Blog

Why We Must Listen To Feedback

animal animal photography barbaric big
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

One Sunday after church, a dear brother stopped me and said, “Pastor Ray, there is a piece of tape on the side of your face. I am not sure if it is a Band-Aid.”

At that, I reached my hand up to the right side of my face and removed a sliver of cellophane tape that I often use to stabilize the microphone headset I wear during worship. That shiny little fleck of tape surprised me, because already that morning I had greeted scores of people, and noone told me that I had tape on my face. I looked at the man and said, “I feel so loved that you would point this out to me. I consider you a real friend.”

There is little that’s more frustrating and scary in life than being blind to what others see and know about you, and no-one says anything. In fact, this kind of behavior is the antithesis of Christian community. In the context of community, it gets worse. Hardly anything is more debilitating and enervating to a community than people knowing things about you to which you are in the dark, and instead of speaking to you, they speak to others about you.

For a woman, it could be as simple as going through the day with red lipstick on your teeth, and no-one tells you. For a man, your zipper is down, or there is leftover shaving cream on the side of your face, or there is spaghetti sauce on your chin. In the course of the day, you’ve had several conversations with co-workers and “friends,” and nobody bothered to point your wardrobe malfunctions and personal peccadillos out to you.

Sometimes the stakes are higher, and the flaws run deeper. Say you have a bad habit of talking over people. Or you repeatedly show a facial expression that some assume is disgust. These tics and habits alienate you from others, may even cost you the chance for a promotion or continued employment.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to see ourselves in 360 degrees, where everything that people around us see, hear, and perceive about us we also can see? The reality is, we can’t. There are some things that I know about myself, but people see and know things about me that I simply can’t see.  

The only way to solve this self-blindness is through feedback. Of course, this is easier said than done. Feedback informs you of your relationship with the world and the world’s relationship with youit shows you the way that you’re impacting other people, for better or worse. Every day, it’s all around you it’s there; the question is whether you’re paying attention to it or if anyone is telling you.

Giving and receiving helpful feedback is often tricky. When we give feedback to a person, we should be motivated by love and concern to see that person improve and grow. And when we receive feedback, we must be grateful that someone would take the time to speak the “truth” to us. Unfortunately, folks are either timid about giving feedback for fear of hurting a person’s feelings, or our emotions are triggered by defensiveness, anger, or self-loathing when someone points out our flaws and weaknesses. Either way, failure to give timely feedback, and failure to humbly receive what others tell us about ourselves, is a sign of dysfunction.

God’s word has many examples of giving and receiving feedback (Exodus 18:17-26, 2 Samuel 12:7-14). One of my favorites is the story about the about the bright, articulate, accomplished man who humbled himself and accepted feedback from two people who were simple working-class followers of Jesus. The man listened to the couple’s feedback and encouragement, and he was the better for it. Read Acts 18:24-28 for the rest of the story.

How about how about you? When was the last time you received feedback from others? How did you respond? When was the last time you gave feedback to another person? How did that turn out?

Would love to hear your thoughts below.

Ordinary people serving an Extraordinary God

pexels-photo-1011160.jpegWhat if I told you that in Acts (the book I am preaching for our church’s new sermon series) 39 of the 40 miracles that the Holy Spirit performs occur outside of the church? Now, you don’t have to take my word for it. Read the 28 chapters of Acts for yourself, and take note where you see the raw power of God at work.

What you find will surprise you… The power of God is not going to be found primarily in the pulpit (and, listen, I’m all for the pulpit). The power of God will not be found in the actions of super-Apostles, or in high powered leaders. The real power of the Gospel is released as ordinary, Spirit-filled men and women amplify God’s good news wherever they go, into every part of their communities. Please read Acts 16 and you will understand.

One of the 39 miracles of Acts occurs in the life of a businesswoman named Lydia, on the banks of a river, not in a church. Not much is told about Lydia’s life other than her providential encounter with the Apostle Paul.

Paul was on his second missionary journey when he had a vision of a man who pleaded with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The Apostle responded to the vision by gathering his team and quickly setting off across the Aegean Sea for Macedonia, the northern region of modern-day Greece. When they arrived, Paul and his fellow missionaries passed through the port of Neapolis and headed straight for Philippi, “a city of Macedonia’s first district and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:14 ESV).

Luke, the author of Acts, records that while Paul saw a vision of a man, ironically, his first ministry in Philippi was with a group of women, a group which included Lydia. Paul and his friends sat down and began sharing the Word of God with them.

