Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Haunted By A Killing

This story of Botham Jean’s death haunts me. It is much too close to home.  What I share is an emotional and candid response based on my own life experiences.  Based on what is known, a promising young man who walked the right path, was shot down in the safety of his own home.  Yet, it feels as if society is awaiting some revelation that will justify his untimely and brutal demise.  I wonder what situation could there ever be when an unarmed, good black man is killed and the general population sees it as a flat out atrocity? I am arriving at the conclusion that no such a scenario exists and fear that somewhere, someone will forever mutter, “but he must’ve done SOMETHING!” 

Luz is beside herself, and already worries every time I leave the house. Her fears have arisen because of numerous “near misses” in our own lives with these kinds of situations, where brushes with similar circumstances caused us to change r cease many activities we used to enjoy.  (Yes, I have been in situations where an official pulled a weapon on me and by God’s grace, didn’t shoot before their questions were exhausted.)  When the scenarios were recurring and came without warning or expectation, they altered our life practices forever.   We don't bother sharing these scenarios most of the time, because we’re not sure we could endure the disappointment of people we love and care for defending what seems to us to be the indefensible.

Think of this perspective when you consider Botham Jean’s death. You’re at home in your apartment. Out of nowhere, a stranger appears in your home, armed, with a weapon pointed towards you. Even if one became aggressive towards the stranger, wouldn't one be within one's rights to sense danger and use protective force? If Mr. Jean surmised that his life was indeed in danger –indeed  it was - and had acted to protect himself, (and there is no evidence I've heard that he did that), would he not have been within his rights to defend himself.  Would he have the right to expect to be safe in his own home, and not to be shot by a trained law enforcement officer, especially if he stood fast and made an inquiry without aggressive action which is what seems to be the case based on what has been reported?  Instead, it appears that he was totally caught unaware and shot on sight!  Now, he is dead. 

This situation and the reaction to it exposes a malady that continues to fester in this nation.  Situations that shouldn’t involve deadly force end in death with unanswerable questions and bitter conclusions that somehow justice has not truly been served and may not ever be served.  There are no easy answers and no feel-good endings.  I am angered by this situation yet know I must deal with my emotions constructively and in a way that is true to the Lord I serve.  For that reason, I will continue to seek to “act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with God.”  Nevertheless, I will do so with an agitated spirit and a troubled mind.  Lord, please give me your peace and a double portion of the fruit of your Spirit! I press on in faith – not in people, but in the Lord I continue to serve.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Addressing Differences of Conviction On Women In Ministry Leadership

I don't unreservedly know the specific answers to mall of the questions posed regarding the definitive biblical declaration on women in positions of leadership in ministry, but whatever one's theological position on the matter - and I know, love and respect many holding views across the theological spectrum - I believe a few elements are indisputable:

Love must lead one's attitude. Humility must guide one's responses. Grace must abound in one's consideration of the viewpoints of others. 

What has become clear to me after investigating the investigations of numerous scholars holding different views with respect to women in church leadership is this: the answers are not crystal clear and there is much room for consideration. I believe it is possible for us to have different views , held with conviction, yet to simultaneously and graciously encourage and support others who hold Scripture in equally high esteem, yet arrive at different conclusions. 

I am further convinced that if the Acts 1:8 Great Commission is truly our battle cry, we need more soldiers in the service. This need is recognized in the church in almost every tradition and location. The reality of our practice across church traditions affirms that when it comes to taking the Gospel to the nations, we don't mind sending women to lead the way where no one else wants to go. We need to ask ourselves, what makes us withdraw those invitations for the places we'd like to stay.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Freedom Of Speech - In Any Language!

I am currently travelling in a nation with a national language, an official language and more than 100 other spoken languages spread throughout 3 major geographic regions, all utilized in harmonious interaction and cooperation. By comparison, our venomous debates over language in the United States seem beneath us and reflect poorly on us. We forget that at one time, German was so widely spoken here that it narrowly missed being the language of use in this nation. Even French still shows its place in our heritage in creole form in Louisiana, yet no one seems to mind Cajun accents, expressions or the French influence on Louisiana Government and law. Yet, in spite of its influence and contributions to US culture, the public use of Spanish in the US is now viewed by some to be as harmful as being engaged in casual activities in the US while Black. This is grievous and unfortunate. While the vastness of our national territory makes our collective majority monolingual reality understandable, the reality of our varied origins and cultures of heritage should, at the same time, help us to understand the reality of the linguistic diversity in our midst as well. Air travel's practical shrinkage of the world and the availability of international travel should help us to understand the desire to learn more about us from those have come to us. We should also have a greater appreciation for those among us with the ability to communicate in more than one language and encourage our youth to learn more as well. In a society where languages intersect, will there be misunderstandings between people of different backgrounds and will there be spiteful individuals who use misunderstanding as a tool for derision and insult? Of course. There are unpleasant people in every culture and language group. Even when intentions are good and the language is the same, misunderstanding can arise. It has been said of Americans and our British cousins that we are " two peoples divided by a common language." Nevertheless, is it possible for the majority of us, in a desire to build each other up and to act from good will, to give each other a little slack, allowing each other to exercise our freedom of speech in whatever language we choose and to seek to think the best of each other in the process? I would like to believe that it is possible. If not, perhaps we as Americans are forever confined to a trajectory of misunderstanding, hostility and division that refuses to see opportunity in diversity and unity in spite of our differences. I pray that optimism and hope will prevail, but I am concerned that fear and ignorance may prove difficult to hold at bay. May the Lord enlighten us and help us to endure!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Wanted: Servant Who Can Walk and Simultaneously Chew Bubble Gum!

