Sunday, September 3, 2017

Making America Good Again: A Day of Prayer

I think it is beyond wonderful that both the Governor of Texas and the President of the United States made formal declarations asking us to pray for those impacted by Hurricane Harvey on Sunday, September 3, 2017.

This prayer business is a big deal.  I hope you took some time to pray today, and I  hope your prayers for the victims of the storm were more than a quick "God please help them."  Take time to look at some of the pictures we have seen on the news.  Pray for the people in them and for what they need.  Thank God for the government, organizations and volunteers who are there to help them.  Think about how you can help.  There are lots of things to pray about.

To my way of thinking, prayer does a lot of things:

It draws our attention to God and how God can accomplish things we cannot.

It puts us in the other person's shoes.

As we pray for those who died, their loved ones, those who were injured, those who have lost homes, property and livelihood, we learn empathy.

As we pray for first responders, National Guard, Coast Guard, law enforcement, and the multitude of search and rescue volunteers, we are grateful to them for putting themselves in danger to save others.  We pray for their continued safety.  

As we pray for those helping the displaced get through another day with food, clothing and shelter, we realize how blessed we are to have what we have.

Then there are the untold volunteers donating time, energy and money to provide what needs to be provided and do what needs to be done.  Thinking about them might just encourage us to think about how we can help.  Prayers are important.  So is giving.  So is helping.

National days of prayer remind us that we are more powerful and effective together than on our own.  We need each other.  We are grateful for our combined resources flowing through Texas, Louisiana and the entire United States to help.  We are grateful for the many churches and non-profit organizations who, like the government, were on the ground, ready to help before the storm even hit.

Our prayers might also  lead us to think about how we would respond if a disaster happened to us.  Andy Stanley shared a great prayer about preparing for trouble:  "Heavenly Father, help me see trouble coming from a long way off and give me the wisdom and strength to deal with it."  This doesn't just apply to to those of us who live in hurricane prone areas, but what disasters might await you - and how prepared are you to meet them.  As you pray today, pray for yourself as well.

Prayer is not only us telling God what we want, but opening ourselves up to listen to God.  It is often said that prayer changes things by changing us.  As Mother Teresa said:  "I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I'm supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I'm praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”

How will your prayers for the victims of Hurricane Harvey change you?  How will the fact that they we are praying together change us as a nation?

Make America Good Again - let's pray.....

In case you missed them, here are the links to Governor Abbott's and President Trump's proclamations.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Make America Good Again: Disgusting

Who is the person in your family who invariably shares a disgusting observation at the dinner table?  The person who talks about seeping wounds, broken bones or the ever popularly 'poopy' stories?   Ewwwww.... That person is often me, although my predecessors in this could top me on my best day.

Today, I have a disgusting analogy to share with you.  Think of America as a relatively healthy person who has had a huge festering boil on her face.  It is getting bigger and bigger.  It disfigures her.  It hurts and threatens to make her whole body sick. Friends and family have all sorts of suggestions, but nothing works to make it go away.

Along comes a doctor who diagnoses the root of the problem.  The only cure is to get the pus out so that the body can heal.  It will be painful, but the only solution.

The boil on America's face is racism.  Imagine a leader who comes along and condemns white people who feel superior to blacks and Jews.  Imagine a leader condemns blacks who want to kill white people, including white police officers. Imagine a leader who shifts our focus to what it means to be a whole and healthy America, and not a nation divided into white Americans, black Americans, or Hispanic Americans, and the rest.

Whether you like him or not, Trump's comments after Charlottesville have lanced the boil of racism in today's America:

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time."  (8/12/17)

His words are painful, but true.  Hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in America.  In response, we are seeing all sorts of ugly things spew across our cities and towns, including my own, but we have to let it out if America is ever going to heal.  My prayer is that by calling out the violence, bigotry and hatred for the evil that it is,  we will come to our senses.

Things may get worse before they get better.  But hope is on the horizon.  Did you see how folks came together to watch the eclipse?  Did you see how folks helped each other in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey?   Where can you help rather than hurt?

