Thursday, January 31, 2013

It Hurts

I admit that I enjoy reading but not what my wife or daughter enjoy usually. So I’m not the quickest to look at a Reader’s Digest or Guide Post. We have old copies of both of these table magazines scattered through out all three of our bathrooms. My Anne had bugged me to read an article about someone that is well known in Contemporary Christian Music Circles. I was initially hesitant to glance at this short over view but I did. I was taken back and in tears after I finished reading the unfolding of this well-known singer’s story of her mom and dad.

I try not to let my mom’s death or my dad’s dementia get to me but I’m not superman or Jesus so I cry often. I also get frustrated with the way life unfolds at times. Yes, I’m thankful for God’s faithfulness in my life over the years but why does this have to be me and not someone else? Sound selfish – YES! I do know that my Father’s grace and mercy will be there every step of the way and I have no choice but to follow, lean on him and learn from him daily!

I think my choice comes back to whether I’m truly connected to God or using Him to get what I want in life? This may sound strange but I’ve been reading a great book recommended by a friend that talks about life with God, life over God and Life under God. The challenge is that it is too easy to try to manipulate God to do it your way and not really have much interest in actually having a friendship with God. Yes, I can preach about the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and not be plugged into him as my shepherd whose voice I hear so I can be guided to pastures that are green and streams that are flowing and alive.

I just got finished talking with a great friend about computer stuff and our parent’s life issues. I could tell that his mother in-law’s journey in life was starting to impact him and his amazing wife. I didn’t have answers to the questions of why but had simple advice about being proactive and willing to be an advocate and not be in the re-active mode. I know that looking back on my dad’s situation I could have done many things different.  Yet, today I know that I need to get his glasses fixed and get him high calorie drinks. This is how I love my dad today.

I was raised by a mom that taught from an early age to say thank you, yes sir and no sir. I can’t remember my mom or dad ever telling about the cup being half full versus half empty paradigm but they lived it. We faced some obstacles with my dad being gone with his various Vietnam combat sessions.  As I watched my mom talk about her cancer as if it wasn’t a big deal I realized it was going to be a life changing deal for everyone. I know that she was thankful for her life, her family and her God’s love for her.

The sad fact for my family and me was watching grandma slowly be eaten away by cancer over a decade. It was easy for both my parents to assume that a good blood test meant the cancer was gone. The reality was that the cancer was there ravaging her body and she continued to lose weight and become less able to function with out considerable help. It took me months to persuade my dad to get help. He was hesitant to talk about Hospice or Home Healthcare. Yet, in the end, he listened and we connected with Hospice. I know that my mom was a fighter and had to come to a point where she would be willing to let go and trust God with my dad and the rest of us.

I know that it is very difficult to be honest about hurting and frustrations in life. I would rather have a positive response to someone’s question about how I’m doing. If I do spill my guts it is messy, takes time and might make the other person uncomfortable. I am blessed to have many friends who I can be honest about the crap. Again, I have been convicted to see that I have to be honest with God in a first person way to see my life become healthier. My prayer is that I would desire to be WITH my God, my wife and my family in a real way. No more games. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Words - Matter!

I will never forget one of New City’s first-time to do skating at Skateland in Mesa. We had a good-sized group that was most of our kids. I know that there is always a potential for little tiffs to erupt between our kids and teens. The skating rink was packed because it was a Saturday afternoon. We were finishing up our 2-hour session when I hear someone scream out loudly that there were two girls fighting.

As I approach the scene with these two gals pulling hair and screaming rather foul language back and forth I get in the middle of it and they stop.  As everyone is cooling off I finally ask someone that witnessed the whole thing what happened. I was shocked to hear what caused the fight. One of the teens called the other teen out by saying she had ‘chicken legs’. I react quickly and ask what in the world does it mean when you say someone has chicken legs?

As the day finished and everyone was dropped off I thought to myself was it really worth it to fight over someone saying you have skinny legs that are ugly? I know that as a kid growing up my mom would always tell me that sticks and stones can really hurt someone but don’t let words get to you. I knew that deep down inside that it was just as painful for someone to say that you have chicken legs then punch you in the face.

I understand that words are powerful and more than capable of persuading someone to do good or do evil. I can remember being persuaded as a young teen that shoplifting wasn’t wrong because the prices for the sheet music at the small town music store were way to expensive. I can remember when doing construction work and discovering that a few of my fellow foremen were stealing lumber and selling it on the weekend that I cautioned them. The response I got was not something I can repeat because I was the white foreman and more favored by the owners.

