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Working toward reliability

Working toward reliability

Do you ever make a commitment to do something and don’t follow through?

Last week a good friend left town for a week with his family. I volunteered to check on their house and feed their fish. I didn’t have to volunteer but I did anyway to make my friend feel good about me. Essentially, I was trying to make myself look good in his eyes by appearing ‘helpful’. The days passed and I didn’t check on their house or feed the fish. Fortunately, the fish didn’t starve to death and his little children didn’t come home from Thanksgiving vacation to Mr. Fish floating belly up. That would have devastated the toddlers.

I had to admit to my good friend what I hadn’t done for him and his family. He forgave me (Thankfully). This may not seem like a big deal but it is because it reveals a larger problem.

It’s interesting how God can gently bring conviction into a heart. Over the last few days, I have had this growing sense of God’s gentle prompting of something I’m NOT doing.

As each day has passed, my attention has been moved toward an area of struggle in my life. It is something I have suffered my whole life. It is self-induced and I must take responsibility for what I am not doing.

Two days ago, an uncomfortable reality about my own nature was crystalized in my mind and my heart grew heavy.

I AM UNRELIABLE

I make promises and commitments I will not keep to people I care about and depend on me to follow through on my word.

This is a very unsettling situation for someone who ‘prides’ themselves on personal integrity. The key word is ‘pride’. I have made huge moral and relational blunders in my past. However, by God’s grace, I have made strides toward personal integrity and living a life that honors God.

My pride has blinded me to the fact that I am completely unreliable. When I don’t fulfill a commitment or keep a promise, that makes me a liar. I must own that fact. This is an integrity issue of monumental proportions! However, it is not ‘who’ I am. I can change. I feel I must change. But I can’t be relied upon to change myself or pull myself up by my proverbial ‘bootstraps.’ Because, remember I am unreliable.

What the heck do I do when I don’t do what I commit to do?

First, I have to admit my problem. I must admit it not only to myself but to others as well. Second, I must admit my need from help. Since, I’m unreliable, I can’t help myself. I must rely on someone else for help. That brings me to the next thing. I must ask the Lord to empower me to become reliable. After all, He is reliable. Next, I must make good on my current commitments and ask for forgiveness from those I’ve let down. Finally, I must ask my spouse and friends to help me and hold me accountable to my commitments.

Do you have any unfulfilled commitments?

Do you have any unkept promises?

Make a list right now. Pray and ask God for help. Enlist a couple close friends or family to hold you accountable.

Should not I pity America, that great nation?

Should not I pity America, that great nation?
Read the headlines from around our nation. What do you see? You see anger, hostility, confusion, selfishness and violence. We are seeing riots and division. What are we not seeing? We are not  seeing compassion, caring or charity.

2800 years ago in ‘the great city’ of Nineveh, we see an evil and cruel people. The entire city was heartless and cold. The lack of love and compassion and a bent toward violence and selfishness is described as sin. Nineveh was within a hair’s breadth of experiencing God’s judgement and destruction. And who could blame Him? If you saw a city full of people filled with rage, hatred, violence and cruelty toward each other, wouldn’t you just want to end it? Why didn’t God go with the ‘nuclear option’ in Nineveh? I would have!

How would you describe the ‘tone’ in our nation today?
Would you describe it as charitable and peaceful or toxic and divisive?

We are a nation divided. The media is helping to drive the division. As a Christ-follower, I must counter this division with a comprehensive worldview anchored the word of God. I am called to think redemptively and pursue reconciliation through God’s love. Why is it so hard?

Here’s the problem. I struggle with my part. When I am constantly called names or told that I am racist, intolerant, etc or characterized with the latest straw-man fallacy, I grow angry because I am none of those things. If I am honest, I must admit I harbor ill-will toward the people who believe I am those things. That is my sin.  I must own up to it.

God is compassionate and we are not!
God called Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah hated Nineveh (a sin) and ran from God (a sin). He eventually ended up in Nineveh (a miracle). His mission was to call for the people to repent and turn to God. In doing so, God would relent from destroying the city, a demonstration of His compassion and love for all people. Nineveh was headed for destruction but God showed compassion.

The people of Nineveh turned to God, He relented and the city was saved! Furthermore, the city prospered. When God showed compassion, Jonah was angry because he didn’t see the people how God saw them. Jonah wanted the city judged and destroyed. Essentially, he was no different than the cruel hateful people of Nineveh. I have to claim that sin for myself.

