Give Me Your Tired and Poor

One of the sweetest memories I have growing up in New York City is the view of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry. Growing up, I lived on Staten Island and, for a few years, went to Brooklyn Technical High School, a magnet type of engineering school. I have vivid memories of seeing Lady Liberty as I traveled to school each day (I took a bus, ferry and subway) and think that she represents some of the best things about America. A poem by Emma Lazarus is graven on a tablet within the pedestal on which the statue stands. Here is what it says:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

With election day one week away please join me in praying for America ... that we would be a people who care for the poorest amongst us and shows love for the immigrant. While you are at it pray for our churches and religious groups that care for our homeless, hurting and struggling brothers and sisters. Lady Liberty would appreciate it.

The Jungle: The Struggle to Follow

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a vision that I had about a man walking in a jungle. I followed that post up with another where I introduced the idea of the "Three Struggles of the Heart". I discussed in that post the first struggle: "The Struggle to Survive". Today I want to discuss the second struggle: "The Struggle to Follow".

We pick up the vision story just as the man has taken his first step of faith. So far the journey has been one of intense struggle ... a journey marked with desperation and pain. A Lion has shockingly appeared before the man and invited him to follow Him. The man has taken his first step in following the Lion. He is filled with both wonder and fear ... he is walking a path he has never walked before. This struggle to follow reminds me of a quote from "Waking the Dead", a book by John Eldredge:
"The story of your life is the story of the journey of your heart through a dangerous and beautiful world. It's the story of the long and sustained assault on your heart by the Enemy who knows who you could be ... and fears you. But it's also the story of the long and mysterious pursuit of your heart by the God who knows you truly and loves you deeply."
Following Jesus is an intense struggle. So often we forget that we forget that we have an Enemy. This is the way that Jesus, Paul and Peter put it:
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Isn't it interesting that our spiritual battle involves two different lions ... Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and Satan, the roaring lion. I often get caught up in the journey - following Jesus and forgetting that I have an Enemy who fights me at every turn. This Enemy is happy to let me live from my head ... He offers little resistance when I am outwardly religious but confronts every step I take in becoming who I am at a heart level. He is happy to allow me to follow Jesus at a head level.

Following Jesus with our heads is a tiring and joyless trip into the land of burnout, frustration and discouragement. Following Jesus in this way affirms the idea that we do not have an enemy ... an adversary ... one who intensely wars against us to rob us and kill our hearts. When we awake to this spiritual warfare we begin to follow Jesus in a different way ... our prayer life is different ... our hearts begin to shine and we begin to experience life at a different level. It is only when we awake to the idea of spiritual warfare that we begin to take that leap onto the back of the Lion.

Church Speak

About 20 years ago ... when I had finally shed most of my Brooklynese ... I began to realize that I still spoke two different English dialects. I spoke one flavor of English when I was around my church friends and another whenever I was around everyone else. I began then to try to synthesize these two dialects into one that could be used regardless of who I was talking to. It wasn't too hard around non-church folks but a bit different for my church friends. Thanks to Bruce and Bob for the link to this one minute video that captures this struggle of language in a very funny way.

Maybe, if we try very hard, we can all eliminate words like these from our vocabulary:
  • Christian: why not use believer?
  • Saved: why not say believed in Jesus?
  • Salvation: why use it at all?
  • Repentance: isn't change good enough?
  • Eucharist: how about (holy) communion?
You get the idea. Maybe you can help us and comment with a few other alternatives to "Church Speak". I need all of the help that I can get.

A Mixed Bouquet

On Thursday Janet Detcher posted about Elmer Hollings' passing on the Kanner Lake blogsite. Kanner Lake is a place where characters from Brandilyn Collin's new novel, Violet Dawn, come alive through the writings of people like me, Jason Joyner and, in this past Thursday's post, Kim Thomas. Jason and I post as Pastor Hank Detcher and Kim posts as Hank's wife Janet.

Kim recently wrote a beautiful heartfelt story about God's ministry to her in pain. It was published by Faith Writers Magazine. Following is a reprint of that article.
A Mixed Bouquet
By Kimberly Thomas

I understand it's been raining where you are ... I mean REALLY raining. Life-storms can sure dump on a person, can't they? I know all about that.

