Category: Christianity

Some Thoughts On Las Vegas

My words will never adequately express the horror of the shootings in Las Vegas.

https://salemnet.vo.llnwd.net/media/cms/RT/43629-las-vegas-shooting-getty-3-facebook.800w.tn.jpgNews stories report body count and hospitalizations in an attempt to convey the incomprehensible magnitude of the violence.

The number of the dead and wounded could describe a pitched battle in Afghanistan or, long ago, as I remember as a child the reports from Vietnam.

Nearly sixty dead. Over five hundred in need of medical treatment.

But of course, this wasn’t a battle fought on foreign soil.

This was a country music concert.

On American soil.

And the attacker was an unremarkable American citizen who possessed a personal arsenal of automatic weapons. As he so dreadfully demonstrated, weapons designed to kill human beings in large numbers very efficiently.

We don’https://i2.wp.com/www.billboard.com/files/styles/480x270/public/media/las-vegas-shooting-mandalay-bay-hotel-oct-2-2017-ap-billboard-1548.jpgt yet know why the killer opened fire from his 32nd floor hotel room. But we are reeling from the savagery of his actions and the random senselessness of the deaths. He indiscriminately maimed and murdered scores of complete strangers who were out on the town for nothing more than a good time.

While we cannot today find a final answer to the great puzzle of our national addiction to violence, perhaps we can nonetheless finally admit the addiction.

As frightful as the Las Vegas killings are, they join a long list of mass shootings.

Such violence is all too frequent.

The murders last Sunday stand out only because of the numbers.

And because it was captured on video.

However, these same numbers some times take place in Chicago on any given weekend and no one even bats an eye.  It is not noticed because it usually is a one-on-one event. One person killed events in an abhorrent number of weekend murders… in a “gun-free zone.” 

Let’s be honest. Gun Free Zones don’t work.

But we have to do something.

As a nation we have been at war since 2001. Since I was born, the years of national conflict nearly outnumber the years of peace. And I’m not including the Cold War, covert actions, and episodic military interventions. So many young adults do not remember or  have experienced an America at peace.

There is no question that the type and number of weapons hoarded by the Las Vegas shooter made him exponentially more lethal. We can and should arrive at reasonable political measures that address an individual’s capacity to wreak such unspeakable havoc.

I not talking about taking guns away from anyone. I want a society that is able to have the freedom to have a gun to protect themselves or to use for appropriate hunting.  I do not believe we need to pry the guns from the hands of Americans.

However, what I am saying is that we can do something moving forward.  We need to keep these type of guns off and out of the free-market.  We can stop people from buying a gun that can shoot 70 – 90 rounds in 10 seconds.  Is there http://www.trbimg.com/img-575ef1a2/turbine/la-1465840206-snap-photoreally a purpose for a gun like this? I think not.

In truth, we will never be able to clear our society of these type weapons already purchased.  They are embedded and unfortunately will be a part of a society that will need to deal with the outcomes of such weaponry. 

I am not naive, I know that someone will continue to make these type of weapons, no matter if we ban them from being sold. If a person wants to have a gun to use for evil, no matter what type of weapon they want… it will be available somewhere. Regardless what we do politically.

But we have to  do something.  We need to limit their numbers of availability. Doing nothing just deepens our accountability for these type of events from occurring.

And yet, even if and when we achieve a political solution, our spiritual challenge remains.

As a believer, I can no longer turn my eyes away from these type of events and simply say I will pray for the victims.  While it is a good place to start there is more that we can do. To be followers of Jesus, requires reflection, repentance, and transformation.

As long as violence in any form is our only customary means for maintaining our security, our status, and our stuff, we will ALL remain… mortally wounded spiritually.

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Choosing Sides

Are you old enough you remember the days of “choosing sides?”  

Two captains would be chosen and they would take turns picking their teams from all those gathered to play.

It was a terrible experience… especially if you were last to be chosen.  

That meant you were the least wanted of all those gathered to play.  What a humiliating experience!  (I say that because I was often the last to be chosen.)  

If you, as captain, were lucky enough to get the right picks then victory was almost certain for your team.  

