Paying It Forward

“Paying It Forward”

Starbucks customers choosing to "pay it forward" (Photo: Weston Phippen; Times)

Starbucks customers choosing to “pay it forward” (Photo: Weston Phippen; Times)

How is this for a streak of kindness? According to a report in the Tampa Bay Times, “The acts of kindness [in St. Petersburg, Florida] began at 7 A.M. Wednesday with a woman, her iced coffee and a stranger’s caramel macchiato. The woman paid for her own drink, then asked to pay for the drink of the person behind her in the drive-through. That person returned the favor and paid for the person behind …”[i]

From 7am to 6pm 378 people “paid it forward”!

The Starbucks baristas started to keep a tally of the paying it forward customers. By 1:30 P.M., the chain had reached 260 customers. By early evening, the tally hit 378. “Then, at 6 P.M., customer No. 379—a woman in a white Jeep Commander—pulled into the drive-through and ordered a regular coffee.” Then a barista told the woman about the pay it forward chain, she declined, saying she just wanted to pay for her $2.25 drink and not someone else’s. Apparently, she didn’t understand the concept, and the chain was broken.

As far as we know, none of these customers were in need of having someone pay for their coffee; it was only a simple gesture of kindness – repeated 378 times. Certainly, the 340th customer did not go without coffee when the lady in the Jeep decided not to join the chain. Nothing of genuine significance was at stake. The fun of being a part of a caring community that expressed kindness to strangers was the only real motivation.

When your turn came, what would you do?

What would you do? I suspect that most of us would have gladly joined in to spread the good will.

I see this “pay it forward” spirit at Ridgeland Baptist Church. From what I know of our history, it has been going on for many years.

Many of our brothers and sisters who are now worshipping in the presence of God “paid it forward” by investing their lives in our Master’s Mission of making disciples (Mt. 28:18-20). You know it is true. It has been done since the first followers of Christ decided that they could not help, but “pay it forward” by telling the world about the Living Lord – Jesus Christ.

We have a rich lineage that actually connects us to those Christ-followers in the Upper Room!

Since then there has been a “chain” of people who have been so grateful for what God has done for them that they wanted to do whatever they could to “pay it forward” to others. Just try to think back to those who influenced you to be a fully devoted follower of Christ. Now, who influenced them? Oh we have a rich lineage that actually connects us to those Christ-followers in the Upper Room!

Why wouldn’t anyone want to be a part of this?

  • Perhaps the woman at Starbucks who broke the chain felt too much pride to let someone pay for her coffee.
  • Maybe she didn’t want to get involved.
  • It is possible that she was simply selfish.
  • And it is conceivable that she was afraid of what it might cost her.

The message of the Gospel has come to you. Now what will YOU do?

  • Will you humbly receive God’s gift?
  • Will you step outside of your comfort zone and get involved?
  • Will you think of God’s glory and the good of others more than yourself?
  • Will you risk whatever it may cost you in money, time, relationships, and etc. to make sure that those who come behind you receive His gift?
  • Will you “pay it forward”?

Simple Ways to Pay It Forward:

  1. Be prepared – Before we can give, we must have something to give.  We must invest personal time knowing, worshipping, praying, loving, and seeking the Lord Jesus. Our attitude, willingness to sacrifice, faithfulness, and love must be genuinely like Jesus or we have nothing to give.
  2. Be purposeful – Those at Starbucks intended to pay for the customer behind them. We must intentionally choose to give God’s Best to those under our influence.
  3. Be personal – Treating people like a project will not work. Ultimately, everyone wants to know if others are genuine. They want to know if we really care about him or her. Only showing interest during church activities won’t cut it. The only way they will know us is to spend time with us. It takes time to build relationships and they need more than one or two hours in a group setting at church. We need to “do life” with them.
  4. Be persistent – We must be persistent to see others choose to follow Christ and we must be persistent to stay connected to them during various seasons of life until they are “paying it forward” as well.

We who are Christ-followers have received so much. Now, it is OUR TURN!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hearing His Voice

St. Basil's

St. Basil’s

For years it has been a great joy and privilege to serve The Lord in the former Soviet Union. Almost every year I would travel there to do a wide variety of things to further the Kingdom of God and I look forward to my next opportunity. Each trip included a visit to Red Square – the iconic location of so much history featuring St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. You’ve seen it many times on news reports or documentaries about Russia.

I have many wonderful friends in Russia and Ukraine. Each trip I have been greeted warmly by believers and non-believers alike. Even though the Soviet Union was well known for repression and atheism there are many believers who have survived and even thrived under persecution. Russian history is interwoven with religion and the official religion of Russia is Russian Orthodox.

The Kremlin, or the castle, is the walled brick stronghold next to Red Square and is the center of the Russian government as it was the political center of the atheistic Communist regime in the Soviet Union. Remarkably, the Kremlin is filled with spiritual symbols.

Surprisingly, the centerpiece of the Kremlin is Cathedral Square. It is filled entirely with ancient churches and cathedrals. Over the exit door of the western wall the  Russian Orthodox Church has two murals. The mural on the left depicts paradise; the one on the right depicts hell. Between them, above the door, the Lord is shown on the Great White Throne.

Now, can you imagine Stalin, Lenin, and other atheistic Communist leaders passing these murals? They were no strangers to its visual images, that had to have passed them thousands of times, but apparently were blind to the images’ spiritual significance!

We don’t need to travel to the former Soviet Union to find people who have ignored symbols pointing to God. Virtually every town in America has a church steeple topped by a cross. How many people who see the cross each day stop to consider what it really means?

