Houston, Hurricanes, and our Heart

Every time there is a disaster throughout the world our hearts turn toward those affected.  Mine is no different.  However, I do struggle with knowing what to do and how to do it.

You see, I do not believe it is enough to just do “something,” because we need to look to do the best thing.  In recent years we have seen and heard of organizations handling money poorly, even criminally, during times such as these, and this makes me leery of giving blindly.  We see redundancy in certain areas while other areas remain without proper assistance, so simply “going” is not enough, because “what if I don’t go to the right place?”  We feel small / insignificant, so we do nothing because the task is so great and we don’t feel as if we could even make a dent.

However, I saw a post yesterday that stated: if you feel a burden / tugging in your heart for an issue, then don’t dismiss it.  In fact it is the Lord who has placed that in your heart for you to take action.  I think this is correct!  I believe that everyone is called to action to do what they are capable of doing.  In fact, as a believer in Christ, I feel that my action is the way to show that my faith is real (see the book of James in the Bible for my thoughts on this…).  So, I would encourage all to continually look for ways they can do whatever it takes to help, in every situation they come across.

I also want to encourage those on social media to watch their hearts in all of this.

Don’t let your humble gifts become moments of arrogance and “humble brags.”  Give to give, not to be seen giving.  I know you are happy you played a role, but resist the urge to post “Blessed to be able to donate…” and the like.  Donate / volunteer / etc., and provide the link for others to do so as well, and then go about your business looking for the next opportunity to serve.

Don’t get caught up in issues that have nothing to do with helping.  There will always be questions of government response, etc., but the arguments only divide and do not actually do anything of value in the moment of need.  Become a part of the process in order to fix the problems you see if you want, but also realize that it is always easier to problem-solve from the sidelines than if you are actually in the game.  We need more people in the game… just know that it gets harder.

Don’t believe everything you read / see / hear.  Much of the time we make (or listen to) a false premise and then allow it to set the stage for our arguments.  In the age of social media, anyone can post anything and all too often no one takes the time to verify the facts before the world runs with it.  There is a saying, “It’s easy to let the cat out of the bag, but impossible to get it back in.” (I think the imagery here is hilarious, by the way.)  Case in point, people everywhere have railed against Lakewood Church and Pastor Osteen during this crisis.  The reality is that most have no idea of anything they are railing against, but their vitriol for a man or a ministry is causing them to jump on the bandwagon of bashing.  I say be careful… because most of the time if you take the time to learn the full story (which always comes out) then you will realize that you spoke out of turn.

I was probably dishonest in the subject title, but I want all to look for ways to help, look for ways to give glory to God more than themselves, and look for ways to stay out of the judgmental fray and belief of disinformation in order to allow wisdom and grace to win the day.

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The End is Exaggerated

I have seen tweets and posts, news reports and editorials, all on the wish for a quick end to 2016.  I am not naive to the use of hyperbole, or ignorant to the nuances of irony, so I understand the joke regarding the number of tragic events of the year and how “2016” was out to “get us.”  However, I also see a year end that some truly believe was one of the worst in history.

The events that seem to gain the most ground with some who wish the current times to end are the deaths of icons, the political climate and election, and the recent events at the UN regarding Israel demonstrating the departure from a 40-year stance of the United States regarding our ally.  (Ironically, as I opened up WordPress to type this blog, there was an inbox message referring me to an old post of mine regarding Israel, found here.)  At the risk of the firestorm that might come my way or the inevitable misunderstanding that I see daily from twitter feeds or Facebook posts… I am going to weigh in.

Everything is going to be OK.

I would suggest that we are either poor at remembering history, or for some, we have no knowledge of history.  Either way, we tend to be creatures of the moment.  What we witness on any given day is too often declared to be unprecedented.  Because of this, we develop a false premise that all tragedy happening before us will cause the demise of the world as we know it.  I have even seen some Christian leaders use words to describe the political system of our nation as “unraveling.”

