5/16/15

Dignity!

My daughter was asked to write a speech for school about something they believe.  This is what she wrote:

        I believe in dignity for the homeless, which is something that I have been passionate about for a very long time.  When I was seven years old, we were in the middle of supper, and I had decided I did not like the meal.  My parents told me I needed to eat because there were children starving in Africa.  Of course my logical response was that if there were children starving in Africa that they could send my food to them.  Needless to say, this didn’t go over well, and my dad decided I needed to learn a lesson.  So the next week, he took me down to the Salvation Army to volunteer, and help serve the people who would appreciate any meal they could receive.  It was an eye-opener to say the least, and I loved volunteering there.  From then on, my family became very involved in street ministry, and running the street church.  I have grown up ministering to and hanging out with those struggling with addictions and people who are homeless.  I have seen the deep prejudice and disgust that many people hold or feel for the people on the streets.  I have heard a lot of people say “Why can’t they just get over it?” or “Why don’t they just get a job?” It’s not that simple.  People don’t normally choose to be homeless. They don’t choose to lose their job.  Obviously, their choices can lead to this happening, but sometimes life just throws a punch.  And once they get into that poverty cycle, it is very, very difficult to get out.

        I believe in dignity for the homeless because those living on the streets still deserve respect. The thing that bugs me when I hear people talking about the “homelessness problem” is that they don’t seem to see them as humans.  They are grossed out, or afraid, or annoyed, passing by them on the streets in a hurry.  Some people see the homeless as charity cases, and donate to big organizations, never actually going out and talking to those in need.  Now, I understand that sometimes it can be a little scary to be around the street people.  They can be smelly, unkempt, and violent.  I have been cursed at, seen fights break out, and shook hands with people who carry numerous diseases.  I have also seen them smile as they tell us their favorite food or their favorite memory as a child.  I have been given gifts from people who have nothing to give.  I have been encouraged and blessed by the same people who are cursed and avoided on a daily basis.  A few weeks ago, I shared a sermon with my dad at our church.  I was feeling extremely nervous, and wasn’t sure if I could do it.  A homeless lady that I had never met came in and handed me a flower, telling me I was beautiful.  Just that little gesture of kindness gave me the courage to carry on.

            I believe in dignity for the homeless because I am constantly seeing things like this.  There is one man in our church who has been attending for years, but generally was very angry and rude.  My younger brother began going over to him, sharing his snacks and trying to chat.  Eventually they formed a friendship, and now he has become very friendly and respectful.  All because someone took the time to reach out to him.

            I believe in dignity for the homeless because they all have a story.  Some of them are sad and tragic.  But if we take the time to listen, amazing things can happen.  Dignity is a powerful, and can transform people from feeling worthless, to treasured.  When we take time to pause a minute and say hello, we are acknowledging that they deserve respect.  Jesus never hesitated to spread himself among the people.  He reached out to the unloved.  We are called to do the same.  In the same way that he treated the poor with honor and respect, we should treat them with honor and respect.

She was also aslked to put together a multimedia presentation and this is what she came up with:

5/9/15

Confessions of a Concussed Christian

As I wrestled with my son on the floor, he came close to my head with his hands and I immediately froze, a nervous sweat breaking out across my forehead. 

Another time, I bumped my head and immediately became anxious, concerned that this blow may result in yet another concussion.

The fact of the matter is that bumping our heads is just a part of life.  It happens...to everyone.  We bump into things as we walk through life...and it's not the end of the world.

I know that.

Yet it hasn't stopped the panicked feelings and anxiety that seem to pop up unexpectedly.  You can't predict a panic attack.  Anxiety can pop up unawares.  When it happens, it can momentarily cripple you. Reason and logic seem to vanish.