This week I was reading Jesus’ words from Matthew 13:14-17 (NIV):

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Did you know God actually speaks to people? Blackaby pointed out that God speaks by His Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church (or other believers). He has something to say to you and me. Tragically, we may be guilty of having “calloused” hearts, closing our eyes, “hardly” hearing.

Obviously, those who have not surrendered to Christ and refuse His grace and mercy are guilty of this. Equally sad is when Christ-followers do this. Which begs the question, how can one follow Christ if he is not listening to Christ?

Why would anyone stop their ears to God’s words? Verse 15 explains the results of hearing, “understand with their hearts and turn.”

We may hear, but if we don’t obey and turn from our sin we don’t really hear. The fact is, our sinful nature does not want to hear because deep down we know that we will have to change.

There is a high cost to closing our ears to God’s words, even unintentionally. This is not just true for the unbeliever.  What has God been saying to you? Are you listening?

Someone said, “There is none so blind as those who will not see.”

Let’s pray along with the psalmist, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So the World Will Know

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent Me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:  I in them and you in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent Me and have loved them even as you have loved Me.”          

-Jesus (John 17:20 – 23)

  At my last class reunion, tongue-in-cheek awards were given for various “accomplishments” since our graduation. Always competitive, I was happy to win a shirt with the logo from the board game, “Operation.” It seems that I had more surgeries than anyone else in my senior class! And to think that my teachers may have called me a “cut-up”! (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

Those of us who have been “under the knife” know that a certain amount of anxiety is to be expected when going under anesthesia for an operation. Thankfully, all of my surgeries have been successful due in part to the excellent surgeons God provided.

But what if you found out your doctors had a brawl while you were under surgery? That’s just what happened at the Medical Center of Central Massachusetts. Dr. Mohan Korgaonkar was the surgeon, and Dr. Kwok Wei Chan was assisting the anesthesiologist.

While the elderly patient was asleep on the operating table and the surgery was in progress, Dr. Chan muttered a profanity in the surgeon’s direction. Almost without thinking, Dr. Korgaonkar flicked a cotton-tipped prep stick at the anesthesiologist!

Dr. Chan retaliated. First came shoving. Then shouting. Then an all-out brawl between the two learned men of medicine. Fists flying and surgical goals forgotten, the doctors escalated into a wrestling, punching, jabbing, name-calling bout on the operating room floor. And our patient? She slept through it all.

Finally the two men tired a bit, regained their composure, got up and finished the operation, only marginally worse for the wear. Not long after each was fined $10,000 by the state Board of Registration in Medicine, and ordered to submit to joint psychotherapy for their aggressive tendencies.

This was truly outrageous behavior by two men who had forgotten their calling, and their purpose. Their petty, selfish, immature behavior could have cost the patient her life or caused serious injury or infection to result. The $10,000 fine seems small in comparison to their lack of concern for a patient who put her trust in them.

This story immediately reminded me of the behavior of some church members that I have seen over the years. Clearly forgetting their calling, purpose, and the great mercy God has shown them.

Only God knows how many of His people are fighting over their personal agendas while the world is daily dying and going to Hell. Much like God’s people in the Scripture, all-too-often today’s church suffers from those who murmur, gossip, slander, complain, argue, manipulate, and apply passive-aggressive strategies to get their way.

Not once in more than 33 years of ministry have I seen strife in a church caused by false doctrine. At no time have I seen believers up in arms over the Gospel not being preached or funds stolen from the church. Not once.

But oh, the joy when God’s people humbly join together to glorify Christ and reach those for whom He died (Ps.133:1)! I have never seen a better example of a unified church offering themselves as living sacrifices than I did during the Judgment House ministry of Ridgeland Baptist Church.

In these weeks, God’s people were one in purpose and passion. As a result, many saw and heard a clear presentation of the Gospel that Jesus Christ is the Son of God Who alone can save us from our sins.

As a pastor, I want to express my deep love and appreciation to those of you who faithfully and joyfully serve, support, give, sing, witness, encourage, and worship  in unity at your local church so that our Savior gets the glory He deserves. God is using you in ways too profound for words. Your pastor would say along with Paul, “You are my joy (Phil. 4:1)!” I praise God for you!

God blesses unity for His glory and the salvation of souls. Christ died for this, the church exists for this, and you may be certain, we will be held accountable for this.

 

Posted in Church Growth, Church Health, Control, Dissension, Division, Encouragement, Example, Gossip, Humility, Mission, Purpose, Relationships, Sacrifice, Slander, Surrender, The Church, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Advice to a Pastor Under Attack

Stress

Recently a young pastor with a heavy heart contacted me. He was overwhelmed and brokenhearted by critics in his church and pleaded for prayer.

I have added portions of his original message below. I have made changes to keep his and his church’s identity confidential.

Dear Mark,
 
Please, please, please pray! I certainly need the prayers. Soon after I graduated from seminary, I began to serve as the Pastor of a Southern Baptist Church, in Georgia. When I answered the call to this pastorate I had no idea that I would be stepping into a divided and dysfunctional church.
 
I’ve been here nearly a year and I guess you can say that my honeymoon period is over because I have already had my first conflict with a church leader. This person serves in several areas of our church.
This began when I offered some suggestions for their ministry. After complimenting them on their work I made a small suggestion. 
 
Well, that simple suggestion threw them into a tantrum I didn’t expect. The next thing I know, I’m getting calls from members saying they were disappointed in me for the way I hurt their feelings. This person told them that I yelled at them and they felt like I had slapped them in the face because I was criticizing the way they serve.
 
Later on, I met with them and another leader and tried to work it out. We both made apologies and agreed to continue to work together (or so I thought). But, instead of continuing to work with me as they agreed, they called another leader and resigned. I again attempted to speak to them again the following Sunday. But, they still remained angry. Now they don’t serve anywhere and their family rarely speaks to me and they sit in the back of the auditorium scowling at me.
 
