May 30, 2010

Behind the Smile Lies a Story!

This morning I had the opportunity to go to Seacoast Church in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Every time I'm on vacation at my in-laws I have the privilege of experiencing worship at this very authentic church. But this morning was especially sweet. And it all started at the door when I was greeted by Jon & Valerie. (Those aren't their real names, but you don't need to know them to understand this story) Let me rewind a bit so this all makes sense.

J & V live very close to my in-laws. I love them! They are some of the most generous and kindhearted people I've ever met. In fact, I think when I've played golf with J before he's actually tried to do bad just to make me feel better. If you're a man, THAT is kindheartedness! Back to the story. J & V only had one child - a son - and a little over a year ago, while in Central America, he was killed on a motorcycle. They got one of "those" phone calls, where life on the other side of picking up that phone will never be the same. Ever! If you're a parent, just the idea of having to fly to another country to "pick up" your child's body is unthinkable. It's something from a TV show or movie - not something that happens to people you know. Not anymore. The unreal became reality. The unthinkable began to consume every thought. You don't explain this. You don't have words. You quickly learn the Jewish concept of "sitting shiva" - of just "being there" for someone. And praying. Praying for a peace that cannot possibly come from anything this earth has to offer you. Nothing! This is God-only territory. It's where the spiritual rubber meets the road - where you suddenly learn and discover whether or not it's all been eloquent moral babble...or you truly believe that the God of the universe means what He says.

Romans 8:28 tells us that in "ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose". And you see, I think that most of the time we think that ALL actually means MOST. And I believe that when someone's child dies (because parents aren't supposed to bury their children) there is always the question pointed to God: "Why?" Why God? Why would you allow this? How could this one slip past you? Do you not love us? These are the questions, if I was J & V, that I would have taken angrily to the feet of the Creator and demanded answers. Why? But through all the pain and agony and hurt...I never saw anger at the unknown. I never heard a demand for answers that can't be explained. I saw, through the prayers of those who loved them and through the willingness to simply "be there", two people who were drawn to the heart of God rather than pushed away from it. Two people who had no active part in the church - the Body of Christ - who are now greeting me at the door as I walked in this morning. 

The celebration and singing today was great! Geoff Surratt's message was right on. But the thing that pushed me closer to my Redeemer on my visit to Seacoast this morning was the Greeters! Two people who, at face value, were simply opening the door with a smile. But deep beyond those smiles lies a story. NEVER forget that! Behind that smile (or whatever paints that someone's face) lies a life-changing story! A story that causes some to doubt and question and turn away. But a story that causes me to find hope and believe. Which one are you?

May 25, 2010

A Beautiful Moment of Forgiveness

This past Sunday I was approached by a couple after our 2nd service. They wanted to know if I could talk to them about pre-marital counseling, church membership, and a list of other questions. But I could tell the main thing on their minds was wanting to get help before they began their life together. I know this because the questions kept coming.

The young man was asking most of the questions, but I could tell that his fiancee wanted to say something. There was this angst written on her face. And something told me that her anxiety had to do with the fact that she was pregnant. Like the idea was racing through her mind, "I wonder what this pastor thinks, standing here talking to us about getting married...and I'm already pregnant?" Some things don't even have to be voiced. So when he finally got to the end of his list - and she had an open window to speak - she very ashamedly asked me, "Do you have a problem marrying someone who's already pregnant?" And as these words rolled off her lips, the tears rolled down her face.

I'm not sure, but I think a small smile came to my face. I stepped toward her, put my arm around her, and just stood there a moment. [I knew these words were incredibly important] Eventually I simply said to her: "You guys might have made a mistake. But your child is not a mistake. And the most important thing is that you're making the right decision now." And I left it at that.

She wiped her face off and it seemed like the weight of all of it fell from her face as well. I don't know this, but I would guess she's been holding her breath to know whether or not she would be forgiven or written off. She now knows that she's forgiven. The hard part is, I don't think she ever questioned or doubted, "Has God forgiven me?" I think it was more of a fear that the PEOPLE of God wouldn't forgive. That condemnation and judgement were unavoidable. Instead, I believe we shared a beautiful moment of forgiveness. Not that I needed to forgive her for anything, but she needed to know that I could.

I'm praying that the Lord allows us to walk with this couple as they begin to seek the Lord in their life together.

May 21, 2010

How Email Could Wreck the World!

A few years ago I received an email from a leader in the church where I was serving. As I read through it, I was floored. All the bold-faced, CAPITALIZED letters, screaming off the page at me like a finger in my face. I was almost devastated. I printed it out, took it in to our pastor and said, "What do you make of this?" He glanced over it and looked up at me and said, "Wow!" We knew - at least we were pretty sure we knew - that the person who wrote it never intended for it to come across (or sound) like it read. And after one phone call we found our suspicions to be correct. And this is just ONE reason why email could possibly be one of the most misused tools in history. Allow me to continue.

