Category: Personal

Iron sharpens Iron

Most Saturday mornings I join fifteen to twenty-five other men in our church lobby to share what’s going on in each of our lives and to uplift our brothers.  We encourage each other, provide God’s counsel and share God’s solutions to the natural challenges we each face. None of us ever know what to expect when we enter that room at 7:00 am; but experience has taught us that over the next hour and a half each of us will receive one or more words of wisdom that will be apropos to our unique life situation.

This week was no different. As we talked in general about relationship issues, an elder gentleman reminded us that in especially close relationships (husband to wife, parent to child, even good friend to good friend), when we perceive a problem, the human tendency is to want to “teach” the other. This is usually not a good idea! For words of admonishment to loved-ones are often less effective and potentially more combative than simply demonstrating by one’s own life the lesson we hope to convey. I found this word though simple, to be invaluable.

Something in the make-up of women seems to make it natural for them to form and maintain close bonds with other women that allow them to expose their frailties and concerns about life and its challenges and to ask for guidance. But men need those special bonds with other men as well. We need a trusted core of like-minded brothers with whom we can share our trials and seek and obtain good counsel and to whom we are accountable for our actions. Wise old Solomon clearly understood this principle when he said: “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”

Some in this community of encouragers and advisors have been serving this need for twenty-four years now. It might seem like it takes a lot of commitment to show up at 7:00 am on the only morning that many men have to sleep in. However, to me personally, it’s been not only well worth the cost, but it’s been a necessity. I encourage every man I talk with to join us. If you’re not a part of such a community you need to join one. And if you don’t know of one in your area, you need to form one.

Resolutions for 2016 and beyond

New Years Resolutions   I’ve never been a beginning-of-the-New-Year resolution-maker. I’ve always felt you ought to do what you ought to do and not have to resolve each new year to become the person you should have been in the first place. But in these my sunset years perhaps there are some substantive attitudes and behaviors worth resolving to adhere to, not just for 2016 but for a lifetime. Therefore I welcome my friends and family to challenge me should I allow to lapse or sway from any of those listed below.

  1. I will use my time wisely. I will not “spend” it – rather I will “invest” it where it will produce the greatest fruit.
  2. I will seek direction from and be guided by the One who knows me and my unique needs and talents and Who is able and willing to do so.
  3. I will stay true to the Word of God and remain confident in His Promises. I will not be swayed by any of the multitude of cultural, political or religious forces that surround and tug at me.
  4. I will use my words to lift up and not deflate. We all need to be reminded occasionally that we are not failures simply because we have failed – we are only failures if we give up.
  5. I will encourage others to seek a God-solution to their problems, questions and needs.
  6. I will strive to shine a spotlight on the enemy: his finesse and subtlety, his deceptive tactics and his destructive nature.

A Year in Review – 2015

For me, 2015 has been an accumulation of blessings. Here are my top 15.

Blessings

  1. Blessed with a beautiful supportive wife – Sandy loved, honored, and encouraged me daily.
  2. Blessed with three wonderful and bright children – Jean, Ken and Steve each in their unique way showed their love and respect for their parents. Though we may be on varying paths politically, culturally, even spiritually, we tolerated and lifted each other up.
  3. Blessed with the almost-daily opportunity to minister into the lives of each of my grandchildren. I’ve witnessed first-hand Nick’s ever-increasing victories over life’s challenges, Lawson’s and Leah’s maturation in sports, music, the arts and dance, and have been privileged to contribute to all three’s spiritual growth.
  4. Blessed to witness my children and grandchildren show love, compassion and encouragement to their grandmother/great-grandmother as she struggled health-wise – then to help her enter her eternal reward with a smile on her face and a song in her heart.
  5. Blessed with the privilege of praying for and providing peace and comfort to my good friend Tom prior to his spirit’s ascent to heaven.
  6. Blessed to be asked to lead worship for People for Jesus.
  7. Blessed to be a part of an active and caring congregation at Grace Christian Church and its many outreaches to the local community.
  8. Blessed by my pastors and my God to be allowed to minister to broken people – to see lives changed, marriages patched up, and bodies, emotions, attitudes and spirits healed.
  9. Blessed to be a part of the Saturday morning men’s prayer group.
  10. Blessed with the finances to live a comfortable life, to help my children, and to contribute to the needs of hurting people around the globe.
  11. Blessed to attend my grand-nephew’s wedding in Maryland and to renew acquaintances with my brother Richard’s extended family.
  12. Blessed to be asked to dedicate my neighbor’s son to His Lord and Savior Jesus.
  13. Blessed to be asked to perform the marriage of my cousin Tiffiny to Bruce.
  14. Blessed to see my fourth book published, and for the creative and inspirational thoughts to maintain an almost-weekly blog.
  15. Blessed by old friends who have renewed acquaintances and many new friends I’ve met on social media, through my church, or even just walking around the neighborhood or the mall.

