We Are the Change

we are the change

I’ll be honest, politics disgust me. I both admire and abhor politicians. I admire them for the willingness and boldness to step into a broken system while abhorring them for the same thing. Our political system has come to such a flawed and degraded state that it’s hard to believe that change can happen without a major overhaul and restructure.

Just look at the impending November election. Opinions are fully entrenched on both sides of the political fence. The only bipartisanship that exists is in the opinion of Donald Trump, the supposed GOP frontrunner and both Republican and Democratic loathing of him. The devolution of values and ideals has come to parallel many people’s approach in the sporting world, specifically in Baseball when people like “anyone but the Yankees” or college basketball when people root for “anyone but Duke.” People simply don’t want to see Trump as president and so would elect Clinton in an effort to keep Trump from the office or vice versa.

I’m not sure the last time that I watched a State of the Union address. To be honest, I think this is an area of growth for me. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the sitting president, there is some respect that should be shown to the office despite personality or ideology. I’m learning in this area and need a lot of work, I can be honest about that.

President Obama’s valedictory SOTU address was no exception. In our fast-paced world of technology and information, it seems slightly unnecessary to watch for an hour what will be summarized and highlighted in a brief five or ten minutes the next morning.

As I read through the highlights of the SOTU address on my chosen news source (which is neither MSNBC or Fox News), I read a statement that President Obama made that stood out to me. He stated, “I believe in change because I believe in you!….we are the change we seek.” Those were interesting words, words that could easily inspire, but words that seem fundamentally flawed, at least to me in my own theology, ideology, and politicality.

Earlier that morning, before reading the highlights of the SOTU address, I met with my friend and accountability partner. We have been looking at 1 Kings and were talking through Solomon and some of his missteps in his reign as king of Israel. I made the comment that I was frustrated with myself for turning my mood and attitude on a dime. One moment I could be charged up, encouraged, and joyful and then I could move to an arrogant, impatient, and angry jerk. The repeated pattern had begun to frustrate and even disgust me.

As I talked it out, I couldn’t help but hear my own words, “I’m trying” and “I’m working” and realize that was one of the main problems. As someone who wholeheartedly believes in God and in the power of the Holy Spirit to change and reform a person, I know through my own life how changes have taken place and I know that the credit cannot be taken by me.

No matter how caring, giving, or altruistic one claims to be, at the heart of each and every one of us is lies selfishness. I know that many (if not all) will push back on me here, but I firmly believe that even in our altruism, we can be selfish in seeking out a feeling for ourselves. We can do good things and help people, but at the heart of those actions, if not for a motivation outside of ourselves, we are still being selfish.

I commend the President for his thoughts. I get what he is trying to say and think that he’s halfway there, but the problem becomes when we try to do things ourselves and think that we’re doing it in our own power and strength. I always find two things are true, 1) we’re better together, when we work with others and 2) we’re better with God who gives us the power, strength, wisdom, and know-how to move forward.

Yes, the change lies somewhere in us, we can’t seek for others to make that change happen if we aren’t willing to be part of it. There will be no president or elected official who will swoop in and save the day. Superman is a myth. Israel wanted a king, just like the other nations, and thought that it would help and solidify their place, but it turns out that God was right in the end, he was the one who was to be their king because humans are human, faulty, broken, selfish, and flawed.

We all need restoration. We all need redemption. We may be the change, but in order for us to be the change, we need to be changed first!

Redemption Free

The other day, I was reading through a thread on a Facebook page that was created for my hometown. I grew up in a town that can easily be described as privileged and many would suggest that an attitude of entitlement was felt throughout much of the community. Even though most of the friendships that I still maintain from there can’t be categorized by that same privilege and entitlement, it seems that a few bad apples spoil the bunch and we, as a society, consistently characterize and categorize based upon the negative behavior of the few rather than the exemplary behavior of the many. But I digress…

The thread that I was reading had to do with the current status of a man who, when he was in high school, had been accused of raping girls. At the time, he was the co-captain of the wrestling team, a popular athlete in the school. On the brink of his trial, he fled to Europe where he lived off of his parents’ money for years, continuing his life of privilege as he was hiding out, until he was discovered and extradited back to the United States to finally stand trial.

