Challenge, Encouragement, Leadership

A Message I Shared from 2011

Recently I received a random phone call from a friend. He was driving to North Carolina at the time while his wife slept comfortably beside him in the passenger seat. He found himself feeling somewhat drowsy and remembered that he had thrown a box of “old” CD’s in the truck with him. He decided to reach behind his driver’s seat and arbitrarily choose one. After blindly selecting, he noticed it was a teaching from 2011 when I spoke at his local church.

 

He then said this to me, “Steve, you just can’t imagine how relevant your message was to both of us at this specific time. We so enjoyed it. To think that I just randomly pulled it from a box of old CD’s and there we were listening to a message you spoke in 2011.” I thanked him for the encouragement that call was to me.

 

It caused me to think about the fact that a nine-year-old message could be a blessing to someone today. We tend to forget those messages and often wonder if anyone was listening, received anything and whether or not they actually made some sort of application to their personal life. Be encouraged if you are a trainer, a teacher, a pastor or a blog writer. You never know if the message you share today may end up being a direct blessing and encouragement a year from today, a decade from today or beyond.

 

I am simply intrigued how God does these kinds of things. Please be assured that your heavenly Father does not miss a thing in your life or those lives you are responsible for. Be encouraged to know you are affecting others just as they are affecting your life. Perhaps you need to call or write to someone as my friend did and encourage them for their faithful acts of service that have personally blessed you. Go ahead, bless someone with affirmation today.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, In the news, Issues of the Day

My Encounter with a Chain Saw

I have been using chain saws since 1978. I am familiar with them and how dangerous they are. I have never had an accident with one until recently.

 

I did not become careless or reckless, but it still occurred. For some unknown reason, the brake failed to work once the gas was let off and the moving chain just happened to find my leg. Fortunately, I am married to a nurse who has all kinds of medical supplies to put one back together again.

 

Accidents are just that—accidents. It was not tried or malicious. There was no one to get angry with and no one to yell at for the accident; it just happened. But this accident needed immediate medical attention.

 

We rush in to care for a deep cut like it’s a matter of life and death. We may need a shot, stitches and oral meds to fight possible infection. But how many of us encounter an emotional cut and give it little to no attention? Perhaps there is no gushing blood, but it’s still a wound. It’s a wound that can become infected without proper treatment.

 

An emotional wound can be carried for a lifetime before one realizes it’s there or that it’s undealt with. I liken them to hidden or covered over old wounds. I have heard about wounds that start to heal only to discover there is dirt or infection below the surface. In those cases, a wound must be reopened, cleaned and re-stitched. Not a fun experience.

 

And perhaps that is what’s happening in a nation infected by old wounds. We are reminded of them; they are reopening and there is a need for medicine so there can be permanent healing—that type of healing that is once and for all.

 

May we all be reminded of the One who received wounds because of our transgressions. He took those wounds to the point of becoming unrecognizable as a man for you and for me. And after being wounded, He was nailed on a splinter-filled cross to await death by suffocation.

 

I love the One who offered this selfless act of love for all of mankind and it is He who is the ultimate wound healer. Isaiah the prophet wrote this about Him:

 

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgression, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53: 3-5)

 

Give your wounds to the One who was wounded for you. Let Him carry them to the cross so you can walk in freedom.

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Children, Encouragement, In the news, Parents

He Never Stops Searching for the Kidnapped

It’s an older story now and a Lifetime movie. In 1997, Luzaida Cuevas’ 10-day-old daughter, Delimar Vera, reportedly died in a Philadelphia, Pa row home fire. The mother searched for her baby in her crib and noticed an open window, but could not find her. The fire personnel told ‘Luz’ the fire was so hot it consumed her little body without a trace, but Luz never believed that story and tried to hire a lawyer. She could not afford those expenses, but never stopped believing that her daughter was alive. And then, one amazing day…

 

Six years later on January 24th, Luz was attending a children’s birthday party and she spotted a little six-year-old girl with a pronounced dimple she recognized immediately. She called the girl to her telling her she had gum in her hair. Having seen crime shows on TV, she was able to secure a few strands of the child’s hair for DNA testing.