As a footnote, I am told that this same person was instrumental in running off the previous pastor. Now, I have a funny suspicion that this is what they are attempting to do to me because they continues to create division by speaking against me to other members. They won’t make eye contact with me and when they have to talk to me, they do so by looking at the floor. When I try to communicate with them they plays the victim card and gets defensive.
 
Also, I discovered that there are members who are passive-aggressive with other members of our staff and will not support their ministry because of a disagreement from long ago.
 
These are just two examples of how this church simply refuses to handle conflict in a godly and redemptive way. I saw that the animosity remains and it continues to be a divisive issue. So, somebody has to take the lead here. I am making every effort that I can to help them address this, and other issues, in a Biblical, redemptive manner. But, I am running up against severe resistance as there are some key leaders who don’t like it when I preach on reconciliation and loving one another. What else can I do?
 
I’ve been reading the minutes from business meetings and deacons meetings and I’ve discovered there is a pattern about this church. First, there will be a conflict of some sort. Then later, the pastor will leave sometime thereafter. During the interim period between pastors, there will be discussions about reconciling their differences and loving one another. In a short time, they’ll call a pastor and have a revival. This pattern repeats itself time and again with this church. And, guess what? I had not even began to unpacked before they are asking me about having a revival.
 
I agree that we need a genuine revival so I am preaching from Scripture that show God’s people His conditions for real revival and some of them don’t like that, either.
 
This church really needs to work through a lot of issues before we can move forward. I love this church, as there are some great people here. But, there is a dark stronghold on this church that is keeping it from being the church that God intends for it to be. This is an intense spiritual battle I am in and I can’t do it alone. Will you please pray for me and this church I serving as their Pastor?
 
Thanks!
—————————————————

My brother,

I am grieved to hear this. Sadly, I know all-to-well how believers behave badly and focus their animosity towards their pastor. I will pray.

This may be a battle to remove strongholds that lasts for years. I have served in churches with similar issues. I saw many strongholds fall, nearly lost my mind as the stress level was almost unbearable. Family illness during all of this naturally adds to the challenge. Here are seven suggestions that I hope will help:

1. Stay on the “high road” - Don’t let anyone provoke you to speaking or acting in a way that is not full of grace and truth. The enemy will seize upon this so be blameless.

2. Believe (really) that God will have the last word - Don’t let your frustration come through in your preaching. He will vindicate you.

3. Think of how God’s servants endured - The same God is your God.

4. Settle in for the long haul - It may take your entire ministry but someone has to rise above it and faithfully, consistently, lovingly hold to Christ’s ideal for the Church. You may not impress friends or the denomination with numbers, but you must be faithful. The Western mindset of a “successful” pastor and church with its quick growth is not often The way God works in bringing revival to His Church.

5. Pray for God to surround you with “Mighty Men” who will hold you up in prayer - Don’t try this alone. Also don’t subtly begin to base your success on others’ approval – becoming co-dependent. Eventually they will disapprove and it will be hard to objectively weigh their criticism. Beware of being a loner. You need to be vulnerable, but vulnerability can hurt. Nevertheless, it is necessary.

6. Be sure to focus on making and growing disciples - Not only is this the main thing and how we “seek first His Kingdom” but some of the men you help to grow in Christ could/should very well be instrumental in the future of the church.

7. Watch your health - In addition to a growing, vibrant personal relationship with Christ you need to have a healthy relationship with your wife and family. Your dear wife feels your pain so encourage and protect her. Discipline yourself to eat right and exercise. Aside from the obvious, this reduces stress and will help you think clearly. Fatigue will make a coward out of any man.

Early in my ministry many years ago, I was shocked to find that some in our church were angry at me and opposing me at every opportunity, yet they would not tell me why. I was so frustrated that I was ready to resign. I called Bob Sorrell, Adrian Rogers’ former associate and told him what was going on and asked what I should do. He reminded me that God knew about the needs of the people in the church when He put me there and that He would be with me as I followed Him. Of course, He was right.

I’ve prayed for you.

———————————————–

Perhaps you or your church has experienced similar stress. How would you encourage this young pastor?

Is your pastor in need of encouragement? Ask God to use you to be a “partner in the ministry” and a blessing to him!

I’m sure my young friend as well as your pastor would appreciate your prayers and encouragement!

Blessings!

 

Posted in 1 Corinthians, Abuse, Anger, brokenhearted, Career, Challenge, Church Growth, Church Health, Comfort, Communication, Control, discouragement, Disillusionment, Dissension, Division, Encouragement, Faith, Family, Fear, God's Will, Gossip, Mission, Perseverance, Personal Growth, Purpose, Rumor, Slander, Success, The Church, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Your Church – You Didn’t Build That!

 “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that! Someone else made that happen!”

-President Barak Obama

Since our president made that statement[i] he has received a backlash of criticism. Some believe that it reveals a philosophy of dependence on others, particularly the government. We all know that we need help in life. Most have had the love, provision and guidance of their parents, relatives, teachers and friends. Regardless of the political ramifications, the controversy surrounding his words may be helpful as we think about our churches.

This came to my attention as I was studying Matthew 16:13-19 and read what Dr. Russell Moore posted on his blog, “Moore to the Point.[ii]” It occurred to me that there is a real possibility that many church leaders and members may look at the “success” of their church and say, “I/We built that!”

As a student of Biblical church growth I recognize and appreciate strategies, tools, and techniques that God has given us to be more effective in making disciples (Mt. 28:18-20). Yet, it should be obvious to all that no human strategy can build the Church.

