Archives For August 2012

Five for Friday

August 31, 2012 — 1 Comment

Another great week! In between college football games, check out these five links to articles guaranteed to make you think a little bit . . .

Dear Stay-At-Home Mom – to all the stay-at-home moms out there (including my wife), this article is for you.

Be Bold, Go Out and Chase Your Dreams – challenging post based off of Diana Nyad’s failed attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida.

Christians Victims of Rising Hostility – do you think Christians are getting picked on for their faith? You’re not alone.

Woman Hailed for Saving 30 Babies From Trash in China – great follow up from The Conversation Wednesday night. Ladies like this are my heroes.

The Cost of Church Revitalization – If you’ve been a part of Mt Vernon for more than a few years, then you’d appreciate this article.

Children of Hope

August 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

If you’ve come to Mt Vernon the past few weeks, you’ve heard about an incredible ministry partnership opportunity. For those of you who haven’t heard, let me share an incredible ministry opportunity we have called Children of Hope. Several years ago, Mt Vernon took a mission trip down to the Dominican Republic. While there, our church saw God open a door for us in the Batey (slums) of Baharona. If you don’t know, Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island. Dominican Republic is poor. Haiti is poorer.

In the slums of Baharona live thousands of Haitian refugees who have fled the poverty and instability of their country for hopes of a better life. Unfortunately, many of them fled illegally, and now they’re stuck. The Dominican Republic won’t do anything for the slum dwellers because they don’t have the proper documentation. Haiti won’t take them back because they don’t have the proper documentation. For all effects and purposes, they’re stuck.

So we partnered with local missionaries in Baharona to build a school for the Haitian children living in the slums. (By school I mean a single cinder-block room with a teacher making $200 a month). For us, it was a small thing. For them, it was life-changing. There are hundreds of children being raised in the slums, with no chance at an education (because lack of proper documentation). So, our school wasn’t merely to give them a better option of education: our school is the only option.

Because of Mt Vernon and the tireless work of the local missionaries, fifty children now have the opportunity to learn how to read and write (in Spanish and English). Their education is an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty in their families. A new church has also started out of the school to minister to the spiritual needs of the children and their families.

Here’s how you plug in: now that the school is built, we’re enlisting 50 families to sponsor the fifty children to help them with the costs associated with school. The cost is $25 dollars a month (one year commitment), and the cost goes to cover school supplies, meals for the students, and salaries for the teachers. If you’d like to partner with us and sponsor a child for a year, please visit: www.sponsorchildrenofhope.com

My boys have a quality education guaranteed for them. Not all children have that guarantee. Children of Hope will make a difference for fifty of them. Below is a short video to show you the faces of the children we’re sponsoring:

Work Hard

August 29, 2012 — Leave a comment

BIG Idea: Work hard at whatever you do.

When I landed my first “ministry” job, I had a choice to make. I had just returned from a missionary stint in Africa and got a job as a youth pastor in Mississippi. I was in full-time pursuit of my Master’s degree from seminary. I was engaged to be married to my wife Robin. The pastor at the time told me honestly, “this is a full-time job, but we can only pay you 3/4 time.” Their budget cuts did not allow them to pay a full-time salary. With a starting youth group of close to 100 students, it was definitely a full-time job.

My dilemma: how hard do I work? I’m about to be married, I’m a full-time student, and I’m not being paid full-time. So, should I put in a full week’s work or use the circumstances as an excuse to slack a little bit? Whether we like it or not, we’ve all been in similar situations. Perhaps your job doesn’t satisfy you. Maybe you hate your boss. Maybe this job is merely holding you over until your dream job arrives. Whatever the reason, there’s always a good excuse to slack off, if you just look hard enough.

It was at this time in my life that God brought in a life verse that has shaped my career. Colossians 3:23-24 says this: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” This verse left me with little options. If I was going to honor God, then I needed to work hard. It didn’t matter if I didn’t get the pay that I thought I deserved. Ultimately, I worked for God, not for a paycheck.

