Tuesday, September 11, 2018

What's the Average American Christian to Do??

Today marks the 17th anniversary of the horrific attack by Al-Qaeda.  We lost around 3,000 folks in that one attack, the worst since Pearl Harbor.  It galvanized the nation.  I know because three after the event, I was there in New York City.  Not to minimize the damages in Washington, D.C. nor the incredible heroes of United Fight 93, New York bore the brunt of the attack.  On September 11, 2001, I watched with anger and pain as I witness the fall of those monuments to American financial and architectural greatness.  I saw men and women leaping from the upper stories choosing the quick release of such a death to the terror of dying in flames or amidst the crushing weight of millions of pounds of mortar and steel.  I watched with wonder as multitudes marched away from the area, some wearing suits, others wearing jeans, some carrying briefcases and backpacks while others carried shoes and handbags.  The most intriguing thing for me was what had happened as a result of the tons of dirt and debris that blew threw Manhattan like volcanic ash.  The people leaving the area were covered in it.  Folks were not white, black, or brown.  Everyone was a shade of gray.  

When we arrived in New York City on September 14, we took a staging position at Metro Baptist Church in the Hell's Kitchen area about two blocks from the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  I worked from there for three days.  On Saturday, I went to the Lexington Armory where people had posted pictures of missing friends and relatives.  Thousands of them.  Inside the armory was a respite center and an area for the relatives of the missing to bring in anything that might provide DNA evidence to be matched with recovered remains.  I met Kevin there.  Kevin was in healthcare and worked at St. Vincent Hospital.  He appeared shell-shocked.  After pulling a shift, he was told that he was needed at the Armory, where they had set up a make-shift morgue.  He had been working and sleeping at this location for 72 hours.  His job was to photograph body parts with tattoos, scars, and birthmarks to help with identification.  I could only imagine how emotionally brutal that would be, even for a healthcare worker.  It just wasn't suppose to happen on this scale.  I helped Kevin connect with his mother in Atlanta that day.  (one of the reasons I returned to find a $700 cell phone bill.  I was out of my coverage zone)  As soon as Kevin heard his mom's voice, he broke into tears.  Moments later, when he handed the phone back to me, his mother said, "I just wish I could be there to hold him and pray for him."  I suggested that as I laid my hand on his head that she pray and then I would pray.  When I left Kevin that day, the shell-shock appearance had given way to joyful weariness knowing that his work from that point on would be God's work in behalf of the families of the missing.  

On September 17, as a Law Enforcement Chaplain and Certified Crisis Response Trainer for the National Organization for Victim Assistance, I was redeployed to the Port Authority Police Department Journal Square Precinct in Jersey City.  NYPD is a department with around 6,000 sworn officers.  They lost 27 officers that day.  PAPD is a department of around 1,200 sworn officers.  They patrolled the property on which the Towers were located.  That day, they lost 41 officers.  13 of those were from the Journal Square Precinct.  Over the next four days, I spent over 48 hours in the squad room and their respite tent at Ground Zero.  It was a humbling, gut-wrenching experience.  No one had personal time off.  If you weren't pulling a regular shift, you were at Ground Zero ready to work the bucket brigade when the horn sounded signaling that human remains had been found.  I watched with reverence when the buckets were passed along from the site to the perimeter.  From there, they would be taken one of the morgues.  

343 FDNY personnel, 68 NYPD and PAPD personnel, and thousands of civilians perished that day.  Tens of thousands of relatives and friends still mourn the losses.  BUT, the nation came together.  In NYC during that week, crime was almost non-existent.  Yes, we were focused on the enemy who perpetrated this heinous act, but we were even more focused on getting the citizens of NYC moving toward a new normal.   There were responders there from almost every state in the country.  The perimeter was lined with their respite tents.  At barriers around Ground Zero, there were thousands of civilian citizens who just came to try to help in some way.  During my week there, I had conversations and even prayers with Asians, African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and even an atheist.  

