Category: Personal

Everyone Needs Encouragement

At a recent congregational meeting the man in charge challenged the attendees with the question: “What do you like about our church?” A number of hands went up and several were selected to share their stories. One by one each told of how they had gone through a period of brokenness in their life – but when they entered the church they found the love and encouragement and guidance they needed at that moment. Each received emotional healing or restoration or were put on the path toward their spiritual destiny.

As I listened to these personal testimonies I searched my memory of the past decade that my wife and I had been a part of this local body of believers, and wondered how such personal demonstrations of love and caring had eluded us. Not only were the instances few and far between in which another brother or sister had made the effort to call and ask how our family was doing or to invite us to fellowship over coffee, but even the times we had tried to initiate such a relationship had often been politely turned down.

This contrasted significantly with relationships we had with people outside our local church (believers and non-believers alike). It was those with whom we shared some of our happiest experiences and who demonstrated great compassion and concern when they heard we were going through trials – a lost or ailing loved one or a straying or estranged family member. We couldn’t understand why this was not forthcoming from those in the body that we chose to become an integral part of and to minister within. It both hurt and confused us.

I began to wonder, is it my fault?  Clearly it is not in my nature to reveal every personal detail of my life or every problem my family faces – to burden others with those problems. I guess I somehow expected (perhaps erroneously) the spiritually minded man or woman to either discern such needs, or if they lack that sensitivity, to at least regularly express a caring and gracious attitude toward each individual in their congregation.

I concluded that it must be a problem unique to so-called “ministers” or “leaders in the Church.” Because we are ministering to the needs of others on a regular basis, we hesitate to share challenges in our personal lives. We deliberately choose to personify spiritual and emotional strength and we give the impression that we “have it all together,” even when we don’t. The result: others must conclude that we don’t need their support or their encouragement or their prayers.

But that’s simply not true. We need each other. Everyone needs encouragement and the support of their brethren. Still, I honestly don’t know how to reconcile my personal dilemma of maintaining an exterior of strength and authority over all the power of the enemy, all the while crying on the inside and questioning the love and compassion and sensitivity of my own leaders.

Limitations are not always a negative

    One of the Apostle Paul’s most oft-quoted declarations of faith is: “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.” I believe everyone who follows and believes God’s promises should be confident to make this same affirmation. Yet, as I look back on what I refer to as my “re-fire-ment years”, I’ve come to the conclusion that not every limitation to the exercise of our choices is a negative. Some limitations (in finances, in career opportunities, in physical ability, health or talent) force one to focus on what’s most important, and make a much better decision than if one had unrestricted choice.

Though you may have built a significant financial portfolio over a long career, intending to enjoy your senior years traveling and enjoying the pleasures of the world, are you embittered when an unexpected need of one of your kids puts a damper on that plan? NOOO!!! You are appreciative of the fact that you wisely created the reserve that now enables you to help your loved ones. Though you may have intended to use the free time that retirement typically affords to write your memoirs, to play bocce ball with your buddies or to visit your out-of-state friends and family, are you embittered when those plans have to be put on hold because a grown child needs you to babysit several hours a week while they work. NOOO!!! You’re even more appreciative that you have the time to watch and enjoy and contribute to the mental and spiritual development of your grandkids.

I’m convinced that God puts these roadblocks (or better stated “perspective clarifiers”) in some of our paths to help us set our priorities and choose the most valuable use of our resources, talents and time – especially in our later years.

Neither Conservatism nor Liberalism is a Virtue

 

How would you describe Western conservatism and liberalism to a visitor from another planet? Some would designate each a political mindset, others a social and/or fiscal construct, and still others a belief system guided by which personal decisions will or will not be tolerated by proponents of the brand. But it only takes a brief review of social and mainstream media to conclude that the core of each category’s adherents consider their particular brand a virtue, and subsequently designate their opposite as evil incarnate.