And then we see the miracle happening, in Acts 16:14, where the Lord opened this Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to Paul’s message. The obstacle many face in not believing the Gospel is the hardness or the closure of their heart. But God “opens the heart” of Lydia. In other words, the Lord takes out the cold heart of stone and puts in the yearning heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

This miracle is the gift that keeps on giving: Filled with new vision and vitality, Lydia presumably tells members of her household, who follow her lead and are baptized with her. We can assume she also tells business contacts, clients, and neighbors. Her “social media” are hard at work spreading the Word, going viral, all over town. In Luke’s account, she then opened her home to Paul and his friends and over time a church was planted in Philippi, in the home of this businesswoman, Lydia.

And here we are today…

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I celebrate all mothers everywhere. But I also celebrate all women who live with open-hearted lives under the power of the Holy Spirit. I celebrate the many ordinary “Lydia’s” who open their homes, their resources, and their hearts in service to their extraordinary God.

Don’t Leave Home Without it!

pexels-photo-210742.jpegEach week, I receive in my inbox a Friday Update from my friend and fellow pastor Mike Woodruff.

His mailings are invariably filled with wise, stimulating ideas for the journey of faith and life.

Among this week’s mailing was a quote from a book that I read a few years ago. The quote is so good, I thought I would pass it on to you.

Losing Our Soul

In her book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton compares losing your soul with losing your credit card. She says, “you think it’s in your wallet, so you don’t give it much thought, until one day you reach for it and it’s not there. The minute you realize that it’s gone, you start scrambling, trying to remember when you last used it or at least had it in your possession. No matter what is going on you stop and look for it, because otherwise major damage can be done. Oh that we would feel the same sense of urgency when we become aware that we have lost our souls!” Capital One’s marketing campaign for their credit card asks, “What’s in your wallet?” Perhaps the better question is, “have you seen your soul lately?”

This quote reminds me of the sad account of Samson. Due to carelessness and cavalier attitude, he lost his soul, his strength, and his intimate relationship with God. Here’s the sad account of what happened when he realized his sad reality:

Then Delilah called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.”

But he did not know that the Lord had left him. So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison. Judges 16: 20-21

I also wonder if there is a correlation between the moral and spiritual meltdowns we see in leaders and the failure to keep one’s soul healthy. Just wondering….

Lord, restore my soul, and the soul of all who read these words. Keep us from the foolishness of sin, and all that destroys and scars. Have mercy on us for we are prone to wander from you, the Fountain of Life. Amen.

Odium Fidei

Cross on top of church
Image: Hadi Mizban / Associated Press

The International Society for Human Rights, a secular NGO based in Frankfurt, estimated that Christians were the victims of 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world, many human rights groups corroborate this finding. A report of the U.S. State Department shows that Christians face persecution in over sixty countries. According to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, for each year between 2007 and 2014, Christians have been targeted for harassment in more countries than any other religious group.

Scholars and missiologists call this phenomenon, Odium Fidei, or hatred of the faith. Jesus said in vs. 17; you will be hated by all because of my name.

A few days ago, a group of prayer warriors from our church spent praying for the persecuted church in various troubled places around the world. This prayer meeting deeply stirred my emotions, raised ponderous, soul-disturbing questions: What does following Jesus look like in North Korea? Would I be bold about preaching Christ in Saudi Arabia? Would I openly gather for worship in South Sudan, Iran, or Somalia?

During the meeting, I asked God to help me remember to pray for those who are held in bonds for their faith (Hebrews 13:3). I intentionally prayed for Pastor Andrew Brunson, a U.S. citizen from North Carolina, arrested in Turkey in the wake of the 2016 attempted coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Pastor Brunson had been living in Izmir, Turkey, where he ministered for over 23 years. He loves the people of Turkey and would never do anything to disrupt their government. Now he’s facing a possible life sentence.

Writing from his prison cell in Turkey last week, Pastor Brunson had these words for us: Let it be clear, I am in prison, not for anything I have done wrong, but because of who I am – a Christian pastor. I desperately miss my wife and children. Yet, I believe this to be true – it is an honor to suffer for Jesus Christ, as many have before me. My deepest thanks to all those around the world who are standing with and praying for me.

Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, once referred to what he called the “counter-intuitive phenomena of Jewish history”— a set of circumstances that I think too often applies to Christians as well: “When it was hard to be a Jew,” Sacks wrote, “people stayed Jewish. When it was easy to be a Jew, people stopped being Jewish. Globally, this is the major Jewish problem of our time.” (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense: Jews, Judaism, and Israel in the Twenty-first Century [Schocken Books, 2009], page 51).