I have been alive for seven (7) transitions of Presidential power, and if God allows me to live another month, I will witness an 8th coming on the 20th of January.  I remember first understanding the transition to a new President as a 9-year-old in 1979 as Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, and I remember an elementary school teacher was sad about the change.  This statement will sound like it comes from an out of touch old guy, but our political system is not unraveling.  It is actually working the way it is supposed to, and it has always meant that a number of people will be either unhappy or pleased with the results.  This year’s election was unique in some ways, but it was also very much like any other election.  The problem is that we tend to be more reactionary these days and we also have the ability to voice our concerns or celebrations instantaneously and to greater numbers through social media, so this time seems different but it is not.  Regardless of what is said, and with all respect to the outgoing administration, “hope” is not at all gone.  Our hope is not in an administration.  At a governmental level it is based on a document signed 229 years ago.  At a infinitely more important and personal level, it is based on a baby born, who became a Sacrifice on a cross, and who then rose victorious 2000+ years ago.

Decisions made by those who are in power do matter, and can be detrimental, so without a proper perspective we can become worried.  There are times that we have proper perspective and our concern is justified.  Such is the case with the recent vote at the U.N.  The United States abstained from a vote taken against Israel.  Some might not understand the situation in the Middle East other than from what they see in an occasional tweet, might not have the perspective of a 40-year history regarding our stand on the issue brought up again in the last couple of days, or might not see the problem because technically we did not vote “against” Israel in that we only abstained from the vote.

Understand that we have been the only nation (at most times) that has stood with Israel.  We had the power in a veto to stop any decision made by the United Nations Security Council.  Instead, we let their action against Israel happen.  The saying goes, “evil prevails when good men do nothing.”  We did nothing.  There are reports that our nation’s leaders did more than nothing in that the US actually orchestrated the vote, but that is denied by our leaders.  So, for the sake of this post, taking the administration’s word for it, then what we did was to allow evil to prevail while we, as good men, did nothing for our friend, Israel.  For those who are looking for the tragedy of 2016, our reversal on Israel is the one that needs to be mourned, and in an expedient manner, it needs to be righted.

As 2016 comes to a close, you are right to feel sad if someone that you admired or enjoyed was taken away through death.  You are reasonable to know that the election seemed to be odd and to wonder what it will all mean come January 20th.  However, you are also encouraged to take a stand for things that really matter, and to attempt to make your world a better place.  Then, you must refuse to lose your mind over things that you have no perspective of or are simply reacting to out of fear, and at the same time refuse to back down from taking action on the things that really do matter.  History is filled with those who believed that “it” was over, only to find that the “rumor of [the] demise was greatly exaggerated.”

Do not live in fear.  Do not panic.  Look for and work for the best that is possible before you.  Right the actually wrongs and fight for what is right regardless of the voices crying against you.  While the world is crying that the sky is falling; you be the voice that declares the foundation is strong!


Thoughts on Love & Correction

I was reading this morning from the book of the Revelation in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The first three chapter have a set up and then some words written to various churches.  These words amounted to the fact that God liked some things about them and also disliked some things about them.  God gives correction to the churches, then John begins to pen the rest of the vision that is found in Chapter 4.

God shows John an open door and invites him in.  There are angels and elders worshiping and it must have been a pretty incredible vision.  It begins with a cry of “Holy, Holy, Holy” and ends with a declaration of the “worthiness” of God.  He is worthy, and the chapter is awesome… but I couldn’t get past one simple thought.  God had corrected the churches, but then offered an open door to come in.  I see a perfect joining of correction and love.  Then, these thoughts came to my mind about what our love should look like, because its what God’s love looks like.

The following are my thoughts on the joining of correction and love, not found in the Bible, so take them as such:

To love so much that your direction to others is seen not as a slight against them, but as an act of compassion.

To say “this is a problem in your life” without coming across as “you are worthless as you are” can only be done when love is present.

To declare that “those things in you and around you are harming you and leading you wrongly, and I value you so much that I don’t want to see you destroyed by those things that are in your life.”

Change because of guilt will absolve the past.  Change because of love will give life for the future.


Yet Another Pastor and Church Response…

I have been watching tweets, posts and blogs throughout the day to see the response to the Election of Donald Trump as President-Elect yesterday.  I spent 8 hours watching the election results from 7 pm (EST) last evening until I turned off the TV at 3 am, having never seen anything like this election and wanting to see the final results.  It was fascinating to watch as those in the know were coming to the conclusion themselves that they knew nothing.  Wow!