Choosing sides filled the air with anticipation and whispers of “choose me”, “choose me…”  None of uhttps://i2.wp.com/www.civilwarstlouis.com/image5/titles/Choosing%20title.jpgs wanted to be humiliated by last place but we all wanted to play on a winning team.  

The whole experience was one of emotional scars for life, but if you got the right team, what fun that was!  

You were sure to win and usually did.

If only Billy was your pitcher then you had it made.  If you could get Sam for a batter then the game was yours. Getting the right players made a win almost guaranteed.

As I read a passage in Psalms this morning I thought back to those days.  It made me wince and smile all at the same time.

The Psalmist wrote,  “In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is on my side, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me. I will look in triumph at those who hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people.”

The text rehttps://img1.etsystatic.com/138/0/12865351/il_340x270.1081307595_dokf.jpgads, “the Lord is on my side.”

As I read those words my mind flashed back to the days of choosing sides and I imagined being picked to be on God’s team, to be on His side and He being on mine.  

The Lord is for me, He’s on my side!  

 

Finding Forgiveness

“I need to forgive.” 

This simple sentence haunted me for years.

I was reminded of this last night as I attended a Casting Chttps://fscog.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/finding-forgiveness.jpg?w=281&h=211rowns concert.  I love their music.  It just cuts right to my heart.  Over the years, it has had a profound affect on me.  Their music has encouraged and challenged me to deal with things I was ignoring in my life.

I struggled with forgiveness for many years.

In my mind, I knew that I needed to but I just could bring myself to forgive those that I felt betrayed me… my heart needed more time to respond.  I learned the hard way that the heart takes more time to heal.

You may not be able to relate exactly to my story, but chances are by the time you’re reading this article, you know what it feels like to be lied to, betrayed, forgotten, rejected or in some other way wounded by someone you loved and trusted.

I have yet to meet a person who has made it through this life without facing one or more of these wounds. And because we understand what it feels like to be injured in this way, we also know how truly challenging it can be to offer forgiveness.

For years I thought I understood what it meant to forgive.

https://marriagemissions.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/Time-to-Forgive-AdobeStock_59582002-copy.jpgThen just about the time I thought I had a grasp on the whole process of understanding forgiveness, something would come straight out of nowhere and remind me that I had a long way to go.

The hurt and resentment we sought to leave behind would resurface from time to time. Maybe it was triggered by someone’s offhand remark or by an old song from back in the day.

That is how it would happen to me.  I would be driving back home from work, listening to songs as they randomly came up.

Then that song comes on… the one that took me back to another place and time.

Suddenly I am filled with all the anger, hurt, frustration and resentment that I feel towards people who betrayed or hurt me over the years of my life. 

It would be clearly evident that I still struggled with forgiveness.

On the outside, I would hide it, twist it and lie about it if I needed to, but I wasn’t going to forgive. On the inside I didn’t want anything to do with forgiveness.

I thought I would grow into it over time, I assumed, this burden and I would grow strong enough to carry it. 

As the years went by, I tried to forget. It worked, for the most part. When you carry a grudge long enough, it didn’t feel like a grudge anymore. It just felt like life. https://i.pinimg.com/736x/16/da/d6/16dad6f443ecaae385abba9b17912111--let-god-let-it-go.jpg

Like putting on clothes each morning, I would just get up every morning and strap on my bag full of anger, hurt, shame, bitterness, frustration and the lack of any desire to forgive those that you had an issue with.

As matter of fact, I thought about it rarely. When I did think about it, I prayed it would evaporate into thin air, and that maybe I would evaporate with it.

In some ways, it did evaporate. In many ways I did forget.

After all these years, I still have a lot to learn about the process of forgiving someone.

But I have learned this…

We forgive in response to wounds and betrayals. A part of ourselves is broken. A relationship has crumbled. The potential life we imagined for ourselves lies in ruins. I am learning that I am still broken.

Forgiveness is that healing that mends the broken part of us.

Mending takes time.

Forgiveness cannot take place without honesty, boundaries, space, distance and time.

Forgiveness is a process. I am learning that we forgive one day at a time.

It rarely comes as a single, discrete decision. We talk about forgiveness like it’s a single, one-time event, and in my experience, it’s just not.

