Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two Sides...a few Thoughts.


Growing up as a young boy (very, very, young) in the 60's I knew about the racial tension and the plight of African Americans to secure equal rights.  I knew about it from a great distance since I lived and moved about in a lily white existence.  It wasn't that we were segregated from anyone of color by choice, it was just the fact of living in rural northern Indiana during a time when venturing out of your community didn't happen much, especially for me.  The closest I came to interaction with an African American would be on the basketball court when I was a little older.  In my home, I was told that color wasn't an issue for how you treated someone.  I grew up singing: "Jesus Loves the Little Children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the World."  

Because I grew up in a "white cocoon" I wasn't aware of the struggles facing the African American community regarding prejudice and the reality of their existence in many places of America because of skin color and bias.  I cannot begin to imagine what it's like for an African American pastor who drives through neighborhoods and is routinely pulled over and knows he better place both hands out the window in order to signify to the officer he has no weapon in his hands. 


The situation in Ferguson, MO is not as cut and dried as some from both sides of the issue try to make it.  There are complexities based on political bias's, economic realities, media ratings, historical facts, and evil intentions.  As I have watched, listened, and read about the events, I feel inadequate to offer much to the discussion other than, this is NOT how God intends for us to live.  Because of my inexperience in the African American community, I cannot offer a verdict to the reality they face daily.  I'm saddened by the events, the death of a young man, the uncertainty of what life will be like for a police officer who was trying to do his job, the community that is being ripped apart by violence (not necessarily by the residents of the community), a nation that can't seem to get a handle on how to live together.  

In a recent post written by Benjamin Watson, Tight End for the New Orleans Saints shares his thoughts surrounding the issue at hand. I think his perspective as an African American can help in this issue.

At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

 I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.

I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.

I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Puppy Training & GOD

Meet Toby, the newest addition to our family.  Toby, a Snoodle is 16 weeks old and has a bladder the size of a BB. Can you guess what “we’re” in the midst of?  The thing is, with Toby I know he truly wants to please me.  Yet something gets in the way that pulls that desire out of him and results in…well, you know! 

Sometimes I wonder if God looks at me and laughs out loud as he watches me maneuver life with Toby.  I can imagine he watches me try to “train” Toby and says gently…”welcome to MY world!”  I know how frustrated I’ve gotten over the last few weeks of impatiently wanting Toby to get with the program on WHERE HE’S SUPPOSED TO GO, I get a small glimpse into what God must sense with me!  How many times does HE have to instruct me in something as simple as Love God & Love Others?  This is very basic in my relationship with Him, yet how many times I act like a little puppy who seems to at will do whatever, where ever he pleases, not resembling any restraint and oops, there’s a mess to clean up.  How many messes have I made?  Yet, the remarkable thing is God is so patient and compassionate with me, even when I act more like a puppy than a grown man.

I’m so similar to Toby.  Still in training.  Thankfully God is extremely patient and loving in the process.  “TOBY…do you need to go outsi…too late!!!”  Maybe next time!  Thanks God for the reminder!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The fine art of Shoulding on myself!*

“I should have studied harder in school.”  “I should have invested in Apple in 1980.”  “I should have prayed and read my bible more.”  “I should have been kinder to others.”  These statements may be true but sometimes I get so caught up in what I should have done I lose sight of what I could be doing now and tomorrow.  Regret is a potential monster that can steal away time, energy, and hope.  The Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:13 says there is one thing he does about the past, he…”forgets what is behind and looks toward what is ahead.”  If I keep “shoulding” on myself I will only live in the regret of what I “should have done” and not what I could be doing! 

So, my advice regarding your past regrets: STOP SHOULDING on YOURSELF! 

*this statement is not original with me as much as I wished it were, credit is given to my friend Denny Howard

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

PERSPECTIVE

Last week Ruthann and I flew to San Diego for vacation.  I LOVE flying and enjoy the entire process that takes place to get from point A to point B.  Although, I don’t appreciate the reduction of snacks and meals.  How do they expect me to drink my “free” drink without the plethora of gourmet, tasty pretzels they used to provide?  The perspective of the airline is they are now saving money, keeping them from going bankrupt by not providing such extravagant snack items!  That’s their perspective! Mine is a little different!

One thing that strikes me every time I’m up in a plane is the difference perspective makes.  As the plane takes off and we rise above the ground my mind shifts into overdrive as I try to identify things from a different view.  It amazes me how we can take off on a cloudy, overcast day and eventually we pop through the clouds and the bright sunlight streams in the windows. 

Living in the Midwest I’ve had my share of cloudy, overcast days.  At times I forget the sun is always shining and the clouds begin to shape my outlook. That’s one reason why I like flying so much, it reminds me of this principle of perspective and no matter what’s happening, the sun is still shining.  I have to admit there are times I get stuck with a perspective that is below the clouds.  I become impatient when I don’t see things clearly.  Or, I become frustrated when another view isn’t my own.  I then demand they view life through my lens.  I have to constantly remind myself I’m not the center of the universe. Although, everywhere I go, there I am!  There is only ONE who is the center and I’m not Him!  Flying reminds me of this as I look out the window trying to grasp how large He is and how small I really am. 

