Have You Heard the Good News?

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.                                                                                                                          Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message)

Have you ever heard of Norman Borlaug? Neither had I. Funny how we often do not hear of the news that is the most uplifting and world changing. It turns out that Mr. Borlaug had a lot to do with the “Green Revolution” of the 1950’s and 60’s which helped to turn much of the world’s arable land into productive, food producing land due to his meticulous research. His work with making hybrid wheats likely has saved tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of people from starvation. He won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Every day we are inundated with bad news. You need not look far for pain, misery and doom. That is because news essentially singles out such stories because they are both sudden and newsworthy. Bad news arises quickly, generally, and it grabs headlines.

Good news, on the other hand, is with us all the time, and it is not, therefore, newsworthy. It is not “breaking news”, it is normal life. For example, the fact that there is less starvation now worldwide than ever in history, is not newsworthy. Partly, that is also due to the fact that it is hard to celebrate less starvation when starvation still exists in the world.

We cannot blame news media for this phenomenon. News is made up of events that are new, interesting, and important. The fact that there are wildfires and hurricanes happening is absolutely true. Those events are devastating in real time to thousands of people, and it is important to note.

At the same time, there are many, many things and events in the world that are good news, but they are swallowed by other pressing events. That is simply a matter of life. We need to remember however, the important fact that there are many incredible achievements that go unnoticed.

People like Norman Borlaug.

Prayer: Help us remember your grace and provision for us, even in the midst of bad news, Amen

How Does This Work?

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.                                           Matthew 5:8

We recently made a visit to Kansas City to visit my daughter and her family. While there, my wife and I visited several museums (yeah, we do that kind of thing 😊). One of the museums was about the Shawnee Mission, established in the early 1850’s for the Native American families who were being displaced by an influx of pioneer white settlers.

Not enough space here to unravel that devastation of Native American land and culture, but let’s just look at the process of evangelization that Christians brought to these Plains People. I bring this up because the way that we sometimes try to evangelize people into the Christian faith is to impress a need for personal salvation. That is, an inward acceptance of the need for Jesus as Savior and Lord.  

That point has great merit, in that we cannot save ourselves, and that we need the grace of God for salvation. At the same time, the Shawnee and many other Native Americans found the idea of such a personal salvation bewildering. They had collective community beliefs about a relationship to God. Salvation was a tribal and community understanding of how God connects with people.

The way that the Gospel was presented for some centuries to displaced peoples was part gracious, and part need to control and enforce conformity to norms that were foreign to the evangelized.

I cannot speak to the motives of all missionary work. Undoubtedly, many missionaries, even most, had pure hearts and right motives. Yet it gives me pause to think about salvation itself. Does a simple personal decision make all the difference? Or does that change of mind need to be accompanied by a change of heart, attitude and behaviors.

Your thoughts?

Prayer: Lord, help us to hear as well as share the stories of your love, Amen

Where is the Church?

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’                                                    Matthew 25:45 (The Message)

“Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”                                                                                               Matthew 18:18-20 (The Message)

I heard a story from a client recently whom I had challenged to attend an AA meeting. He knows that he is an alcoholic- at least now he does. It took a trip to the hospital Intensive Care Unit to convince him, but he knows that he is an alcoholic.

However, it was not solely my recommendation to attend AA that convinced him to attend a meeting. It was the behavior of another man in recovery who won him to the AA community. This man offered to talk with my client day or night, whenever he needed to call. He offered to drive from his home (not geographically close), if necessary, to help my client whenever he might need it.

Such behaviors are those of people who care about and understand the needs of others. They become interested in the needs of fellow travelers on this journey which often includes some rough detours.

The Church is where we find it. It is not one denomination, nor a building, nor a system of religious practices and worship. Church happens where need meets loving compassion in the name of our Creator.

Church is at an AA meeting; a support group; a funeral home; a Hospice Center- it is wherever loving compassion is shown by sacrificial service.

That’s where church is.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the plan to love you by loving others, Amen

Holocaust Remembered

Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons      Acts 10:34

I have just finished watching another epic Ken Burns documentary on PBS. This one was about the Holocaust and America’s response to it. It is a sobering look at the great genocide perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. He explores it from its early roots in the 19th century when eugenics theory began to take hold in many Western countries, including the United States.

Eugenics was an evil presented as scientific truth. It manifested itself in fears about “inferior races” taking over countries by replacing their population with high levels of immigration and high birth rates. It was just a short step for Hitler to demonize Jews with all sorts of maniacal charges, and blaming Jews for the German loss in World War I, high inflation, etc. Hitler had found scapegoats. He killed millions of them.