We have arrived safely and are preparing for our first outreach ministry day among the poorest of the poor in the Smokey Mountain area - an extremely economically depressed area which had previously been the location of Manila's city garbage dump.

Thousands of people remain in this area and the needs are immense. Luz, a team of Filipino friends from Wisconsin,  a newly planted church ministering directly to Smokey Mountain and I will hold a special outreach event where we will be introduced, offer some encouragement and material assistance and assess how we can most effectively be of help from this point forward for the long-term.

In our preparation,  while walking down a Manila street following my brother-in-law, I literally tripped while walking and chewing bubble gum! In an effort to avoid falling on my newly repaired hip, in very entertaining fashion, I managed not to fall on my hip and face, but pulled my calf muscle in the effort. One witty Brother said, "You saved the hip, but it took a sacrificial calf to do it!"

Luz and our awesome sister-in-law, Manang Rose,  fussed at my brother-in-law and me saying, "We literally leave you for 5 minutes and this is What happens!"  It sounded way worse in Tagalog than in English. Some ice, rest and Tiger Balming later, and my calf feels better than it did though I am being much more careful and attentive to my walking.

Nevertheless, we press on, very excited as we begin to serve in earnest, eager to help and discern how we can make more of a difference among the wonderful people of Smokey Mountain!

We will keep you posted as the adventure continues...

Your friends,
Sam and Luz Jackson

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Raising Children In Racially Charged Times

My posting of my daughter Victoria’s latest challenging encounter with classmates has provided a great opportunity to receive encouragement from friends and to consider the many ways people process racially charged confrontations and encounters.  The nature of our ministry has given us many opportunities to build bridges between people and has exposed us to some of the best and most disappointing aspects of human nature.

Anytime one posts one’s thoughts on issues with racial implications, one realizes chances are being taken.  There is the vulnerability of exposing one’s less appealing emotions and the risk of being seen as one who complains.  There is a risk of appearing petty and making much ado of a problem normative to the human experience and not handling one’s business well.

Because of such considerations, for many years, especially my years through early adulthood, I said very little about these types of experiences.  I absorbed the harshness, and I rolled with the punches time after time until, paraphrasing the Isley Brothers, I got knocked on the ground by untruths and misstatements that were too ridiculous to ignore.  I realized that others were suffering similarly and because of my “strong, silent approach” their experiences were being discounted by our mutual friends because, “Look at Sam.  He’s never complained about this.  It must not be a big deal.”  I further realized that while I still needed to be strong, civil, positive and to seek healing in every encounter, righteousness also demanded that I tell a more complete story and take time to acknowledge the emotional impact of such encounters to help others who find themselves in similar situations.

Why am I posting such a clarification? First, to assure all who know me that as agitated as Mongo may become, he will never be released from his cage – but, the anger is real!  As Scripture says, feel your anger, but don’t sin.  Luz and I also understand very well that we cannot shield our little ones from all of life’s confrontations. Remember she is not our first puppy, but the fourth who has had to navigate the challenging world of being part of the multicultural family and sorting through one’s own identity and the processing of others regarding what that means in a broader community context.  We are confident that she will navigate the challenges of adolescence and cultural flexibility with character, resolve and faith, sometimes making great choices and sometimes learning from mistakes.  We will advocate for her always and assist her as appropriate.  We won’t be helicopter parents but are aware that some of the players involved have parents on social media too, who when subtly informed, just might read a pertinent post and help the healing process along with their input for their children too.

So, all is well with us and our puppies.  Mongo is securely confined to his cage, comforted by oldies music and goofy comedies.  Luz and I plug ahead by faith, taking one day at time, living in the light of God’s love as we go, trying to share that love as much as we can with everyone we meet until our time comes.  In the meantime, we press on!



Saturday, March 3, 2018

Room To Grow

“Nobody’s perfect!”  The reality of fallen humanity expressed in a quick turn of phrase that reminds us that even at our best, humans are flawed at best.  Usually this phrase is a reminder to offer the grace to others we desire to experience for ourselves when our flaws are exposed for all to see.  However, in recent times, I find this phrase is reserved for those whom we feel are kindred spirits, and it is denied to those with whom we have differences. I believe this inconsistency has been especially prominent as the nation reflects on the life of evangelist Billy Graham.

In the reactions to his death, I have found less grace and mercy than I would have expected to see.  American culture prides itself of being a place of second chances and a place where maturity and growth allow an individual to show progressive understanding and deepening character as time passes and as they mature.  While many who share Billy Graham’s faith readily see him through eyes of grace, some who do not see matters of faith as he saw them, seem blinded to the fact that someone who lived for just shy of a century is bound to have made at least a few mistakes – some of them awful, painful and regretful – but that individual is also bound to have learned some lessons and demonstrated the best of humanity as well.