How do you test religious truth?

Testing Religious Truth  I’m probably going to upset some of my church-going friends when I say this, but I’m not an advocate for blind faith or blind acceptance of the faith of my parents. When it comes to my personal and my loved one’s potential eternal resting place, I want to base my belief on the closest thing to certainty of truth as possible.

But given so many choices, how do you test religious truth claims? Common sense says you test religious truth claims in the same way you test other claims. You start with the authority and credibility of its proponents, then you measure how those claims correspond to the reality of the world you live in, and finally you look for the best evidence available to confirm or reject the claims. For example, when I began to write this blog, I didn’t start from ground zero – I went to a source that I trust, the “Stand to Reason” website and I found an article entitled “Testing Religious Truth Claims:” Much of what I state in the paragraphs below was formulated in that article.

Authority: If I wanted to know something about information technology for example, I’d ask an IT expert. I wouldn’t start from square one to rediscover it all on my own. Why re-invent the wheel? I’d fall back on the prior research of others. I find it amazing how people will sometimes hesitate to trust an authority like the Bible, when virtually every bit of knowledge and every concept they hold dear can be attributed to one authority or another. We trust the words of other people whose opinions we value and whom we consider reliable. The reliability and credibility of the authority is the key issue.

I think a good case can be made that Jesus was that kind of authority. Not only did He make certain claims about the nature of the universe, about Himself, and about God; but He then worked miracles, cast out demons, raised the dead, predicted his own crucifixion, death and resurrection, and then self-consciously raised himself from the dead. And even those who are skeptical of His claims and the associated evidence would have to acknowledge that nearly every major religion in the world (and even many non-religious people) adopt Jesus as their role model for some major doctrine or issue they’re promoting. So I think He’s earned the right to speak authoritatively about spiritual things and life in general.

Correspondence to reality: When we say that a thing is true, we mean the thing itself corresponds to the way the world really is. Simply put, if you know what a lie is, truth is just the opposite. Hinduism, for example, says the world is an illusion. We’re not real. God is just dreaming about us and we are part of that dream. Our “salvation” involves transcending the illusion to get back to the godhead. Now I have to ask myself, “Is that claim true?” I don’t think so! My own cursory examination of the world seems to indicate that I’m real and the world is real. I live my life as if it were real. I experience the world firsthand. I don’t even know how I’d know if I were just an illusion. The whole claim is nonsensical. For me to claim that I know I don’t exist is self-contradictory. If the foundational tenet is false, then everything built on top of it begins to crumble, including all of its texts and things like the concept of reincarnation.

Christianity and Judaism take the real world seriously and don’t dismiss it as an illusion. This is why modern science was birthed in the West and not in the East. Since this religious claim corresponds to the way we discover the world to be, it’s evidence that Christianity and Judaism are true, at least at this point. And there are other claims biblical theism makes that correspond to the world as we seem to discover it: things like (1) intelligent design, (2) that the world and mankind were created for a purpose, (3) principles of cause and effect in the creation/evolution dilemma and (4) that most individual and organizational interactions are based on intentions not accidents.

The Biblical worldview clearly doesn’t match certain philosophies people hold about the world, but it does seem to match the world itself. This is evidence that those philosophies which don’t correspond to the world are falsified at that point, and Judeo-Christian thought is affirmed at that point.