My part as a Christ-follower
2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

People’s part: People who claim Christ must humble themselves, pray, seek and turn
God’s part: He will hear, forgive and heal

I believe Christ-followers across the nation have humbled themselves and prayed over the last year. I don’t know if we are actively seeking God’s face or turning from our wicked ways. Have you personally confessed the anger and pride in your heart? Frankly, I am writing this to myself.  It is a struggle.

Perhaps, this is my call to the people of God. “Hey church, we bent our knee in humility and prayed. Maybe God is relenting and showing us his compassion. Now, we must be obedient and see this through. We need to seek God’s face and turn from our hatred and divisiveness. We must not boast but reach out in humility and love to a people God loves. And we must act right now! Forget what people say about you, act redemptively and in the spirit of love immediately!”

If we demonstrate God’s love through how we love others, who’s to say how God’s spirit may move upon the people of our nation?

The king of Nineveh said, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

God’s response?
“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”

What is my response? Is it an unrelenting anger, like Jonah?

God is compassionate and we are not
You see Jonah really struggled with getting on the same page as God. We all do.

The last sentence in the book of Jonah ends with a question, “And should not I (God) pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Please allow me a bit of liberty to apply the final verse if I may.

And should not I (God) pity America, that great nation, in which there are more than 320 million people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much wealth?”

I am convinced that we are being tested and challenged. We have the greatest opportunity in generations to reach our nation with the love of Christ.

Please note, this post is a message to Christ-followers (aka, the Church). I do not expect non-believers believer or understand this. But, a believer should consider it and mediate on what God has to say to our culture.

Reference: 2 Chronicles 7 and the Book of Jonah

Repurposing Rage – A Voice from the Street

Repurposing Rage – A Voice from the Street

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Dear America,

I am the quiet voice of the homeless living in the camps within your cities. I am the one you see on the sidewalk as you walk to work or take your kids to school. You are afraid to make eye contact with me because you think all I want is your money. So, you turn your gaze away. In doing so, your heart turns cold.

I see your cars with political stickers. I hear your conversations outside the coffee shop. You complain about this country. You rage against politicians. You rage and gossip and tear each other apart with words as sharp as knives. Yet, you look on me with disdain. Is my life not worthy of mention?

From the street, I see angry people raging against each other and setting the city ablaze.

Throngs of youth push past me and trample on my only possessions screaming about unfairness and equality. Am I not equal?

You don’t really care about people like me. Sure, you say you want to ‘end’ homelessness and other ‘social ills’… But, all you do is talk. You never actually sit with me and ask what its like to be homeless. No, you’d rather people like me be gathered up and removed from your sight. You’d rather I not exist! Do you disagree? Then, why do you act like I don’t exist?

Wisdom’s voice calls from the streets! I may be without a home but I am no fool. After your raging and rioting, you have homes to return to. You have families and friends to share life with.

Rage at what? What does your rage accomplish? How does your rage help people like me? My home is the streets and you have the audacity to leave your comfy dorms, houses and apartments to spill into my home on the streets and cause destruction? How dare you!

Do I storm your campus or property to rage against something I don’t agree with? No, I eat what you throw away and accept the turning of your gaze away. You can’t even look me in the eye. Am I not human? Am I not worth a smile and a kindly nod?

Perhaps you could repurpose your rage to take a step toward me? You have nothing to be afraid of. I was once a child who love playing, just like you. I love ice cream and a beautiful sunset just like you. I have hopes and dreams just like you. Repurpose your rage and greet me in the streets with a kindly light. You will always have me among you.

I’m not looking for a handout, I’m looking for someone who cares more for me than a cause.

Author’s Note: This essay is a simple plea to my countrymen to pause for a moment and consider taking the energy expended against election results and applying that same energy to serving the homeless. Please consider finding a local organization in your city to serve the homeless or those in need. It will change you and improve our communities.

U.S. Elections: What the heck just happened?

U.S. Elections: What the heck just happened?

The US Elections are one for the history books. Here is my analysis. Please bear with me as I draw on chords that lead to what just happened in the US last night. Please understand, I’m making broad observations above politics.