Recently I found a little verse in Psalm 71:20: "Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again." David knew about storms, and like him, many of us have had our share of "troubles, many and bitter."

I've certainly had my portion.

I lost my husband to cancer. Ten weeks from start to finish. Yes, it was hard. It was a tornado. Yes, that storm re-arranged life as I knew it. But it has long since settled down and God restored many things.

I struggled to regain my strength after a stroke. The neurologist told me I should have died. I didn't. That storm wreaked havoc in my life. But, like David, I knew God would restore my life again.

He did. And today, though I should be dead, you would never know I ever had that stroke.

The year after I married again, our newborn son was diagnosed with severe Hemophilia. We were not prepared for that deluge and we wondered what it would mean for our son. By the grace of God, we have learned to navigate those uncharted waters.

In spite of the heavy rains in my life, I have discovered an abundance of blessing … sort of the "flowers after the showers."

I have seen the FAITHFULNESS of God, and I have seen my own FAITH grow. I know that regardless of what the storm looks like, my anchor is held firm in my Rock and my Salvation. What He promises, He will do.

I have learned to LAUGH and to have joy in the middle of the downpour. Proverbs 17:22 tells us, "A cheerful heart is good medicine." I have a cheerful heart, and it is well with my soul. Laughter of the heart can transcend the deepest grief.

According to Rev. Fred Lowery, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Bossier City, Louisiana, "Laughter is essential for a balanced life and healthy wellbeing."


There have been lessons in OBEDIENCE. What peace there is in obeying God's call, and obeying His word to stand firm! A portion of Deuteronomy 6:3 tells us to "…be careful to obey so that it may go well with you." God knows what He's doing when He leads me down a path that's unfamiliar. He made the map … I will trust His directions. I will follow Him, and I will have no fear, and it will go well with me.

I discovered a new level of WORSHIP. Psalm 108:3-5: "I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth."

Worship opens our hearts to God in new and intimate ways. It allows Him to fill us with his love, forgiveness and healing.

I know how to EMPATHIZE with others who been through storms. I understand grief. I understand physical pain. I understand fear of the unknown. I understand depression.

I've learned that through my heartache, I can offer help and hope as others face similar trials. Galatians 6:2 calls us to "Carry each other's troubles and problems, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." As Christ-followers, if we've "been there, done that," it's our privilege to share in the pain of our brothers and sisters and walk alongside them in their struggle.

I have learned to REST in the peace of God. "When you demand answers, you sacrifice peace." That's His word to my aching spirit. I rejoice in the REST found in His strength, care, and in the miracle of His life-changing power.

One more thing I've found is STRENGTH. I have learned that, like Paul, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). When God calls me to pain, He provides the power I need to get through it. I am stronger now than before the showers.

Have you noticed? My discoveries spell F-L-O-W-E-R-S. It's a mixed bouquet, but I'm tying a ribbon around it and offering it to my Father. I think He'll love it!

(All scripture is taken from the New International Version.)

Kim Thomas is married and the mother of four children, ages 18, 15, 6 and 2. She lives in St. Charles IL, and enjoys reading, traveling, music, writing, public speaking, and spending time with her family. Kim is in the process of writing an autobiography based on her life experience in the death of her first husband.

The Jungle: The Struggle to Survive

Last week I wrote a post about a vision that I had about a man walking in a jungle. I wrote asking for some feedback and promised that I would share a few of my thoughts on the vision at a later time. I have to say that, a week later, I have a few thoughts about this that I didn't have last week. It seems to me that the vision is a picture of struggle that unfolds in three parts - three separate struggles that I am calling "Three Struggles of the Heart". Here are the struggles as I see them:
  1. The struggle to Survive
  2. The struggle to Follow
  3. The struggle to Trust

Today I would like to discuss the struggle of survival. In the vision I saw a man lost in a dense jungle ... he hacked away at the underbrush trying to find a way out of the jungle. I am not sure that I can portray in words the sense of desperation that I felt as I looked at the jungle through the man's eyes. In a sense life really is a jungle. Listen to this and see if you get a sense of the struggle:

The Song of the Little Hunter

Ere Mor the Peacock flutters, ere the Monkey People cry,
Ere Chil the Kite swoops down a furlong sheer,
Through the Jungle very softly flits a shadow and a sigh--
He is Fear, O Little Hunter, he is Fear!
Very softly down the glade runs a waiting, watching shade,
And the whisper spreads and widens far and near.
And the sweat is on thy brow, for he passes even now--
He is Fear, O Little Hunter, he is Fear!