Evidence: And finally you look for evidence that either confirms or denies the truth claims of the religion and its sacred texts. And we have reams of that in documents of antiquity, in archaeological finds, in eye witness accounts of Biblical events by both Christian and non-Christian writers, in scientific findings, etc. The Bible is the book that says “Let’s look at the evidence, weigh it and draw reasonable conclusions based on what we know, not on what we don’t know.” Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the prophets of old all were not afraid to say, “Come let us reason together. Come consider the evidence and its common sense implications.”

To demand evidence and an adequate cause for every effect we observe is a scientific approach to understanding the universe we live in. Maybe something else was responsible for the universe and not God. One could postulate lots of different scenarios. Who’s to say it wasn’t a principle or force that we don’t know about that was responsible for everything? Of course, it’s fair to raise the question, but the question itself doesn’t count as evidence. Yet that seems to be the way some treat it. But you can’t just invent all kinds of theories that lack actual evidence against the Biblical view. They’re speculative. They’re rabbit holes that simply distract from an alternative explanation that some don’t like because it doesn’t accommodate their lifestyle.

Friendships worth fighting for

John and Al (3) All my life I’ve been blessed with great friendships. And I mean literally all my life; for my longest running relationship dates to within a few months of my birth. Al’s mom was my dad’s secretary, and our families lived on the same block barely a hundred feet apart. We had a couple lengthy separations, but at the encouragement of family members renewed our acquaintance.  Then there’s my buddy Doug whom I’ve known since fifth grade. He and I and two other friends from that era alternated as best man and ushers for each other’s weddings and became god-parents for some of our kids. At each phase of my life, from high school, to college, to my first full-time job, to subsequent career assignments, to each local church I’ve called home, I’ve developed lasting faithful friendships.

The more my wife and I have counselled other people it’s become increasingly apparent to us how unusual it is to maintain these types of close relationships. For the nature of social interactions is such that differences of opinions and personalities can so easily offend and drive wedges between people. It’s not that every person I call “friend” is a clone of me. In fact, as I assess the spectrum of my circle of close relationships, I see vast differences: between our varied political stances, our spiritual affiliations, our financial status, and our personal interests. Yet somehow we’ve overcome those differences to form even stronger bonds. That’s not to say that we haven’t had our struggles and disagreements at times – but love and reconciliation has thus far won out.

These types of friendships are always worth fighting for. For example, my wife has been blessed with some similar long-running friendships; one in particular extending all the way back to middle school, where she and her friend were both cheerleaders. But three years ago some personal challenges (health-wise, marital and familial) in her friend’s life led to a rift in that friendship. God recently began working on me to intervene and do what I could to restore that relationship. So last week I searched out and found an old cell phone number in my desk for her friend’s husband. I was actually surprised when the man answered. He told me he was in Florida and that he and Sandy’s friend had divorced two years earlier. We had a nice ten minute discussion, through which I was able to encourage him and wish him well and find out generally where his “ex” lived. A few days later Sandy got up the courage to call another old cell phone number that she had for her friend – and amazingly the woman answered. And they had their first good peaceful conversation in almost three years. Reconciliation is a wonderful gift of God.

Long-running friendships may be unusual in this day and age, but they’re worth fighting for. There’s an old proverb that says: “A man who has friends must himself be friendly; but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

The author of this proverb was Solomon, the youngest son of King David. I’m reasonably certain that Solomon relied on his dad’s experience for the wisdom declared here; for David had a true friend in Jonathon, the son of his adversary, Saul; with Jonathon conceding both the throne and his life to defend David. In contrast, constant turmoil and infighting was a hallmark of Solomon’s relationship with his siblings who vied for the throne. Likewise, the few “friendships” he formed appear to have been obtained quid pro quo through their assignments to key posts of the military, and governmental, and religious institutions.

