Saturday, July 16, 2016

People, Pokemon Go, and The Promise of Hope

Our daughter Charlotte is now one month old.  She is growing and becoming more and more alert.  It's amazing to see her progress and to see how a baby continually develops.  There is so much to teach her and so much for her to understand.

But, over this last month, I am reminded that there are things that I will not be able to teach her and things that she will not understand.

The headlines and news stories over the last four weeks are difficult to comprehend, no matter how old someone is.

Police officers killing unnecessarily.  Police officers being killed.  Racial tension and racial strife.  84 people dying and hundreds injured in Nice, France.  An attempted government takeover in Turkey.  

And, Pokemon Go.

It seems odd to throw Pokemon Go into the mix of headlines.  But, nearly every major city newspaper and national news agency has feature stories about Pokemon Go this morning.  

Some of the stories deal with the phenomenon of so many people playing this game.  After all, 15 million people downloading the game in one week is newsworthy.

Other Pokemon Go stories deal with numerous people who have been injured, fallen off of cliffs, been involved in car wrecks, and even being arrested.

Maybe the popularity of Pokemon Go is heightened because it is a distraction from the other realities that dominate our world and culture.  Maybe the game serves as a chance to focus and dwell on something that is less intense and less consequential.  

Yesterday morning I was running down a street a few blocks away from my house.  I noticed a couple of guys playing the game, looking at their phones, and looking all around. 

I know that this is the case in thousands and thousands of neighborhoods and communities all over the world.

When I ran by the guys playing the game yesterday, I couldn't help but think of the verse from Luke 14:23 "And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled."

Pokemon Go has brought people out into the highways and hedges.  There is no question about that.
But, this past month has served as a reminder of the desperateness of the fallen world in which we live and Jesus's call for His followers to Go.

  People are killing.  People are dying.  People are hurting. People are grieving.  

As followers of Jesus, we have Hope.  We don't have hope in government reform.  We don't have hope in the next president.  We don't have hope that "things will turn around".  

We have Hope, because Hope is a person and His name is Jesus.

And Jesus calls us to Go share this Hope with others.  He mandates us to Go.  He allows us to Go.

There's nothing wrong with playing Pokemon Go.  But, there is something wrong when those of us who are followers of Jesus don't Go and don't share the only Hope for our desperate communities, our hurting nation, and our lost world.

I don't know what the news headlines will be for the next month or when Charlotte is my age.  But, I do know that our Hope will not change and Hope is what we need.

  



Sunday, June 19, 2016

Going Further As A Father

In the span of the last 16 days, we have had one daughter turn 18, another daughter born, and another daughter turn 13.

As I sit here on Father's Day, inches away from our 5 day old baby, I cannot help but reflect on the last 18 years of being a father.  I also can't help but wonder what the next 18 years may look like.

As a father, I have made plenty of mistakes.  There are some things that I wish I could take back and some situations that I wish I would have handled differently.  

There are times that I made a big deal out of things that weren't a big deal.  There are other times that I probably should have made a bigger deal out of some situations, but  I didn't give it the attention that it deserved.

I know that there are no perfect parents and no perfect fathers.  But, when you get to be a 43 year old Dad of 18, 13, and 7 year-old daughters, along with a 5 day old daughter, you start to know what to look for.  

All of this makes me appreciate my own father all the more.  My Dad's not perfect.  If my Mom wasn't around, he would be first person to tell you that.  But, my Dad is incredibly wise.

Anyone who is around my Dad for very long knows this.  He exudes wisdom.  He can't help it.  It is built into his head and his heart.  He oozes with wisdom about nearly every situation.

My Dad has regularly shared his wisdom with me, my brother, and countless others.  He has various quotes and sayings like "Those Who Don't Listen, Have To Feel" and "Don't Worry About The Mule, Just Load The Wagon" that may or may not have originated with him, but have been spoken by him enough that to a lot of us he is the author of those words.  

My Dad has hundreds of Bible verses that he has memorized, along with the entire 1975 Baptist Hymnal.