That which unites us is infinitely more important than that which divides us.  We are all created by God.  We all bleed the same blood.  We all live on this planet together.   As Americans, we are strongest when we unite in our common belief that the best way for us to live together is by upholding the founding principles of our Constitutional Republic.

White supremacy has no place in America.  Neither does a group that promotes "Black Lives Matter."  Both are racist in their own way.  America has come a long way from the days when slavery was legal.  America has come a long way from Jim Crow laws and "separate but equal."  In the eyes of God and the eyes of the law, all Americans are equal.   Sadly, we still aren't equal in the eyes of each other.

Within each of us is that little bit of "I'm better than you" mentality.  Football player Benjamin Watson is repeatedly quoted as saying,  "It's a sin issue, not a skin issue."  And he is spot on.  And the cure for sin will not by brought about by laws, education, protests or violence - the only cure for sin, including the sin of racism, is found in the Gospel.

Let me leave you with an event recorded in the Gospel:

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” ( John 8:1-11)

My friends, America's race problem is a sin issue, not a skin issue.

Rather than condemning this group or that group, this person or that person, lance the boil on your own sinful soul that makes you think you are superior to your neighbor, to the protestors on TV - or even the president.  We can disagree, but we shouldn't hate.  Jesus says, "Love each other the same way I have loved you."  (John 15:12).

Go and sin no more.  Let America's healing begin with you.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Making America Good Again: The Pursuit of Happiness

I am writing this with a big smile on my face.  I'm remembering a day a week ago, before Charlottesville, when four big manatees swam down the river in front of my home.  They are so cool.  They make me happy and help me get some perspective on all the crap happening in the world.  I'm not going to let others steal my happiness.  You shouldn't either.

What makes you happy?

Sometimes the happiness we experience just happens, like the serendipitous appearance of manatees swimming down the river.   Most often, however, the happiness we experience is happiness we create.   One of the wonders of America is that our Founders thought the "pursuit of happiness" was a noble goal for humans to have and believed happiness is more achievable when people are free to make their own way in life.   Not only is happiness a noble goal, but a God-ordained one.  That is why the Declaration of Independence says:  "We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights - that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

As I was thinking about happiness, I realized that it comes to me in different ways.  Joy is not something that we should depend upon others to give us,  it is something that we must find within ourselves.

There is happiness found in the "big issues"  of life - like marriage, career and lifestyle.  I am blessed that I have a spouse I adore.  I have had careers that gave my life meaning and purpose and now I enjoy a lifestyle that gives me peace and comfort.  All of these involve long-term commitment on my part and are why the Founders talked about the "pursuit of happiness" knowing that there are no guarantees.  If you aren't happy with the direction of your life, change it.  Make the commitment to pursue what will make you happy.   It is no one's responsibility but your own.

Then there is also the happiness of the moment, like seeing the manatees.  Or a rainbow.  Or a child playing. How often do we miss out on these fleeting glimpses of joy?  When we are attuned to what is going on around us, we are more apt to relish the serendipity of a beautiful moment.

Then there is the what I'm calling "everyday" happiness.  For me, this is enjoyment I get when I make a home-cooked meal, read a good book, or take a nice nap.  Do some small thing this next week that makes you happy.  It will make a world of difference in your outlook and your ability to handle all the unhappy stuff.  This will start you on your way again to pursuing happiness in big ways.

There is much to make us unhappy in the world today. Friends and family - and maybe even you -  are struggling for a multitude of reasons.  (Thanks for your continued prayers for my sister-in-law Kate!)   There are wars and rumors of wars. Citizens continue to fight each other in the streets.  There will be protests at a statue outside the courthouse in my hometown tomorrow.

I know this blog is about the pursuit of happiness, but I have to say that we all know these protests really aren't about statues that have stood for almost 100 years.  They are not even about race issues.  It is an excuse by those on the extremes of our society, be they on the right or the left, to undermine the history of America - the good, the bad and the ugly - and ultimately America herself.  America has come so far in making the idea of equality and the other founding ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness a reality that I hate to see them being mocked and vilified by those who want to destroy our country.  I am concerned about the potential for violence and the fact that this feels like the beginning of another civil war.   Please pray for my city!

