Monthly Archives: May 2012

Welcome to the Real World

In just a few days Madison, my baby girl, will be graduating from Franklin High School. The empty nest awaits Robyn and me as we watch with excitement and a touch of sorrow as our little girl—all grown up—takes wings.

This week I witnessed the early stages of this rite of passage, as I sat through a senior class awards ceremony. As I looked down on the senior class sitting in various stages of boredom my mind contemplated what kind of world awaited them. I fear that our ultimate graduation gift to the Class of 2012 is a broken dysfunctional world.

Immediately my mind raced back in time to the year 1978.  The year I graduated from Texas High in Texarkana, Texas. Jimmy Carter was the president of the United States while “Happy Days”, “Charlie’s Angels” and the scandalous “Three’s Company “filled our television screens.

As a high school graduate I knew little about the world I inherited. I vaguely knew that President Carter orchestrated peace talks between lifelong enemies Egypt and Israel that led to a peace treaty that cost Anwar Sadat his life. I had barely heard of Afghanistan where a military coup ended the rule of Daoud Khan.

Since I was not paying the bills I was not concerned about a skyrocketing inflation rate of 7.62%, or that the U.S. dollars was plunging to record lows against foreign currencies.

I did know that the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl and that the cost of gasoline had risen to the soaring price of 63 cents a gallon since I had a driver’s license and had just begun filling up my car at the new “self-service” islands. Of course, little did I know how my world was going to change because of the first cellular mobile phone system launched in Illinois—a huge step forward in technology and communication and a huge loss in terms of privacy and personal time.

As I reflected back I realized my parents handed me a broken world too. I suspect since the day that Cain sat down with his children, every generation has had to deal with the brokenness of a world covered with the finger prints of humanity.

God fixes things, and we break them—sometimes even when we mean to fix them.

My wish for Madison and the class of 2012 is rather simple. Since my little girl loves country music I will use some of the lyrics of a hit song by Rascal Flatts called “My Wish.”

“My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to, Your dreams stay big, and your worries stay small, You never need to carry more than you can hold, And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to, I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too, Yeah, this, is my wish.”

Of course since I am a preacher I have to slip in a bit of sage advice I held onto as I raced into 1978 as a high school graduate.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV

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Be Strong–Forgive!

Sometimes God speaks into your life in some of the most unexpected ways. This week while watching an episode of the television series “Friday Night Lights”–a series created to reveal the world of Texas high school football–I stumbled across a quote that struck a cord with my soul.

A young high school football star who was paralyzed by breaking his neck while making a tackle found himself struggling with his plight and the unfaithfulness of his cheerleader girlfriend who hooked up with his best friend. In a confessional conversation with the high school guidance counselor who happened to be his head coach’s wife, he admitted he still loved his girlfriend, yet he could not make himself go back to her. The counselor looked deep into his eyes and peered into his soul and said:

“There’s no weakness in forgiveness….”

When I heard that line I wanted to jump up like a crazed fan celebrating his hometown fullback plowing in for a winning touchdown. She nailed it. She offered advice that could save him from a lifetime of bitterness, depression, and despair. Of course, I know it is only a television show and both actors were simply playing parts, but you need to know my grandmother used to pray for her favorite characters on “As the World Turns”–her favorite soap opera. Seriously I applaud the screen writer for sending such a strong message about the significance and power of forgiveness.

Too many people view forgiveness as the surrender of the weak to the powerful and cruel. Or that forgiveness allows the wicked to get away with murder in the name of grace. The cross of Jesus unveiled the power and the majesty of love and forgiveness. He bore my sin, that I might experience grace that can only be called amazing.

I have found the weak hate, and seek revenge because they cannot harness the strength to rise above their wounds to be victors. The weak, who excuse themselves by saying “that just the way I am”, wallow in the mud and mire of bitterness, resentment, and revenge. Hatred and revenge may provide a rush of emotion and satisfaction only to leave a poisonous after taste that consumes the soul from the inside out.

At its essence forgiveness is love. Mother Teresa pointed out:

“If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive”

I totally agree, and must point out offering forgiveness is a learned act of grace.  Hatred comes naturally–forgiveness emerges from a soul at rest in the unconditional love of God. When one fully embraces the grace and love offered at the cross, the forgiven soul learns to forgive from the Master of grace who holds us with nail-scarred hands.

Jesus nailed it when He revealed from above the following principles of life.

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:36-38 NIV)

Be strong–learn to forgive–it could save your spiritual life!

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“B Strong”: Braden Aboud Memorial Foundation

Sunday morning the streets of the upper valley of El Paso swelled with runners and walkers, young and old alike, on a quest to finish the course and make a difference in the lives of others. Over 7,300 runners participated in the “B Strong: Branden Aboud Run Walk.” The money raised by this event this year will put new shoes on the feet of needy children, will provide scholarships for graduates of El Paso high schools, and will provide grants to touch and to change lives.

Gary and Cindi Aboud turned their own personal tragedy into opportunity to be a blessing to others. Their son Braden died in a tragic skiing accident when he was twelve years old. His untimely death broke their hearts in a way that only a parent can know. Yet they discovered that often times God uses broken hearts as channels of blessings to others. Healing of a broken hearts comes by helping others.

