Manchester, My Heart Aches For Thee – An extra post this week

Once again, man’s inhumanity rears its ugly head; this time in Manchester, England.  My thoughts and prayers are lifted up for the killed, injured, parents and family, the community and the nation of Great Britain.  My most recent post spoke of atheists born of envisioning a God who cares not for the personal suffering of innocent people and allows such cruelty to have its torturous way.  This bombing only reinforces the BOP Atheist.  I felt compelled to post again because of the impact of the bombing but no words can comfort the agony of loss and the horror of going through such calamity.  Words right now are inadequate to explain even if an explanation were available.  I cry out, “God have mercy, please help.”   I post because I must tell myself to “be present.”  Be present in the presence of God that my feelings, insecurity, anger, hurt and fears can be met.  Be present in the presence of those I love whose hearts are troubled – present so I will share the embrace of relationship and if necessary use words.  Be present in the presence of strangers and acquaintances to hear their cries.  Be present in the presence of my community praying for God’s merciful intervention and justice prevailing.  Be present in the presence of humanity giving assistance in all manners to alleviate the roots of this sinister hatred.  Be present in the presence of the living, merciful and just God.  Will you join too?


I Am Thirsty & The Problem of Pain

Jesus says He is thirsty in John 19:28.  Pastor Ed painted a compelling picture of Jesus’ agony that corresponds to this utterance in the weekend’s message, #6 in the Voice: 7 Statements of Victory sermon series.  In reflection I thought of thirsting, pain and God’s sovereignty in all matters of life which lead me to consider people who say they are atheists.  I have not done research on this and I do not know if there are studies examining what brings a person to a personal position of atheism but I do have an opinion based on my observations and conversations. 

Yes there are those who by thoughtful reasoning, philosophical study, and choice of moral assumptions have logically concluded holding a worldview without God is correct.  In contrast I have found that most people who assert an atheistic world view have struggled with the problem of pain.  A most difficult life situation, a tragic loss, death of a loved one, or a continual course of disappointments are the roots of their atheism.  I can picture their cry of “how could a loving and just God allow my child to die or I prayed for my spouse’s sobriety and he never changed.”  This pain eventually leads to “there must not be a God” or I would venture to guess more likely the sentiment of “I don’t want anything to do with such a callous God.”  Explaining or answering the problem of pain to a broken heart is a monumental challenge.  I think this is one place where logic, theological or philosophical, is not the best tool to repair that broken heart and replace atheism with a belief in a loving God.

It is clear from John’s Gospel account of the crucifixion; Jesus experienced unimaginable pain both physical and relational.  This is not to say in the context of this blog post “of course we have pain because even God’s Son suffered and why should we be exempt” but to offer the truth that Jesus understands and knows human pain.  This leads me to conclude the better tool to use is personal connection – forming relationship, active listening and eventually sharing our story.  There were many times I have been comforted in my sorrow because another patiently listened and understood then eventually told of their similar travail with God’s sovereign touch bringing them through.  It is no wonder 2 Corinthians 1:3 opens with Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  Connecting with a BOP Atheist (Because of Pain) may open their heart in an instant or more likely take a season of time or even a life time.  There are many souls around us yearning to have their thirst quenched.  God continually asks, “who will go for Me?”  I pray I will be a pipeline for the living water of Jesus Christ or at least a Dixie cup.


Thinking of Mom

Jesus said to the disciple He loved, “behold your mother.”  Even on the cross, Jesus did not forget his earthly mother.  Pastor Ed poignantly shared photos of his mother this weekend.  In reflection of mothers everywhere, I dusted off a blog post from a few years ago as I don’t feel I could have said it better in a succinct format about my own mom.  Re-posted below from 2013.

Did you know there is a list of the top 100 songs about mothers?  When you read the lyrics of the songs, it is a very revealing look at the relationships of songwriters and their moms.  Also eye opening was an experiment conducted at a state prison a few years ago.  A large rack of Mother’s Day cards was set up.  Very quickly it was sold out.  Prison officials filled the rack several times and each time it was emptied.  Encouraged by such response, the same was done ahead of Father’s Day.  Hardly any cards were taken.  Whether imprisoned in a penal institution or in one’s own mind, we all have our stories about our mothers.   What is your Mom story?