Ere the moon has climbed the mountain, ere the rocks are ribbed with light,
When the downward-dipping trails are dank and drear,
Comes a breathing hard behind thee--snuffle-snuffle through the night--
It is Fear, O Little Hunter it is Fear,
On thy knees and draw the bow; bid the shrilling arrow go;
In the empty, mocking thicket plunge the spear!
But thy hands are loosed and weak, and the blood has left thy cheek--
It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!

When the heat-cloud sucks the tempest, when the slivered pine-trees fall,
When the blinding, blaring rain-squalls lash and veer,
Through the war-gongs of the thunder rings a voice more loud than all--
It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!
Now the spates are banked and deep; now the footless boulders leap--
Now the lightning shows each littlest leaf--rib clear--
But thy throat is shut and dried, and thy heart against thy side
Hammers: Fear, O Little Hunter--this is Fear!

-- Rudyard Kipling

Survival drips with the refrain "It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear! ". Fear and desperation are the hallmarks of survival. Machetes in hand we all begin trying get our bearings in the jungle ... trying make our way in the darkness ... it is a period marked with desperation and fear. It is in this time when we discover that we have lost our way. We give up on ourselves and no longer trust our ability to 'think our way' out of the jungle.

It is during this time that the Lion appears with a roar. We are initially afraid - after all, lions are scary. The Lion surprises us and speaks to us ... yikes, a talking lion? The Lion is not like us - He is different in every way. The Lion is not afraid of the jungle. He challenges us by His friendship and His desire to show us the way out of the jungle. Everything in our head cries out against the Lion. Our head tells us that He is taking us to His den to eat us ... more fear arises as we ponder the words of the Lion ... how can we overcome the fear? Then ... overcoming our 'rational' fears ... we take a step with our heart ... it is the first step of real survival. It is the first time that we walk with our heart and not our head. It is the first step out of the jungle.

Pray for the Sudan

Kelli Standish has a good post on the Sudan. I don't think much about this country ... maybe posts like these will help turn our hearts to pray. This video is especially moving ... take a few minutes out of your busy day and watch it ... let your heart break and pray for these that Jesus loves.

No Shortcuts

The following great article is brought to you by my friend Nathan Malone ... born in Kansas but currently living in Texas.

“Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21)

A few days ago, God stirred my heart to study about David. I was fascinated that after God had anointed him king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16 that he faced years of struggle before he actually became king. As God was showing me the struggles that David went through, He showed me something I found interesting. When Saul wanted to kill David and David ran, there were two instances (1 Sam. 24:3-7 & 1 Sam. 26:5-10) in which David had the opportunity to kill Saul and become king. In spite of the support of David’s men, David chose not to kill Saul. As I was reading those two instances I heard the Lord speak to my heart, “No shortcuts”.

I believe that as many of us are standing on promises and plans that God has given to us, there are opportunities for us to take shortcuts. By shortcuts I mean our attempts to “take things into our own hands”. David was given two opportunities to kill Saul and thus, accelerate God’s plan through his efforts. While in the midst of these opportunities David showed an unwavering focus toward God’s agenda, even when his destiny seemed within his grasp. He knew that if it was God who had chosen him to be king, it would be God who fulfilled that promise.

The years of struggle and rejection that David experienced had God’s fingerprints all over them. If God’s only desire was to make David king, He could have struck Saul dead and installed David as king instantly. Instead, God used those years of struggle to strengthen the heart of the worshipper and warrior that would lead Israel. Through what David suffered, he experienced the power that comes from total surrender to God’s purposes. Because of his obedience, he experienced a level of protection, provision, and promotion that only God could provide.

When we take a shortcut it robs us of the experience of God’s salvation in our lives. When we miss that experience we miss the true reward: seeing God as “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). At the end of every battle that we are facing in our lives there is a promise to be fulfilled, a prayer to be answered, and a plan to be established. Our responsibility is to believe God is who He says He is and that He will do what He said He would do (Heb. 11:6). Every promise, prophecy, and plan that God has given to us, He intends to fulfill. The question is “Will we allow Him to finish what He has started?”