There’s a spiritual truth that many folks discount today because it doesn’t seem spiritual enough: hard work honors God. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a stay-at-home mom. Whatever you’ve been given to do, work at it with all your heart. If you look back at Genesis 1:27-28 and God’s first instruction to man, you’ll discover that work is spiritual. It fulfills one of the basic purposes that God gave mankind. (By the way, God gave us the command to work before we messed everything up in the Fall. So, it’s not a consequence of sin).

The application is simple: work hard at whatever you do. Whatever your lot in life, work hard. Your reward may not be in a paycheck, but it will definitely be in heaven. May the great quote from Martin Luther King Jr. apply to us: “If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”

QUESTION: What’s been a job that’s tempted you to give less than your best?

image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

I was drawn to this book because I’m an avid Saturday Night Live fan. The show’s ability to weave entertainment with contemporary social commentary makes it a show that continues to be relevant into its third decade. Darrell Hammond is one of the more recognizable faces on the show because of his longevity (14 seasons, a record). His brilliance was his ability to impersonate almost anybody. While his most famous impersonation was Bill Clinton, he did a whole host of other impersonations, including Dick Cheney, Sean Connery, and most recently, Donald Trump.

I had heard that Hammond had a history of drug problems. This book, a memoir, was his recounting and trying to come to peace with his past. And what a horrible past it was. Darrell’s dream growing up was to play baseball. He grew up playing with several future Major League Baseball players, including all-star and current Giants coach Bruce Bochy. He quickly developed an alcohol addiction that kept him from reaching his potential. He fell back onto comedy, something that he found he had a knack for. After a few decades of trying to make it, continuous battles with alcohol, relapses, rehabs, and all the various things that go with that, he got his big break and made it onto Saturday Night Live.

The rest is history, at least the history we knew from watching on screen. He did incredible impersonations, met every famous person you could meet, yet continued to struggle with alcohol, drugs, self-mutilation, and enough medications to fill up a pharmacy. He was diagnosed (at one time or another) as being: schizophrenic, manic-depressive, borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, and multiple personality. After another visit to the psych ward, a psychiatrist helped him delve into the root of his problems. This revelation, which Hammond goes into halfway through his book, has the effect of a grenade being thrown into a crowded room.

Hammond was severely abused by his mother growing up. He mentioned several instances that made me sick to my stomach. Her version of abuse was twisted in that it was secretive, manipulative, and just plain sick. His dad served tours in World War II and Korea, and was emotionally distant Darrell’s whole life. Hammond had no real parents. Worse still, his mother was an upstanding member of the Methodist church in town. Only Darrell knew the dark side, the side he had repressed for years.

All of a sudden, Hammond’s self-destructiveness makes perfect sense. He never had a healthy picture of life growing up. You can’t blame him completely for destroying his life. Comedy became a coping mechanism for him. When he was a child, he found that doing impersonations were the only thing that kept his mother at bay. When he entertained her, she didn’t abuse him. Horrifically sad. What makes it especially worse was that his mother was an active church-goer. He associated this negative behavior with religion and will most likely never turn to God because of it. At the time of the writing Hammond was sober, retired from SNL, and attempting to make peace with his demons.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Parenting matters. Two parents’ inability to cope with life destroyed Hammond’s chance at a normal life. The way we parent our children will have profound affects on them throughout their lives. If not even for our sake, but for their sake, we need to strive to be the best parents we can, to give our kids a healthy shot at life.

2. When hypocrisy exists in the church, generations are affected. Hammond’s mother’s inability to rectify her active church attendance with her horrific abuse of her son has forever tainted Hammond’s view of God and religion. Not only that, Hammond has a daughter who has never been raised in religion because of her father’s bad experiences. One hypocrite = two generations and counting.

3. Before we condemn the “sinners” of the world, we need to find out their stories. My heart was filled with pity and compassion reading about the horrific childhood Hammond had. In the book, he recounted one stay in the psych ward where he met a pretty Hispanic girl nicknamed “the Mayor.” Upon his release, she told him they couldn’t be friends in real life. Here’s her explanation:

“I asked her why she like to steal so much.