John Lennon wrote in Mother, #20 on the list, released in 1970, “Mother, you had me; But I never had you; I wanted you; But you didn't want me; So I got to tell you Goodbye; Goodbye.” 

A Song For Mama, (#32) by Boyz II Men, goes, “You were there for me to love and care for me; When skies were grey whenever I was down you were always there to comfort me; And no one else can be what you have been to me; You will always be, you always will be, the girl in my life for all times.”  This is quite a contrast.  What is #1 you ask?  It is 2PAC’s Dear Momma, paying tribute to a mom who loved even in the face of great trial and tribulation, caused by both her own social environment and from her own son.  This is worth checking out. 

My Mom is a hero.  An atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima, suffered through starvation and deprivation, she came to America with her G.I. (U.S. Soldier) husband, not speaking English, not a single friend, and not knowing how life would be.  While enduring much, she learned the language, became a citizen, loved and sacrificed without reservation, and admirably raised two children, and made a good life for her husband and family.  She is an artist and poet.  A devoted Christ-follower, filled with compassion and service.  And today, she continues this legacy by loving unconditionally, my grandson, her great grandson (now a great granddaughter also).  I am who I am today because of what God has done through her.  I have learned great compassion for others from her.  I have learned what it means to sacrifice for the sake of another from her.  I know how special family is because of her.  Yes, my Mom is a hero.  I am so blessed and forever grateful.

Good or bad, what is your Mom story?  I would love to hear from you.


It Just Didn't Happen

Judy and I spent the past two weeks visiting friends in South Carolina and Alabama.  We flew into and out of Atlanta on this adventure.  Of course I thought of the very unfortunate incidents on United Airlines and then on Delta where passengers were forcibly removed.   Our flights on Southwest were without problems and issues as I expected it would be.  The man flying to Louisville and the family returning from Hawaii were subjected to very harsh and unnecessary treatment.  Perhaps facts will come out later mitigating the behavior of airline personnel but for now, this was shocking treatment inflicted on customers.  This was something horrible that happened to them.  They did not ask for this nor did they likely deserve such treatment.  Although some good may come out of these unfortunate incidents it does not change the fact that these people did not ask for this treatment.  

The current sermon series covers Jesus’ final statements before dying on the cross.  This past weekend’s sermon reflects on Jesus’ words “why have you forsaken me.”  These pained words contribute to a notion many hold that the “cross” was done to Jesus.  Through misunderstanding, mistreatment, mistake, malice and self-serving politics, and injustice, Jesus was tortured then crucified by a set of circumstances orchestrated by the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Even though He came on a mission of peace and reconciliation, horrors of horrors, He was wrongly jailed then killed.   This is somewhat similar to Dr. Dao or the Schear family at the hands of the airlines in that it was done to them.   Contrary to this, as Pastor Ed so ably pointed out, the crucifixion was victory and not defeat.  This truth is of epic theological and relational consequence.

We cannot conceive of going through what Jesus went through and if we can, we certainly would not choose it.  This level of pain, torture, humiliation and death would have to be done to us.   Maybe we would willingly take the place of a loved one so he or she would be spared suffering but again, it is a situation being done to us.  In stark contrast, death on the cross was not something that just happened to Jesus, it was why He came.  Philippians 2:6-8 states,  “who although He existed as God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  God as Jesus the Son was obedient to the mission, to God the Father – to be the instrument that bridged the separation between God and humankind.  Without the cross, there is no connecting in intimate relationship with God.  Without the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood, there is no remission of sin that separates us from God the Father.  Jesus came for the cross.  The cross did not just happen to Him.  Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  And because of the cross, we have relationship with God.  God’s desire for relationship with us is so great that He gave His only begotten Son.  Our salvation is free (and easy) because it cost Jesus everything.


