nature of being with a person and their family in those last moments or in the days after their traverse to “The Other Side” has the ability to yank one’s soul from complacency and has the power to stir one’s spirit to take advantage of every opportunity to engage life, as the brevity and limitations of one’s lifespan are made evident in the passing of another. 
All of these thoughts occupy my mind as I carry out my most solemn pastoral duty.  I do not consider my duty or these accompanying thoughts as a burden or bother – I consider them a blessing and an indication that the Lord has kept my heart tender enough to make a difference in serving others. I challenge you to engage those who are hurting and to risk the pain of suffering by getting close to those who are in the midst of experiencing pain.  You will not emerge unscathed and you will be wounded and scarred. Yet, you will find that the most painful experiences can also shape you with your scars to emerge with a deeper appreciation for the gift of life and a deeper compassion for those who struggle as they live it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Series of Hard Goodbyes

Bidding Dad farewell was as difficult as saying hello. We did a conference call and Luz and the girls greeted him and sang for him. He didn't say anything but I was fortunate in being present so that I could watch his facial expressions show his enjoyment. It's now the key to knowing whether or not he's engaged with a situation and he was indeed engaged in their greetings and songs. It has been a blessing to see him, but this visit has made it clear to me that my heart must find fulfillment in the giving not in the receiving. It's only right as I recount years of his modeling fatherhood, manhood and humanity in front of my eyes and provided for us while he served the nation at great personal cost: the sacrifice of his body and mind. My mom also shaped by her sacrifices for me as she modeled an amazing faith literally to her last breath. Unfortunately, I never really got the chance to express thanks, say goodbye or to serve her as she served me. Therefore, I count this time with Dad as a precious opportunity to quietly do for him what he has done for me and countless others, knowing I can never receive in return what I give. That's the way Jesus calls us to serve - because of love; because we're his; Especially when it seems to be a one way enterprise. What a blessing it is to love not because you'll feel the love but just because. Keeping Dad close to my heart until I see him again!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Identity Matters

Identity Matters.  My friend and Brother in the faith, Omar Reyes, tagged me in an article in which an African –American mother became shocked to learn that after a lifetime of solid teaching and living geared to raise her biracial children as racially secure young Christians, she discovered that her son had a situation arise at school where his identity was questioned and he felt compelled to deny any ties at all to his African heritage. It’s amazing that the steps our society has taken to defang racism and racialization seem to have instead given it a new bite. In one sense, when the generation to which I belong lived our childhood years, ethnic identification was much easier - the one drop rule was in full swing. It mattered not which parent was black or how far back one's blackness could be traced. If one had ANY discernable black heritage, one was black - period! Then the Tiger Wood generation began to make rather reasonable stands related to its desire to embrace all of the heritages that might be found in their respective DNA. "Caublinasian" was the term Mr. Woods employed. Such attempts at self-identity work well, as long as one tows the line of expectations regarding thought, inclinations, behaviors and success. When one steps out of line in one of these regards, one's self-identity options become limited. Tiger Woods may have been Caublinasian to himself and the majority culture at the apex of his success, but he became unquestionably Black after the revelation of his failures. And so it goes. The unshakeable stigma of failures and anomalies somehow stand immoveable as conspicuous identifiers of blackness. These identifiers are never spoken of publicly and are not acceptable, but somewhere, they're being discussed and they are amazingly understood by most of us – especially “old school” blacks, and youngsters. Some are so acutely aware of the persistent stigmas associated with blackness, that there are almost no limits to what means will be employed to gain acceptance by others, including self-denial. This is not a new phenomenon. People have attempted to "pass" for being non-black for as long as there have been interactions between Europeans and Africans. It is simply stunning and disheartening to think that stigmas related to blackness would exist after 50 years of civil rights legislation and change – yet they do. Somehow, people are countering all of the public resources, all the teaching and all of the preparation towards better relations, and perpetuating fear, stereotypes and racial exclusivity. The result is, those individuals who are just not strong enough to stand in the reality of who they are, cave under the pressure to be accepted to the point of denying a significant part of who they are. There have been plenty of indicators via high profile court cases that much work towards racial understanding remains to be done. Many had hoped the next generation was ready to live out a new reality in a new day. Unfortunately, it seems that today’s reality is simply a recycled version of yesterday’s and our troubles remain.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fighting the Fog