I have used words spoken by my Dad in dozens of sermons that I have given over the years.  I have recalled his words and quoted his words on so many occasions, that there are times when I truly hear his voice in my head.

For years and years, I would have said that the words of wisdom given by my Dad are what I valued most about my Dad.  

But, as time has gone by, and maybe my own wisdom has increased, I have realized that those words of wisdom are only as valuable as they are, because of the actions that accompanied those words.

It's far easier to offer words than to offer action.  It's far easier to offer words than to offer time, energy, and sacrifice.

As I reflect on the actions of my father, I tend to look at the interactions that I recall of his involvement with me and my brother.  But, time has allowed me to see clearly that what makes my Dad such an amazing Dad, is not just his role in the life of my Mom, my brother, and myself.  

What makes my Dad such an amazing Dad is that he was and is the same man no matter who is with him.

I remember on one occasion when my Dad gave me his last $20 bill, when I knew that we didn't have much money at all.  He gave it to me with encouragement and assurance not to worry about it.  It always stood out to me.  But, I have also seen him give his last $20 bill to another person who was in need.

I remember my Dad meeting me in the middle of the night at the Astrodome in Houston after my car wouldn't start.  There was nothing convenient about having to get out of bed in the middle of the night, but I know that my Dad has done this same thing for countless people and countless situations.

I remember one time when my Dad had promised to take me and my brother to an Astros Game.  A situation came up at the church that delayed him and the Astros Game started while we were still at the church.  I remember thinking that we would not make it to the game that night.  But, like it was yesterday, I remember sitting in his pick-up truck and him telling me that it was more important to him that he kept his promises and drove us to the baseball game even though the game was already in the third inning.

But, I also remember times when my Dad went way out of his way to keep other promises to people, no matter what it cost or how inconvenient.  

I have come to appreciate that my Dad was not someone who put on his "Dad Hat" when it was time to deal with a circumstance or situation.  The words and actions that he offered and gave to me were the exact same words and actions that he would give to anyone else.  He was and is consistent in his love, care, and concern for people

What makes my Dad such a great Dad is not just the interactions with me and my brother, but the fact that there are several men that I know who would say that my Dad was like a Dad to them.  

The quotes, sayings, and wisdom from my Dad are as valuable as they are, only because of the life that has accompanied those words.  

His actions have validated his words.  No one has accused my Dad of being perfect.  But, no one who really knows him, would question that the desire of his heart is to please God in every way.

He does this my loving God and loving people.

That's my goal.  That's the example that my Dad has set before me.  That's the example that I want to set before my kids.  

By the time Charlotte is 18, I should have the chance to have some of this down.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Tension Between People Inside Of The Church and Outside Of The Church


There is an ironic tension that exists between the people inside of the church and outside of the church.

The people inside of the church are shocked and dismayed when they hear of people outside of the church behaving in a non-Christ-like manner.

Yet, we cannot expect people who do not have a relationship with Jesus to live their lives like they do and be surprised when they don’t.

The irony is this.

The people outside of the church are no longer shocked or dismayed when they hear of people inside of the church behaving in a non-Christ-like manner.

They no longer expect people who have a relationship with Jesus to live their lives like they do and are not surprised when they don’t.

The church must focus less on being "good Christians" and focus more on being good followers of Jesus.

This is not the fault of Obama, Hillary, or Trump. Before we focus all our energy on trying to change the culture and expectations of the culture outside of the church, we would do well to change the culture and expectations inside of the church.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Baseball Cards and The Coffee Shop Reminding Me Of Who I Am


On the wall in our living room, we have the words "Who am I O Sovereign Lord and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?" It's a from a passage in 2 Samuel 7:18.
It's also listed as the subheading on my blog.

The statement is made from King David to God as he reflects on all of the things that have transpired in His life.  It is a powerful and beautiful statement and I read it almost every single day.


I have to keep reading it because I regularly forget who I am.