There is an art of seeing things from a different perspective that I need to explore.  As I do, I begin to learn and understand others better. I may not agree with them, but I’ve gained a sense of understanding where they are coming from and how I relate to them may change.  And, I begin to see me for who I am, one of many who need to be reminded what life is like above the clouds. 

I don’t have to wait until the next time I fly to get a different perspective.  I can do that by looking to the ONE who sees things from a higher elevation and understanding. He desires me to fly on wings like eagles in the process.  So, I’m going to grab some pretzels and keep looking for His perspective where the light is always shining!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Carving Pumpkins

A tradition in our house over the years has been picking out three pumpkins and taking an evening to “show off” our artistic abilities at the expense of an innocent, non-assuming, gourde.  These pumpkins didn’t ask for this treatment, nor did they have anything to say about the final face or state of being that was bestowed upon them.  Then, before they know it they are on the front porch with a light inside announcing to the neighborhood their creator’s artistic abilities or lack there of. 

This year, each one of us chose a different path for their pumpkin creation.  Ruthann decided to stay with a simple, traditional approach to the standard pumpkin face.  Natalie, picked up a power tool and explored the realm of creative expression via a cord-less drill (She is her father’s daughter!).  I began an extensive search on Google for that challenging, yet doable face that would amaze the neighborhood.  What resulted were three very different yet very similar creations.  Each one shows the artist’s rendition of what they pictured the pumpkin to be, different but yet all very similar.  They are still pumpkins no matter how we “sliced” them.  We could not change that fact.  No matter how simple, complex, or abstract the carving, they all allowed the light to shine through them.  Here’s a side note:  Not once in the creation of or after we were done did any one of the pumpkins complain, question, or refuse the artist’s work!

I’m not going to be Captain Obvious at this point and talk about the similarities between pumpkins and people.  Or, the significance of us being the creation of a loving, creator God. My take away from Carving Pumpkins is this: Do I trust God with how He’s “carved” me?  And, will I allow His light to shine through me wherever He places me?

Shine on Pumpkin Heads!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Leaders Lead and Leaders Make Decisions!

Spring training for baseball has begun.  I must admit I'm not a huge fan but am intrigued with the fact that a professional baseball player can make millions of dollars with a lifetime batting average of .350.  That's a little better than 33% success rate.  I wonder how many leaders would get by with that type of average in making successful leadership decisions.  

Today was one of those days when being a leader called for stepping up to the plate and taking a swing at a decision. One word that sums it up: WEATHER.  So far in 2014 we have had 8 Saturday/Sundays with significant snow.  This past week the weather forecast for Sunday predicted ice/ sleet/ snow totaling 7-10 inches. So, come this morning a decision needed to be made regarding whether or not services would be held.  After an hour of assessing the situation, driving roads, and consulting 7 people I decided.  Many decisions leaders need to make don't come with easy to follow steps that give you immediate feed back on if the decision is good or bad.  When it comes to the weather, hindsight is nearly 20/20.  But the important lesson I learned today, do the necessary work, pray, seek input and make a decision.  I'm not going to bat 1000% on all my leadership decisions but I hope it will be said of me that I at least I showed up to the plate and decided.  For today, I can rest in the fact that even if the forecast didn't pan out like expected, I stepped up to the plate and swung!

The decision?  Services were cancelled...a swing and a...decision!  Leaders lead.

Marty

Sunday, February 16, 2014

CHOICES

I believe the most godly thing I can do is choose.  The opposite is true as well, the most evil thing I can do is choose.  This isn't an original thought with me but the more I think about the more I believe it's true.  Think about it.  How much of life is boiled down to a choice?  I choose when to eat, what to wear, what time to go to bed, what time to get up, if I'll go to work, and the list is endless.  But it goes deeper than just daily routines to include life altering attitudes, perspective, words, and actions.  It all comes back to choice. 
In the beginning two people had a choice.  Sometimes I focus so much on what they chose verses the incredible fact that they had a choice.  I marvel at the fact that God even in his foreknowledge, knowing what they would choose afforded the first man and woman a choice.  Why?  I believe God, even though He saw heartbreak in giving us choice He also saw the beautiful outcome of what life could be like when we choose wisely...and the choices that lead us to Him.  So, what are the choices I am faced with that may not set the trajectory of all human history but may cause myself and others to be encouraged that take us closer to God?  How about choosing to believe that I can guard my heart and mind from those thoughts that tear down rather than build up?  Or, that the words I choose to speak can bring life?  Or, that simple choice to help someone in need might just change their perspective from thinking no one cares to a hope that life can be different.  It all starts with a choice!  What will you do with this incredible gift of CHOICE?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I wish...!

I can remember when I was younger "wishing" for time to move faster.  "I wish it were Friday and it was time to play basketball!"  My mom, usually would respond with: "don't wish your life away."  That was the point!  I wanted time to move beyond where I was because where I was, wasn't where I wanted to be!  Now, I find myself wondering: "how in the world did I get here?" 