When I was a kid growing up on Mayfair Ave. in a suburb of Cincinnati, one of our gang of friends was a girl named Betty. I met her parents, and her mother showed me something on her inner left forearm. It was a tattooed number. She was a concentration camp survivor whose national origin was of the Roma people.

That was my first glimpse of institutional evil. I didn’t understand it at the time since I was about 9 years old. But I still remember that tattoo and what it attested to.

Jesus was born with a lineage of various ethnic backgrounds, some of which were detested- marginal people who were not considered civilized or worthy of consideration by other races and cultures.  I think God’s plan was deliberate in having Jesus come from multi-ethnic and multi racial origins.

People who discriminate today against other races and people groups are literally rebelling against God.

Prayer: Lord, give us better understanding of your love for ALL people, Amen.

God and Suffering

Suffering is not God’s desire for us, but it occurs in the process of life. Suffering is not given to teach us something, but through it we may learn. Suffering is not given to punish us, but sometimes it is the consequence of our sin or poor judgment. Suffering does not occur because our faith is weak, but through it our faith may be strengthened. God does not depend on human suffering to achieve his purposes, but sometimes through suffering his purposes are achieved. Suffering can either destroy us, or it can add meaning to our life.

(Original quote by Ray Firestone, as recounted in a sermon by Adam Hamilton)

The age-old question of “where is God in our suffering?” will likely never go away. We need to find reasons for events, and we need culprits for bad ones. We try to rely on reason to explain life, but reason leaves us empty sometimes. People of faith (and non-faith) sincerely question God’s role in suffering.

We know that it is not simple cause and effect. Our social economy says that bad people should suffer, good people should not. When that equation does not work, we are troubled and often angry. Then we might question how God could allow suffering.

I like the quote above because it does set forth some principles that are, I believe, true. When we are suffering, we look for some explanation. At some point, we just settle for truth.

Prayer: Lord, we trust in you even, maybe especially, when we do not understand our circumstances. Thank you for your provision and love for us, Amen.

On Leadership

Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.                                     Proverbs 20:28 (The Message)

On March 15, 1783, Washington delivered his Newburgh Address to the senior officers of the Continental Army. The speech contained important themes that would later reemerge in the Washington presidency – national duty, the submission of military to civil authority, and the importance of dispassionate and good faith debate. He reminded them of their duty to the American Republic and of his own personal sacrifices for the nation. “A grateful sense of the confidence you have ever placed in me—a recollection of the cheerful assistance, prompt obedience I have experienced from you, … and the sincere affection I feel for an army I have so long had the honor to command, will oblige me to declare… the great duty I owe my Country, and those powers we are bound to respect.”

At the end of his speech, Washington reached into his pocket and put on a pair of spectacles to read a letter from Congress. “Gentlemen,” he said softly, “You will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

According to later accounts, many of the soldiers who heard the speech were moved to tears. As one veteran of the war recalled, “I have ever considered that the United States are indebted for their republican form of government solely to the firm and determined republicanism of George Washington at this time.”

Compliments of National Constitution Center (constitutioncenter.org)

I often use George Washington as a model for leadership when I teach on the subject. He was an imperfect man, as are we all, but his wisdom and foresight paved the way for a fledging country to be born. The excerpt above indicates his sense of duty. In fact, when he delivered this speech to his old soldiers who had fought and bled with him during the Revolution, the future of this new Republic was far from certain. These same men who Washington addressed were angry (they had not been paid for months, some even years), and they were armed! They were in no mood to submit themselves to a civil authority which had not treated them well.

Yet Washington was a visionary and he was a strong and courageous leader. He implored those men to have faith and patience in a dream that they could not yet see. He had the vulnerability to let them see the frailty he had as a result of his service to his country. He had the courage to face them, and shame them into not acting in their own self-interest, but in the interest of a larger goal- a new country.

Leadership is about acting in the interest of a cause larger than ourselves.

I yearn for that type of leadership today.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us many gifts, but they will fail if we do not use them in the service of others, Amen

Remembering Our Mentors

“For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and I am sure that it is in you as well.” II Timothy 1:5

In a recent talk I gave about leadership I discussed the value of acknowledging those leaders who have influenced us. As we grow, we are all influenced by people who have invested in us in some way, and we often fail to let those people know how important they were in our life.   

When Paul wrote his letters to Timothy, he acknowledged the legacy of faith that Timothy had by virtue of godly women in his life- Lois and Eunice.

Such legacies were discussed in the workshop I gave as I asked participants to share about the person(s) in their life who served as a model, a mentor, or an example of how to lead well.