God is showing me that my shortcuts need to be avoided at all costs. I pray that He does the same in your life.

Every Little Boy Needs a Hero

Last week I posted about the passing of one of my heroes, Buck O'Neil. This week I received the below eulogy via email from my friend John and wanted to share it with you. It is a eulogy shared by the stepson of Cecil Miller, a Kansas City man. His eulogy is a testament to God's grace in Cecil's life. Enjoy.

Every little boy needs a hero. The year was 1975, and I was every little boy. My life had been turned upside down and stripped of any decent male influence. In modern parlance, we would say that I was a child at risk. Mom was working hard and providing for us; we didn’t go hungry or lack shelter, but children certainly have needs beyond these. Then I met my hero, God’s chosen way of meeting many of those needs in my life. Thus I became one of the fortunate few who gets to live in the same house as a real-life hero.

In the summer of 2005 Laura, the children, and I came to Kansas City to visit Dad and Mom. I asked him why it was that when he was a young man with cultural permission to do nearly whatever he pleased, that he chose to obligate himself to a woman with three little children. Dad said it was because he loved us all, and because he was aware of some acute needs in his own life. He was a broken man, he said, broken largely by the consequences of his own decisions that had cost him his first family and had strained his relationship with his parents, too. And somehow in getting to know mom and all of us, he could see his own salvation on the horizon. He saw faith and stability and responsibility and reciprocal love—all things he needed. And he saw a chance to give his life away in the interest of the well-being of others, a chance to go beyond merely living for himself. I will forever be grateful that he chose Mom and all of us. He needed us and we needed him, and with the helping hand of God guiding the whole process, we all healed and became whole together.

The number of men about whom the word, “hero,” can rightly be used are pretty few in my estimation. To earn this title a man must learn the definition of love, and then live it consistently. At the congregation I serve in Whitefish, Montana, we’ve learned the following Biblical definition of love that we often recite aloud together: “Love is a demonstrated preference for the well-being of others, over and above myself, even at great personal expense, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit.” Dad truly loved us and made that clear. He loved many of you, too, with a love that moved him to pray for you diligently. If a person is extremely fortunate, he or she may be able to count on two hands the number of people who pray for them by name daily. Many of us who are seated in this room today were the subject of daily private conversations between Dad and his God. How did he pray for you? He prayed about any needs or difficulties that you faced, and he prayed that you would know the power of forgiveness received from God and offered, then, to those who hurt you. He prayed that you could know the freedom of a cleansed conscience, and the joy of giving your lives away in service to others. I wonder who will take his place, who will pray for us without fail?

I love Dad deeply, and always will. He rescued me from what I might have become if my birth father had been the primary male influence in my life. He taught me the value of working hard, of studying even harder, of protecting the weak, and of giving my life away in serving the well-being of others. He taught me the power of prayer, the certainty of the Christian faith, and the invigorating enjoyment of facing challenges head-on. He showed me the importance of extending grace and forgiveness to others quickly, before resentment has a chance to take root. “Water off a duck’s back, son; let it roll off like water off a duck’s back.” I think that’s the single greatest thing he ever taught me; it has made life sweet instead of bitter. He taught me to laugh more than I complain, and often entertained us with fantastic, epic tales of adventures that took place only in his mind, though he told the stories as though they were real. Before we were old enough to discern the telltale twinkle in his eyes, we thought our dad had been a world traveler, a spy, a fierce fighter and an explorer of wild, unconquered lands. All these stories, he said, were the adventures of him and his old friend, Lynn Mazuch. One time, just for the sheer fun of hearing us laugh, Dad dove into the pig pen on our farm and wrestled a feeder pig, rolling and grunting and straining like it was a death match. Dad won, and I’m not sure who squealed louder—the pig, us children, or Mom considering the prospect of putting those bib overalls into her washing machine!

Dad taught me to be loyal, a lesson that he wished he had learned earlier in life. He and Mom knew that God had called me to pastoral ministry, and they offered constant encouragement and accountability regarding the decisions I made as a teen and young man so that I wouldn’t disqualify myself from the service of God. They pushed me hard to excel at whatever I set my hand to, to finish my education, and to never forsake God’s call on my life. I am who I am today, and I serve the people I serve today, and I enjoy the blessings so lavishly poured into my lap today because they helped me stay the course.