Similarly, I appreciate leaders whom God has gifted and chosen to lead His church to multiply disciples. But no one should begin to imagine that even the greatest and godliest leaders can build the Church.

From the birth of the Church in Acts 2 and throughout the historical record of the New Testament, every time someone turns from his or her sin to become a follower of Christ and thereby a member of His Church, it is a work of God Who chooses to use His people. The same is true today.

How could it be otherwise, when the Head of the Church said,

I will build My Church!

-Jesus (Mt.16:18 NIV)

 The fact that God has invited us to join Him in His work is one of the greatest privileges of knowing Christ. Why He has chosen to entrust the enormous responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel so that others may follow Him we may never know. Still, being used by God in the building of His Church is not the same as being responsible for it!

While this may seem to be a “no-brainer” for most Christ-followers, I want to suggest to you that we may subtly, even unconsciously, begin to think that the growth of our local church is because of us.

Have a casual conversation with a church member and listen to how they describe the growth of their church. From my experience, there is a good possibility that if they are being candid you may hear them credit their pastor, music, student ministry, location or programs and strategies for their growth. By the way some church members behave one would have to believe they think they not only built their church, but own it too!

Surely, God graciously uses His people for His glory, but ultimately, if a single sinner comes to repentance and chooses to follow the Lord Jesus Christ it is because the Lord of the Church worked in His life to bring it about.

No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draw Him.

-Jesus (John 6:44 NIV)

May I be so bold as to suggest that some churches have an “identity crisis?” They don’t really know who they are (or perhaps who God wants them to be!). When a body of believers, an assembly of Christ-followers allow themselves to believe and behave in a way that is not God’s will for His church, you may be sure they are not the church Christ is building!

Churches who allow themselves to be overcome by a purpose other than the purpose for which the Lord founded His Church are not the Church Jesus is building.

A church may have a crowd, offerings overflowing, and happiness may abound, but if the word of God is not being taught, the Gospel is not being proclaimed, the people are not in love with Christ and passionately reaching out to those He came to save, they are not being the church Christ is building! I remember my precious friend, Ken Whitten (Senior Pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, Tampa), pointing out that just because there is a crowd it doesn’t mean there is a church.

Tragically, we look to dynamic leaders, music styles, and a myriad of other things as the key to church growth neglecting the fact that

Unless the Lord builds the house, it’s builders labor in vain.

(Ps. 127:1 NIV)

We who know and follow Christ understand this. We labor as though lives are at stake because they are! But we know that unless our gracious Savior adds to the church those who need to be saved (Acts 2:47), we are wasting our time!

The bedrock of truth that the Church is founded upon was pronounced by Peter and has been echoed by every obedient Christ-follower since:

You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!

(Mt.16:16 NIV)

It is our responsibility to proclaim the truth about Jesus. It is Christ’s responsibility to build His Church.

I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall

not prevail against it.

-Jesus (Mt. 16:18 ESV)

Oh, God please use us!


[ii] Internet: http://www.russellmoore.com August 29, 2012, Accessed August 30, 2012. (Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).

 

Posted in Accomplishment, Ambition, Career, Church Growth, Church Health, Division, Doctrine, John, Matthew, Psalms, Sacrifice, Success, The Church, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parents – Loving Them to the End

Dad and His Grandson, Mark Jr., in Better Days

Those of you who follow my posts on Twitter or Facebook know that my father, Al Bordeaux, has had a very difficult time lately. As I sit in his hospital room I began to list some lessons that I have learned from watching my parents grow old.

Growing old may not be what you think – It is impossible to fully conceive many things in life until you have experienced them and the same is true with aging. Our preconceived ideas of what older people are like as well as what it is like to age may be far from the facts. We all hope and pray that our parents live long, healthy lives and enjoy freedom and health after their retirement. Some do, but eventually even the healthiest of people succumb to aging. Here are a few reminders that I pray will help you and those you love.

Things will not always be the same. – The parents that I knew in childhood, teenage, and young adult years will not always be the young, confident, humorous, and strong people we have known. Of course, we know this, but honestly, when was the last time you imagined your parents confined to a wheelchair, afraid, sick, forgetful, and dependent on others? That’s my point. What we hope and pray for (health, strength and length of days) may not be God’s will for us or our parents.

Since it is all-too-obvious that life is brief we should savor every opportunity we have to spend with our parents (or grandparents). How well I remember the joy on my mother’s face when my family and I arrived at her door after we had moved away. On one occasion I came home alone and unannounced and when she opened the door she dissolved into tears saying, “I was just praying for God to bring you home to see me! I’m so lonely and I miss you all so much!

My father was reared in a home where his father never told him he loved him and as a result, my dad has been stingy with compliments and affection. But when I took time (that I didn’t have) to drive to Savannah to play golf with my Dad he was a different person. I treasure those times when he opened up and shared stories with me and showed his love.

I had no idea how much even the small things meant to our parents once I had married and moved away. One of the times when my Mom came to visit us when we lived in Georgia I took her for a drive throughout the area. We talked about a lot of things, but nothing in particular. When we returned, I stopped in our church parking lot and we just sat there for a few minutes. Then my mom exclaimed, “This has been one of the best times of my life!” When I asked her why, she said, “Just being with you, not being in a hurry, not being distracted, but just talking!” Now that I am middle-aged with both children out of the house I understand what she meant.

Be a good listener. Those parents who taught us how to read, tie our shoes, and play ball still have wisdom to share. Even if you’ve heard the story before, listen. They enjoy reliving special times and retelling a story enables them to do that. Sure, many older parents or grandparents may not understand Twitter, your music, or your job, but that doesn’t mean they are dumb.