I pray that every one of you could be blessed with the abundance of genuine friends that God has graced me with. If you’ve allowed any of these relationships to lapse, either because you felt the two of you no longer have much in common, I encourage you to rethink your position. It may take a lot of time and effort to re-establish that relationship, but it will be worth it. There must have been a reason that your paths were allowed to cross once before. Friendship is a good gift and “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

Wisdom left unspoken

generation gap Last weekend I attended my grand-nephew’s wedding in Maryland. A cursory survey of those in attendance at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding reception revealed that I was the fifth oldest. I and each of my compatriots are a part of the “silent generation,” a term coined way back in 1951 by Time Magazine to describe the children born to parents who struggled through the economic and political chaos of the Great Depression and WW II.  According to the web, we are recognized as patriotic and trusting in traditional institutions, and most of us grew up demonstrating high aspirations, often seeking achievement, power and status. And we believed that anything was possible for anyone willing to work hard and manage their spending. Yet, it was commonly understood during this period that children should be seen and not heard, so us kids also grew up keeping our feelings and attitudes inside and not expressing them to others. I certainly don’t agree with everything published by so-called experts online, but these assertions in character I happen to accept, for I see it in myself and others of my age group.

Our generation’s attitudes and behaviors contrast significantly with both those that preceded us, (namely the so-called “greatest generation” that braved the advance of Nazi-ism and Japanese imperialism), as well as those generations that have followed us, from the baby-boomers to gen X, gen Y and gen Z and their numerous sub-groups. Regarding our predecessors, I recall as a young person hearing most of my elders proudly proclaim how they always “spoke their mind” regardless of how it was received by others or who it might offend, as if they had earned that right from their mere years on earth. It seems that as I age the opposite has taken hold in me. I find myself lamenting over having said what should have been left unsaid and often feeling remorse for leaving unsaid what needed to be said. I am perhaps sensitive-to-a-fault to the faces and feelings of others. It’s kind of a verbal dilemma akin to what the Apostle Paul spoke of in the 7th chapter of his letter to the church in Rome: “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”

While Paul proceeds to discourse on how the indwelling Spirit of God enabled him to overcome his weaknesses, most of us in the “silent generation” seem to continue to struggle through our dilemma. For though our leanings toward patriotism, hard work, high aspirations, personal achievement and our traditions may be admirable, the tendency to cloister these qualities by our silence is hardly conducive to reproducing in our offspring the better aspects of our generation. In other words, by keeping our strengths to ourselves we leave nothing behind – so what will we really have accomplished when we leave this earth beyond the accumulation of possessions and titles?

In stride with our “silent generation” persona, this past weekend the five of us, (actually six counting my younger spouse) spent most of our time communicating amongst ourselves and rehearsing old adventures; while the “youngsters” carried on amongst themselves. When I thought back on this days later, my flesh wanted to excuse our behavior based on both the physical distance between our home states and the uncomfortable truth that my relationship with my Maryland relatives has never been what it should have been, for a number of reasons. While it may have been circumstantially understandable, it was hardly justifiable. So if any good is to come of my failure to break through these generational barriers, it is that God highlighted this experience as a lost opportunity on my part to plant some seeds of knowledge and hope and love into the lives of these young people.

We seniors have accumulated much wisdom over many decades; so what is it that gets in our way of sharing some of that wisdom? Over the past week I’ve given it much thought and I’m convinced that we’ve been hoodwinked by our post-modern culture, (not to mention our spiritual enemy) into focusing more on our past personal failures than on our successes. We are made to feel condemned by the thought: ‘How can we advise our youth if we’ve made such a mess of our own lives – through a divorce, through a butchered up career, through a bad financial decision, or the like?’ And we fret that our kids and grandkids will not receive from us what we try to share, imagining that they see us through a negative lens. But it’s always a mistake to focus on our frailties. After all, failures are just learning opportunities – for ourselves and for others.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog on how trials in our lives are always opportunities to validate what we claim to believe in. A failure is just such a trial and we of the “silent generation” stand on some pretty firm ground when it comes to the traditions and character traits that we exhibit and claim to believe in. So let’s prove it and stop being afraid to share what we believe in with the younger generations. Speak up!