Today some are angry and some are gloating, which despite what others would think or say is nothing new the day after any election.  There are those who are trying to figure out what happened, what this means going forward, and a hope that we can all come together and heal.  Again… this is nothing new.  Elections have been won and lost going on over 200+ years in this country, and each time after one I am amazed more and more that the Founders who wrote the Constitution figured out a system of government that would work in spite of who was in leadership or the political climate of the day.  It is sheer brilliance.

However, we now live in a day where our thoughts are shaped more from the tweet or a sound-bite than from rational, developed thought; and we substitute hyperbole for facts then believe a narrative based on reactions to opinions rather than digging deep to find out the truth for ourselves.  We not only name-call but we stereotype based on assumptions, and those assumptions do not come from the words that are said but from what we are told by others that those words mean.  We lump entire segments of the population into categories not based on actual beliefs of the individual, but based on what other individuals who are “like them” believe.  Then, in all of the vitriol, we blast any that might even remotely fit into one of those said categories as the source of the problem.

So, what do I do with what is before me… in the climate that I am in… in a world that is what it is and where everything will be taken out of context?

I love.  I serve.  I worship.

I am called to love everyone.  It sounds grand, but for anyone who has actually tried there comes a realization that it is hard.  People are hard.  People are self-righteous, and it is the nature of all of us to be self-righteous right back at them.  But I cannot, because that doesn’t look like love.  I cannot name call, even when I have been on the receiving end of the same, because it doesn’t look like love.  I cannot write a group off, or stand with boastful thoughts over them, or despise their existence because they came out on top, because none of that looks like love.

When the tweets are tweeted and the posts are posted and the memes are, well, you get the point… then I must stand before them and demonstrate the love of the Father who is in heaven, Who loved so much that He gave His best so they could be changed by love.  I must walk into a room of those who my flesh does not like and from a genuine heart feel a love for them that would make me do whatever it takes for them to know that they are loved.

I am called to serve my world.  Serving is easy until you are treated like a servant.  My pride gets in the way, my sense of justice gets in the way, and my dreams and plans get in the way.  When another can do for themselves but doesn’t I am still called to serve.  When it is not my place or not in my schedule or when it is hard I am still called to serve.  When I will get no accolades and when it will not advance my agenda I am still called to serve.

I must be willing to go to both those who have looked up to me and to those who have cursed me and take my towel and humbly wash the feet of the one before me.  I must bend down to pick up the pieces, even when I was not the one responsible for the brokenness.  I must find those that would be better because of my sacrifice and do whatever it takes to demonstrate a selfless spirit to give hope that there is still a servants heart in a sometimes selfish world.

I am called to worship my God.  There are times when I don’t understand, and there are times when I seem to have all understanding.  I can worship in both of these times.  There are times when the tears flow, and others when the laughter is gut-wrenching.  I can worship in both of those times as well.  When I get my way and when I don’t, when I walk in bravery or cower in fear, when I nod my head in agreement and when I shake my head in disgust, I can still worship.

I learn to worship God not because of what He does but because of Who He Is!  I sing the song that changes the earthly atmosphere to one where I sit in heavenly places.  I can partner with Him to see His Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  I can understand that from both my position behind the pulpit and from my position as a dad, husband, citizen, and friend I find a place to worship.  When the wisdom of the world is declaring the end, I can declare that God gives new beginnings.  That is worship.

So, to add to the talk…

Love. Serve. Worship.  That is my response.


Father’s Day 2016

It’s 44 minutes (Eastern Standard Time) into Father’s Day 2016.  I will set this to publish in the morning, but I am up freshly off of having a milkshake from Sonic a little bit ago.

As a sidebar, I didn’t realize that Sonic stayed open on Saturday evenings until midnight.  God bless you Sonic.

I just wanted to thank some people for this day, in a little bit of reverse order.

Isaac, my youngest son, I love you and I love your compassionate heart.  I love that you persevere, and I love that you remain a “fan” of others when the rest would have given up.  Thank you for being my bright eyed wonder and miracle.