‘I never had a chance. I was kidnapped. My dad was a drug addict, he OD’d. I was left on my own in Mexico. I never had a chance to go to school and join clubs and date. I didn’t have a childhood, and it wasn’t my fault. I’m owed.’”

While a person is always ultimately responsible for his or her own actions, her lack of childhood broke my heart. No child should have to endure what she or Hammond had to endure. Before we’re quick to condemn them (or others) for their sinful actions, it’s important to find about their formative years. While it never excuses their actions, it will always help explain their actions.

4. The sin of the world continues to grieve me. I read this book while preparing a sermon on the story of the Fall (Genesis 3) and the effects of sin in the world.  I needed to look no further than the biography I was reading. Sin has infected every part of creation like a cancer. Only the blood of Christ offers any hope of redemption and life for humanity.

5. Does this explain the 60s? Shortly after I read this book, I talked with a man who also had an emotionally distant father who came back with scars from World War II. If my friend’s and Hammond’s experiences were the same, how many other children of World War II veterans experienced the same thing? If you had a whole generation of kids growing up in similarly dysfunctional homes, then the cultural outburst of the 60s suddenly makes a lot more sense.

QUESTION: Was there anyone in your life you too quickly condemned before you got to know their story?

Step One: Pray Together

August 27, 2012 — 1 Comment

I don’t know where you are in your marriage. You may be just starting out or rounding out twenty years together. Your fire may still be burning bright or may have died out a long time ago, leaving only lukewarm embers.

As I’ve counseled with couples about their marriages, I’ve found that every situation is unique. Every marriage has its own baggage and history. But there are a few things that will help any marriage. Here’s one I want to share with you today.

Your marriage may be on the ropes or going strong. You may need serious intervention or just a minor tune-up. But wherever you are, step one to making your marriage stronger is to pray together everyday. The good news about this step is that it’s free. It won’t fix all your problems, but it’s a good first step. Here’s what you’ll discover when you pray together:

1. It’s hard to hate someone you pray with. As you pray for and with your spouse, you’ll find your heart softening up for them. You’ll begin to see them not through your eyes (as a selfish or controlling spouse) but through God’s eyes (a messed up sinner in need of grace). Try this. It works. If you have hard feelings towards your spouse, pray for them and with them. See how God sees.

2. Praying invites God into your marriage. By praying, you’re acknowledging that you need a greater power in your marriage. If you’ve been married long enough, you realize that you can change your spouse only up to a certain point. If you really want to see life change in your partner, then God’s got to be the one to do it. Praying invites God to do what only He can do.

3. Praying humbles you. Prayer is a great reminder that we can’t do it all on our own. Prayer asks God to do what we can’t. It doesn’t seem like much, but humility goes a long way in God’s economy. Pride and arrogance, on the other hand, are the surest ways to derail anything God wants to do in you. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:10

4. Praying unites you with your spouse at a foundational level. This is why praying together is so much more beneficial than simply praying alone for your spouse. It’s hard to explain. It’s something you need to experience. When you pray with your spouse, you’re engaging in a deeply spiritual activity with another person. The spiritual is the deepest part of you, so you’re connecting with someone at their deepest level. Praying with my wife unites us in a way that almost nothing else can.

Try it for a week. It will only take five minutes. Whether it’s at the breakfast table or by the side of your bed, carve out time everyday to pray authentic prayers together to God, and see what happens to your marriage.

QUESTION: How has praying together with your spouse benefitted your marriage?

 

image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Five for Friday

August 24, 2012 — Leave a comment

Hey everyone, I hope you’ve had a great week! Here are links to five articles guaranteed to keep you thinking through the weekend. If you’re in Columbus, MS this weekend, come visit us at Mt Vernon!

1. This is the Longest Sermon at Your Church – great article by Jon Acuff. And great reason why you need to go to the 9:00 am service!