Forgiveness isn’t an event any more than brushing your teeth is an event.  It is something you must do over and over and over again.

I am not sure it gets easier with time.

In fact, one of the few things that has helped me heal from my past is to stop saying, “I forgive you” and start saying, “I’m forgiving you.”

Jesus talked at length about forgiveness. Once, Peter asked him, “So, look, how often do I have to forgive? Seven times? Will that about cut it?” Imagine the look on Peter’s face when Jesus said, “Make that seventy-times seven.”

https://blogs.psychcentral.com/anger/files/2015/06/blame-e1433261975140.jpgStrictly speaking, Jesus wasn’t just telling Peter how many times he had to forgive a repeat offender. He was also telling him—telling us—how forgiveness works.

I need to get up each morning and instead of strapping on that backpack of hurt, I need to wake up with the intent of forgiving.

Many days it’s the same person I forgave yesterday.

What would happen if, just for today, you thought about the person who has hurt you most and said to yourself:

“I am forgiving you. By that I mean, I’m not going to blame you or hold you responsible for my life or my future any longer. The power to shape what is coming is mine now. I take it back for myself. I reclaim my power. And that grudge I’ve been carrying, well, it’s hurting me more than it’s hurting you, so for that reason, I’m going to set it down, move on and forgive you.”

Those of us that struggle with forgiveness, we don’t have to make any promises about the future. Except that if we have to, we may need to forgive again tomorrow.

Ultimately… it is how we find the way to forgive.

Sometimes the heart needs more time to accept what the mind already knows.

My Own Worst Enemy

I have an enemy that I deal with daily.

I face it constantly.

The battle with my worst enemy will continue till the day I die.

My enemy is not the Democrats, nor is it the Republicans.

It’s not the President.

It’s not Clinton, Obama or Bernie Sanders.

My own worst enemy has nothing to do with politics.

It’s not the Russians.

It’s not North Korea.

It’s not Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan.

My enemy is not an Atheist. 

It isn’t the Muslims or Islam.

My enemy isn’t ISIS, Nazis, anarchists.

It’s not the liberals or conservatives.

My own worst enemy is not CNN, MSNBC or Fox News.

It’s not FACEBOOK or Twitter.

My enemy isn’t homosexuals, transgenders or bisexuals.

It’s not Black Lives Matter or the Trumpsters.

My enemy is much more insidious than any of these. 

Much more deadly and dangerous.

For you see…

My own worst enemy is…  ME.

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(Paul speaks very clearly in Galatians 5 about our battle against the enemy within…ourselves.  All too often we look to others, or things, to be the source, the cause (and usually the blame) for our sins and our problems.  Although sometimes there can be external forces, ultimately all responsibility lies at our doorstep.  Our greatest battle is truly against our own flesh, the sin nature that resides in each of us.  So, in fact, our worst enemy is ourselves.)

 

 

Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It

I recently was told a story about when the British colonised India. They were in Calcutta and some of the English people were trying to establish a Golf Course.

However, there was a problem – Monkey’s surrounded the Golf Course – and Image result for tee shotwhatever it was about the game of golf, these monkeys really enjoyed both watching and taking part in the Game of Golf. So when one of the Golfers took a swing and knocked the ball into the Fairway, these Monkeys would run along, grab the Ball, and start throwing it around.

Obviously, the Golfers didn’t like this, so they tried doing a few different things to solve the problem.

The first thing that they did to try to control this situation was to build high fences around the Golf Course – not such a great idea considering it’s was Monkeys that they were trying to keep out! Not surprisingly – the Monkeys just climbed the fences and carried https://i2.wp.com/www.golfvacationinsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/costa-rica-monkeys.jpgon with their game.

The next thing they tried to do was to lure the monkeys away from the Golf Course. I don’t know what they did – maybe they shook bananas at the monkeys – but when they were shaking the bananas at some of the Monkey’s, some of the Monkeys went after the bananas  and the rest ignored them.

The third thing attempted was to capture the Monkeys, but for every one that they captured, there was another Monkey or two, left.

They couldn’t solve the problem and decided that they had to bring about an innovation – and the innovation was a ground rule that said – ‘from now on we play the ball wherever the Monkey drops it.

