Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Creative Destruction

Boys like to watch things break.  And they like to do the breaking.  Maybe I should say "we."  In the male psyche there is this desire to smash pumpkins, break windows and set off firecrackers in carefully chosen artifacts.  Guy movies must feature chases and explosions.  Guys embrace danger, especially when destruction is a potential byproduct.

Paradoxically, deep in the heart of every man (and woman), is an innate desire to create.  Mankind was made in God's image, both male and female.  In the beginning, God created.  He made the heavens and the earth in six days.  As his image bearers, we are created to be creators.  We want to build furniture, cities and pyramids.  We want to construct arguments.  We want to bring beauty from blank canvas.  We want to bring ideas together in novels.

These two tendencies often pull at each other in the hearts of men.  How can they be harnessed for God?  If we direct our destructive powers toward those things which truly ought to be destroyed, we can engage destruction for the sake of creating.  I do not recommend shooting at speed limit signs or knocking over the obnoxious yard art in the neighborhood.  I'm thinking of destroying those strongholds that pull us away from Jesus.

Paul says, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

If we harness our destruction properly, we clear the way for creativity.  In this fallen world, there will always be plenty to destroy.  When we take out the evil, we allow the good flourish.  We become like our creator as we create.

I am now going to destroy some procrastination.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Personal Cancer Support

Last week I learned about the Barry L Joyce Cancer Support Fund in Madison,NC.  A friend of mine has been volunteering her time at the Fund's headquarters, and she kept inviting me to come see their facility. Now that I have seen the building, I'm finally getting the picture.

You can enter slide name hereOn Tuesday, I met Jennifer Joyce, who runs the operation.  Jennifer's father, Barry, passed away several years ago after fighting through cancer.  He was winning the battle against the disease when he had a fatal reaction to some chemicals used in a medical test.  To honor his memory, his family began the Cancer Fund. Their work reached a new level of effectiveness last November when they opened their community resource center on Ayersville Road.  Jennifer toured me around the re-purposed bank building, with its research library, reception area, kitchen, and inviting conversation room.

In this comfortable environment, cancer warriors can find the weapons they need.  Cancer patients, caregivers, family members and cancer survivors alike can find information, support and encouragement.  The research room offers books, periodicals and reference tools, as well as two computers for internet research.

The BLJ Center provides cancer patients a free notebook, containing a guide for the cancer journey.  This resource suggests questions to ask a doctor, lists possible diet changes, and includes places to record symptoms, medications and milestones.  It also includes contact information for local helping agencies.

The Center hosts support groups for survivors, the newly diagnosed, caregivers, and family members. They have yoga classes, aromatherapy seminars, massage therapy, free facials, and coaching to help patients find a "new normal."

In addition to all this encouragement and support, the Fund offers financial help for cancer patients who live in Rockingham County.  Battling cancer often creates financial hardships, and the Fund stands ready to provide assistance.

Jennifer has big plans for the Barry L Joyce Cancer Support Fund.  Rather than growing the current facility to huge proportions, she hopes to create a network of support centers in other rural communities around the region.

Please share the word that help is available in the fight against cancer.  You don't have to walk the path alone.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Elusive Next Steps for Graduates

As a pastor and educator, I have noticed a trend among young men today.  They seem to endure their years of high school, dutifully grinding out the course work, only to graduate with no sense of direction.

I can't help but compare this generation with mine.  When I graduated in 1980, the paths after high school were clear.  One could go to college, or one could go to work.  I only remember a few of my classmates choosing to work straight out of high school.  Most went on to some kind of college.  But everyone could see the options for the next step.  I don't recall much hand wringing or confusion.

Now I certainly did not have a career chosen when I entered college.  I didn't even have a career chosen when I graduated from college.  But I had a confident sense of a next step.  After high school, I knew I was destined for college.  My parents told me so, long before I began kindergarten.  In some of my earliest memories I am putting nickels into a Hi-C can, saving for this thing called "college."  College was always my next step after high school.