Jonathan, my middle son, I love you and I love your heart to live.  I love when I see you shake your head at one of my many projects, but inside I know that you see it too!  Thanks for going outdoors and finding joy in enjoying God’s creation.

Jonah, my oldest son, I love you and I love your free spirit.  I love that you are not scared, even when you are scared.  You keep going and believe that you can do it.  Thanks for being stubborn like me and being willing for God to direct your will in this current adventure.

Holly, my wife, I love you.  I didn’t add anything else because I simply love everything about you.  Thank you for making me a father.  Thank you for helping me learn to be a dad.

Me


A New Year… Bashing the Old

I, along with everyone else on the planet, hope for this new year to be better than the last.

I hope that spiritually my family and I grow closer to God, learning more of His ways and falling more in love with Him.  Relationally, I hope that my family and I cherish each other more and more, and that our home be a place of peace and refuge and growth and love, and that we live up to a family motto of “Others First.”  Financially, I hope that the debt we have carried around like a pet gets finally eliminated and that we are blessed in order to be able to share that blessing with others.  There are many more categories, but you get the point…

I will begin this year with honest assessment of the past one.

I consistently see posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media venues proclaiming that 2015 was not a good year.  I understand ups and downs, and I know personally that some have experienced challenges that are difficult to comprehend.  However, when doing an honest assessment, keep these things in mind:

Sometimes we just want attention.

You’ve seen the posts.  “Can’t wait for 2015 to end…”

I say this first, because I believe that some post about tragedy in order to receive comfort from well-wishers.  In some cases, there are those who exaggerate (or even make up) tragedy in order to gain attention.  This might not be popular to put out there, but it is the case in some lives that they feel they have lacked attention and “crying wolf” is a great way to get it.

We need to be honest with both the good and the bad, and let the story be the story without embellishment or serving only the purpose of attention-getting.  Do I need help through struggles, or do I just want people to show me some love that I have been missing?

Was there good… even in the “bad”?

The major events of the past year came from every area of the world and were stories so diverse they were mind-blowing.  The tragic stories (Terror attacks in Chattanooga and France come to mind) shook us to the core.  There were stories of hope as well, and those events lifted us and challenged us to be all that we could be.  However, these hope-filled stories get overshadowed by the tragic ones, and if we are not careful we will begin to see the world through a lens of despair.

When I do think of the bad, and I don’t want to lose hope, I look for the good.  There is nothing good about a terrorist attack or some other tragedy, but there can be good that is found in the days that follow.  This year had people come together, this year had the people of God pray in unity, and this year saw a people who learned to carry on even in the face of danger.  There was good.

I can build on something I praise.

When we say we want something to be better, there is an unspoken implication that we feel the previous thing was “bad.”

I refuse to say that 2015 was bad.  It was a year, filled with both good and bad.  If I start with lowered expectations (“Well, this year can’t be worse…”) then I can settle for mediocrity and call it great.  If I am coming off of something that is good, then my expectations can be higher.

When I say I want 2016 to be better I simply mean that I will move forward from where I am.  I am challenged because I want to take the good of my past and build on it.  I don’t want to settle for just being “better” than something that I have said was “bad.”  That’s the easy way out.

I want to take the greatness of 2015 and see it blown out of the water by greatness in 2016.

That will take dedication.  That will take a willingness to value the challenge of being uncomfortable.  That will take putting my past in my past and taking each day with a vengeance.  That will take the power of God at work in my life and my will being submitted to the Will of my Heavenly Father to work.

Yeah.  That’s what I hope for 2016.

It’s gonna be a great year!


Weeds

My wife decided that we would plant a garden this year.  It is has been a little productive, but really was more about the exercise of watching things grow.  The process of having the garden has involved a lot of weeds.

Not being a gardener, I am surprised at how many of the weeds look like they should be plants that produce something.  My wife grew up around plants and a farm, and had told me repeatedly which ones are weeds and are worthless.  Even though she knows what she is talking about, I find myself not wanting to pick the weeds because they look to me like they might really be valuable plants.

How many times have I not listened to my Father, who know what He is talking about, and left things in my life that I thought would produce even they He says they will not?

Just thinking about those things that are counterfeit to His plans…and why we don’t toss them out.