Besides, if we do not provide the wisdom, the guidance to our kids and grandkids, to whom shall they turn? Their peers? Most of them are searching for answers and direction themselves! It’s not fair to stick our young people with such limited options.

That’s not to say that the young people that I became acquainted and reacquainted with this past weekend were messed up. Quite the contrary! In fact I was impressed with what most of these young people have done with their lives, the families they have raised and the careers they have built. But that’s more a reflection of the compassion and grace of God than due to any contribution of some of us, their elders.

It has always been God’s plan that “the grey-heads” of society be wholly involved in the lives of their offspring from the day of their birth to the day we step off this planet. And children were intended to be not just a blessing to their parents and grandparents, but to listen to and learn from their godly counsel. Much of the Book of Proverbs is structured around the idea of a wise father passing on godly wisdom to his son. Other parts of the Old Testaments reiterate this concept again and again. And the New Testament continues this trend by advising fathers and elders to nurture and train their children as well as the younger men in the Church, and likewise speaks of older women teaching the younger and being a good example to them. Such behavior was commended by the Apostle Paul as he described the contributions of the young pastor Timothy’s mother and grandmother in his upbringing. From Moses to King David to the Apostle Peter just listen to their guidance inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6

So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim Your might to another generation, Your power to all those to come. Psalm 71

So I exhort the elders among you,… shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. 1 Peter 5

So to you young people who I failed to provide input into your lives last week I quote from the Christian author John Donne who wrote some four centuries ago, “No man is an island.” We need each other. We may be from vastly different generations, but we can and should learn from each other. Seek out the experiences and stories of those older and more mature than yourself. Don’t be too shy to delve into the details behind the mistakes your parents and grandparents have made. Let them tell you what they’ve learned from those mistakes. It may be a little bit embarrassing for all parties at the beginning – but it has the potential to become an enriching experience.

And to you seniors I encourage you to open up to your kids and grandkids. They need to know that you recognize you’re not infallible. Well – they probably already know it – but they haven’t heard you tell it with a positive twist; of how one, or two, or even a dozen failures don’t mean it’s all over. They just need to get back up and move on, just like you did – and eventually made something wonderful of your life.

How Large is your Circle of Love?

Circle of LoveI hate to admit it but Sandy’s circle of love is much larger than my own. I could sit in my comfortable home office hour after hour and write messages and blogs and books that I only hope reach the multitudes and inspire them to seek God, but I never know for sure whose life I’m impacting. In contrast, my wife talks to people. She talks to everyone. She speaks to their hearts and they listen. And we both are blessed to see the results – usually within a very short time.

A couple months ago, while I was out to the park with my two grandsons, Sandy took our three-year-old granddaughter across the street to visit the young couple who had a “miracle” baby boy earlier in the year. The visit, which I knew very little about at the time, turned into an extended time of ministry to the new mother who had many things going on in her life and many spiritual questions.

Subsequently the young woman began attending a denominational church in the area that a friend had recommended to her. She determined to have her now eight-month-old son dedicated to the Lord and scheduled the event for this past Sunday. Her husband whose background is Jewish agreed to have his son dedicated and friends and relatives from four different states planned to attend this wonderful event. However, earlier in the week, in the interest of full disclosure, the mother notified her Pastor that one close relative who would be attending was a lesbian and another was gay. The Pastor told her they would not be welcome in “my church.”

This was a crushing blow to the young mother and her husband was understandably irate. They decided they would have nothing further to do with the church and discussed canceling the event entirely. However, specifically because of the visit Sandy had made to the couple’s home two months earlier, and the relationship formed during this time, she turned up at our door with her baby this past Thursday. Needless to say, on Sunday afternoon we were honored to dedicate the child before fifty or so of her friends and relatives in their backyard.

I pray that this was just a one-time poorly thought out decision on the denominational Pastor’s part of not showing even the minimal degree of love and respect for persons that he deemed too unrighteous to grace the doorways of “his church.” Otherwise I would question whether “his church” is really a part of “the Lord’s Church.” But we all make mistakes; and I pray that he learns from it quickly.

