Monday, March 2, 2015

Dare We Take Such Risks

 

Thursday marks a week since a horrific crime shocked the entire Outer Banks community and even more so our faith community, which has reached, out to and opened itself up to the homeless who live among us.  While staying in one of our churches and for reasons I have not yet heard, one of the guests of A Room in the Inn violently stabbed another guest, killing him.   

And it happened in a church.

A Room in the Inn is a cooperative effort supported by numerous churches providing shelter and meals during the cold months for those who have nowhere else to live.  Fourteen local churches open the doors to their facilities, using classrooms and lobbies as dormitories for a week at a time.  Church kitchens serve breakfast and dinner and bagged lunches are prepared for the guests each day. 

It is an outreach staffed largely by church volunteers, each with a concern for those without their own homes.  No other such shelter exists here in Dare County, whether public or private.  And while some are shocked to learn there are homeless people living amongst us in this resort county (with multimillion dollar beach homes), some 39 different individuals found a warm, dry dwelling and meals in the participating churches last year.  As many as 17 stayed overnight at my church in January.

You won’t see the homeless unless you know what to look for and where to look.  With no urban center they seek to blend in, not desiring any sort of public recognition.  Many of them have jobs, but with employment difficult to find in the off-season, they’re income levels don’t support rent.  In the cold months (and haven’t we had some cold this winter) living outdoors in tents or under unoccupied rental homes is not an option. 

It does no good to deny their existence or to wish they would go away.  Burying our collective heads in the sand isn't a viable option.  The reality is they are here, some by their own choosing, some by unfortunate choices and others because the promise of employment and a new start never materialized.  Many suffer from one form or another of mental illness, which only adds another level to the need for care...one which a church-based program cannot provide.

What took place last Thursday morning after breakfast in Duck will certainly cause the board members of A Room in the Inn as well as those participating churches to stop and wonder about the future of the outreach.  With minimal government involvement the torch has been taken up by the faith community, where perhaps it belongs.  But at what cost?

As we so tragically learned last week there is risk involved in inviting strangers into your “home”.  No one truly knows the heart of any man or woman and how he or she might react when put into a group to live with other strangers.  The question that has to be asked is “Is the risk worth the outcome?”   It may be a difficult question to answer.

Christians are guided into caring because of Jesus actions and words.  He was Himself “homeless” during His three years of ministry. "Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head."  He recognized that the plight of the poor would ever be with us.  “You always have the poor with you”, and encouraged those with means to be generous to them. 

Perhaps these words are the most challenging to us. “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.

"Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’

"And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”

And there is the challenge to do something “for the least of these”.  Hopefully we can figure what that something is.



Friday, February 13, 2015

You Do Make History, You Know


It’s no secret to those who know me well, that I’m a history buff.  Ask my kids.  I've drug them all over the country to see battlefields and national treasures.  To me there is something special about learning about and visiting moments in the past that have impacted our present. To my children, not so much I think.

That interest for me goes beyond what’s in the history books. In recent years I’ve developed a passion for unearthing my family’s roots.  In that research I have not only discovered hundreds of years of ancestry, but also I’ve also found “lost” family members.

If history is a “dry” subject to you, consider that it is more meaningful, when it is your own history - when you can place yourself in places and times past.  As I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize and appreciate the people whose influence and friendship helped shape me through the years. 

That’s why I go to youth group reunions even though I haven't been a teenager in 40 years. It’s why I look for ways to thank my pastors and professors who taught me academics and God’s Word.  It’s why I rekindle friendships when I can with long-lost friends on Facebook.

I had one of those “historical” moments this past Tuesday.  An old childhood friend had died, so I made the trip to Jacksonville, NC for the funeral.  I saw some people I had not seen in over 45 years.  We reminisced and had a great time telling old stories and laughing a lot. 

Driving after the service to the cemetery on the other side of town I began to realize, “This must be the place!”  And as I turned off the highway into the cemetery, indeed, on my left was the pond where Pastor Walter Kirk had baptized me in August, 1966.  Baptized in a cemetery pond…but that’s another story for another time.

It was my first return to that special place in my life in almost half a century.  It was where I publicly professed Jesus as my Savior and began a life-long journey of following Him. That's historic!

Treasure your history.  If you are a believer, it is His story in your life.  And share that story with your family and friends.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sometimes the Band Wagon is a Poor Ride


Poor Brian Williams.