But a virtue is a condition of the heart that finds expression in behavior showing high moral standards: generosity, modesty, courage, humility, integrity, loyalty, and dignity to name a few. While some adherents of conservatism and liberalism may exhibit one or more of these traits, few if any can claim a lock on all. Still, we citizens of Western culture choose to assign ourselves to either the Conservative or the Liberal brand, then disparage the alternate brand. And those who opt for the brand of “Moderate,” both consider lacking in conviction.

Why do we put ourselves and others into these convenient boxes based on our biased observations and judgments of the other’s behavior, their spoken words and their perceived attitudes? People and their choices are not that simple and the cultural and/or political brand they identify with, (whether conservative, liberal, or even moderate) unlike every virtue which is well characterized and exemplified in Holy Scripture, varies in the mind of the definer.

America – the Greatest Force for Good this World has ever known

This afternoon President Trump announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, and it didn’t take long for the Left to launch its barrage of missiles attacking that decision and blaming not only the Administration, but every American who supports him for every past, current and future problem in the world. As I pointed out to a few of my more-liberal FB “friends,” the Paris Climate Accord was less about dealing with climate change and mostly about redistribution of wealth – and the U.S.A. would have gotten the biggest shaft had we remained in it.

I’m a non-apologetic proud American and I’m weary of those who try to guilt-trip me for my good fortune and blessing of being a citizen of the greatest force for good (outside of our Lord Jesus Christ) that this world has ever known. And the only reason we’ve been able to do as much good as we have, is because of the availability of those blessings – and I’ll fight ‘til my last breath to maintain control of those resources.

In 2004 when a 9.3 magnitude earthquake triggered a series of devastating tsunamis along most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean killing 280,000 people, no one dialed 999 Paris for help. No! They called George W. Busch, who sent a flotilla of rescue and medical ships and personnel, plus $350M in aid.

In 2010 when a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, no one called 999 Berlin. No! They called President Obama who directed the establishment of Joint Task Force Haiti commanded by United States Southern Command. Coast Guard cutters together with 17 ships, 48 helicopters and 12 fixed-wing aircraft in addition to 17,000 sailors and marines flew in relief supplies, flew out evacuees, airdropped supplies, established a field hospital, repaired piers, and provided imagery from satellite, Global Hawk, and U-2 assets. Even the primary charities that responded were U.S. based, including the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities of America and Samaritan’s Purse.

Whenever a natural disaster or conflict destroys cities, homes and markets, or when hunger and disease threaten to spread, people across the globe have learned they can’t rely on the United Nations or the European Union – they all turn to America.  The USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance responds to an average of 65 disasters in more than 50 countries every year, providing life-saving assistance to tens of millions of people including those affected by drought in Southern Africa, conflict in Syria and Iraq, and flooding in Burma. They deliver live-saving food assistance, emergency health and nutrition services, safe drinking water, hygiene kits, and relief items to help people facing famine in these countries, and elsewhere around the world – something we could not do as well or as broadly without the blessings of resources available in America.

Forgotten Patriots

It’s that time of year again when Pastors and Rabbis around the nation will acknowledge our active military, our veterans and their families for the great sacrifices they’ve made on behalf of the citizens of the greatest nation in the world. As we rightly honor these, let’s not forget the sacrifices and service of their civilian counterparts, for we are a region which is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the Army’s lead developer of ground systems and its logistics center, an area where a number of our current and retired servants also call our worship centers their home.

Each is extremely proud of the contributions they’ve made to support and protect our men and women in uniform. Yet few outside the DoD fraternity realize the shoulder-to-shoulder sacrifices these dedicated civilians have faithfully endured. During the Vietnam conflict we were subject to the same verbal abuses from our acquaintances as our brothers in uniform, for our support of the military industrial complex. During the Gulf Wars we participated in the same inconveniences and dangers when many of us volunteered to go into the field with the green-suiters to provide logistics support or to gather technical data. We’ve mourned friends who made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield and when the Pentagon was struck on 9-11, and we’ve worked to calm the spirits of those who suffered despondency after they returned home.