On occasion and with sincere humility, Dad would tell me of the mistakes he had made. He wanted me to learn from them so as not to repeat them. It’s a fool who says, “You made your mistakes, now let me make mine,” so I listened and tried to learn. Dad grieved his sin with heavy sighs and an occasional tear and with words of apology and warning offered to his son. In the privacy of our little fishing boat, he would lay life out for me, explaining its essence and what a man ought to do when faced with ordinary or exceptional circumstances. He showed me a good picture of masculinity: strength held in reserve, authority wielded as responsibility to serve others, rejection of passivity, and the unacceptability of excuse-making. Dad was a man’s man, and I very much want to be like him. Always have. One day in the early 1980’s I was sent into the feed store to get something for the farm, and the man at the counter said, “You’re the Miller boy, aren’t you? You look just like your dad.” I heard it twice more during my last visit while making Dad’s medical rounds. Dad and I exchanged knowing glances—he was amused, and I was honored. Considering the fact that he was tall, light haired, and had blue eyes, I assumed they must be talking about something something else, like character, I hoped. Either way, I was honored.

I love Dad. Though Angie tells me she loved him first, and though we all agree that Hillary was ridiculously babied by him, and though Kim and Lora would tell me in our childhood arguments that he was their dad, not mine, I’ll go to my grave convinced that no one loved Dad more, the possible exception being Mom. And while that will surely be debated over a meal at this day’s end, and I might even give some ground to my sisters in that friendly argument, I say this much with utter, unmovable conviction, the kind I saw a handful of times in Dad’s defining moments: no one owed him more than I do. To me he was the Savior with skin on, God’s chosen instrument to protect me, love me, and commission me in the Lord’s service.

Dad was always a man who had little, but who took great joy in giving it away. He found meaning and purpose in loving and serving others. Though he walked with God only half of his life, I have known no one in whom the spiritual transformation of heart and character was more complete. He became a holy man. He was God’s man to the bone. And though somewhere there is a certificate of death inscribed with the name Cecil Warren Miller and the date September 14, 2006, please remember that Dad did not lose his life that day; don’t think it for even a moment. He gave it away little by little each day for the last 30 years. So, what happened last Thursday morning? As far as I can tell, it’s what Jesus said in Matthew 10:39--
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake
will find it.”

If you had the power to grant a man his final wish, would you do it? For many of us it might depend on who that man is. If that man was Cecil Miller, what would you say? I know what his final wish was; I asked and he told me. He said that the one thing that he wanted most in this life is to know that all of his family would love and serve his God. As far as I can tell, that would be the best way that remains for us to honor Dad—to honor the God whom he loves with all his heart.

On behalf of our family, thank you for attending this service today; by your presence here you have honored one who lived so honorably among us, my hero, my dad.

The Jungle

"In the Last Days," God says, "I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. (Acts 2:17)

Ever had a vision? I had one yesterday and I wanted to share it with you. Once a month our church staff gathers together to seek the Lord in the morning ... no agenda (we have a different time weekly that we pray together for needs) ... we just begin waiting on the Lord together ... we read scripture ... pray and share on a heart level. About 20 minutes into this time yesterday a vision began to unfold and I began to speak what I saw to our team ... it was a bit overwhelming at the time ... though now it doesn't seem all that exciting. Here is the vision.

With eyes closed I began to see a man in a jungle. It was a thick jungle with a dense canopy ... very little light came in ... it was a dark place. The man had a machete and was hacking his way through the underbrush. In a sense I became the man and experienced his anguish and stress - he could not see where he was going and he was very scared and stressed out. As I looked into the picture in my mind it seemed that time passed slowly. Then, out of nowhere, a lion appeared and roared. It greatly frightened the man and he feared for his life. An odd thing happened next - the lion spoke to the man and the man began to follow the lion. Some time passed. The man grew very weary as he followed the lion. Then the lion stopped, turned around, and asked the man why he was walking when he could be riding on the lion's back. The man was intimidated by the thought but took courage and mounted the lion. At that moment I felt an overwhelming sense of awe and adventure. It was as if I had just begun to live. The ride was exhilarating! As I was emotionally sharing this with our team, to my surprise, the vision began to unfold further. As I looked into the picture I got a sky view of the jungle and saw the lion heading towards a large clearing. What I saw next amazed me ... thousand upon thousand of lions were entering the clearing. All of the lions had riders. It was an incredible site.

