How Christians Must Respond to the Orlando Tragedy

We awakened Sunday morning to the tragic news coming out of Orlando, Florida. A man with apparent self-proclaimed allegiances to ISIS opened fire in a gay nightclub early in the morning, killing at least 50 people and injuring over 50 more.

This is now categorized as the worst mass shooting in American history. Men and women lost their lives. Parents lost children. Brothers and sisters lost their siblings. And a nation mourns.

I confess I did not read the full story until late on Sunday afternoon and therefore, unfortunately, did not mention this tragedy as our church gathered together for worship yesterday morning. When I read the story and subsequently watched some of the video coming from Orlando, emotions swirled within me.

Once again we offer a hashtag "#PrayFor" notification on social media. This time it's not Lahore or Paris or Brussels, but is for the people of a city less than three hours from my home. Maybe "#PrayForOrlando" needs to be replaced with "#ImPrayingForOrlando" to ensure that the hashtag is less a command and more a declaration of action. Yes, prayer is active, not passive.

The terrorist connection is frightening for those in our nation, our state and especially for those in Orlando. Every time a terror connection is revealed, those who can remember are thrust back to September 11, 2001 when Islamic extremist terrorism became a reality to all of us.

Pray for Orlando

 

How We Must Respond

Let's be honest, the church (and I am referring to the conservative, evangelical, Baptist flavor of which I am part) has great potential for really messing up here with response. This is clearly due to the reality that the Islamic terrorist is, well...a Muslim, and those who were killed and injured are most likely lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. Oh, and they were in a nightclub.

While posting a "#PrayForParis" or other such statement on social media just seems like the right thing to do, some Christians may initially struggle with offering a "#PrayForOrlando" statement for fear that they will be viewed as affirming things they feel strongly against (in this case, the LGBT lifestyle.)

These are just my thoughts on how Christians and the church should respond.

STOP - Seriously, just stop what you're doing for a moment. Take a pause. As news continues to pour out from Orlando and in news conferences in front of the Pulse Nightclub, stop what you're doing. Stop scrolling through trending stories on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. What has become more common as we move into a more inter-connected, technology-driven world, we find ourselves searching online to see what others are saying. I'm guilty of this and also of what many others find easy to do - vent online. Don't. Guard your hearts and stop for just a moment and think about the reality of what has happened.

PRAY 

Yes, really pray! In my life, I've discovered the intentional pause leads to deeper prayer. People are angry. People are afraid. People are hurting. Pray for the city of Orlando, but more for the people of Orlando and especially those directly touched by the tragedy. You do not have to agree nor affirm a person's lifestyle to grieve over them. Pray for the family members, friends and yes, even lovers of those killed. 

GRIEVE

Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15) Names are now being released of those who were killed. These are not generic "extras" in a film or digital creations in a video game. These are real people. They were killed in a nightclub marketed to the LGBT community. These people are image-bearers of God who had their lives erased in a moment of hatred and terror. 

I read this morning the transcript of text messages sent from a young man to his mother as he and others were hiding in a restroom. The messages are haunting as he stated "He's coming. I'm going to die!" He has been confirmed as one of the victims and his mother is left, as are many others, grieving and questioning and now wondering "What could I have done?" As a parent, my heart goes out to the many who are being notified this morning, grieving the loss of a son or daughter and now thrust into the public spotlight as they mourn and ultimately have to plan a funeral soon.

BE SILENT, BUT SPEAK HOPE AND LOVE WHEN YOU MUST

Okay, this seems contradictory, but hear me out. At times the very best counsel and help a Christian can offer others is the ministry of presence. Just be there. You don't have to go to Orlando to do this. Believe me, as this story unfolds, there are many in your community and church, and even your family, who are shaken by this. Some because of the connection to the LGBT community or their own self-identity as LGBT. Others because of the affinity of age with those murdered. Some because they have friends or coworkers who may be more like the terrorist than they wanted to admit and now political correctness seems way too overrated.