2. Have Our Children Forgotten How to Play Outdoors? – great book review and great reason why you should play with your kids outside this weekend.

3. What Rep. Todd Akin Should Have Said About Abortion and Rape – Trevin Wax writes the words Rep. Todd Akin should have said. Solid read.

4. 10 Reasons Why We Need to Get Off Our “Ask” and Invite People to Church – Very true article by Pastor Perry Noble.

5. School Under Fire for Allowing Churches to Feed Football Program – follow up from Wednesday night Conversation. How should we respond?

Why We Adopted

August 23, 2012 — Leave a comment

Adoption has become a central part of my life story, and it’s a blessing that I’m thankful for every day. Why did Robin and I adopt? There were several reasons that led us to adopt our first two children (Zeke and Shepherd).

1. We wanted children. We both knew even before we married that we wanted several kids. Before it was even time to start trying for kids, we had agreed that we wanted to have several of our own and adopt several (nationally and internationally). Our plan was to have a few of our own then adopt a few from all over the place. The plan has worked out, just not in the order we were expecting.

2. Our hearts broke for children in need. As a teacher (Robin) and youth pastor (me), we both worked with young people for a living. Seeing the incredible needs out there, our hearts would constantly break for the needy children around us. As a youth pastor, I know how difficult it is for children to be successful in life when they’ve had a highly dysfunctional home life. We wanted to give a child a shot at life.

3. We wanted to do for one what we wished we could do for all. If we could adopt all of the needy children in the world, we probably would. That’s how God’s wired us.  But we couldn’t. That inability to help everyone, however, didn’t keep us from helping a few. So, instead of simply throwing a few extra bucks at a charity, we decided to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty, committing time, energy and resources to help children.

What’s amazing is that through the adoption process, there have been several things we have been blessed to discover:

1. Love is a choice. Many children are planned, some are not. Either way, the love and care of a child is ultimately a choice. By choosing to love our first two children, it’s grown a love inside of me that is as genuine as if they were our biological children.

2. I’ve gained a greater understanding of what it means to be adopted as a child of God. The New Testament uses adoption as one of the primary metaphors to describe our relationship with our Heavenly Father (Romans 8:23, Ephesians 1:5). My boys didn’t choose us, we chose them because we loved them and wanted to care for them. When I associate that affection with the affection God had for me when he chose to adopt me as his son, it overwhelms me.

3. The joy they bring far outweighs the pain they cost. Sure, parenting is tough. There are incredible sacrifices that we’ve made. Life suddenly isn’t about us anymore. But when I parent my boys (two adopted and one natural, so far), I feel a sense of purpose. I know that my life is being spent doing something worthwhile. Their life and their joy give me a joy that I couldn’t replicate anywhere else.

So, for these reasons and many more, I thank God everyday that he allowed us the privilege of adopting our two oldest boys.

QUESTION: Who do you know in your life that’s been adopted? Has adoption affected your life in anyway?

Kicking the Crutch

August 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

BIG Idea: There is no excuse for sitting on the sidelines of the Kingdom.

A few days before my sixteenth birthday, my family moved several hours away to a new city and a new church. This experience was as traumatic as you might imagine. No kid likes moving to a new area and having to make new friends. I had been very attached to my previous youth group, which ran around 50-60 kids. The first Sunday at my new church, there were five students, including my brother and I. It was devastating.

Up until that time, I had effectively sat on the sidelines. I allowed others to lead and influence while I sat out and watched. As much as I hate to admit it, I had gotten used to sitting on the sidelines. But when I now constituted 20% of my youth group, I was forced to step up and lead. It was difficult at first, but eventually I found my voice, and our little youth group began to grow. Because of God and our youth pastor’s (my dad) great leadership, we saw sixty kids get baptized in two years. Incredible stuff.

The Bible verse that got me off the sidelines was 1 Timothy 4:12, Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” I realized that there is no excuse for sitting on the sidelines of the Kingdom.Once I kicked away the crutch of my youth and inexperience, I discovered that God wanted to use someone like me to impact the Kingdom.