I walked in where Dad couldn't see me and stole a kiss from behind. He looked at me. He just looked. No greeting. No widening eyes. Just a look. My heart sank, yet I tried to maintain my composure. I couldn't prevent myself from asking a question no son wants to ask his father: "Dad, do you know me?" It's amazing what one sees when one strains with all one's capacity to discern exactly what a loved one is feeling. There was a change in his expresion. He seemed to want to say something, but it almost seemed that he was too tired to say it, or that something unseen was preventing it. He smiled slightly and simply stroked my face. I wouldn't trade that touch for any monetary prize or temporal honor. My father touched my face and I felt as if I had won an Olympic Medal. That's the path that one must walk with a loved one suffring from dementia. It is a sad yet tender journey - brutal but interspersed with priceless and sweet moments. It is a hard, steady journey that one friend who is traveling this difficult road refers to as "the long goodbye." Today marked another painful step along the path, as I witnessed this turn in Dad. His nurses are deeply touched because he refuses to complain. They say that many of his comrades grow angrier and more agitated with each passing day and won't stop complaining. It seems that Dad refuses to start complaining, rather suffering in silence in a world known but to him. Dementia is like that too. One's deepest convictions tend to linger in strange but pronounced ways. It seems the dirt poor country boy who was overwhelmed by the abundance he found in the Army and equally struck by the contrast of the suffering he witnessed in far-flung lands, remains grateful even as he endures his most difficult war. Yet, though Dad is making this noble inner stand, it's terribly hard for me to witness Dad's declinebecause I have very clear memories of a young, 27 year-old Dad - a combat tested paratrooper who could run all day, fight all night yet maintained his winsomeness, cheerfulness and humble wisdom. Those clear memories seem to mock the frail man that I saw today. Yet it is that man that remains- the glimmer of who he truly is that I saw when he stroked my face - it is that inner man that somehow in the midst of a great and growing fog manages to find a meaningful way to communicate a deep love that he seems to fight to maintain. I'll drink in that love to the last drop - even when it seems that the well has run dry because I know that the love is there - it's really just obscured by that deep and hideous fog that it is my duty to see beyond - no matter how much it hurts to look into it and no matter how long it takes for me to see it. The fog is there, but Dad and I will face it and fight it together - forever - even when only one of us remembers what we're fighting for.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Be The Friend Who Heals

Are you the kind of friend people can approach when they need wisdom and guidance from a heart filled with love and concern? Do you have friends you can approach in like manner when you really need somewhere to turn? Proverbs 27:9 says, "Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel!" I have been blessed over the past cople of days by friends who offered me the sweet aroma of a listening ear and the soothing ointment of wise counsel. I am fortunate to have such friends and I hope I am consistently such a friend myself! Be a blessing for a friend today by listening to their stories, and encouraging them in their distress. Regardless of your appearance, this will make you as welcome as fragrant a bouquet and as comforting as the most precious healing ointment!

Try A Little Kindness

Galatians 6:10 begins by challenging us, " we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone..." Our daughter J Maris Bautista-Jackson Wallag shared how blessed she was by someone's kindness in the store when upon receiving change from their purchase, they passed on the change to help pay her bill. Maris was so touched, she did the same and hoped that might set off a "chain reaction" of kindness. Maybe you haven't encountered that type of kindness today, or anytime in your life. To paraphrase a friend who responded to Maris' story with warm zeal, "If you can't find a nice person, be one!" If Maris' experience is an indicator, the kindness you show just might prove to be contagious! With that in mind, here's a Flashback Friday oldie but goodie from Glen Campbell, "Try A Little Kindness! " Glen Campbell ~ 'Try A Little Kindness'. (Live):

The Woes of Dementia

Oh dementia! I long for the day when you, like death, shall die! Come Lord Jesus and on this hard day, bless my father in a special way!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

R-E-S-P-E-C-T!!! Find Out What It Means To Me!!!

