Thursday, May 31, 2007

What Are You Doing With the One-And-Only Life You Have?

While in South Africa I visited a town called Molweni. This rural area has a population of about 35,000, 6 schools, a handful of shops and over 400 orphans. I learned about Molweni because I met a social worker named Lindiwei (pictured at right with the hat) who goes into each of the schools and into many of the homes in the area to help connect them with social services and ministries that can help meet various needs.

Many of the orphans live in houses, more like shacks, where their parents used to live before they died of AIDS. Now you have an 11 or 12 year old as the head of the household taking care of 2-3 younger siblings.

Being a social worker is Lindiwei’s “day job”. The rest of the time she is the resident “Momma” at the Kulani Kahle (“grow well”) Children’s Home, a small, upstart orphanage with three small block buildings that houses, feeds, and cares for 27 orphaned children. On the weekends Kulani Kahle feeds many of the rest of the 400 orphans in the area.

I marveled as I listened to this educated, trained and credentialed woman describe her days and weeks in Molweni and at Kulan Kahle. She is a “giving machine”. The entire time I was there she had a small child on her hip or she had children holding her hands as we walked and looked around.

She lives with the children only having a small room for herself. Lindiwei shared stories with me of God’s provisions for food, clothes, education and recreation for the children. KFC provided them four outdoor toilets and an asphalt company created a basketball court, which is the only recreational place in the entire area.

Jesus commended those who fed the hungry and housed the homeless and clothed the naked and cared for the sick (Matthew 25). Jesus said, “When you do these things for the weak and helpless, you’re doing it as unto Me.” Lindiwei is spending her one-and-only life blessing Jesus as she cares for hundreds of orphaned children and distressed families.

When this life is over, I’d love to be close by to see how Lindiwei is welcomed into heaven and is received by our Lord. No fame or celebrity. No possessions to speak of. No position of power or influence. Lindiwei just has one of the best-spent lives I’ve been privileged to see.

What are you doing with the one-and-only life you have?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Can Church & Government Partner to Meet Human Need?

I’m in Durban, South Africa this week on a “vision trip” to see what God is doing in this area and to see if He is inviting my church to participate with Him in any way. I am seeing many things.

I’m here with two women, Caryn and Pam, who work with the women’s ministry in our church. Several of our women have become burdened about the AIDS pandemic and have been catalytic to our church becoming available to serve in this arena. Yesterday we visited an AIDS hospice in one of the suburbs. A former senior housing facility that had gone out of business, this 6-story structure was purchased by a church 5 years ago and now services 100-120 dying patients.

The plight of AIDS is so far reaching that the government as well as the population in general is overwhelmed. When a church congregation steps forward and says it wants to help the government says, “Please do.” Therefore, the church secured the capital for the purchase and renovation, provides a steady flow of volunteers and established the mission statement to bring dignity, compassion and care to those “infected and affected by AIDS”. The government provides significant grant money annually to fund the utilities, buy meals and pay salaries of doctors and nurses.

You can imagine my “American look” when the hospice administrator was telling us the story. I asked, “You mean the government gives grant money to provide medical staff and medicines without restrictions on doing ministry?” Their reply, “Of course.”

Lest you leap to conclusions about “strong armed, manipulative religious proselytizing” allow me to share with you about our experience. We thought we were there to simply see what the hospice was doing, take a brief tour and some notes and pray about any future involvements or support. Instead we were asked to make “pastoral” visits of the patients. What does that mean?

There is one chaplain for 100 patients. He is totally overwhelmed and welcomed our assistance in making visits. We went to the 6th floor and just began going from room to room to see if anyone wanted to talk. Every single patient wanted a visit! We would sit or kneel by their bedside and inquire about their day. Sometimes they would share some of their story. We were on a women’s floor and everyone of them was in their 20’s! Most had one or more children being kept by a family member or institution.

We held their hands, patted their shoulders, cared about their pain and allowed them to shed their tears. People with AIDS often are not touched nor spoken with because of fear of the disease and shame associated with their plight.

At some point in the conversation we would ask, “Would you like some scriptures read or a prayer?” Every single one of them wanted that. Note: our perspective was that we were there to comfort and care. If reading a scripture or saying a prayer would not be of comfort we would gladly do the visit, offer our love and care and that would be that.

With each scripture reading there was an unusual sense of peace that would come upon the patient. With the speaking of prayers bodies would relax and become less agitated. We prayed for their children, for God’s comfort and in some instances we prayed for healing.

I assumed that the mortality rate in a hospice was 100%. At this writing the mortality rate at this center is 60%! Once these patients receive some nutrition, medication, and soulish care 40% of them improve and are able to be discharged and return to their children and homes.