The reality is that I don't need another head trauma.  Living with an acquired brain injury is a challenge.  Yet, I have seen significant improvement over the last 2+ years as well.  There was a point where I could only read about 5 minutes before the headaches started and I would lose focus.  Now I can read a whole lot longer and the headaches are gone.  My concentration and focus has improved.  Yes I have to put things into manageable chunks and I need deadlines but I can get things done easier than I could even a year ago.  At one point, immediately after my 6th concussion, I could not even recognize the letters on a keyboard.  Trying to write a blog post...or anything...was a challenge.  Now I can write sermons and blog posts again...though I do write a lot less than I used to. 

I no longer stumble over my words as much as I used to...unless I get really tired.  I do have to nap more than I used to.  There was a point where I struggled to do any public speaking and my sermons had shrunk to around 5 minutes. Things began to improve but I could not speak without notes and would lose my place frequently.  Now I can talk for an hour with few notes. 

I have found comfort recently in Philippians 4:6, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

I have been praying for a healing and I have found improvement, though not as quickly as I would like.  I have petitioned God.  Not just praying, but praying with the passion and desperation of a broken man.  I have also began to thank God for the vast and significant improvements I am seeing. 

All is not lost, I have a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)  I know that I truly can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13) It has been a long journey, one I never envisioned...yet I also see how God has moved in the situation and changed me for His glory through the process.

For that I thank God.

4/26/15

A Glorious Dark


A Glorious Dark is a new book by author A.J. Swoboda.  With Good Friday, the silent Saturday and Easter Sunday as the backdrop, Swoboda tackles tough questions about faith, doubt, suffering and pain.

I found this book intriguing because we hear so many sermons on Good Friday and Easter Sunday but rarely will one talk about the silence that was Saturday.  What must the early believers have gone through that day Jesus was in the grave.  What would they have been thinking?  I don't know what was on their mind but I sure know what goes through mine when it seems God is silent.

As I read through A Glorious Dark, I found myself curling back page corners so I could go back to certain points again and again.  I started reading those snippets to my wife and really found them encouraging. I think the author did a great job of bringing light into some dark corners of life.

Confusion, fear, it all gets addressed here.

A great book for those who struggle with doubt and fear, an encouragement to those who need hope, and a blessing to those who believe God still changes lives today.

"This book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Publishing in exchange for an honest review."

4/12/15

A Call for Nonviolent Action


Nonviolent Action is the latest offering by author Ronald J. Sider.

Having had losts of discussions over the years about "just war" vs. pacifism, I thought I would give this new book a perusal.  I had read some of Sider's earlier works and never really connected with them.  Despite that, this topic intrigued me enough to give the author another chance.

Let me just say it, this is an excellent book.  Sider looks at nonviolent action throughout the 20th century.  Brief and compelling chapters about Gahndi, King, the Arab Spring, Liberia and many more examples, keep the reader engaged throughout the book.

I was very impressed by how Sider handled the topic overall.  While not ignoring other factors (economic, political, etc) the author shows that nonviolent action does work and should be considered a viable option. Though I really enjoyed this book, two things would have made it much, much better.  The book is addressed to Christians but there is no supporting Biblical examples cited by the author.  Even the occasional verse would have been helpful.  I thibnk this is where the book suffers the most.  The other thing that would have made the book better would have been a more practical application in the concluding chapter. 

Despite these two issues, this is a book that is much needed in the ongoing debate about war and pacifism.  No matter where you stand on the issue, I challenge you to read this book with an open mind. 

"This book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Publishing in exchange for an honest review."

4/11/15

Jesus Takes a Road Trip



James Tissot, detail from 
"Pilgrims on the Road to Emmaus" (1884-1896), 
watercolor on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum.

Luke 24:13-35

Two followers of Jesus were heading to a village called Emmaus.  It was about 7.5 miles from Jerusalem.  The average person could do that in a couple hours.  These two guys are talking about all that has gone on.  They were trying to make sense of all that happened.  Jesus was supposed to be the one who redeemed Israel but then there was the trial, the beating, His death…and now the report that He was no longer in the grave.  You get a sense in this passage that these guys were confused, disappointed and discouraged.  They were caught up in all that was going on. This was probably not a fun road trip for them.