What’s your crutch? What excuse do you use to sit on the sidelines of the Kingdom? Do you feel:

  • You’re too young? Too old?
  • Too unhealthy? Too tired?
  • Too busy? Too stressed?
  • Don’t know enough of the Bible?
  • Weighed down by too many past mistakes?
  • Too broken down by life?

If you work at it hard enough, you can find a crutch that can keep you on the sidelines of the Kingdom. Real faith means kicking the crutch and allowing God to use someone like you to impact the Kingdom. God’s ready. Are you?

Question: What excuses have you used in the past to sit on the sidelines of the Kingdom?

 

Image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

I’ve read several books where Dwight D. Eisenhower was a principal player, most notably as a general in World War II. This book, however, was the first historical biography (I’ve read) that exclusively chronicled the White House years of Eisenhower. Part of my interest in the 1950s stems from the idyllic place it holds in the lore of American culture.  For many, the 1950s was the high point, the pinnacle of American success. Many older Americans who look at today’s culture with disdain hearken longingly back to the “good old days.” The “good old days” typically refers to the 1950s. So, since Eisenhower was president during eight of the ten years, he was one of the principal leaders of America’s ‘golden age.’

One of the greatest misperceptions of Eisenhower was that his presidency was marred with inaction. Caricatures of Eisenhower as president include him as an old man, him always on the golf course, him out of touch with even his own presidency. The reality couldn’t be more different. Eisenhower dealt with an innumerable amount of crises, many of which we’re just now learning about.

What dominated the White House years was the ongoing struggle with the Soviet Union, known as the Cold War. While the United States and the Soviet Union never directly confronted each other on the battlefield, they fought in several proxy wars, including conflicts in Africa, Asia, and South America, several of which pushed the two nations to the brink of nuclear war. Eisenhower chose a complicated but successful strategy to contain Soviet aggression where possible, and to use subversive methods to topple governments loyal to the Soviet Union. America’s modern-day issues with North Korea and Iran date back to the 1950s and Eisenhower’s administration.

Eisenhower also dealt with shutting down an unpopular and unsuccessful war in Korea and the scourge of McCarthyism. Korea was an armed response to Soviet aggression that started during the Truman administration, cost thousands of American lives, and was ultimately unsuccessful. Coming in, Eisenhower saw that directly attacking the Soviet Union would prove cataclysmic, especially since both quickly had the capacity to mutually destroy each other with nuclear weapons. He wound down the Korean War and utilized other options to contain Soviet aggression. The reason we don’t read about an Iranian war, a Guatemalan War, a Philippine war or a Chinese war is because Eisenhower successfully resolved those hot spots without committing American troops. At the end of Eisenhower’s administration, the new hotspot of Soviet aggression was Vietnam. John F. Kennedy (Eisenhower’s successor), chose to reverse Eisenhower’s policy and commit American troops. If you know anything about the Vietnam War, then you know that it did nothing but validate Eisenhower’s strategy.

There were tons of interesting tidbits I picked up while reading this 400 page behemoth, but I won’t bore you with trivia. Here’s what I did learn: Eisenhower was an incredible president. I truly believe that the threat of war (and possibly nuclear war) with the Soviet Union was so precipitous, any less of a president would have resulted in World War III. Eisenhower’s greatness is understated because he never sought the limelight. He was the last president we had that was not a professional politician. No one really knew his politics before he declared himself a Republican right before he ran.

In everything, Eisenhower sought the “middle way.” A philosophy born out of his roots in the Midwest, the “middle way” represented the center of American politics. The extremes on either side of the political spectrum were constantly furious with them. He didn’t pander. He didn’t play to a specific political base.  He sought a balanced approach, in politics and in war.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Everything rises or falls on leadership. America’s greatness in the 1950s in many ways comes back to Eisenhower’s leadership. During an incredibly tumultuous time (just as tumultuous as the time leading up to World War II), Eisenhower’s steady leadership allowed American to flourish into the nation that it is today. When good leaders are in places of leadership, everyone wins.