I have some thoughts about the vision that I would like to share in a day or so but I first wanted to get your feedback. Someone told me that it was a Narnia-like vision because in the second book a child rides on the back of Aslan (the lion). What is your take on the vision. I am really interested in your thoughts on it and if you see any biblical symbolism in it. Okay to say you don't believe in this sort of stuff - just be nice :)

Rightness vs Righteousness

"I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live." (Job 27:5-6)

With these words Job once again takes a defensive posture. For much of the book of Job we find him at odds with his "comforters". It seems that after an initial one-week period of tears and grieving, his "friends" begin a prolonged period of debate with Job. The topic of their discussion is who was at fault for Job’s suffering … who was "right" and who was "wrong". In retrospect this seems to be somewhat of a silly conversation to have with someone who is hurting, wounded and in search of answers.

But such is the plight that many of us find ourselves in. I believe that his companions really wanted to help him … they shared their observations with Job and listened patiently as he spoke a defense of his situation. I think that they honestly wanted the same thing as he did … healing, restoration, comfort from the pain he was experiencing. I think that they believed healing would result if they could show Job the error of his ways and get a repentant confession out of him … but their focus on who was "right" eclipsed such an end … how could healing come if they couldn’t undercover the root cause of the problem … to them someone had to be "right" and someone had to be "wrong".

Their situation is a common one. When a crisis arises we often look for something or someone to blame the pain that we are experiencing on … it is quite normal to look for the one in the wrong … after all our "integrity" may be at stake. This brings me to another chapter in my life. I’ll attempt to share this knowing that I may sound biased … understanding that others may have a different point of view … but then again this is my story … this is how I saw it … how it played out before my eyes … how it touched me deeply … and changed my perspectives on right and wrong.

It was December 1998 and I found myself in a new position of leadership in my church. I, along with 5 other leaders, was faced with a decision regarding members of our pastoral staff. We each prayed, submitted ourselves to each other and made a decision that ultimately resulted in the loss of three members of our staff. Along the way we enlisted the wisdom and support of nine other leaders in our church. These men also prayed and mutually submitted themselves to each other and to us … needing help we made them co-leaders with us. In January 1999, believing to have the safety of a multitude of counselors, we announced our decision to our church body. The events following this announcement and how I internalized those events comprise the essence of my story.

To begin let me say that there was much disagreement over this decision. Many in our church disagreed with the "why" of the decision … that was understandable, as we the leaders, for confidentiality purposes, did not reveal all of the facts of the situation. Some others disagreed with the "how" of our decision … this somewhat caught me by surprise … as a new member of our leadership team I did not fully understand the dynamics of the relationships that existed in the church. Some contended that the additional nine leaders should not have been brought in on the decision … some had issues with a few of the new leaders … this complicated things. Tension was high. The issue of "right" and "wrong" were immediately brought to bear.

Over the next few months I, the newest leader in our group, sought to better understand the issues that continued to surface. I met with many people in our congregation. I sought them out for lunch, breakfast, coffee and any other setting where I could talk to them and try to understand their point of view. Oh how I longed to be able to reason with my friends and help them to understand the difficulty of our decision and how difficult it was for me personally. Again and again the issue of "right" and "wrong" surfaced. Some were convinced that their leaders were "wrong" and they were "right".

This issue of "right" and "wrong" also came up many times amongst our leadership team as well … we too were caught up as Job was, with a defense of our position and of our decision. As we communicated from a position of being ‘right’ we continued to stumble … our communication attempts rarely achieved their goals. We sometimes argued amongst ourselves over the issues of right, wrong and integrity. As hard as we tried we seemed to dig ourselves in deeper … at every turn we seemed to be stumbling. So we also find Job. He now seems to be at a point of no return … how can he give in … his integrity is at stake … his whole life of serving the Lord seems to have been called into account … HOW COULD HE BE WRONG?