I can imagine that, at the time of my death, it would be relatively easy to scour the records of my life, of everything human interaction I have had and to review everything I have preached and written to find enough missteps to paint me as a very flawed person.  It would also be easy to compile my interactions with other flawed people, minimizing the good partnerships, helpful alliances and fruitful ventures, to make me appear to be self-serving, self-aggrandizing and self-centered in all I said and did.  It seems to me, that too many people are taking such an approach with Billy Graham’s life, and not extending to him, the grace that he most consistently preached and the grace that God extends to everyone through Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham was not a perfect man.  No one is.  Billy Graham was aware of his imperfections and let it be known on numerous occasions. Once, when he was asked if he minded having his name on the Hollywood walk of fame with a bunch of sinners, he responded that he too was a sinner and therefore shouldn’t have any problem fitting in.   Every true preacher of the Gospel realizes that in the end, we who follow Jesus are just beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.  We didn’t make the bread.  We don’t own the bakery. We do know the One who owns the bakery and is Himself the Bread of life that satisfies and we make it our business to tell others where to be fed.  At times we are imperfect in sharing that Good News, and we frequently embarrass the One who sent us with the message, but we are called to continue to share the message of His salvation through stammering lips and forked tongues. He knows this and uses us anyway.

I am sensitive to this not because I am a Billy Graham apologist, but because I believe the Gospel he preached and understand the universal need for grace and graciousness.  I especially believe such grace should be readily offered to one who preached it and on the balance lived it so faithfully. My hope is that rather than conveniently take cheap shots at Billy Graham, misrepresenting his life and ministry, we should give honor to whom honor is due. we should learn from the missteps that are common to the human experience and give a faithful man the same room to grow we all need as human beings who are struggling through a journey no one traverses perfectly, but that even a flawed human can finish well – as did our Brother, Billy.

Grace, mercy and peace to you all!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Will You Still Love Me, Tomorrow?

Over the years, I have appreciated the vast reservoir of wisdom that has been made available to me in response to a question of significant consequence that my dear Luz asks from time to time. “Would you, could you have ever loved another rather than me?”  Though the wisdom that has been shared has been deep and wide, the best answer to such a question can only be found in the recesses of the heart of the one to whom the question was originally presented - mine. How do I respond to my beloved asking me if I could have given my heart to another, when I possess an irrevocable conviction that God ordained our union?

I respond with all the love and commitment that I possess. I assure her that though many wonderful, beautiful, capable, and amazing women crossed my path in my years of singleness - some of whom may have been exceptional life partners in the “would you, could you world” - only she held the key to the combination that unlocked the kind of love that lasts a lifetime in the real world in which we live. Only she had the pin that released the code that ignited the flames of my heart in to a level of holy passion that consumed and continues to consume me body, mind and soul. Only she, Maria-Luz Bautista de Jackson y Roda, is the woman for me.

There are many wonderful women in this world, but only Luz holds my heart in her hands, owns my will at her command, and has the singular and exclusive covenant that identifies me as hers until the Lord calls us home. I offer this verse from the Grass Roots to my Luz, “I’d wait a million years, walk a million miles, cry a million tears! I’d swim the deepest sea, climb the highest hill, just to have you near me!” That's my answer and I'm sticking to it!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Price of Reconciliation

A LONG but necessary Introduction to an article I recommend, the link of which is found at the end of this reflection.

There are stories that need to be told, but often aren't told because those who experience them are either not in a position to make the stories known, or because of humility those who take risks for the good are usually hesitant to present themselves as heroes. Since 1992, Luz Bautista Jackson and I have served in various capacities as missionaries of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board, formerly known as the Home Mission Board when our journey with NAMB began.

During that journey, we have met people much like the ones presented in this article. They did what was right, when it was right and it often cost them. I actually rubbed shoulders with Jack Kwok, mentioned in this story and was always amazed by his friendly and supportive manner for newbies like us in the Oho Convention when we first started. This article helps me understand more about his heart and his consistently loving support.

Luz and I were benefactors of people who did what they could to make a difference. The wanted to do something and sometimes, that "something" was calling an eager, yet inexperienced couple, ready to build bridges between people. Richard Alan Duncan, Ken Render, Dennis Betts, Matt Trombley, Kevin Butcher , Paul Rhoads, Jerry Worsham and Jamie Rasmussen, along with countless others took chances and walked with us during very stormy seasons as we joined them in trying to make a difference for the Kingdom of God, among people of different cultures.

As I continue to grow in perspective, my appreciation for these people grows as well. I remember these co-laborers and others like them who embraced us as friends and colleagues. The were not and are not perfect. If perfection is the goal, reconciliation will forever elude us. Along my life journey, I too have made missteps, wrong steps, backward steps and sometimes, no steps where progress should have been made. In many cases, I received much grace and as allowed to press on. Where forgiveness was not extended, I remembered the feeling of hopelessness that came from good intentions rejected out of hand, and have sought to be more gracious in my own dealings when others make mistakes as well.

I share this article to offer a little illumination from the inside. Evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular are favorite targets of those claiming to pursue understanding and unity with the United States between races. While high profile members of any organization or theological bent may make statements that are outrageous and divisive, in a nation as large as ours and groups as large as the Southern Baptist, those with the biggest microphones do not necessarily represent all members of any given group. Also, those fighting the good fight are generally too busy fighting the fight to advertise or "speechify" what they're doing. They are too engaged making a difference than to tell others about it and to do their own promotion as well. In addition, don't expect too many articles or news flashes on pockets of active cooperation and efforts to get along, even when they exist, because good news doesn't tend to attract good coverage.