To me this partnership between “church and state” is brilliant. The benefit of this ministry is so clear recently a group of Muslims made contributions for the purchase of needed equipment even though they knew all the work was being done in the name of Christ and that some patients were becoming Christians.

Can church and government partner to meet human need?

Sunday, May 20, 2007


AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a collection of symptoms and infections resulting from the specific damage to the immune system cause by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Treatments for AIDS and HIV exist to slow the virus’ progression but there is no known cure.

HIV/AIDS is the largest and farthest-reaching pandemic to ever hit our planet. More people have died from AIDS than all of the other diseases and plagues through the centuries combined!

And, though there is no known cure, it is totally preventable! The virus cannot be passed on in an airborne fashion but must involve the exchange of body fluids. Therefore, by careful screening of blood transfusions and the choice to only engage in monogamous sex (and a few other behavioral changes) HIV/AIDS can be dealt an effective blow.

But meanwhile over 40 million have died from the disease and on the continent of Africa there are over 15 million orphans due to AIDS.

Thus, I’ve been asked by my church to take a vision trip to Durban, South Africa and to prayerfully meet with ministries and service providers to see if God is inviting our church to come along side and help in some kind of way. I’ll be in Durban all of this week and I’ll seek to blog as I have opportunity and share my reflections.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is It Right to Have Absolute “Black & White” Rules?

Yes, I love the game of basketball. No, I don’t love the NBA version of it.

In recent years I barely watch the NBA during the regular season. I don’t really tune in or care about what is happening until the playoffs. I’m crazy about the way Steve Nash plays the game and therefore I really enjoy watching the Phoenix Suns.

For those that don’t follow sports there is a reflection coming so hang with me for a couple of paragraphs.

In game 4 of the Phoenix and San Antonio series, benchwarmer and overrated Robert Horry took a cheap shot at 2-time MVP Nash and body checked him into the scorer’s table as Nash was about to speed past Horry on a fast break. Fortunately Nash was okay and resumed playing. Horry was ejected from the game and received a 2-game suspension, as he should. However, two of Nash’s teammates leaped off of the Phoenix bench in concern for how Nash was as he lay on the floor. NBA rules prohibit teammates leaving the bench during altercations between other players so as not to escalate the moment.

Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw quickly caught themselves (literally within 1 second) and returned to their bench. But, the “black and white” NBA rule says that anyone who leaves the bench will be suspended from the next game and thus they were. As it turns out this was a bonus for San Antonio because Horry is not crucial to their game plan and Stoudemire and Diaw are very crucial to Phoenix. Game 5 was played last night and Phoenix lost without these players. With just a little official review and interpretation of the game 4 incident the NBA could have appropriately waved the rule and preserved the best competition of the entire playoff. As it turns out they are ruining what I consider the best of professional basketball competition by eliminating any kind of variation to a rule.

Okay, the reflection: aren’t there times when “black and white” rules deserve interpretation and some variance of implementation? I think I hear the “legalists” out there yelling “No”.

The Bible says, “Thou shall not kill.” That’s a good rule/law. We respect the sanctity of life and protect it. However, if I come home and someone has broken into my house and is raping my wife or killing my children I’m going to stop that man even if it means I have to kill him. Wouldn’t you?

The Bible says, “God hates divorce” and He forbids us to end our marriages. However, if a woman is being beaten by her husband and her children are being sexually assaulted by her husband I’m going to tell her to divorce him immediately and get far away from him.

There is a “spirit” to the law in addition to the “letter” of the law. The “spirit” is the intent. Murder laws are intended to preserve life. However, if someone has to take a life in order to preserve the lives of his 3 family members then the letter of the law should not punish him for doing so.

With respect to my frivolous NBA playoff game, the Commissioner should have allowed the Phoenix players to compete. But, reality is that a lot in life is not fair or just, but that will be another post.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell, A Life Well Lived

Today 73-year-old pastor and evangelist Jerry Falwell was found in his office unconscious and then later died. He leaves behind his wife, three children and several grandchildren. He also leaves behind quite a legacy.

Dr. Falwell founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1956. In the beginning the fledgling church met in his home and later moved into the building of an old soft drink bottling company. Today the church has 22,000 members! Dr. Falwell established a television ministry that continues to be featured on stations around the country and he founded Liberty University with a student enrolment of that exceeds 20,000. He also built elementary schools, homes for unwed mothers and homes for alcoholics.

Falwell was perhaps best known as the face of fundamentalist Christianity. In response to what he considered an immoral drift of the country he founded the Moral Majority in 1979 that at one time boasted 6.5 million members committed to working the political system for the election of Congressmen and Justices. In 1983 U.S. News and World Report named him one of the 25 most influential people in America.