The Case for Christ

“It is finished.”  These words reverberated in many churches across the nation this past weekend as Christians everywhere celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Here at GateWay these words were thoughtfully and accessibly presented in an excellent Easter Sunday sermon.  Many, myself included, also celebrated family, food and fun.  I believe Jesus smiles when we lovingly get together with family.  I also believe Jesus rejoices when we take His resurrection power and apply it in our workplaces, schools, clubs, rush hour commutes and especially, in our relationships, starting with my relationship to myself.  And all in the Heavenly realms, God certainly, cheer outrageously, when we understand there is no other event more important or critical to life than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Ed’s first sermon point, “Don’t Quit,” leads me to a quickie movie review and a plea to go and see it.  The Case for Christ opened April 7 and is currently playing at the downtown theater.  This is the story of Lee Strobel, award-winning investigative journalist with the Chicago Tribune and currently noted author and pastor.  Strobel, life-long atheist, found himself cataclysmically confronted by an incident involving his daughter and the subsequent faith awakening of his wife.  He is challenged to pursue an “investigative” report on the subject of Jesus Christ to prove his wife wrong and return to his idealized state of life.  The central focus of Strobel’s search is to expose the death and resurrection of Christ as the hoax and myth he believes it is as the faith of Christians will rise or fall on the truth of this event.  During the course of his investigative research, Lee’s wife, despairs as their relationship begins to unravel.  She despairs but does not quit on God or Lee.  This is a story of facts, faith and relationship. 

The movie is very thoughtful and clear although I found it slow moving from a dramatic point of view.  It is well acted and the production values are first class and there is nothing that will say this is another low budget Christian movie.  This said I feel this is a movie only Christ-followers will love as the story line and characters evoke thoughts of one’s own personal spiritual journey.  For those with no Christian experience it will be a reach.  Is this worth going to see?  I say a resounding YES.  Here are four reasons to go see it.

#4 – It is difficult to get movies with a “religious” content made and even more so if it is a Christian one.  Movies with a clear and distinct Christian message must be supported by the public or those who govern the economics of entertainment will not produce such movies.    The non-believing patrons will not go see them.   We who do believe have to step up and go.  It doesn’t take a tsunami to get the “Hollywood” executives to take note of box office receipts.  The spiritually themed movie The Shack is a good example.  The Shack grossed $16 million ranking number 4 on the top ten list on opening weekend and very favorably surprised many media moguls.  It has done well in subsequent weeks.  By contrast, the number one movie opening that weekend was Beauty and the Beast, with $170 million in box office receipts.  So even at one tenth the gross, The Shack surprised the experts.  We Christians can make a difference in Hollywood.

#3 – We believers can always benefit from encouragement and affirmation of our faith.  When it is portrayed on the big screen or on a big world stage, it is all the more special.  The Case for Christ will encourage and affirm.

#2 – The primacy of the resurrection of Christ is clearly portrayed.  There are facts and there are logical reason why this is the Truth, the Way and the Life.  Strobel’s search highlights these things and every believer in Jesus should know this.  This movie only scratches the surface of the ocean of information available but it is a great start in stimulating an in depth pursuit.  You might consider reading the book, The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel.

#1 – In reaching others for Christ, I firmly believe we need a full tool box to get the job done.  The Holy Spirit is essential.  Master Carpenter Norm Abram’s on This Old House says, “The right tool for the right job.”  The Case for Christ movie may be the right tool to help someone you know who has questions on the validity and authenticity of the resurrection.  Perhaps you know of a friend who grew up in “church” and needs a fresh look at the central point of Christianity.  Go see it together.  It definitely can be a conversation stimulant and can open the way for you to share your God story because it all comes down to the relationship, not just the facts, ma’am.


Walking Worthy

Chuck Wysong brought a fire hose sermon on marriage to GateWay this past weekend.  I say fire hose because of so much volume of excellent material covered in such a short time.  It is hard to get a drink of water from a fire hose at full force.  This is one sermon to talk through, discuss, question and work out for a long time to come.  In keeping with the subject of marriage for this week’s blog, take a sip of these thoughts from one little drinking fountain.