I prefer not to post rants, but as the husband of one wife and the father of 4 daughters, the display of uncouth verbiage mentioned in the posted article to follow irritated a nerve that's been repeatedly touched over a course of years and I must release my angst. With all of the "political correctness" that characterizes our culture, we have lost our grip on basic respect, decorum & appropriateness. Our true sense of decency is most clearly seen in our professional comedic humor and musical entertainment, which know no bounds in their disrespect and vulgarity, especially in the area of sexual behavior and especially towards women. How can chivalry and respect for each other's abilities be maintained when our "after hours" humor and songs betray the basest level of disdain, contempt and disrespect for women? Even in the face of amazing accomplishments, the disrespect men are showing for women in the name of "fun" has only worsened as the broadcaster in question has displayed in his idiotic comments. This cannot be allowed to continue without condemnation. One day, I will depart this mortal life and leave behind at least 5 incredible women and perhaps future granddaughters as well. I never want Luz Bautista Jackson, Sittie Jackson-Cohodes, J Maris Bautista-Jackson Wallag, Joana Jackson, Victoria Jackson, other future descendants, the many outstanding women or the real men it has been my honor to know wondering where I stand.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hand Salute!

I have been saluting for a very long time – since my early childhood, in JROTC and beyond in the Active Army. President Obama’s “Latte Salute” has received much attention the last few days and has been the source of much debate. A less than stellar “Puppy Salute” by former President George W. Bush has also come under scrutiny. What’s the big deal? The US Army Quartermaster Center and School presents this fine summary on its website: “No one knows the precise origin of today’s hand salute. From earliest times and in many distant armies throughout history, the right hand (or "weapon hand") has been raised as a greeting of friendship. The idea may have been to show that you weren't ready to use a rock or other weapon. Courtesy required that the inferior make the gesture first. Certainly there is some connection between this old gesture and our present salute. One romantic legend has it that today’s military salute descended from the medieval knight's gesture of raising his visor to reveal his identity as a courtesy on the approach of a superior. Another even more fantastic version is that it symbolizes a knight's shielding his eyes from the dazzling beauty of some high-born lady sitting in the bleachers of the tournament. The military salute has in fact had many different forms over the centuries. At one time it was rendered with both hands! In old prints one may see left-handed salutes. In some instances the salute was rendered by lowering the saber with one hand and touching the cap visor with the other. The following explanation of the origin of the hand salute is perhaps closest to the truth: It was a long-established military custom for juniors to remove their headgear in the presence of superiors. In the British Army as late as the American Revolution a soldier saluted bv removing his hat. But with the advent of more cumbersome headgear in the 18th and 19th centuries, the act of removing one’s hat was gradually converted into the simpler gesture of grasping the visor, and issuing a courteous salutation. From there it finally became conventionalized into something resembling our modern hand salute. As early as 1745 (more than two-and-a-half centuries ago) a British order book states that: "The men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass." Whatever the actual origin of today’s hand salute, clearly in the tradition of the US Army it has always been used to indicate a sign of RESPECT – further recognition that in the profession of arms military courtesy is both a right and a responsibility of every soldier.” AH… RESPECT. The hand salute is ultimately a sign of respect for the one who first offers a salute towards the one who returns it. It is generally offered as a courtesy to officers by enlisted personnel, by junior officers to officers of higher rank or in the performance of certain duties by an individual of lower rank to an individual of higher rank. Those who have earned the Congressional Medal of Honor merit a Hand Salute from all other uniformed individuals in the course of passing by when in uniform wearing the CMOH Award. As civilians, Presidents are not required to salute. In conversations to which I’ve been privy today, it has been noted that President Eisenhower did not salute during his presidency. Most didn’t until Ronald Reagan’s administration. President Reagan, known for his deep affection for the military began returning the salutes of those who served him as he disembarked Presidential Aircraft and in other situations as well. It was not required, but he executed the salutes properly, directing his full attention to those who sought to honor by acknowledging their required rendering of honor towards him in like fashion. Other presidents followed suit and have generally performed sufficiently with some exceptions. President George W. Bush received some backlash for saluting while trying to hold his pet and, of course, President Obama is receiving much criticism this week for saluting while holding a beverage in his hand. In a military setting, such an act might engender any number of responses, all negative. The point of the salute is to focus one’s attention on the person and the act. I describe what the two presidents have done in their less stellar moments as kissing one’s significant other while looking at one’s phone, watch or someone else. It’s not the unforgiveable sin, but it is significant and negative and it is likely to cause a stir that will lead to some serious negative interactions. So, let’s hope that our Commanders-In-Chief from this time forward will stay “in the moment.” Let’s encourage them to pay respect to whom respect is due, and to give those who themselves give so much one focused moment of attention, carrying on a simple and cherished act that represents the most honored and sacred traditions of the United States Military.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Learning the Beauty of Achieving a "High Zero!"