Applied to Christianity, Rabbi Sacks’ vision is right on target, too. In a time when it is easy to be a Christian, instead of seeing growth and great sacrifice for Christ, the church too clearly withers from apathy and worldly distractions. In places where it is hard to be a Christian, the church is exploding with growth. (Click here to read how Iran is now the center for the fastest growing church in the world.)  What is our sacrifice — what Cross does Jesus’ church have to bear — in circumstances of comparative comfort and ease?

This Sunday, we wrap up our final reading in Luke (click here to read Sunday’s text, Luke 21:12-19). Here, Jesus says that persecution is inevitable for those who believe in his name and that it is through endurance that we are saved. Taken to heart, these are hard, challenging words — and I hope you will not be dissuaded from making an effort to join us on Sunday.

In preparation, I present for your consideration a few things that I am trying to do in light of persecution and injustice toward Christians in our world today:

  1. Don’t waste your prayers on small things (praying only for present needs). Expand your worldview. Pray for Christians in other parts of the world.
  2. Educate yourself about the mission of God in the world. Get a copy of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.
  3. Practice gratitude. Don’t allow pettiness and ingratitude to shrivel your soul. Compared to many places in the world, Americans are rich as kings of old.
  4. Deny yourself the pleasure of food by practicing the spiritual discipline of fasting and prayer for Christians who suffer. Feel a need much deeper and more elemental than your own.
  5. Be courageous. Practice radical obedience to God. This is how Christians in the majority world live their spiritual life every day.

What do you think? Do you agree with Rabbi Sacks that faith and devotion are most challenged when things are easy? Let me know what you think.

A Jamaican Remembers Billy Graham

Billy Graham

 

By now you have heard the sad news that the Rev. Billy Graham died Wednesday at the age of 99.

Surely, he was the greatest evangelist of the 20th century. Respected by sinner and saint alike, Billy Graham preached on or across every continent in the world. He preached before kings and queens, rich and poor. He was a personal advisor to Presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. No wonder they called him America’s pastor.

As a young boy growing up in Jamaica, such deep, vivid memories were inspired by his rapid-fire, earnest preaching, accompanied by sweet memories of George Beverly Shea singing “How Great Thou Art” on Graham’s long-running radio program, The Hour of Decision.

Many of my peers back home in Jamaica wanted to preach like him. But there is only one Billy Graham. As far as I can tell, Graham never preached in Jamaica–he may have sent his associates to preach–but he never held his big tent meetings in Jamaica or the West Indies for that matter. What I do know is that he regularly visited the home of Johnny Cash in Jamaica. The Cashes even dubbed one of the rooms in their house “the Billy Graham room,” as it had an extra-long bed to fit Graham’s tall frame.

As I think about the life of this servant of God, I realize that four important qualities from his life still influence me to this day:

  1. His faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to use imperfect people to preach the gospel.
  2. His faith in the truth of God’s word to transform the human heart.
  3. His willingness to endure criticism and rejection for the sake of Christ.
  4. His passion for seeing lost humanity come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Despite all the accolades now pouring in from around the world, the Rev. Billy Graham was just a mere mortal that God raised up for a given time. His work is ended, he is with the Lord, and his reward awaits.

Of course, no one person can bring in the Kingdom. We need faithful men and women in every generation who will embrace and embody those four important qualities that so deeply marked this servant of God.

During last week’s staff meeting, one of our staff leaders shared a beautiful prayer-poem that illustrates the limitations facing every servant of God:

A Future Not Our Own

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction

of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of

saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession

brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives include everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one

day will grow. We water the seeds already planted

knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects

far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of

liberation in realizing this.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,

a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s

grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the

difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not

messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

 (This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Cardinal John Dearden in November, 1979.)

Well done, good and faithful servant. Rest In peace, Dr. Graham.

Why Lent is more than a dietary shift.

pexels-photo-341044.png

Every year during Lent as far back as I can remember, I bristled at the notion of giving up some kind of food. 

Because Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day, Catholic Bishops are urging their faithful to give up steaks and chocolate during the forty days of Lent. Supposedly, this kind of abstinence helps identify with Jesus’ suffering during the last week of his life.