You would think that I would know and you would think that I would have it down by now.  But, I am consistently needing to refocus my identity.

Here's my conflict:

One moment, I am overestimating myself.  I talk big. I elevate myself. I think that I know more than I actually do.

But, on another moment, I am underestimating who I am through Jesus.  I think that I am unworthy or incapable, and that can lead to me being unwilling to trust Jesus in whatever particular situation is going on.

Knowing who we are in Christ changes everything about us.  It's where we find our worth and where we find our significance.

When I was a kid, I used to buy a magazine called "Beckett Baseball Monthly".  This magazine would give the current price and value of a baseball card.  In each issue, there would be a line item featuring the name of the company that issued the baseball card, the baseball card number, the baseball player's name, and then value of the card.

Next to the value of the card, there would be an arrow pointing up or down, to indicate if the card was increasing in value or decreasing in value.

I know that there are times when we attempt to gauge our value.  We look to other people to determine what we are worth.  Based on what they say or how they make us feel, it can seem like the arrow is going up or down.

The problem is, if that is where we find our worth or value, it will always be changing, and we will constantly feel the need to prove ourselves to others or defend ourselves from others.

Yesterday, I was at a local coffee shop and overheard a conversation taking place between three guys.  I wasn't really trying to overhead their conversation, but they were pretty loud.  They were beginning a business together and you could hear their excitement as they dreamed about all that could possibly take place.

One of the guys was telling the other two guys about something that he had seen on the television show "Shark Tank".  He was telling them that for their business to succeed they would all have to have "skin in the game."  He asked the other two guys what they were willing to bring and the amount of money that they were willing to invest.

This is where the conversation got kind of serious.
One of the guys responded by saying, "Don't you know who I am? Who I am should be enough."
I looked up at the guy to see who he was but had no clue.
He continued. "On Long Island, I am probably seen as a minor celebrity."
I looked a little harder to see if I could possibly recognize the guy from anything.  Nope.

But, right there at the coffee shop, I got to see first hand what goes on in my own heart multiple times each week.  A guy, basing his investment in life on how sees himself and how he thinks that others see him.  And even in his overestimation of himself, he is only a minor celebrity!

I love the verse in 2 Samuel because David is raising the question to his Creator, in recognition that it is God alone who defined his worth, God alone who had seen his value, and God alone who had led to the place where he was.

It's tempting to overestimate myself, but I also know that my pride can destroy my life.  It's tempting to dwell on my mistakes and shortcomings, but I know that His grace has rescued me and set me free.

My identity cannot be defined by another person, a monthly publication stating my current value, or even myself.    

I am exactly who God says that I am, and I could not ask for more!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

What I Show Them Is More Important Than What I Tell Them

We are weeks or days or moments away from the birth of our fourth daughter, Charlotte.

We are also less than a week away from our first daughter, Madison, turning 18 years old, and are two weeks away from our second daughter, Emma, turning 13 years old.  That only leaves Avery, who will turn 8 years old on Christmas Day.

All of that is to say that over these last 18 years, I have adapted to the things that are most important to my daughters.  I have learned the names of Disney Princesses, sat down for many tea parties, and have complimented the appearance of multiple dresses and outfits.
I am no expert at being a father.  I have made numerous mistakes and there some things that I wish I could do over again.

But, finding out what is important to them is not too hard.  I am able to enter their world and show them that what is important to them is important to me, even though going outside to throw the baseball comes more naturally.

But, as my daughters have grown older, I am noticing a shift in our talks and discussions. It's not only that I am learning about what is most important to them.  They are discovering what is most important to me.

It's not that I am complicated or difficult to figure out.

Most of the evenings that I am at home, I am trying to watch a Mets game.  If I can't watch the Mets game, I am trying to find out the score.

Recently, Avery came down stairs early in the morning, still looking very sleepy.  

Her first words of the day? "Who won the game last night?"

The next morning the same thing.

The next morning the same thing.

Of course, I am glad that she takes an interest in this.  Of course, it is sweet and cute for her take an interest in my interest.

But, there is also something sobering about it.

As much as I like the Mets and enjoy baseball, I want her to know that there are way more important things to me.  I want her to know that I am way more concerned about her Mom and her sisters than any baseball game.

I want her to know that I am way more passionate about seeing lives changes and transformed through Jesus than the Mets winning.

I want her to know that the relationships that I have with people are more important to me than names of the players that I will never meet or know.

I want her to know all of these things.  But, I have also learned over these last 18 years, that my greatest influence on my kids is not what they hear from me.  
It is always what they see me doing.

It took me too long to figure out that nothing that I said in a sermon on a Sunday mattered much to my family.  The sermon that I proclaimed with how I lived, spoke, and thought the rest of the week, was way louder than anything from Sunday.

I want my kids to know that God is absolutely the most important thing to me.  I want them to know I am most passionate about the grace of Jesus Christ in my life than anything else.
I want them to know that my hope and purpose is found in following and trusting Jesus for everything.  

That's what I want to pass along to them.  That's what I want for them to pass along to their kids.  

There is nothing wrong with your kids taking part in your interests.  Avery and I have plans to go to the Mets game in 3 weeks.

But, I am learning that I am showing them what is most important to me, and what I am showing is more important than what I am telling them.

sterling

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Learning To Listen

There are these moments when I feel like God is leading me or convicting to say something to someone or to pray for someone.  But, many times I don't say anything.

I like people, but I am not always looking to engage in conversation.  I spend most of my time with ear buds in my ears.

Yet, one of the reasons that I give for not saying anything, is that I don't think that someone will listen to what I have to say.  I think that they will be annoyed, think that I am weird, or wasting their time.
I tend to make those excuses and keep to myself, not saying anything and not sharing the Truth and Hope that sets people free.

I saw this play out the other day at the gym.  I was running on the treadmill at the Planet Fitness. The treadmill to my left was not working, nor was the treadmill to my right.

I had tried to run on the machine to my right and learned that it was not working.  I saw someone on the machine on my left who was unsuccessfully trying to make it to work.
There were no signs or warnings that the indicate that the machines don't work, so person after person was attempting to use these treadmills.

I was in the middle of running at this point and there had been at least 5 people who had come and gone on each side of me, frustrated to discover that the treadmill wasn't working.

Each time I would see someone approach the machine, I debated if I should say anything.  I would see them and think that I should possibly say something, but decided that they would soon figure out on their own.

And they did.  It was painful to watch.  One guy spent nearly 5 minutes on the treadmill not realizing that it didn't work.  He pulled out everything from his pockets.  He placed his jacket across the machine.  He pulled out his headphones and looked for his playlist.  The longer that he stood there, the more frustrated I knew that he would be.

And he was.

After that, I decided to say something to people who were getting on the machines.

They would walk up and I would blurt out "that one's not working." They would turnaround and step off the treadmill.

I would say it to the people on my right and then see someone else coming to the other machine on my left.  I then started to telling the people on my right "that one's not working and neither that one over there" pointing with my head.

There may have still been some aggravation, but at least I was saving them some time and they were listening to me.

Except for one guy.

I told him the machine was not working.  But, he pointed out to me that the power was on.  I acknowledged my awareness of that fact.  He then told me that the machine emergency button needed to be reset.  I smiled and said "ok".  He wanted to show me how to do that and I nodded at him, but knew that was not going to do anything. Two minutes later he reluctantly walked away from the machine.

After he walked away, I thought to myself, "Why is it so hard for people to listen?"  "Why couldn't he just take me at face value?"  "Why couldn't he trust what I said?"

I realized that is how it is with God.  I don't always respond.  I don't always trust.  I don't always believe.  I make excuses.  I learn the hard way.  And, I walk away frustrated.

I am learning that one of the biggest, if not the biggest aspect of my relationship with God is simply to listen to Him.  It's not me telling or suggesting to God what He needs to do.  It's not me making excuses for why I can or can't do something.  

I am learning than when God calls me or prompts me to do something or speak to someone, it doesn't matter if they are listening to me, what matters is that I am listening to God.

Most of the time, the message that God has for me to share or say to someone else, is a reinforcement of a Truth He wants me to remember.

Hebrews 2:1 says "So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it."

Listening is not always easy.  Not being listened to is not easy either.  
But, listening to God and responding to God gives us the peace, trust, and assurance that He is listening to us.  He knows what we need, even before we ask.  He knows our struggles.  He knows our pain.  He knows our frustration.  He knows our brokenness.
Today, He invites us to listen to Him and trust Him.  
He has something to share and reveal to each of us today.

sterling




Wednesday, May 18, 2016

It's Always Easier To Pastor Someone Else's Church

I have been around churches my entire life.  My Dad has been a Pastor all of my life and my grandfather was a Pastor as well.

I have had the opportunity to know hundreds of Pastors.  I have worked with Pastors and served with Pastors of churches that were small and large and everything in between.

I have seen and known Pastors who were gentle and soft spoken, never wanting to rock the boat. Keeping the peace was the ultimate priority.

I have also seen and known Pastors who rocked the boat.  They didn't want anyone to get too comfortable.  Keeping pressure on the people to accomplish the mission or goal was the ultimate priority.

I have scrutinized both of these types of Pastors.  I have seen and witnessed the lack of leadership of some Pastors who I thought should step up and stand up to some of the difficult people and situations that the church was facing.

I have also seen the abuse of power among some Pastors who seemed to overstep their authority and were too controlling and overbearing.

Both of these types of Pastors exist and both of these types of Pastors have strengths and weaknesses.  But, I have also come to this conclusion:  
It's Always Easier To Pastor Someone Else's Church.

It's always easier to sit in the bleachers and second guess which play was called.  It's always easier to get frustrated at the quarterback for not passing the ball when you are watching the game from your couch and don't have a 350 pound lineman headed right at you.

Pastoring a church is hard.  I mean really hard.  I am not complaining.  I love Pastoring my church.

But, there is an element to Pastoring a church that makes it incredibly difficult.

There are usually multiple opinions on any given situation or circumstance taking place in the church.

Group A wants one thing.  Group B wants another thing.

Group A doesn't want change.  What has been done in the past has allowed the church to become what it is today.  Change is not necessary.  Just focus on the mission.

Group B wants change. They think that if  things stay the same, then they are not accomplishing the mission.

I remember feeling and experiencing this tension.  I desperately wanted to keep Group A happy.  I could very much appreciate their perspective.

I also wanted to keep Group B happy.  I could appreciate their desire to adventure out to change things up and think outside the box.

Every Pastor faces some level or some version of this scenario.  It is inevitable if you Pastor a church for more than 10 minutes.

I am guessing that every Pastor eventually comes to the same conclusion that I did.

You can't win.  Somebody is going to be upset. Somebody is going to be unhappy.  Somebody is going say that the Pastor is stuck in his ways and somebody else is going to say that the Pastor is too aggressive.  Somebody is going to say that the Pastor cares too much about what the people think and somebody is going to say that the Pastor doesn't care about people.

At the end of the day, we have to be Pastors who seek to please God.  We are not going to make every person happy.  But, we can please God by how we love these people.

Someone told it to me this way:
Say What You Mean.
Mean What You Say.
Don't Say It Mean.

We also have to remember that it is God who has given us the mission to make His name known.

2 Timothy 4:3-7

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.
It's always easier to be critical of someone else.  It's always easier second guess a play call.  It's always easier to play the "If I was the Pastor, I would.." game.  
If you are Pastor, Pastor your church in such a way that pleases God.
If you are not a Pastor, pray for your Pastor to Pastor your church in such a way that pleases God.
There are no easy answers.  There are no shortcuts.  There is no Pastor who has it easy and there is no Pastor who has no struggles.  
Let's pray for our Pastors today.

sterling