But do take the time to read this article. The people mentioned therein didn't seek this recognition for themselves. Thankfully, someone noticed the similarities of heart and sacrifice, decided to shine a light on it and to share it for others to be encouraged. Personally, it's great to know that while Luz and I often feel alone, the reality is that God has yet reserved "seven thousand -- all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him." May their tribes increase!


Samuel D Jackson

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Joy At Calvary

You read a passage hundreds of times. You memorize it. You study it. You preach it. But then, one day, you are gripped by its true significance and it overwhelms you! Jesus, "for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame..."
Because of His love for us and the joy He derived from doing the Father's will, He endured he intolerable. He refused to be overcome by shame, but instead scoffed at it, looked past it, focused on His mission and overcame, loving those who hated Him, forgiving those who punished Him and saving those who had mocked Him, while on the Cross! All He taught on the Sermon on the Mount, He exemplified on the Mount of Calvary!
As the tears flow, the chorus of a great hymn comes to mind,
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty,
At Calvary!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Day 40 of 40 Days of Prayer: Keep on Praying!

As we come to the end of our 40-day period of prayer, let us not close the Book or lock the doors of our prayer closets.  In his writings to the ancient church in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul gives instructions for the standard conduct expected of those who follow Jesus,
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
While it is always appropriate for churches and groups of Jesus followers to issue a call to corporate or special prayer anytime, everyone who follows Jesus is expected to have a heart and mind attuned to prayer at all times, ever-ready to offer petitions for others and for God’s work in general.  Paul further instructs that this readiness should be accompanied by a joyful countenance and heart filled with thanksgiving in every life situation, knowing that such attitudes please God and demonstrate submission to His will.

Having fulfilled the 40-days of prayer, extend the streak for countless days on end, allowing the Lord to fill you with His joy!  Then, with thanksgiving, keep those you love and all the circumstances of life lifted up in prayer, knowing God cares and He will answer!
As you maintain the daily discipline of prayer, keep your eyes open for a special series of Lenten posts coming soon!  The Lord be with you all!

Your Brother in the Lord,

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Day 39 of 40 Days of Prayer: Pray For One Another’s Strength!

The Journey of faith is challenging, and trials can wear down the heartiest of the faithful.  We are admonished throughout Scripture to pray for one another.  The Apostle Paul presents a helpful example of how to pray for others to be strengthened.  He writes to the Colossian Church,
… since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience …

Paul’s requests on behalf of this church are bold, specific and filled with faith in God’s ability to deliver a righteous answer with power and sufficiency. We must pray for our churches with the same boldness, precision and faith.  As we run with perseverance, we must ask the Lord to provide the endurance and strength we need to complete the work He has given us and to build up others as they do the same.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Day 38 of 40 Days of Prayer: Raise the Temperature!

When people feel that their spiritual enthusiasm has grown either cold or lukewarm, they often wonder how they arrived at such a state? Romans 12 gives us a good indicator of what might cause such an attitude by giving instructions on how to maintain one’s fire for the faith.  It states,
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Spiritual zeal is directly connected to spiritual service.  Conversely, if one does nothing for the Lord and merely pursues the accumulation of “spiritual knowledge” or engages in pious posing with no true spiritual fruit that impacts lives, one can expect one’s enthusiasm to wither and die.

Therefore, let us engage in vigorous service for God and others, “keeping our hands on the plow,” and demonstrating our faith by our works.  By working hard for the Lord we will stoke the fires of our own hearts for God and inspire others who see what we do to glorify God and devote themselves to service as well.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Day 37 of 40 Days of Prayer: Telling the Story Everywhere You Go!

In the Book of Acts, before His ascension, Jesus instructs His disciples to be witnesses for Him,
in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Jesus wasn’t calling his team to ritualistic enterprise in familiar places.  He was calling them to share life and to share the transforming power of His Message with everyone they met, everywhere they went, inviting those they encountered to experience the transforming power of God they themselves had experienced.  It was a call not to make converts to a system but believing followers to a new way of life.

This same call remains for those of us who follow Jesus today.  Let us share the Story that has transformed our stories and invite others to walk alongside us everywhere we go!

When Specks, Logs, Kings and Trucks Collide

During the Big Game, a Ram Truck advertisement was aired that featured an exert from a lesser-known, but extremely powerful speech by Dr. Martin Luther King in which he addresses issues of economic justice, systematic poverty and the importance of dignity in work.  In the ad, the turnkey phrase is a quotation of Jesus from Matthew 23, which fits the transcendent message of the ad beautifully. In the context of the Bible passage quoted, Dr. King's words could be made to impact a variety of persons, and have the power to touch a number of souls across a wide spectrum of the social strata.

When I viewed the ad without the benefit of commentary and simple took it at face value as I saw it, the ad did not compel me to buy a Ram truck in the slightest. It did stir my heart and remind me of Jesus' call to serve regardless of one's position or financial status.  As an African-American, I ask this question; have we grown so cynical, that we parse every effort to connect with us or every sincere attempt to expose the general population to our greatness to such an extent as to reject those very efforts as meaningless or beneath us because they're not perfect?  How can peace be found when every effort to step towards peace is labeled fraudulent or conniving? 