Someone had posted an article about this man’s current life, what he is doing and trying to do and how he is living. The article listed not only his successes in the business he was pursuing but his failures as well, indicating that some of the behavior which had characterized him so many years ago seemed to still be present in him. The article was posted for information purposes, but the thread underneath quickly escalated into a battleground as strong opinions emerged on both sides of the argument as to what this man deserved.

I took the time to read through the remaining thread (some of the initial posts had been deleted before I had arrived). I was fascinated at the vitriol that flowed through the black letters on the screen. It seems that the sexual assault of women is one crime for which justice is rightfully demanded. The severity of the crime was seen clearly through the passion with which people approached this thread. People were lamenting the fact that this convicted rapist was now creating a new and successful life for himself.

As I read through the comments in the thread, I was struck by the lack of grace exhibited. Of course, I realized that if the article that had been posted was true, this convicted rapist was still exhibiting some of the behavior that was indicative of his character. At the same time, when we cry for justice to be served, a conviction is handed out, and time is served, when do we stop vilifying someone for their wrongdoing and sin? At one point is it acceptable, in our eyes, for someone to move on with their life? At what point have we paid for our transgressions?

Reading through the thread, I thought to myself, “I’d hate to be friends with some of these people because I’m not sure how well they would forgive me when I did something wrong.” It struck me that we as a society are passionate about asking for and pursuing tolerance, but it seems that there are things for which we think that tolerance is unnecessary or even a moot point. While we may verbally seek tolerance on what we would consider to be ALL levels, when the chips come down, we want people to be tolerant for the things that we want them to be tolerant for.

I keep trying to reconcile in my head how a society that promotes such tolerance can be so unforgiving and graceless when it comes to perpetrators. Please hear what I am saying in this and don’t read into it what you want. I’m not saying that there should not be consequences for the crimes that people have committed, but I am saying that when justice has been meted out and sentences have been served, at one point do we promote restoration and reformation?

To be honest, the way that I see this is that true reform, restoration, and redemption can only come from one place: Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, those who claim to follow Christ can be just as guilty (if not more so) than those who don’t of pissing on the grace that has been given to them. The headlines have been hot with stories of Josh Duggar and his own indiscretions. His story is a post all its own, but I think a lot of that has to do with vilifying others for things with which you currently struggle yourself all while pretending to be living a model life.

Can people show reform, restoration, and be redeemed without Christ? I think that people can accomplish a lot on their own. I think that people can experience a certain amount of reform and restoration on their own, but redemption doesn’t seem to be achievable unless it’s perfect redemption.

This is why I think that we need a perfect savior and a perfect sacrifice. None of us by ourselves can do it. The problem with living and imperfect sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar. We needed a sacrifice that was perfect, that wouldn’t back down, that would perfectly pay the price for what was owed.

The problem is that we willingly accept the gift, we willingly accept the price that has been paid, but when it comes to graciously giving the grace that’s been given to us, we stink. We’re great at receiving grace and horrible at giving it.

But we continue to try, we continue to press on, that’s the process of spiritual growth and maturity. We stumble and we fall, we continue to push forward, but we may fail more often than we succeed. That’s why we need a perfect savior, because…..We. Will. Never. Measure. Up.

I’m grateful for grace and I am trying more and more every day to mete it out as well as I receive it.

Just keep swimming….

Love and Death and Memories

Our family road tripping continued with more adventure this summer. We started out our adventures a few weeks ago when, on our way down to Orlando in our family van, the transmission blew out on us. It was fortunately under warranty and a friend graciously loaned us an extra vehicle that fit our entire family. While it was a bit smaller of a vehicle, we were so grateful for the generosity of this friend.

We came home to find that the initial transmission replacement was not adequate, so we waited a second time, knowing that we had another road trip coming up. Once the transmission was replaced, other stuff started happening to the van. Sensors quit functioning and were replaced but lights continued to go off and we continued to scratch our heads. You know that it’s not good when the mechanic gives the car back to you and says that you would be better off going to the dealer.