Over our careers, which sometimes have stretched across decades, most have spent an inordinate time away from family, especially during periods of crisis. We’ve taken that 3:00 am call and reported immediately to the local Commander or to a distant military installation to devise strategies to defend our fellow citizens. Spending holidays at the Pentagon, at test sites, at black sites or overseas is not all that unusual – something our kids and spouses never seem to understand or get used to.

Few of us have had our contributions recognized outside of our immediate supervision or our fellow comrades in arms. Most of my comrades’ efforts were performed in anonymity.  Yet as this year’s three patriotic holidays (Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day) are observed this May, July and November, I and my friends will once again faithfully and silently salute all those who once wore the uniform.

May God bless America and may He give peace and comfort to green-suiter and civilian DoD employee alike.

A most unusual man – the President

It’s interesting that both President Trump’s adversaries and his supporters focus on his imperfections, of which, undeniably, there are many. The former group self-righteously attacks his imperfections, launching a never-ending barrage of criticism and complaints intent on tearing him down in the public eye. In contrast, it’s the President’s imperfections that actually ingratiate his supporters toward him.

We are attracted by his often colorful and unapologetic use/misuse of the English language – something one media person refers to as our “expectation of hyperbole.” We are drawn to a stubborn-streak that leads the President to meet every detractor head-on. We admire his unquenchable pride in defending his family, his employees, his supporters, his past successes and his ongoing policies and decisions. And we align with the impatience he shows toward those who abuse or disavow the blessings they’ve been afforded as citizens/residents of the greatest nation on earth.

But what most attracts us are his personal uncompromising patriotism and his love for the people, traditions, constitution, military and capitalistic environment that define American exceptionalism. The man is fearless in taking on any and everyone who would try to tear down these institutions and beliefs. The President recognizes that it’s these specifically that have made America the envy of the world and moved her to the forefront of freedom, generosity, technological advancement, and religious tolerance.

Aging Delightfully

This senior has another birthday this month, and I feel great and hopeful of the future, both on a personal level and for the nation. But I wasn’t always this positive about life.

When my mom hit the big five-O, I too had just passed an age milestone, having transitioned from adolescence into my teens. With the sensitivity of a snail I told mom that I sure hoped I didn’t live that long – because old people like her didn’t have much more to contribute. I’m sure my negative views were reflective of the incessant physical problems I observed her endure over her lifetime. And mom didn’t even attempt to change my negative perspective on advanced aging until ma and pa passed on at 89 and 94 years-old respectively.

She and dad had made the “love-decision” to care in our home for her elderly parents, and she wisely hid the truth of an abusive childhood from her kids – understanding that it’s unlikely that my brother and I would have been as loving and forgiving as she. For as I later learned, her incessant migraines, misaligned bone structure and numerous internal organ issues that necessitated constant medication and doctoring, were the consequence of beatings administered by her own father. She had several siblings, but mom bore the brunt of the Belgian’s perhaps-well-intentioned but brutal disciplining.

Her response to a sad upbringing was not to complain about it, but to make sure that her kids were spoiled. We weren’t wealthy, but my parents sacrificed to assure my brother and I had a safe-haven to come home to, every earthly necessity, plus a parochial education and university training. And most importantly, they taught us the importance of serving God and our fellow man. My parents taught us not only forgiveness, but the virtues of generosity and compassion and the need to lean on God in the face of life’s challenges. The wisdom they shared drove me to take advantage of most every blessing and opportunity that came my way – things that I appreciate more each additional day God lends me.

Unlike my parents at this age, I’m physically able to crawl around on the carpet and allow my grandkids to climb and bounce all over me – even play tag with them – though these days I’m “it” most of the time, because it’s getting harder to catch even the four-year-olds. My grampa rode his bike well into his nineties, and I’m counting on exceeding that by twenty years or so. I’ve truly learned what it means to age gracefully and delightfully.