Grief and fear are often bedfellows. So, as one who has hope, just BE THERE. And, when you do speak, go to Scripture, but not as the Pharisaical legalists do. In fact, I'd recommend you live out the Scripture. At this point the #LoveWins hashtag needs to not be about gay marriage, but about Christ-centered, Gospel-focused love for those who need it (and we all need it.) Questions such as "Why?" will come, and simple, man-centered answers never suffice. 

Following the mall shooting in Omaha in 2007, Erik Raymond wrote these words...

First and foremost an event like this is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. The basic answer to the question as to why the trigger was pulled once, never mind 40 to 50 times, is a rebellion from and a hatred of God. At its must fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die today in this mall is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23). Death is the sword of sin, it cuts deep and far, and spares none.

How Christians respond to this tragedy should be no different than how we respond to other depraved events where it seems evil is triumphant.

It is at these moments, Christ's love must shine through. We remember clearly that we are His ambassadors. This is a heavy calling. Respond well.

 

 


The Danger of Easy Christianity

On Sunday, I entered into a conversation with a good friend following the testimony presented by our church planting intern, Adam Wiggins. His story of redemption from a life far from God is inspiring and continues to impact many for the sake of the gospel. While talking with this friend, the discussion shifted to the failures at times we (the church and believers) have in effectively discipling new believers and worse, yet, offering a Christianity that is little more than a spiritual equivalent of joining a club.

 

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Photo credit: delete08 via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

 

 

Author and speaker, Rosaria Butterfield shared in her story of change, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, how becoming a Christian meant so much more than just "praying a prayer."

Making a life commitment to Christ was not merely a philosophical shift. It was not a one-step process. It did not involve rearranging the surface prejudices and fickle loyalties of my life. Conversion didn't "fit" my life. Conversion overhauled my soul and personality. It was arduous and intense. I experienced with great depth the power and authority of God in my life. In it I learned - and am still learning - how to love God will all my heart, soul, strength and mind. When you die to yourself, you have nothing from your past to use as clay out of which to shape your future.

Recently, on vacation in South Carolina, my husband and I went to a "community church." My conservative Reformed Presbyterian pastor and husband noted when we got back to the hotel room that we had just witnessed a service that contained a baptism without water, preaching without scripture, conversation about disappointment and pithy observations about financial responsibility without prayer, the distribution of flowers and trinkets without grace, and a dismissal without a blessing. Everyone was smiling, though, when it came time to walk out the door. This church's conversion prayer was printed in the bulletin. It read like this: "Dear God, I'm so sorry for my mistakes. Thanks for my salvation."

These misrepresentations of the gospel are dangerous and misleading. Sin is not a mistake. A mistake is taking the wrong exit on the highway. A sin is treason against a Holy God. A mistake is a logical misstep. Sin lurks in our heart and grabs us by the throat to do its bidding.

Strong words, but not wrong words. The problem presented is not the non-denominationalism of the community church. It's not in the methods, but ultimately in the lack of message. Easy Christianity is sold as an add-on to our already busy lives. It is a weak presentation of invaluable truth.

A.W. Tozer writes of this...

But now, after that ye . . . are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements? Galatians 4:9

I am not in the business of trying to downgrade any other believer’s efforts to win souls. I am just of the opinion that we are often too casual and there are too many tricks that can be used to make soul-winning encounters completely “painless” and at “no cost” and without any “inconvenience.”

Some of the unsaved with whom we deal on the “quick and easy” basis have such little preparation and are so ignorant of the plan of salvation that they would be willing to bow their heads and “accept” Buddha or Zoroaster if they thought they could get rid of us in that way.

To “accept Christ” in anything like a saving relationship is to have an attachment to the Person of Christ that is revolutionary, complete and exclusive!

It is more than joining some group that you like. It is more than having enjoyable social fellowship with other nice people. You give your heart and life and soul to Jesus Christ—and He becomes the center of your transformed life!

