Trials or Tequila?

•August 25, 2011 • Leave a Comment

In the last two days I have heard two great comments from two friends that have deeply impacted me. Today I was having an email exchange with a mom of one of our teens at church. Her mother has been in the hospital twice in the past three months and continues to endure pain. All of this, plus the normal stresses of raising a teenage son and juggling a career, has put a great deal of pressure on this lady.

In my email exchange with her, she told me what God had revealed to her while visiting with her mother in the hospital. “He [God] showed me how I can still say that there is no place I would rather be. Why? Because even though I don’t understand all of His purposes, He has brought me to this place, which means that He is with me. I’d rather be in mom’s hospital room with Him, than on a beach some where with a bottle of tequila in my hand declaring that I’m ‘having fun’.”

Wow! What a perspective on pain and suffering and the presence of God! Here’s a woman who has learned to “be content in all circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). She would rather spend one day in the courts of God than a thousand anywhere else (Psalm 84:10). This is a woman who doesn’t fear bad news, but puts her trust in the Lord (Psalm 112:7).

Is that how you view God in the midst of pain and suffering? I’m not sure I always do. If you had the choice of trials with God or tequila with your friends, which would you choose? May God help us to see His presence in our lives, no matter what the circumstances around us look like. And may God give us strength to choose Him, even if pain and suffering accompany Him.

A Gentleman, A Hurt Child & A Willing Disciple

•August 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I got a phone call today from a gentleman who encountered one of our teen random prayer teams at Books-A-Million. He told me about a particular young man in a group of three teens who asked if they could pray for him about anything specific. You see, our youth group has what we call GO Night once a month. We take our teens from their seats in a classroom setting to the streets of Jackson, looking for simple but real ways to reflect God’s love for people. We divide into several teams and do a variety of things. Last night’s GO Night sent three teams out: one to the hospital to pray over families in the ICU waiting room and visit a sick grandparent, one to Jackson Oaks senior care facility to visit an elderly member, and one to The Columns shopping area to pray with random people.

Having had a tough day, the gentleman approached by the team of teens was more than willing to allow these young men to lift him up in prayer. The gentleman, a teacher, has a 7-year-old boy in his class. This boy’s parents had gone through a divorce recently and the little boy was blaming himself for his parent’s breakup. The boy’s father had little or nothing to do with his son. When the boy would call his father, his dad wouldn’t even speak to him. With all this weighing on the gentleman, he proceeded to ask our teen spokesman to pray for this little boy (only giving him the boy’s initials).

The gentleman on the phone told me how this young man appeared to be a little nervous but proceeded to lift up a heart-felt prayer on behalf of the little boy and his situation. “This was by no means a canned prayer,” the gentleman related on the phone. “He poured his heart out in that prayer. And I want you to know that his prayer lifted my spirits and made my entire day. I went home and told my wife about how powerful the whole experience was.” As the gentleman was saying these words, tears began to well up in my eyes. All I could do was praise God. As I thanked the gentleman for relaying this information, he interrupted. “And what’s more, I found out this morning that the little boy he prayed for is spending the weekend with his dad.” Well, that was it. I was undone at this point. The gentleman wrapped up the conversation expressing his gratitude for sending out young people like this to make a difference in the lives of others.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a few calls from people in the community concerning teens being “out in town.” It’s often been complaints about what they’ve seen or overheard from a few of the teens that wasn’t characteristic of a disciple of Jesus. At first, that’s where I was afraid this gentleman was going. Boy, was I wrong! What’s worse is that on my home from church I had expressed to my wife my disappointment concerning the number of teens who weren’t at GO Night. God reminded me today that numbers aren’t what’s important. It’s the influence ONE follower of Jesus can have on others. It’s the spiritual growth this nervous teen who was willing to step outside of his comfort zone experienced last night. It’s the healing that God began producing in a broken relationship between a father and his son. It’s a man who thought his day was not so good, until God put him in the path of a willing disciple that changed the outcome of his day.

I’m quite certain that this teenage boy had no idea how God was going to use him when he woke up yesterday morning. Maybe we should all learn a few lessons from a teen who simply listened to God and acted in simple faith. To God be the glory!

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

•May 14, 2009 • 1 Comment

Several years ago the Chrysler Corporation used this expression in their advertising. I remember Lee Iaccoca uttering this famous line at the end of the commercial. It’s a bold statement, isn’t it? One I think the church would do well to adopt. It leaves little room for complainers, back-biters, gossips, and those who would cause dissension. Is there any doubt as to what would happen if those who aren’t leading or following would get out of the way? Growth, harmony, tolerance, flexibility? It may sound Utopian, but I think this is what God is looking for.

In every church I’ve served in 20+ years, I’ve seen dozens of people who needed to just get out of the way. I’ve seen or heard of countless churches who had grown stagnant because their leaders catered to the very ones who should have gotten out of the way.