I know that I at times will do something or say something that won’t be popular with some at times. I don’t purposely go out of my way to bash someone but desire to see God’s grace and mercy help in tough circumstances. I know that one of the most difficult things in life is to not get the last word in an argument. I have watched myself too often spend more time thinking about my response to someone instead of hearing what they have to say.

I often will use James’ letter to highlight our need to be slower to speak out and quicker to listen. I think it is fascinating that James pegs the issue with talking about how anger and getting the last word in are so connected. I know that losing my cool ultimately won’t accomplish anything. I might feel better if I can get my point across or emotionally be up because I think I’ve won a verbal battle.

The reality, which I have to confess, is that too often too much talk ends up hurting everyone and the real issue at hand isn’t addressed at all. I know that my Anne will be quick to say that too many F bombs exploding just goes to show how shallow and limited we are in our vocabulary and real understanding in life issues. I know that bitterness and anger only continue to mount on the inside when we choose not to deal with our own circumstances. I know that the book of Proverbs says lots about how the right words can end up helping put a life back together.

The issue is that I have to be willing to admit that my words I choose do reflect my real person and heart. Yes, I get angry with people who attack me because I too am human and don’t have that thick of a hide. I also know that any animal pushed into a corner is going to defend its’ self regardless of who is right or wrong. So what do I do when it comes to the use of words? Do I seek to look better than someone because I’ve been trained to communicate and control my temper? Do I talk someone into a corner where I know I can make them look bad or push them to embrace my view?

I know what it is like to have someone pick a verbal fight with me over issues, which are really important, knowing that I have to respond. So I agree that we have to quit arguing about immigration and make real steps to resolve the problem. I know that the NRA and gun control proponents are going to fight it out on Capitol. The issues at hand are real people are being impacted by our unwillingness to talk about the real issues and take credible steps to make life better for all. Yet, I know that I selfishly want things my way so it isn’t easy to see compromise and resolve happen.

Yeah, I don’t like being called old, skinny, grey or going bald. Yet, the reality is that I’m old, I’m not skinny but I’m grey and might go bald when I’m in my 70’s. I’m thankful that my God has chosen to talk to me in a personal fashion where I know he sees beyond the false exterior games I play in life!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Too Far Gone?

I know that it can be easy at times to give up on people or on your own circumstances. I don’t like a discussion working with urban poor that ends up talking about who are the more deserving recipients of God’s grace and mercy. Real question is anyone ever beyond the reach of God’s love, forgiveness and life transformation. I have been blessed with Philip Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace” over the years. It highlights real stories of people who would appear to be beyond God’s reach but ultimately are loved, forgiven, redeemed and welcomed back.

The challenge is that I’m not God or Jesus and it is one thing to talk about one of the parables it is another thing to actually live them out. I love the parables of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son. These parables unfold the heart of God for the broken, forgotten and those who have purposely walked away from God. The call, which most of us don’t want to hear, is that God wants us to be ambassadors of reconciliation reaching back to those who are not the easiest to love.

I had a great breakfast meeting with some new pastor friends. I was sharing the vision and rationale behind doing neighborhood transformation work. The one pastor, who I didn’t know, asked me a rather common question, “Is it possible to justify what you do from both a Biblical perspective and also show results for the investment we might make with your group.” I of course welcome any opportunity to talk, share stories and explain God’s heart for the broken, displaced and poor in spirit. I do get annoyed with those that come out of affluence that have never had to struggle with anything be too quick to judge or criticize someone that is homeless or living on governmental assistance.

I admit that I at times can have a temper and get frustrated with some who seem to continually drop the ball and then in the process hurt others around them. So when I see a teen that has become a dropout I’m not going to be thrilled with their mom or other relatives. I know that too often the failure of a young person is tied to their larger family. Yes, I think someone who is 15 and older is more than capable of rising above their circumstances with a little help. Yet, once the individual has given up on life it takes a lot more effort from the outside to get that person to be different.

I’m around some young adults and older adults who have done some crazy stuff that would make it difficult for the typical person to ever trust them or view them as being redeemable. I know that when I reach back to any of those in these circumstances that I take a risk. I know that if I give them something whether it be food, phone, money that I have to give it not expecting anything in return. I can remember the healing of the lepers where only one turned around to thank Jesus.