As I’ve said many times, the only people we will ever have the opportunity to influence are those that we allow into our circle of love. Showing love and respect to every person regardless of their beliefs and behavior is a command of God. It in no way is an affirmation or a sanctioning of those beliefs or behaviors. It’s the rare Christian indeed who can look back at his former life and say I never was goofy and never did things that today I would not want my closest acquaintances to know about. “There go I but for the grace of God.”

Independence Day

American Flag   Like so many Americans across the country I spent the 4th of July with family, watching the kids play while eating hotdogs, sausages, burgers, potato salad, watermelon and strawberry pie. As the sun set my son-in-law got out the $40 of fireworks he’d purchased at Costco and his kids and their grandparents shrieked at the wonders of the multicolored displays. Still not totally dark as Sandy and I drove home, we heard periodic explosions and saw an occasional rocket light up the sky first on one side of the road, then on the other as people prepared for a long night of celebration. After I pulled into my garage I got on my bike and determined to risk riding in the dark through a few surrounding subdivisions to enjoy the barrage of rockets-blue, purple, orange, yellow and red-glare that must have cost some of my neighbors a mortgage payment or two.

When I finally came in for the evening I scanned my TV options and settled on the history channel’s final episode of “Sons of Liberty,” a three-night series about a group of young men who changed the course of history and made America a nation. Interestingly enough it was playing opposite of “Independence Day,” a science fiction movie about humanity’s fending off a destructive alien invasion by launching a counterattack on the same date as the Independence Day holiday in the United States. It made me wonder which account most young Americans today would receive as the most likely reason for celebrating the 4th of July, the history channel’s version or Hollywood’s. I fear the latter, since it was stocked with well-known stars: from Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Judd Hirsch, to Harry Connick, Jr.; for every time I hear the youth of America queried on current and historical events and characters, it tears me to hear them demonstrate their ignorance of the people and events that made this country great, while they divulge every detail about the lives of Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

While their elders espouse principles like “Freedom is never free” and “Freedom carries the responsibility to share that freedom with others,” the kids are taught by an amoral education system to turn a blind eye to the sacrifices that their forerunners made to gain them their freedom. So how can we expect our children to understand and appreciate these principles?

This past weekend a friend of mine republished the Declaration of Independence on FaceBook and encouraged his followers to read it for the holiday. I did. And it brought back to my mind how it had once been a required eighth grade memorization exercise (along with the Gettysburg Address). How times have changed!

Independence and freedom though often used interchangeably, are not exactly the same. Independence is defined as a state whereby one is not influenced or controlled by others, self-confidence, and possessing value not dependent on others. Freedom on the other hand is defined as personal liberty, absence from obligations, ease of movement, and the power to exercise choice without internal constraints. Paradoxically, both independence and freedom imply the acceptance of a lot of responsibilities. Not many adults, much less our young people really comprehend this fact.

In 1776, a bunch of people in the new world that became America signed a Declaration which didn’t guarantee things were about to get a lot easier. No! Those who signed it recognized they were surrendering their finances and their ties with many supply chains, and accepted great personal risk in order to support not only a new government, but also a war effort that would hopefully gain them their independence/freedom from a tyrannical mother country. And many made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in the process.

We often get frustrated with the lack of support we receive from our education system and our political and social leaders as we try to pass on our heritage to our children. But as elders (parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and friends) we owe it to our youth to teach them about our heritage, our traditions and their godly foundation. It’s actually a Biblical command, stated and restated. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 “Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them.” Timothy 4:11  I believe it’s just as important as teaching our children about how to make choices regarding smoking, drinking, drugs, sex, credit card debt and other “adult” decisions in life.

Today many of our young people are floundering precisely because they lack an understanding of where they came from (in a nationalistic sense) or where they are headed. While no people group can ever claim lily white perfection from a historical perspective, there is much to be proud of in the story of America, its Christian roots, its motivation toward helping the less fortunate among us and around the world and the opportunities our nation provides for all its citizens. Black, brown, yellow, red and white, we have much to be thankful for and of which to hold our heads up high as Americans.