Any human effort can be found wanting with a sufficiently discriminatory micrometer.  What is needed, some where in our land, is a place where grace and mercy applaud, embrace and reciprocate an honest effort to gain understanding and promote peace.  While I cannot tolerate those who attack us with malice and venom in their hearts, neither can I reject every earnest effort to reach out to me and establish common ground because they aren't perfect.  The same Jesus Dr. King quoted, also said,
... why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Our nation is becoming much to practiced in staring at "specks" while we knock down masses of people with the telephone poles sticking out of our faces!  Might we just try to give each other a little slack, and celebrate even the attempts made to extend meaningful and conciliatory communication towards us?  Perhaps with a dose of grace and a generous helping of mercy, a dialogue towards peace might gain traction somewhere in this land.  Accomplishing this simple feat might be the best place for us to truly begin serving one another.

Peace everyone.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Day 36 of 40 Days of Prayer: God Sightings!

When God’s power is manifested in an undeniable way, people are driven by their sense of wonder to worship!  We are learning as a church that it is just as important to allow testimonies for the celebration of answered prayer as it is to make room for requests. On the occasions people hear the answers to requests they made at some point during our journey of faith together, hearts are touched, and God is glorified!  

Elijah led God’s people in just such a time of recognition, when he called for fire from Heaven to consume the sacrifice made to the Lord as he challenged the prophets of Baal.
When the challenge was finished, God had answered in a way that was undeniable and the people responded in spontaneous worship,

“And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.”

As we press on in prayer, we must not forget to share our victories in the Lord.  As we do, we encourage those around us to see God in the answers and we reaffirm that we serve a risen Savior who indeed “is in the world today.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Day 35 of 40 Days of Prayer: Pay Attention to Your Attitude!

Conflicts and challenges are bound to occur in any group, even Christian ones.  The issue is not that churches have disagreements, but rather, how they deal with the disagreements that arise.
In his first recorded letter to Jesus followers of his era, the Apostle Peter gives these closing thoughts,
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

He calls the church to pay attention to their attitudes towards one another in all of their dealings, knowing that if their attitudes are righteous, the outcomes of their disagreements will be as well. Pay attention to your attitude as you deal with brothers and sisters in Christ.  A right attitude increases the likelihood of a right outcome and preserves the unity needed to walk the walk of faith.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Day 34 of 40 Days of Prayer: Submit Yourself to A Checkup!

It is usually very easy for us to see the faults in others, and to call them into accountability by having them undergo some type of personal review or inspection.  However, we are less enthusiastic to allow ourselves to be so scrutinized.

King David experienced this kind of duplicity and wrote of it in Psalm 139.  As he considered people who have hatred and disrespect towards God, he wrote,
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
As his disdain for his enemies rose, it seems the Lord caused David to do some self-reflection, where he remembers some of his own short-comings.  Possessing a more complete perspective, David’s prayer changes.  He asks the Lord to focus on his issues.  He prays,
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

When we allow the Lord to do a check up on our own hearts, we discover that He changes our attitudes and outlooks from judgmental to merciful.  We stop looking for the faults in others and begin to deal with the challenges within us.  As we continue on the 40-day journey of prayer, may the Lord search us for any harmful ways, and lead us to the newness of life in Him!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Day 33 of 40 Days of Prayer: Love One Another!

What identifies a follower of Jesus?  Certain labels may come to some minds in exposing a Jesus follower, such as denominational affiliations or schools of theological training.  Possessing solid doctrine might be a key identifier to others, while doing the right things, such as maximizing the good and minimizing the evil might be traits that convince many more that people belong to Jesus.

While such traits might identify someone who walks with Jesus, they are not what Jesus mentions as the conclusive evidence that a group of people or individual who claim His Name, truly belong to the family of God. According to Jesus, there is one central trait that marks a person or a group as belonging to Him – love!  Jesus said,
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John, the Apostle, who was present when these words were uttered and penned them, continued to emphasize love in his other writings as well and reiterated the theme of love.  John recorded this directive for all those who would claim to walk with Jesus,
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love … Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

Therefore,let us lay “aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking” as instructed by the Apostle Peter in his first letter, knowing such behavior can weaken our fellowship and hinder our prayers.  Rather, let us love each other with sincerity and consistency, so that our identities will be unmistakable – that the world might know for certain we belong to Jesus!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Day 32 of 40 Days of Prayer: Build Up Others!

A word of encouragement in a time of trouble can bring renewed hope to one who has a hurting heart.  A work of building up the life of another who needs help and direction can change a destiny!  As he wrote to a church he knew would face significant trials in the paths they walked for the Lord, the Apostle Paul called the Thessalonian Church to lift one another’s spirits and to invest in each other’s lives. He penned simply,
“… encourage one another and build each other up.”
God is calling His people of all eras to constantly seek opportunities to bless others with “in the moment” words and actions of help and affirmation. He is also calling His people to lift up others with “in the season” acts of strengthening and investing through long-term friendship and support.

Therefore, let us build up others individually and in the church, that we might show the reality and power of God’s love to everyone we meet, everywhere we go!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Day 31 of 40 Days of Prayer: Make a Difference!

Day 31 of 40 Days of Prayer: Do Something!
In a time of great spiritual need, the Lord communicated His desire for someone to take action in addressing the needs by asking the prophet Isaiah a question,
 “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
Today, the spiritual needs remain great.  The Apostle Paul informs the church I Corinth that they have been given spiritual resources to address those needs.  He writes,” to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” 

What gifts have been given to you by God’s Spirit that you are refraining from using?  The Bible gives many examples of how one person’s putting their gifts to use, changes a situation or even transforms a society.  