Be patient with them. For me, that can be so hard when I am in a hurry, but I am trying. As you listen, make notes. One day those simple, “boring” stories will be gone and we will long to ask our parents questions about their childhoods or even ours. I treasure stories my grandparents and parents have told me about their lives. I need to hear their stories to better understand and appreciate them as well as pass those stories down to my children and grandchildren.

Difficult days are ahead; ask God to prepare you for them. I never could have imagined caring for my strong, athletic, retired railroad worker Dad like I have the last number of years. Yes, we do it and count it a privilege to have Dad with us; we’ve had many laughs, hugs and stories, but don’t let anyone mislead you – caring for the infirmed – especially a loved one – is one of the most exhausting and stressful things we can do.

Who could have told me the amount of responsibility I would have inherited when my Dad had a stroke? When I got the call my Dad was having emergency surgery I drove to Wilmington to be at his side. I slept in my car and drove back to work the next morning. This went on for weeks and when he was moved to rehab I continued my vigil. Since then I have been sure to give him the right medications, and help him with baths. I helped him learn to walk after his stroke as well as such mundane and simple things as teaching him how to use a TV remote. And might I add that I was doing this during one of the most challenging times of my ministry?

No, I don’t regret a moment of whatever small sacrifice I have made and you won’t either. What we would regret is not taking time, not sacrificing, and not being there for them. The point is prepare yourself. Only God knows what the future holds.

“A pain like no other”

Finally, be sure you are ready. When a loved one dies it is natural to grieve. Everyone’s grief is personal and no one, but God fully understands how we hurt. But those who know Christ have hope and comfort during times of grief that others cannot.

To be the best son or daughter to your parents and be able to look back with few regrets the most important thing you can do is have a real and personal relationship with God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  If you turn from self and sin to surrender to Him and trust Him for mercy and grace you will have the Guide you need through these difficult days as well as the Comforter you will need when your parents leave this life.

“Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land.” (Eph. 6:2 – 3 HCSB)

Seeking to honor,

 

 

Posted in Aging, brokenhearted, Comfort, Communication, Death, Denial, discouragement, Elderly, Encouragement, Ephesians, Faith, Family, Father, Fear, Honor, Loneliness, Loss, Love, Memory, Parenting, Parents, Preparing to Die, Sacrifice, suffering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parents – Back to School!

Among the ubiquitous joys and challenges of parenting is discipline. With every child God creates and entrusts to the care of his or her parents there is the inherent expectation that the parents will do whatever is necessary to train their children to be wise, productive, and above all, God-honoring. After hearing about the irresponsible behavior of some parents at their children’s graduations it seems clear; someone needs to train the parents.

God placed the nurturing instinct within all parents so that no healthy parent has to be told to feed and care for their child. Neither do parents have to be reminded that their child is dependent upon their training to learn everything from walking, talking, and tying their shoes to how to behave in public and make wise decisions. It is obvious that when some parents were children they “skipped school” when the class on common sense was offered.

Many of you were at graduation ceremonies recently. They are some of the most significant events in a person’s life. I still have a vivid memory of my graduation from high school. In some ways, it was more emotional and meaningful to me than when I graduated from college and seminary. It is a major milestone, the first of many, to be sure, but extremely important nonetheless.

Emotions are high for students and parents alike. Great sacrifices have been made by many families to see this day and every family has overcome obstacles to help their child receive their diploma. I cried when my children graduated. I love them so deeply that only other parents could understand. But, I held my applause and cheers until after the diplomas had been awarded.

It is understandable that there is a flood of emotions that washes over parents when their children’s names are called. It is natural for a parent to feel the urge to cheer, clap, shout, and cry as soon as they hear their child’s name.

As one would expect, there is a pretty good probability that there is more than one graduate receiving his or her sheepskin. Depending on the size of the school there could be anywhere from dozens to thousands of parents sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the moment – the proud moment when they hear the name of their boy or girl.

This being true, it makes perfectly good sense to hold applause and cheers to the end so that other parents will not miss the moment for which every parent is waiting – the announcement of their child’s name.

Well, it makes sense to me. Apparently, it doesn’t to some.

For example, consider the mother in Florence, South Carolina who was arrested for defying the stated request to hold applause until after all graduates have received their diplomas. She said, “I’m thinking in my mind [which, by the way, is where most of us do our thinking], no, I’m a cheer [sic], because, you know, I went through too much to get her to this point and I can’t show my excitement?”

Obviously, this woman is under the impression that she went through more than other parents and her child is more important than others graduating that evening. Clearly her motto is, “It’s all about me!”

Then in Mount Healthy, Ohio, a graduate’s diploma is being withheld until either he or his family do 20 hours of community service because of “excessive cheering at graduation.”

Anderson Cooper said that he would “hate to think that cheering at a graduation should be a roadblock to someone moving ahead with their life; maybe even to becoming rich and famous.” This was followed by a video clip of Opra Winfrey cheering from the platform of a graduation.

Then Cooper sarcastically said that perhaps those who want a “subdued, understated  graduation could go on to a subdued, understated profession like a state legislator.” The next scene was an assembly of lawmakers with one ranting and cursing. He closed by encouraging parents to cheer on children and beware of the “enthusiasm haters.”

That’s right. A bright, articulate, and educated man like Cooper, no doubt for entertainment and rating purposes, uses his influence to throw his support behind parents who disrupt graduation ceremonies while mocking those who are seeking order in such auspicious occasions. Who knows the number of bright young minds that have been hindered from “moving ahead with their life” or “becoming rich and famous”?

To my knowledge, no school has decreed that cheering may not occur; only that it be reserved until the proper time. There is not even a limit on the decibels that parents may produce in their cheering. They all allow unrestrained enthusiasm without limiting volume or time – perfectly proper – at the proper time.