We are already almost one month through 2014.  With the way the weather has been lately, I have found myself saying: "I wish it were May!"  But do I really want to skip 4 months of life?  No.  I want to capture each day and fully live in the moment.  So, I guess I'll put my boots back on, zip up my coat, and trudge back outside reminding myself that there will be a day not too far off in the future where we'll be talking about the "heat."  Until then, don't miss out on what today may bring!

Shalom,

Marty

Friday, January 17, 2014

Zombiemania

There seems to be an increasing interest or obsession with Zombies.  The idea that the "undead" will some day take over the earth can been seen in movies, TV shows, commercials, even on Facebook.  There are times I wonder if I may have a little bit of zombie-ism in me.  Not that I have an insatiable urge to walk around moaning & groaning (but sometimes I do complain about life), take over the world, or want to eat things that wouldn't be on a menu at Applebee's.  (okay, sometimes I do want to take over the world, but only for the good of everyone) At times I am so disconnected from the reality of God's Kingdom coming to earth...like a "dead-man" walking!

In John 11 Jesus deals with what some would say is a near Zombie-like encounter.  Lazarus a dear friend of Jesus had died and Jesus in his divine power and authority calls Lazarus out of the grave.  Lazarus emerges with grave clothes and all...fully alive!  Not a Zombie but fully alive.  There are a couple of questions I've had to ask myself recently:  What's died in me that needs resurrecting?  A dream? An awareness? Or a sin I've yet to confess?  Whatever it is, If I don't answer the call of Jesus and let it resonate into my soul, I'm no better off than a Zombie!  Sometimes, my tendency reflects more of a Zombie than someone who is called to New Life in Jesus.  This leads me to the next question: Am I less responsive to God’s calling than a dead man?  Lazarus immediately responded to the call of Jesus on his life.  Do I respond like that when Jesus calls me to forgive, confess, repent, encourage, or serve? Or do I relapse into a Zombie like trance trying to make sense of life while ignoring the voice of life?  Jesus said in John 10:10 "...I have come to give you life to the full..."  Wow, I don't know about you, but I want that, more life than I can live (that's the actual translation of the phrase: to the full). 

So, the next time you see a reference to Zombies ask yourself: Am I fully alive or am I moaning and groaning, trying to control that which I can't control- life, while turning a deaf ear to the One who gives me life to the FULL?   

Be fully alive,
Marty 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Signs of Life...the Value!


Do I value life?  If so, how do I demonstrate it?  One of the most troubling commercials I've seen over the last month has been put out by the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).  In the commercial the announcer says: "Right now somewhere in America there's an animal being beaten and another being locked in a cage alone and left to die.  These scared innocent animals don't realize there is any hope for a better life.  At the ASPCA we are committed to searching every dark corner to find them and help heal the deep physical and emotional wounds that have been inflicted on them.  But we can't reach these animals without your support...."  The announcer goes on to ask for you to join the cause and commit to give 60 cents a day.  What happens next?  You receive a T-Shirt and a picture of an animal.  No doubt, some of the money goes to rescue and care for neglected animals.  Now don't get me wrong, I am not an animal hater or believe in treating animals cruel.  I have had pets since I was a young boy.  Dogs are my favorite and cats, well that's another story.  What cut to my heart about this ad wasn't the agonizing pictures of dogs and cats who have been neglected but the desperation to which the announcer spoke of the immediate need. Now before you jump to either side of the fence on this issue, hear me out.  Contrast this ad with the following video that presents another desperate need: 

video


Life is precious and is to be highly valued.  People should matter to me.  But here's the question I started this post with: how do I demonstrate the fact that people matter? I must confess I have gotten so used to my suburban, middle class, first world life, that I have conveniently pushed aside the grim reminder of the desperate conditions around our planet.  Where do I start in a world with such desperate needs?  Do I respect, preserve, and advocate for life whenever and where ever I see opportunity?  Or, am I consumed with ME?  Do I feel the "desperateness" in my life for hurting, starving, and dying people as is the tone of the ASPCA ad for animals?  In some way I am grateful for the ASPCA commercial because it has jolted me into the reality of what really matters PEOPLE.  Again, I am an animal lover and hope to one day have another dog of my own.  This really isn't an either or issue: do we care for animals or people?  But it is a both and.  However, if push comes to shove, I must default to the care, dignity, and respect of people.  Why?  Because it is in the fabric of every human being that has within them the indelible image of God!   

Just my thoughts,

Marty

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Signs of Life


This morning it was 3 below zero F.  From the inside of my house I could see the glistening of the ice crystals in the trees.  It’s beautiful from the inside looking out.  But once I stepped outside the beauty was quickly forgotten as my survival instinct to stay warm kicked in.  There are not many signs of life outside on days like this.  I’m not concerned at all about mowing the lawn or caring for the landscaping. But life is still pulsating even when I can’t see it.  Underneath the layers of snow and cold there are creatures and plants still alive. 

My view for life needs to begin as I did this morning, from the inside out.  Sometimes I get so caught up with the “outside” of life, I neglect the real place where life comes, deep inside of me: My Heart for it’s the wellspring of Life.  So, on this cold January day I need to look to the originator of life to fill me with his breath to carry on another day.