After going to a dealer close to home, we thought that we were in the clear for our trip to Connecticut. After getting the car back from the dealer, I test drove it on the highway, on the back roads, and all around town, putting a decent amount of miles on it to ensure that we would be okay for our trip.

We left at our usual 4AM time slot and got about an hour and a half from home before the car started acting up again. There’s nothing like the tension one feels in one’s shoulders and back while driving another five and a half hours wondering whether or not your car is going to make it to its intended destination while packed with belongings, family, and all.

We made it to our destination and dropped it off once again at a car dealer to see if our problem could be remedied. We quickly realized the difference between the pace of life and busyness back at home in Virginia versus in Connecticut where much of our family resides. In Virginia, we dropped the car off and got it back fairly quickly. In Connecticut, we waited a few days just to have it seen.

Amidst all of this, we attended a family wedding and had a chance to catch up with family that we only see a few times a year. The wedding was simple and fun and we enjoyed our time together. That night, our adventure would continue.

I woke up the next morning to texts from my brother alerting me that my uncle, my father’s brother, had passed away during the night. My wife and I had hoped to have a chance to see him before this happened. His health had begun to decline more rapidly over the last few months and we missed an opportunity to gather with family a few months back when they knew that the time would be short until his passing. Life doesn’t always afford us the breaks and getaways that we desire, and that was one time when it didn’t. Weekends are always tough for pastors to get away.

I spent the better part of that day processing through the news of my uncle’s death. I could spend a whole lot of posts expounding on the life lessons that I have learned in the last few days, and I expect that I probably will. There is much to be shared about redemption, about reconciliation, about love, about grace, and about forgiveness. There is much to be shared about family, about brotherly love, about protection, and about stories that sometimes come to us much later than we would have hoped.

I’m looking forward to sharing in the days ahead. As I said to a friend when she privately offered condolences to me over the loss of my uncle, I have seen the fingerprints of God throughout this situation. I haven’t tried to look for God in the midst of every circumstance, he made himself abundantly known in the midst of every. single. One!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Further Thoughts on Place

This past Sunday, a young woman shared her story of faith and doubt in our community of faith’s corporate time together. I had heard bits and piece of it before she had stood that morning, but I hadn’t heard all of the gory details that she shared. A story of rejection, of hurt, of pain, of doubt, of abandonment, and finally, redemption and restoration.

As she shared her story, she looked around and started by saying that she didn’t fully realize until that moment that part of the story that she shared, part of her rejection, took place in that very room. As she talked about a gang of middle school girls who bullied her and said some heartbreaking things to her right there in that room.

She shared her story for a few minutes and when she was done, she received applause that continued…..and continued…..and continued, until the whole place was standing. There in that room, in that moment, redemption had happened.

It wasn’t until later that I fully appreciated what had just happened. The very place where this young woman had been rejected, the very place where she felt that her faith had died was the very same place where new life was given. There in that middle school cafeteria, the place that had probably haunted her memory for years, new memories were made. As she courageously shared her story, the story from life to death back to life again, she saw a room full of people who saw her as she is, a forgiven child of God. She was affirmed in her honesty. She was affirmed in her bravery. She was given a new start.

Isn’t it just like God to take the very source of our hurt and turn it around? How hard it is for some of us to face certain things because of the memories that those things conjure up for us, yet he sees fit to use some of those very things to remind us that we are not in control, nor are those things or those circumstances. He is the one who is in control. He is the one who can turn things around.

I’ve seen it happen in my own life, and I am reminded that God cares about the little things. Sparrows don’t fly or die without him knowing about it. While we shouldn’t be so consumed with some of the trivial things in our lives, we also shouldn’t be surprised when God shows up in some of those places where we least expect it. God is in the redemption business and there’s nothing like seeing it played out right before your eyes.

Forgive Us Our Sins……

forgive us our sinsOur Father….

Who art in Heaven….

Hallowed be Thy name…..

Thy Kingdom come…..

Thy will be done…..

On earth as it is in Heaven…..

Give us this day our daily bread….

And forgive us our sins…..

As we forgive those who sin against us……

Those who sin……

against……

US……

When’s the last time that you prayed that prayer?  When’s the last time that you actually thought about it?  I mean, really thought about it….