Falwell became a lightening rod for everything that was anti-fundamentalist Christianity or anti-conservatism. At one time he even had a significant point of difference with Billy Graham. There have been many things with which I have strongly disagreed that Dr. Falwell has said or done through the years. Nevertheless, I have great respect and admiration for what he has done for God and for people.

From what I understand and believe the Bible teaches Jerry Falwell is now in the presence of the God whom he has served for over 50 years. He’s experiencing a joy and peace that is beyond anything we know in this world. And I’m sure he is hearing from our Lord the words that all servants of Christ long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The past few days have been filled with commentary on the passing of Jerry Falwell. A great deal of it has been very mean spirited. The harsh commentators have justified themselves because Falwell often was outrageous and sometimes mean spirited himself.

My reflection on Dr. Falwell did focus on positive accomplishments with a brief acknowledgement of another side of his life for which I hold disagreement and disappointment.

The comments by Lance Lewis and Eric Redmond represent what I consider fair yet pointed criticism of Dr. Falwell’s legacy.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Thank God For Mom

Some time ago I heard Leonard Sweet give the history of the American observance of Mother's Day. It was never intended to be a day off from any of the tasks and triumphs that go along with mothering. The story of Mother's Day is a story of protective yet adventurous, gentle yet bold love that was passed from generation to generation.

How did it start? The mother church of Mother's Day is in Grafton, West Virginia, where for the first time on May 8, 1908, Mrs. Ann M. Jarvis was honored by her daughter, Ms. Anna Maria Jarvis.

Ann was 12 when her father (Josiah W. Reeves) was appointed to a Methodist church in Philippi, West Virginia. Seven years later she married Granville E. Jarvis, son of the Baptist minister in Philippi. They had seven children in Taylor County, West Virginia, where Mrs. Jarvis organized and conducted "mother's work clubs" in Philippi, Webster, Prunytown, Fetterman, and Grafton.

These mother's groups were work clubs started to mobilize the mothers of a community to fight the problems of disease, poor health, improper sanitation–one or more of which had killed five of her seven children. When the Civil War erupted, the Methodist churches in many of these villages were taken over by Union troops with soldiers from Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. When an epidemic of typhoid fever and measles broke out among the soldiers, the general asked if these mothers' clubs wouldn't help care for the sick. They did, and received the highest commendations for their wartime service.

When the war was over, and blue and gray veterans returned to the same communities, the same churches and in many cases the same families, there was a bracing for the feuds and prejudice and hatred that would continue on a local level the Civil War just concluded. Mrs. Jarvis conceived of an idea whereby her "mothers' work clubs" could be reactivated and redeployed to "kick the devil downstairs," as a phrase of the day put it.

So she worked with local county authorities to announce the formation of a new celebration in 1868 called Mother's Friendship Day. The plot was simple: each member of the club would bring her entire family, and mix that family throughout the crowd. This way there could be no splitting of the community into hostile camps.

On the appointed day a huge crowd gathered. What everyone feared most started to happen: armed Blues and armed Grays occupied opposite corners and glared at one another. The authorities decided to disband the crowd and cancel the event, but Mrs. Jarvis would have none of it: "I will not. I'm no coward."

When the program was announced to start, Mrs. Jarvis appeared dressed in Union colors alongside a counterpart dressed in Confederate colors. When the bugler called the crowd to attention, Mrs. Jarvis explained the meaning of Mother's Friendship Day, and invited the crowd to sing "Way Down South in Dixie" to the accompaniment of the Prunytown band on the high courthouse porch. A portion of the crowd loved it, and sang its heart out.

When they were finished with this song, Mrs. Jarvis' Confederate partner invited the crowd to join her and the band in singing "The Star Spangled Banner." At the close of singing this song, two teenage girls, one dressed in blue, the other in gray, stepped forward, took the two ladies' hands, and invited them to shake and hug each other.

The crowd was then invited to do the same, after which the band struck up the song "Auld Lagne Syne" What followed was a "melting of hearts," and the bloodshed that everyone feared was prevented.

Mrs. Jarvis continued her work with the "mother's work clubs" and Mother's Friendship Days throughout the rest of her life. She moved to Grafton, West Virginia in 1864, her husband died in 1902, and she was moved to Philadelphia to be with her son, where she died in 1905.

At the foot of the open grave in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Mrs. Jarvis' daughter, Miss Anna M. Jarvis, made a pledge that she would establish a memorial to Mother's Friendship Day, and for the next two years waged a round-the-clock campaign to found a Memorial Mother's Day. On May 10, 1908, a full Mother's Day service was conducted at Andrew Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia and in the afternoon at Wanamaker's Auditorium in Philadelphia. Not until 1912 did the Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference agree to designate the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution confirming and setting aside the second Sunday in may as Mother's Day.