As you can imagine, playing this way could be rather frustrating. For example, the ball is driven well down the fairway close to the hole – only to have a monkey run off with it and drop it somewhere far from the hole. On the other hand, the opposite sometimes happened. A terrible shot might be picked up and delivered close to the cup. It didn’t take long before golfers realized that golf on that particular course was quite similar to our experience of life – there are good breaks and there are bad breaks and we cannot entirely control the outcome of the game called life.

Like it or not, life is all about playing the ball where the monkey drops it. 

That means that many times in life you will have to play the ball from the rough.

Life has a way of messing with our game plan. We tee life up just the way we like it and make a good swing for success, and then things change; sickness, opposition, Image result for Golf balls in the roughfinancial hardship, relational breakdown, betrayal, divorce or our own poor choices, and we find ourselves with a bad lie playing out of the rough.

In moments like that we must master the skill of playing the ball where life drops it! It has been well said that life is 10% what we make of it but 90% is how we respond to adversity.

We cannot control what happens around us, but we can control what happens within us in response to what happens around us.

In life, sometimes you will have to just play the ball where the Monkey drops it.

 

 

You Have No Idea

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I love sharing stories.  I have never been able to write stories of someone else so I usually write about myself. That isn’t as self-serving as that may come across. It is just that I share my thoughts and things that I know about.  I know about failure and I know about success. I have experienced both on extreme levels. So, this week is no different, I want to share another small piece of my own story.

As I write this, today is my anniversary. Exactly 9 years ago today, I sat down to my https://thelegacybuilder.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/1c09e-post2bwriting.jpg?w=1108computer to write my very first blog post.

Now, I realize I didn’t just say I performed my first brain surgery, or I decided to run for President. But for me, it was a pivotal day – one that I think will shape the rest of my life.

While I have always loved to write, I never let anyone know that aspect about me. But blogging? That was something different.  This was where people would be able to see what you wrote. I’d never blogged before. I really did not know what a “blog” really was. I had no following to speak of. I had no way to know if people would find this website, or if they’d even read it. I even wondered if I’d run out of things to say.

What I did know is that there was a stirring inside of me, something telling me that tomorrow wasn’t supposed to look like yesterday. I’d ignored it for years, pushing it aside to keep the pain and darkness that had overcome my life for the previous 15 years or so.

Something told me if I didn’t move right then, another wasted day would become another wasted month – and another wasted year of my life.

Facing that empty screen, I have to admit, I was scared. I was doubtful.

But I wrote anyway. 

And I wrote again the next day.

And the next. And the next.

Over the course of this blog’s life, there haven’t been many days where I did not write something.  Some of those stories and posts have made their way onto this blog site. However, many articles and stories will forever remain drafts, never to be published. Not because they are not good stories, but rather because I am not at peace about revealing them for people to read. I am sure that on some levels, they contain my “best” writing.  I have yet to fully understand why I choose to post some of the articles and some will be deleted when they close down this website after a long period of no activity or I pass away.

So I published and posted articles and stories, while I always say that, “I love to write, but I am not a writer.” I never say I am a good writer.  Some of my posts are not bad and a few of them I would have to admit are pretty good. Many of them are just “ok” and a portion of them are horrible.  I am always amazed that 9 years later, my articles have been read over 525,000 thousand times.

Blogging is not for the faint of heart.  Writing one is hard. Most blogs fail after just a few posts because it does take an emotional toll on your heart.  You pour yourself into it and sometimes people are not so kind while they stomp on your heart or your perspective.

I have had some great supporters of my writings and I have had some detractors. I https://i1.wp.com/omofastaction.africancampaigns.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ink-stains.pnghave been called names and I have had my writings called, “A stain on the white shirt of society.”  I have come so close to quitting a number of times over the years but I still cannot walk away from it.

I’ve met some amazing people I’d never have had reason or opportunity to know otherwise. Many of them have grown to be genuine friends – some of them an ocean away. Some readers even credit my posts with giving them the nudge they needed to launch out into their own deeper waters, which is the highest compliment to me.

But most of all – best of all – writing this blog had allowed me to feel more like “me” than I had in years.