Last week he got busted.  Stars and Stripes, the venerable military news source from within the Pentagon exposed him as a liar for saying a chopper on which he was a passenger took enemy fire…or something like that.

Now, years later his “embellishment” has come back to bite him.  Realizing he was caught, he quickly broadcast his form of an apology to the military.  I happened to be watching that night, and ignorant of the controversy (sometimes ignorance truly is bliss), I thought, “Not sure what you did, but at least you’ve come clean and said you’re sorry”.  And I naively thought that would be the end of that.

But was I ever wrong!

The next day if you Googled “Brian Williams” the story of his lie and apology lit up the search engine like Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving.  Then, doing what all true investigative reporters do, they began to dig for more dirt.  Was this his first lie?  And suddenly the stories multiplied exponentially.

Social media wasn’t about to be left behind on this one.  No, sir.  And the clever memes began to pop up, inserting Williams into photos with Lincoln, with the astronauts landing on the moon, and with him saying he told Frodo where the ring was hidden. 

It’s human nature.  The bad side of it, I guess, to kick a man when he’s down.  Even when his slip, his failure, his sin, has an effect on who? 

Two thoughts.  First, I’m no big Brian Williams fan to start with.  It’s not that I don’t like him.  I just would rather listen to another talking head try and convince me of the world’s current events and that they really happened.  He’s on a network that, shall we say, hasn’t the best reputation for solid journalism.  Ever watch Today?  It’s more soap opera than news. 

So, his make believe war story, while offensive to some in the military, hasn’t served to ruin my week.  Not even my day.  The guy told a lie.  He got caught.  Now he’s got egg on his face in front of millions.  OK.  But aren’t there more important issues facing America and the world right now than a journalist’s fantasy ride?  Get over it.  Let’s move on.  No harm, no foul other than his reputation as trustworthy.  Brian Williams’ lack of integrity hasn’t changed my life. 

Second, and more important is this: I’m a liar, too. 

Now, I try not to make a habit of telling falsehoods.  In fact, I try to be honest to a fault.  For me, dishonesty and a lack of integrity would jeopardize far too much. 

But innocent?  Not me.  I did tell my 4th grade teacher that it wasn’t me who spilled ink on a page in the World Book encyclopedia.  She knew I was lying.  I was the only kid in class with a fountain pen.  (Still can’t explain that one.)  I did tell my friend’s older brother that I didn’t know what happened to his pocketknife, when I had taken it off his dresser.

All that to say this: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.  Yes, he should have known this was wrong.  It seems he has a problem.  But I say let’s forgive him and move on, with or without him on the tube.  I can’t help but raise my eyebrows that it is the media pouncing on Williams, like cannibals feeding on their own kind. 

I like the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippian Church.  “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.”  Isn’t it just time to change the channel?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Holocaust Deja Vu

In 2010 I was privileged to visit Paris briefly and Grenoble for a week.  Beautiful cities.

One of the sites we were able to visit in Grenoble was a Holocaust museum.  It provided an excellent look into the extreme troubles French Jews (and non-Jews who were sympathetic) suffered at the hands of an evil ideology, Naziism.  I was are of the atrocities in Nazi death camps and the horrific medical experiments which used Jews as guinea pigs, but didn't the history in France.

What happened in Europe under Hitler should never be allowed to happen again.  But prevention doesn't just happen.

Now at the hand of another invading evil it appears the Jewish population in France is experiencing déjà vu 75 years later.

When will we learn that a nation's way of life, if grounded in liberty, is worth defending "at the gates"?  If we don't learn from history we're doomed to repeat it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

When It is Time to Limit Someone’s Freedom


--> We've all heard it said, "Faith and politics don't mix".  I'm not so sure.

I believe that there are some points where faith (and for lack of a better term) political beliefs do intersect.  My understanding of my Christian faith is that it does and should guide all my other beliefs since it is so much of who I am.  So, for me and most folks who have any sort of religious convictions, saying we must separate our faith from our politics is quite difficult, if not unreasonable

This week’s terrorist attack in Paris – the latest in a string of Islamic induced atrocities – is one of those intersections. 

As an American who still believes in the basic foundations of our society as framed by the authors of our Constitution I am stronger than horseradish on our freedoms or rights guaranteed by that document.  Two of those freedoms - religion and speech - are magnified in a world where in the name of a god some men feel the right and obligation to squelch the rights of others…even if that squelching means their death.