 

The DNA test confirmed Luzaida’s suspicion, it was her daughter who was kidnapped by a frequent visitor to her home. The kidnapper set her home a blaze as a distraction. A local state politician helped Luz secure the DNA test and connected her with the police. The kidnapper was arrested and eventually Delimar was returned to her biological mother.

 

Reading this story about the never-ending love of a mother, a mother who did not give up believing her daughter was alive reminds me of something. After six years, that same mother just knew her eyes and her soul were connecting with the daughter she had last seen at the age of ten days. It reminds me of God’s love and God’s heart for me, for you and for all of mankind. I could just sense how our Father searches and waits to restore those who are lost, those who have been kidnapped by the world around them.

 

They are your relatives and your neighbors. Even though we may struggle in our relationships with these persons at times, God does not. He is relentlessly pursuing them with His love, His acceptance, His healing and His salvation.

 

 

“God, give us eyes to see them as You see them, to love them as You love them and to pray for them. Help us to not be angry with them, but rather with their ‘kidnapper.’”

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day

The Aversion to Counseling

It was not unusual for me to receive a call from a spouse requesting counseling. Often I asked if their marriage partner will accompany them and just as often I would hear something like this: “Oh, they don’t think they need counseling.” I have news for that spouse and every other person alive. We all need counseling at one time or another throughout our existence on this planet.

 

What is the aversion to counseling? There are numerous I suppose, but number one on my list is pride. We pridefully feel that our spouse needs counsel far more than we do. Or, we simply do not desire to admit that we need a counselor in our life.

 

Another is the avoidance of one-on-one confrontation and the fear of having to face the fact that we might be wrong. Again, a derivative of pride.

 

Perhaps another is being married to someone who is forever, chronically seeking counsel, but then never healing.

 

And still another is that proverbial response of, “What can a counselor tell me that I don’t already know?” Great question for the person who doesn’t even know enough to realize there is safety in a multitude of counselors. (Proverbs 15:22; 24:6)

 

Wise counselors are a gift to human kind from God and to be appreciated. One of the names of God’s Son is Counselor

 

My wife and I have been to a counselor. I once bribed my whole family with pizza if they would first be willing to share with a counselor how their dad could improve upon being a dad. I have sought out counsel in many forms and fashions from experts who had keen insight into areas like finances, home repair projects, business building, child raising and leadership. God has experts in every category of life and I’ll bet you have access to some of those wise counselors.

 

Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day

Perfect—Everything is Perfect

Have you noticed lately when calling your insurance company, your bank or just about any customer service person there has been a change?  When communicating about a problem or an update the word you often hear over and over is “perfect.” Repeatedly I hear, “Yes, perfect;” “That’s perfect;” “Mmm perfect.” When they ask the spelling of my name and then answer, “Perfect,” I feel a little unnerved because now their perfect word actually becomes incongruent to the question. Of course I can spell my last name perfectly. You would think life is just perfect in their world.

 

Are these persons being trained to use this word in their dialogues with customers over and over? What’s so great about this word and who started this nuance? What consultant or training guru first said, “Use one word and one word only over and over—PERFECT.” Did some scientific study or major poll figure out we love to hear the word perfect? Is there some unknown psychology behind this word, “perfect?” Is perfect what every human being has a desire to become so they repeatedly make use of this word? Or, is it the fact that no one is perfect and these persons, no matter how frustrated we the customer become, accept what is being said because of this special, overused and overrated word?

 

I hear parents repeatedly tell their children practice makes perfect, but it does not. Practice makes better, not perfect. If perfection is our goal, then we’re defeated before we even begin. Is anything in this world perfect?

 

Only One. Read below about this Perfection:

 

II Samuel 22:31 – His way is perfect and His word is flawless.

 

Job 36:4 – He is perfect in knowledge.

 

Psalm 18:30 – God’s way is perfect.

 

Isaiah 25:1 – He is perfectly faithful.