A few days ago, my friend Chip Armstrong, the absolute master of intriguing social media comment strings, drew many of us with West Point ties into a discussion of our “Delightful Days” as cadets by mentioning some of the challenged levied against us by the “Department with a Heart – The Department of Physical Education”! At West Point, PE is never a “get over experience. The course work is extremely challenging and grading is exacting and merciless. According to DPE, the best person gets an “A”. In boxing, that means the world champions in their respective divisions have done “A-level work.” Everybody else works down from that level. You can get an instant “A” by knocking somebody out, but that means they get an “F” and have to take the class over – during summer leave! One of the particularly satisfying experiences one could have in DPE was the joy of being told you had achieved a “High Zero!” Seriously. Achieving a “High Zero” meant that the Instructor acknowledged that a maximum effort had been expended, but it was also an acknowledgement that NO skill had been demonstrated! Those High Zeros were somewhat of a consolation and reminded me of the answer Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson offered to the question, “Sir, what’s your opinion of West Point Boxing?” Almost choking with laughter, the Champ offered n the midst of a hearty chuckle, “Well, Ya’ got heart!!!” With a few years behind me, and the experience of many ups and downs of logged in, I now see that issue of “heart” as of much value as any victories I may have enjoyed. I have learned that it is the ability to understand one’s shortcomings and to recover to face them again that builds character. It is the determination to rise up after being flattened, to get up after falling on one’s face and to return to the fray after suffering humiliating setbacks that forges the character that leads one to truly overcome. I believe the Lord uses our tough times in a similar way to shape us, mold us and create the type of character within us that allows us to lead and serve with understanding, wisdom and determination. He can mold the character within us that recognizes that we have limitations, while developing the faith that produces the resolve, patience and endurance we need to continue to press on regardless of the circumstances. I believe this development of character is part of what James had in mind for those who follow Christ when he said, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” If we are not forced to face challenges beyond our means, we can never develop faith beyond our dreams! For that reason, I am thankful. I am thankful for my classmate Phil, whose right cross sent me to the canvas knocking me onto my already separated shoulder, twisting it completely out of socket. His excellence led to a chain of events that brought out untapped excellence in me and showed me I could live the Cadet experience with one arm for a month! That experience for me served as the furnace to forge steely character as did the “High Zero’s” the “D-minuses” and vast variety of other experiences I and others enjoyed during those formative years. It continues to give me perspective to this day, that God can transform my failures and limitations into growth opportunities that prepare me for greater victories ahead! My friends, it is my hope for you, that our experiences with West Point’s DPE will serve as an encouragement to you, and will help you not to wallow in your failures, but rather cause you to stand them up, inspect them, and to consider how you might realign them as building blocks in your life to assist you in your growth, maturity and effectiveness as a human being in this amazing experience we know as Life! Get Up! Press on! Keep doing your best! You can grow from it towards your good and for the benefit of others who walk alongside you as well!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Has Life Knocked You Down? Get Back Up!