So, I give this simple word to you today. If that person in your life is still alive, contact them, and let them know how much you appreciated how they spoke into your life and invested in you. When we share such stories, it lifts up both the speaker and the one being thanked.

This practice is good for the soul.

Prayer: Thank you Father for sending leaders into our life, Amen

David and Goliath

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;                                                        I Corinthians 1:27 (KJV)

A favorite metaphor in many cultures is that of David and Goliath. This Biblical story seems to be known throughout the world as an example of the underdog who overcomes great odds to win. We love it when the unexpected happens, and especially when the little guy is facing long odds to win- better yet when the opponent is so vastly superior, or so it would seem.

The David and Goliath story used in the Bible explains that God seems to favor the weak over the strong. The dependent over the arrogant. The faithful over the haughty. David won the contest with Goliath through his skillful use of a sling as opposed to the brute force of Goliath.

But more than that, David was willing to face this giant because of his faith that God would protect him, and that he would somehow prevail, despite the obvious power of Goliath.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book David and Goliath gives numerous examples of the paradoxes that we find in life, and the reasons that we are confounded by them.

 I find that the essence of the Bible is about the unexpected. The apostle Paul said that “when I am weak, then I am strong”.  Jesus said “The meek shall inherit the earth”; James states “God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith”; and on it goes. Our usual thinking turned upside down.

There was nothing more unexpected than a savior coming from a little backwater village in Palestine to save a broken world from its own sin and failure.

Then again, maybe it makes all the sense in the world.

Prayer: Lord, you have challenged us to believe things that are upside down to our thinking. What an amazing plan, Amen.

Disappointed With God

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life…  John 6:68 (Contemporary English Version)

Disappointed with God. That was the title of a book written by Phillip Yancy many years ago. Do you feel that way sometimes? If so, you’re in good company. The Psalmists, including David expressed such feelings very clearly and openly to God in their writing and in their prayers. Other Bible writers expressed that sentiment also. If you’re honest, there were plenty of times you felt that way too.  

The fact that we can be open and honest with God about such disappointment speaks to the very relationship that we have with him. Hiding those feelings from others, and ourselves, is not healthy. Sharing such disappointment with God is not only honest, it is proper. The fact that we can even be disappointed says that we have expectations of God to be part of our life. He simply does not always react the way that we would want or like.

The hard part is to “trust him anyway”. That is what the Psalmists usually ended up saying. I mean, what else can we do? As Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life…”

So, it is, in my humble opinion, good to let God know that we are hurt, sad, disappointed- whatever it may be. He already knows that anyway. But we also know that we must “trust him anyway”, because truly, there is nowhere else to turn, and he has the words of eternal life.

Prayer: In the words of Peter, we know that you are the person that we turn to, and to “trust in anyway”, no matter the circumstances, Amen

Little Things…

 “The tongue has the power of life and death.” The stakes are high. Your words can either speak life, or your words can speak death. Our tongues can build others up, or they can tear them down.                                                                                                                                                             Proverbs 18:21

I had an interesting discussion the other day with a client about some communication with his wife. As we have explored in past blogs, communication can be very complex. First, there are all the non-verbal communications which are very powerful -things like eye contact, smiles, body posture, spacing, and gestures, to name a few. Verbal communication involves not just words but tone of voice, emphasis on certain words, and of course, the words themselves.

Little nuances in wording can make a big difference in communication. I was talking with my client about how he can communicate his needs to his wife regarding alone time. “Alone time” is something that everyone needs, some, of course more than others. Asking for that need was one of our discussions. He was concerned that his wife would misunderstand when he asked for time alone. In fact, that had been the case at times, and he worried about having that happen again.

He told me he would say things like “Could you give me some time alone?” This statement alone does not seem to be a problem, but if you put it in the context that there have been frictions over “control”, this statement may have taken on a different meaning than intended. Further, I have no idea of the tone of that message, or the non-verbals connected with it.

First, he was asking her to give him something that he could do for himself. It is not up to her to “give” him time alone. Another little nuance, not a big thing, but maybe a big thing, is the wording of “time alone” I suggested that he use the phrase “alone time” which is something that does not infer that he wants to be away from her, but a needed space of just having time to himself. 

Again, I realize I am getting into the weeds here of nit-picking words. Yet, attention to how those words may come across to the listener is important. I was trying to sensitize the client to see that his wife may see his words differently than he intended. That he was perhaps unintentionally giving a message to her that he did not want to give.

So, words matter. Thinking of how those words might be perceived is important. True, we are not responsible for how people receive our messages, but we do need to have consideration for how to best present that message.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us the gift of language and communication, what a precious and powerful gift, Amen.