A good friend of mine in Montreal Canada posted a comment on Facebook this morning. He and I are on different sides of the political spectrum. Let me provide a backdrop to our friendship.

Alex and Me - Friends from opposite ends of the political spectrum

Alex and Me – Friends from opposite ends of the political spectrum

In 2004, Alex booked me for a gig at StereoBar in Montreal. I stayed with him and his family. We all enjoyed a home cooked meal as the snow fell on the city. It was a record snowfall. GW Bush was in office. We had a lively political debate and I so enjoyed their company, I remember it fondly to this day. We tolerated each others differences and embrace each other in friendship. Both of us lost our fathers way to early. We share that loss, vigorous debate at times and a love of house music.

Alex’s Facebook post this morning (after elections):
“Urgh. Brexit, Trump – This is what happens when you continuously talk down to people who already feel that they have nothing, and are angry about it. In 2016, working class beats smirking class.”

Alex is spot on in his analysis. Remember, we are from opposite ends of the political spectrum but we find agreement here.

Regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or faith, I believe most people just want to work, enjoy family and be generally left alone. For the past 20 years, the establishment has trespassed into the lives of normal folks trying to live quiet normal lives. Trump and Sanders are what you get when the establishment starts exerting its will on everyday folks. I think ‘the Bern’ phenomenon speaks just as loudly as Trump. There has been a shift in American political culture.

I think the turnout in the US will be a study into the anthropology of a cultural shift.

What cultural shift?
Let me draw on some historical chords that stand out in my mind. I’m not positing moral equivalency here. I am simply ‘thinking out loud’ for the sake of discussion.

Baby-Boomers
The Woodstock Flower-Power generation challenged the established authority and found unity in disrupting the status quo. They activated for racial equality, freedom of speech and expression, sexual freedom and anti-war. Somewhere along the line, this movement was subverted by an insurgent movement emanating from the academy (universities). 30-40 years later, the anti-authority Boomers became the established authority in America. They eventually violated their original cause. They undermined the very freedoms they fought for in the 1960s. That was one cultural shift worth noting.

Arab Spring
In 2010, the world witnessed a populist uprising against the establishment in a few countries in the Arab world. This is still unfolding six years later. But, its worth noting, it began with everyday folks rejecting the establishment.

Brexit
This year, the UK surprised the world when it held a referendum to leave the EU. The people voted to challenge the establishment. This is still unfolding.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump
As an anthropologist and student of culture, I don’t know what is more interesting, the Bernie phenomena or Trump’s victory. If the Bernie would have been allowed to run against Trump, I think he would have won handily (not by a landslide but handily). However, the DNC establishment wanted none of it. I know Sanders supporters who voted Trump because it’s not a left vs right thing anymore… it’s a establishment vs the people thing. Bernie brought that to light and Trump played that chord. It resonated with the people.

Bernie and Trump supporters are at opposite ends of the left vs. right spectrum. Yet, they are in agreement in their challenge to the political and economic establishment and power structure. Their means are different but they both are convinced the status quo must go.

So, here we are on the first page of a new chapter in history. As the ink spills and fills the future pages of this book, it is worth noting ‘what the heck just happened’ is not a political shift but a cultural shift. Politics and legislation are lagging indicators of the culture. The anti-establishment movement is the new establishment. Hopefully, it does not succumb like past movements.

As the Zen Master once said, “We’ll see what happens….”

We Become Whatever We Pursue

We Become Whatever We Pursue

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Several years ago, I decided to do my first triathlon. It was a sprint distance course which is the shortest distance. For a rookie triathlete, a sprint may as well be an full Ironman.

For years, I had been a hard partier. I drank, smoked and partook in various extracurricular activities (ie. drugs). In high school and first two years of college I was an athlete. I was a varsity swimmer, I wrestled and played lacrosse. However, the party animal lifestyle is what I pursued.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped being an athlete and started being a party animal.

What happened?

I became what I pursued. We all do. Most the time were are unaware of the change until we look back and have an ‘ah ha’ moment.

Training for my first triathlon revealed the damage of my pursuit of partying. My lungs didn’t work properly, my swim sucked and I could not run more than a few miles.

After my first race, I realized something had changed. I had become a triathlete. Today, I enjoy longer races, like the half Ironman. I can run a marathon, swim two miles and bike 60+ miles if I want.