Does your community have needs that your gifts might address?  Is your church lacking strength in an area in which your gifts might provide critical support to turn the tide?  Consider Isaiah’s example.  Armed with faith, take a chance.  Step forward.  Allow the Lord to send you to a situation where you can have an impact, in a place needing a difference to be made!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Day 30 of 40 Days of Prayer: Encourage Somebody!

The struggles of life can exert a wear and tear on hearts and souls that tame the heartiest of people.  Even more sobering is the negativity that often accompanies the pain of life, expressed in insults, put-downs and depreciating humor.  There is a critical need for words and actions that offer comfort, respite and encouragement. The writer of Hebrews calls followers of Jesus to turn away from sinful behavior that shoots others down and to instead,
… encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

The Apostle Paul commands the church in Ephesus to
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Encouraging words not only help the receiver, but the deliverer as well!  Encouragement allows the heart to remain sensitive to God’s leading and enables those who choose to encourage to be effective in prayer for and fellowship with the Lord and others.  While the voices of the cultural norm may invite us to sharp-tongued degradation, let us choose instead to reach out in encouraging exhortation to reflect the grace and love of Jesus!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Day 29 of 40 Days of Prayer: Leaders Aren’t Served - Leaders Serve!

Leaders come in all sizes and shapes and execute their duties in different ways.  Studies on leadership offer various categories of leaders along with corresponding styles and the strengths and weaknesses of each style.  While these types of differences are noticeable throughout Scripture, Jesus identifies a common approach that must define every Christian leader who desires to please God and to be effective in their calling.  Even non-Christian organizations recognize the importance of this leadership characteristic: Leaders serve!

According to Scripture, leaders are not to be idolized, waited on, deferred to, or cowered under.  Leaders do not exist for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the One Who called them and for the service of the ones they lead.  Jesus set the example that all leaders in Christ are called to follow.  Jesus said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

The Lord’s Church must be a witness of the Lord’s character.  Disciplines such as praying, studying and meditating are impotent without the character reflected in a heart dedicated for service.  As we pray, let us serve, to the glory of God!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Day 28 0f 40 Days of Prayer: Pursue Unity!

The large number of denominational identities that exist within the Church of Jesus Christ is a sobering testimony to the difficulty of maintaining unity among Jesus’ followers.  While churches and denominations do, at times, intentionally plant new congregations to minister more effectively to a variety of needs in a variety of settings, in too many cases, churches split apart due to discord or disagreements on one sort or another.

For that reason, there are many biblical passages instructing churches on how to maintain unity.  The critical key in following those instructions is attitudinal orientation – being mindful of the need to stay united.  Another critical aspect in unity is “keeping the Main Thing, the Main Thing.”  The Apostle Paul implies this in his instructions to the Church in Corinth on staying unified.  Paul writes,
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
If Paul were addressing trivial matters, such as carpet colors or service start times, his instructions might be troubling.  I also believe he is even calling Jesus’ People not to prioritize significant issues that divide and separate, such as political ideologies or debatable theological schools of thought, where earnest and faithful followers of Jesus disagree, but issues that do not accurately measure a person’s walk with the Lord.

I believe Paul is calling local churches to know the powerful main points of faith in Christ, live in obedience to those points, and encouraging others to do the same.  While there are debatable issues in abundance, Paul encouraged another local church in Galatia to focus on matters such as,
 …love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
There are no rules against loving one another – in fact, loving each other is a corollary of the Great Commandment, to love God.  If churches focus on living out the love of Jesus and sharing the message of God’s love through Jesus to all the world, there would be little room for debate, and much more encouragement to be united as one. 

Let us live in unity to such an extent, that “all people will know we are [Jesus’] disciples. [Because we] have love for one another!”

Friday, January 26, 2018

Day 27 of 40 Days of Prayer: Consider Others!

The book of Philippians contains one of the greatest summaries of Jesus’ ministry in the Scriptures.  Getting to the very heart of the scope of what Jesus did, the second chapter of Philippians describes the selflessness of Jesus’ ministry and how He willingly laid aside the riches of Heaven to become impoverished for humanity.

As the Apostle Paul describes Jesus’ actions and attitudes, he calls Jesus’ followers to emulate the Master.  He writes,
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

In all Jesus’ followers do, we are called to consider the interests of others, both eternal and temporal.  Let that mindset guide prayer and action that people might see God in us and that God might do His work through us.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Day 26 of 40 Days of Prayer: Seek First The Kingdom!

It may be natural to seek our own interests, but Jesus instructs those of us who follow Him to establish more lasting priorities.  He encourages us to not worry about the things we will wear, what we will eat, or any other need we might need fulfilled in our daily living. He calls us instead to,

“… seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
“These things” often occupy so much of our time and energy, but God desires for us to prioritize His mission, caring for others, and serving them in His Name, trusting that as we do, He will see to it that our needs are met.  Such thinking is counter-culture in almost any setting one finds oneself.  Nevertheless, it is the standard to which God calls us, and a powerful key to effective prayer. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Day 25 of 40 Days of Prayer: Love Jesus!

“Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so!”  While we are certain of Jesus’ love for us, are we committed in our love for Him?  While any Jesus follower would readily claim such love for Jesus, how can one really show love for Him? 

When instructing the disciples on the freedom they have to pray for anything in His Name, Jesus also shared the test of sincere love for Him.  Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.”  Those who follow Jesus, and seek Him in prayer, should also obey Jesus in how they live their lives.