After college, it was a little trickier.  I still did not not know what to do with my life, although I was interested in vocational ministry.  I considered going into banking or insurance, and interviewed with a few companies during my senior year.  Ultimately, I chose to hang around my college town for another year, working as an intern for my local church.  The low-paying internship experience would help me decide on a career path. Of course, the fact that my college girlfriend had another year of school might have slightly influenced my thinking.  I'm glad I stuck around, because we eventually got married.  After that year of ministry, I went on to graduate school.

Here's my point.  At each moment of transition, I saw some clear next steps.  After college, I could get a career-track job, a low-paying internship, or go to graduate school.   At no point did I ever feel completely at a loss.  I never made a definitive career choice until the end of my master's degree program, so I'm not saying that 20-somethings should have it all figured out.  I'm just saying that possible next steps were clear.

For today's students, graduation is an approaching waterfall.  It's coming, it's loud and scary, and it will be wet.  Beyond that, they have no idea what might happen.  Their next steps are about survival, not preparation.  Four-year college is no longer such an obvious choice.  There are more college-type options available today--community college, gap year schools, trade schools.  There are more internships available for 18-year-olds, with ministries and businesses.  Some graduates opt for two-year mission opportunities on other continents.

Next steps are not as clearly defined today, and it seems to hit our young men the hardest.  They feel pressure to choose a career and pursue it aggressively.  They are not ready to make such decisions, and so they seem to float in and out of school, in and out of minimum wage jobs.

Men in the church need to stand up and mentor these young men.  We need to enter their lives and help them seek God's direction for their careers.  We need to encourage them to take risks, and pursue opportunities of service, profit, and education.  We need to share our own struggles and regrets.

If we assume that young men will just figure it out on their own, we are missing a great opportunity to build relationships and shed light on productive next steps.  That would have been a great help to me, even in the day when the next steps were more obvious.

Imagine the spiritual power that will be released when this generation of young men pursues God's direction for their lives, confident that God's energy is flowing through them!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Hijacked by a Hootenanny

Spell check is the special feature that requires you to double check your typing.  I received a text from someone a few months ago, apparently describing accumulating ice in a parking lot.  It said, "Parking lit here has hootenanny awful in the last 20 minutes."  I still have no idea what word was intended.  It amazes me that  whatever the word was, spell check thought the writer meant "hootenanny."  Who uses that word in normal conversation, especially texting?

Then, when I want to wish someone Happy Birthday on Facebook, spell check always thinks I want to say "Jappy."  Why would I want to say that?  Shouldn't there be some outrage about such racist suggestions?

It is a risky thing to complete someone else's thoughts.  But we do it all the time.  As we listen, we tend to hear what we expect to hear.  We put our own hootenannies in the speaker's words.  We fail to listen, and then both parties wonder where communication broke down.

Listening is hard work.  Every day I catch myself failing to listen.  Then I try to reconstruct what the speaker must have been saying.  Whoa, that's dangerous.  I fill in the blanks with what the person must have said.  It's a wonder I can communicate with anybody.  There is no telling what ridiculous ideas I attribute to others.  I hope I'm not as bad as spell check.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Power, Depths, and Despair

I have been seeking to live in the power of Jesus.  He is full of power, more power than we can imagine.  Being with him through prayer, I can open my eyes to his power all around me.  I walked through the grocery store a couple of days ago, realizing that his power was flowing through me.  I have no idea how he used his power through me there, but I was tuned in spiritually.  That's how I want to live every day.

As I dive deeper into Jesus and come ever closer to his heart, I realize that I am also becoming a bigger target for the enemy to mess with.  It's like a secret agent:  the more you penetrate the enemy's organization, the more you have to watch out.

So, the enemy tries to frustrate me, make me fearful, and discourage me.  The more I dive into Jesus, the more of his power I experience and the more the enemy wants to take me out.  That means that I need to spend even more time in prayer to keep my mind tuned in to the truth.

I can count it all joy when I feel discouraged, because it drives me to Jesus, and he reveals the truth to me.  I become stronger and more alive in him.  It's getting dangerous and rewarding.