Now, I can't speak for anyone else, but I do know that for us who claim to follow the Lord Jesus, we are held to a higher standard by the Lord Jesus.  There's an expectation that our anger, bitterness, and hatred will be short-lived.  In Matthew 5:43, Jesus said, "You have heard that the law says, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy."  Wait!  Where did that last part come from.  The first part comes from Leviticus 19:18.  But the Pharisees had interpreted Psalm 139:19-22 and Psalm 140:9-11 as permission to hate their enemies!  Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 5:44-45, But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. . ."

This is not to say that we must trust those who seek to do evil against us nor is it to suggest that justice should not be served.  It is to say that anger can calcify and when that happens, it blinds us to the reality that even our enemies are created in the Image of God.  Lifting a quote from Chaplain Chris Wade's blog of September 10, Seacoast Pastor Darrin Patrick said this: "In unrighteous anger, you want pain and you want punishment.  In righteous anger, you want redemption, you want restoration."  

As you recount your memories of 9/11 today, remember the families of those who died that day.  Remember those who have fallen in battle against our enemies.  Pray for their families.  Pray for our military, our first responders, and especially our government leaders.  The government is so fractured over ideological differences that both parties seem destined to move to further ideological extremes.  Our inept leadership often pushes us toward greater division rather than toward finding the things that unite us. 

Most of all, remember to obey the words of Jesus from Matthew 5 and act as true children of your Father in heaven because one day, He is going to make everything right.  One day, EVERY knee will bow and EVERY tongue will confess that Jesus IS Lord to the glory of the Father.  For now, our responsibility is trust,obey, and pray.   

Thursday, June 28, 2018

He Wants to Take Us Higher

Have you ever wondered why golf balls have all those little dimples?  It's simple physics, if there is such a thing.  Legend suggests that a poor young golfer couldn't afford new golf balls.  So, he scavenged the woods and roughs along courses to pick up old, scarred balls.  Playing partners soon noticed that his scarred ball traveled farther off the tee than their smooth ones.  Research followed and revealed that the scars or dimples did indeed help the ball travel higher and farther.  Now, hold that thought while we take a brief look at everyone's favorite quick-tongued disciple, Simon Peter.

Luke 22:31-34 offers a glimpse at how calculating the devil can be in seeking the downfall of those who long to follow the Lord Jesus.  He is pictured in that text as the accuser of humanity (Revelation 12:10), the one who uses his resources to erode faith and destroy the faithful.  In verse 31, the Lord Jesus told Peter, "Satan has desired to sift you like wheat."  The Greek word translated "has desired" implies a challenge like that in the Old Testament story of Job.  It's as if Satan appeared before God again and said, 'All those followers of Jesus are like chaff in the wind.  A little pressure and they will al forsake Him.'  The TEV translation says it this way:  "Simon, listen!  Satan has received permission to test all of you, as a farmer separates the wheat from the chaff."  At this point, the Lord Jesus calls him Simon rather than Peter.  Here, the Lord Jesus does not refer to him as a stone, a rock, or anything of substantial weight or strength.  Instead, He calls him by his old name, a reminder that Peter is still a mere human.  He is weak, frail, flawed, and unable to withstand Satanic pressure ALONE.  

The Lord Jesus warned them all of the impending danger and assured them all of His prayer for their strength.  But, in His foreknowledge, He also knew that failure was imminent.  He also knew that no one would be tougher on Peter than Peter himself.  Jesus, in His infinite love and mercy, looked beyond Peter's downfall and saw his potential as a leader of the fledgling church.  He show that faith in Peter when He commissioned him to the task of strengthening his Christian brothers and sisters.  

Peter launched a stern defense, assuring Jesus of his loyalty even if everyone else might forsake Him.  The Lord Jesus knew Peter better than he knew himself.  "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  Those words must have echoed in Peter's ears hours later when he heard the rooster.  With guilt and grief that was more punishing than death, he left the high priest's house weeping bitterly.  No longer considering himself a part of the apostolic group, I imagine Peter wallowed in self-pity until that third day when Mary came with a special message.  It echoes across the centuries.  "He sent me to tell you all that He is risen.  But Peter, He mentioned you by name.  he wants to see you!"