I’ll defend your right to belittle my faith.  Likely we won’t have much of a social relationship if you do, but you have that right. Like it or not, our right of free speech endows us with the right to be offensive.  But if you are I won’t seek to kill you.  And why not? In this country and in western civilization such a right to kill is not recognized. 

Likewise, we are blessed to worship as we choose, not as the government chooses for us.  That’s the primary reason the Pilgrims exited the Old World.  In England they were told what church was legitimate, and because they chose to practice their faith differently they felt compelled to go somewhere where they might have religious freedom.  And for their daring and vision we should be grateful, whether we have adopted their views or not.  We benefit from their sacrifice.

But as free speech has limits – the SCOTUS says we cannot yell “FIRE” in a theater (for example) – so does the freedom of religion.  One such example of a limit is when a man’s religion tells him that it is somehow a “holy” thing to kill “infidels” (those who have another faith).  In a free country sometimes freedom has necessary restrictions to protect the rights of all.

If indeed, as some who know more about it than I, a basic tenet of Islam (as given in the Koran) is to destroy all “infidels” then should the practice of Islam be allowable as a religion in nations where men and women are free to choose?  If (and I believe there are) some Muslims who reject that tenet, are they aware of the “fanatics” among us who live to kill non-Muslims?  If they are, and they are covering up, whether out of fear or out of some sense of fraternity, are they not also guilty? 

I’m not sure how, in France for example, once the door is opened to all (regardless that they may hold to beliefs detrimental to the good of society) the door can be shut.  But it’s obvious that in some instances we all can’t just get along.  Maybe France will be stunned enough to realize what they have allowed in the spirit of liberty could spell the end if changes are not made. 

And I’m not sure we in America should wait for France, Britain or Germany to show us the way.  But we had better soon begin to realize that there are times to limit freedom when that freedom threatens to end our way of life.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

When You Don't Understand, He Does

No one looks forward to disappointments, especially those whose occurrences interrupt our well-being via circumstances that are truly out of our control.  Like the quarterback being blindsided by the forearm clothesline of a blitzing linebacker, they can knock the wind right out of our sails and spin us until we’re dizzy…if we let them.  And if we’re not careful they will steal our joy and stunt our growth.

In the late 80’s I was hired by a contractor from Virginia Beach who was planning on moving into the booming building business here on the Outer Banks.  The company was well established in south Hampton Roads, and I was given the assurance that, “We’re planning on being there for the long haul.”  Yet, at the completion of their first project here the superintendent called me aside on a Thursday afternoon to tell me the next day would be my last.  They were pulling up stakes and heading back to Virginia.

He didn’t know it, but my wife and I were going to sit down that evening and fill out the paperwork to initiate the purchase of a home.  Buying that house (it would have been our first to own) was a big step and one we were looking forward to taking.  It was another move in our lives toward living the American dream.  But dreams aren’t reality and they don’t always come true.

I remember thinking, “What?  God, are you keeping track of me?  How could you let this happen?”  My conversation with my wife when I got home was, “You won’t believe this”, and “We can’t buy a house if I don’t have a job”.   To say we were perplexed is putting it mildly.

It would be great to say that the next day I got a call with a new job offer.  But I didn’t.  Instead I filed for unemployment benefits for the first time in my life and found odd jobs to earn some cash to supplement what I was receiving.  I guess I never knew from week to week how I would work to make ends meet. 

When we feel like we’ve been cut off at the knees and we haven’t been at fault our response boils down to two choices.  I’ll get bitter about it or I’ll get better.  I’ll retreat into rejection mode or I’ll look for the silver-lined cloud and see just how God is going to use this to change me for the better.  Either way it is my choice.  Circumstances can turn me upside down but they can’t ruin me.  If I’m ruined it’s because I chose to be rather than looking for the opportunity to overcome and advance to something new or different.

I’m not a believer that God will not give you more than you can handle.  Too many times I’ve seen that proven wrong.  Who made that up, anyway?  It’s not in the Bible.  Instead, God will allow the overwhelming in my life to bring me to total dependence on Him.  That verse in Romans 8 continues to ring true as it gives me hope that not only is God watching, He’s ultimately in charge and can find a way that I can’t see to turn what initially appeared a disappointing frustration into a grand blessing in disguise.