I was going through a really dark period of my spiritual life when I started this blog. I was truly far, far away from God compared to where I had been most of my life.  I was trying to find my way back and I just could not find a way to do that. I am sure that many of you know what I mean. You’ve felt it too. There’s a deep longing in each of us to discover our elusive “purpose” and to sit in the center of our life knowing that you are  at peace in your relationship with the Lord. Little else feels as good as when you’re actually doing what you know you should be doing.

Writing has allowed me to find my way “home” spiritually.  I made a choice that day when I started writing and filling that blank screen.  I chose faith over fear. I chose action over apathy. I chose to fill the page, to write the first story. And you know what? Each time I write, I gain a little more peace than the day before.

Yes, I know, there are countless blogs growing faster and are much better than mine. I encounter better and more successful “real” writers on a daily basis. And when I compare myself to my colleagues and friends, I’m keenly aware that there’s a lot of road up ahead of me.

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0254/9599/t/2/assets/logo.png?11343127326311193056But today, when I compare myself to that guy facing that empty computer screen 9 years ago, it’s worth pausing and reflecting on how far he’s come. It’s something to celebrate. I wish I could reach back in time and whisper in his ear, “Go ahead. Do it boldly! You have no idea what a difference this will make in your life!!”.

Do you feel a stirring inside you – to become more, or simply different than you are? Have you ever thought about writing?

If you’ve tried to bury the feeling, but it only grows stronger. If you’re afraid of failing. If you think the sacrifice would be too great.  If it seems unattainable, unreachable, ‘ungettable’…at least for you.  If you wonder if it’s all just wishful thinking, like overgrown hope. And if it would be smarter to settle for what you already have.

Ask yourself this simple question. What if you’re wrong about writing your story?

Go ahead. Do it boldly.

My writings will never be read by millions.  I will probably never publish a book.

But I’ve still got a story to tell.

I’ll write mine… you write yours, because you have no idea what a difference it will make in your life.

Step Outside of the Boat

I’ve been thinking a lot about when Peter, James, John, and the rest of the Twelve disciples accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, they committed and dedicated themselves to patterning their lives on His. 

Me? I get out of bed and I meander to church for the 11:30 service on a Sunday morning and I somehow I want to get credit for my effort.   Getting to service a somehow I have caught myself wanting to get a medal for my “commitment” and “dedication”.

Is this what it really means to follow Christ?

As I write this, I am ashImage result for Boat floating in the wateramed of ever wanting “credit” for in my walk with Christ.

I have always been amazed that these men gave up everything in this life to follow Him.  I cannot imagine that type of commitment to follow Christ.

In particular, I been drawn to the story of Peter walking on the water. Or more specifically his failure to walk on water.

Each disciple would struggle to follow Christ.

But struggling to follow Jesus’ example doesn’t make them failures. On the contrary, their mistakes and missteps show us an important dimension of what it means to follow Jesus.

And I think that may be why Matthew tells the story of Peter’s attempt to walk on water.

Like Mark, Matthew shares the story of Jesus walking on water. In both Gospels, the disciples have gone ahead of Jesus in a boat. The weather gets rough. In the predawn hours the disciples spot Jesus strolling across the lakImage result for Jesus Walking on Watere.

If we stick with Mark and stop with that, the passage tells us only that Jesus is divine. That’s an important message, and Matthew conveys it as well. But then Matthew adds the bit about Peter getting out of the boat. And it’s important to ask why he included it.

Scholars have concluded that he had a source that Mark lacked. But that still doesn’t explain why Matthew decided to include the episode in the larger story he was telling. My guess is that he wanted to show us what discipleship meant in light of what we had just learned about Jesus’ identity.

Following an incarnate God means that we would be set an impossible example to most ordinary people.  Jesus is urging us to walk on water. And He knows what that will mean for us. Let’s look more closely at the passage.

Peter says to Jesus, “If that’s you, tell me to come out there with you.” Peter climbs Image result for Peter sinkingover the side of the boat, takes a few steps, and then he sinks. Jesus grabs him up and hauls him into the boat. He says, “Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt?”

We have all heard lots of sermons about Peter’s faith deficit. We’ve been told that if he had only had enough faith, he would never have sunk. Frequently we’re harangued about our own puny faith and told to buck up.