Lord, as Your followers share the gospel around the world today, I pray that each hearer will have a clear understanding of the consequences of the decision they will make to either accept or reject Jesus. (from Mornings with Tozer)

Becoming a Christian doesn't need to be difficult in the sense we create man-made hoops which to jump through. However, Christianity is not simply the spiritual addition to our lives. It is transformational, life-changing, eternity-securing and is not formulaic, though the road maps to total surrender are revealed in Scripture.


firstFAMILY Podcast 011: Miami Church Planting, Multi-Gen Ministry, Immigration & Obama in Cuba

17746_399302130177912_1603670005_nThis week I interview my friend Al Fernandez. Al serves as Regional Catalyst for the Southeastern part of Florida with the Florida Baptist Convention. His insight into the cultural diversity of Miami and surrounding areas is vital.

In this episode we talk about church planting in Miami and the cultural challenges that exist. We discuss the focus on second and third generations in the church, where Spanish and English collide. I also talk with Al, a second generation Cuban-American, about the recent trip by President Obama and how the Cuban people in Miami are responding.


That Medium Show Is a Large Waste of Time

As I sit here at home after filling out my bracket for our family challenge for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, and awaiting the beginning of a show on the Hallmark Channel my wife likes to watch (and, so I watch it with her) we're flipping channels. It's at these times it becomes clear that even though we have hundreds of channels available...THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ON!

Nevertheless, we stop on TLC for a moment (not sure why) and a show about a women in New York who claims to be a medium. After watching about five minutes, it becomes clear this show is ridiculous. That's five minutes I'll never get back. Oh, and while losing these five minutes, a commercial for a new show, featuring a young man in Hollywood was shown. He, too, claims to be a medium. (GROAN!!!)

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Photo credit: ERIO via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

So, before discovering Steve Harvey has a new show where he interviews kids that actually seems entertaining, my wife and I talked a bit about this concept of being a medium.

According to GotQuestions.org, here's a pretty good, biblical answer regarding mediums

In both modern and ancient times, a medium is a person who communicates with spirits, usually apart from the use of witchcraft. A medium is, literally, an “intermediary” between the spirit world and ours. The Bible condemns the practice of mediumship, and attempting to speak to the dead, through séances or other means, is expressly forbidden.

Sometimes mediums are called “channelers,” as they allegedly “channel” communication from the dead to the living. A medium might only communicate with one or more specific spirits (called “familiars” or “familiar spirits”), or the communication may be spread across many different spirits. The messages may come audibly, visually, or through physical sensations. Modern mediums distinguish themselves from psychics, who only read the “energies” of a person or place and do not communicate with actual spirits. (The term “psychic medium” can confuse the issue.) Also, a medium is not necessarily a witch, wizard, sorcerer, or necromancer, since mediums believe that their communication with the spirit world is an inherent ability. The fictional character Cole Sear in the movie The Sixth Sense would be considered a medium.

Mediums are referenced in several passages of the Old Testament. In Leviticus 20:27 mediums are condemned along with “spiritists.” Deuteronomy 18:10–11 echoes Leviticus and expands it, including diviners, sorcerers, witches/wizards, anyone who casts spells, and anyone who practices child sacrifice.

In a culture where a biblical worldview is a foreign concept, the desire for spirituality remains. We are, at our core, spiritual beings. We are made in the image of God. We worship in spirit and truth. When it comes to mediums, I'd recommend avoiding the shows highlighting the practice and, more importantly, do not engage in the practice or with those who do. If you ever feel like talking to the dead, go watch a Steve Harvey show instead. 


"Binding Satan" and Other False Teachings

This morning as I was studying the Bible I came across the passage in Mark 3 where Jesus speaks of "binding the strong man." Here's the passage in context...

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and"by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." And he called them to him and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. Mark 3:22-27 (ESV)

While studying about false doctrines and teachings that have infiltrated the church, I ran across a statement I have heard said by Christians over the years regarding "binding Satan." In most cases, the phrase is used as a declaration or as part of a sermon. For instance, "We need to bind Satan in this city!" or some such phrase.

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It sounds Christian and even alludes to the passage in Mark 3. 

The only problem is that the Bible says nothing about Christians binding Satan.

When Dr. John MacArthur was asked "What does 'binding Satan' mean?" he responded, "I don't know. It's not in the Bible."

