Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who Are The Un-Wanted at Your Church?

Does your church turn people away?

While we may never wish to admit it,
there are many who want to keep things...
the way they are now.
And in doing so, turn down opportunities
to be “Christ” to those who suffer, or are simply different.

Perhaps you have seen this behavior in action:
the inter-racially mixed couple who is asked to leave,
the homeless person who is dirty and smelly,
the single mom, struggling with doubt and living on food-stamps,
the man who arrives intoxicated and stumbling.

Or, the more common version of the “family” squabble:
the Choir versus the Worship Band -
‘old-folks’ who thinks some music is too loud and irreverent,
and ‘young-punks’, who think rock music and saggy jeans belong.

You name it, and we have seen a reason found
to disregard those different from ourselves
as less holy, less loved, 
and less deserving of God.

While serving my time, I was exposed to one group
whose sheer presence makes many ‘outside’ people
quake in fear for their lives...
they often have long hair and beards,
sleeveless shirts with multiple tattoos,
yet they came “inside” to minister to prisoners:
Bikers For Christ. (click to learn more)

I hadn’t thought about them until recently
when a young man shared a spectacular story:
It seems his father’s small church was struggling financially
and when things already seemed tight, an unexpected bill arrived.
Now, the church owed $3,000 more taxes than normal,
and knew there was no way to bring it in on such short notice.
So they held a raffle,
and while I cannot recall the prizes,
I do remember the result.

One Saturday morning, while the tables were being set up,
twenty or so ‘bikers’ rode in on their loud motorcycles.
Everyone there froze from the volume of noise.
One huge man got off his bike and approached the minister.
There was an embrace, some tears, and then a few good laughs.
Then the biker waved to his friends, and himself paid $200 for tickets.
Each biker in the group did likewise, to a lesser amount.
And by 10:30 in the morning, the small church had raised nearly $2000,
before anyone else had really shown up to participate.

When I asked the young man if the biker was a Christian,
he said he did not know.
But that somehow, the biker remembered his father’s name
from the time they spent talking in prison.
So when the biker had heard of the churches struggle,
he got his friends together,
and rode out to help.

You may not think much of this story
but maybe you could ask yourself this...
if you will not go into jail/prison to preach Christ,
will you accept those “coming-out” into your church?

Everyone deserves to know
the loving sacrifice Christ made on their behalf.
How will you see “them”?

Friday, August 26, 2011

The High Cost of Pride, and Changing Perspective

In prison I learned much about myself
and the pride which told me
I could do anything I wish
without every having to pay the consequences.
My anger seemed justified when I drunkenly thought,
“How dare they not be available to drive me home
after I asked for them to do so!?!”
Hurt? Yes.
Justified? No.
And two people were injured as a result when I drove myself.

But my problem of pride didn’t begin there.
It was much earlier on when I somehow decided
that my value was determined by my personal view of myself
of the actions and behaviors of others toward me.
As long as ‘others’ liked me, or I had a good view of myself,
then I could do anything I want without being ‘disapproved’ of.

Pride is the sin satan uses most to undermine God’s value of me.
Yet if I sit still too long, I don’t like myself, or my past choices,
but if I get up and ACT, without asking God and WAITING on Him,
then I take power into my own hands,
and I miss what God intends by trusting Him.
This is my own pride rearing its ugly head again.

The lie that I must do something to make my situation better.
Otherwise, I may not like myself...

We often have a backwards thinking on this:
“Once I feel good about myself,
then my behavior will change,
after that my attitude will improve,
and my perspective on life will get better.

But it needs to be the other way around:
God loves you for who you are now,
and He will show you what you need to learn to live a better life,
then attitudes change and behaviors improve,
and finally you feel better about life.

What is the ONE BIG THING that you need to do to improve you perspective on life right now?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Waste of Second-Guessing Our Lives

Everyone has done it.
When given the time to think long enough,
we look back at our life and wonder...
"What if things had been different?"
It is a good question, with only one exception,
it does us no good if we cannot learn from it and change.
Often the time we take to ponder the past is a waste
and it allows satan too much fertile ground
to undermine our value in Christ.

Examples I have heard from the men I meet with:
*My wife ignores me,
she probably doesn’t think much of me,
maybe I shouldn't have married her,
wish I could find someone to love me,
and now I would feel justified if I cheat.

