Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A GRATEFUL HEART

It's been awhile since I wrote my last post. That post on was on July 2; a few days later, on July 9, my world was rocked hard by the death of my son, Joel. As I have emerged from the shadows of the valley of death, I have seen God walk me through my fears, through the evil surrounding me, and prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies (Psalm 23).  Here now, as we come upon the feast of Thanksgiving, I am reminded of how much I have to be grateful for, in spite of this year’s losses.

In the past year I have lost my father-in-law, who I loved very much. Then I lost two dear friends in January, one to cancer and the other to suicide. Then just as the year seemed to take an upswing--crash--my son committed suicide. We were very close.  Our family was tightly knit, so then how did I not see it coming? Why didn't he talk to us? I will never be able to answer those questions . . . and so goes more loss.

Yet, this I know, I still have an amazing family. I love my children! I love my mom, step-dad, mother-in-law, brothers-in-law, etc. They are the best of family. Just weeks before Joel died my oldest daughter got married to a great guy. I really love him. He takes good care of her, and he loves our family. His family is also a great blessing, and they have been very supportive. Also we have another grandchild on the way.  But above all else, I have a loving wife who I get to share this life with.

I also have many, many friends who have stood by me in the most devastating moment of my life. They did not run away, but instead, ran to my side. Some of them came from great distances to uplift  and care for us. Some of them live here in town, and they are still helping me day-by-day. They listen. They don't try to solve my hurt (they cannot); they don't try to say something meaningful (neither should you); they just sit and listen, and then they pray for me. They invite us to dinner. They do little things to remind us  we are loved.

I have enjoyed some very special times with my friends and family. I have enjoyed the pleasant weather of Florida. I have been to the mountains of North Carolina  and twice driven from coast to coast this year. I have been to my hometown, El Paso, Texas, to eat tacos and hug friends. I have been on a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean and fished quiet lakes in Florida.  I turned 50 this year, and I am in good health, enough to run a few 5k races. I have a beautiful home; I enjoy exotic foods, and I can even afford to buy some. I have transportation, AC, and I can go on, and on, and on.

This Sunday I am beginning a series of messages on  A Grateful Heart. Just writing about this makes my heart lighter. I’m excited.  Just sharing these thoughts breaks through the cloud of darkness and ushers in the light of hope. I am grateful!

The best part of it all? God has never let me down. Some are surprised that I can say that. They are thinking about my son's suicide. Joel was an amazing young man. I loved his sense of humor; I miss his hugs. I enjoyed some very special times with him. I also lived through a few of his bad decisions, and he lived through some of mine. When I made them, and he suffered, I asked him for forgiveness.  He gave it to me. Likewise, I had to forgive my son many times over. I always taught my kids  they have to own their “stuff,” their decisions and actions It's not someone else's fault when they do wrong, and, it is not God's fault.  It certainly wasn’t God’s fault that Joel made a bad decision that cost him his life. I cannot be disappointed with God over Joel's decision. So I say again, God has never let me down, not even in my second darkest hour. (My darkest hour was when I was lost in sin and without hope.)

Every day, I am so grateful God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to rescue me in my darkest hour, and that he comforts me in every dark hour since.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