Dr. Tony Evans addresses the Mark passage this way:

Some Christians, usually in the Charismatic or Pentecostal movements, apply Jesus’ parable to the spiritual warfare that believers must wage. They teach that Christians are the ones who must “bind the strong man” in their lives or in their cities and then win the victory in Jesus’ name. Some Charismatic preachers even name the “strong men” and attempt to identify the cities or geographical areas over which they hold power. Such doctrines go far beyond what Jesus said. The Lord’s parable was simply to impress upon the scribes that He was not in league with Satan. Never does Jesus instruct us to “bind the strong man” or tell us how to do it. We do not have warrant to interpret the parable as a spiritual reality over geographical regions.

False Doctrines Abound

Spiritually sounding phrases laced with just enough "amens, brothers, hallelujahs" and other such church terms often become accepted as gospel by Christians and church attenders who have settled into allowing others to read the Bible for them and have refused to "study to show themselves approved."

I am reading passages in Acts 20, 2 Corinthians 11 and 2 Timothy 2. There is a common thread running throughout these books. The thread is that of warning to the church. Warnings regarding false teachings, false doctrines and false teachers. The enemy has sought to twist the gospel and the words of God since the very beginning. Now, with two-thousand years of church life, we have a cumulative gathering of false teachings to swim through. 

The wise Christian recognizes this reality. The pastor understands the heft of his responsibility.

Perhaps more dangerous than the overt abandonment of biblical doctrine is the increase in religious talk that sounds biblical, uses biblical terms, but twists the meanings of Scripture to present another story. 

These warnings in Scripture are for the church, for those already immersed in the body of believers. The battle rages, but the weapons are unique in this venue. Doctrine does matter. So, stop "binding Satan" and handle the word of truth well.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)


The Pope vs. The Donald

It seems like a reality show, but that shouldn't be a surprise. Our culture has embraced the reality show and ratings over the past few years prove this to be true. The race for the Presidency features celebrities (regardless how these men and women desire to describe themselves, they are now celebrities) vying to be the last man or woman standing in this version of Survivor. 

There are alliances.

There are tribal councils (we call them debates, but as any debate coach would tell you, these really aren't debates) where many candidates seem to be voted off the island following the event. Now, there's no host quenching a torch here, but when poll numbers come in after these events, the number of participants on the stage dwindles. So far, the Republicans have lost the JV and others from their large tribe. The Democrats have lost members as well.

Eventually there will be a tribal merger with only two candidates left - a Republican and a Democrat (and a bunch of independents and smaller party representatives, but as history shows, they really have no chance to win.)

This week a surprise element entered the story. This would be akin to a "very special episode" of a television show. 

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Photo credit: DonkeyHotey via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The surprise element in this race is Pope Francis. As head of the Catholic church, the Pope was asked his opinion on Donald Trump (the Republican front-runner) as a candidate and his plans if elected President of the United States.

"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel." Pope Francis

That quote set off a firestorm. The Pope apparently declared that Donald Trump is not a Christian. And, surprisingly, this offended people, even The Donald.

The networks are loving it! Because...ratings.

Donald Trump responded with a prepared statement.

"The pope said something to the effect that maybe Donald Trump isn't Christian, okay? And he's questioning my faith, I was very surprised to see it. For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful." - Donald Trump

Now, softer responses are coming out from the Trump camp and even from the Catholic church. But, that doesn't really matter. The story is taking off and the question of "What is a Christian?" is now, once again, making headlines.

The internet and media are exploding with opinions regarding the divide. Republican Catholics who support Trump are frustrated with the Pope. Moderate Catholics who oppose Trump are celebrating the Pope. Evangelicals who do not view the Pope as the leader of the church, much less the voice of Christianity, are cringing that these discussions are happening. Non-believers don't care about the divide, but wonder why others do. Opponents to Christianity just shake their head and state that this is just another story about the idiocy that is Christianity.

Basically, everyone is offended.

And the reality show continues on.

The big difference between this reality show and the ones funded by the networks is that this one really matters. It's not just a game. This is much more serious.