So I’m truly blessed when someone I’m helping helps themselves not only says thank you but also chooses to step up and help someone else. I know that the challenge for most is that we don’t understand real brokenness. I have always had a mom and dad who loved me, praised me and were there to help me when I screwed up. I have been married all of my adult life to an incredible person who is always positive, a willing working and partner in ministry in spite of some of my poor decisions. Yes, I have lived through the death of my mom from cancer, I’ve watched my dad over the last 5 years deteriorate from Dementia and learned much from the yearlong birth of our first kid. Yet, I can’t relate to my homeless teens that don’t have any family support, go hungry or end up sleeping from friends house to friends house.

As I’m driving a few of my older teens home last night after they did some home work and devour a loaf of bread which became toast with jam we end up talking about why some people get it and others seem to be in la la land. The point of the conversation was to say that I hoped they understood that God never quits on anyone regardless of circumstances. I know that most of them have relatives that have walked away from them or continue to slam them and seldom support them.

I know it is hard for most to forgive someone who has stolen from you in your own house. Especially when you have brought them into your house to help them. I know that the road to reconciliation has no short cuts. It requires honesty and an openness to dialogue about real life. I believe this is possible with anyone whether they believe it or not. The only reason I can be optimistic is because God is the one who is in the business of renewing us and helping us reconcile with others including himself.

The difficulty is that most are not experienced with being open to deal with the mess that comes out of broken relationships that have been put on the back burner. I know that most that have anger issues come out of this type of context. If you have never experienced real forgiveness or reconciliation and your normal experience in life is to be screamed at or be told that you are dumb or stupid then it is no wonder that you don’t know how to pursue the path of reconciliation.

My hope is that God will help me first be more open, transparent and real to myself, my wife and to Jesus so I in turn can become an agent of reconciliation. I don’t want any of my teens or adults to become statistics. I want God’s grace and mercy to triumph over the evil, brokenness and mess that exists in my neighborhood. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

I Don't Like Being Screamed At!

No one wants to be screamed at regardless of the reasons. I also understand that unless I get the last word in an argument then I’m perceived as the loser. I’m now well conversed in both Hispanic and African American culture where the louder you get the sense is that you are in control. My wife typically brings earplugs to any type of concert or shouting match. I know that one of the signs of someone’s hurt and brokenness is having to take it out on someone else. The challenge is when that someone is you or more specifically me.

I was being the loving son taking my dad out for the day in the rain. We had decided to take him to the mall and walk around the 1-mile hardwood floor path. Anne went shopping and I pushed and helped my dad around the entire path. I know that he enjoyed watching the people and seeing various things in the stores. I was so jazzed that when we pulled up to get grandpa that he was actually sitting in the rocking chair right in front of the entryway.

As we get close to the food court I ask Grandpa if he wants some shrimp for lunch. I knew his answer would be a hearty – YES! I know that he loves shrimp but isn’t too crazy about rice. I know when he lived with us he would complain on occasion rather loudly that we always feed him rice. I decide to go to the other place, not Panda Express and get some freshly cooked shrimp and beef. I text Anne to see if she is finished shopping but discover she is buying something.

It takes a few minutes for the lunch to be prepared and cooked. It is sizzling hot and I take it to the table. I have to pull off the little shrimp ends because Grandpa isn’t able to do that. Otherwise he would eat the shrimp with its’ shell. As we are eating I notice that I had a phone call from someone that I have had serious conflict with. She’s a single mom with older teens. They had stayed with us the last time for 3 months before I had to ask the mom to get her own place. The dynamics surrounding their transition out wasn’t the best, I’m afraid that I needed to have been more specific about our providing living arrangements meant that the funds acquired through working needed to be saved. So moving out was a nightmare unfortunately and we aren’t on the best terms at present.

I had texted this individual a few days ago that her tax return was at my house. My assumption was that voice mail was about getting the return to her. Instead it was a long tirade about how bad I was as a pastor and didn’t have any right to say anything about her situation with her teens. It always amazes me when I tell someone that what I’m sharing is confidential and it gets out. This news really didn’t involve this individual but her son who had done something rather foolish and because he is an adult faced the consequences of his choices.