It has often been repeated by media, office talk, and social circles and from America’s pulpits - 50% of marriages end in divorce and it may be slightly higher “in the church.”  I would venture to say this statistic is deeply embedded in many minds.  It was in mine.  Studies by a number of social researchers have found the divorce rates declining each year since its peak in the 1970-80’s.  One point this research reveals is the rate has never hit 50% in the past 30 years.  Reasons for the decline in divorce span the spectrum from feminism, delayed marriages, to active church attendance and seemingly everything in between.  Statistics also show the divorce rate is lower in communities of faith.  Jesus Christ does matter!  When divorce does happen factors such as sudden economic hardship, long term poverty, substance abuse, education, youthfulness are often cited.  Whatever or however your socio-political perspective maybe, we Christ-followers have a big stake in the success of marriages.   One aspect of this is in the influence we have in our culture. 

Jesus Christ shapes culture by redeeming individuals who live lives characterized by grace and mercy thus transforming relationships.  This is also part of our marching orders here on earth.  In a world desperately needing good and loving relationships, we can be of great influence.  We as Christ-followers should have the best and strongest marriages.  But that takes work and commitment as the forces of darkness will do whatever is necessary to assure our failure.  Chuck Wysong lays out a framework to combat these forces of evil.  It is not the only pattern out there but is one worth putting into practice, particularly if you do not have one you are currently using.  A great way to engage the pattern is to do it with other couples in a small group. 

I have learned the current generation of Millennials is not asking if Christianity is true.  They are asking if it is realTruth has become individual and variable but what is real is the deal.  If it is real, then it is worthy of consideration and adoption.  Colossians 1:9 speaks of we believers “walking worthy of the high calling of Jesus Christ.”  It is God’s heart that every Millennial walk in intimate relationship with Him.  If Millennials see the goodness, the deepness, the satisfaction of our faith-based relationships, especially marriages, then perhaps they will go from casual observation to seeking, and then ultimately to participation.  Let our marriages “walk in a manner worthy of the high calling of Jesus Christ.”


Locust & Love

One of the most interesting, if not comforting, perspectives on the diversity of the Christian family, especially as recorded in the Bible, is we are oftentimes a mess.  At times it is the result of our own doing and sometimes it’s not our fault but the fact remains we are a mess.  The great comfort is, as dysfunctional as we maybe, there is hope.  Bill Butterworth’s Sunday message gives us one glimpse of brokenness and the power of God to restore. 

Two separate words cross my mind as I rethink Bill’s message – locusts and love.  Joel 2:25 states:  Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locusts have eaten, the creeping locusts, and the gnawing locusts . . . .  What a graphic picture of how life is for many of us.  Trouble after trouble seems to swarm all over and around us.  We can’t seem to catch a break.  Then another thing creeps up on us and takes us by surprise.  Finally a long simmering matter keeps gnawing on us, breaking us down little by little, sometimes unseen until the structure crumbles.  God’s messenger, Joel, was telling the nation of Israel their choice to ignore God and His Word resulted in the troubles visited upon them and the only way out was to change their ways, return to God and be connected again.  Amazingly, when the connection is re-established, God states He will restore what the locusts have eaten.  The noted Bible teacher, Warren Wiersbe, says Joel 2:25 “is a word of promise to all those who return to the Lord with sincere and broken hearts.”

When Bill Butterworth talked about needing acceptance from ourselves I quickly thought of the Great Commandment – Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.  Back in the early days of my faith journey as a student at USC, I received teaching in a discipleship process that has influenced me to this day.  A popular notion at that time stemmed from the saying, I am third, which came from the story of the relationship between star Chicago Bears football players Gayle Sayers and Brian Piccolo, and later made into a movie, Brian’s Song.  The legendary running back, Gayle Sayers, had severely injured his knee in a game and his best friend on the team, Brian, more than capably took over the running back position.  Even though Brian had now achieved his ultimate success he spent countless hours helping Sayers heal and rehab.  He would not let Sayers give up and pushed him forward to the point Gayle returned as the star running back for the Bears, replacing Brian.  The story doesn’t end here but I will let you check it out for yourselves.  This was the story of God first, others second and me third.  I was challenged by my discipleship teacher to think of God first, me second, then others.  This shakeup of the lineup was revolutionary.  But before you think this to be sacrilege, let me say this “re-thinking” allows one to put others before oneself in a manner that I believe is God ordained.