That's what Easter, the Resurrection, and the Hope of the living Lord Jesus is all about.  Second chances!!  Human nature hasn't changed.  I'm sure Peter heard whispers, endured murderous stares, and felt the vicious gossip of people who only saw his failure.  But all that really mattered was that he had been forgiven, vindicated, and commissioned by the Lord Jesus.  Fifty days later, this "flawed, scarred, failure" would be the one whom the Holy Spirit would use to preach the sermon of Pentecost and usher in the birth of the Church.  

Let me offer you some growth principles from Peter's experience.  The first is that failure is sometimes necessary to prepare us for God's use.  He will use failure to strip away pride and self-sufficiency.  Peter's upper room conversation with Jesus revealed an arrogant self-confidence.  His failure opened the way for God's mercy and grace to reshape him.  Failure humbles us and restores our focus on the Lord Jesus.  
The second principle is that failure can be the soil from which greater opportunities for service grow.  The Holy Spirit used Peter as the preacher at Pentecost because his penitent spirit, in the wake of his failure, prepared him for that task.  

Like golf balls, God's people are usually more effective when they bear the scars and marks of real life experience.  Through Peter, God has shown us that He will use our failures to make us stronger and more effective Kingdom-builders.  When we understand the tsunami of mercy and grace that God pours on us, it makes it easier to impart that mercy and grace to others.  

After all, Jesus is all about grace, transformation, and another chance.  

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Waiting Is Becoming

Do you ever feel like the person in the picture??  

The Israelite king, David, writes of Yahweh as his stronghold in Psalm 27.  When we truly trust God and obey Him, we have no reason to fear anyone or anything at any time (vv. 1-3).   BUT, to have that confidence requires a deep, abiding intimacy with Him (v. 4).  That's why he has placed within every person a natural yearning to know Him (v. 8).  It's there!!  It's always been there.  We might try to subdue it or to fill it with things other than God; but nothing will ever truly satisfy that yearning until we know Him personally and intimately. 

When we yield to Him and begin to strive after Him daily to build that intimacy, we will develop a confidence, not in ourselves, but in His power, protection, and provision.  We can recklessly abandon our lives into His hands knowing that HE will never abandon us (v. 10).  

We will grow stronger and bolder as we learn to wait on God in every situation (v. 14).  That's not something that 21st century Americans are comfortable doing.  Our culture likes the instant.  With the introduction of the microwave and thirty minute television shows, we started down a slippery slope of wanting everything NOW.  The Internet and a 24 hour news cycle have only exacerbated impatience.  The result is that far too many view waiting as inactivity.  But, it is not inactivity for the follower of Jesus.  It is submission.  It is actively listening for the voice of God.  It is praying, listening, submitting to the will and direction of God.  It is trusting Him enough that when He is silent, we are still (Psalm 46:10).  Did you know that one way to translate that verse is "Stop struggling and know that I am God."  Stop worrying, stop fighting, stop wondering.  Just stop and wait because you know that I am God.  

Rather than taking situations into our own hands, we should always seek God's counsel.  The Bible is filled with well-meaning folks who rushed ahead of God. None of them turned out well.  Abraham rushed ahead of God and the result was Ishmael.  Jacob rushed ahead of God and it cost him exile from his family and seven additional years of servitude to Laban.  Moses rushed ahead of God and it resulted in 40 years of exile.  David rushed ahead of God and it resulted in three days of deadly pestilence for his people.  

Now someone is going to say, 'God had a plan and worked it to perfection.'  There's no denying that!  But that doesn't mean that Abraham dalliance with Hagar or Jacob misleading Isaac, or Moses killing of the Egyptian was a part of God's plan.  David's decision to do a census of his military  The wonderful thing about God is that He can take what we mess up and make something good come from it.  But His desire is that we seek Him first to save ourselves some pain, disappointment, and even punishment.  

So, let's get more comfortable with waiting.  In the doctor's office or the DMV line, in the grocery line or a traffic standstill, let's seize such things as opportunities to say as Samuel did, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." (I Samuel 3:10)  Always be ready to submit to God's counsel quickly and faithfully.  And remember!!  Waiting is not inactivity.  It's submission to His will, His way, in His time.  "Biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be."  -- John Ortberg