Courage – evidence you are ready for life’s greatest challenges

CourageMost of us don’t really understand what courage is, and few of us rarely if ever see ourselves as very courageous. I think that’s because courage most often shows itself when a person faces a challenge that they didn’t foresee – maybe even a situation that they would prefer not being in if they had their druthers – yet one that they won’t turn and run from. I don’t think it’s an independent characteristic of a man or woman. I think it’s a fruit that blossoms forth to “prove” to both the individual and those around them their integrity, credibility, faithfulness and sincerity in what and in whom they believe.

These past few days I’ve witnessed true courage in a number of different settings. I saw it in a young man a few days after his mother was gunned down by a racist fanatic in a Sorth Carolina church – when he spoke of forgiveness and God’s love. I read it in the words of the Supreme Court justices who disagreed with a recent majority decision, who were not deterred by the anticipated criticism and vitriol of the mainstream media. I saw it on display when a state police sergeant made an on-the-spot decision to take down a man he believed was an escaping prisoner before he disappeared back into the woods. Had the officer been wrong, had the man instead been a homeless person just reacting to his fear of law enforcement in general, the officer would most certainly have been viciously attacked by those intent on finding fault in every such decision and behavior. But as so many of his law enforcement brothers and sisters do every day in spite of the severe criticism and the watchful eyes around them, he went about his job focused on protecting the innocent. Finally, I saw courage in a young man who for the past three of his mere twenty-two years of life, left the comforts of metro-Detroit suburbia to venture into one of the poorest neighborhoods of Mexico to minister to the needs of its children. Daniel’s courage is evident every day, but for me it budded forth when he set up a “gofundme” account to cover the costs of taking a group of his kids outside the slums they lived in for a week of camp, promising to humble himself in his physical appearance in exchange for peoples’ support.

As I stated earlier, few of us rarely if ever see ourselves as very courageous. Jesus put it this way: “Someday you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” In other words, if you’re sincere in your beliefs and faithful to the One in whom you believe, if you’re a person of integrity and faithfulness, then courage and wisdom will be manifest in the words of your mouth and in your actions – because they’re already buried deep in your heart. You’ll say the right thing; you’ll do the right thing.

I see courage in everyday people that they likely don’t see in themselves. I see it in my daughter as she balances a life of teaching middle school youngsters at the same time as she faces the challenges of raising three young children and pleasing a sport’s enthusiast husband. I see it in my oldest son who gave up a stable career as an engineer to evangelize on the campuses and streets around the world. I see it in my youngest son who was saddled with several physical and medical issues from a very young age; yet attained the highest rank in scouting, graduated from college, established a career in the arts and works hard in a difficult economy to earn supplementary income – all the while his compassionate heart causes him to help those in even more difficult circumstances than his own. And I see it in my wife who, in the face of numerous setbacks continues to pursue the vision God gave her for a ministry that brings people of all Christian faiths together to honor their Savior.

Perhaps you’re much more courageous than you think! The young man in Sorth Carolina would have easily given up his ten minutes of fame at a microphone to have his mother with him that day. I’m sure the minority in that Supreme Court decision would have much rather gone home that afternoon and not touched off the vindictiveness of the Left against them personally. The state police sergeant would much rather have had one of his friends be faced with making the on-the-spot decision whether or not to fire his weapon. And I doubt if young Daniel, the day he left to be a missionary in Mexico ever anticipated having to step into the role of father and older brother to so many children who have been abandoned by their natural fathers and older brothers. Each of these faced the challenge before them, and their courage is now on display for all to witness and commend. Perhaps that next challenge will be the trigger to cause your courage to blossom forth.

Given by Inspiration of …

FB share imageI think most of us are very aware of the numerous voices around us every day trying to influence us to think and act a certain way, to buy into a certain ideology, to invest our resources on a certain product, or to head in a certain direction or toward a specific destiny. But we’re less conscious of the influence our own voice has within our circle of friends and acquaintances. Yes! Each of us indeed has a sphere of influence. Your opinions matter to many and your opinions inspire some to follow in your footsteps. If you don’t believe me, just look at your social media for the last week or so.