Dream Big for 2017

The gathering was small for our final Saturday Men’s Prayer Meeting of 2016 – nine to be exact – but our dreams for the coming year were BIG. As you might expect, a couple of the men’s dreams were of a more personal nature – for their immediate families had experienced great challenges over the past year. But most of the men’s dreams extended well beyond their immediate circle of family and friends, to broad visions of touching in tangible ways a world that can only be reached with GOD at the helm. Some would pooh-pooh such dreams as unrealistic and overly broad – but I know these men, and each one is not only a strong believer, but a doer, a go-getter, and a never-say-it’s-impossible fighter for the Kingdom.

It’s interesting that our Pastor’s message the first Sunday of the New Year followed this same line of thought. The foremost reason I love my local church is that her leadership dreams BIG, and in the process encourages each one of us to dream BIG as well, and provides us with the tools and training to pursue and to achieve those dreams.

Those of you who aren’t afraid of BIG dreams, I invite you to join us via your prayers to bring to fruition just four of these visions.

(1) A man with a background in broadcasting, marketing and sales sees himself as the owner and producer of a Christian radio station that reaches across the nation, to provide a consistent message totally aligned with the Word of God in the power of His Spirit.

(2) A businessman who plans to retire this year sees himself engaged full time in preaching and teaching all that God has revealed and will reveal to him about grace and love.

(3) A local church leader sees he and his wife hitting the road to present the joint message of salvation and deliverance to the masses of broken people.

(4) A former businessman and current author and Bible School instructor envisions being showered upon and filled with godly compassion and love for broken and confused people, and an innate ability to reach them through every avenue of communication available now and in the future.

Don’t be afraid to dream BIG, but be selective with whom you share your dream – for not everyone will be a supporter.

Is it Faith, or is it Presumption? – When your health is at stake you’d better be sure.

    Common sense is your natural ability to make good judgments and to behave in a practical and sensible way. It‘s an ordinary sensible understanding of a situation and the use of one’s basic intelligence without which good decisions can’t be made. Compare that to one apostle’s description of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”  Faith is the belief (and trust) in a higher truth than what our senses reveal to us, or what our past experiences infer just isn’t reasonable.

To paraphrase a pastor friend of mine, a person of faith doesn’t deny the reality of the problem – rather he or she acknowledges that we serve a higher Authority Who is well able and willing to help us overcome each and every problem. While that is true, its application to life’s many challenges is not always simple. A number of spiritual and natural factors will impact every decision a brother and sister in the Lord makes and the path(s) they choose to proceed down. The only decision that is the wise decision is the one that aligns with God’s Word and will and which follows the Holy Spirit’s leading.

There is a fine line between trusting in God’s promises and presuming we know the way those promises will be fulfilled by God. The Holy Spirit is the “leveler” between trust and the proper path to fulfillment; whereas presumption tends to block out His “still small voice.”

With respect to God’s promise to His people for good physical health and healing when sickness or disease strikes, the only thing we can say with confidence and certainty is that God is always the healer. However, there are any number of means God may choose to use to heal. He may intervene through a Christian’s laying on of hands or an elder’s anointing with oil and praying. God may intervene via the Church’s exercise of the Spirit’s Gifts of healing, miracles or faith. He may respond to a person’s reliance on and faithful pronouncement of Biblical healing verses. But it seems that most often, whether by design or simply because His follower’s faith may be weak, God uses medical professionals and their learned expertise, technology and medications.

If presumption leads either the seeker or the minister of healing down a wrong path, he may make the challenge greater and could even endanger his own life or the life and health of the very one he (with the best intentions) is seeking to help. For this reason it’s imperative that a Christian minister (which all of us are called to be) must be in tune with the Holy Spirit.

A friend in our Saturday morning men’s prayer group for the past several weeks has been confiding that medical tests revealed blockage in some primary arteries and damage to a heart valve and that his doctor had recommended immediate surgery. Though a couple years earlier my friend came close to dying when he suffered a heart attack, and had a stent inserted as a result, he made a declaration that he was going to forego the surgery for the time-being and “give God a chance to heal him.”