The underlying problem is the flagrant disregard for authority by those who are supposed to be showing their children how a mature adult should respond to authority.

Cooper suggested that whoever is reading the names simply pause until cheering subsides. I think that is a perfectly practical solution, but that is not the issue.  The underlying problem is the flagrant disregard for authority by those who are supposed to be showing their children how a mature adult should respond to authority. If parents want to change the rules that administrators set for graduations there are ways to accomplish it without a rebellion of rudeness.

Graduation ceremonies recognize the students who have completed a portion of their education. Words that are similar to “education” in biblical literature include the words, “teach” and “discipline.” One who is educated has not only been taught and experienced “discipline” in the sense of training, but is also personally disciplined. Clearly, some self-centered, undisciplined parents need to further their “education” for the good of their children.

“He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.” Proverbs 10:17 

Still learning,

 

Posted in Accomplishment, Career, Celebration, Challenge, Discipline, Education, Example, Family, Graduation, Parenting, Success | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Them and Not Us?

68 years ago today, allied forces invaded Normandy and began the liberation of Europe. It is fitting that we honor the survivors, remember the sacrifice of the fallen, and attempt to learn from their courage. The awful price paid for the victory that freed Europe and the world from Nazism must not be forgotten.

Bea Cohen; FoxNews.com

102-year-old Bea Cohen served in the U.S. Army during World War II and remembers D-Day. She said, “I come from a country where there wasn’t anything like [peace and freedom]. And I know the difference. What I don’t want people to forget–our men and women veterans; they’ve given a lot.”[i]

Yes, they gave “a lot.” Some gave all. The haunting question asked by survivors is, “Why them and not us?”  Or “How did I survive and not others?”

Those who have survived the horror of the invasion or subsequent battles are not the only ones to ask this question. It is a question that present-day warriors ask themselves as well.  Why does one return from war to see his or her family, but another does not?

Sal Palacino and Morton Parks are both survivors of D-Day who were both a part of the 116th Army infantry regiment comprised of only 136 men. Although they don’t remember one another from the war their bond is close. Palacino, 88, and Parks, 87, share memories that very few can understand.

Parks and Palacino; Daytona Beach News-Journal, news-journalonline.com

After reading a newspaper story about the declining numbers of D-Day survivors, including Parks, Palacino decided to try to meet Parks. “First of all, it’s emotional, in that we’re still both living,” Palacino said. “Ten thousand GIs that first day were killed at Normandy. Omaha Beach was the worst. Can you imagine what the probability is of meeting another person who survived that first day when 10,000 were killed?”[ii]

Ray Weiss, staff writer for the Daytona Beach News-Journal points out, “The odds of that first wave of soldiers seeing another day were slim. But all of these years later, Parks and Palacino have no answer as to why they survived, when so many others around them didn’t.” [iii]

Which brings me back to the question, “Why them and not us?”

Even if you have not experienced the horror of war and lived to tell about it, in a sense, you too are a survivor. Most of those reading this blog are old enough to have seen people their age or younger die. For more than 30 years of ministry I have had the sad responsibility to stand over the coffins of many people younger than me – even children.

I have seen and experienced grief up-close and personal. A hard-working husband and father nears retirement, but is suddenly killed. An outgoing young teenager who loves the Lord surrenders his life to Christ at camp and within three months dies in an accident. A godly young wife and mother is struck down by cancer. Or a young husband and father who is an athletic Marine reenlists to serve in the Army and after a morning run doubles over in pain only later to discover an inoperable tumor on his liver.

Two of my closest high school friends have already been taken home to be with the Lord. Yet, I survive. “Lord, why?”

Recently a fellow pastor from our area died in an automobile accident. In recent years, another friend who served a nearby church lost his battle with cancer as a young man. In both cases, I grieve their loss and solemnly wonder why God chose to end their earthly lives and ministries and not mine.

The heartache and the questions are inevitable. But where is the healing and answers? Even fully devoted followers of Christ who trust God and know the answers from His word still know pain and grief, even if it is not like those without hope who don’t know Christ.

These are profound mysteries that even the wise and knowledgeable must recognize as “holy ground” belonging only to the One True God.  Gratefully, God offers hope for those who cling to Him in faith. As I share some simple, yet sound Scriptural principles, I do so with humility and deep respect for the Sovereignty of God as well as your suffering.

Strength for Survivors

  1. He is God – Simple, but certainly not shallow. “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” (Ro.11:34) You may totally and completely rule out “luck” and replace it with providence. Because He is sovereign God nothing is left to chance.
  2. God is Good – When blinded by pain and grief it may be only natural to cry out “Why?” to God, but our inability to comprehend or appreciate His work in no way nullifies His goodness. “For Yahweh [The LORD] is good, and His love is eternal. His faithfulness endures through all generations.” (Ps. 100:5)
  3. What God Does is Good – Even God’s judgment is good. While God’s righteous and holy character must judge sin because it is an affront to His nature He also condemns sin because it is deadly to us. If the question is raised as to whether or not God really has our best interest in mind simply consider the fact that God loves mankind so much that He willingly died for us on the cross in the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus. At the time, unless one was familiar with the Old Testament prophecies and recognized Jesus as the Messiah, one would have been just as bewildered as Jesus’ disciples initially were. Yet, His horrific suffering was all a part of a plan to rescue us!
  4. God Has Good in Store for His Own – “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro. 8:28 HCSB) As we are often reminded, not all things are good, but all things do work together for God’s people.
  5. God Gives Us Life – He is the Author of life. All that we have come from Him. We must be careful to show our appreciation by living for Him.
  6. God Chooses When Our Lives Must End – While some may cause Him to end their lives early because of their own foolishness decisions, many deeply devoted believers have died what some would call “untimely deaths.” Regardless, God is in control
  7. God Expects Us to Live for Him – Someone said, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” We have an opportunity to make our lives an investment in eternity. It has been said that God has given us life; what we do with that life is our gift to Him.”