What Is a Christian?

And, bigger and more important than the political fallout is the question that has come to the forefront - "What is a Christian?"

Many followers of Jesus Christ are now being asked this question. Friends, family members, coworkers and even fellow students and acquaintances are asking the question. What's needed is the answer.

This is when the reality show really matters. 

This is when it's more than a show, but reality.

Are We Prepared to Respond?

Are we ready to respond?

Are we prepared with a winsome, truthful, honest, and potentially offensive answer? Not offensive for the sake of offending, but offensive because the Gospel is offensive! Offensive because the reality is that not everyone is a Christian. I'm not agreeing with how the Pope defines true Christianity here, so don't misread this. I'm also not agreeing with Donald Trump with how he may define true Christianity, so there.

I am agreeing with Scripture alone.

So understanding this, we must be prepared with the answer that is being sought (and most are not really seeking the true answer, but be diligent.)

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

 


Broken or Just Embarrassed?

There are numerous times I am asked to pray for family members and loved ones of friends who seem to be walking away from God or are overtly anti-Christian, anti-church, and anti-God. The heartbreak of parents lamenting the walking away of children from the faith is overwhelming. The church is full of parents struggling with the prodigal story. Some sought to raise their children in the faith. Others came to Christ later in life themselves and lament the lost years where God was not honored in the home.

As I sort through the emotions that come with these stories (and there are many stories like this) I must also look at my own response. As others in the ministry can attest, we are not protected from these stories. They often become more than something we are seeking to help others manage, but also biographical.

It wasn't long ago a question came to my mind.

I'm ashamed to even admit the answer to the question that I offered, yet as I continue through this journey of life, perhaps others have felt this as well.

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In the midst of the hurt, the grief, and the pain, when a child (or a spouse, close friend, other loved one...you pick the scenario) walks away from a life of Christ-centeredness, church, morality and a biblical worldview, am I broken for the sin expressed or just embarrassed by how these actions make me appear?

Oh, I know the right answer.

As a Christian, sin should grieve me. I should have compassion for those struggling with faith questions. I should pray for the Light of the world to shine brightly through the encompassing darkness loved ones find around them. I should be broken, seriously broken for how sin has entered my story and kidnapped my beloved. 

That's how Christ expressed his feelings over the people, right?

Right.

Yet, because of self-centeredness and a religious viewpoint on many things, that which should be expressed is suppressed. Am I really broken, or just embarrassed? When a person is hurt by a loved one the pain goes much deeper than if it were just from an acquaintance. If hurt by a stranger, anger may be expressed, but again, it's not as deep as from a loved one.

I think of Judas' kiss and betrayal of Christ. He was not just a member of the crowd. He was a close friend, a loved one, one of the twelve. Oh, I know he was a thief from the beginning. So did Christ. Yet, I also know that Judas was loved.

The betrayal hurt, but only a loved one can betray, right?

So friends as you sort through your responses to prodigal children, betraying spouses, hurtful relatives and those who seemingly walk out of the church never to return (at least via their expressed plans) how do you feel?

Yeah, feelings are dangerous, yet you still have them. So, how do you feel?

Beyond the anger, frustration, and hurt, does the sin that seemingly kidnapped your loved one leave you broken in grief and moved to deeper prayer and trust in a God who loves your loved ones more than even you? Or...and this may surprise you at the truth...are you really just embarrassed because of how your loved one has chosen to walk away? In many cases, the walk away isn't hidden from your church family and friends. Thanks to social media and an inability for most people to live their lives privately, everyone (it seems) will soon know the lifestyle choices of your loved one.

And that may leave you embarrassed, right?

Or...broken.

May we see the story for what it is and understand the Enemy's tactics well. May we have compassion for those who are far from God and remove ourselves from the center of the story. If my embarrassment is the primary factor, the story is all about me! Yet, brokenness over lostness leads to reliance on the God of grace and mercy. 