Well, often in our lives, our desire to be right supercedes our desire to be wise. I am convinced that in the end we won’t tally a scorecard of our rights and wrongs … grace will take care of those things. I am convinced, however, that how we treated others will weigh in heavily. I am reminded of a story that my good friend Jim told me. Jim was wronged by a group of people. As he prayed he heard God whisper to his spirit, "You won’t be judged by how others treat you but by how you treat them". Sobering advice … wisdom from the Lord.

You know all this talk about right and wrong reminds me of a conversation that I had a few years ago with a seeker named Tom. He was not a believer. He told me that he thought that the church was a mess. I answered his concern and told him that I knew why the church was a mess and wondered if he would like to know why as well. Perplexed by my response, Tom said that he would like to know why the church was mess. God gave me some wisdom. I told him that the church is a mess because "I" am a mess … and I am in good company. You know that the church has always been a mess. The apostle Paul spent large parts of his letters dealing with messy situations in the early churches. Even he himself struggled. He said that the things he wanted to do he did not do and those things he didn’t want to do he found himself doing. I am sure that one such time was when he and his friend and co-laborer, Barnabas, disagreed whether Mark should be brought along on a missions trip. It is written, "they had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company". You see they parted ways over "right" and "wrong" … and God used each of them anyway. There is no denying it … families are not neat and tidy. Relationships, even good ones, are often messy.

So … in light of this and our discussion of "right" and "wrong" … what is wisdom anyway and how does it factor into church relationships … and Job’s dilemma. The book of James contains a passage that sheds some light on this. It says that:
"the wisdom that come from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." (James 3:17-18)
During that time of struggle in our church body I sensed that God was calling me into the role of a peacemaker. I mistakenly thought that if I could understand where my brothers and sisters were coming from then I could find a bond of peace. I never did seem to understand how to make this happen. After all … how do you "make peace" when someone has to be "right" and the other "wrong"? How can there be compromise when that word carries such a negative connotation in so many Christian circles.

In retrospect I realize that peace only comes when it is fervently desired … when we are willing to say that "we" are wrong and no one is completely "right". Job and his friends had it wrong. I wonder what would have happened if Job’s friends came and said something like "what has happened really upsets us … we know that you are upset as well … lets seek the Lord together … lets covenant to pray for and support each other"? What if in our lives … when a crisis comes along … and one will you know … our focus turns to what is wise and not what is right.

I think that the church is filled with some that hunger and thirst after ‘rightness’ rather than ‘righteousness’. You see … you can be right on an issue but not right with God in how you deal with the issue. I believe that God is more interested in "righteousness" than "rightness". He cares deeply how we interact with each other and how we show care and love for His family. He said that the lost would know that we are His by the way that we love each other. How we seem to have gotten it wrong. How Job’s friends also had it wrong. As it happens neither Job or his friends were completely right … God showed up in the end and helped them see the error of their ways and the futility of "right" and "wrong". To which Job replied:
"Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things to wonderful for me to know". (Job 42:3)
May we all have this attitude.

The Passing of One of My Heroes

Buck O’Neil died Friday after a prolonged stay in a Kansas City hospital. He was 94 years old, almost 95. He lived a life for the ages. Buck used to say he had done it all — he hit the home run, he hit for the cycle, he traveled the world, he testified before Congress, he sang at the Baseball Hall of Fame, he made a hole-in-one in golf, he married the woman he loved, he shook hands with American presidents.

One of the highlights of my life happened about 10 years ago when Buck came to speak at a Diversity event at the company that I worked for - Buck embodied both Diversity and Love. Buck began the meeting by shaking the hand of everyone in that place - he was so warm and caring. I will never forget that day when this beautiful gentleman spoke to us all about his experiences growing up in segregated America and about how he learned to love people. I remember Buck talking about his friend Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Baseball League. He closed the meeting as he did on many occasions by asking everyone in the audience to hold hands and sing a song with him about loving each other. He had everyone in Cooperstown singing it this year when he spoke at the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Here is the way that he concluded his speech:
Now, I want you to do something for me. I’m fixin' to get off this stage now. I think I done my six minutes. But I want you to do something for me. I want you to hold hands. Whoever’s next to you, hold a hand. Come on, you Hall of Famers, hold hands. All you people out there, hold hands. Everybody hooked up? Everybody hooked up? Well then I tell you what. See, I know my brothers up here, my brothers over there -- I see some black brothers of mine and sisters out there -- I know they can sing. Can you white folks sing? I want you to sing after me:

The greatest thing -- come on everybody --

The greatest thing in all of my life is loving you.