Forgiveness.  It’s a strange thing.  We like to be forgiven when we do something wrong.  What happens when someone does something wrong to us?  How willing are we to forgive them?

Some sins are more easily forgiven than others.  We can forgive a lie, depending on how big it is.  We can forgive a false word, as long as it’s not said against us.  We can forgive a little anger, as long as we weren’t embarrassed by it.  But what happens when the sin that we’re called to forgive is more significant.  What if someone steals from us?  Breaks into our house?  Hits our car?  What happens if someone takes the life of someone we love?  How do we forgive them?

I’ve had my fair share of harboring resentment and bitterness.  I’ve struggled to forgive people who hurt me, and most of those hurts were insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  Eventually, I came to the point where I realized that anger and withholding forgiveness weren’t doing harm to anyone else other than me.  It’s funny how that works.

But, like I said, the hurts that were caused were fairly insignificant.  The only one who ever took someone from me was cancer and heart disease, and it’s kind of hard to be so angry at diseases.  They’re just not people.  I don’t know what I would do if I lost someone because of another person.  I don’t know how I would forgive if someone else took someone that I loved away from me…..

While he was hanging on the cross being ridiculed, laughed at, mocked, and spit on, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who had put him there.  He actually WANTED and PRAYED for them to be forgiven…..while he was in the thick of what they had caused.  No anger.  No contempt.  No withholding of forgiveness.

As we forgive those who sin against us……

It’s not a good idea to pray things that you don’t mean.  I’ve really got to stop and think about this one, am I really willing to forgive?  I mean REALLY willing to forgive?

My forgiveness has been tested and left wanting.  It’s been tested, but not as much as other’s forgiveness has.  I’ve still got a long way to go to really come to that point where that prayer will roll off of my tongue easily without a stutter or a struggle.  Thank God that I’m forgiven and a work in progress, now if I could just come to that place where forgiveness was as easily given as it is accepted.

Things Break

broken jar 2Over the last few weeks, I’ve really wished that my parents were around.  When I was younger, I remember my mom always talking about her desire to see Jesus and how she couldn’t wait until she was out of the imperfect body that she was temporarily occupying.  I never really understood her obsession back then.  I couldn’t understand what would make her want for something more even though I had faith in God.  I just felt like wishing my time away was futile and I wanted to live my life as best as I could.

Fast forward decades later and I’ve begun to get a glimpse of what my mom felt, at least I think that I have.  In the past few weeks, I’ve been to the funeral home once, heard of countless others who have lost loved ones, had a friend who is scheduled for a second back surgery, prayed long and hard for a young boy to finally be well enough to go home from the hospital after a bout with appendicitis, and even known someone who had a shooting outside their front door resulting in a stray bullet making its way into their home.  Yup, the fragility of life seems to have made its move to the front burner once again.

Fall always seems to be that way for me, I think it’s the nature of the season.  Leaves change, they fall off of the trees, everything begins to look barren and it’s dark a good part of the time.  Being a melancholic, it’s not terribly difficult for me to be introspective and dark, it just seems like the world follows me there in the Fall.

But I see a light, albeit dim, and I begin to understand my mom’s sentiments all those years ago.  I begin to look past the barrenness to what’s just beyond.  In Romans 8, Paul uses a Greek word that means “anxious and persistent expectation.”  The literal translation of the word means something more like stretching the head forward and I get a picture of someone craning their heard around the corner, looking for what’s ahead, waiting for the hero to emerge and save the day.

Things break, that’s the nature of the world in which we live.  The hope in the midst of that difficulty is that some things will be made new again, at least in creation.  That is the hope of Romans 8, a re-creation of sorts, a restoration, a redemption and a movement from breakable to unbreakable.

My mom and dad are experiencing that now.  They’re no longer craning their necks around the corner, trying to catch a glimpse of what’s waiting.  The rest of us, however, will have to keep waiting.  But I’d say that it’s something worth waiting for.