In the midst of their conversation, Jesus drew near and began to walk with them.  Not recognizing Him, He asked what they were discussing that caused them such sadness.  The traveler named Cleopas basically asked where Jesus had been not to know what has been happening the last few days.  They unload their thoughts and feelings on Jesus.  Again, they were so caught up in what was going on, they did not recognize that Jesus was right there in their midst.

Jesus points out their lack of understanding and begins to unpack the Scriptures from Moses through the prophets.  All the verses that talk about Jesus, He himself explained to these two weary travelers.

As it was getting late, they begged Him to come in and rest with them.  As they shared a meal, Jesus broke bread, blessed it and gave it to them.  They’re eyes were opened and Jesus vanished before their eyes.

They admitted that their hearts burned within them as Jesus expounded on the Word.  These two then made a beeline right back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles all that had happened.

I love this passage of Scripture.  So much Jesus could have done but one of the first things he did was go talk to these two discouraged followers.  I believe He had compassion and love for them.  Today, we also experience times of discouragement.  We get overwhelmed by our circumstances and we don’t always see Jesus in our midst. 

The road to Emmaus was filled with confusion, yet Jesus walked with them, unrecognized for a time. He was with them in their darkest hour, taught them, and finally they saw the light!  They had to tell people.

Are you on the road to Emmaus?  Discouraged, confused!  Look up….your redemption draws near.  Jesus is there on the road with you….wanting to show you the Way the Truth and the Life!

4/5/15

The Suffering Christ

Matthew 20: 18-19,  “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”

As I was preparing a talk for a joint Good Friday service, I realized that I don’t reflect enough on the suffering that Jesus Christ went through on the cross.  I don’t mean that in a morbid sort of way.  It is just that, beyond Good Friday/Easter Sunday, I don’t often meditate on all that He suffered on the cross.

After His arrest, the Bible describes how Jesus had a crown of thorns crammed on His head. He was spit on, mocked and then He was scourged.  I read the word scourged and I realize I don’t think much about what that actually means. 

When the Romans scourged someone, it would quickly remove the skin. Deep lacerations, torn flesh, exposed muscles and excessive bleeding would leave the criminal "half-dead." The Centurion in charge would order a halt to the flogging when the criminal was near death.

Jesus Christ suffered a scourging before He went to the Cross.

At the cross, the condemned was thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the crossbar.  The nails…the iron spikes…were driven into His hands and feet.  During the time on the cross, Jesus would have been in excruciating pain, struggling to breathe, enduing unimaginable horror. 

Then came that final moment, when His earthly suffering was over….with His last Words…”It is finished.” Jesus, the innocent Son of God, who bore our sins, died.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:9)

I asked the people in our congregation what came to mind when they thought of Jesus on the cross.  One lady said, “Unfathomable Love.”  I couldn’t say it any better.

Jesus went through all that suffering because He loved us…He died so that we could be reconnected with God the Father. 

Today, I urge you to take some time and reflect upon the Cross.  Reflect upon His suffering AND His Love.

3/27/15

The Cross

My wife Sarah wrote this for an upcoming prayer service:


The Cross 

More than the place that mends our brokenness,
or a bridge to reach God's holiness,
the cross is death to sin-soaked flesh
and life that lasts, brand-new and fresh.

No more addiction, no more shame;
no more bondage, no more chains.
Christ has taken all the blame,
covered us and made us clean.

More than a place to lay our past,
our dreams, our hopes, our circumstance,
the cross is where we learn to stand
in triumph over sin's demands.

The power of God is free for us,
won with thorns and drops of blood.
Redeeming Love and Salvation,
release us from all condemnation.

The resurrection of our King
means hope and joy and strength and peace.
Now at the cross we die to live,
transformed by Him who conquered sin!