I transitioned from being a broken down partier to an athlete because I became what I pursued.

  • If you want to be a good father or mother, you must intentionally pursue it.
  • If you want to be a good spouse or friend, you must pursue it.
  • If you want to know God, you must pursue him.

However, if you pursue worthless things, you will become worthless. If you pursue material things, you will become lifeless, just like material things.

In Jeremiah 2, Israel pursued lifeless idols of money, sex and power (Baal). All of it was worthless. They became worthless. Today, people pursue idols of self-gratification, self-deification, money, sex and power. Not much has changed.

What or who are you pursuing?

God vs. the NSA – The ways of man cannot be hidden

God vs. the NSA – The ways of man cannot be hidden

GOD VS NSA

Last night, I found myself reading about the Edward Snowden. He is the NSA guy who broke the news that the US Government has been gathering massive amounts of electronic data on US citizens. Snowden has currently found asylum in Russia. I find the unfolding story intriguing. Everything from phone calls and emails to text messages and other forms of private communication have been swept into NSA data bases. Suffice to say, the NSA knows a lot about millions of Americans. It got me to thinking this morning after reading Proverbs 8.

“For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He pondereth all his goings.” (Proverbs 8:18 KJV)

Not only are the actions and deeds of a man (or woman) known by God but, God knows a man’s thoughts and motives. Nothing can be hidden from God.

We are prone to hide anyway. Whether it is the tantalizing lustful fantasy or desire of a sexual nature or pride wrapped in the robes of radiant humility, ALL is known by God.

Perhaps its the good deed done in hopes of recognition by the world? ALL is known by God.

Only the regenerate, reborn, remade, redeemed heart can be pricked by the blade of the Holy Spirit; capturing and dragging the motivation in chains to the cross. This is where Christ puts it to death and renews a man’s spirit with His Grace and love.

The rebellious unregenerate heart will be ruled by passions and motivations.

In the final analysis, a man has a choice. He can remain in bondage to a cycle of base impulses like sex and self. Alternatively, he can capture his thoughts and put them to death and freedom is achieved.

What are the characteristics of the thoughts running through your mind?
The answer will reveal whether you are in bondage or freedom.

While you may be able to hide from the NSA, the ways of man cannot be hidden from God.  ALL is known by God.

By This We Know Love

By This We Know Love

By this we know love
When someone says, ‘I’m a Christian’ the first thing I look for is evidence of love. Let’s talk about what we mean when we use the word ‘Love’.

‘Love’ is a blanket term describing a variety of things spanning from sexual love to commitment to pleasure in someone or something. I ‘love’ ice cream and I also ‘love’ my wife… What’s the difference?

In Greek, there are four words used to describe what we call ‘love’. I appreciate the Greek because the words are rich in meaning and contain dimensions our English word ‘love’ simply does not contain.

Love rendered in Greek… simply.

  • Storge means the love or affection of family (parent and children)
  • Philia means affection between friends or equals. Think brotherly love (Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love)
  • Eros means sexual or romantic love. This is where we get the word, ‘erotic.’

‘Agape’ love is the highest form of love. Agape love is a sacrificial love and is an act of the will. Meaning, this love is a choice and has a cost. This love delights in its object and is sacrificial in its essence. Let me clarify. Agape love does not mean total acceptance of acceptance of bad behavior or choices. I can love you and absolutely disagree with you at the same time.

So how do we recognize ‘agape’ love?

Look for the sacrifice. Which means humility and an act of the will will be involved. It will be an abiding affection, delight and commitment by the one expressing it.  The value I place on the object of my love is directly linked to what I’m willing to sacrifice.  The higher the cost, the greater the love.  How can I find delight in sacrificing ourselves? Great question!

Here is the hard part of understanding ‘agape’ love. Agape love must come from outside one’s self. Other affections are self-manufactured and may have self-gratification undergirding them. Meaning that other ‘lower’ forms of love can have selfish motivations driving them. Only agape is completely SELFLESS.

The Evidence of abiding faith in Jesus Christ is love ‘in deed and in truth.”

This love is the pinnacle of love expressed as ‘agape’ love – sacrificial love.

With this love there is a cost involved.

With this love there is a choice – an act of the will.

This ‘agape’ love must come from outside ourselves.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down out lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (John 3:16).

There will be a cost…. there will be a sacrifice with this love.