Broken Vows – A Book Review

broken vowsLife happens, and Christians are not immune to the difficulties that it holds.  John Greco can attest to this, and he has in his book Broken Vows.  Greco was married and moving towards his dream job of becoming a discipleship pastor when everything fell apart.  He tells his story and manages to describe the positive results of a very negative situation, reminiscent of the place that Joseph found himself when he told his older brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Greco describes his story with raw honesty, fully disclosing his own responsibilities in the midst of the pain that he was going through.  His tone is always humble, never coming across as arrogant or pious, just being himself (even to the point of refraining from using the dreaded label “ex-wife” for the much more gracious “former wife”).  He speaks of the hurts that he experienced at the hands of “church people” who may once have experienced the grace of Jesus Christ but seem to have forgotten that it extends beyond themselves.

John does a good job of building a solid foundation on Scripture as he lays out his own story and talks about the fact that divorce is sin, but not something that puts us beyond the reach of a God whose ultimate plan is redemption and restoration.  He reminds the reader that, as much as we might like to, we cannot tidy things up with pretty bows and neat packages when sometimes, they are just dirty and ugly and force us to reconcile with them or even live with their tension and discomfort.  I’m reminded of the words of Derek Webb in his song “Nobody Loves Me” when he says, “The truth is never sexy, So it’s not an easy sell.  You can dress her like the culture, but she’ll shock ‘em just as well.”  There is no attempt on Greco’s part to dress up his situation and make it look like something other than what it is, hard, difficult, and painful.

Through it all, God accomplished something miraculous through Greco’s situation.  His experience drove him to a full reliance on God, dropping all idols and distractions.  Greco shares with the reader the six  steps or movements that he found helpful to move forward through the pain and hurt of a situation.  He does not attempt to downplay the pain and hurt, but also acknowledges the power of the Gospel which, as Paul wrote in Romans 1, brings salvation.

Greco fully admits and acknowledges that his view had become distorted and he had, “let my desire for the good overshadow my desire for Jesus.”  Despite the cloudy vision, the restoration that he experienced led him to conclude that, “There is no limit to what God can do with a life yielded to him.”  Broken Vows is an honest account of one man’s struggle with the brokenness that we all face while living in this world, a world in need of redemption.  I appreciate his honesty and candidness.  While Greco’s subject is divorce, his experience and God’s wisdom to him through it can be helpful to those who struggle through all of life’s difficulties.

Broken Vows

broken-marriageBack in 2004, right after I had left my engineering career to pursue full-time vocational ministry, I was asked to officiate the wedding of some friends of my wife and mine.  We had known this couple for a number of years, knowing the wife for longer and before she had met her prospective husband.  Having just been ordained that May, I was fully credentialed to perform the wedding and so I agreed.

My wife and I flew to San Francisco and drove down to Visalia where the wedding would be.  We spent time with family and friends and enjoyed our time together, being invited into this very intimate and personal experience.  I performed the wedding and my wife and I sang a rewritten hymn called “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” for the ceremony.

We were pleased to hear that our friends were moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, not too far from where we were in Asheville.  It was even better for us as my wife was finishing up her Master’s degree in counseling from Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Charlotte and we would now have a place to stay for the weekends that my wife would have class.  It would give us a chance to continue to cultivate the relationship with our friends.

A few years after my wife finished her degree, we moved from Asheville to Mechanicsville, Virginia.  Our friends remained in Charlotte for some time before beginning a period of moving back and forth across the country.  Their journey took them back to Connecticut, where they had met, out to California, where she was from, and down to Georgia, where his family now lived.  He finished his Master’s of Divinity degree from Gordon and began pursuing a ministry job as a pastor.

Through the busyness of the past few years and all that has gone on in losing my parents, I have felt almost as if I have lived in a vacuum, oblivious to some of the events taking place around me.  My mind has been so consumed with all of what I have dealt with that I have felt disconnected over and over again.  These friends of ours seemed to have dropped off of my radar for a period of time.  I didn’t talk with them or hear from them, not intentionally, it was just the stage of life where we were at the time.