In the midst of all this sadness and anger, look for happiness and put forth the effort to create happiness yourself.  Don't let someone steal it from you.

Happiness can be yours  - in big ways, small ways, and unexpected ways - if you choose to pursue it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Making America Good Again: Have We Lost Our Ever-loving Minds?

I had another article ready to share with you today, but the news from Charlottesville, Virginia demands a response.

Have we lost our ever-loving minds?

I can be as passionate about the things I hold dear as anyone.  I have participated in protests.  I have waved signs.  I have signed petitions.  I have written letters to the editor and called my Congressman.  But never, ever would I deny someone else the right to let their beliefs be heard. Never, ever would I throw a rock, shoot pepper spray or drive a car into a crowd, let alone destroy property or shoot someone as has happened at other protests.

It makes me uncomfortable to judge what is in other peoples hearts, but it seems to me that hate filled both the protestors and counter-protestors in Charlottesville this weekend. They all showed up spoiling for a fight.

A group of hate-filled white supremacists used the removal of a Confederate monument as an excuse to gather and protest.  They admitted to being angry at how our politics is divided by race, gender and the rest and are demanding their "fair share."  They insist that white people are better than anybody.

So who were the counter-protestors?  Alas, they belong to another group of hate-filled folks that we have seen participating in violent protests before, including elements of  Black Lives Matter and the Anti-fascist movements.  While their cause is justice, their methods are anything but just.  Remember the BLM and Anti-fa folks who have caused death and destruction in Ferguson, Baltimore, New Orleans, Charlotte, Berkeley, and Washington, D.C. in the past couple years?

Allowing these groups to come together was also an error of epic proportions. Why did the police let these folks get within throwing distance of each other?  Why weren't more people arrested? Why did the city government allow them to protest on the same day?

Have we lost our ever-loving minds?

Yesterday made me feel like we are on the cusp of another Civil War.  Haven't we learned anything from that bloody war and its aftermath?  Don't we know our own history?  Why are we still dividing ourselves up by race?   Shouldn't we know by now that there is no place for racism and bigotry in the eyes of the law and the eyes of God?  Shouldn't we have learned that there are better ways of resolving our differences than with death and destruction?

I want to believe, deep in my heart, that most Americans want nothing to do with the groups that showed up in Charlottesville yesterday, be they KKK, BLM or the anti-fascists.  I want to believe, deep in my heart, that most Americans see their fellow citizens as human beings.  I want to believe, deep in my heart, that most Americans want to resolve our differences without violence - through conversation, the Courts and Congress.

Before the rest of us lose our ever-loving minds, please pray.  Pray for those who are filled with hate to be filled with love.

Pray for those who died yesterday and their families.  Pray for the healing of those who were injured.

Pray for the people of Charlottesville who want to live their lives and raise their children.  Pray for those attending the University of Virginia this semester and their anxious parents.  What does the future hold for America's youth?

Pray for the tourists who were there to visit the home of Thomas Jefferson, our third president and the author of our Declaration of Independence.  How ironic that such a protest would happen so close to the place honoring the man who wrote:  "all men are created equal."   We may not have completely lost our minds yet, but we surely have lost a firm grasp of America's foundational principles.

Pray that you don't become infected with the hate that swirls around us. All those who gathered in Charlottesville yesterday deserve our distain, not our praise.  Do not pick a side in this fight, even if part of what they say resonates with you. Their hate destroys whatever good might be in their message. Pray for our country to solve its disagreements - and they are many and deep - without violence.  Pray for healing in our country before another war within our borders takes hold.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Making America Good Again: Passion

No, I'm not going to write about sex today.  Passion is about more than lust. The root of the word passion comes from the Latin that means "to suffer" and was first used over a century ago to describe Jesus' suffering and death.  You have probably heard this referred to as The Passion of Christ.  While the meaning of "passion" has morphed over the years to  mean any kind of strong emotion, there is still a sense at its core that we are passionate about things we are willing to suffer for.