When you're hurt, confused, frustrated, angry, wounded, or particularly on the verge of what we'll call "going on a rampage", email is NOT the communication tool you should be selecting. Email doesn't allow someone to see your hurt, frustration, or wounds with their own two eyes. It hides the inflections in your voice and the pause you might make when the words aren't flowing out of your mouth as easily as they seem to be on the electronic storyboard. And I know a lot of us will argue, "It's easier for me to compose my thoughts if I write them down". Fine. Write them down, then go and read them to the person. I realize that takes courage, but I'm pretty sure the Holy Spirit supplies all of that we need.

It's also become pretty commonplace that the Reply to All button has become a willing catalyst for gossip. Someone sends out an email, someone reads it, someone has 75% of the facts, someone gets upset, someone hits Reply to All and the "venting" begins. This is like walking up to a small campfire with a bucket full of diesel fuel and letting it fly - like throwing a match in a dynamite shack. Just wait...the explosion's coming! I'm fairly certain that this is not what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 5 or in Matthew 18 as He gave us instructions as to how to confront one another and seek restoration. Email is NOT bad. It's not from the devil! But we are totally screwing up the Body of Christ and wrecking the unity of the church when we choose to communicate this way. Email's not the problem - WE are!

A few days ago I had a young woman from our church who called me, wanting to express some concerns she had about some very hard decisions we've had to make lately concerning our children. She shared her thoughts with me, but then she made his statement: "When I first heard about this, I spent some time praying about it. Then after awhile, not feeling settled about it, I knew I needed to talk to you. I'm so glad I did. I feel so much better about all of this now!" My response to her was pretty simple: "First of all, thank you for praying before you did anything else. And you don't know how much I appreciate and respect that you took the time and had the courage to simply call me and share this with me. Thanks for listening to what I had to say." This young lady was apprehensive about calling me, saying she didn't want to "discourage me". I told her with no reservations that her phone call was the most encouraging highlight of my day! (And I thanked her for not emailing it to me!)

Email is one of the greatest inventions of our time! It has simplified so many aspects of life and communications. But like so many other "good" things, if we use it the wrong way it can make a mess of life and tear things down that were in need of being built up. WE are in need of being built up! 

Dig Deeper:
Proverbs 18:17, 20
Matthew 5:23-24, 18:15-20

May 20, 2010

Don't Commit A Leadership Crime

Leadership is hard. Very hard! I don't care if you're a Type A, Alpha Dog, dominating Lion, there comes a point as a leader when making decisions - especially one that affects other people - brings a weight and a load with it. And this weight can be heavy - painfully heavy! Are you ready to carry it? Seriously. Do you have what it takes?

I heard a leader I greatly respect and admire recently say that "leadership is defined during a crisis". If only we all knew this before the crisis hit! Part of why I believe this to be true is because it's during those time of turmoil or the unknown that we have to trust our instincts, that we're forced to listen to the Holy Spirit very intently, and (as I said a moment ago) we are often forced to make decisions that will affect those we're leading. But I think another reason why this statement is true is because it's during those times of crisis that we quickly discover whether we've been trying to "carrying the burden" on our own, or whether we've had the wisdom to allow others to share the load. If you said you were ready to carry the "weight and the load" and you were thinking that you could do this all by yourself, you're laying the perfect foundation to be knocked over like a Lincoln Log fort in an earthquake.

Recently I went through the painful discovery that I had been guilty of this leadership crime. We usually always have the right motive - we want to "take the bullet" for everyone or we think suffering alone is just part of the deserted island of leadership. WRONG! This is not the way God made us. And this is especially a crime of unforgivable proportions in the church. Paul didn't go into cities & churches and appoint an elder. They appointed "elders" - GROUPS of people who walked, prayed, cried, laughed, and led together. People who trusted each other and shared the weight and the load. Jesus even chose 3 of His 12 disciples to deeply invest and confide in. JESUS for crying out loud! Apparently, if God cared about my "Type A, control-freak" tendencies, He didn't think to mention it to everyone else in His Word. Ouch!

So, unless you're a dump truck or a wheel barrow, stop trying to carry all of this yourself. It's going to KILL YOU! You're not made to handle it that way. And if anyone else thinks you are, you might need to consider either setting them straight or getting out while you still can. Your life and sanity depend on it!

Have you been guilty of this? Is someone walking with you?

"Share each other's troubles and problems - bear each other's burdens - and in this way OBEY the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2