*The kids are a disaster,
my wife says I expect too much of them,
one is flunking out of school, while the other was arrested for shop-lifting,
maybe I ‘m a terrible dad and should never have had kids,
now my anger seems justified because there is no way out.

*My parents hate me.
They constantly remind me of all my failures,
especially the set-backs at work which cost me my job,
Now my family is struggling to survive, but all they see is how stupid I am,
Wish I could die, but I am too much a coward for suicide.

*I screwed up again.
There are only a few people who like me,
but for fun we get-high and steal things like cars,
and now I am going back “inside”, to the disappointment of everyone I know,
Maybe this is all I will ever know in life, and there is nothing better for me.

What do we all learn from this heartbreak of “reflecting”?

*Our past mistakes and triumphs become an illusion
when held on to for any reason other than to worship God.

It doesn’t help me, nor glorify Jesus, to beat myself up over the past.
Mistakes or not, it is time I learn to grow in faith,
believing in Gods value of me through the blood of Christ.

What does it mean if no one likes you
and your kids won’t respect you?
That your past behavior is built on a lie,
and now it can change for the better.
Pleasing everyone else is not the answer,
nor is asking for everyone else to please you.
You can learn to accept others for exactly how they love you,
however imperfect it may seem.
And you can spend more time with them,
seeking to know them better
even as you get to know yourself through their eyes.

The past changes when you see it as a tool for learning,
and now you can make new choices based on the TRUTH.
What you do with the time you have now
makes all the difference
in how people will see you in the future.

Try living with Christ,
accepting His love for you,
then share it with others,
and you will notice a change within.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Us Versus Them, and the Legacy We Leave Behind

What do you think when you see
inmate work-crews on the side of the road?
Do you mumble to yourself how you hope they all die?
Or to yourself say how you hope they are never released?
Maybe you angrily yell from your car window
of your hope that they all burn in hell for eternity?

In any case, we have given ourselves the freedom
to condemn “them”, and justify our anger
as a kind of target for our own lives’ frustrations.

But is this how we want to be remembered?

To reinforce the point, I put forth Michael Vick,
the professional Quarterback in the NFL
who went to prison and has now returned to play again.
Many people think he doesn’t deserve a second chance.
The article in Sports Illustrated from earlier this year:
link here- Is It OK To Cheer For Michael Vick?
makes clear there is still a divide in America.
His bloody dog kennels are now infamous,
as is his attempts to downplay the part he played.
But after serving his time in prison,
asking for help from a reliable mentor - Tony Dungy,
award winning professional Football coach
with a heart for God. (more about them Here)
do we hope Mike can change and succeed?

Are we loving others, forgiving, and showing mercy
to those who need it most?
Those broken men and women who struggle
to know freedom from crime, sins, addictions,
and from the pain of isolation in a society that hates.

When my wife and I recently drove by an inmate work-crew
I said aloud, “there goes my people”. To which she replied,
“Why are they ‘your people’? Why no the rest of us??”
I smiled and responded,
“We all need to know God more, these more than most,
and they are my people because
few others will think of or pray for them.”
Afterwards, I prayed aloud,
that ‘they’ all come to know Jesus,
and the freedom that only He can bring,
that He protect them and watch over them,
and that they come to find peace through Christ.
My wife finished with an emphatic, “Amen”.

This is the legacy I want to leave for my daughter
a future of hope and love for all God’s children.

Because it is more important than hanging on to the hurt
and condemning others for the past pain we still feel,
which we wrongly perceive
gives us the “right” to go on hating “them”.

I pray for you too, Michael Vick;
that you learn to become the man God intended,
that you have a successful return to the NFL,
and that you go far beyond to lead other men
who may be struggling to know Christ,
to know freedom,
and to know life & love in Him.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

From The Prisons of Life, To Freedom

This week I am traveling on vacation to visit family
and I was struck with sadness when I saw my nephew.
At 19 years old, he is confined to a bed,
unable to walk, speak, or even swallow.
He can barely move one arm to touch someone else
or point to a sign that that says, “Yes” or “No”
which is used to decipher his needs and desires.

