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Born or made? How leaders are formed

person making clay pot
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I don’t expect the following names (Uncle Eddie, Eardley, Coach Smith, Pastor Lue, Judith, Tita, Dr. Biberstein, Dr. Willie Jennings, Coach Morley, Dr. Mary Fulkerson, Pam, Barry, Tony, Danny, Mama, Joycinth) to mean anything to you, but these people represent milestones, pivot points, influencers in my life’s journey. What I am getting at here is, I don’t know where I would be without the impact of these in my life. These people are gifts of gold to me.

Reading through Acts this week reminds me of these people and the power of partnership and influence: Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.” (Acts 11:25-26)

It is possible that Saul, who later became Paul, could not have become the great church planter and leader in the history of the Church without the influence and partnership of Barnabas. Barnabas left Antioch and traveled over 151 miles to find Saul, bring him back to Antioch to help solidify the growing, diverse church in Antioch.

But he also brought him back to Antioch to influence, mentor, and validate his gifts and calling. The action of Barnabas underscores that tomorrow’s leaders do not come into the world prepackaged, ready to lead. Tomorrow’s leaders are nurtured through mentoring relationships, experiences–both positive and negative–education, humility, and self-awareness.

When Alex Haley achieved great fame and fortune because his book, Roots, was turned into a blockbuster series on TV, the world beat a path to his door. Top of the world. Everyone wanted to interview him. Many years ago now, I read an article about Alex Haley, his humble beginnings, and his service to his country in the Navy. In an accompanying interview, the journalist kept looking at a picture hanging on the wall. Finally, he asked Mr. Haley, “Tell me about that picture?,” pointing to a large picture of a turtle sitting on a fence post. “What is the significance of that picture?” Haley responded, “I keep that picture to remind me that the turtle did not get to the top of that fence by itself. It got there because someone helped it. I keep reminding myself that I am where I am because many hands lifted me up.”

So, think about where you are today. How many hands lifted you up? Would you then please consider doing the following:

First, make a list of the people in your life who influenced you, encouraged you, partnered with you through your life. It is humbling, and there is no room for pride or boasting in such an exercise.

Second, would you be willing to write a letter to one of the Barnabases in your life and thank them for being present and supportive of your journey through life?

Third, could you find a way to pay it forward? In other words, a “Barnabas” found you, influenced and encouraged you. Who might you lift up and encourage?

Fourth, would you be willing to reach out to an emerging leader and find ways to bless and encourage that young leader?

By doing this, we help shape future leaders in our homes, churches, and society at large.

Today we too often find ourselves withering under the weight of arrogant and unprincipled leadership in many areas of our society. Men and women who have no regard for how they use their power in the lives of people who depend on their leadership. Leaders who give praise to themselves and forget how they got to the top of the fence.

Almighty God knows I am not a perfect man. And, sure as the Lord causes the sun to rise each day, without the people whose names I listed above, I would not be where I am today. Thanks be to God for his gift and grace in our lives.

Marital drift: what it is and how to stop it

marital separation

I have never met a couple who told me they are getting married to make the other person’s life miserable. Maybe you have, but I haven’t.

People get married because they are in love.

They are passionate about each other.

They want to bring joy and happiness to each other.

They want to pursue common hopes and dreams together.

These emotions of love and desire are so strong they often lead the couple into the covenant of marriage. The logic then should go something like this: if the couple were close like a stamp to an envelope before they were married, then after getting married they should be even closer, right?

Well, not so fast. Something happened to the couple over time to slowly and painfully pull them apart. There was no sordid affair. No physical or verbal abuse. The couple just drifted apart like untethered boats, pushed and pulled by the sea of life.

Marital Drift seems as inevitable as the continental variety. A creeping separateness between spouses often begins on the day they return from their honeymoon and sometimes doesn’t stop until one or both end up in a counselor’s office, a lawyer’s office or somebody else’s bed. Many believe nothing can be done to prevent Marital Drift. Comments like, “I just don’t love her anymore,” “We’ve grown apart,” and “I can’t imagine what I ever saw in him” are common excuses.