Humility Matters

If you could listen to others describe you, do you think they would say that you are ‘humble’?

I’m certain people would not describe me as ‘humble’. I’m a lot of things but ‘humble’ is not on of them. However, that does not mean I give up on humility. By no means!  Humility is something we can strive for and cultivate.

#HumilityMatters
We live in a culture that places a higher value on personality over humility. As a whole, the leaders we look to demonstrate strong personality traits over strong character traits like humility. I think we’ve lost our way. Perhaps its time for us to recalibrate and course correct as a people.

Humility matters because it truly puts others before one’s self. True humility crosses all dividing lines of race, sex, nationality, etc.

Where do we find this model of humility? Who is the humble hero of our age? We’ve fallen for the lure of big personalities and they let us down. Jim Collins describes humility as a major factor in successful leadership in his book ‘Good to Great’. Conversely, Collins describes ‘Hubris’ (pride) as a major factor in failure in his book, ‘How the Mighty Fall.

Like most things in life, we learn through the demonstration of others. I learned to open doors for others by seeing my dad open doors for others. I learned how to add and subtract by watching my teacher. At some point we must take what we have learned and apply it.

In his book, ‘Humility: True Greatness’, C.L. Mahaney describes humility “as an honest assessment of ourselves in light of God’s Holiness and our sinfulness”. We must have a point of reference on which to base and measure humility. God is the reference point. Jesus Christ is the map that shows us the way to humility.

What does true humility look like?
It looks like Jesus.

Read the passage below.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)

Read it again and focus on the bold.

Humility Matters because true humility stands champion over personality and other ‘character’ traits! If you and I are constantly putting our own interests and rights aside for one another there is no room for hatred or divisiveness. How can I hate someone who I’m willing to set my life aside for or who has set their life aside for me?

We’ve tried following personality. It doesn’t work! Maybe its time to follow humility.

Let’s look at the my original question but one month down the road.

ONE month from now, If you could listen to others describe you, do you think they would say that you are ‘humble’?

The truth is, #HumilityMatters and deep in your heart you know it.

A devotional for the day – June 16, 2016

A devotional for the day – June 16, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 7.24.52 AMThe devotional below was distilled from Psalm 148:1 and Proverbs 16.

Father,
You alone are worthy of praise. I commit my work to you today, Lord, that my plans will be established. May my ways be pleasing to you, so that my enemies will be at peace with me. As my heart plans my way today, Lord please establish my steps.

I prefer your wisdom over wealth. Guide my path toward righteousness and away from evil. May I guard my words and path to preserve my life and witness.

Guard me from pride that leads to destruction. I trust in you alone Lord and humbly ask for blessing. I know that apart from your grace, I am dead. Amen

For those called into Gospel Ministry:
You received The Call to serve the Lord in ministry. That Call came from the same voice who called Abram (Abraham) our of the Ur of the Chaldeans. This is the same voice who Called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, the Prophets, the Twelve Apostles and Paul. It is the same voice. What a blessing and honor….. What a fearful privilege and responsibility.

Called into His glorious Light!

Is your heart breaking today?

It’s been a little over two months since my father died of pancreatic cancer. The images of his suffering haunt me. I tried to ease his pain but found myself to be helpless. I’m left with a broken heart. But, not one tear is wasted.

One thing I know. God is near the brokenhearted. In the midst of suffering, His Spirit ministers to us. He knows pain and suffering all to well.

Having experienced the love of Christ, it is impossible to deny this truth. In the midst of a dying father, there is pain with peace and there is sadness with joy. In asking ‘why’, I discover wisdom. In the foaming sea of emotions, truth is the lighthouse. God is near the brokenhearted regardless of how I feel at any given moment.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

With a broken heart, I confidently draw near to the throne of grace that I may receive mercy and find grace to help in my time of need.

In the final analysis, I don’t ‘need’ much in life. What I need is Grace. Grace is sufficient for me and mercies that are new every morning. That is what we all need!

Here’s the kicker. Grace can be a tough pill to swallow because accepting grace and God’s love goes against our self-sufficiency and pride. If I’m injured and refuse treatment due to pride, how can someone bind up my wounds so I can heal? If I need the care of another, I’m going to need to draw near to them to receive that care. It’s about recognizing our true needs.

Is your heart breaking over something today?

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you… He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.