2. American politics haven’t looked the same since Eisenhower. You don’t see Eisenhower’s style of political leadership anywhere in the political landscape today. Modern politics is dominated by partisanship and bickering. It’s about creating a majority and bludgeoning the minority with it. I think America could greatly benefit from a 1950s style leader like Ike.

3. Great leaders don’t need the spotlight to validate themselves. During the early 1950s, Eisenhower went to task with Senator McCarthy, a blowhard egomaniac who used the bully pulpit of his senatorial position to spread the fear of Communism to an unhealthy level. He reveled in the spotlight. He needed it. Throughout McCarthy’s reign of terror, Eisenhower deprived McCarthy of the one thing he wanted the most: attention. Ike refused to engage McCarthy, allowing him to burn out on his own. Within a few years, McCarthy was invalidated and died a short time later. The contrast between these two American leaders is stark. McCarthy craved the limelight; Ike didn’t need it to validate himself. Good leaders don’t need it.

4. Balance is a beautiful thing. In Ike’s approach to Communism and his approach to American governance, he sought balance. He infuriated Republicans by not cutting more taxes, and he infuriated Democrats by not providing more social welfare. With Communism, he didn’t make every conflict a hill to die on. He took a hard line when the Soviet Union threatened Berlin, but took a softer stance when they threatened outlying islands off the coast of China. His balanced approach was an incredible testament to his wisdom and discernment. Whether it’s American politics or church leadership, we could all use a little more wisdom and discernment, to reject unhealthy extremes and strive for balance.

QUESTION: What’s the number one quality you expect out of a good president?

This past June Robin and I celebrated ten years of marriage. I wanted to take a moment and share ten things I learned. Last week I shared the first five. Today I’ll share five more things I’ve learned over the years.

6. I know why so many couples think divorce is the easiest option. I know this is something I’m probably not supposed to admit as a pastor, but I know why divorce can be so tempting. During our first ten years, Robin and I have been at places where Robin and I dug in so hard on opposite ends of an argument that compromise seemed impossible. Thankfully, we had taken divorce off of the table from day one, and we were forced to do the hard work of compromise and accommodation. But for those who always keep the divorce card in their back pocket, I know why it’s so tempting to pull it out at times.

7. I’d be lost without her. I’m a pretty independent and self-reliant person by nature. You’d think that as I get older, I’d mature and have to rely less on other people. Exactly the opposite. Robin compliments me in so many different ways that it scares me to think we’d ever throw it all away. I know (or at least I hope) I complement her as well. That’s what it means when the Bible says we’re “one.” It’s amazing how much I’ve come to depend on her.

8. Marriage never becomes easy, just easier. I keep waiting to pass some magic milestone and for marriage to be simple and easy. You’d have thought that after ten years we’d have everything figured out.But I’ve learned that marriage never becomes easy, just easier. Sure, marriage has become richer and more fulfilling the more we know each other, but the conflict of two self-centered sinners never really goes away. It just becomes a little easier to manage over time.

9. The stakes get higher with kids. When Robin and I started having kids, the stakes for our marriage skyrocketed. Now we’re not just playing with the happiness and well-being of two people. We’ve got three other human beings that will forever be marked (positively or negatively) by our marriage to each other. If not for our sake, for their sake, we need to make sure to make our marriage successful.

10. The mountain tops are worth the climb. This is my sappy attempt to say, “hang in there, kid!” Sure, marriage is tough at times. You have to compromise, you have to serve someone else. Life isn’t about you anymore. But the joys, the riches, the happiness of a successful marriage far outweighs anything I’ve given up. In short, it’s worth it. God knew what he was doing when he instituted marriage. Stick with it, do marriage God’s way, and you’ll discover a happiness and satisfaction found nowhere else. I know I have.

QUESTION: What’s something surprising that you’ve learned as you’ve gone along in your marriage?