Like many of you, every day I’m invited via email or FaceBook post to lend my support (i.e.: my endorsement) to a wide array of political, social and spiritual causes, to individuals (e.g.: running for public office) and to public service organizations. Sometimes that support requested is simply to share the information provided with my personal list of friends and acquaintances. Other times it’s a request for financial support. And occasionally I’m even invited to author a testimony of the positive effect the cause, individual or organization has had upon my life.

For my part, I never treat any of these requests for endorsement lightly. I make a decision in each case whether to act upon it or to ignore it. But to act upon such a request for support I have to (1) feel inspired by the subject and (2) feel confident that its representatives are godly in character. And to attain an adequate level of inspiration and confidence it’s imperative that I investigate the source and what motivates it/him/her to act.

What or who influences and inspires you?

Advertisers/public relations gurus have taught millennials especially, but society in general that celebrities (sports phenomes and music and movie stars) are credible and inspiring persons whose lifestyles and words and creeds should be mimicked. But few are really worthy of such trust and admiration.

Many people (including many of the “churched”) today throw their support behind whatever the flavor of the day is in our culture. But what really does our culture reflect? It reflects what is popular and acceptable today. And that can and does change in a heartbeat. Jesus said that His followers would be hated by the world (those who are proponents of the flavor of the day). And true followers of Christ experience this “hatred” every day via attacks by the mainstream media, by ungodly government leaders, by confused religious leaders and by adversaries on social media.

Before you begin to answer the question “what or who influences or inspires you,” I suggest you at least consider the four following questions:

  1. Do you have any standards for determining what causes, organizations and people who you are willing to throw your support behind?
  2. If not, why not?
  3. If so, what are your standards?
  4. If so, where did you get those standards?
  5. If so, do your standards advance selfish or self-less behavior?
  6. If so, are your standards “fixed,” or do they vary with every wind of change in the culture?

For me personally, the Apostle Paul is a good standard bearer. He said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” In other words, “Listen to what I have to say, and do what I do, only if what I say and what I do is comparable to what Jesus did and said. If not, ignore what I say and do.”

These days I’m getting a lot of requests to support a growing list of men and women vying for the office of President of the U. S. As a general rule I don’t get into any political discussions over social media. There are too many really important issues in life, and very few if any are going to be solved by any political leader. When the time comes to vote I’ll make my choice based on the person whose character and beliefs most closely mirror that of Jesus and whose stated policies advance those beliefs. However, today I am finding it difficult to find any that would dare say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” And if one did say that, and if the people listening took them at their word, I wonder if the candidate would be left with any supporters?

My personal test

So how do I assess the inspirational value and my level of confidence in public service organizations and social causes? I have a simple test which involves researching the answer to these three questions:

  1. Does the purpose of the organization/cause advance life and peace or a culture of death and destruction?
  2. Does it encourage self-less behavior or selfishness?
  3. Is its primary goal and likely outcome an emotionally, physically and spiritually enhanced experience for the participants?

But what about local churches/denominations/religions? Wouldn’t every one pass my test? Ugh – no! For them I would recommend the “Follow me as I follow Christ” standard. I often wonder how many would survive if they honestly encouraged their congregations to support them with their talents, time and resources based on their faithfulness to replicating the actual teachings and actions of Jesus Christ?

Who do you influence?

Now back to my original premise that every person on this earth has a sphere of influence. There are many scriptures that talk about God’s granting to His righteous and obedient people the blessing of even greater influence in the world. (See for example Isaiah’s chapter 54 prophesy and also the prayer of an honorable Old Testament character named Jabez.)

Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited.

“Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him [Jabez] what he requested.

Whose lives do you impact? More than you probably imagine! Make sure that the information you are sharing with those in your sphere of influence is both true and of value to them specifically? You are responsible for your words and actions. You are also accountable for who and what causes and organizations you endorse and those whom you draw into your tent. Don’t be lazy! Do the research before you click on that “share” icon.