Well, I don’t buy that.

For starters, remember that Peter was a disciple. He took the risk of imitating Jesus doing something impossible. It’s what he had signed up for. Besides, Peter had already come to expect Jesus to do and say unthinkable things, for example…

Turn the other cheek. Don’t imagine that violence will solve anything.

Forgive the unrepentant. Repeatedly. How you feel about it isn’t the point.

Love your enemy. Even the dangerous one who hates your guts.

Give your stuff away because someone else needs it. Don’t even ask about who deserves it.

See everybody—simply everybody—as infinitely valuable in themselves. Nobody is here to serve your agenda, gratify your desires, or live up to your expectations.

Eat with sinners. Befriend outcasts. Get over yourself.https://i2.wp.com/www.catholicsistas.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/get-over-yourself-300x138.jpg

For Jesus, this is what it means to live. This is eternal life. This is love that resembles God.

And, yes, at first it will be like walking on water. Impossible! You will sink. And that is where the growth begins. Once you’ve been brought back to the safety of the boat, will you step back out on the waves again?

When Jesus welcomed Peter out on the waves, He probably knew that Peter would sink. Who wouldn’t!

Jesus wasn’t setting a test for Peter, waiting to see if his faith measured up. At Peter’s own request, Jesus encouraged his insanely risky behavior.

When Jesus talks about Peter’s little faith, he’s not sayingImage result for step outside the boat “deficient faith.” Sure, Peter’s faith isn’t where it will eventually be. But neither is he utterly faithless. His faith has room to grow. Just like ours.

Faith does not grow by spiritual strain. It grows when we stretch ourselves to attempt to step out of the boat and attempt walk on water again and again.

To do those things that Jesus teaches us to do when everybody around tells us we’re naive or just plain crazy.

As it turns out, learning how to live comes down to learning how to love.

In truth, we grow in faith, when we get over ourselves and love our neighbor as if our own life depended on it.

So, step outside the boat… sure you’re going to get wet, but it is in that commitment, dedication and desire to become like Christ that makes all the difference in the world.

I believe our life depends on it. 

Divine Interruptions?

My life is always filled with distractions.

So much so, that I find it difficult to figure out exactly what I shoulImage result for distractionsd be paying attention to.

I have the attention span of a flea, so anything can distract me!

I think most people can relate because it seems like our entire society has a type of A.D.D.

In our technology-driven world, there are endless options of what can pull our focus from what is in front of us.

This can be very concerning.  Especially since every day on my way to work I have people pass me with their head buried into their phone, texting or looking at FACEBOOK. 

In this life of distractions, I am convinced that we are in risk of missing out on the greatest events in our life. How do we re-gain the focus on what is important?  

Focus is important as we pursue our lives.  It is too easy to become distracted by chasing the big-picture stuff and miss the smaller, more significant issues that are probably more important. One distraction leads to another, which leads to another, and before we know it, we’re off course and we wonder how we’ll ever really experience the life we were intended to live.

I’ve discovered some of the distractions that I have experienced might possibly be God interruptions.https://i.ytimg.com/vi/Q296TbSrmT4/maxresdefault.jpg

Say what? Yes… some distractions, I believe come from God.

Divine Interruptions?

Yes, a “Divine Interruption” if you will.

The are intended to get our attention. They might be God’s way of leading us into an important new piece of the puzzle in His ultimate plan for our life. What feels like an interruption in one moment can be the key to unlock another direction God wants us to go.

It’s knowing when God is nudging you or whispering in your ear.  I believe God uses these nudges to move us, to help us gain perspective and re-focus on things that are important.

Unfortunately for me… sometimes God tried nudging until He had to slap me alone the side of the head.

There have been many times I couldn’t take the hint that God was leading me to.

I have never handled interruptions very well.  I am too busy making my own plans.

I can’t help but marvel at how Jesus handled interruptions.

A few weeks ago I wrote about John The Baptist, a story told in Matthew 14, when Jesus finds out about John the Baptist’s beheading. Jesus is saddened by the news. He wants to be alone. So what does He do? He gets in the boat and staImage result for distractionsrts on a journey to get some solace and relief.