What are you passionate about?  What stirs your soul and sparks your emotions? Where do you want to focus your time, thoughts, talent and treasure?  What are you willing to suffer for?

As children start school, look to see where their passions lie.  Are they intrigued by science or sports?  Literature or mathematics?  Art or architecture? History or hanging out?

As you look at businesses in your community, you will find people passionate about their professions and their products.

As you scan the news, you will see our President passionate about making life safer and more prosperous for average Americans.  You will also see those who hate Trump  passionate about destroying his presidency.

I am passionate about proclaiming God's gift of liberty to all mankind.  That's why I write these articles.

Our passions and the suffering that goes along with them have a purpose.  Students will suffer as they struggle to learn.  Entrepreneurs will suffer as they build their businesses.  Politicians suffer as they strive to make their ideas become law.   Writers suffer each time they look at a blank page.

Jesus suffered, as the book of Hebrews tells us, for "the joy that lay before him."  That joy is you.  Jesus suffered, so you, and the whole world, could be forgiven and restored to our rightful place in God's family.

What are you passionate about?  Not sure?  It seems many folks find their lives so busy, or filled with boredom or despair, that nothing stirs their hearts.  If that is where you find yourself, spend some time looking at the world through God's eyes.  Where do you see the greatest need?  What breaks your heart?  Where can you pitch in?

I've recently heard a lot of great speakers talk, very passionately, about helping people learn from their failures, about the need for clean water,  about discovering the talent that resides in each of us.  For all of these people, their journey began with looking at their needs and the needs around them.  They were open to the possibilities.  They all discovered God was with them pointing the way.

Make America Good Again by finding your passion and pursuing it!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Making America Good Again: Motivation

What motivates you?  When despair and dismay threaten to overcome you where do you turn?

Sometimes we are motivated to change by a fear of failure.  Sometimes we are motivated to achieve something new by the satisfaction we hope comes with success.

We've all listened to motivational speakers that either frighten us or encourage us.  They challenge us to see new ways of looking at our circumstances.   They inspire us to  change our lives or habits, but so often our good intentions to follow their advice falls short.

Motivation is a complicated thing and different for each of us.  I shouldn't assume that what motivates me will motivate you.  How many times has someone tried to give you a needed kick in the pants but they said exactly the wrong thing?!?  With the best of intentions there will always be people who try to motivate us in ways that just don't work. Sometimes the opposite is true.  How many times has someone's attempt to discourage you given you the motivation you needed to prove them wrong?

Being a preacher, I think a lot about what will inspire folks to believe in God as revealed in Jesus Christ.  For some, it is a fear of hell and death.  Others are encouraged by the promise of heaven.  For even others, they come to believe because of the peace in knowing God loves them and is with them. Jesus talked about all three.

Each of us knows what motivates us.   Given what challenges are facing you right now, what will drive you to act?

Will the joy of a potential reward motivate you?  Praise, money, power, sex, food - all powerful incentives.  Perhaps focusing on the promised joy of heaven will make all the difference.

Will the satisfaction of of achieving a positive goal do the trick?  Like wanting to be able to wear those favorite jeans again.  Perhaps what motivates you is doing the right thing.

Or, are you motivated by the fear of a negative outcome? For example, did you study hard in school simply to avoid bad grades rather than trying to learn something?   Perhaps what motivates you is the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing and feeling the guilt that comes along with that.

Or, is the best motivation for your current situation fear of potential punishment?  In your past, did you behave so your parents wouldn't spank you or (later) take away your car keys?  As adults we often change our behavior to avoid losing a job or going to jail.  Perhaps the motivation you need today is fear of hell.