Who am I to quibble with the Bishops of the church? I am a nobody. But I will quibble just a bit. I would ask that we go a bit deeper and instead of saying no to certain foods, focus our Lenten journey on honesty with Christ. 

Jesus desires in Luke 5– truth and honesty in the inner being(Psalm 51:6). 

But in Luke 5, only a few people seem concerned with honesty:

Peter: Luke 5:8- but when Simon Peter saw it (the large catch of fish), he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. Peter is honest about the moral and spiritual condition of his life. His anguished plea reminds us of Isaiah’s anguished plea in (Is 6:5) where he said,  “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”” Now, that is brutal honesty.

The leper: Luke 5:12- Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” This was more than a cry for physical healing. This was a cry for community. To have leprosy was to be an outcast from family, temple, synagogue, friends, work, life (click here for more details). To be healed and cleansed is to be part of a community. He was brutally honest with Jesus. “I need your help, and if you are willing, please help me, I am sick, and I am lonely.”

The crowds:- Jesus asked the leper, “now that you are healed, please go show yourself to the priest so that he can confirm your healing and please don’t tell anyone what I did for you.”

Of course, he didn’t. It is hard to keep good news from bursting out. Instead, Luke records,
“But now, even more, the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.” Luke 5:15

Levi and his tax collecting friends:- “After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭5:27-28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Dishonest people
Luke presents a contrast between the common, everyday people of Jesus’s day and the cultured, religious crowd. They weren’t honest with Jesus. For Luke, the religious community were onlookers. They knew that Jesus was unique. To them, he was a spectacle to behold, a sideshow that you didn’t want to miss. But nothing deeper than that. They heard him teach, they saw him heal people but, stood at an objective distance, the way scientists try to observe and test their hypotheses. And we know this to be true based on the following observations:

1. After four friends of a crippled man went literally above and beyond to help their friend to Jesus, and after Jesus forgave the man of his sins, here’s their reaction:

Vss. 21-22: Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?

For them, Jesus was not a person to worship and solicit help, but a theological challenge to be shamed and dismissed. That’s not honesty in the inner being.

2. The most glaring example is that of Levi who left everything to follow Jesus. Tax collectors made a good living. The money earned fleecing their victims was worth the cultural rejection.  The same thing with fishermen who made a better-than-average average income (even if they had had a bad night-Luke 5:5). Leaving these jobs was an act of radical commitment that carried significant economic repercussions.

Levi did not give up chocolate and steaks to follow him, he left everything. Instead of joining the party and celebrating Levi’s turning away from the shameful, corrupt, tax collecting shakedown of his people, the religious leaders stood at a distance and sneered. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5;30)?” The implication being, we don’t do that, ergo, we are holy, and our lives are intact. It’s dishonest to separate oneself from other people or position oneself above and beyond other people.

It’s not surprising that Luke 15:1 says: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” ‭‭Is it even possible to draw near to Jesus without being honest with him?

What would honesty with Jesus look like?

This Ash Wednesday, Christ, the doctor of the soul, who sees us from the inside, asks us to be honest about the state of our lives.

Be honest about your need for prayer

The need for less religion and more empathy for others. Let’s be honest that we have too much religion and not enough empathy for others. You have heard of the Christians who go into restaurants after church on Sundays, eat the big meal, and then leave tracts telling people to come to Jesus instead of leaving that 20 or 25% tip. Can tracts buy baby formula, diapers and keep the heat on? Too much religion and not enough love for people. 

The need for repentance. If Jesus walked up to your front door, would you try to stall while you run and hide your idols?

The need for spiritual maturity: Are we growing up? Are we changing? Are we having victory over certain besetting habits? Are we growing in our understanding of the gospel that saves us? Or are we still the same year after year?

The need for a more Christ Like attitude. Can we be honest about our attitude? Sarcastic, critical, mean-spirited racist, sexist, moody, holding a grudge for being slighted or overlooked? Always concerned about what people think about us, instead of resting in what Christ says about us? Are we willing to step out of ourselves and serve others? The religious leaders simply could not see that Jesus was about prayer, healing and touching lepers, healing the cripple, Jesus was all about people.

With all respects to the Bishops, please don’t give up steak and chocolate this Lent. This is not a dietary shift. Give up your life and like Peter, and the common people of Jesus’ day, be honest for a change. That’s the beginning of a transformed life.

Why some people love Jesus, but not the church in its present form.

pexels-photo-842339.jpeg

The young man sat down in my office and wasted no time unloading his pain: “For years, I swore I would never get mixed up with religion until I started coming to your services. I now know that Christianity is about Jesus–his life, death, and resurrection.”