But Jesus’ solace is soon interrupted. A large crowd gets word of His plan, and the people make it to the other side in order to wait for Him.

Imagine Jesus as He nears the shore and catches a glimpse of thousands of people waiting to meet Him. 

Most of us would be frustrated at the sight. We’d probably decide it best to send away the crowds. Or maybe we’d stay in the boat and go somewhere else.

But that’s not Jesus’ response. He’s not frustrated.

Matthew says he felt compassion for the people.

Compassion?

Yep. While I’m busy figuring out a way to do my own thing, Jesus would be thinking of how He could show compassion. He doesn’t throw a pity party for Himself. Instead, He puts others first. What would stir up frustration in us stirs up compassion in Him!

Jesus was always available for interruptions.

It always seems to me that whenever Jesus was interrupted a miracle followed.

He seemed to keep Himself open so He could turn what looked like a distraction into the gateway to a miracle.

Have you ever heard about the day Jesus was teaching and some parents took their children to Him so He would pray over them and bless them? The disciples scolded the parents for bothering Jesus; they saw the children as a disruption.

But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

He recognized the opportunity to teach His followers about the kind of faith they needed. He knew difference between distraction and divine interruption because He stayed close to the Father, listening for and following God’s plan.

Divine Interruptions are not obstacles to our plan; they are opportunities for us to embrace God’s plan.

God never promised that this life was easy.  If we focus only on the mess of this life, we may just very well miss the miracle God has for us.

I’ve missed too many miracles. I’ve missed too many blessings. I’ve missed many aspects of the life that God wanted for me because I was to focused on “me” and myFalling into place desires.

I believe we need to allow ourselves to be open to Divine Interruptions. God is constantly crossing our path, canceling our plans and sending interruptions in our life to create the change that God wants for us.

When we experience these events… these Divine Interruptions, we think that our life is in total disarray and totally falling apart.

Truth is… if we allow God to do His work… it might finally be falling into place.

One Life: A Life Worth Living

Fifty-six years ago John Lewis used a whites-only restroom in Jackson, Mississippi. Police arrested him and authorities sent him to Parchman Prison. Parchman is the state’s only maximum security prison for men.

Lewis entered that restroom to protest racism in America. He knew that arrest andImage result for wrongfully in prison imprisonment would follow. In the segregated South, during that time in history, black men and even children had been lynched for less.

For the sake of fighting racial injustice, Lewis willingly endured suffering.  Now I can’t say Congressman Lewis and I agree on a lot of things politically but I will say I respect him for standing up against racial injustice and for the fact that he believed in something to the point he was willing to suffer for it.

I am convinced that life’s meaning emerges most clearly when we know what we are willing to suffer for.

I recognize that, for my atheist and agnostic friends, suffering provides the strongest available argument against belief in God. Well, maybe the second strongest argument after Christian hypocrisy, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Let me be clear. Jesus never tries to square all the suffering in the world with a loving God. 

Jesus never says we will not suffer or endure hardship.

Instead, Jesus clearly faces the truth that everybody suffers.

As Jesus puts it, God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)

Your faith does not give you a get-out-of-misery-free card.

Image result for we all sufferJesus does not teach us how to avoid suffering. He teaches us how suffering is involved in making life meaningful. His teaching is summarized in two brief sayings that initially seem difficult to reconcile:

My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24b)

In other words, while we will find comfort and peace in the teachings of Jesus. At the same time, following Jesus involves taking harrowing risks and making significant sacrifices.

The story of John the Baptist illustrates how these teachings complement each other.

After Jesus’ ministry has gotten serious traction, John the Baptist finds himself languishing in prison. It’s bad to be stuck in Herod’s moldy, rat-infested basement. 

I am sure that John soon realized that he wouldn’t leave the palace grounds with his head attached.

John’s blunt criticisms of the establishment and his fierce confrontations with the rich and powerful had landed him in a cell. He had called Israel to a better way. A way that he believed right down to his sandals was God’s way.

After all, he had gotten it from Scripture.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Care for the widow and the orphan.

Do not enrich yourself at the expense of others.

For his efforts he was rotting in jail and facing a grisly execution.

Staring at the walls and fighting back images of the chopping block he soon would face, John started wondering, “Was it worth it?”