 

Hebrews 7:28 – The Son of God, perfect forever.

 

James 1:17 – His gifts are perfect.

 

I John 4:18 – His love is perfect.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership

Being Aware of Life Distractions

Important stuff versus the distractions of just stuff…

 

I seem to have this continual mental battle regarding what is the best use of my time. What builds life and love versus loss and fear? What is a good cause versus a great and godly cause? What is God’s will versus my will? What is secular, of this world, and what is of His kingdom?

 

It takes discernment and wisdom and it reminds me of a story I was reading in the Scriptures just the other day.

 

The disciple Peter was being questioned by Jesus and he was confessing Christ by his repeated answering of the question, “Who do you say I am?”

 

Then Jesus begins to speak of His coming death, how He must be killed. Peter takes Him aside and, get this, “rebukes” Him. Wow, that took some nerve, but I get that it was a desperate plea on Peter’s part. Of course, this is where (and it seems out of character) Jesus tells Satan to “get behind” Him and for Peter to stop being a “stumbling block.”

 

Following this dialogue there is this partial sentence in which Jesus expresses something significant. He said, “…you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (See Matthew 16:13-23.)

 

Bear in mind, Jesus had just told Peter that he was blessed and that his Father in heaven was revealing things to him. Apparently, this rebuke was not one of them.

 

Struggling with Which Cause to Fight For

 

It seems that every week or two our world has a new cause, a new band wagon, a new catastrophe to jump on depending on the crime or news attention of the day.

 

It is really easy to get caught up on social media with opinion, videos, responses and emotion. Perhaps we need to stop and reflect on Jesus’ words: what do we have in mind, the things of men or of God? Good things might not be God things.

 

And that’s where this word, distraction, comes in. Life is full of causes. Tomorrow and next week will be another headline. But as those who are called to reflect the mind and the image of Christ, we must seek first the kingdom of God and not be distracted by each and every cause of the day.

 

We do not want to be a stumbling block to anyone. Jesus also said that if we wanted to follow Him, we had to first deny ourself and then take up His cross. Many of the bandwagons of our day have no relationship with the cross.

 

Jesus’ final question in this passage concerning distractions was this, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

 

I do not think it’s the world’s gain or approval we are seeking.

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Challenge, Encouragement, In the news, Issues of the Day, Leadership

Why Money May Not Be Wealth

Our international economy is in such a disarray at this time. There has been a loss of jobs, businesses and products. Along with such losses, governments do not know how to fix the issues following a world pandemic. It’s easy to be an armchair critic, but what precedent do they/we have to follow?

 

Steve Forbes has said, “Money is not wealth, but it helps create wealth.” The U.S. government responded by creating several stimulus packages to help businesses, nonprofits and individuals. Most are happy that happened. It’s something called, “Quantitative Easing.”

 

It is said if you or I print money, it’s counterfeiting and counterfeiting is a form of theft. But if the government prints money, it’s generating stimulus or quantitative easing in the case of the Cares Act. It’s a short-term solution for a long-term problem.

 

Dirt or gold?

Andrew Carnegie came to America as a child from Scotland. He worked small, odd jobs as a boy but we know him as the largest manufacturer of steel in the United States. It is said that at one time he had forty-three millionaires working for him. (In today’s terms that million dollars would be comparable to twenty million.)

 

One day a reporter asked him how these men became so valuable in order to pay them so much money? This was Carnegie’s reply, “…the men are developed the same way gold is mined. When gold is mined, several tons of dirt must be moved to get an ounce of gold; but one doesn’t go into the mine looking for dirt—one goes in looking for gold.”

 

Have you made a decision as to how you will come out of this season? For many it feels like someone has been piling on dirt. But there is gold in that dirt. Can a stimulus generate more rather than just being received and cashed? How can we mine gold and generate more from the losses we have experienced? If we sit around and just complain about all the dirt, we’ll never find the gold.

 

Bark or gold?

