Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Politics, Faith and People

Whether it has been Chick-Fil-A's public stance on gay marriage or Todd Akin's disastrous comment (I realize I am being generous here) on abortion and rape, political statements polarize. Once we declare our alliances in the ideological fray, we slam doors in the faces of those who disagree and destroy the conversation.

Sadly, many of these charged political statements have been made in the name of Jesus. I understand that Jesus spoke about morality. He established right and wrong, but Jesus preached and demonstrated love and humility. When people walked away from Jesus because they wanted to live their own way, he didn't gloat or smirk; he wept and grieved.

Jesus wasn't a wimp either. He spoke boldly about major moral issues. His economic platform valued sacrifice and abhorred greed. With regard to morality, he equated bullying to murder. He cautioned us to examine ourselves before we judge others. Whenever he spoke, however, the people heard compassion and were moved. He didn't close doors; he tore down walls. He challenged the barriers between race, sex and socioeconomic status. Instead of posting something on a bulletin board or Facebook wall to tell people how to live, he showed them. He talked with them face to face and loved them.

He put people above politics, and as a result, he was executed. This was, in fact, his goal. Though many politicians today complain about being "crucified by the media" for comments they make, none of them are willing or able to die for their constituents to make this world a better place. In the spirit of the sacrifice Christ made on behalf of the world, I challenge everyone to put down their keyboards, smartphones and megaphones, look someone in the eye and love them. Have changing conversation, not a competitive debate.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Reason To Live: What If . . .

When I began in ministry, about fifteen years ago, I went to seminars where I learned how to “witness” to people. Many of the tools or methods used to talk with people about their faith had similar methods, though some relied on different visual aids, techniques or gimmicks to attract someone’s attention. There was the famous bridge illustration, the tract that looked like a $100 bill until you opened it, the Christmas gift boxes telling of the birth of Jesus and the Easter eggs telling the story of His death. I am not trying to criticize these creative or clever tools. No doubt many of them, when used appropriately helped a person see faith in a way that they had not before.

The key, according to my “training” was to bring people to one question. This question was the closer. You saved it for last to seal the deal. Though this question never appears in the Bible, evangelists everywhere touted its effectiveness . . .

If you died tonight, do you know you would go to heaven?

Unlike many people, I moved around during my junior high and high school years. I am not very connected to the people who grew up with me. I am friends with a few people on facebook now, but before that, I would only receive an occasional call or letter. Mostly I hear about marriages, children or deaths. I know more people from my school days that have killed themselves than died from heart disease, cancer or automobile accidents combined. The number four cause of death for people in my age (35-44)* group is suicide.

People are hurting. What if we are asking the wrong question?

If live another 30, 40, 50 years on this planet, do you feel that you have a purpose, a reason?

What is the reason?

*Data Source: National Vital Statistics System, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Valentine's Day Wisdom

John Wooden coached the UCLA basketball team to ten NCAA Championships during his career between 1948-1975. When he died in June of 2010 at 99, he left a legacy of wisdom that far surpassed the arena of basketball.

Watch his inspiring story of true love.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


call·ing (noun) \ˈkȯ-liŋ\1 : a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence

Over the last few months, I have announced to family, friends, colleagues and students that after fourteen years in public education, I have felt the call of God to enter full-time ministry. The response has been mixed.

From those within my church, I received overwhelming support and congratulations. Many of them expect me to be confident and excited when they hear of plans to begin seminary and start a new life. Those outside the church have been very polite, but confused. Calling? What does that mean? I don’t necessarily think that people within the church understand any better, perhaps they are too embarrassed to ask. I have no intentions in explaining the concept of calling, mainly because I do not think I adequately can, but I hope that my experience can bring others peace.

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14

While the concept of calling has been intimately connected to a career or work in many faiths and cultures, the idea of a specific calling from God has baffled many of those to strive to follow Christ regardless of their area of employment. I have not been an exception to this rule. I struggled with the idea of being called to the ministry since my undergraduate days. My question wasn’t about necessarily about if I was called, but whether or not there were people God didn’t call. Think about it. Are there some that are called to do God’s work, and everyone else is essentially off the hook? It didn’t make sense. I decided at that point in my life, that I wasn’t called to full time ministry. This is good, because at that time, I wasn’t.

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit,
showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8

I started a career as a public school teacher because I was called. I felt I was gifted as a teacher and had the ability to reach young people. I myself became a Christian at seventeen, and I thought I could have a greater impact in a public school than in a church setting. So for fourteen years that is what I did. I grew excited every fall and lamented each summer. This time in my life bore fruit in many ways. The students responded as I ministered through after school clubs, as a church youth leader, in my coaching and individual mentoring. In addition, I grew in faith and maturity as a spiritual leader in my home and church. Each school year brought renewed hope and purpose, until this year.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is
—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

Let me clear something up, I have not decided to go into ministry to get away from teaching.  On the contrary, things are going very well. Earlier this year, the student body selected me as their faculty homecoming king and many students request my classes. Though trends in education were diminishing my influence on students, my experience and seniority have made my work relatively easy. I lived quite comfortably with my current salary, and in fifteen years, I could coast into retirement at a relatively young age. I was conforming, and I wasn’t the only one. I saw those around me, many claiming to be Christians, become content with a relaxed, isolated, suburban existence. This apathy among those who claim to follow Christ created unrest in my soul; I sensed God calling me to full-time ministry.

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesians 4:1a

When I first approached the subject of quitting my job to start seminary with my wife, I prepared myself with many arguments and justifications. To my astonishment, my wife completely agreed. Her peace about this situation is significant because of her personality. She is a planner, a “Type A”, yet she is completely convinced that this is something God is calling our family to do. That is it. No audible voice, no visionary dream, no burning bush. I quit my job and applied to seminary. While this ride is exhilarating, it is also terrifying, and though we are concerned with what the future holds, nothing has ever seemed more real than the call.

"Calling." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2012. Merriam-Webster Online.  8 February 2012. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calling

Note: It is my hope not to demystify the calling experience or distill it into something tangible or simple. While I feel confidence in this call, I believe it is a unique confidence that has grown as I deepen in this process. The first steps are always the most frightening.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Theological Musings of a 5 Year-Old

Jacob: I love you mommy!

Mommy: I love you too buddy!

Jacob: Can I tell you why I love you mommy?

Mommy: Sure.

Jacob: Cause God loves me so that is why I love you and that is how I love God.  So everybody should do that.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me."
Matthew  18:1-5