The words of the Great Commandment state, love your neighbor as yourself.  Dr. Dave asked in my discipleship class, “How can you truly love others if you don’t love yourself first?”  Christ stated we should love others as ourselves and how we view ourselves cannot help but impact how we then extend love to others.  This was really intriguing.  How did I feel about myself?  What baggage did I carry into all my relationships? I see better today how this impacts my response and reactions to people and whether I am selfless or selfish.  What is the right way to love myself?

The first step is to understand and know deeply that I am loved by God.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made in His image.  My worth to Him is measured in His blood and life given up freely for me.  All the gnawing locusts denigrating my worth are all silenced by a gracious and merciful God.  I am secure in Christ.   Therefore, I can love others, because He first loved me.  Furthermore, putting others ahead of me is not only do-able but the right thing to do.  Even though I am trashed by people I need not hold back for fear of losing because God will not fail me or forsake me.  So, loving me second results in I am third.

The second step is living out He is God and I am not.  I am not God’s gift to mankind or even my wife.  I am not here to act in judgment but to serve and connect in a way that restores and builds.  I am not the fulfillment for life but a conduit of His life.  I am here because of God’s mercy and grace.  I extend love and grace on the basis that I have been given much more.  I give from a place of wholeness through Christ and not to fill a deficit in me or claim that I am better than others.  And the miracle is I find wholeness and satisfaction in relationship as I allow God to work in and through me.

Understanding God and how He would have us love one another happens best in our relationships.  Whether in good times or in disastrous ones, we all need to accept ourselves, help one another and find healing in God.  GateWay Church is a wonderful context in which to practice growing in wholeness.  Who are you inviting?


Still Have Time

No Ordinary Family – our new sermon series began this past weekend with 6 Wise Gifts to Your Family.  So, what is an ordinary family?  What makes a family a “no ordinary family” aka an extraordinary one?  What’s the measure or standard by which you figure out if your family is ordinary or extraordinary?  What does this say about me as a parent?  What does it say about me?  What if I didn’t come from a no ordinary family but an ordinary one?  Even more troubling would be coming from a “bad” family.  Or realizing I am being a “bad parent.”  What if my family is falling apart or already broken?  What if we are just living by the skin of our teeth?  What if hope is rapidly fading or gone?  With all this, how can we be a no ordinary family? Answers, answers, where are the answers! 


God has a way of answering in an infinite variety of ways.  Some are miraculous, some mundane, always in His Word, and sometimes in unexpected places.  For those of us who feel we are not “a no ordinary” family or parent, certainly not extraordinary, perhaps broken or beyond recovery in our mind, the answer begins here.  Our new favorite TV show for Judy and me, is This Is Us.  In a very special scene in episode 2, Kevin calls his brother, Randall, who is living on the East Coast, from a “Hollywood” party in the hills over-looking Los Angeles needing advice and connection.  If you have been watching this show you know Kevin and Randall have had a very a difficult and hard relationship all of their lives.  In this intimate and unguarded conversation, Kevin says to Randall, “I was not a very good brother to you, was I?  Randall replies, “No you weren’t.  But you still got time.”    In this simple phrase, “you still have time,” is the start of having a no ordinary family, even if that family is currently broken.  As long as you are not dead and buried, you still have time to connect, make memories, do extraordinary things and maybe even live the ordinary but with goodness and joy.  The “how” will come only if you take the first step, choosing to do it differently because you still have time. 

And this is the reality of moving forward because you still have time – you cannot do it alone.  Changing family, a life time of relationship, habits of behavior, repairing brokenness are difficult matters of life and I believe impossible on your own.  We all need encouragement, different ideas on “how,” support, more encouragement, and accountability.  At GateWay we have a number of ways to engage one another, connect, find support and accountability and gain ideas to try out.  One place to have this community is through our Connect Small Groups where sermon meets life application.

As challenging, difficult or hopeless as your situation may be, there is still time.  We have our own “Big Three” – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Together, God says, we got this!  Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you, He will not fail you or forsake you.  Deuteronomy 31:6

I still have time.  Shaloam