He was on a roll–“I am struck by his willingness to love people like me, with all my struggles and addictions. I love his power to touch lepers, spend time with women used up and abused by powerful men. I love how he challenged the powerful and corrupt religious leaders. Most of all, I love his directness with his disciples. He was patient with them, but still called them to a higher vision for their lives.”

As I listened to this passionate young student, I could tell he was reading his Bible with care and insight, and it was resetting the priorities in his life.

But what he said next made me sad. “Pastor, I love Jesus. This is not some empty religious trip for me. Jesus is alive in my daily experiences. But when I come to the church, I don’t see the passion and excitement that I read about in the early church. When I look at the programs and projects of the church, I know that there is some outreach to the community, but it seems like most of what we do is focused on us.”

I finally asked him what he thought was missing.

“If Jesus is alive what are we doing to bring healing and hope to the hurting people of our community? When I come to the prayer meetings, I don’t see many people present first of all, and then I wonder, what do we believe about prayer? Why do we struggle to give and attend to the worship of Jesus both in the church and outside of the church?”

And then he said these words I will never forget: “I love Jesus, but I don’t like the church. I see a disconnect between the words we sing and preach about Jesus. and how we demonstrate his powerful, resurrected life through each of us.”

Words from a naive, emotional youth? Maybe. But don’t dismiss what the student is saying. In fact, meet with some of the students in your church and ask them, is our church helping you become a faithful follower of Jesus? And then be prepared to listen, learn, pray and change.

“The unfortunate reality,” says Kara Powell, author of Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love your Church,  “is that most churches are not growing, and they aren’t getting any younger (p.15).” Check out Seth Stewart’s helpful summary of the book here.

So what’s the resolution with this college student? None. There are no easy answers, I told him. The church, the people of God, from the times of the Exodus, through exile, to the post-resurrection community until now has been a messy community. There has never been a moment in time when the Church lived in perfect obedience to Christ. But there has never been a moment when Christ left his Church.

So this is the resolution: I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ (Philippian 1:6). 

Christ in us, the hope of glory, that is the ultimate resolution. He started a good, redemptive work in His Church and he won’t quit until he returns. My young college friend continues to worship and serve in our church because he is learning to embrace and love our church the way Jesus embraces and loves His church. The sign of a maturing Christian is one who loves Jesus and loves the people (however imperfect they may be) that Jesus loves.

 

Slow Reading For Lasting Change

pexels-photo-372326.jpeg

At the start of this year, I made a shocking confession to God — I was tired of reading the Bible the way I had always read it.

Now, for a preacher, I know that sounds borderline blasphemous, but let me explain. For more years than I can count, one of my regular spiritual practices has involved starting my reading with Genesis in January and ending in December with Revelation.

Admittedly, reading through the Bible is not easy. For one thing, the thought occurs that, yes, I am reading through the Bible, but how is the Bible reading me?  I am getting into the Scriptures, but are the Scriptures getting into my life? Am I just better informed, or am I becoming a better person because of my reading through the Bible?

And then there are certain books during my year-long quest that I have dreaded reading through: Leviticus, with its blood and sacrifices; the two books of Chronicles, with all the mind-numbing lists; Isaiah, formidable in its 66 stentorian chapters; Song of Solomon, and all its erotic poetry; and the minor prophets, filled with God’s scary denunciation of sinful nations. People tell me these are some of the books that hinder them from reading all the way through to Revelation.

This year, I am trying something different: I am spending a month in each book of the Bible — or that’s what I hope to do. So I spent the month of January reading through Genesis five different times, and I encountered God in ways that led me to worship. Pastors may lead worship but don’t always worship!

In February, I am reading Exodus, with its 40 chapters, at least six times.

This slow reading of Scripture is touching my mind and emotions in some weird ways. For example, as I read these words in Exodus 33:7,11 — Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friendI couldn’t read these words without weeping.

I am not weeping with sorrow but with delight that God loves us and wants us to walk and talk with him. Moses and the people had a place where they would meet with God. I long for that level of friendship with God.

Why am I doing this? Not for sermon fodder. Nor I am not reading Scripture to fill my mind with factoids. I am reading through Scripture because I need God. I want to know God. I am lost without God’s wisdom in my life. Well before I became a pastor, I was (and still am today) a disciple of Jesus Christ. I read and ponder these ancient words because that’s what disciples do.