Have you ever been cruising through life; hitting on all cylinders; on top of the world, only to be way-laid by one of life's sneaky left hooks? You suddenly find that what seems so together is now coming apart at the seams and becoming a monstrous mass of chaos you just can't manage! What do you do? In 2 Corinthians chapter 4 verses 7-10, the Apostle Paul gives instructions to help us battle on when life sets us back from our original plans. The passage states: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body." When life overwhelms people of faith, it presents an opportunity for the power of God to be prominently displayed in our weakest moments and gives us the further opportunity to express hope and courage that comes from knowing that God is worthy of our trust. For that reason, we don't wail and whine when hard times come, but we rather live with joyful resolve that God can give us the strength we need to endure and to overcome! Pastor Stuart Briscoe describes what our mindset should be in this way. He says that we are, "Stretched but not snapped - Blitzed but not sacked - Knocked down but not counted out!" Pastor Tony Evans paraphrases Mighty Mick of Rocky Fame to describe what we should do when we've been knocked down a few pegs. Dr. Evans states that we should "Get up! Get UP!! GET UP YA BUMS BECAUSE JESUS LOVES YA!!!" The love of Jesus compels us to press on when we've been deeply hurt and to get up when we've been savagely beaten up by the tough times of life. Therefore, if you find yourself under siege by life's difficulties, realize you're in a great position to see God's hand at work in your life! It's time to sit up, shake the cobwebs out and get up and fight because God loves you and will give you the strength to fight another day!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

We Need to Keep Talking

Talking about race can wear you down. I'm growing weary of talking about race myself. It hurts my heart, wears out my soul and sorely tests my patience. Yet, as I've had the opportunity to observe many heated conversations regarding race in light of events in Ferguson, MO, I've reached a stunning conclusion - we need to keep talking! Let me start with an assumption - as dangerous as those are - that most folks reading this essay have a heart for racial justice - or justice period. The perspectives and points of view may differ, but the hearts of each of you long to see a day when people,especially people of faith, somehow approach their potential for loving across all barriers, especially barriers of race. Language does not help us in our discussion, especially the words racist and racism. They are highly charged words that lead us down a path of blame and guilt which are at the core of America's race issues. In his book "Disintegration" Eugene Robinson establishes a helpful framework to get beyond the blame/guilt tennis match. First, Robinson uses a term that I believe helps address the issue without finger pointing in the process. He states that the US is "racialized". What does that mean? It means that due to our deep and complex history regarding race, the issue of race impacts almost every aspect of US life. That impact may be negligible, subtle, obvious or debatable, but it is very present. The particular issue in view at any given time may be seen from different perspectives, but all involved will know that race is a factor, though individual and corporate experiences may hinder the various perspectives owned from being understood by others. This fact is a necessary starting point in discussions of race. Our experiences and perspectives differ by virtue of our ethnic, social, economic and even linguistic backgrounds. This difference in perspective reminds me of a Classic Star Trek episode where due to a transporter problem, Capt. Kirk finds himself in a parallel plane with the crew. They can all see the bridge of the ship, but they can only see each other at certain instances and even then, they cannot hear each other and can only communicate by hand signals. Racial experiences in the US are a lot like that. We all share a common space, but simultaneously different experiences. When our paths cross regarding racial issues, we're all passionately communicating from our perspectives, frustrated that we cannot communicate what we're experiencing and not understanding the lack of communication when we share common space at the same time! Well, the complex and yet simple answer is we live in parallel universes, sharing common space at a common time, yet having particular experiences within that framework that are real for us but largely unknown to those around us of a different background. Why is this so critical? It's critical because we need to understand our starting points before we attempt to engage in meaningful conversation and then we need to talk to each other and keep on talking. We need to share some stories - as painful as that can be - to at least get a grip on why our passions run so strong and our hurts are often felt so deeply. We need to de-politicize this issue and "gracify" it, giving and receiving much grace as we share the truth in love. After almost 400 years of strife, this battle will be one we fight to the grave. Nevertheless, until we can consistently talk to each other, as tiring as it is, no progress will be made. We'll spin our wheels on the treadmill of blame and guilt until Jesus comes back...and He won't be happy.