Braden’s classmates decided to honor his memory with a run/walk to raise funds for others, and soon the Aboud’s took over this event and transformed it into one of the most significant foundations in the nation targeted at meeting the needs of children. With my own eyes I have seen the smile on the face of a Franklin High graduate who held in her hands a scholarship provide by the vision of the Aboud’s. I have also seen in the paper Gary’s smiling face as he tied the laces of a brand new pair of tennis shoes on the feet of a student who probably could not remember the last time he had a new pair of shoes.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your faith that is in heaven.” Too often I fear that the followers of Jesus do most of their work behind the safety and isolation of stained glass windows. Gary and Cindi demonstrate that we can often do our best work out in the community as we collaborate and cooperate with boys and girls, men and women who are willing to give of themselves for others.

The Psalmist sang:

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning..”

The children of El Paso thank God for a family that transformed their weeping into joy by loving others. A family that turned their sorrow into an opportunity to touch and change the world.

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Fully Present

I fear my “smart phone” has outsmarted me.  Earlier this week I was sitting in a worship service seeking to pay attention to the service. Since I had a Bible “app” on my cell phone I used it during the Scripture reading. As the pastor explained the text I found my mind thinking about the score in the Texas Ranger baseball game that evening.

Since my “smart phone” could also tap into the “world wide web”, I decided to check out the score during the sermon, while trying to appear to be looking up another verse. At this point it hit me. I was not “present” in the service. My body was there but my mind had wandered off to the “Ball Park in Arlington.”

I must admit I fell under a heavy weight of conviction asking myself, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I pay attention?” Then I realized I had allowed my “smart phone” to outsmart me. I had given control of my mind to a tiny communication tool in my pocket.

Quickly I turned off my phone, plunged it deep into my pocket and turn my full attention to the preacher. I realized that “loving God with all my mind” requires giving Him my full attention especially in worship. It demands focus.

As I drove home after the service it dawned on me that I had become addicted to my “smart phone.” My mind drifted back to a morning when I was sitting in a Barnes and Noble in Amarillo. As I sat there waiting for my wife, I noticed three people at a table across the room from me. They appeared to be three close friends who had decided to share a cup of coffee together, but what was strange about the scene was that each one of them was talking on his or her cell phone.

I thought to myself at the time how odd that looked and how it was a parable of our time. As a people we are together but we are not really together. We have inadvertently allowed our technology that was designed to connect us to each other to rob us of “presence.” We sit together, yet we talk to someone else out of the room.

 

I remember telling myself that I would never fall for that bloody trap, but I did. Too often I find myself sneaking a peak at my “smart phone” during the evening meal with my wife and daughter, during a lull in a committee meeting, and now sadly even in a worship service.

Now I realize when the “smart phone” takes a seat next to me at the dinner table and I allow it to rob me of being truly present with those I love I have given into a sinister form of unfaithfulness. Paul taught rightly that “love is not rude”, and I now grasp that my quest for the latest score or checking my email or text in essence is the embodiment of being “rude” to those I love.

So how do I outsmart my “smart phone”? First, I discovered it has an “off button.” So now I intend to turn it off when it is time to be present with those I love. Second, the power to turn it off or lay it aside rests in the heart. It is a matter of love. I choose to give my undivided attention to those I love as a priceless gift. Honestly there is no greater gift we can share with each other than to be fully present when we are together.

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Downtown Ministry: “In the City for Good”

El Paso: This week I read a series of articles by Robert Dilday for the Religious Herald reprinted by the Baptist Standard on downtown ministry. As the pastor of an historic downtown church I read the articles with keen interest. Dilday, in his series of articles, identified a handful of thriving congregations that have found great fruitfulness and effectiveness through ministry in the downtown community of a large urban center.

I particularly resonated with the motto of Third Baptist Church in the heart of St. Louis which states: “Third Baptist Church Is in the City for Good.” The double meaning of the motto captured my imagination immediately. In essence this great church declared to its community we are staying put–we are here for good. In addition, the church shouted to its neighbors, “we are here for GOOD” or in other words to seek the good of the city and its citizens.

In recent days, our church has rallied around the slogan “for the heart of the city.” Our mission revolves around touching and transforming the “heart” of the city of El Paso. I consider it a great honor to be entrusted with the responsibility of maintain the light of the gospel in the heart of the city.

Having served downtown now for two years I am gaining a greater and deeper understanding about the challenges face in the heart of the city. Many of our neighbor churches are struggling for identity and survival. Downtown is not for the weak of heart. Leaders in downtown ministries must claim their place of service by being “strong and courageous.” They must be willing to fight off “fear and discouragement” at nearly every turn, but without doubt some of the greatest opportunities for Kingdom work can be found downtown.

I take to heart the words of Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon when he wrote:

“Seek the peace of the city…”

This is a cause worth living for!

 

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Obama’s Crisis of Faith: Same-Sex Marriage

This week President Obama shocked many in the nation by coming out so boldly in favor of “same-sex marriage.” By his own confession he acknowledged that he had “evolved” on this issue over the years.