Companies that follow this motto will excel. People who live by this principle will be blessed. Churches that adopt this mantra will grow. May God give me the courage to lead, follow or get out of the way. What about you?

Wanted: A Few More Deaths

•May 12, 2009 • 2 Comments

I’ve worked in a church environment for over 20 years. Prior to that (and since then) I watched my dad operate in a church environment. I’ve served six churches and worked alongside seven preachers. Through it all I have heard on numerous occasions an expression that, until now, hasn’t troubled me. It has aggravated me but never troubled me until recently. The expression has been uttered anytime a discussion has taken place about the church moving forward. I have no doubt it has been expressed with sincerity and in the best intentions. It goes something like this: “Well, we’ll have to have a few more deaths before we can do that.” A preacher I used to work with would put a humorous twist on it by saying, “We’ll have to have a few more dirt naps before that will happen.”

There are some fundamental problems with that expression. First, WHO has to die before a given congregation can move forward in a certain area? The assumption is that this person (or these people) are old and nearing death. My guess is it is referring to church members who have been Christians for a long time, probably most of their adult life. Why do they have to die before church leaders can proceed to move in the direction God wants that particular body of believers to go? Why is the body of Christ paralyzed by “mature” Christians? Time and time again I have heard the same old cliches: “We don’t want to offend them” and “We want to maintain peace and unity.” I’m all for peace in the church. And I’m opposed to offending people just to get my way. But how long will we continue to maintain the status quo in the church just to keep grumpy, belligerent, divisive senior citizens happy? I thought they were the mature ones. I thought they’re the ones who are supposed to set the example of humility, peace, forbearance, and patience. But, instead, the church loses new Christians and young Christians because we continue to placate to the vocal minority.

Second, WHY do certain people have to die before the church can progress? The premise is that older Christians cannot be taught the truth because they cannot or will not accept it. It’s assumed that they are too set in their ways. I don’t buy it! Isn’t waiting for certain people to die an admission that we do not truly value those people? And isn’t it just taking the easy way out? It’s much more challenging and time-consuming to confront, teach, explore together, and work together to settle differences. Waiting it out is easy.

Third, to use such a phrase is an admission that we know God wants one thing, but we’re going to do something else instead. Is God really in charge of our churches? Is HE the one we are trying to please? How can we say yes to those two questions while continuing to wait for certain people to die off? To do so is putting total control of the church in the hands of a few people.

I’m not saying that church leaders should just run over people with no concern for anyone who disagrees. People will always disagree with any decision that is ever made by church leaders. Those who disagree must be lovingly and respectfully taught the truth. This is why it is imperative that church leaders study and know the scriptures. Give people a forum through which to express their opinions. But when the voices have been heard, sound off the truth and proceed to follow it. If it’s an area of opinion, keep it there and stop allowing ignorant people to make it law. Being controlled by ignorance is one of the biggest problems the church has had over the last 30 years. How many more deaths have to occur before we say, “ENOUGH!”?

The first-century church dealt first-hand with this issue. Christianity was a slap in the face to many Jews. Even Jewish believers struggled with letting go of many of their Jewish ways of old. Circumcision was the hot button of that day. And what about Gentiles (pagans)? Surely they couldn’t be a part of the new covenant? When did Peter ever say, “We’ll have to wait till some old crusty Jewish believers die before we start welcoming Gentiles into the fellowship”? Or when did Paul say, “After a few dirt naps take place, we’ll stop asking Gentile Christians to be circumcised”? These men moved FORWARD in faith! They didn’t trample all over people with no concern for them, but they spoke the truth plainly and boldly and moved forward from there. Why can’t the church do the same today?

The only death that needs to take place for the church to move forward already took place 2000 years ago on a wooden cross on Calvary. Isn’t that the only death that really matters?

Pull the Trigger

•April 13, 2009 • 1 Comment

panama-2009-2631I enjoy guns. I love shooting hand guns and rifles. Although I’ve never owned a gun (except my childhood pellet rifle), I’m a big 2nd Amendment supporter. My dad owns several guns, and I get to spend an occasional Saturday afternoon target shooting with him at the range.

Allow me to state the obvious: a gun will not fire unless you pull the trigger. You can purchase all the guns you want, but if you don’t load them and pull the trigger they will just sit there collecting dust and, by some, admiration. My outings with my dad at the range will produce nothing but boredom if we just load the guns, point them at targets, and then just sit there. The adrenaline rush happens only when I pull the trigger.

There are times in my walk with God when I have my “gun”, it’s “loaded”, but I never pull the trigger. The call I need to make to a man whose marriage is on the brink of disaster. The visit I need to make to a church member in the hospital. The words of admonition that need to be expressed to a struggling teenager. Or even something as simple as being light to someone whose life is surrounded by darkness.

