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

A Higher Calling Than a Political Party

Are you an Indian People’s Party, a Labour Party, Libertarian Party, National Party, Christian Party, Democrat or a Republican? Did you know there was a political party registered in New Zealand in 2015 called the “Not A Party” party? Regardless of your party affiliation, this is not your identity.

 

All these political parties are meant to offer a difference in belief and values. At their core, these differences tend to divide if we let them. If we have found ourselves turning up our noses at our neighbors’ political signs, chances are we have allowed the differences to divide us. If our family members vote differently from us, we again have an opportunity for division.

 

The world systems tend to bring division. Often names are attached to certain values which then becomes an identity. But, as believers, this is NOT who we are. We must rise above the rhetoric, the anger, the angst and the propaganda. There is no political party on the earth who can save one single soul. There is no party in this world that can change a life like Jesus can.

 

Now that we have that settled, where is your alliance? Are you spending more time reading about your party, sharing about the beliefs of your party and advocating for your party over the time you spend sharing with others the most life-giving, life-changing good news available to mankind? It is good to talk about politics, but it is great to talk about a kingdom that has no end.

 

In politics we disagree, we voice our opposition, speak our mind and/or we resist. In a kingdom, we bow down to the King. In politics we elect leaders and then reelect years later. In a kingdom the King reigns for a lifetime or in our case, for all eternity. We are called to serve our King over country. We are called to a priesthood, a divine position within the kingdom.

 

To live this way, we spend our lives getting to know the King, because our heart is to obey Him first. And then, we tell our neighbors about Him, the King of kings, Lord of lords, Jesus!

 

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28)

 

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

Do You Know a Drug Addict?

Being trapped in drug addiction Is a horrible way to live: the lying; the hiding; the destruction to self, your marriage, your children and your future. Several years ago, I lost my 49-year-old cousin to an overdose and I promised myself that I would not stop loving, chasing and attempting to help others.  But drug use changes things.

 

It changes relationship with God and others.  It changes financial conditions.  It changes the ability to deal with life in terms of reality.  Drug addiction stops personal growth and causes regression. It is idolatry at its finest.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not judging drug addicts as having the worst sin because each of us have our issues.  But it affects so many areas of life that the personal cost, the family cost and the societal cost is so great; all the while, the person can sometimes live in denial of their very own problem.  It is called a “disease” and I guess that is how our world tries to understand, define and cope with it.

 

The problem with that, in my mind, is that so much personal choice and responsibility are involved.  Truly “disease” is a better term than mental illness, but when we make a continual choice to abuse, regardless of the number of rehabs we have gone through or programs at huge expense to so many, then I feel the need to ask the question that Jesus asked, “Do you want to be well?”

 

The real disease is often directly connected to selfishness.  You have effectively made yourself more important than anyone else in your life.  If that sounds harsh, please let me explain.  We are not our own; we were bought with a price.  I Corinthians 13 reminds us that love does not seek its own.  When we live in self-centeredness, forgetting who we really are, who we were made to be, why we were created in the image of God, we forget whose image we are truly to live in.  When we are consumed with our own selfish desires, we will never love others in the way we were created to and, hear me, that includes loving ourselves.

 

Maybe mentally these persons feel as though they have no choice.  I have never been there.  But in the lives of those whom I have cared about, I have watched them throw away those who love them, those who employ them and those who truly care about them.  No one is beyond hope, the love of Jesus or life change, but don’t we have to want it, desire it, be passionate for it?  Don’t we need to want to be well?  Don’t we need to stop choosing and chasing this “disease” that is killing us?

 

If I am not writing these things in love, then I have no voice; it’s only religious judgment.  But if I speak from love, concern and God’s heart, then hear me.  No matter our sin, our history, our personal pain or our idolatry, there is an answer, always an answer which gives freedom.  It is the cross, the Man who carried your sorrow, your grief, your pain and your addiction.  He is the only One who can identify and redeem.  Be assured of His love and the hope always found in Him.  Come home to Him, please, before it’s too late.

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

Challenging Beginnings

I was perusing an older (2013) Forbes magazine article and came across something intriguing. It was a brief article about the so called “American Dream” and how some billionaires faced very humbling and difficult beginnings. The article offered a few real-life examples.

 

Larry Ellison, co-founder of the Oracle Corporation, born in the Bronx, NY and who now owns Hawaii’s Lanai Island was given up for adoption after contracting pneumonia when only nine months old. He did not see his biological mother again until he was 48 years old.

 

Shahid Kahn who owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and one of the US’s largest private companies immigrated from Pakistan and worked for $1.20 an hour as a dishwasher to put himself through the University of Illinois.

 

Oprah Winfrey, the former host of the highest-rated talk shows in TV history, was born in Mississippi to a single, teenage mother and then bounced among family members and finally ran away in her teens to escape abuse.

 

Howard Schultz, who we know as the builder and owner of Starbucks coffee, grew up in a housing project in Canarsie, Brooklyn, NY. His family was left destitute when his father lost his job after an injury. Howard’s mother pleaded with him to not start a coffee company because, “Who’s going to buy coffee?”

 

Not one of these persons were born into wealth with a silver spoon handed to them. I find it interesting that most of us would downplay our ability to create something that has great potential.

 

Since the beginning of time, people have been trading goods and services in order to also create a better standard of living. Steve Forbes has said, “Money measures wealth; it is not wealth itself.” Money is what we attach to goods and services.

 

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with the world’s economy and many will sit back and allow it to happen. I pray that Christians around the world will pursue God’s next creative idea for them which will have a direct and lasting effect upon those around them.

 

Regardless of your beginnings, what ideas (good works) has God given you to help others, while at the same time, creating income for you and your family? Has this season of rest or pause generated ideas within you?

 

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

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

“I Have Pieces of Paper, But No Money”

My daughter was getting married and we were deep in conversation with the owner of the wedding venue. She was Latin. She came to North America when she was in her twenties, having to leave her home country because she was “reading and suspected of teaching subversive anti-government material.”

 

She came to America with a few personal belongings and virtually no English-speaking capabilities. She was living with her sister and brother-in-law and her first job was washing dishes in a restaurant even though she was a trained and educated school teacher in her country of origin. She was doing her best to grasp the English language while also attending night school classes. She struggled to pass the tests in this language that was so new and so difficult. She tenaciously took those same classes over and over until she passed.

 

She said to me, “I sat in those classes in total fear of failing and I worked my heart out to wash dishes to the best of my ability.” She wanted to pay her sister rent but told her sister the job of washing dishes, “Does not pay.” Her brother-in-law asked her why they are not paying her. She didn’t know the answer but told him they hand her an envelope every two weeks with paper in it. Wisely, he asked to see those pieces of paper.

 

They were paychecks. She had valuable pieces of paper, but no money. This precious woman went on to receive her Bachelor’s degree and at the time of our conversation was working on her Master’s degree. She and her husband purchased the wedding venue so she could have a business that she loved.

 

I was so impressed with this precious lady and her story that my daughter had to keep reminding me why we were there. I just couldn’t hear enough. It was a success story of perseverence. She told me no one helped her financially and at one point was working two jobs while attending college fulltime and paying for her own small apartment.

 

Can you imagine sitting in a classroom unable to understand the language of your lecturer and then trying to pass the tests? No one convinced this courageous lady it could not be done. What are you up against today? Is there a struggle in your life that seems insurmountable? You can do it; God is on your side and nothing is impossible with Him. (See Luke 1:37.)

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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, 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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