As we pray in every season of the human experience, let us remember Jesus’ commands to love one another, pray for our enemies, and to serve rather than be served.  Let us not doubt or fear but live with good cheer because He promised to be with us, even to the very end!  When we live in such a way, we demonstrate with our actions as much as with our words that the words of the old hymn truly apply to us,

There is a Name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth; It sounds like music in my ear, The sweetest Name on earth! Oh, how I love Jesus! Oh, how I love Jesus! Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Day 24 of 40 Days of Prayer: Choose The Path To Healing!

One of the strongest themes of our 40-day prayer journey is the theme of humility.  In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God His people for a period of severe trials that awaits them by explicitly outlining for them the humble steps towards restoration and healing. 

The process God showed His people in those days, also applies to us, His people now when we face times of challenge and pain and desperately long for healing that only God can bring.  God’s process for healing is not complicated.  He tells us that,

“…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

This is God’s pathway for powerful healing!  Let us be quick to fall on our knees in prayer, energetic in seeking God’s face, and abrupt in turning from our wickedness, knowing that God will see our humility, forgive our iniquity and heal our infirmities.  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Day 23 of 40 Days of Prayer: Choose Your Side!

With the Big Game just over a week away, people have begun to make known the team of their choice.  Most are not shy to tell you which team they favor and which team they dislike.  I remember my own father informing me that the true significance of my following Christ was the fact that I had “picked a side.”

Joshua understood the importance of not wavering in allegiance or trust with respect to following the way of the Lord, and challenged the people of Israel with a call to loyalty,
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

As we approach the Lord in prayer, let us make sure we are allied with Him, and in sync with His will and His plan.  When the question is asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Let us be counted among the faithful!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Day 22 of 40 Days of Prayer: Discern God’s Plan

In the mid-1970’s, Rock artist Peter Frampton released a live album, Frampton Alive, that sky-rocketed to prominence not only on the charts, but in the history of Rock and Roll.  The biggest hit on that album is entitled, “Show Me the Way.” The lyrics strongly suggest that someone is urgently searching for life direction and guidance.  Frampton sings,

Who can I believe in
I'm kneeling on the floor
There has to be a force, who do I phone
The stars are out and shining
But all I really want to know
Oh, won't you show me the way
I want you to show me the way!

An even more famous song writer, David of the Bible, had a similar cry, except that he knows it is God whom is asking for direction in his life. In the 25th Psalm, David sings,

Show me your ways, Lord,
Teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
For you are God my Savior,
And my hope is in you all day long.

God wants us to know His plans for us, but knowing where He is taking us requires staying close to Him in a day by day walk.  God doesn’t usually show us where He’s taking us years in advance.  Draw near to God and stay close by crying out to Him in prayer and searching His ways through His Word.  He will answer and not disappoint.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Day 21 of 40 Days of Prayer: Believe in the God Who Revives!

In Joel 2:25, the Lord comforts His people by assuring them that He insects will restore what appears to be impossible to revive.  He says,
I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten.
Locusts are a relentless, marauding band of heartless devouring insects that devastate all vegetation within their path.  One visit from a locust colony upon a field of grain and one’s livelihood could be set back for years.  Yet, God promises that he has the power to restore what seems eternally ruined.

This is especially true with our spiritual condition.  The Lord tells Ezekiel that not only can He restore what is ruined, He can revive what is dead! You may feel that your life is in ruins and that spiritually, you are as good as dead.  Trust in the one who can not only lift you out of the ruins, He can breathe new life into your soul!  Believe in the One Who revives!  

Tales of The Magical Ranger School Trees

Joyce Kilmer expressed a sense of awe for the beauty and wonder of trees when he penned,
I think that I shall never seeA poem lovely as a tree.
Since posting a Blog entry regarding the rigors of the U.S. Army Ranger School, I have been fascinated by the encounters Ranger School Graduates report they had with trees during their training. It seems these special interactions are brought on as the severe result of extreme sleep deprivation (4 hours daily, or less, for over 2 months.) During Ranger School, trees sometimes seem to have a function similar to the "Holodeck" on Star Trek.

My friend and brother, Brett Lewis, shared how he faced a significant challenge trying to convince his Ranger Buddy not to put coins into a tree his buddy was certain was a soft drink machine.While he stopped his buddy from wasting his money, the Buddy was never quite convinced about the tree's identity as merely being a tree.  Upon reading that story, another Ranger Graduate reported having the same delusion, except he actually did put coins into the tree, and began beating the tree with his entrenching tool when it didn't dispense a refreshing beverage after he had inserted his change!

Yet another friend told of how in the middle of the night, his wife suddenly appeared next to him and an argument ensued with him telling her she had to leave because she wasn't authorized to be at Ranger School.  The argument continued for some time, until he was shaken by his bewildered Ranger Buddy, only to discover he had actually been arguing with a tree for the entire episode!  Spouses, soda machines and little green men have all made appearances to Ranger School Students thanks to the magical Ranger Trees!

If you'd like to hear more fascinating Ranger Tree tales, just ask a Ranger! They'll have stories, both scary and funny, to take your breath away from either terror or laughter! I leave you with a slightly edited line from Kilmer's poem, that just may explain the mystical properties of those Ranger School trees,

[Blogs] are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Day 20 of 40 Days of Prayer: Rely on God’s Power!