In the fictional movie based on the events following D-Day, “Saving Private Ryan,” Captain John H. Miller (played by Tom Hanks) lies gravely wounded following a key battle. Just before his death, he looks to “Private Ryan” (played by Matt Damon) and whispers, “Earn this!” Captain Miller has given his life fighting the Nazis in a battle while protecting Private Ryan. This comment haunts Ryan the rest of his life as he tries to live up to Captain Miller’s dying words.

We are “survivors” for a reason.

While “earning” the least of God’s grace is not within the realm of possibility, we must not throw up our hands as though there is nothing we can do to show our gratitude. We are “survivors” for a reason. God has mercifully allowed us to live another day. Rather than question the sovereign choices of God we would do better to invest our time into making our lives count for Christ. One day we may know why God chose to do what He did. What really matters is not why God chose to act the way He did in a particular situation, but that we choose to act the way we should while we can.

Why did Palacino and Parks survive D-Day when nearly 10,000 did not? Only God knows. When asked, Palacino said, “I’m not God, so I don’t know. People say we were lucky. But it had nothing to do with luck, with bullets flying by you and people dying. Did I tell the bullets not to kill me? I just praise God every day.”[iv]

And so should we.

 

 


[i] Lee Ross. “On 68th anniversary of D-Day, 102-year-old Army veteran recalls watching Allied planes,” Internet: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/06/06/on-68th-anniversary-invasion-102-year-old-army-veteran-recalls-seeing-d-day/ accessed June 6, 2012.
[ii] Ray Weiss. Daytona Beach News-Journal, January 20, 2012, Internet: http://www.news-journalonline.com/news/local/east-volusia/2012/01/20/d-day-survivors-meet-defying-great-odds.html accessed June 6, 2012.
[iii] Weiss. Ibid.
[iv] Weiss. Ibid.
Posted in brokenhearted, Comfort, Death, Disillusionment, Encouragement, Example, Expectation, Faith, Freedom, God's Will, Gratitude, Inspiration, Loss, Love, Patriotism, Preparing to Die, Providence, Psalms, Purpose, Romans, Sacrifice, Sovereignty of God, suffering, Survivor, Trust, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Broken Heart

When was the last time you saw someone with their heart in a cast, sling, or using crutches? Of course, that’s ridiculous. People with broken hearts don’t wear bandages. And neither do we recognize them or take their pain as seriously as a physical injury.

After a myriad of sports injuries and resulting surgeries I have found that most people are not only sympathetic, but also helpful when they see your arm or leg is mending.  But if you are suffering from a broken heart, don’t expect the same response.  Yet a “broken heart” can actually be fatal.

Medical researchers at Johns Hopkins University have now identified a medical condition called stress cardiomyopathy, also called “broken heart syndrome.”[i] Without the physiological details let me just say that our physical heart is affected when we experience traumatic stress like an accident, death of a loved one, deep disappointment or similarly stressful event. “Heart attacks are most often brought on by some sort of blockage, whereas stress cardiomyopathy is the actual weakening of the muscle.”[ii] Furthermore, scientists have indicated that prolonged stress lowers our immune system and may cause a host of other problems in addition to cardiomyopathy.

If you are suffering from a broken heart today, my guess is that there is a good chance very few people, if anyone, knows about it. After more than 30 years of ministry I have spoken to many people whose hearts were broken and even those closest to them were totally unaware.

Disappointment, grief, loss, betrayal, and sorrow are all a part of fallen people living in a fallen world. Pain, both emotional and physical, are a sad fact of life. Yet as prevalent as our pain may be, the denial of it is just as common.

We’ve all known people like “Eeyore,” the old, grey, stuffed donkey on Winnie the Pooh who constantly complained. For these people, the glass is always half-empty and there is no way to convince them otherwise. I believe some people actually enjoy the attention and pity they receive and prefer to bemoan their situation than better it. Let me be clear, the broken hearted people of which I speak are going through a valley – not camping in it.

Typically, it is not expected or accepted for us to open up about our pain. For example, when was the last time you greeted someone outside of your family and said, “How are you?” and they replied, “I’m hurting!” and began to tell you a sad story? Of course, it is not appropriate to bare our souls with everyone we meet, but when is opening up about our pain appropriate? Some people find it difficult to open up even among family and friends. I base this on the number of people I have known who opened up to me as their pastor, yet no one else would have known.

I believe there are several reasons for our denial of discouragement:

  1. Pride – We like to think we have it all together and want others to think we do too
  2. Lack of Trust – Feeling that there is no one we can trust with our feelings
  3. Fear – Fear of what people will say or think about us
  4. Unrealistic idea of “normal” – We mistakenly think “normal” is always being upbeat

A large reason many are living in denial about our pain is because our society does not encourage us to admit our weaknesses. Strength, confidence, beauty, assertiveness, and an endless optimism are supposed to be the “norm.” As a result, any sign of weakness is frowned upon and avoided.

Another factor is our selfishness. We tend to be concerned about ourselves and have little time or patience for others’ problems. When we’re having a “good” day the last thing we want is for someone to spoil it by pouring out his or her souls.

Thankfully, there are many, many caring people who resist selfishness and are eager to encourage others. But unless you know people like this whom you can trust you are likely to keep nurturing the pain alone.

If you are heavy-hearted I would like to offer some encouragement to you.

