Pass the Hat


Years ago I heard a story about two men knelling at the altar late at night in a dark remote sanctuary. The younger of the men was a struggling young father between jobs pleading for help to pay his rent. He desperately needed $500 to keep his family from being evicted from the tiny apartment. Meanwhile the man next to him knelt in his expensive pinstriped Armani suit pleading with God to help him close a deal for $10 million for his investment firm. As the rich man overheard the pleas of his poor neighbor at the altar, he decided to interrupt.

Tapping the young man on the shoulder, he smiled and said, “Here, let me help you.” He pulled out his billfold and removed five crisp $100 bills and handed him the money saying, “I hope this helps.” The young father with tears in his eyes awkwardly hugged the rich banker thanking him over and over again until he finally ran out of the sanctuary heading home to tell his wife of the miracle he had just experienced.

Once the swinging of the back doors of the sanctuary stopped, and the room returned to silence, the rich banker knelt again looking up to the heavens saying, “Lord now that I have your undivided attention…as I was saying…”

Generosity can come in all shapes and sizes, and for all kinds of different reasons. A few days ago I witnessed a very moving act of generosity in a much unexpected place. Just before lunchtime I decided to drop in on one of my favorite ministries in the life of our church called “Camino de Luz.” This neighborhood group meets twice a month for Bible study, fellowship, training, and lunch. What started out as an outreach to the senior adult women of our neighborhood some eleven years ago now has become a thriving community of men and women, who love God, love each other and see themselves as a force for good in the world.

As I slipped in the back of the room I spotted a couple of the ladies gathered over a baseball cap full of money. Like a large green salad of ones and fives I witnessed the ladies with smiles on their faces counting the money.

I asked Edgardo Martinez, our Minister of Missions, what was up and he informed me that a young man and his mother from South America had shared their plight. They shared their story of how they needed the prayers of the people. However, “Camino de Luz” was not willing to simply pray, this group of neighborhood friends most of whom live week to week on meager incomes, decided to literally “pass the hat” and gather an offering.

As I watched the ladies counting the offering which amounted to $111.00 I was deeply moved. Over the last few years, I have witnessed this group be transformed from a gathering of friends sharing lunch to a movement determined to make a difference in their world. When we give God half a chance with our hearts and lives He loves to transform us more and more into His image.

After the offering I sensed a deep abiding joy in the room, I could tell those who gave had received the joy that comes only through generosity. It should not be a surprise to us that Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7 ESV). Interestingly enough cheerfulness follows generosity. Happy people give. Sad people hold on too tight.

Let me close with the prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi who wrote:  “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek–To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”
By the way, “Camino de Luz” means “path of light.” Giving lights the way!

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President and the Prince


Imagine opening up a brand new restaurant in El Paso? Obviously you would want to start with a world-class chef and then you would want to find a prime location because most everyone knows that often success revolves around “location, location, location.” If you doubt this adage just check out where you find McDonald’s located then look around and see all the people and traffic. You don’t think “Big Macs” sell by accident do you?

However, a great chef and a strategic location alone cannot spell success, as any successful restaurateur knows; you also have to have a great team serving the customers. Danny Meyer, a New York City legend in the restaurant business hires for success. Forbes Magazine in June 2015 ran an article entitled: “Hire Like Meyer: Danny Meyer Reveals His 6 Secrets Of Great Customer Service Hiring.”

 Always looking for tips about leadership and service his secrets intrigued me. Here are his six secrets to great customer service hiring:

  1. Optimistic warmth (genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full);
  2. Intelligence (not just “smarts” but rather an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning);
  3. Work ethic (a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done);
  4. Empathy (an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel);
  5. Self-awareness (an understanding of what makes you tick);
  6. Integrity (a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgment).


As I read the list, I realized I could capture what he described so well in one biblical word—the word “hospitality.” You find this word popping up time and time again in the New Testament for instance: the writer of Hebrews recommended: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2 ESV) What an amazing concept, showing simple kindness can open you up to a whole new world of reality right under your nose.

Paul added:  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” (1 Timothy 3:2-3 ESV) Did you notice right in the middle of his description of the attributes of godly leaders you find his reference to being “hospitable.”