Maybe you’re very familiar with these words.  Maybe they’re new to you.  But here’s a promise from God to those who love Him.  “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”  All things.  Even the curve balls and the “I never saw that coming” shockers.  As I was taught years ago, “All means all and that’s all all means”.

Guess what?  2015 is going to bring some of those kinds of unpleasant surprises your way.  How you respond to them is your choice.  But if you kick and fight against what God may be doing to move you to the next level because you don’t immediately understand it you might just miss out on the best things to come.






Sunday, December 21, 2014

With An Infant's Cry the War was Won



And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him  and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the inn.

In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before  them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough."

Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors! 

When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 
- Luke 2:4-15

Usually in the battle in a great war in those days there would have been a massive army gathered to fight.  In this story, the massive army  - the angelic host - didn’t come to fight but to announce that the war had been won.  Usually a trumpet sounded the advance of the army followed by the battle cry of hundreds or thousands of soldiers, heard for miles.  Here the cry of victory was the soft whimper of a newborn baby being placed in his mother’s arms. Usually the conquering general would raise his army’s flag over the conquered kingdom.  But here a tiny infant was lowered into a manger – a box from which animals ate. 

Here in this stable the greatest war of all eternity was won.  On a silent night in the little town of Bethlehem God won the "War of the Worlds" as He became human to win back what Adam had given up by his sin and what we all lost through our own sin. 

God never quit.  He never gave up.  He cannot fail.  His promises are true.  And His promise to each and every one of us is eternal life if we will turn from ourselves and our ideas of our worth and put our total faith and trust in the Savior, Christ the Lord.  

God won the war in the most unconventional of ways. 


(Taken from Pt. 3 of "War of the Worlds", a three part series preached at Nags Head Church.  The series can be heard via podcast at nagsheadchurch.org.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Words Have Meaning

 
Words are crucial to our communication, aren’t they?  Without words and the ability to use them, whether verbally or via writing or sign language, communication can either come to a complete halt or at the least bring confusion. 

The God who created the universe in all its vastness has chosen to communicate with us through His “Word”.  The word “Word” has two applications in the Scripture.

First, is the written Word, the Bible.  He used 30+ authors to write down in 66 books what He wanted us to know about Him, about life, about eternity, etc.  Because the Bible is God’s inspired word – that means “God breathed” it, it is perfect and without error.  He had the authors write exactly what He wanted to say.

Second is the “Word made flesh” – the description John gives us in John 1 of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came to earth in human form to reveal with even greater intimacy just who God is.

Unlike our human vocabularies, where the meanings of words change frequently (“sick” now means very cool) God’s Word, reveals His character, which is immutable – never changing.

Be careful these days when some, even well-meaning believers want to change God’s words to mean things He did not intend. 

Jesus and the Bible are His Word and He’s sticking to it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sometimes You Need a Sledge Hammer


My senior year of high school I was invited by some other teenagers in my church to attend a weekly Bible study in another northern Virginia town about 15 minutes (in those days) away.  At that time in my life I was more than excited about my relationship with Christ, and the opportunity to learn more was welcome.  It didn’t hurt either that I discovered there were some pretty girls there as well.  Hey, I was 17.

A 30-something couple in our church had opened up their home for the study.  He was a contractor.  I don’t remember where she worked, but they just loved being catalysts for teens opening God’s Word and having their lives changed. 

Each week we’d meet in their living room for a couple of hours, Bibles and heart open.  I’d bring my guitar and we’d sing some of those early Jesus people songs.  The combination of love from the hosts and learning truth from the Scriptures caused the numbers to grow.  The living room was packed. 

Then this couple made a decision that has stuck with me for over 40 years.  Not wanting to stifle the growth of the study by a lack of room they decided to tear out a wall between their living and dining rooms.  It wasn’t long thereafter that sledge hammers were punching holes in the walls, wiring was re-routed, two-by-fours relocated and voila, two rooms became one.  Now the numbers of kids could continue to grow.  More would be invited. More would understand God’s grace. 

Tearing out a wall in your house for kids who aren’t even your own is a pretty radical step.  But it was a step they felt compelled by their love for Christ and us that they knew was the right, even though some might feel extreme thing to do.  But, genuine Christianity has been marked by radical moves, tearing down walls for centuries.  A crisis arises, and rather than say what can’t be done someone steps out of the box and does what others never dream of doing.

In once scene from Jesus’ life something similar was done.  In Mark 2 the story is reported how Jesus was teaching in a house in the Galilean city of Capernaum.  The house was so crowded there was only room outside to hear through the doors and windows. 