  1. You are not alone – Many are simply disguising their discouragement or covering it with a variety of tricks (i.e. jokes, managing the topic of conversation, too busy to talk, and etc.).
  2. Many people genuinely care – You may not know who they are now, but with prayer, patience, and persistence I believe God will lead you to a friend who you can trust to listen, care, and challenge you to keep going. Find a church home. None are perfect because no one is perfect, but we all need a church family. Talk to your pastor. If you have had symptoms of depression for more than two weeks talk to your doctor.
  3. Pain is not permanent – Of course, some hurts we will endure as long as we live, but for those who know Christ there is coming a day when He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
  4. Jesus knows, cares, and comforts – More than anyone else, the Savior truly cares and is able to comfort you and give you grace to endure. Remember, He is in control and is able to bring good from the deepest grief.
  5. Trust the truth – Avoid the tendency to give into despondency. Like a pilot in a storm must fly by instruments (IFR) we too, must not rely upon our feelings, but the facts of God’s word.

Some broken hearts will take years to heal. Some will not heal in this life. All may find comfort and hope in Christ.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those 

who are crushed in spirit. –Psalm 34:18

After Jesus died on the cross a soldier pierced His side with a spear. We read that blood and water came from the wound. Doctors and scientists have commented on this post-mortem piercing as clear indication that Jesus did not die of asphyxiation as those who were crucified normally did – He died of a broken heart.

Scripture tells us that Jesus willingly died for us. No one took His life from Him. His heart broke under the weight of His burden for us. Isaiah said, “the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (53:6).

Friend, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, knows very well what it is like to have a broken heart. His heart broke for us.

Let’s not grieve Him any longer by our sin. Let’s live to bring joy to His heart until the day we meet Him face to face.

Please use the “Contact Form” and let me know how I may pray for you.

Jesus is Wonderful. You are loved.



[i] Tara Parker-Hope, “Healthy and the Broken Heart,” The New York Times (6-1-10); Johns Hopkins Medicine Press Releases, “‘Broken Heart’” Syndrome: Real, Potentially Deadly, But Recovery Quick” (2-9-05). Christianity Today, www.preachingtoday.com accessed by subscription May 30, 2012.

[ii] Tyler Boone, “A Broken Heart Can Kill,” Internet: http://www.booneheart.com/latest-news/a-broken-heart-can-kill accessed May 31, 2012.

Posted in brokenhearted, Comfort, Death, Denial, depression, discouragement, Disillusionment, Encouragement, Faith, God's word, Grief, Inspiration, Loneliness, Loss, Perseverance, Personal Growth, Recovery, suffering, Trust | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How the Mighty Have Fallen”


meŸmoŸriŸal adj.  \mə-ˈmȯr-ē-əl\ def. serving to preserve remembrance[i]

On a day that is set aside to remember our fallen, I suspect that many of us have forgotten the significance of the holiday, and therefore, the significance of the sacrifice. In so doing, we not only dishonor those who gave their all for our freedom, but we lose an indispensible ingredient of our character; gratitude.

One may be excused for simply being ignorant. Perhaps parents and teachers failed to share the stories of sacrifice that built this great nation.

But to show little esteem for a single life that was lost on the battlefield is morally shallow at best and corrupt at worst. A lack of gratitude is a symptom for a host of self-centered symptoms of our society.

Good memory is a trait that must be nurtured. If tested, I believe that many an honor roll student could not remember details of subjects they aced on exams years earlier. There are many who studied musical instruments or languages when they were young only to lament how much they forgot as adults.

For one to invest time, money, and effort in learning how to play a musical instrument only to neglect it for years until it is all but lost is a terrible waste. How much worse for us to devalue the lives that were sacrificed to stop an enemy determined to destroy or enslave.  Yet, in some way, that is what we do when we fail to intentionally remember the debt that was paid for our freedom.

Intentional is a key word. We must be intentional about preserving the memory of the brave men and women who died fighting in our armed forces. If their memory, the memory of their heroic deeds are to be preserved it will not be done by accident.

Of course, whether or not we remember does not diminish their sacrifice. It only diminishes us.

As shameful as it would be to have a picnic among the graves of Arlington in some ways it is just as shameful to fail to sacrifice a small amount of our time in order to remember.

Of course, whether or not we remember does not diminish their sacrifice. It only diminishes us. The threats to our safety and freedom are every bit as real as they were at any time in the past. Edmund Burke who said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”, has already made the point.

So, forgetting their sacrifice is not just robbing our fallen of the honor they deserve, it is robbing subsequent generations as well as us the understanding of what honor, courage, and sacrifice really means.

The multitude of slain patriots have testified with their blood that there are some things worth dying for. If we lose our appreciation for what they have done we may also lose those freedoms we hold dear.

Finally, we would be amiss to fail to point out the necessity of remembering the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. He “endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

Try to wrap your mind around that! God Himself, in the Person of His Son, courageously endured the worst that evil man could pour out on Him, drank the cup of our sin and gave up His life. Scripture tells us that He did this because He loved us so much He would rather die than leave us to the judgment we deserve!

Use your imagination and try to wander the fields, beaches, jungles, seas, deserts, towns, and skies where our patriots gave their lives. Pause and give thanks.

Now, let us visit a hill just outside Jerusalem. It’s called the “place of the skull” or Golgotha.  Try to imagine the suffering that took place there for us.

The only suitable response to such great love is to surrender to this great King, accepting His payment for our sin and committing to follow Him the rest of our lives.

“How the mighty have fallen.” 2 Samuel 1:25

Remembering,

 

 

 



[i] Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Internet: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/memorial accessed May 27, 2012.

Posted in 2 Samuel 1:25, Gratitude, Hebrews, Memorial, Memory, Patriotism, Sacrifice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment