Yes, I admit it, sometimes I am wrong about things. Not that I have any big confession to make today, but I have done my share of apologizing through the years. I was reading the book of Micah in the Old Testament the other morning and it contains a list of judgments and punishments God was preparing to pour out on Israel unless they admitted they were wrong in the decisions they were making and the way they lived and turned back to Him. The condemnations on the leaders are particularly harsh - because leaders hold so much influence over everyone else and God holds them to a higher standard. Israel's leaders' pride and love of the power they received blinded them to the fact they were no longer leading the people in service to God. That message packs a punch to me as I venture forward leading The Torch. It is quite sobering.
I don’t have to look far in my world to find examples of such failed, yet ignorant leadership. My Masters degree is in Communications with a concentration in leadership. We studied failed leadership practices quite a bit as I earned that degree - because there is a lot to be learned from studying how NOT to do things. Very often, one of the root causes of such travesty is the inability of the leader to own up to his or her mistakes and/or bad decisions. The leaders in Israel became so deeply entrenched in their roles as “spiritual” leaders, it was impossible for them to step aside from themselves and take an honest look at what they were doing and what was happening to the people they were leading. And everyone around them became so wrapped up in participating in the sins of the nation they could no longer advise the spiritual leaders wisely. Gulp. I don’t want to become such a leader.
I think who we choose for friends contributes greatly to our leadership abilities. As much as I love to be with the friends and acquaintances of mine who I know are going to tell me everything I am doing is just great - essentially the “yes” men in my life - it is a dangerous trap for me to surround myself with them. I need people like my friend Kim who always tells me like it is - she has made me aware many times of the flaws in my logic and thoughts and helps me think things through before I act. And she lets me mess up (I know I am terrible about returning calls sometimes) yet forgives me and welcomes me back when I realize I have been inconsiderate. I wouldn’t have made it this far without her insight and help.
Rose is another dear one who has endured with me. she is the one friend I have had longer than any other. She is always an angel when I make mistakes and have to grovel out an apology to her. She is yet another straight-shooter who has given me more than one wake-up call when I have headed down the wrong path. I don’t see her as often as I would like and I realize how much I need her strength and endurance and honesty in my life.
I really love wind chimes. I’m just sitting here enjoying the sunshine and listening to my wind chimes right now. Over the course of the past few years I managed to lose all the wind chimes I used to collect. I didn't realize how much I missed them until I got a new set. When I was in California earlier this month, my sister bought me some and they play the most beautiful song.
I first started loving wind chimes when I was a little girl. My family lived for a time in Baldwin Park, California and my sisters and I had the distinction of being three of the four white kids who attended our elementary school. I noticed it, but was not really bothered by it - I had plenty of friends. The thing that was disturbing sometimes, though, was walking home from school. I had to pass some scary houses in the half-mile walk between school and home. I would keep my head down and walk as quickly as I could - and I was always listening for the sound of wind chimes. They were a happy sound for me: first, because they just sounded so lovely; and second, because they meant I had less than a block to go before I arrived home. The final left turn was just ahead, and then a short walk to the end of the cul-de-sac and I was there!
It’s funny how hearing something like a wind chime can bring back so many memories. I remember the address of that house. I guess because it was drilled into me as I prepared for kindergarten. And as it was a cul-de-sac, and we lived in the furthest house back we would grab our trash can from the end of the road on trash days to bring it home. Dad painted the address in big black letters on the side of the trash can - 4914 - and we had to be sure we took the correct one since everyone on the block had the same green plastic trash cans.
We knew everyone up and down the street there. In the middle house across the street lived the family from New Zealand. Their mom had the best accent ever. The little boy in the family liked to take the goldfish out of their tank and pet it. At the far end of the cul-de-sac, on our side, lived a couple who had one son, but fostered many others. It was fun to go to their house because there was always somebody new to play with - or a new baby to watch!
I had a really close friend who lived across the street from us. I thought she was pretty cool, although I didn't know that word then. She had three or four older brothers - and even though I was only in second grade - I thought they were very cute! Her mom would make us homemade tortillas when we were playing together out in the yard. Those were hands-down the absolute best tortillas I ever ate in my life, and for most of my childhood they were the only tortillas I would willingly eat. I hated Mexican food back then.
My girlfriend and I would wash her mother’s big old car sometimes. Thing is, it wasn't actually painted, it was just primer-ed So it looked beautiful when we got it wet and soaped it up - a bright and shiny gray. But we were terrible rinsers and the car always ended up with white smears all over it when we were done washing. Once, one of her older brothers came to help us out and he showed us how to rinse more carefully, but that was the only time we did that. It was too much work so the next time we washed it, the car was covered in our signature white smears again.
There are a million words I could use to fill in that blank. Think about the word or words you might use to finish the sentence. Unfathomable. Omnipotent. Omniscient. Great. Awesome. Faithful. Wonderful. Holy. Omnipresent. Amazing. Fun.
Yes, fun. I think God is fun! It only makes sense to me He must be. Think about Jesus. When he was here on Earth, he attracted HUGE crowds of people. Literally thousands would flock to hear him, touch him, and see him. People loved to be around Jesus. Numerous times in the New Testament, we find him escaping from the throngs of people in order to regroup, pray, and rest. I think he must have been so much fun to be around, because most individuals I know don’t want to hang out with boring, grumpy, Negative-Neds or Nancys. They want to be around people who are fun! And if you listen to different pastors and evangelists speak - typically the most popular are really quite funny. I think Joyce Meyer is hilarious and Brad Powell - pastor of Northridge Church - he cracks me up!
When I read about the things Jesus taught and how he taught them, I think he was pretty hilarious himself. The visual which comes to mind of a person with a huge beam coming out of his eye while trying to swipe at a small speck in someone else’s eye must have really brought down the house (See Matthew 7:3). And he would look the Pharisees, who were the high and mighty, revered religious leaders of the day and say things like, “you brood of vipers!” (Matthew 12:34) when he called them out for how they failed to represent God. I think even though the audience might have hidden it, they were laughing inside when he said that. I have known people who were horrible representatives of God and they set themselves up over others in positions of authority and I would laugh if they were called a brood of vipers. The God Who created us knows how our minds and hearts work - and He made us with a sense of humor. Most people respond positively to humor. I think Jesus was fun.
And I think God is fun and I think He has fun blessing us. Think about Sarah and I - praying about The Torch and asking God to show His love for others through us. And then we had it in our heads it could be three years or so down the road before the ministry began. We never received a tax-exempt determination letter from the IRS, so had no idea we were approved when we called on December 31, 2012. We were surprised, stunned, delighted and overjoyed when we learned we had received our tax exempt status in less than two months! I think God was delighted and joyful to surprise us like that. He makes life so much fun because you just never know what blessing is coming next.
I found out the other evening I stereotype people. I never wanted to be the kind of individual who does that, but I did it. I went outside when it got dark, because I was excited to see meteor showers. As I sat huddled in my chair, all wrapped up in my blanket, the night settled around me, the meteors did not shower and I found myself listening to the sounds of apartment life. The people below me kept opening and shutting their sliding door. No idea what that was all about. A LOT of cars came and left the parking lot. It is a busy place at night apparently. I never noticed that before.
Then my neighbor and his friend stepped out on his balcony and they were talking. “Ahh,” I thought, “I’m probably going to hear a drug deal go down.” So I eavesdropped, which I don’t usually do. But, the meteors were not appearing and I was getting a bit bored. After a few minutes I realized I did not really understand their conversation - and the reason was I was expecting a drug-related exchange - which they were not having. When I realized they were not talking about drugs, I became curious and I really started paying even more attention to them, because their conversation did not make sense.
They were talking about when it is best to use the “night”. They agreed they both liked the “night” because it could be tricky and people did not see it coming. After a long discussion about the night, my neighbor’s friend insisted the best strategy is to not move the “queen” at all until the very end - of the game! And the light bulb went on- they were talking about Chess! Apparently they had just played a game of Chess. They agreed Chess was a far better game than Monopoly and made a plan to play again next week. And their crotchety old neighbor expected them to be dealing drugs. Good grief.
I was actually quite appalled at myself. Stereotyping bothers me because it forces people into boxes and limits potential. Often, people live up to the expectations others have for them and maybe that’s how stereotypes develop. Reality shows on television don’t help this situation, although I think some - like “Duck Dynasty” - help to eradicate some stereotypes; while others - like “Honey Boo Boo” - perpetuate stereotypes. Google “white trash family on TV” and see what comes up.
Spending some time at the laundromat this afternoon. It is such a strange place to be sometimes. I crammed mine and Maddy’s laundry into two washing machines while a man stood behind me and watched the whole process. He was literally staring. It is not a particularly comfortable feeling to move your underwear around in front of complete strangers, anyway. It’s bad enough when everyone in the place understands the socially acceptable behavior of averting eyes when people are trying to get their dirty clothes to fit into two washers. It becomes much more awkward when a strange man obviously lacks laundromat etiquette and positions himself behind you so he can observe the process. I don’t actually think it was totally intentional. I do think it was totally ignorant.
But you will be happy to know I survived. As I get older I notice it is more difficult to embarrass me. There were things in the past which would terrify me and now I wonder how I could be so silly. Calling a wrong number was one of them. I would check and double-check and triple check to be sure of the number I wanted to dial and for some reason the more concerned I became about dialing wrong, the more likely I was to dial wrong. And I was terrible at apologizing and hanging up! It was mortifying. Now I think about that and it seems silly and trite.
Another phone paranoia I had was about calling people and not remembering who I was calling. This would happen frequently when I was going down a list of Awana volunteers or softball parents. Good grief. I would become so embarrassed and tongue-tied I would awkwardly make small talk and hang up, only to realize I didn’t accomplish the purpose of the call. I eventually developed a system where I would recite the person’s name over and over until he/she answered the phone to save myself the trauma.
I recently had some enlightening conversations with young people I know who work in the food service industry. I learned that while Sunday is indeed one of the busiest days of the week for many restaurants - it tends not to be the most lucrative for the waitstaff. Yes, the Sunday crowd appears in droves at local dining establishments, but apparently the Sunday diners are known to be the lowest tippers around. Yikes.
What got me started thinking about this topic were a couple of things: the fact my daughter Maddy is a server at a local restaurant right now; and I saw an article online about the St. Louis pastor who, in protest of the automatic 18% gratuity charged by Applebees for large parties - crossed off the tip and wrote, “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” The arrogance behind that comment and the fact instead of apologizing, the pastor got the waitress who posted the comment online fired from her job, annoyed me. It would be easy to write it off as yet another ploy by the media to criticize Christians, but Christians do tend to hang themselves sometimes, and I decided to do some investigating of my own.
That investigating included asking all the young people I know who work as waiters and waitresses what they thought about working on Sunday. It was rather depressing to hear every single one of them tell me they did not like working the Sunday morning church crowd. There were actually two main reasons: 1) The best-dressed groups and church fashionistas tend to be rude and arrogant to servers and 2) they are cheap when it comes to tipping. Now, maybe this is limited to the circle of young people I know - or maybe it is just a regional phenomenon. Regardless, it is shameful to learn and I am thinking about hosting an online poll about it just out of curiosity to find out how widespread it might be.
In addition to asking my young wait-staff friends, I did some observing on the sly. Last Sunday for lunch I went to a Coney Island. It was the kind where you pay at the register before you leave. There was a well-dressed family in front of me - dad and son in button-down shirts and mom and daughter in dresses. I know I’m stereotyping, but I would bet they had just come from church. I was trying to resist, but just couldn’t and I took a peek at the bill while the man was signing it. It didn’t take my mad-math skills to note he left a tip which barely missed being five- percent of the families’ total bill. Five percent is pretty cheap. I was quite disappointed in him.
Did you ever wonder why we decided to name our nonprofit “The Torch”? I was thinking about that today so of course you have to hear it now.
There are several reasons why we believe the name is perfect for what we are doing in The Torch. By the way, it is somewhat ironic because we actually had developed some ideas around this name for a different organization in the past and now it is clear to me it would have been an inappropriate name for that place. I am so relieved I have a God Who saves me from myself sometimes.
One of the reasons I like the name “The Torch” is because a torch represents leadership. Whenever you watch a movie, say Indiana Jones or something like that, and the characters are entering a dark cavern where a torch is needed, the person carrying it does not walk at the rear of the group. Nope, the individual with the torch always leads the way. One of my prayers for The Torch is that we will lead the way for Christians seeking out new methods of bringing God into the world. I feel like we have gotten into something of a slump as a body of believers because here in the U.S., we tend to wait for people to come to our churches and then we try to reach them for God. But that limits our outreach because I think it takes a certain mindset for people to walk into a church building and attend a service. I have visited a few new churches recently and I have been a Christian for a long time so I know the drill and still it can be a bit unnerving to walk through those doors - even if I know someone who attends there. I can only imagine it must be that much more intimidating for someone who has no such background.
A Torch represents fire and fires start with sparks. I hope other Christians will see us taking steps to share our faith in such a tangible way with sacrifice and hard work maybe they will be inspired and encouraged to either join us or to realize their own potential for impacting the world in their own way. I hope we lead the way for Christians to realize it is complacent behavior to attend a church and just pray people will come. I hope they will seek to change and their creativity and unlimited potential will be sparked. I would love to see a great body of believers cease to be merely Sunday Christians and become 24/7 Christians who give and give and give to the world so much it gets noticed because it is unusual and supernatural. Just like our God.
I also hope God uses our leadership skills to lead people to Him. It is my desire we will be so covered in prayer every time we go out we do not get bogged down in the details of our work, but are waiting and alert for opportunities to lend a listening ear and to show love to individuals. And when the time comes, to give them a reason for our faith and our love and our sacrifice so that they can also become part of this life-changing family.
I have been thinking a lot both yesterday and today about tragedy and sadness. Most people, if they have any compassion at all, feel some level of sorrow when they hear about incidents like the explosive devices going off at the Boston Marathon. We want answers as to who and why and how and we want them now. Once the investigations are complete and the culprit has been found theories will abound as to what ills in our society have led to a tragedy such as that. People will point fingers and try to discern what, ultimately, was the real cause beyond the immediately identified cause whether that be individual or entity.
It seems almost trite to point out the real cause behind tragedies and troubles in the world is the evil that is in the world. I think dismissing its effect as trite is part of the work of evil. We have become so accustomed to being surrounded by evil forces and having them permeate our lives, it becomes easy to dismiss them as irrelevant and to become complacent about evil’s existence. What do I mean by that?
Despite the beauty in this world God created there is a powerful spiritual force of evil which is present all the time and which we tend to forget to acknowledge. Paul wasn’t just painting a nice picture when he warned us to put on the armor of God every day. I think he had a pretty clear understanding of what this world is really like and the damage living constantly surrounded by evil, seen and unseen, can do to humanity. It wears away at every part of us.
I keep thinking about the warnings Paul gives in Ephesians 6:8-10:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
It is pretty clear he is warning me right here it might seem like people are the problem, but ultimately they are often tools for evil and not the root cause. A spiritual battle we cannot see rages heavy and constantly and it affects the world and those of us immersed it. One of the greatest victories for evil is when people become immune to it or dismiss it.
It’s kindof like watching movies. We see and hear a lot of things in the movies - like foul language, violence, cheating, lying, stealing and etc. If we watch enough and listen to enough of them we become immune to the fact those are things people should not do. I can’t tell you how many times I have had people ask me why a movie is rated “R” and then when they hear it is because of the violent content, say something like, “Oh, just for violence, that’s not so bad.” Not like a lot of sex or drugs or something I guess, things they wouldn't want their children exposed to - violence is apparently okay. Human nature is adaptable and we become immune and don’t notice the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle influence evil spiritual forces have on us. It is a lot easier and makes the world seem to be a much safer place if I dismiss spiritual warfare as not real and relegate it to Hollywood entertainment. But Paul didn't know about Hollywood or the “Paranormal” movies or anything like that - he just knew there was spiritual warfare happening all the time, everywhere on Earth and that nobody is really immune to its effects.
So he admonishes us:
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Paul warns us to protect ourselves from head to toe and every place in-between. We are vulnerable to attack and can be seriously affected physically and mentally by what is going on around us spiritually. We need truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation and the Spirit to protect ourselves. And he actually tells us we have to put all that on. It is a combination of spiritual disciplines which will in turn help protect us from the physical, emotional, and spiritual damage living in such a world can cause. Imagine buckling up a belt of truth. In order to do that, we have to understand Truth. If we don’t know what real Truth is, we have no way to discern who or what to believe in and follow. As much as our post-modern worldview would like to have us believe there is no foundational Truth for life - people are wired to believe in some kind of Truth and they will find something to believe in.
I challenge you to open your Bible and read it - straight through beginning to end - no matter how many days it takes you. I challenge you not to find Truth in those words.
You will find Truth about human nature and about the world and about life.
And what about our righteousness? I don’t mean some smug feeling of I’m-right-you're-wrong; I’m talking about a yearning and desire to see right and honorable things happening in the world. If we are not filling our minds with things that are right and good, we are filling them with things that are not. Part of filling our minds with things which are right and good is deciding and owning what we believe. I don’t think there is an in-between. How can I stand up for right if I don’t know what I believe in? And in addition to the clear cut areas of right and wrong - what about all the grey areas? Am I going to keep myself out of those as well? I have to decide and follow through.
For example, I have often found myself baffled as to why I witness so much bullying in the school setting - and sometimes even the church setting. I wonder how, with all the anti-bullying education and campaigns and bracelets and publicity - how can there possibly still be bullying in our society? Why haven’t we wiped it out? It is certainly a cause which receives tons of attention and the high school students who do try to stand up and fight it get a lot of praise and accolades. Yet bullying is just as prevalent now as it has been for as long as I can remember.
In the summer of 2012, a friend of mine excitedly shared with me how he had been going through Chaplain training. He became teary-eyed as he explained the heavy burden he carried for people in our world and how much he had learned about being a strong support system for others during their deepest hurts and greatest times of need. He told me he thought it was something I should look into and pray about doing myself. Just what I need, I thought, one more thing to do. At that time The Torch was still a dream Sarah and I discussed when we had a chance to get together.
Over lunch, later that day, I told Sarah about the conversation. She got that far-away look in her eyes she gets when she is really considering something. When she finally came back to the present, she announced, “I think we should do it!” Us? Become Chaplains? I didn’t even really know what that meant or what it would entail. We agreed to spend time praying about and researching Chaplaincy.
In case you’re wondering, when I say I am going to pray for or about something, I really mean I am going to PRAY about it. Faithfully, diligently, daily I talk things over with God. And over and over again sometimes. Too often in my life I have found myself on the wrong path because I neglected to take time to pray before I made a decision. And there are other times when I found myself on the right, but painful, path and I had peace that passed all understanding because I knew my faithful prayers had guided me exactly to where I was.
So I started to discuss the possibility of me becoming a Chaplain with God. And Sarah and I started researching. And let me tell you, when we research we really research. We read everything we could find about Chaplains and becoming a Chaplain and the responsibilities of Chaplains and on and on and on. The more I learned, the more I realized God was steering me in that direction. And Sarah believed the same. So we chose a non-denominational organization which offers training and ordination and we selected a class to be held last fall. We made the decision and started figuring out how we were going to pay for this training - and then discovered the class was canceled and there weren't anymore on the schedule for Michigan any time soon. We were very disappointed but we continued to pray.
Then one day I checked the schedule again and a Michigan training had been added in February! We were so excited we signed up and reserved our spots. That was right around Christmas. Of course, in the interim we received our tax-exempt status for The Torch and were just overjoyed with all the opportunities in front of us.
There have been times in my life when God has worked in unexpected and inexplicable ways leaving me in awe and reminding me just how powerful He is. He broke through Heavenly and Earthly barriers once and spoke loudly to me - and his message saved my daughter Misty’s life. Another time I was sinking into the depths of a depression so deep it began to seem the only way out was to end my own life. The moment I came to that conclusion, I felt the Presence of God overwhelm me and His love enveloped me. He showed me my children and impressed upon my mind my value and worth and the depression was lifted. And I am still here. Those two moments impacted my life enormously and imprinted within me a deeper knowledge of Who God is and how much He loves me and wants the best for me.
I had a third powerful intervention in my life by God Thursday evening, April 11, 2013. But in order to understand the impact of Thursday, let me back up a bit to a balmy Tuesday night last summer. August 21, to be exact. Sarah and I had been discussing off and on all summer the possibility of starting a nonprofit organization utilizing a mobile food truck to reach out to hungry people with compassion and love. Sarah saw an ad on Craigslist for a company which builds customized food trucks and she contacted one of the owners, Craig, and set up a meeting with him for us to look at a truck and ask some questions. We were exploring and debating and seeking God's will.
We met and both of us were very impressed with Craig's food truck and all the helpful information he gave us. We left that parking lot encouraged and a little more convicted we should pursue this project. As you know, we did. After launching The Torch in February - we started keeping an eye on Craigslist and E-bay for food trucks. And of course, we prayed and prayed God would show up and guide us. As He has. First, He handed us a blessing by causing the IRS - of all places - to approve our application as a 501(c)3 in record time. Only God could speed that organization up. Then He showed us He was with us through encouraging emails and messages and donations and support and prayers from all you people who are stepping up and getting involved.
God never does things half-heartedly, though, and as we have progressed through this process the blessings have begun to flow more rapidly and freely. Two weeks ago, there was a new posting for a food truck on Craigslist. This one was in HOWELL of all places, right in our backyard! We rejoiced at the ease with which we found that truck and were excited to know it would not be difficult to check it out and have a mechanic look at it.
We made an appointment with the owner and ventured to northern Howell for a peek. We loved the look of the truck. The paint job was a bright, clean orange and we could easily envision our sharp-looking logo proudly posted on the side. The inside of the truck was very clean as well - but there were a few items of concern. There were certain aspects of the truck we believed would not meet the Health Department specifications for licensing. The owner was very nice and even told us as we were leaving he was willing to drop his price for our non-profit. We agreed after we left the gentleman’s home we would check with the health department and have a mechanic inspect the truck before we attempted to negotiate a price with him.
A few days later, after I had heard from the health department we decided it would be in our best interest - and the most responsible course of action - to have the health department inspector look the truck over before we bought it. We already had a mechanic lined up. I contacted the owner and told him what we were doing. He was anxious to sell the truck so he dropped the price another $7000 and suggested we could buy the truck, now priced at $13,500 and use the difference to bring it up to code. I called Sarah and told her of his offer. We agreed to pray about it. Then I went to California to see my sister.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy penned those words. In case you didn’t know, Leo Tolstoy was born into a wealthy, aristocratic family. He became disillusioned with that lifestyle and eventually gave it up to adopt the lifestyle of a peasant. He did so because the aristocratic way of life didn’t line up with his Christian beliefs. He was also a man who believed Christians should not be guided by social norms or their government, but rather by God. Tolstoy actually lived what he taught. Intriguing.
I realize Tolstoy lived in a culture in which the government had quite strict control over the lives of the people and we don’t live in that type of a society particularly. But I do think we live in a culture in which social norms have quite strict control over the lives of the people. I’m not talking about social norms like not stealing from each other or not harming others. Those are common-sense social norms necessary if we are going to be civilized. I’m talking about other social norms which affect every aspect of our lives and mold and form who we are. For example, we have adapted social norms which make us a very individualistic society. We don’t need each other and we don’t particularly want others to need us. I think that contributes to a heightened level of competition and drive in our society - after all the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” would have no meaning if people were not trying to outdo each other in the race for materialistic gain and prestige. But to what end? What is the end result of allowing these social norms to penetrate so deeply into our fiber?
John 3:17-18 "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."
Powerful, powerful words. Sharper than any two-edged sword we are told. I read a very interesting article yesterday by a man who took ownership of a Bible passage and made it his life's ambition to allow his decisions and actions to be driven by the Truth in the verse. His was a different passage than the one I have chosen, which is understandable - he is a different person than I am. But as I read his article, I sensed the power of what God was doing in his life and the lives of the people around him and I caught a glimpse of the blessings to come.
I want and need what he is experiencing.
I am owning John 3:17-18 for myself and for The Torch. We are going to become the flesh and blood manifestation of those words. "If anyone has material possessions…" That is me. I have material possessions. I have a lot of material possessions, actually. I'm typing on one now. I have a really nice phone which does far more than make phone calls. I have not one, not two, but three cars. Three. It doesn't matter that I am selling one soon - I have three right now today while I am searching God's Word. I have clothes, a bed, and furniture. I have more than just material possessions. I have friends. I have family. I have Hope. I have abundance.
"And sees a brother or sister in need…" .I don't have to look far to see people in need. Their needs are varied and great. Some people need food. Some need clothes. Some people need a job. Some need support. Some people need to feel loved. Some people need Hope. It is my duty to look around and see the needs of the people whose lives cross mine.
There is more to that part of the verse: "And sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?" If I can see the needs of the people around me, and clearly I can because I just named several, and I just go on my busy way without regard for those needs, how can the love of God be in me? How can I just let pain and suffering and heartache and worry roll off my back if I really love God and I really want to become a beacon of hope for others? I can't. In a lot of ways, I have allowed my life to become the same as many other Christians. It is easy to love my brothers and sisters in Christ who take care of themselves and make precious few demands on me. They make me feel loved as well.
I saw a commercial on TV the other day advertising "Peter Pan" the musical. Old classics like "Peter Pan" endure the test of time, don't they? Of course with society being what it is in the United States, what is not appealing about a boy who never has to grow up? We are in love with youth and being young and chase the dream of recapturing our youth in so many ways. I have even heard it said at church if churches want to continue to see growth, they must ensure they populate their stages with those who are young, because that is who everyone, even the elderly, apparently, want to see up front and try to identify with.
That gives a pretty clear picture of the powerful influence of American culture today, although I'm pretty sure Billy Graham can still fill a stadium. Maybe he hasn’t kept up on church growth and appeal issues. I have mixed emotions about succumbing completely to the idea of turning my places of worship over to the influence of only those who possess youth appeal. It doesn't even matter if a young person in charge has grown up in the church - that does not necessarily mean he/she has achieved the wisdom, patience and experience required to be an effective, Godly leader. I think there are certain aspects of faith which develop through enduring life experiences, both good and bad. A twenty-year-old has not had nearly as many experiences as a thirty or forty or fifty year old. A person who is truly growing in the faith understands and sees that. I get that it might be nicer to look at a fresh twenty-year -old face, but when the rubber meets the road and I am in the midst of a heart-wrenching loss I am not likely going to seek that youngster out for words of wisdom and comfort.
I think about where I was spiritually at twenty (dead), thirty (growing) and forty (so much stronger faith) and I realize that while I held a variety of leadership roles during those years I was not always the best leader I could have been. Loving God and trying to follow Him are vitally important for Christian leaders, but they are not a replacement for a true, unwavering faith which has withstood the test of time. Wisdom comes with prayer and experience. I don't think I can just ask God to make me wise no matter what and everything I do and say from that point on will be so wise and awesome and correct people will travel for miles to seek my advice. We all know they should, but I'm realistic, I know they won't. ;) And I know it won’t happen overnight. My wisdom grows usually the most through mistakes I make - and they can be painful but God uses all my life circumstances to mold and mature me.
I woke up early this morning and was completely unable to go back to sleep, no matter how hard I tried and how long I laid there. It was partly from nerves, partly excitement because I knew I had an adventure before me. I decided to go to the gym right away because I find if I don’t go right when I think I should, I put it off and don’t go. So I ate breakfast, read my Bible, and crossed the street to the gym.
I seriously worked out hard. I wanted to make sure I burned up any extra energy that might be brewing in my system. I tend to have a lot of energy and I was getting ready to fly to California later in the day. My flight was weird, though. I was scheduled to leave Detroit at 5:35 and fly to Ft Lauderdale Florida. I know, lame. Flying to the East Coast to get to the West Coast. But the tickets were cheap. Welcome to my world.
Anyway, then I was to fly out of Ft Lauderdale to Los Angeles, arriving in LA at midnight west coast time. That is 3 AM our time. I was a bit stressed about that. I was concerned I would be so wound up from sitting around on the plane and then in the airport in Florida I would be awake all night on the flight to LA. Maybe you don’t have to think about things like that, maybe I don’t have to, but I do. So I ran 2 miles in less than 18 minutes and then walked a long cool-down.
I spent the rest of the day packing, shopping, and printing directions and tickets and confirmation numbers. Then as I was getting ready to leave, I remembered I needed gas so I kissed Maddy good-bye and hustled out the door to the gas station. By the time I had parked my car near the airport, shuttled to DTW and arrived at my gate I was ready to just sit and let the airline personnel direct me. I did notice a weird message on the board above the check in desk, but blew it off as I sat down and made a couple of important phone calls.
I was looking around the room at 5:00 PM and thinking about how nice it was going to be on such an empty flight and trying to remember how long it had been since I had flown on a nearly empty flight. It just doesn’t happen that often anymore. Please recall my flight was scheduled for take-off at 5:35. Well my reverie was interrupted by the young man behind the counter. He announced the flight was delayed until 7:20. So that explained the weird message, which was in a comment box and said, “Now 7:20”. He then told us if we were taking the connecting flight to LA we would miss it and Spirit was going to have to book us on the next available flight which was at 7:30 AM tomorrow and we would not arrive in LA until 2:34 in the afternoon.
The U of M men’s basketball team has found their way back to the Final Four for the first time since I was 12 years old. As an avid University of Michigan fan, I found myself screaming at the TV during the epic comeback against Kansas and jumping up and down as the clock wound down against Florida, the buzzer sounded, and the celebration commenced. On the contrary, my friend and Torch co-founder Kelly is, sadly, an MSU Spartan fan. Granted she did attend college there, but one would have thought she would have seen the light by now and crossed over from the dark side (the losing side) to the winning side stamped with a block M embossed in maize. My love for U of M is rivaled by Kelly’s hatred for them. She recently told me she will NOT be cheering for Michigan during the final four! While I respect her loyalty to her team, it just left me laughing and shaking my head and prouder to be a Michigan Wolverine.
My conversation with Kelly also left me wondering about how different the world would be, how different my own community would be, if we had as much passion for those in poverty: the homeless; the hungry; the hurting; as we have for our favorite sports teams? What if we got so zealous about making a difference we did not stop trying until we were confident we left no stone unturned? What if we took care of our hurting neighbors the same way we take care of ourselves…or even more drastic, we took BETTER care of them? What if we were so dedicated to making a difference to those around us we skipped a meal out and instead used that money to purchase groceries for a single mom? What if in place of going to the spa to get our nails done, we bought a gas card for a wounded Veteran? What if instead of (GASP) going fishing, on vacation, to an amusement park, or even to the movies, we donated the money to a charity that is committed to making a difference?