Life is difficult and no story runs smoothly, especially if you're intent on honoring God. However, it is wise to remember the depth and strength of the love of an unchanging God in the midst of the difficult days. Continue to love people, even those who have betrayed you. That, my friends, is impossible apart from the grace of God.

In truth, I'm embarrassed that I have been more embarrassed than broken.

Of this, I repent.


I Just Wanted to Eat My Donut In Peace

I woke up pretty early this morning with a plan.

Every Wednesday, I lead a boys' mentoring group at one of our local junior high schools. That begins at 8am. It finishes around 9:15am or so and I head to my office at church. I then have a 10:30am Bible study for senior adults each week. These are two highlights of my mid-week. 

So, as is the case on Wednesdays often, I stopped at our local Dunkin' Donuts for a coffee and a French Cruller (an incredibly good donut that is low-calorie because there's so much air inside - well, that's my theory.) The employees see me coming and now, these two items are always waiting. I'm a creature of habit. One of these days, I'm going to mess with them and get a frosted donut. It'll blow their minds!

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Nevertheless, my plan was simple. Drink my coffee. Eat my donut. Sit in a booth, read my Bible app and study for the day's sessions.

Please Leave Me Alone So I Can Do Some Christian Stuff

Everything was going according to plan. I was not seeking to engage anyone in conversation. I simply wanted to be left alone to read. You know, like you feel on an airplane when you just want to read, watch a show on your iPad and not have to talk to the stranger seated next to you. This is why Dr. Dre invented Beats - so you can put on headphones on an airplane. These headphones declare "Leave me alone" to the rest of the passengers.

My Beats are blue, by the way.

Well, as you have probably figured out by now, a woman came into the donut shop. She sat in the booth directly in front of me, and was facing me.

Awkward!

I looked up and it felt like we were sitting at the same booth, especially since there was nothing but empty benches in between us.

I smiled and said "Hello" because that's what nice, Christian guys do.

She said "Hello" back.

Whew! That was close. I thought we'd have to actually talk. Remember... I wanted to be left alone.

Then, this woman asked if I lived near the donut shop and she began talking about the community and how nice, but different it was. She lives on the Westside of Jacksonville and was going to a doctor's appointment in a nearby office. She was just waiting at the donut shop because her taxi picked her up too early.

Oh, she's a single mother with two adult children and a teenager. She is having a tough time and is dealing with fear and worry about some life situations.

How do I know this?

You guessed it. She began to talk to me and I had to listen.

Are You A Christian?

She then said, "Are you a Christian?"

What? Why would she ask this? I'm definitely a Christian, but I wasn't reading my Bible (just the app) and am not wearing anything with Jesus fish or other churchy embroidery on it. I mean, I'm honored she asked and I said, "Yes" unapologetically, but was wondering why she asked.

I thought "I wonder what she thinks about Christians?" and yet, it wasn't going to change my answer.

I then asked, "How did you know I was a Christian?"

She said, "I don't know. I just did."

Hmmmm.

At this point, I figured I was all in on this potential divine encounter. In other words, I thought "Okay, God. I get it." 

I closed my iPad and asked her "Are you a Christian?"

She answered "Yes" and then moved into my booth.

That was unexpected and caused me a little discomfort.

Are You a Preacher?

She then asked, "Are you a preacher?"

Oh boy, now I'm caught. Do I look like a preacher? I don't slick my hair back (don't have enough to do that). I don't talk with a preacher voice. I didn't say "sister" or "amen" every other phrase. I am wearing a golf shirt and khakis. I looked like a Best Buy employee. I didn't even have the traditional preacher uniform on (I knew I should've worn my Chuck Taylors today).

I answered "Yes" and discovered that apparently caused her relief.

Nonetheless, we talked for about fifteen minutes. She shared her story a bit. I stated that I had to leave to go to the junior high. Then we prayed. We prayed for strength and for power. We prayed for the worry that had overtaken her that led to an unhealthy fear and stress would be relieved by God's Spirit. We prayed over her children. 

Then I said, "Good-bye."

I don't share this to say "Hey look at me. I did a good Christian thing."