Friday, August 29, 2014


My brother in faith Glenn Sterrett got me to thinking about qualifications for leadership and service this morning. We often hear people say, "God doesn't call the qualified but qualifies the called." I contend that a more careful analysis of those called shows that God, Who knows the hearts of people, knows true qualifications for leadership and service that others may have overlooked. Let's take David, the shepherd boy for instance. David didn't have combat experience with humans so Goliath and everyone else ASSUMED David was inexperienced. Here's the citation no one bothered to read: "PFC David engaged a lion in hand to hand combat, retrieving a lamb from said lion's mouth, then grabbing the lion by the mane and slaying it with his knife. In like fashion, PFC David subdued a bear with small arms, expertly employing his sling shot to fell the animal. On numerous other occasions, PFC David distinguished himself in combat service, at great personal risk, protecting his flock and vital assets to the Kingdom from deadly predators. PFC David brings great credit to himself, his Kingdom and his God." If Goliath and the others had read this commendation, and understood the Power behind David's experience, they all might have considered a rather different outcome. God had actually highly qualified David in experience and character, He just used a different school system. I contend that The Lord generally doesn't call unqualified people, especially with respect to character and faith. He just may have trained and prepared them for the call in a way that has not been widely observed. It is the responsibility of those choosing spiritual leaders to do extra careful work, making sure not to impute character qualifications on highly educated yet spiritually unqualified persons while not overlooking folks of stellar character and high leadership ability who may have been prepared in a manner off of the beaten path. Is there anyone you've underestimated today?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From My Heart - Tired of Talking and Writing - Committed and Engaged to Love In Action

A dear friend shared links to a blog that collected a number of perspectives regarding the troubles related to Ferguson, MO. I couldn't read them. Reading the offerings of that blog was emotionally akin to what the D-Day veterans of Normandy experienced who attempted to watch the intro to saving Private Ryan. Luz and I have been engaged in what was called "Racial Reconciliation Ministry" when we first began our vocational Christian Service as a couple - a movement that now has morphed into various titles. Whatever you call it, we have pursued it since the beginning of our ministry largely by way of necessity as an ethnically and culturally blended family united by faith in Jesus Christ. We are on the journey still, but it is excruciatingly exhausting at times. We experience the pain on a personal level that we also must address in ministry at a professional ministerial level. We have to process our personal pain while the on-going strife of our nation rages on. We must engage in personal dialogue while being called upon to offer opinions or insights on Landmark Incidents that will either stir up guilt, or satisfy perspective. It is tiring to "wash, rinse and repeat" this cycle of "dialog and opinion" with few practical, take away results and little dynamic change. The arguments are nauseatingly familiar and deja vu sets in with such ferocity that one feels as if permanent residency in the Twilight Zone has been established. I am weary of the talk, weary of rhetoric, weary of explanations, weary of excuses and perspectives whether I agree with them or not. I long for a day when Jesus' people love each other and others period! I yearn for a time when people who call themselves Christians treat each other with dignity, respect and equity and love neighbors who aren't Christians as themselves! I ache for the day when the Christian community in the United States is so characterized by love across all barriers that those who don't follow Jesus will long to be part of that community too. Why is that SUCH a difficult undertaking for Jesus' people? Why is love and equality so tough to realize for people who are filled with the Spirit of the Living God? Though a big part of us is weary from the battle, Luz and I are committed and resolved to die trying to demonstrate this love for the rest of our lives. I only pray we'll experience even a taste of this community truly enjoined and realized before the Lord calls us Home. Nevertheless, even should we not see it and the remainder of our lives is punctuated with seemingly never-ending Ferguson-like scenarios, hear me: We are commmitted to love everyone that crosses our paths across racial barriers and any other barriers, in spirit and in truth in our everyday lives, for the rest of our lives, every day of our lives - to the death! With all the love within me, Your Brother and Friend, Sam

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Good Harvest

32 people (pictured standing in the front of the sanctuary in the picture) were stirred by the life and testimony of Krystal McCain to the point of making decisions to follow Jesus at the conclusion of her funeral, preached by her father. The words of Jesus from John 12:24 come to mind, "I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat." Krystal's life will be producing an on-going harvest for years to come. Make your life count so that even when you die, others may be stirred to life and carry on your legacy of faith!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bearing the Unbearable

Bearing the Unbearable

Joana appeared upstairs suddenly. Her face was a puzzling mix of pain and shock.  Then the tears came.  I just hugged her knowing something really bad had happened.  “What is it Sweetheart?” Luz and I inquired.  She choked out words that impacted our hearts like a sledgehammer, “Krystal...she’s gone…” We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. Krystal McCain, Joana’s friend since the 4th Grade and the daughter of people we deeply admired and cherished was dead.  We asked all the natural questions, “How? When? Where? Are you sure!”  There were no answers. This nightmare was real and no one knew why. 

