Thursday, February 15, 2018

Something is Wrong

We all knew it was coming. We knew there would be another shooting. At a school. Or a church. Or a concert. Or a nightclub. Or a post office. It was just a matter of time.

Sure, we are shocked. But are we surprised? This is just the world we live in. And the country we live in. What shocked me most was the number of school shootings this year. The year is barely six weeks old, and there have been eight school shootings resulting in death or injury in 2018. Eight.

Here we go again with the politics. We need more gun laws. We need better law enforcement. we need metal detectors…everywhere. We need more vigilance to catch unstable people. We need counselors to help troubled youth and troubled adults. We need to spend money on…something. But this is just the surface of the problem. There is something deeper.

Something is wrong.

Has there ever been a society in which innocent people were routinely targeted by member of that society? What leads people to be so depressed, angry, lonely, rejected, despondent, frustrated that they plot and carry out mass murder?

Something is wrong with the soul.

Too many people fail to see the value of human beings—others and themselves. Too many people have no hope. The mass shootings are only one example of the flagging American soul. The #MeToo movement reaches back decades with disturbing stories of abuse. Men have been objectifying and mistreating women for more than a generation. The rabid support for abortion in some circles stuns me. Laws must allow women to choose whether or not their fetus is a baby. It will have rights if I say it does.

Our society has been heading down this path for quite some time. It is not a problem of laws or politics or funding. 

Something is wrong with the soul of America.

Somehow we have strayed from the belief that “all men are created equal.” Along the way we have forgotten that “all men” includes Native Americans and Africans. It also includes all of mankind, not just the males. We have also forgotten that these equally created persons are all “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

In other words, we have forgotten that people matter. We so personalize our own rights that we forget the value of others. Our selfishness becomes magnified when we find likeminded people and stop listening to dissenting points of view. People who disagree with us are just stupid. Maybe they don’t deserve to live. The world would be better off without them. We can “otherize” people very effectively. Ask any hate group. 

The soul of America needs compassion, hope, forgiveness, love, justice, redemption. Our country needs the Good News.

God help us.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Stop me, Coach!

We forget to stop. Sometimes we choose not to stop. We know we should, but maybe we are addicted to action.

That's why we are doing a series called "Stop." Stopping is a lost art these days. How can you take a break? It seems like we only stop for a day or two when we have a good snow.

We were actually designed to take regular breaks. God made us that way. He even gives us one day out of seven to let go and remember that he's in charge. No one can live without rest. Life has natural rhythms. We function better when we work with those patterns.

Jesus tells us that we can know his rest. He even promises to rest us, if we will come to him. (Matthew 11:28) Think of a basketball or soccer coach. Why does he pull players out of the game and sit them on the bench?
  • For an attitude adjustment
  • For strategy instruction
  • To deal with an injury
  • To rest and prepare for a big moment
  • To remind the player to listen to the coach
  • To remind the player to be a team player
  • To give another player time to lead
God rests us for all the same reasons. But we choose to ignore that call to rest. And we become worn out, cynical, discouraged, selfish, preoccupied, dull. The world cannot possibly go on without us. We don't need to rest. We like to be busy. Rest won't work with our schedule. Rest really isn't necessary.

But is life without a break really life? Life with no rest fills us with all the shallow things. It leaves us wanting more value, more meaning, more depth. We only get that when we take a step back.

Wouldn't life be great if you knew that you were never more than 6 days away from laying down every burden? That cadence of rest gives you the drive and the depth you need for real living.

And what is life without real living?

Let's Stop. Join us for the last two messages in this series.
January 28: Stop and Receive
February 4: Stop and Give

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Need to Feed

Sometimes you notice something for the first time. I have read this passage countless times, but generally I have just blown past Jesus's question here.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. --Jesus (Matthew 24:45-46)

Yeah, yeah, be a good disciple, blah, blah, stay ready for Jesus's return.

But, have another look. There are some servants of the Lord who are charged with feeding the other servants. This is a huge responsibility. Surely those of us who have food also have a clear call to feed those who don't. We need to "give them their food at the proper time."

It's hard to miss the point here. Jesus expects his servants to take care of each other, specifically by providing food. So, let's get busy.
  • Food pantries
  • Famine relief
  • Help with healthy eating
  • Community gardens
  • Friends for dinner

Jesus uses food to communicate his love. So let's step up and share his love with heaping plate of spaghetti and a dozen glazed doughnuts!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Opioids and Hope

Seems like everywhere I hear about the opioid crisis. People are addicted. More people. This is a different kind of drug crisis. Two years ago I had never even heard the term opioid.