While I pondered his situation with my wife
I began to think of how many of us feel confined;
sad and depressed, we sit alone,
desperate for meaning, crying for hope,
but locked into our addictions, abusive relationships,
(whether physical or verbal), overwhelming financial debt,
jobless and on parole, or in a cell with bars for windows.
We see life solely from our negative view point
and we cannot see different until we change our perspective.

How about this...
What if we could regain some self-esteem,
some purpose or hope in our life
by reaching out of our comfort zone
and helping others?

Last night I went with my family
to feed the homeless at the Salvation Army.
Next to me on the serving line was a 90+ year-old woman,
armed with her cane, a big smile, and a huge heart.
She says she has been coming to help weekly
for 'twenty some odd years'
because she likes to help others
and it gives her a purpose for her life.
At the facility were also pictures of a young man in a wheel chair,
he had come with other teens to build cots for the homeless to sleep on.
And then I was reminded of Nick Vujicic,
the minister of Christ with no arms or legs
who travels the world to encourage others.
(you can learn more about him HERE)
Lastly, I thought of the two homeless men in Portland
who went to help build a house for someone else
at a Habitat for Humanity work-site.
(you can read more about them HERE)

So here is the point:
You may be at the bottom of the barrel
unable to pull yourself up
but you can still find opportunity to help others
and in the process, find something for yourself.

Until we change our behavior,
change the words we speak,
change our thinking to “What CAN I do?”,
everything will remain the same.

Nothing may ever be “Perfect”,
but it can improve and get better than now.

How will you do it on your own?
You will need help...
Seek Christ and His family,
and learn to reach outside of yourself
because even if you have wrecked your life
you can still change it by helping someone else.

My nephew may never be able to do more than to lift his hand
but he can still show us his love in that movement
and our love of him can be enough to sustain.

Now the question...
What will You do?
To change someone else's life,
and in the process Your own?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Accepting Help, and The Hands That Offer It

Early today I visited the Community Corrections office
to pick-up my “approved” travel request form.

The Parole Officer was surprised,
she has never talked with me in person.
Because my monitoring has been ‘downgraded’ three times,
I am seen as a ‘low-risk’ offender,
and tomorrow I get to leave the state and visit family.
However I didn’t get here on my own.
I had a team of supporters to help!
Such as a mentor to visit me both inside prison and after.
Loving family to write me and send pictures often.
A church family that prayed for me.
And friends whose sole wish was to help after my release.
But it does’t stop there;
Afterwards, I connected in multiple support groups.
Some are men’s bible study groups.
Others for addictions, like drugs and alcohol.

Here is the first point:
I seek help & support from others,
as long as people are still willing to offer it.

As a result my growth and learning continue,
and now can I give back to my community.
Normally I do this in small ways.
Yet I continue to be amazed when a person says
how grateful they are that I helped them.
You see, I started my own business,
and now I coach men struggling through major life issues.
Sometimes I mentor young men for free through church,
and it is wonderful to see their lives changing for the better!

Now the second point:
I haven’t come this far by blaming others,
nor by quitting, laying down, and giving up.

Later in the morning I went to donate our recycled bottles & cans
to a homeless man I often see at the library and Starbucks.
My wife and I decided last year to donate
whenever our recycling bin is full
and we find some joy in thinking it could help someone else.
But today was different.

When I offered the bottles & cans to this gentleman,
he turned me down
and wouldn’t take my offer.
Maybe he was embarrassed,
or thought I was giving him my ‘trash’,
but either way,
he denied a helping hand when it was offered.

I was stunned when it happened.
And I know I cannot force help onto someone,
nor can any of us.
But then I wondered;
how many deny the gift God offers them
through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ?

Jesus often compared sin to a monetary debt,
a sum too large to ever be re-paid.
In a manner, I can see this homeless man
and criminal offenders the same way;
Until we seek help from outside ourselves,
we will continue to carry the burden on our own.

Jesus never meant for us to do this.
He wants us to live with one another,
forgiving and seeking forgiveness.
Helping others, and receiving help from them.
Learning about His love, and accepting it.

When I struggled to find work on my own,
a friend offered to help me start my own business,
and next year I hope to be wildly successful!
But I had to step out of my comfort zone
to accept help in an area I need it.

The next time we may recycle the bottles ourselves
and instead give the refund money for donation to an organization.

I won’t stop trying to help others,
nor will I deny it when offered.

God’s wisdom is vindicated by those who respond to it and receive blessing.