All of these motivations, both positive and negative, have their place and can be effective in helping achieve our goals.  Sometimes that initial spark of motivation comes from hearing someone say the words we need to hear.  We all need to surround ourselves with people who speak to our deepest needs, who spur us on in the ways that encourage us.   I've been thinking about this a lot lately, trying to find the right words to motivate my sister-in-law Kate to work extra hard in therapy.  While I am praying for the right words to say, I have also realized that the ultimate responsibility lies with Kate.  Please keep praying for us all!

At the end of the day, the words that will actually motivate each of us comes from within.  The voice that has the most power to challenge us or encourage us is the voice inside our own heads.

My favorite scene from The Sound of Music is when Maria sings "I Have Confidence" on her way to the von Trapp family home.  Her Mother Superior planted seeds of encouragement, but the rest is up to Maria.   She knows God is with her and she trusts Him with all her heart.  This has been my "theme song" whenever I started a new job or faced a new challenge.

I have confidence in sunshine,
I have confidence in rain.
I have confidence that spring will come again!
Besides what you see I have confidence in me.
Strength doesn't lie in numbers.
Strength doesn't lie in wealth,
Strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers,
When you wake up, wake up!
It's healthy!
All I trust I leave my heart to,
All I trust becomes my own!
I have confidence in confidence alone.
I have confidence in confidence alone!
Besides, which you see, I have confidence in me!

What motivatesyou when despair and dismay threaten?  Listen to those around you, but most of all follow your heart.  You, and you alone, can make the difference.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Making America Good Again: Stop Borrowing Trouble

Are you feeling overwhelmed these days?  I am, and it's causing me to waste a lot of time "borrowing trouble."

Borrowing trouble happens when we think about all of the awful things that might happen.  Today, I find myself worrying about American culture and politics, the church, my family, the weather, and what's in the refrigerator.  It doesn't matter if it's big or small issue, I can lose sleep over it. What if?  What if?  What if?

I fight this all too human urge to "borrow trouble" because it is a colossal waste of time.  Jesus said:

"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  (Matthew 6:31-34)

This isn't a call to ignore real problems but to put things in perspective.  When Jesus tells us not to worry about eating, he isn't telling us to just sit back and wait for someone else to feed us. He is telling us to put God first and do our part as well.  Jesus said:

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:28-33)

What are you worrying about today?  What can you do about it?  In my days as a nursing home administrator, I would try to anticipate problems so that I didn't have to run around putting out "fires."  Crises will happen anyway, so I worked hard to avoid the ones I could.

Here's another example.  I live in Florida.  Hurricanes are a part of life.  I could get all worked up and watch the Weather Channel 24/7 every time a storm approaches, or I could stock up on food, water and supplies, have a plan to evacuate, and check on the status of the storm every few hours.  Then, when a storm comes my way, I'm as prepared as I can be.

But what happens when one of life's storms comes unexpectedly?  I'm thinking here of my sister-in-law Kate's accident.  Again, thanks for your prayers.  Do those who love her worry about what her future holds?  Absolutely.  And our concern doesn't have us cowering in a corner but is motivating us to help.  We are doing what we can by praying for her, encouraging her and doing the things she can't.  Kate is focusing on what she can do by working hard in therapy.  Somedays I have to remind myself that this struggle is like eating an elephant....we can only do it one bite at a time.  But do it we will!

What are you worrying about today?  Do you worry about retirement?  Start saving.  Do you worry about your health?  Go for a walk. Do you worry about what Congress is up to?  Call your Senator or Representative.  Do what is in your control to do.    

No matter what situation you find yourself in, don't allow worry to consume you.  Look to God for guidance and then do what you can.  And if you are worrying about something over which you can have absolutely no control or influence - let it go and trust God.  I may sometimes "borrow trouble" but I never despair because God is always with me.  Hope is always in my heart.  And then when crises hit, and they will come, I can face them with strength and calm.

My advice:  stop worrying about things you have no control over and concentrate on the things you can do something about.   Focusing on what you can control, rather than what you can't, will help you turn despair into hope and anxiety into peace.

Andy Stanley offered a great prayer that goes something like this:  "Heavenly Father, help me see trouble coming long before it gets here.  Then give me courage and wisdom to handle it. Amen."