Some people, maybe most, would call this fanatical and would not even entertain the thought. But what if we stopped blaming the government and the schools and the weather and our bad genetics and started taking responsibility for each other and the shape our city is in? When was the last time you earnestly prayed for the spiritual health of your city? Imagine what would happen if people all over your city, and the United States, would be obedient to God’s Word, humble themselves and pray. Think what walls would tumble down, what power would be released, and what help and grace would be extended if Christians in your city would kneel before God and claim His promises! Yes, claim them, make them their own, and speak them with confidence. I'm talking about promises such as God saying He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8) and that He is our help in time of need as stated in Hebrews 4:16. A great example of saying enough is enough, is found in Nehemiah. He saw what was taking place in his town, was repulsed by it, and said – NO MORE! He humbly, yet boldly, confessed his own wrong doings and sins and then prayed for his town. And amazing things happened.
I am challenging you to step out in faith. To take a look around you and ask God to lay a heavy burden for your city on your heart; a burden which is so heavy it breaks it – even shatters it. People all around you are in need and you can be the solution; you can be the miracle they require. I dare you to have your heart broken for those in need! I dare you to take a deep breath, scream at the problems of the world, and then to become part of the solution.
According to Ken Pomeroy, with 2:33 remaining in the game, Kansas' probability of winning the game was 99.4%. The Wolverines didn't get the memo though, or care about the score board. The fought hard, overcame adversity and for the first time in 19 years are back in the Final Four.
What if we, as Christians, got back on track and loved others the way God intended for us too. What if we refused to lose, regardless of the odds given, and scrapped and clawed until we overcame? What if we carried The Torch for each other and hated poverty and injustice the same way a Spartan fan hates the Wolverines? Step out in faith....0.6% chance of winning....faith as small as a mustard seed....can move mountains.
When I was a young teenager growing up in Southern California my dad used to listen to an oldies radio station all the time. I was accustomed to hearing his classic favorites blaring from the garage when he worked in there building or repairing things or continuing his never-ending battle to keep the California dust off his truck. One day, he went to the garage and turned on the radio and got ready to start working only to find - in place of the classic - NEWS! His favorite station had apparently made the decision to switch an all-news, all-the-time format. He was not a happy man. Neither were many of the listeners who called in all day long to complain to the DJs about the formatting decision. The DJs explained repeatedly station research had shown more people were interested in hearing a steady stream of news than in listening to oldies and a competitive market like radio was driven by marketing demands.
It wasn’t until late in the afternoon when they finally broke into a newscast with a loud “April Fools!” proclamation, ending the agony for the oldies’ fans. I didn’t particularly care what the station played, but at the end of the day it was obvious the listeners were both happy and irate.
That’s how it is with April Fools Day. There is a certain element of deception that has to occur in order for a prank to succeed and if the deceiver does a good job it can be very irritating for the victim. Makes me realize some people just have a knack for that type of deceit. Today Google has put forth an entire new concept for searching called “Google Nose”. I only briefly glanced at it but I’m pretty sure if one digs deep enough it will be discovered it is a rather elaborate April Fools Day scheme. They did a quite convincing job building a web presence for Google Nose.
It illustrates a point for me, though. I wonder how many people will believe it is possible, even for a few minutes, to conduct an online search through smell? It is no wonder we go down so many paths and make so many crazy choices in this life. Sometimes the right presentation can make the very wrong choice seem alluring and good. It would be nice to think everything and every person we encounter is exactly what they say they are, but sadly, there is deceit in the world. I know I have often made choices that seemed good at the time and only later realized they were exactly the wrong choices for me. I was fooled, I guess. I was the April fool even though it wasn’t April.
It is a futile endeavor to dwell on those choices and beat myself up - it is far more important to learn and grow from them. I once threw my lot in with a leader who was not a gifted leader, in fact, there was some corruption involved, but I ignored it. I threw myself wholeheartedly into helping the organization achieve success while ignoring red flags all over the place (I thought I could fix them). Zeal is great and can help carry a vision a long way, but in the end the integrity of the people involved with the cause make or break it. It is important to allow discernment to rule the day and no matter how much I believe in a cause, I will never blindly follow any individual again. When red flags come up - I will heed their warning and proceed with extreme caution. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice and...I deserve what I get I suppose.