I know a story of a logging yard near my home that was losing money and threatening to shut down its business. A Christian business man was consulted and upon arriving on site he couldn’t help but notice mountains of bark, unused and unwanted bark removed from the logs. This man told them there must be something they can do with that bark. Out of those mountains of unwanted bark came gold. We know it today as bark mulch. Logging has not been their business for decades now, but rather bark mulch.

 

Let’s ask God for new and creative ideas to generate income, business, support for our local church, mission dollars and the like. Perhaps God in His wisdom placed gold in the dirt so we have to become creative in discovering it.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, In the news, Issues of the Day

Listening to a Black Pastor from Chicago

On a recent phone conversation with my pastor friend in Chicago, I asked him how the George Floyd incident affects him. After thanking me for asking, he shared the following bullet points that I thought might be helpful for many of us.

  • Until you experience this type of thing, it’s really difficult to relate to.
  • The hope that I personally feel is the shock of this video and that maybe people will re-evaluate where they are personally at with this subject.
  • Growing up in the 60’s-70’s I had encounters with the police and was harassed. There was no weight on my side; it was my word against theirs and I would not be believed.
  • To live in a day when the police are held accountable for their actions, experiencing the rogue paying a consequence and the fact that it is causing outrage, is progress to me.
  • I recognize as a brown person in this society I am not always perceived as the same, although I have learned to navigate this. My perspective is what does my King say about me?
  • When you’re screaming and you’re ignored, it’s hard to understand that. This must be more than a moment and the church needs to show and lead the way because it’s light versus darkness.
  • Blacks, Asians, Hispanics all have their prejudices; it is not just whites.
  • My hope is that people will come to an empathetic position and engage in dialogue in ways that affect people. While you may never experience what I have, you can empathize.

My friend said, “Look man, don’t walk on egg shells around me. If you do you will not be authentic. But always consider your audience and be careful.

 

Below is a prayer that my pastor friend shared with his heavenly Father the morning he heard about the George Floyd incident.

 

Lord, I’m angry and saddened by what happened to George Floyd, his being killed by the Minneapolis police as he literally cried for help; and what continually happens to black and brown people, especially males, in this country. I believe that You are angry and saddened by it as well. I ask You to help me not to become jaded and help me to maintain a kingdom focus. Help me to hear You clearly and distinctly regarding what I should do to glorify You and be a blessing to humanity. Help me to be strong and courageous. In America and around the world, I ask You to arise and cause Your enemies to be scattered. Your Word declares that love never fails. I’m thankful that Your love is poured out in my heart by the Holy Spirit, and I’m thankful that You help me to receive and walk in Your love. You are the just and righteous Judge. I pray that You will cause justice to reign in our nation and throughout the world! LET GOD ARISE AND HIS ENEMIES BE SCATTERED!!!

Thank You for never leaving me or forsaking me. I love You, Lord, and I trust You.

 

It was John Newton, working on a ship that trafficked humans for the slave trade, who in deep repentance penned the song, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

 

“Lord, help us to see and do better.”

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Healing, In the news, Issues of the Day, Leadership

Do Black Lives Matter? My Story

The sign in front of church read, “We know no strangers, only friends we haven’t met.” My closest friend from my military days told me years later, “You know, Steve, that sign was not true for me.” I asked him what he meant. He said, “I was the wrong color.” While I knew there were no black persons attending this southern state local church, I had no idea why. He told me he endured negative comments and prejudice for years.

 

I asked Wayne why he never told me and why he kept attending as he endured racism among his Christian brothers and sisters. He said, “You were my friend and I was there with you and for you.” I had no idea. But then, I remembered something…

 

It was 1975 and Mary and I had just been married. That same year our pastor came to us and asked if we would start a Sunday School bus ministry. We asked him what that was. He sent us to a training, we bought a bus, painted it red and white and hit the road every Saturday morning. We filled that bus with unruly, unchurched but extremely happy kids. We played games, sang songs and had contests to and from Sunday School.

 

We visited, with a pocket full of candy, those kids faithfully every Saturday and we knocked on new doors as well. Soon we filled a second bus and then a third. Parents even began to come with us and then we received some alarming news.