Image result for Are  you the OneAnd so, he points and sends his followers to Jesus. He wants to know, “Jesus, are you the one?”

Is God really going to make justice happen? Or am I suffering for nothing? (Matthew 11:3)

Jesus answers by pointing to his works. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11:5)

I take his meaning to be something like this: Would your life be worth living if you didn’t do whatever it takes to pursue the dream of God’s justice for all?

Sure, you could play it safe.

You might save your life by keeping your mouth shut and by going along to get along.

But in a more significant sense, you would lose your life. You would become a hollow soul. Filled with regret and fear and shame.

Why? Because you would know in your heart that you did not stand up for what you believe.  You did not truly find and fulfill your purpose as a believer.

I am convinced that knowing the life for which you will suffer—for which you will make sacrifices—gives your life clarity and purpose.

You then can live comfortably in your own skin.Image result for a life worth living

Jesus isn’t about playing it safe.

You only have one life.

He urges us to follow Him on the way of the cross. 

There will be some suffering along the way.

It is the only way for you and I to live a life worth living.

 

Getting Back to the Basics

I’m reading a lot lately about why today’s church is struggling.  Struggling to meet the needs of their members and ultimately struggling to keep their doors open.

There is an ongoing silent migration away from the church of an estimated 3,500 individuals each and every day.

A recent study indicated that over 1.2 million people will leave the church in the next year.

Several factors are contributing to this trend, but the majority of individuals who are leaving the church report that they no longer feel connected.  The movement away from the church has been ongoing for several decades. The number of churches that are closing their doors every year is leading to an overall decline in church attendance.

It is estimated that over 10,000 churches will close their doors in 2017.

This has led to a growing host of Christians who no longer have a place to connect with other believers.  One article declares ‘we are not meeting the needs of the Millennials’ and another proclaims our irrelevance to the culture around us.

When asked about the importance of church in their lives, 80% of 14-33 year olds reported that church was ‘not important’ to them. They have very different preferences of what church should look like compared to their parents.

It seems there are more reasons for this problem than we could fix.

If we tried to do them all we would become even more irrelevant that we are proclaimed to be already.

So, what do we do?  

Image result for back to the basicsFor me it always goes back to the basics, the fundamentals.  What were we commanded to do?  That’s where we must begin.  

If we focus our attention on this generational change we will lose our way and get lost in pleasing a culture that is more fickle than any that has ever been in the history of man. 

The basics.  

What are they and what does that mean to my life IF I claim I’m a follower of Christ?  

That ‘if’ is crucial.  

IF I claim I’m a Christian, a Christ follower, then I have instructions from Christ himself that frame who I am and how I live.  

They are not suggestive, they are mandatory.  

If I simply declare them irrelevant to our time and culture, I’m declaring Christ irrelevant and his instructions as optional.  If we do that then let’s find another religion.

This one is done. 

So, as simply as I can, let’s cover the basics as Jesus gave them.

Mark 12:28-31 

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”Image result for LOve God, Love People

Love God, love people. 

It comes back to the very essence of what God has made us to be and do.

We were made for love, to give it and receive it.

When I sense I’m loved I draw in closer to the person who loves me. 

We all long for love, real love that loves us even when the person really knows us, knows what we are like and loves us anyway.

God loved us first and invites us into this lifestyle of being loved, loving him and others in response.

It’s the essence of what Christianity is all about. 

If I know God loves me I’m drawn to Him, changed by Him and become like Him in how I respond to others. I, too, begin to love. 

When we get that right a world hungry for real love will be drawn to us, not the church first, but to the real Christ followers. 

When they know they are loved then we can begin to talk about the real lover of our souls, God himself.

The gathering of a bunch of Christ followers loving well is called a church. 

The reason we are losing our impact in our culture is we have lost our instruction manual.

I have to admit that I am ashamed of one aspect of being a believer in my younger years.  I was critical of those who struggled in their walk with Christ.

I was too quick to judge and not to love.

I am still working on that to this very day.  Sometimes that “old man” that I was raises his head every now and then. 

I have learned that when this happens I have to go back to the basics and start over. 

Here’s the instruction manual.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ And, Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Let’s get back to the basics.