In the same town was a paralytic with four friends.  They had heard that the Nazarene had miracle working ability and thought if they could just get their friend to Jesus perhaps He would mercifully heal him.  But there was no room in the house.   But these guys weren’t about to let some brick and mortar stop them. 

Up the back stairs they went, carrying their friend to the roof on a stretcher.  Then they began to strip away the ceiling tiles.  When they had uncovered a large enough opening they lowered their friend by ropes to where Jesus was teaching.  Seeing their faith – faith enough to do whatever it took – Jesus told the paralyzed man to get up, pick up the stretcher and go home healed.  And he did. 

But what if the four friends had seen the crowd and not tried the radical?  The roof could be repaired, but their friend might not get another chance to meet Jesus.

Are you locked into dreaming little?  Sometimes the answer is on the other side of the wall or roof.  You may just have to take some risks and punch a hole to get through.

By the way, the wife in the couple who opened their home so many years ago has recently learned that she has advanced cancer.  The doctors have given her weeks to live.  Should she meet her Savior sooner than later, I wonder if someone up there will introduce her to the four in Capernaum who loved their friend enough to tear a whole in the roof.  If so, I’m sure some high fives will be exchanged.

* My friend slipped into eternity a few days ago, two weeks after I originally wrote this for The Outer Banks Sentinel.






Friday, August 29, 2014

When God’s Way Out Isn’t a Miracle

 
Rescued and kept secure by the army of the Emperor, his enemies were more than ever committed to his death.  But they could not overtake the well-guarded fortress in which he was confined.  So a plan was conceived to bring him out into the open in a ruse to bring him for a second and calm talk with them.  But on the way to the meeting he (and presumably any escorting soldiers) would be overcome and he would be assassinated.

Some forty conspirators pledged a solemn vow that they would neither eat or drink until Paul was killed.  Letting their elders in on the plot they would have had a better chance of being successful had they kept it to themselves.  But somehow Paul’s sister’s son heard of the conspiracy.  Somehow he was in the right place at the right time. 

Caring for his uncle, he went into the Roman barracks where he was sequestered and let him in on the plan for his murder.  At Paul’s instruction he took what he had heard and knew to the Roman commander, a man named Lysias, who thanked him and instructed him to tell no one.  Then at night, in the cover of darkness Paul was led out of the city, guarded by 200 soldiers, 70 cavalry and 200 spearmen. 

When in the morning his potential assassins learned he had escaped the night before and was guarded by such a large contingent they must have wondered who spilled the beans.

We know of at least three occasions in the book of Acts where God supernaturally intervened when His Apostles had been in danger and were in jail.  Twice Peter was let out with the assistance of an angel.  And Paul and Silas, in the jail in the Greek city of Philippi were freed by an earthquake at midnight.  But God doesn’t always use miraculous divine and supernatural interventions to assail what seems to be the impossible in the lives of His children.

Here in Acts 23 He used Paul’s nephew.  It was providential, but certainly not miraculous.  God just made sure the nephew was in the right place at the right time to overhear some zealous men talking about how they would take care of Paul. 

But, what if, when the nephew came to Paul and told him about the plot, Paul had said, “Don’t tell anyone.  Let’s just see what miracle God might perform”? 

There are preachers who will tell you that the way out of debt is to send them some “seed money”, and God will miraculously multiply that amount back to you.  And if you need a miracle for your health, let’s say they’ll invite you to put one hand on the TV while they pray for you, while with the other hand you’re reaching for you wallet to send them some cash. 

More likely, the way out is to cut unnecessary expenses, live on a budget and honor God in your giving, as you are able.  The answer to our deepest needs and troubles is always provided by God, it’s just not always something unexplainably supernatural.  Be careful when you hear someone say, “Look for your next miracle”.  The real answer form God might be as simple as cutting up your credit card.

Then God had the pagan Romans provide Paul with safety and security to his next stop on the way to Jerusalem.  Again, no mention is made of guardian angels.  Unlike Philip in Acts 9 being “carried away by the Spirit” from one location to another, Paul rode a horse at night in the cover of darkness escorted and protected by 270 GIs.  Taxpayers provided Paul’s protection.  But that’s how God did it.  He’s God, and He can cover us however He chooses.

Just don’t be upset when the sea doesn’t part.  You might not need a miracle… maybe just an alert nephew.