We are half-way through our 40-Day prayer journey!  More than anything, prayer is a humble admission that ultimately, the power of life and the power to navigate life does not come from us, but from God. This truth is most clearly seen in times of hardship and challenge.  As the Apostle Paul states in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10,
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
In the humility of prayer, we bow down to One greater than ourselves – greater than anyone or anything – acknowledging our dependence on Him and His ability to show Himself ultimately powerful in all things. We therefore proclaim, along with the Psalmist that,
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Day 19 of 40 Days of Prayer: Be Salt! Be Light!

Jesus expected those who follow Him to have impact on the society around them.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus informed His disciples that they weren’t just taking up space or occupying hours in some random, meaningless existence but they were created with purpose to carry out God’s will among those who are lost in the confusion of sin and death.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

We are expected to illuminate our interactions with the truth and season the lives of those around us with the love of Jesus.  This mixture of salt and light, grace and truth, characterizes the very nature of Jesus who is “filled with grace and truth” and allows those of us who follow Him to best represent Him and bless others in this harsh and demanding world.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Day 18 of 40 Days of Prayer: Begin with Brokenness

We resist being broken.  While it is understandable and right to desire strength, resilience and endurance, there is a natural recoiling from being stretched past the point of one’s limitations until one breaks.  Yet, is in the place of encountering one’s limitations that one is most likely to have a heart prepared to experience true fellowship with God. It is also from that place, that the power of prayer is effectively launched.

The Psalmist understood this truth and wrote of it when he penned, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”  The Scripture also promises that while God is “opposed to the proud” He “gives grace to the humble.”  It takes humility to meet brokenness head-on and then to turn to the One Who can restore us to wholeness so that we can minister to others in their brokenness as well.

When you find yourself in a hard place that breaks you, don’t deny it  or hide because of it. Instead, turn to the Lord.  Allow Him to use your brokenness as the beginning point of powerful transformation that will not only restore and bless you, but lead you reach out to bless others so that they can be restored too.

Remembering Those Who Serve In Every Season: Even the Bitter Cold!

When you step out into the briskness today and bristle against howling winds and biting cold, consider those who are facing these punishing conditions in training.
There is a discussion in a closed group to which I belong, reminding everyone to pray for those soldiers in the midst of meeting the requirements of the US Army Ranger School at this very moment in one of the harshest winters in years. While we fight the cold on our own terms, these amazing volunteers fight it on the unrelenting terms of the US Army Ranger School, outdoors, 24/7.
Some members of the group reflecting on their own similar experiences in the mid 1980's, recall the mission objective literally becoming survival. I recall receiving news during that era of 2 Ranger students and an instructor dying of hypothermia when caught in a particularly sudden and wicked winter storm. Many other soldiers and military personnel from all branches of service similarly continue to train as the demands do not relent in inclement weather for anyone on mission.
Do not fail to pray and give thanks for those who eagerly give of themselves for the rest of us. Consider this as you snap your coat and bundle up for today's frigid temperatures!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Day 17 of 40 Days of Prayer: Be A Servant - The Sledgehammer School of Learning

I met Mr. Tom Petty the 1st semester of my first year in seminary.  He needed help unloading an old Toyota pickup he called “Doulos II” that was loaded with fresh vegetables for the cafeteria.  After I finished helping me, he asked me if I was interested in coming alongside him for ministry training.  I was delighted, as Mr. Petty was known far and wide as someone deeply committed to ministry and an excellent disciple-maker.  He seemed satisfied and told me to meet him at his home where my instruction would begin early Saturday morning.  He told me to dress very casually.  “Definitely my type of guy!” I thought to myself.

I arrived at Mr. Petty’s house bright and early that Saturday morning.  He was waiting for me and greeted me warmly with a friendly handshake.  He handed me a pair of work gloves and pointed me to a sledgehammer laying at the end of a very long and uneven concrete path. “Sam.” He began with his soft-spoken Southern gentlemanly drawl, “I want you to bust up this concrete for me.  It will probably take all day.”

It took all day.  I stopped only for lunch and a few water breaks, and by the end of the day, had busted up all the concrete, and was soaked with sweat from the late summer South Carolina sun.  I was also furious.  “I came here to minister!” I thought to myself. “And this joker has me doing his manual labor for him!”  As if he had read my mind, Mr. Petty put his hand on my shoulder and said, “If you want to minister, you must learn how to serve!” “Wax on, wax off!”  I thought. “I’m training with a Southern, Christian version of Mr. Miyagi!” 

I wasn’t far off target! For the next 5 years I spent in Columbia, Mr. Petty taught me how to serve, assigning me countless tasks, great and small, all focused on serving others.  Many of them were extremely physically challenging and time consuming.  Being ready to serve anytime, anywhere also made me available to rub elbows with some fantastic leaders and allowed me have some very visible moments of ministry with the Governor of South Carolina, leaders in Washington, D.C. and opened the door for me to take part in a special mission to the Philippines that was a truly life-changing experience!

A great classic from the 60’s was titled, “If I had a Hammer” citing the great changes the singer would make with his world changing instrument of justice and freedom.   Well, I had a hammer, and it enabled me to begin a journey of learning through the school of sweat and elbow-grease, teaching me what serving truly means.  Jesus said, “The one who wishes to be greatest among you, must be servant of all.”  I am still learning lessons in service, but know that the Heavenly Father calls His children not to Lord over others, but to kneel and serve.  Help me, Lord, to keep carrying my hammer, continuing to serve and to be a blessing for others!