What are some of the signs?

  • No physical intimacy
  • Finding pleasure in porn.
  • No more romantic dates.
  • Focus on children more than the spouse.
  • Holding on till the children leave home.
  • Over-investment in work.
  • Spending more time talking to “friends” on Facebook than to each other.
  • No more laughter.
  • Avoidance of conflict.
  • Ennui or boredom
  • Preoccupation with social media.
  • Binging on Netflix.
  • No longer sharing hopes, dreams, failures, daily happenings. Nothing is shared other than, “could you please pass the salt and pepper.”
  • No longer praying together.

If you are in a state of marital drift, what can you do? Or is it too late?

It is never too late to invest in each other. It is never too late to save your marriage. The biggest obstacle you will face is pride. Are you willing to humble yourself, stop blaming the other person and just say, “I (not you) need to change the way I am acting.”

Here are a few things you can do today to stop the drift:

Admit that there is a problem
Say to your spouse, “We know something is wrong with our relationship. I don’t like what we are becoming and I must admit that I don’t know how to fix it.” Admitting that there is a problem, without affixing blame is a great start.

Ask for help
Every couple, if they are honest, is fighting marital drift. If a couple is not growing they are flatlining and drifting. Help could come from a small group of like-minded couples at church. Help could come from seeking a mentor–a couple who are farther along the journey than you. Ask them to walk with you during this time of struggle. You should not be afraid to seek the help of your pastor or a professional marriage counselor. The point is, don’t try to go it alone. Ask for help.

Commit to serving the other person’s needs: What can I do today to make your day a better day?
I came across this practical article in Huffington Post that is worth reading and implementing. This question gets at the heart of being a servant. Most marriages struggle because of an intense desire for individual happiness and fulfillment without regard for the other. It sounds illogical, but if you focus on serving, blessing, and bringing delight to your spouse, the law of reciprocity kicks in and your joy, blessing, and delight returns ten-fold. If you want to be great, if you want a blessed life, learn to be a servant to others. Read Richard Paul Evans’ post and you will see what I am talking about.

Recommit to praying for each other
Prayer is the practice and experience of spiritual intimacy. Many of the couples I meet with have never explored this area of their relationship. They have physical intimacy, financial intimacy, shared social events, but they have never explored what it looks like to pray together.

Judith and I have been married for more than three decades, and over the course of our marriage, we have found praying together to be the single most powerful practice in our lives that keeps us close to God and to each other. We have faced many storms, both personal and in our professional lives—storms packing gale-force winds of a Category 5 hurricane. Without the protection and the anchoring strength of prayer, we would have been blown away. There is something powerful and calming about praying while in a storm. We’ve discovered a simple truth: Jesus is with us in our storms. This is not a time to bail on our marriage or to drift into isolation, to blame each other, or to allow fear to cripple us. When struggling through a storm, call on Jesus.

Take even five minutes in the morning, or before going to bed to pray for each other. Like water renewing a dry flower bed, praying together will restore life to your marriage. 

Again, these aren’t THE solutions. But the first law of halting marital drift is to stop doing what you have always done and do things you used to do or have never done. Any investment in your marriage no matter how small is worth the effort. You can also check out our book: Five Disciplines of a growing marriage for more ideas.

What other steps might couples take to stop Marital Drift?

 

How to measure your true weight

silver and gold coins
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Life would be simple, or so we think if we could measure ourselves based on money saved in the bank–the more, the better, or how many pounds lost from careful eating and exercise–the lighter, the more desirable we are. But we are more than our stuff and our BMI.

Early this morning I had to hit the pause button while reading and praying through Psalm 62. It’s a sober reminder. God weighs us, and we don’t amount to much. 

We don’t weigh much because God is not impressed with our stuff. Everything we have is on loan from God. Somewhere along the journey we fell in love with our stuff and forgot the One who gave it to us.