Most of the men in our group encouraged my friend and one-after-the-other gave testimonies of how God had intervened miraculously on their behalf to heal their bodies. I felt a check in my spirit that it was not the wisest thing for my friend to ignore the advice of his doctor. Six years earlier I had faced a similar decision when faced with three blocked arteries. Though I hadn’t even experienced a heart attack, I chose the surgery. God gave me great peace and the surgery went well with little serious discomfort. I wanted to share this with my friend, but I held back, not wanting to be the single voice planting seeds of doubt into his faith decision.

This past weekend he had a second heart attack. As I stood praying over him in the ICU, I couldn’t help but wonder if we had all done him a disservice.

A testimony can be a faith-builder to some – but to the one with weaker faith it may well lead to a bad decision. What active Christian wants to disappoint those who see them as a spiritual giant? We need to cease spiritually ranking the multitude of routes brethren take to healing. Otherwise there is a tendency for some to assume guilt should they seek healing through a “less spiritual” route, like the medical profession.

Only the Holy Spirit knows a person’s heart and their degree of faith and trust in God’s promises. If we “push” a person into a faith stance that they are not spiritually prepared to assume, we are neither being compassionate, nor doing the true work of our Lord.

A God of Second Chances

How many of you have made a mistake or two in your past. The ones that haunt me the most, even to this day, are my shortfalls I made in raising my kids.

My parents were my greatest influence for the first seven years of my child-rearing experience. They were very strict with my brother and I and we turned out OK, or so I thought. So I tried to replicate their strict disciplinary approach – and failed miserably.

My daughter was seven and her brothers much younger by the time I committed my life to Christ – and they had to endure my ever-changing style of child-rearing and disciplining that I was learning from the multitude of Christian advisors and trainers I sought guidance from. Each of those claimed to be experts – from parenting classes in my own Bible-centered church, to the Agape Training Center out in Plymouth, to Dr. Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio show that I listened to every day at noon, to a wide range of Christian books and magazine articles on the subject.

I recently thanked my daughter for my grandkids – because I see in them my second chance to get right what I messed up with my own kids.

How many of you are glad for second chances – or would love to have a second chance at making right a situation that you absolutely know you didn’t handle very well – or that you’d do a lot differently now that you’re a lot wiser?

  • Maybe, like myself, it’s your kids – you didn’t give them enough time, or you didn’t discipline them properly.
  • Or maybe it was a failed relationship.
  • Or maybe you did something embarrassing that cost you your good name.
  • Or maybe it was some dumb thing you did on a job that cost you financially, or the admiration and respect of your co-workers, or it cost you the job itself.

We’ve all messed up something (maybe a lot of things) in our past.

Thankfully the God we serve is a God of second chances.

I counsel a lot of men – men who’ve messed up in ways that most of us, not even our imaginations would take us down that road. And I haven’t met one man who wasn’t glad to meet that God of second chances, and let Him help them recover their lives and relationships.

In fact God is not only the God of second chances; He is the God of another chance. This is good news because most of us mess up the second chance as well, and we need a third and a fourth chance.

One of the amazing facets of God’s character is His incredible patience with us. Psalm 86 says it well: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” And the prophet Micah says, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.”

Thank goodness for the love, grace and patience of God.

The Bible is full of people who received second chances, and even third and fourth chances: Peter, Paul, David, Jonah, Samson. They and we are all trophies of God’s grace.

A lot of times we have a hard time looking for or accepting a second chance when it comes our way. In some strange way we don’t feel we deserve it – we have so much condemnation for our bad behavior – we feel we deserve being cast down. We feel people should hate us or not forgive what we did to hurt them. If you have that attitude, if you think you’re being courageous or holy or whatever – you’re not. You’re actually insulting God – you’re saying that Jesus’ pain and suffering so you could be forgiven and set free wasn’t good enough.

So just don’t do that! Get rid of that shame and guilt. God doesn’t want you to continue to hold onto it.