Our youth group had our first GO Night last month. We split the teens into eight groups and sent them to various places in our city to be light to people with whom they came in contact. I was part of a group who was supposed to approach total strangers at a shopping center and ask them if I could pray for them. I had tried this before with a new friend, but couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. On this particular night, however, I was eager. Nervous, but eager. I approached a young couple and pulled the trigger. It was great! I hit the target! They were receptive and appreciative that a total stranger would care enough to stop them and pray for a them.

It makes me wonder how many Christians are running around out there with “loaded weapons” but too scared to pull the trigger.

Bored Christians

•September 11, 2008 • 3 Comments

It’s an oxymoron, isn’t it? How can there really be bored Christians? Are we supposed to have a relationship with our Creator? Aren’t the needs of the hurting supposed to be cared for by Christians? Don’t we worship an awesome God? Then why are there so many bored Christians?

I look at many of the teenagers to whom I have ministered over the last 20 years and most of them are bored. I’ve been bored myself in the 30+ years I’ve been a Christian. The times I haven’t been bored have been times when I have been swimming in some sort of crisis or when I am doing something bigger than myself. When I went through a divorce in 2005, I wasn’t bored. I was constantly talking to God. He and I were best friends. Sure, I questioned Him more than once, but my walk with God was close. I was surrounded by Christian friends who wrapped their arms of love around me and walked with me through those dark months. When I am at large worship conferences or retreats, I am not bored. The mountaintop experiences always kick boredom right out. 

But we avoid crisis at all costs. We don’t want to go through difficult or challenging times, even though we know deep down inside (and from Scripture) that those are the times when God’s presence is most evident and we’ll experience tremendous growth. Although we love mountaintop experiences, we know we must come down from the mountain sooner or later. As a young youth minister, I used to think that if I could just fill the calendar with enough mountaintop experiences, the teens would not be bored. 

It’s only when we realize that God is present on the plateaus of our lives, not just on the mountains or in the valleys, that our lives will have boredom-less significance. When you’re on the mountain, enjoy it. Celebrate it. Share it. When you’re in the valley, embrace it. Thank God for it. Look for how He is working in your life through it. Welcome the embrace of others. When you’re on the plateau (which is where most of us spend most of our time), look for God…even in the little, seemingly insignificant things. Watch for people or opportunities He will place right in front of you. Those may just be the people or opportunities that will deliver you from boredom.

The Forgotten Ones

•August 2, 2008 • 1 Comment

The older I get, the more I see God working in my life. I used to miss so much, but as I now look back over events in my recent past, I can’t miss God’s Spirit moving. Last week I had the unique opportunity to attend a week-long Bible camp for developmentally disabled adults. I actually stumbled upon HandyCamp quite by accident (that’s code word for how we Christians often attribute things to God’s Spirit). Our youth group has been to another similar camp called Barnabas two or three times. The only week we could attend Barnabas was the week right before school starts, so I was forced to find something else. After parusing the Internet for almost two hours, I finally settled on HandyCamp, a program run by Lutheran Disabilities Ministry.

My whole life has been spent in fear of handicapped people. Like most of the “normal” population, I was uncomfortable around disabled people. Didn’t know how to approach them. Felt sorry for them. Thought that, because I couldn’t understand them, they couldn’t understand me either. HandyCamp blew that whole idea out of the water!

It took me all of a day and a half to learn that handicapped people are angels. I had so much to learn from these precious souls forced to spend their lives on this earth encased in fragile, deformed, or unusable bodies and/or minds. Many could carry on a conversation; others were unable to speak with words at all. There are other ways to communicate than mere words. I watched one woman “listen” to music by wrapping her hands around the speaker stands. I saw another communicating simply by grunting certain ways.

They were some of the happiest people I’ve ever seen in my life. Most rarely, if ever, watched TV. Most would never own a car, a house, a boat, or any of the “luxuries” with which we often fill our lives. Most would never marry or have children. The majority of them live in a group home with other handicapped adults. There they will happily eek out their existance until their days upon this earth are over.

To the large majority of the general population, they are the forgotten ones. Even the Christian community as a whole has excluded them. Ignorant of the growing number of handicapped people in our cities, churches continue to minister to the poor, widows, orphans, people in other countries and, of course, our own without even realizing we’re sitting on a gold mine of opportunity to share the love of Jesus in a fresh and meaningful way. Most churches don’t have any sort of ministry to handicapped people because they don’t think there are many handicapped people around them. They assume this because there are no handicapped individuals attending their respective churches. What they fail to see is that handicapped people will come out of the woodwork if the local churches starting any sort of ministry for these forgotten ones.

God brought me a long way in my journey out of the darkness of my fear of handicapped people. I still have a way to go. I now look at handicapped differently. I look past their infirmity and look to what’s on the inside. That’s where you’ll find the heart of God himself.