Our thoughts immediately shifted to her parents and family – Pastor Henry and Brenda, her sister and two brothers. The thoughts of what they were enduring – the loss. The pain. The situation seemed unbearable.  After a long week, we headed to Detroit to pay our respects and support our friends.
Today was the day. Nearing the church, it was clear that this family was well-loved.  The turnout was immense. Parking occupied several city blocks.  The line for greeting the family during family hour resembled the line for a state funeral.  Entering the door I received a pamphlet.  It was an invitation.  As I read the pamphlet, I realized I had already accepted this invitation and I smiled.  Even in their grief, this family was reaching out to others inviting them to be blessed by walking in faith with Jesus and they have and I have.  

Upon reaching the sanctuary, I saw the family on their feet, greeting every single visitor with a hug and a blessing.   I witnessed a family in the midst of gut-wrenching grief resolved to make a statement to all who came to grieve alongside them. They were resolved to live out the reality in their lives of Christ in them, the Hope of Glory! My turn came and hugs were shared with energy and strength.  I was blessed by the very people I came to bless, but the best was yet to come.

Hebrews 10:32-34 says that when Jesus followers suffer, they become spectacles. 
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,  partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.”

The McCain family willingly presented themselves as a sanctified spectacle of transparency, tears, laughter, grief, joy, struggle and victory as they shared the reality of their pain through the security of their faith.  The siblings shared their memories, loss and confidence in the Lord.  The grandparents shred wisdom born of years of struggle and called everyone present to a deeper level of commitment. Brenda shared her thanks, her love and her confidence that Krystal would be well pleased with the event held in her memory.  Pastor Henry, her father, displayed a trust in the Lord and strength in the Spirit that touched me and all present in the deepest places of our hearts.  There were times I was so stirred by the vitality of the faith on display that I literally wanted to shout affirmations aloud as if my favorite team was winning the Super Bowl. 

This family invited us into the inner sanctum of their unbearable experience and by doing so, left us all stirred, encouraged, emboldened and empowered to demonstrate our own faith with more gusto as we left the sanctuary than when we entered it. So powerful was the call to faith that a strong contingent of attenders not only left stirred, but departed the experience forever changed as they themselves embraced the way of following Jesus. The McCains were willing to bear the unbearable to honor a beautiful child and to glorify a Marvelous Savior.  I will never forget beautiful Krystal.  Neither will I forget the amazing family of which she is a part and the gift they gave hundreds of mourners on this never-to-be-forgotten Saturday afternoon.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Answer For the Hope Within...

In a recent social media exchange, I was part of a discussion that arose in response to a posting of the identification of a number of celebrity atheists. There were various opinions offered regarding the celebrities' atheistic stances, with some answers displaying more energy than others.  At one point in the discussion, when a few criticisms were presented in opposition to theistic world view, I felt compelled to respond.  My response was largely guided by 1 Peter 3:15b which states:

"...sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence..."

After taking the time to allow that verse to soak in my soul for a bit, I responded as follows (with a few edits added in):

No life view should be judged on the basis of its worst representatives but rather on the actual tenets of the faith that define it.  I am unashamedly a Jesus Follower. The bottom line definition of the faith to which I subscribe based on my understanding of Scripture is this: I, Samuel D. Jackson, am an imperfect sinner who by necessity has been exposed to God's redeeming love and transformed by it. I am an undeserving recipient of God's wonderful forgiveness and grace which He calls me to consistently and enthusiastically extend to others in love and service. When I face The Lord on the great and terrible day of my passing, I will stand before Him in and by his grace alone. If by chance when my day comes and contrary to the faith to which I cling, I find that all that awaits is an empty vacuum of nothing,  I do not count my present endeavors as worthless. I yet see the enterprise to which I have devoted my life as a valuable endeavor of time well spent - an enterprise where I have sought to make the visible daily existence of others with whom my path crosses just a little better than before my involvement was enjoined. For these reasons I joyfully and and confidently press on in faith at peace with myself, with others (whether they agree with me or not) and with my God!