VALUING THE GENERATIONS

We talk a lot of about loving our neighbors and about how to treat the lost. Recently I have talked a great deal about objectifying people by placing them in categories by their religion, political party, sexual orientation, etc., and then reducing them to a set of bullet points we can attack. When we are filled with compassion it means we, at the gut level, feel their personal hurts and pains and empathize with the reasons why they think or feel like they do. Instead of judging them we can love them into a relationship with Christ. Without love we can never lead them to Christ from an objective position.
With that in mind, I want to talk to you about intergenerational relationships…
There is a lot of marketing being done by targeting age groups. It began with the Baby Boomers (those born between 1945-1965) and the  GenX/Baby Busters (1966-1986). Finally they identified Generation Y/Millennials (1987-2007), and on it goes. As each group is identified and marketed towards, the characteristics of each generation are used to make sweeping conclusions about each generation that are often unfair.
For instance, critics of Baby Boomers say they are greedy, self-centered, and materialistic. Critics of GenX say they  are deconstructionist, nihilist, and don’t play by the rules. Then critics of the Millennials think they need trophies for everything and melt at the slightest hardship. However, I can say I know lots of generous, selfless Boomers. I know GenX who are “by the book” and find meaning in everything. I know Millennials who live sacrificial lives on the mission field completely free of accolades. Assumptions about people based on age are not entirely unfounded, but when we use that information to dismiss,  belittle, or judge whole groups of people then we have violated the Spirit of Christ.  
These intergenerational struggles have been around since the beginning when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, when Cain killed Abel and their parents gave birth to Seth. It's normal, but normal is messed-up and sinful. Being normal does not make something ok. In 1 Timothy 5 we read: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” The church is called to view each generation as a gift to the body. Every generation has strengths (and, yes, weaknesses), and we need to glean from every generation what they know, what they do best, and value them for it.
Listen, the next generation does not lack information because they have the Internet, but what they need is sage wisdom in what to do with that information. The older generation may not know as much about the Internet, but they know how to do things you are trying to learn from a YOUTUBE video. They have life skills that once were common and now are virtually unknown. More than that, discussion about what is happening in the world right now, seeing it through the eyes of more than one generation, gives us perspective. I love when I get to talk with and listen to people from different perspectives because they help me develop a bigger picture.
In the church, we need the youth to engage and be the church today, not the church of the future. That will be too late. We must reach the young without dismissing everyone else.  
We need the life skills and resources of other generations. We need parents and grandparents; we need to remember every “new thing” is not really that new. In fact, it has often been done before, and we can learn from the past as well as the present. We need the patience of those who know “it” will still be here tomorrow, and we need the exuberance of youth who push us ahead because it seems like we will never get there otherwise.
Intergenerational ministry is as important as intercultural and interracial ministries. We are called to reach every ethnicity, every culture, and every age group with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s never ok to make it all about this group or that group or to value one group over the other. No matter how you justify that position, in the end, it violates the spirit of the gospel and the Kingdom.


Monday, June 19, 2017

THE FATHER HEART OF GOD AND FATHER'S DAY


Mother’s Day is always a big hit. We spend billions of dollars on flowers, candy, and cards to tell Moms how wonderful and important they are. Father’s Day on the other hand gets little notice and tends to belittle men rather than value them. So many men view Father’s Day at church with suspicion, believing that they will be lectured in contrast to Mom’s praises. So that is why I always try to make Father’s day upbeat and positive. Yesterday, we gave out Beef Jerky to all the men, and we told the men of our church that they are awesome. Let me tell you why the church today needs to know the Father Heart of God.

One of the most important images in the Bible is the Father image. You cannot read the Bible and not see the importance of the Father Heart of God to understanding the story of the Bible. When I became a Christian I became acutely aware of the imagery of God in the Bible as Father, and of his unconditional love. I read clearly in the Bible that while we were yet enemies, Christ died for us. I also read that God so loved the World that he sent his Son. Together those two passages told me that God loved me, and there was nothing he would not do for me, so while there was a lot about the Bible and Christianity I did not understand I was at least certain of that. One of the things that made this easiest to grasp was my own earthly dad. While my Dad was not a perfect man, I knew for certain he loved me, and he would do anything for me, this helped me to grasp the idea that regardless of my behavior God that loved me. So I easily attached myself to the Father Heart of God. I know that many people did not have a loving dad when they were growing up, but I know that as human beings, deep-down inside, we know it is supposed to be that way, that they should have had unconditional love from their dad’s.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying my dad was a pushover. I not saying my dad never expressed disappointment in me, or frustration over my behavior. My dad and I had some pretty serious fights, especially in my teen years. What my dad did so well was to convey unconditional love for me. He constantly told me he loved me, he never avoided showing me manly affection of hugs, kissing my head, and swatting me on the butt as I ran onto the football field or into the ring. My dad called me pet names, like Tiger and Champ. He also told me what I was good at, and praised me for the things I did well. My Dad showed me his heart for me. He also busted my chops, and my butt, depending on which he thought I needed. I learned about leadership from him. I learned about not running away from my problems (or he would give my ball back to the kids I ran away from). My dad also taught me to face my fears, and he taught me to shake off my failures and get back in the game. He put me behind the wheel within minutes of my first accident and made me drive home so I would not let my fears overcome me. By his love for me my dad taught me more about God than anyone else in the whole world.

Listen, the stats are overwhelmingly in favor of growing up with a dad, even a not so great dad. Children raised with a father in the house are far less likely to be abused or live in poverty. Moreover, dad is the number one determiner of faith. The likelihood of a child being an authentic disciple of Christ is directly proportionate to dad’s faithfulness. Dad matters!

If you did not have that in your life I am so sorry. I know our Father in Heaven can make it right, and heal the broken place in your heart to reveal God’s great love for you. But if you did grow-up in a home with a loving Dad, make sure and tell him how much his love means to you!