May the Lord stir up within His Church such deep cravings for Scripture. And may his words satisfy our restless souls and grant us peace.

If you are reading the Bible in 2018, how is God’s Word speaking into your life?

How God Sees Haitians and Africans

Haitian Child.jpg

The words of President Trump regarding Haitians and Africans wounded me. His intemperate words wounded millions of people around the world.

I woke up a couple days ago with a vivid picture of Revelation 7:9-10 and I felt better.

After this, I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Haitians and Africans will be standing before the throne and before the Lamb. The praises of God will flow effortlessly from their lips.

The president is wrong. His eyes are blind. What he sees are people who do not measure up to his standard.

God does not see people and relate to people by Mr. Trump’s standards. God loves Haitians, Africans, Jamaicans, Asians, Caucasians and every tribe, nation, and language on earth.

So I forgive the president, just as Jesus has forgiven me a million times for my own spiritual blindness.

Wally and Eleanor Turnbull, are veteran missionaries serving in Haiti. They collected and translated the simple but powerful prayers of the Christians who live in the Haitian mountains. Here are four prayers focusing on the power of God’s Word in our lives.

Our Great Physician,
Your word is like alcohol.
When poured on an infected wound, it burns and stings,
but only then can it kill germs.
If it doesn’t burn, it doesn’t do any good.

Father,
We are all hungry baby birds this morning.
Our heart-mouths are gaping wide, waiting for you to fill us.

Father,
A cold wind seems to have chilled us.
Wrap us in the blanket of your Word and warm us up.

Lord,
We find your Word like cabbage.
As we pull down the leaves, we get closer to the heart.
And as we get closer to the heart, it is sweeter.

Haitians and Africans have much to teach us about God.

The Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Marriage.

Photo by Gus Moretta on UnsplashHope

I am going to get right to the point. I believe that the most important thing you can do for your marriage is to keep hope alive. How to do that is what I want to share with you.

When Judith and I wrote the fictional book, 5 Disciplines of a Growing Marriage, this was the message we wanted to communicate.

The couple, Mark and Lisa, had many problems–nothing unusual that you and I don’t deal with. Their marriage was on the verge of imploding, not because of the problems, but because in the course of dealing with their problems, they lost all hope. 

It is not the problems that make marriage intolerable. Marriage becomes intolerable when couples lack tools to deal with their problems.

If you read the book, you will notice that it doesn’t end with, and they lived happily ever after, that only happens in a fairytale world. In the real world, a joy-filled marriage confronts daily problems from a perspective of hope. The 5 Disciplines of a Growing Marriage ends on a note of hope. Mark and Lisa will still be afflicted with problems, but they will face their problems with hope instead of despair.

What do I mean by hope? Hope is the irrepressible conviction that tomorrow will be better than today.

Hope has an object.

Surprisingly, the object is not love or your partner. Hope is rooted in the presence and promises of God. Almighty God promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).” Hope is the conviction that while the problems of marriage may overwhelm, they will never, and can never eclipse God. So God is our helper!

What we have observed is that joy-filled couples do not depend on themselves. Don’t get me wrong, they take responsibility for their actions and their immature behavior, but they don’t believe the lie that they possess all the resources and answers to their problems. These resilient couples have faith in God to sustain them in their problems. So they are not afraid to seek help from God and others.

Hope grows through trial and error.

If we were to graph the trajectory of our marriage, it would not be a straight line up and to the right. The growth lines of our marriage for the past 34 years would look like the stock market, many highs and lows. So how does that provide hope? Suffering, failure, and hardship produce endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

Whenever Judith and I hit tough spots in our life together, we remind ourselves that we have been in this boat before. We don’t panic. We don’t throw in the white towel. We endure the hardship, knowing that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness.

Hope feeds commitment.

This makes sense. If I believe that God is with me and will never forsake me, and if I believe that God uses all of my victories and failures shape me into the image of Christ, then I will remain filled with hope for each day. This sense of daily hope sustains our commitment to our marital vows.

Judith and I celebrated thirty-four years of marriage in 2017. Our love for each other continues to grow in the face of every imaginable problem that two people could face.

  • What keeps us going is the conviction that God knows us and loves us.
  • Christ died and rose from the dead. His resurrection power is with us.
  • We have the wisdom of God through the word of God to guide us.
  • Those who are with us are greater than those who are against us.
  • God does not keep a record of my sins and failures. I am forgiven!

I would love to hear your thoughts: What keeps you hopeful in your marriage?