As I went to listen to the voice mail my blood pressure and frustration level mounted. My decision was what do I do? Shall I text her back a rather scathing put down type of text in a spiritual way? Call her back and just tell her to never call or text me again? I know that in the past this has happened and she lost it when I wouldn’t drop everything to help her or end up helping her teens when she isn’t able. Instead of saying thanks for caring it was typically a leave my teens alone scream and a I don’t need your help scream back. Just as I was going to listen to the voice mail the daughter texts me that mom is on the warpath and is ranting and raving about everything. She tells me not to answer the phone or respond.

Whether this teen knew it or not she gave the best advice. I know as a good Boy Scout that adding fuel to an existing fire only causes it to get more intense. Regardless of how I responded to this voicemail the fireworks would go off and I would end up saying something that later I would regret. I have never really been in the position to help this individual when it comes to direction in life. If she isn’t open to listening to one of her peers she definitely isn’t going to hear from me.

I know that sometimes silence is better than trying to one up someone especially if you are on the phone. I have been in conversations with this person in the past when I just had to hang up. I’m not going to listen to someone scream at me and use the F bomb. This doesn’t serve any real purpose for anyone. Yes, I feel unresolved tension over this situation because it has been brewing over the last 6 years. I don’t like to see anyone in a place in life where they are not capable of providing for their family.

I know sometimes the best path to pursue is the one where you choose not to say anything. This doesn’t mean you don’t do anything but you purposely choose to pray in a positive way that God will bring her around positive people who will listen and encourage her to get back on track with her Heavenly Father. I know that I can’t fix anyone and shouldn’t have this mindset. I know that Jesus truly is the only one who is able to help with the inner hurt, frustration and give the inner strength to keep going when life seems to be going south. 

Friday, January 25, 2013


I have a side to me where I really do enjoy hanging with friends! I just finished talking with my Starbucks Manager who is a best friend for an hour. Did I have an hour to spend chewing the ‘fat’ not really but it was worth it. I am part of a larger church that has a high view of connectionalism. Yes, this means I have to meet with other pastors, church workers and leaders to go over church business for a larger region a few times a year. I know it is easy for many of us involved to view these meetings or gatherings as a waste of time.

I have been involved in doing church work most of my adult life. I have gone to over 100 meetings like these over the years. I know that at some of these gatherings we will end up arguing about something that seems to be less than important. Other times we will discuss and debate issues that are definitely worthy of our time. I drove to Tucson on Thursday to be part of this type of meeting.

I woke up yesterday with my flu bug still residing in my lungs and head. I had cancelled an appointment the day before with someone that was going to do video because I didn’t have a voice. So I changed it to before this church meeting. We met at 7am at another Starbucks. I talked with this video guy for about an hour before we started to tape an interview. My throat was sore and my voice was almost non-existent. Yet, we did the interview over a half an hour and it went well even with a croaky voice.

I drove in the rain to Tucson and got to a meeting about an hour late. I was concerned about being late but it turned out to be perfectly fine. I had a close friend who is involved with New City – Barrio decide to come to the meeting. He showed up just as we were pulling back into the parking lot after our lunch. I didn’t feel too great and wondered whether I should stay. I was jazzed to see a few friends I hadn’t seen in over a year or so.

As the meeting gets started it usually has official business that has to be reviewed. We have a few pastors from the area that are outside of our network share briefly about the work that they are doing and bring greetings. About an hour into the meeting the format then changes to spending an hour with 3 other guys to listen and pray for each other. This was the highlight of the meeting for me! It was a breath of fresh air to just listen to Dave, Mark and Matt share their stories along with me. We genuinely cared for each other and then prayed. We didn’t rush and everyone had plenty of time to just talk about their present circumstances.

I have to admit that after our guy prayer time together I still had a croaky voice and a cold but my spirit was uplifted and ready for the next 4 hours of reports. Some of the meeting is just listening to someone give an overview of their ministry or details about church protocol. I was fortunate to have my friend come so he could update the group about the work we do in South Phoenix with New City – Barrio Nuevo.

As I drove home my attitude changed towards this types of meetings. I don’t want to view them as a necessary evil but as a time of great friendship building and truly caring for one another. It isn’t easy for pastors or church leaders to open up and be honest and transparent about their lives or their work. So I came home refreshed even after a 2-hour drive in the rain.  I was thankful to have been able to attend whether or not I felt 100%.