Then one day, while perusing the news feed on Facebook, I clicked on one of their profiles, only to see the dreaded word “separated” for their relational status.  I panicked.  What had happened?  While I had known that things were not perfect, that’s the case for all of us who are married, I did not know that things were bad enough to have lead to a separation.  Not too long after that, my wife received a message from the wife that she read to me.  She came down the stairs with tears in her eyes as she announced the couple’s plans for a divorce.  We were devastated.

I felt so personally responsible as I had been the one to marry them.  My heart was breaking for them both, knowing that it must be an incredibly difficult situation.  As the months unfolded, I renewed my relationship with the husband and found out more of the story behind the dissolution of the marriage.  My heart broke even more as he honestly told me about all that had happened.  There were no feelings of judgment within me, just empathetic feelings of pain and hurt.  I just didn’t know how things could have come to this.

Thankfully, I have maintained my relationship with the husband.  In fact, I get to see him in a few weeks.  I have been so overwhelmed at what God has done in his life since “the bottom dropped out” from under him.  I have gained even more respect for him in how he has handled himself and how he has submitted himself to what God’s plan is for him.  God has transformed him and continued to mold him into the man of God that is being and will be used for the glory of God.

Last month, my friend released a book about his experience and how God has taken him through the darkness.  A few days after it came out, I ordered it for Kindle and during one of my insomnia laden nights, I finished the whole thing.  Tomorrow’s post is my review of his book.  I am privileged to call this man a friend and brother.  He is an inspiration to me and I am grateful that our paths have crossed.  His story is a reminder to me that God can take us from what seems to be the furthest reaches of His grace and bring us back into His loving arms.  It’s a story that speaks not only to those who are divorced, but to anyone who has experienced the pain and anguish of living in a broken and fallen world.  I would highly recommend it and encourage you to come back tomorrow to read my full review.

Used For Good

shawshank1There are many things that are attested to as followers of Jesus Christ that are easier said than done.  One of those things is the sovereignty of God.  Does he really know all things and control all things?  Is he really not surprised by anything?

Those questions are generally answered with a response that he is sovereign, but it’s really hard to embrace when you are in the thick of difficulty.  It’s easier said than believed.

In my time in ministry, there have been many times when things don’t go the way that I thought they would or even planned that they would.  I am often left scratching my head, wondering where I might have gone wrong, and what I can do to redeem the broken pieces that I see on the ground in front of me.  Can something good come out of this?  Can God really be glorified in the midst of brokenness?

Time and time again, I have felt that the answer was a resounding YES.  I have seen good things come out of difficulties.  I have seen things which seemed dismal be turned around into something beautiful.

The story of the last few years in my life and the life of many people who I love has been this exact story.  In the midst of difficulty, in the midst of uncertainty, in the midst of impossible odds and situations, God shines through and proves that he is sovereign.

Joseph started out very different than he ended up.  He began as an arrogant, pompous, and favored son among 11 brothers.  He was hated by his brothers because of this and he certainly didn’t help his cause with the attitude that he had.  His brothers did what might be expected of jealous brothers, they betrayed him.  Of course, they were pretty harsh, selling him into slavery, in some ways, wishing he were dead.

Fast forward many years (and chapters in the book of Genesis, from chapter 37 to chapter 50) and Joseph is a leading official in Egypt.  He has been elevated to this position of power through the most unusual and impossible of circumstances.  Despite the impossibilities, God proved his sovereignty and Joseph tells his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  Wow!  He’s very different from the brother who was proudly prancing around in his special coat many years prior.  His humility is shining through and he even sees the redemptive nature of difficulties, something he probably would have been incapable of with the arrogance that exuded from him years earlier.

This doesn’t give us license to do all kinds of wrong things and allow God to redeem them, we still need to seek his wisdom in the midst of it.  But, we do need to trust that when we seek after God, he will give us clarity and direction, even when it seems like the clarity and direction don’t make sense at best or are cloudier and pointless at worst.

God has the ability to work good out of bad situations and we might not understand what that good might be.  Bad things happen, I think there is a difference between saying that God caused them and God allowed them.  To some, it might seem like semantics, to me, there is a difference.  In the midst of brokenness, God can take the shattered pieces and make them into something beautiful.

The words of this song really sum it up pretty well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isY7v61mg_U