I share this because I intently did NOT want to engage anyone in conversation. I wanted to just go through my routine. I wanted to read my Bible, not talk to someone about the Bible. I wanted to eat my French Cruller (well, I did to that) and drink my coffee in peace.

And then she showed up.

And then God nudged me as if to say "This is why you're here right now."

I wonder how many times I miss the moment? I wonder how many times my routine reigns in my life so I can just get through another day? I wonder how she knew I was a Christian, much less a pastor? I wonder where I can go to eat a donut in peace? Ha ha.

Nevertheless, I was reminded of this verse...

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

So friends. Be ready. Oh, and if someone says "You look like a Christian" that hopefully, is a good thing (unless their idea of a Christian is some warped caricature. In that case, just be real and change that perspective.)


Linus' Blanket and the Story of Christmas

I received an email from one of our pastors, Patrick Hayle, this week. You may have read this before and as far as I can tell with my intense search of Snopes.com, this internet story is actually true.

A Charlie Brown Christmas Message

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Have you ever noticed that while Linus is sharing the real meaning of Christmas (in the television special "A Charlie Brown Christmas") he drops his blanket? Linus always carries his security blanket. Yet, he drops it just as he says, "Fear not."

 

As Charles Schultz realized and wanted to share in a very simple way...

  • The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears.
  • The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves.
  • The birth of Jesus allows us to let go of the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead.

Merry Christmas!

Oh, and for those who point out that Linus picks up his blanket after delivering his Christmas sermon, check out Jason Soroski's article on Crosswalk here.


A Simple Gesture Makes a Major Impact

AN ORPHAN SUNDAY STORY. . .

Sometimes the seemingly "little things" mean more than we know.

Yesterday, we celebrated Orphan Sunday at our church and honored and prayed over the families who either are just entering the foster-care/adoption journey or have been a part of this story for years.

The stories were similar in that they all pertained to orphan care, but so unique due to each circumstance. Stories ranged from the joy and fear shared by young couples who have completed their required classes and home study and now are waiting for a placement, to those who adopted decades prior and honestly shared how the journey has been difficult and, at times, heart-wrenching. . .but ended with "I'd do it all over again." One couple revealed that they had fostered 120 children in their lifetime and had adopted seven. Another shared their adoption of a young man diagnosed with a mental disability. One couple shared how they had adopted two boys years ago and then the father stated "I was adopted as well." Wow! 

Some of the families who shared have been part of our church family for years. Others, for days. 

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I received this email from one of the moms who stood before the church to share and to receive the church's prayers. She and her husband are new to our church. They have brought a little boy into their family who faces some difficulties. Her note to me was another reminder of how great our God is and how being adopted into His family is vital. I asked permission to share this and it was granted:

Hi Pastor :)  
 
 
I just wanted to write and let you know that we really enjoyed and were encouraged by your sermon today.  Also, I wanted to share with you about something that happened while we were leaving.  I walked out of the gym (FYI - our 9:15am worship service is held in our Family Ministry Center/Gymnasium) and paused to let a lady pass. She came to me and said, "I just want to hug you" and she did.  I was caught off guard and was trying to figure out if I knew the woman... "Why was she wanting to hug me?"  It was not until I saw her walk away and fighting off tears that I realized she was touched by the sermon we heard this morning.  I have no idea who this lady is or if I will recognize her the next time I see her (I'm horrible with remembering faces) but as I was sitting in my car thinking about what had just occurred, I realized that she was expressing God's love and I was instantly overwhelmed in that moment.
 
I know we will be going through some tough times this week and I believe fully that I will look back at this simple hug from a woman that I do not know and I will feel comfort. Another thought is that this woman probably has no idea just how much that hug and seeing her love through tears means to me.  This is exactly what you have been talking about, she has, without even knowing it, supported my family by simply sharing raw emotion and an embrace of love.    
 
I know you do not know our story, but like many others', it is a tough one.  We love our little guy and have faith that God will continue to heal him.  We definitely have some challenging times ahead of us and I am thankful that we have found a church family to help us not only get through these tough times, but that will be fighting with us and encouraging us along the way.