Those of low estate are but a breath,
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath. Psalm 62:9

Life for the rich and the poor, when weighed in God’s eternal scale, is nothing more than a breath. In fact, they are lighter than breath.

The Hebrew word, hebel (breath), in some contexts, means complete nothingness, emptiness, or vanity.

We make such a big deal about ourselves and others. We like to catalog people as heavyweights, or stars; people who are either rich, popular, accomplished, influential, or powerful.

And then some people we consider lightweights. They are small potatoes. These folks are physically unimpressive, intellectually deficient, lack money, are weak, ordinary people; no one knows them, or looks to them.

Predictably, we all want access to the heavyweight and ignore the lightweight. Taking selfies with the rich and famous gives us a leg up, and we have something to boast about at our next party.

Psalm 62 reminds us that the brevity of life is evenly distributed among the rich and famous, the poor and obscure.

In the only psalm attributed to Moses, he said, “The days of our lives are seventy years, and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (90:10). Those aren’t words we want to hear. We want to remain forever young, but Scripture reminds us that the years pass and death will one day arrive.

Fame and fortune might be incredible, but it is only for a season. Poverty and obscurity are not desired ways to live, but even this is fleeting. Instead of striving to be among the one percenters, or as the Psalmist calls it, those of high estate, we should trouble ourselves to trust in God.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Psalm 62:5-8

The way to truly measure your weight is to use the “scale” called glory. Who gets the glory in your life? Who gets the thanks and the recognition for your life? If the thanks go to the self, good luck, hard work, your lucky stars, then you and I, rich or poor, are lightweights.

The real heavyweights of this world are those who say,

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. Psalm 115:1

I hope this makes sense. If the self receives the glory, we are lightweights. If God gets the glory, we are heavyweights.

 

#metoo and #churchtoo a moment for redemption or condemnation?

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Harvey Weinstein. Didn’t know the man, and never paid much attention to his role as a Hollywood power broker. But once the #metoo stories started emerging in the public’s consciousness, we all learned of his serial predatory attacks on women trying to advance their professional careers. We all learned of the destructive scars he inflicted on women.

Powerful men (and some women) are now under the public klieg lights where everyone can see and hold them accountable for their treatment of their subordinates. This is a good thing. Let’s not fool ourselves–at its core, sexual harassment is abuse of power.

A similar revolution is happening in the church. Influential pastors, priests, and church leaders must now face up to the pain they inflict on vulnerable members of their staff and people in their congregations.

Please understand, I am not gloating or finding pleasure in the downfall of these people. If anything, it is forcing me to renew my efforts to live with integrity before God and others. It is causing me to remember Scriptures’ encouragement to “Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters (I Timothy 5:2 NLT).”

This moment is also a time of righteous anger. Things hidden are now coming to light. Past wrongs and abuses are now being exposed and dealt with.

But I also believe this is a critical moment in our history to teach young men and young women what it means to respect the inherent dignity and worth of others. This means moving beyond the anger to redemption. Use this point in our history to teach young men and women how to treat and honor each other. Use this moment to teach others that power must be used to build up and not to break down.

It’s time we stop treating women as second-class citizens.

For over thirty-five years, my mother worked as a pharmacist in a public hospital. She endured put-downs, unequal pay, and sexual harassment from doctors and other men at the hospital. Back then, she couldn’t do anything to stop this mistreatment. It was status quo back then if she wanted to keep her job.

She’s ninety-one years old and her working days are long gone. But women like her endured the male predators of the workplace to make things easier for my millennial daughter who is a few years into her professional life.

I pray that the young women and men in our workspaces–religious or marketplace– will be treated as valuable professionals and not as objects of lust.

For this to happen it means that every pastor, leader, manager, professor, boss, must lift up in their settings the value of treating each other with utmost respect and dignity. Anyone failing to live up to this value should be seriously reprimanded or fired.

What do you think?

 

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 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

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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.

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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.