There’s no question that there are consequences for past bad behavior and bad decisions. King David lost the son born of the adulterous relationship he had with Bathsheba, and his kids were constantly fighting among themselves and competing for his attention. Samson was enslaved, tortured and even died all the while God was giving him his second chance at defending the people of Israel. Even the Apostle Paul I don’t believe ever fully recovered from the guilt he felt from persecuting, even killing Christians before his conversion – because he talked about it a lot.

Maybe your past bad behavior cost you something dear to you, like your marriage, or maybe it made your relationship with your kids more strained.

I was recently told about a deep-sea fishing expedition a dad took his two high-school-aged sons.  All morning long they fished and caught nothing except sunburn. Near lunchtime one of the boys got sea-sick and lost his breakfast over the side of the boat. The second son immediately followed suit. Suddenly this huge school of oceanic fish appeared out of nowhere, feeding unceremoniously upon their breakfast. Less than 10 minutes later, the entire boat caught their limit.

The lesson: they had fished all morning and all they got was sick. But once they were sick, all they got was fish.

Doesn’t that seem to be how God sometimes works? When we come to the end of ourselves, when we humbly acknowledge the mess we’ve landed ourselves in, God delights to pour out His glory in sudden and unpredictable ways.

God’s always offering us second chances – but He often expects us to take the initiative to seek them out. Many of the men I give spiritual counsel to have families in disarray – with kids who have had their minds poisoned by their spouse and other relatives – kids who have let their dads know they don’t want to have anything to do with them. I’ve encouraged the men to take it slow, but to maintain contact with their children – even if it only means sending them an occasional note letting them know they’re thinking about them and love and admire them. In many cases, that’s been enough to trigger more communication and a better relationship.

So don’t be afraid to take the initiative to reconnect with that person you may have hurt years ago, or been hurt by. Maybe your view of the situation is much worse than theirs.

I remember a number of years ago, the family and I joined some friends up in Lexington, Mich at their cottage for sailing and swimming. As we sat around we got to talking about old times; and someone brought up the names of a couple sisters that we had attended grade school with – and mentioned they owned a pie shop just outside of town. I immediately felt guilt rise up in my spirit, for a friend and I had spent most of our 8th grade teasing the girls about their physical appearance. Over the years that guilt would pop up every now and then; but I figured I’d never have the opportunity to ask their forgiveness. All of a sudden that opportunity was available to me. So I decided to take it. On our way home, we stopped outside the pie shop. Only one of the sisters was working when I entered. As I talked with her and mentioned the circumstances that had brought so much condemnation into my life over the years, I found she couldn’t even remember it. Still I asked and received her forgiveness, even though she didn’t feel I needed to.

No matter where you are, God is offering you a second chance. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how many times you’ve done it, no matter where you’ve wandered, God is saying, “If you allow Me, I’ll heal and restore. If you let Me.” That’s the key – to let Him. He’ll take the hurt of your bad decision and the accompanying shame and clean it up. The devil would love it if you remained isolated in your shame and condemnation all your life. Don’t give him that satisfaction.

But even if that’s not where you’re at today – Even if you’re totally at peace with your current relationship with God, with your family, with your church and your life in general, then God has a message for you too.

Each one of us needs to possess and exercise that same godly attitude of respect and tolerance when it comes to others in our society. And that’s not tolerance as society uses it today – which wants us to wink at sin and bad behavior. However, often when we become righteous Christians, we tend to forget our own youthful indiscretions and develop a “three strikes and you’re out” attitude toward others. Sometimes it’s toward our loved ones. But more often it’s toward strangers in the world, people we may not know personally, but whose behavior we find disgusting. But that attitude doesn’t represent God’s nature.

One thing that I always warn other Christians is: any behavior that you’re likely to vocally criticize another person about, be prepared to be tested in that area yourself. While you may not be personally tempted in that area, I guarantee someone that you are close to will be. And if they fall, I guarantee that your attitude toward them will be tested as well.

I’ve seen that in my own life with respect to attitudes of self-righteousness I once held toward people in so-called “alternate lifestyles.” Pray and be cautious with your judgments of others, and especially cautious with critical words that come out of your mouth. Trust me – you don’t want to be tested personally in these areas.