One of the most interesting aspects of Obama’s pronouncement revolved around his faith statements. In the interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts he said that when he and his wife:

…“think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

I must admit it is refreshing to hear the President speak so openly about his faith in Christ and the implications of the cross on his self understanding, but sadly his quest for grace has led him down a path of “foggy theology.” The same Scriptures that declare the “Golden Rule” as a life principle also point to the destructiveness of sinful behaviors and attitudes of all shades of color and depth.

Sadly, I regret that President Obama did not stick with his position that he articulated so well. In 2004 in an interview with WTTW, a Chicago public television station, he said:

“What I believe, in my faith, is that a man and a woman, when they get married, are performing something before God, and it’s not simply the two persons who are meeting,”

In this statement Obama clearly expressed the Christian or biblical view of marriage. He stated articulately that marriage was far more than a civil ceremony or legal contract or covenant. He believed marriage between a man and woman was “something before God.” When you bring God into the equation this the debate on Same Sex marriage ends for those who use the Bible as a life guide. The God of the Bible does not encourage nor sanction “same-sex” marriage. In fact, He identifies this lifestyle also with many others as sinful, unhealthy, and fundamentally wrong.

Obama, the theologian, has fallen on the slippery slope of picking and choosing positions based on predetermined outcomes, or to support positions already chosen due to personal or political pressure. One simple cannot put words into God’s mouth. How can He be true to himself and call one lifestyle sinful yet sacred at the same time.

In the “same-sex” marriage debate in North Carolina last week, Billy Graham, the voice of faith for our nation for decades, stated:

“The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.

Simply put marriage is the union of a man and a woman made “one” by the touch of God upon their hearts and life. As a nation we would be wise and prudent to not redefine marriage in trying to be “fair” or “just” to all. Without doubt every citizen in our nation regardless of color, creed, or orientation deserves to be treated with the utmost respect yet marriage must not be redefined regardless of the political pressure of “correctness”  We must not sway to the opinions of “enlightened” and powerful on this vital issue that strikes at the core of the moral fabric of our nation.

When God spoke the “Golden Rule” challenging men and women of faith to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” by no means was He creating a “situational theology” that suggest that we must affirm and support the actions of those who openly choose to live in rebellion against the Word of God.

Sadly this debate once again will draw lines in the sand between the faith community and the secular world. It saddens me that to stand up for right often is perceived as rejection of others. The power of the gospel rests not in policies or laws. The power of the gospel moves through channels of relationships. Jesus, on a quest to refine reality, did not stoop to political maneuvers to implement meaningful change–rather He chose to become the “friend of tax collectors and sinners” knowing that life on life, love on love, grace on grace alone can move the world toward wholeness.

I pray we will take Jesus’ stance on this issue:

Pro-marriage/Pro-people

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A Little White Lie–A Big Black Mark

Last week news about Yahoo’s CEO Scott Thompson rocked the tech world. Just a few months ago Yahoo, a struggling tech giant, gave the reins of their world-wide operation to Thompson, who had a long track record of success. However, last week one of the key investors in the company uncovered an “inadvertent error” on Thompson’s resume. Apparently Thompson has reported for years that he earned a computer science degree from Stonehill College near Boston, when in reality he had earned no such degree.

Without doubt Yahoo did not hired Thompson because of his studies as an undergraduate. They sought out his expertise as a leader, manager, and business innovator. Yet his position in the company hangs in the balance because of a “little white lie.” He did graduate from Stonehill, but with an accounting degree not a degree in computer science.

Sadly Thompson is not alone in his creative resume writing. According to HireRight.com an estimated 34% of the clients falsified their resumes. Yahoo Hot Jobs revealed that according to a questionnaire of their participants 41% admitting lying on resumes. In these difficult economic times sadly many people have stooped to deception as the path to success.

In 2006, First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach had to force their pastor out due to lies and deceptions on his resume uncovered by the local newspaper. The investigation by the newspaper reveals not only lies about his background and education but criminal type abusing of church credit cards and bank accounts at previous assignments.

In the world of leadership and influence trust and integrity stand out as essential qualities. Solomon, who knew all too well the pressures of leadership wrote:

Kings take pleasure in honest lips;  they value the one who speaks what is right. (Proverbs 16.13 NIV)

In 2011,  Forbes magazine ran piece by Merrill Matthews on the lessons learned from the fall of John Edwards. Like the crumbling of an evil empire, Edwards imploded. He was his own worst enemy. One of the lessons Matthews pointed out struck home with me in a big way. Matthew’s wrote: “Politicians need honest employees and friends.” He went on to explain:

“The powerful need honest people around them—staff and friends—who are willing to say, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Like the classic story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson, we all need people in our lives who will tell us the truth like the boy who informed the King he had no clothes on. Could it be that one of the first steps needed to rebuild our nation and its character will be simply “telling the truth.”

The next time you are tempted to tell a little white lie–stop yourself–count the cost–tell the truth.  The truth has a way of paying off in the end.

 

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