The greatest thing in all of my life is loving you.

The greatest thing in all of my life is loving you.

The greatest thing in all my life is loving you.

Thank you, folks. Thank you, folks. Thank you, folks. Thank you, folks. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Now, sit down. Now, sit down. I could talk to you 10 minutes longer, but I got to go to the bathroom.
Thank you Buck. See you in Heaven!

Blessed Be Your Name

10-8 update: My wife has rebounded well. She was moved to the hospital's Physical Therapy Unit on Thursday and and is much improved even though her right foot and ankle are still very weak. Plans are to release her Monday. Please continue to pray for strength to come back to her right foot/ankle/leg. Thanks so much for your love expressed through prayer.

10-2 update: Thanks to everyone who is praying and to those who will pray after they read this post. My wife has stabilized somewhat and has a bit of physical therapy ahead of her. I am mostly doing pretty well except when I occasionally stress over something not too important. I am finding my weird sense of humor (wife says 'as usual') to help me through this period. One of my church coworkers called the hospital today and I told her that I had already renounced the bible and was getting ready to renounce the church staff - I told you that I have a weird sense of humor. Guess you deal with trials by either laughing or crying - sometimes both.

My wife is having a Multiple Sclerosis relapse and was hospitalized Saturday night. After spending seven or eight hours in the Emergency Room on Saturday I was fried Sunday morning. I wondered if I should just focus on praying for my wife that morning and skip church. I didn't and was glad that I didn't. Several people greeted me with concern and prayed for me and my wife even before the service started. Then worship started and this is what we sang:
Blessed Be Your Name
by Matt Redman

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's 'all as it should be'
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
Affirming the blessedness of God in the midst of trial is a somewhat surreal experience. It is like being lifted out of reality for a brief moment ... being encouraged on a very deep level ... overcoming the dark thoughts of dispair. When we finished worship yesterday morning I had a different perspective on the my recent trial. Maybe that is what Paul means when he speaks of exulting in tribulation. Are you in a season of trial? Please sing this chorus with me:
Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord, Blessed be Your glorious name

Our Debt

What do you think about when you hear the word debt? The United States is certainly a country where most people owe something to somebody. How often to do you get an invitation to consolidate your debt or to take avantage of low interest rates. I'd venture to say that most of you have debt on your car or your house - you probably owe money to some kind of financial institution. Debt is a major factor for most of us. In light of this, have you ever wonder what Jesus meant when He instructed His disciples to pray:
"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12)
Interesting that Jesus uses the word "debt". These debts that we have been forgiven and which we forgive seem to be different than those we owe Mastercard. Here is the Greek word that is translated debts: opheilēma ( ὀφείλημα) ... it means "that which is owed, a debt". So what is Jesus talking about? This week I shared about forgiveness with about 20 guys at our local jail. I asked them these questions:
What is the debt that we owe each other?

What is the debt that we are told to forgive?
I told them that the debt is love. We were created to love both God and man - it is our debt to our Creator and to each other. For many in that jail, and I imagine many of you, love is a difficult topic. When you think about your childhood you do not think about an environment of love. Your childhood may have been a difficult one where you did not experience love from your parents or your siblings. You know, love has always been an issue. Even at the dawn of humanity the issue of love came to bear.

And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground. (Genesis 4:8-10)
Cain did not understand his debt to his brother Abel. He did not understand that he was indeed "his brother's keeper" - he owed a debt of love to his brother ... he was created to care about Abel and be a blessing to him. So it is with us. In some sense, we become who we were created to be when we love. We are most like Jesus when we love. When we forgive our debtors we come to grips with those who should have loved us and did not. When we pray the Lord's prayer we acknowledge our debt to love God and to love each other. We also forgive (other's debt of love) in the same way that God has forgiven us our debt to love Him.

The ultimate confession of love was whispered by Jesus after He was nailed to the cross:
"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
Given this, how can we not forgive - how can we not pay this debt of love?