 

Our pastor called Mary and I into his office. He, with great uneasiness said, “We have a problem with the bus ministry.” He went on, “The board is complaining of the costs; your kids do not tithe.” And then he added the most shocking words, “As well, your kids are the wrong color.” We had no words. The bus ministry was in question and perhaps on the chopping block of this local church board and congregation.

 

Finally he said, “They have given me an ultimatum; it’s either Steve and Mary’s bus ministry or them, their tithe and of course me being able to continue here in ministry.”

 

We truly thought it would be the termination of our outreach to those wonderful kids, “our kids.” Surprisingly, the pastor then spoke these bold words, “So, here’s what we’re going to do. Rather than bringing the buses into the back of the church and unloading, we’ll now bring the buses to the front parking lot. We’ll unload directly to the main auditorium, placing your kids and your helpers (lots of helpers) in all of the front rows you can fill. We’ll then begin Sunday School classes for the first ten minutes there with a general opening. Every congregational member will be forced to sit behind your kids and look at them each Sunday morning.”

 

This courageous step meant certain death to our pastor’s job and the ministry we loved. He ended our conversation with a few words we’ll never forget, “We will give every reason in the world for the members who do not want this ministry to continue the opportunity to leave this church!” What a brave man of God taking such a brazen step because lives matter. We grew in our respect of this godly man who would place his ministry on the line for an integrated church and we learned a great deal about Christ-centered leadership that day.

 

Our kids were of black, brown, Latino, Asian, Caucasian and mixed races and we often sang, no screamed, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves…”

 

Decades later we visited that church. It is now a mega congregation with numerous Sunday morning services. There is no bus ministry, but as Mary and I sat in the balcony overlooking the crowded seats we noticed something. I leaned over to my wife and quietly remarked, “Are you seeing what I am seeing? Do you think the bus ministry of decades ago planted a seed for this?”

 

Later in talking with the current pastor, we asked him the demographics of his congregation. He unashamedly stated, “Our demographics are exactly the same as the demographics of our community.”

 

We went to lunch with my friend Wayne that day. Even though we left this church years earlier to move back to PA, Wayne stayed. Today Wayne is the prison ministry chaplain for the church, a church that perhaps now knows no strangers, only friends they haven’t met.

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Challenge, Encouragement, In the news, Issues of the Day

A New Normal

We’re finding ourselves these days with a new normal lifestyle.  It has caused me to think about the fact that this season of many of our lives is going to be a once in a lifetime defining line in the course of world history, i.e., before COVID – 19 and after COVID – 19. It has also caused me to think about the fact that we all long for normality. The question then becomes, “What will be the new normal?” upon return to life as we once knew it.

 

I think a new normal can be very positive because this time has created new means and methods of doing things.

 

One of my main questions, working and living within the local church world, is will we return to our church buildings as we once knew them? Perhaps in some arenas that is a literal question, but I guess I am considering it in a more rhetorical sense as well. I mean, will it be church business as usual?

 

In talking with a missionary friend who serves in a European nation recently, he told me it was illegal to homeschool his children in this country and there were very few Christian school options. And then he said this, “Right now, during this world crisis, we are required by that same government to homeschool!” What an almost humorous, 180-degree change of government control and new normal.

 

Will our coveted church buildings hold their same attraction? Will the megachurch maintain small connect groups for prayer, fellowship and study? Will the local church that never used technology or was perhaps anti-technology for conducting meetings reverse that strategy? Could there be numerous changes to those in-house church programs that we held onto so tightly for so long? And will the tech savvy next generation be given the reins from the older generation leaders so these new means and methods can be further developed in an effort to keep the local church relevant and up to date for generations to come?

 

If we can learn from this time, I think the church will grow exponentially. If we can apply technology in a Holy Spirit centered way, then we will see new forms of evangelism, caring for the shut-in, counseling, training and even in holding elder meetings, all of which will not require travel.

 

So let’s be thankful for this season, embracing new ways of completing important tasks and brand-new ideas, being creative and honoring one another’s gifts all at the same time.

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