So yesterday I attended a meeting about addressing the opioid crisis. I'm beginning to learn what this is all about. The opioid crisis looks like the perfect storm of societal trends coming together to allow an epidemic of addiction like we have never seen.

Here's what I'm learning, and I haven't fact-checked this stuff, so don't quote me as an authoritative source. Some time in the 1990s pharmaceutical companies created a new type of drug that can be used to treat chronic pain. They said that it was not addictive. Boy were they wrong. But doctors began prescribing these drugs because, well, they don't want their patients to be in pain. If pain can be eliminated with a pill, then let's do it. And patients gave their doctors glowing evaluations because who knew that you could have *that procedure* so painlessly?

Meanwhile, the public buys into two dangerous beliefs:

  • No pain is profitable. All pain should be eliminated if possible.
  • Whatever your physical problem, there is a pill for that.
Well, now doctors are realizing that pain meds are causing too many problems. And new regulations limit the during for which a doctor can prescribe opioids. So people can't get their scripts for these pills, and have to look for the meds elsewhere. On the street the illegal stuff works just as well, and it's cheaper. Dope dealers see the growing market, and want to make sure the supply meets the demand.

Mix all these ingredients together, and you get something toxic. That's where we are. It will take a lot of cooperation to turn this around. We need help from law enforcement, drug companies, hospitals, doctors, community organizations, churches, and first responders. At least we are beginning to work together.
There is hope.

Today I saw a friend for the first time in about 15 years. He tells me that two of our mutual friends are dead from drug overdoses. This is hitting home.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Obituary of a Friend

I was sad today to see the obituary for Fidel Martin in the newspaper. He was the pastor of The Church of the Living God on Happy Hill Rd. in Stokesdale. He was only 58 years old.

He holds a special place in my heart, because of his church's hospitality to Crossroads. When we launched as a church in 2000, we needed a place to meet. Meeting space is scarce in Stokesdale, due to limited occupancy for most storefronts. We needed assembly space. Another pastor, Gwathney Leak, found out about our situation and introduced me to Fidel. He thought we could work together.

The Church of the Living God meets on the Sabbath (Saturday), and their building was not used on Sundays. With a little logistical work, we arranged to meet in their church building on Sundays for about 18 months, 2000-2001. This old, small building on Happy Hill Road served as an incubator for our fledgling congregation. Without the hospitality of the Church of the Living God, I'm not sure what Crossroads would have done.

Although Fidel and I have not been in touch much in recent years, I look back fondly at the time we worked together. While Crossroads was meeting in the old building, CoLG was constructing a new meeting place. We offered a bit of construction manpower, and rejoiced with them when the building was completed. Crossroads even worshipped in the new building on Easter Sunday, 2001.

Pastor Martin celebrated with us in November 2002 when we dedicated the Longhouse on Christopher Road in Stokesdale. Our church had completed the construction of this lodge building, and Pastor Martin was one of our guest speakers at our dedication ceremony. I respected him for his leadership, vision, and kingdom perspective.

Certainly he was called home too soon. I look forward to seeing him again in glory.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Lessons of 2017

Attitude is everything.
I can choose joy.
The kingdom is bigger than my church.
God touches my soul deeply when I gather with his people and worship.
God is stirring people up to take bold new risks for the gospel.
The gospel is about how we live, not what we know.
I can't manufacture spiritual power.
Jesus connects at the heart level with lots of people I don't understand.
Easter is mind-blowing; if I don't see that, I'm missing the point.
A loving church gives space for healing, understanding, growing.
Jesus will see me through hard times; I need to trust him and hang on.
My first priority every day is to delight in God.
Delighting in God transforms my perspective.
God is doing something bigger than my lifetime.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Nuggets

Every year I hope to dig deeper into the truth of Christmas. I confess that I have often thought of the holiday as season to be endured rather than a holy day to be enjoyed. Like Charlie Brown, I wonder if I am missing something. So, I'm digging for new insights, understandings, appreciations for Christmas. I want to thank my friends for helping me see what God is revealing.

With only four days to go, here are a couple of nuggets.

Christmas really is about connecting. Apart from Jesus, God in the flesh, humanity has no meaningful, relational connection to the Father. He loved us enough to take the drastic measure of sending his own Son. We desperately need to connect with the Father.

God uses substitutes. Joseph was a stepfather to Jesus, a substitute father. But he raised Jesus in a godly home, and clearly gave Jesus the foundation he needed for his earthly ministry. And while we don't know anything about Mary's mother, her older cousin Elizabeth served in a motherly role for Mary. Surely they had a close relationship, even before either miraculously became pregnant. Today we can provide family-like support for people who may feel all alone at Christmas.

Certainly there is much more. I want God to show me more. May he reveal himself powerfully, in new and fresh ways this season.