The word “hospitality” in Greek is a compound word literally meaning “to love a stranger like a family.”  When you see someone with the gift of hospitality get them on your team as quickly as possible. In fact as I review the qualities of great customer service, I see in the list the essence of “servant leadership” demonstrated by Jesus himself. We need more humble leaders.

Speaking of “servant leaders” a few days ago, my grandson George Walker Scott, who I affectionately call “Prince George”, had the rare opportunity to meet face to face his namesake President George W. Bush in his office in Dallas. In a remarkable act of hospitality, President Bush welcomed my daughter Lorin, son-in-law Philip, and especially Prince George into his world treating them like family during an extended visit. For nearly half an hour my kids became the center of his attention. He even nicknamed my little grandson “Little W” as he terrorized his office rifling through his personal items right under the nose of the Secret Service.

Once again I was reminded why the LORD selected President Bush to serve in the Oval Office at such a critical time in human history. His humility demonstrated through hospitality reveals the depth of his character. Today more than ever we need leaders like that, and I pray my little Prince George grows up to be like his namesake George W. Bush, if he does…watch out world because he comes “Little W.”

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Pass the Pizza: Presidential Politics

This week the presidential candidates turned their focus to the State of New York and the Big Apple—New York City with its primary looming just over the horizon on April 19th. Ohio Governor John Kasich had quite a week in the Empire State. In the same week he received the endorsement of the New York Times along with Hillary Clinton (which may be good news or bad news depending on how you see it) and he flunked the New York Pizza test at Gino’s Pizzeria in Queens by eating his pizza with a fork!!

Yes, this gaff made national news from Good Morning America to Politico. You can’t make this stuff up—life truly is stranger than fiction. If you step back and look at how we choose our leaders you have to wonder what we are thinking or better if we are thinking at all.  This particular political season has been mind boggling on many levels if not nauseating.

Sadly, politicians and their handlers have turn running for office into a “blood sport” with essentially no rules or healthy boundaries. It appears candidates will say and do practically anything to try to get the upper hand by sinking lower and lower into the gutter. I am not sure we have enough character to handle a Twitter feed with only 140 characters. #thinkbeforeyouhitsend.

John Maxwell, former pastor and leadership guru rightly noted: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I suspect all of us have found this to true from the little league coach, manager of the local fast food joint, church planter, captain of a company of soldiers to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

So if leadership truly makes all the difference, the selection of leaders must be of paramount importance. In the National Football League each year the coaches and general managers host a combine for college athletes seeking to play on the biggest stage in sports. Not only do they measure the speed, strength and agility of the student athletes but they also administer what they call the “Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test” developed by Eldon F. Wonderlic, who designed this fifty question test administered in just twelve minutes to identify one’s problem solving abilities. Score low on this test and you may not ever get a chance to score on the field.

Jim Collins, who spent much of his research career analyzing great companies and great leaders made the following observations:

Great vision without great people is irrelevant…get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus…In determining the right people, the good-to-great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience.”

 Yes, character counts! I liked to call it the “Big C” when my little girls were going up and facing an opportunity dressed in the disguise of a problem or challenge. I would remind them God continually seeks to instill character into those He loves and believes in. James nailed it when he wrote: Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4 The Message)

Before we turn our attention too quickly to criticize those in leadership, we would be wise to look into the mirror of our hearts and souls. Are we, men and women of character, or do we expect qualities in our leaders that we do not expect of ourselves? Remember what Paul said: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)

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A few weeks ago, while standing outside the doors of our sanctuary following our Upward Basketball Celebration, a grandfather of one of the little dribblers pulled me aside to ask a question saying, “Pastor, I need your help. My grandchild asked me the other day, why does God allow tornadoes and storms to destroy homes and take the lives of people? So what do you think and what should I say?”

I must confess I would have been a bit more comfortable talking to this grandfather of a little basketball player about the advantages of zone defense vs. man-to-man defense on the court, but I knew I needed to help him navigate one of the many spiritual mine fields we face together.

So what would you say in a conversation that would last less than fifteen minutes but could actually be the basis of a graduate theological class for an entire semester? Before I share how I replied, let me fast forward to another conversation after a recent church service where I preached on the two most important people who have ever lived—Adam and Jesus. With a big smile on his face one of our members inquired, “Where did Adam’s sons get their wives?” In this case, I smiled thinking to myself, “I don’t have any idea!”

If you have been paying attention you realize we live in a rapidly changing society. When one compares the beliefs of the “Greatest Generation” with their great, great grandchildren at times it is hard to believe they came from the same family and grew up in the same nation. For instance, 75% of the “Greatest Generation” would say religion remains a very important part of their lives and 56% attend church nearly every week, while only 40% their great, great grandchildren the “Millennials” would concur that religion is a very important part of their lives, and only 18% attend worship on a regular basis according to the Pew Research Center in 2010.

If you look at the trends on moral issues in American from same-sex unions, immigration, legalization of marijuana, and abortion one can see the “faith of our fathers” must have taken a detour at some point along the way. Take the fundamental question of “Where did we come from…did we evolve or were we created by God?” 50% of those with gray hair and a birth certificate dating back to the 1940’s at least  would confess they believe God created human beings in their present state, while 65% of those born after 1980 would state the human race evolved into its present form with or without the help of God.

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, challenged the believers in the first century who lived in a world much like our own to be ready and willing to stand up and speak out for the cause of Christ saying: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)

Back to my answer to the grandfather, I reminded him to never underestimate how the curse of sin has marred creation.

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A Prince, The Pope and The King

For those of us who claim Paseo Del Norte as our home this has been quite a week on both sides of the Rio Grande River twisting its way through our metropolitan village. On the El Paso side of the divide, we had the much anticipated visit of Prince George, my grandson, who arrived via his regional jet service. On the other side of the river, we had the historic visit of Pope Francis, the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church who made the first visit of a Pope to our community.

Needless to say, one visit received much more media coverage than the other, but at least at my house the visit of Prince George rocked my world in more ways than one. As you may know, my grandson will turn two years old in less than three weeks, so he has entered that wonderful phrase parent’s lovingly call the “terrible twos” because of the mobility, curiosity, and speed by which two year-olds investigate and attempt to rule and reign over their kingdoms. Prince George could also go by the nickname the “Texas Tornado” because he loves to pick up things and whirl them across the room, and he literally leaves a trail of destruction in his path. I love it!

In preparation for our “Texas Tornado” let’s just say Robyn and I had to batten down the hatches in preparation of his royal visit. We gathered the breakable items and hid them from his touch. We established borders and barricades to direct his path. We went to the story to storm up food for the siege. We swept, mopped, vacuumed so he would have a clean canvas to work with as he painted his masterpiece of demolition. Let’s face it when royal comes to visit serfs must go to work preparing the way for the king.

Meanwhile, the cities of El Paso and Cuidad Juarez prepared for the momentous visit of Pope Francis. On both sides of the river civic and law enforcement leaders laid the groundwork for his much anticipated arrival. On the El Paso side highways and schools closed offering the children and residents of the city a “holy holiday” while on the other side of the river, city officials and leaders of the diocese prepared the path for the Pope’s pilgrimage to the border symbolically tracing the path countless immigrants have traveled in search for a better life.

I must confess I had a wide variety of emotions as I personally prepared for the Pope’s visit. As a prominent Protestant leader in our city I felt a bit conflicted about how to respond, but as a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven I readily acknowledge his visit moved me.

I commend the local television stations for their live coverage of the Pope’s visit. I don’t know if ever in my lifetime I have witnessed secular media outlets freely offering their services to the faith community. By broadcasting live the words and actions of Pope Francis our two cities had the opportunity to experience the pageantry, passion, and preaching of the gospel of Jesus from sun up to sundown.

Pope Francis’ messages and symbolic actions spoke to the great challenges and injustices faced by countless thousands who live along the border. During the Mass late on Wednesday afternoon in the presence of over 200,000 of the faithful standing in his presence and another 28,000 joining in by the marvels of technology in the Sun Bowl, he declared: “Let us together ask God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts—open to his call heard in the suffering faces of countless men and women. There is still time to change. There is still a way out and a chance, time to implore the mercy of God….”

In response I can practically hear King Jesus saying:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)  Pope Francis and Prince George will head home this week, but King Jesus still reigns over our valley. He longs to reign over our hearts and lives. He has always been here. He never left.

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Be Mine

When it comes to “conversation hearts” often exchanged in celebration of Valentine’s Day between lovers, I must acknowledge my favorite simple sentiment has to be “be mine.” I suspect the creation of “conversation hearts” can be traced by at an introverted, shy guy who had a hard time putting into words how he felt so he created a candy that did the talking for him. Recently Robyn and I shared a large bag of “conversation hearts” with our Marriage 101 class and enjoyed the updates which include “text me—friend me—e-mail me—tweet me.” I must confess I was quite surprised to find one that said, “Call me” since most “brave” teenage boys these dates text their beloved to ask them out on a date, and the girls break up across the same digital medium of communication.

On a personal note: “Come on, boys, man up, ask the girls out in person, or at least call them! Don’t make it so easy on them to say no!”

 Of course, if I had created “conversation hearts” I would have used chocolate. Let’s face it; I hope true love doesn’t taste like a chalky tiny heart. Fun fact: did you know that over Valentine’s week over 58 million pounds of chocolate is purchased, and if you are wondering February 15 has been declared a chocolate lovers national holiday because so much of it goes on sale at half price.

Believe it or not, the chocolate industry did not dream up Valentine’s Day, nor can you trace its origin back to florists or the greeting card industry. No, the official declaration of Valentine’s Day dates back to Pope Gelasius, who in approximately 498 A.D. sanctified a pagan Roman holiday called the ‘Feast of Lupercalia’—a fertility feast in celebration of women held on February 15 into St. Valentine’s Day named after a legendary Catholic Priest by the name of Valentine or Valentinus. Historians have discovered conflicting stories about this hero of love whether he married Roman soldiers in defiance of Emperor Claudius II who outlawed marriage to increase his recruitment of young men to serve in his army or the story of a priest who fell in love with the jailer’s daughter during his imprisonment before his execution and penned a note to her saying “Be my Valentine.” Either way, you have to congratulate the Pope for declaring a holiday around love. I suspect he knew husbands and boyfriends needed all they help they could get to keep the spark in their relationships by saying “I love you” in tangible and romantic ways.

Bible trivia: Who spoke the following romantic words, and to whom were they spoken?

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Was it Rebekah to Isaac, or Rachel to Jacob, or Ruth to Boaz? If you guessed Ruth you nailed it but she did not speak these words to Boaz her beloved, but rather to her mother-in-law Naomi. So the next time you hear these words in a wedding, I suspect a smile will cross your face because you know the “rest of the story” like old Paul Harvey used to say.

Without doubt one of the powerful descriptions of love has to be the words of Paul to his friends in Corinth when he poetically wrote:   Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends….” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV)

As you can vividly see, real love reaches far beyond fickle feelings and romantic emotions. Real love shapes our character so that we touch and hold each other like Jesus holds us. Don’t miss the opportunity this weekend to say “I love you” and if you must used chocolate!

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Daily Affirmation: “I heard the voice of the Lord…”

Oswald Chambers in his classic devotional book “My Upmost for His Highest” spoke to the whole issue of God’s calling on our lives reflecting on Isaiah’s trans-formative  experience of being called to be a prophet during the dark days after the death of King Uzziah and his being taken up into the very throne room of God himself.

Chambers reflected:

“The call of God is not a reflection of my nature; my personal desires and temperament are of no consideration. As long as I dwell on my own qualities and traits and think about what I am suited for, I will never hear the call of God. But when God brings me into a right relationship with Himself, I will be in the same condition as Isaiah was. Isaiah was so attuned to God, because of the great crisis he had just endured, that the call of God penetrated his soul. The majority of us cannot hear anything but ourselves….”

I wonder how many times I had confused my desires and aspirations to be the voice of God when it was nothing more than my own ego and ambition. How many times has God had to stand in my way to keep me from going the wrong way like the angel in the path of Balaam’s donkey? Too often we hear what we want to hear. We see what we want to see, and we call our own selfishness spirituality.

I pray today I will be “profoundly changed” from the inside out, so that I hear clearly the voice of the Spirit living within me. As Jesus said so aptly:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:17)

Whose voice stirs your heart today?



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