Ann Jarvis used "mother love" to spread Jesus' love commandment from the "Boys in Blue" to "Johnny Reb." Jesus commanded all his disciples to do a simple, a monumental thing—to love one another "as I have loved you." It was this seat belt love that would enable others, enable "everyone," to recognize Jesus' disciples when they saw them.

Friday, May 11, 2007

There Are No "Glass Slippers"

I had one of those conversations again. You know, the conversation with a friend that describes how hard a personal circumstance is and dreams of being rescued by the “magical wand” that brings the desired change. This is why fairy tales have been around for centuries. In fairy tales people can wish big dreams and think happy thoughts and live "happily ever after".

In the story Cinderella, the young girl has lost her real mother and has to contend with a nasty stepmother who is harsh and unfair. Cinderella has to do all the housework while her lazy stepsisters get to have all the fun. Cinderella is the constant recipient of cruel treatment born out of envy and jealousy. Cinderella lives in a dysfunctional home.

Solution? Just trudge along, be a nice girl and the animals will be your friends and someday a fairy godmother will turn your rats and pumpkins into a stretch limo and you'll get to impress a wealthy young man, get married and live happily ever after.

Is your marriage or family life crazy or even painful? Is your work setting disturbing or depressing by the way bosses treat employees? Are you wondering how you can be delivered from such uncomfortable relationships?

There are no glass slippers. The answer is not getting a different spouse or boss. Winning the lottery and becoming wealthy won’t fix everything. I know, you’d like to test out the getting rich experience just to make sure :)

The fact of the matter is that everywhere that you may be relationally challenged, there you are. Even if you get to change geography (different house, different job) or opportunity (different people, different bank account), “you” are still there. You have learned to live with certain decision-making proclivities and predictable reactions that will most often bring you back to a similar state.

The issue is not “How do I change the external things?” (circumstances), but rather “How do I change the internal things?” (me). I continue to find that the Christian faith is filled with instruction, inspiration and power for implementation for the developing of a changed life.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spider-Man Finds Deliverance at the Cross

Warning: Movie spoiler follows.

I grew up reading comic books and have loved most of the major motion pictures based upon the comic book heroes. Friday I attended the opening day release of Spider-Man 3 and was not disappointed. As usual the special effects were fantastic. Web spinning and swinging through the streets of New York were realistic. Tobey Maguire’s playing of Peter Parker is believable. The bad guys were bad but not detestable.

This time around an unusual other worldly presence attaches itself to Peter/Spider-Man. We’re told that the black and sticky parasite is a “symbiote”. It becomes one with the host and begins to powerfully influence in an aggressive, evil and vengeful way. Thus Spider-Man’s red and blue outfit becomes a sinister black and the film’s subtitle comes to the fore, “The Battle Within”.

Spider-Man treats Mary Jane, the love of his life, terribly and uses his special gifts and abilities selfishly and punitively. Under the influence of the dark presence Spider-Man becomes an ugly, dare I say sinful human being.

Interestingly, director and screenwriter Sam Raimi, then has Spider-Man go to church. As the church bell rings Spider-Man does battle with himself in the tower and seeks to get free from the evil presence. Finally Spider-Man ends up at the foot of a cross where he finds deliverance and the black substance releases its grip and departs to find another host.

The parallel is unmistakable to the dark, sinister presence of Satan and the abuse and misuse we all have of our gifts and abilities, unless and until we find deliverance at the cross, where Jesus has died so that we might be free.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Let's Tell It Like It Is

Within hours of the Virginia Tech Massacre I posted my reflections on this horrific tragedy and I did not hesitate to refer to the killing of innocent people as evil. Gregg Easterbrook has written at The New Republic his own observation on the unwillingness of the today’s media to use clear and descriptive language when it comes to evil. He concludes that the media is “Trigger Shy”.

“Katie Couric: ‘Just who is this shooter?’ Charles Gibson: ‘Tonight—the survivors, their stories; the shooter, his background.’ Matt Lauer: ‘We’ve now got an identity of the shooter.’”

On ABC, NBC and CBS, in the 72 hours after the tragedy, the word “shooter” was heard three times as often as “killer” or “murderer”. Even though it was clear within minutes, certainly within hours that murder had taken place most reporters would not refer to a killer but rather preferred the neutral term “shooter”.

A shooter is someone who holds a gun and the trigger is pulled and the gun is fired. “Shooter” gives no hint of intent or morality. “Killer” tells us that evil was a work in a person who took the lives of others.

Easterbrook points out that it is certainly appropriate to use neutral language when all the facts are not known. But in the light of all the facts the worst the New York Times could bring itself to say is that Cho suffered a “troubled mental state” and “imbalance”. Had the Times called Cho a “madman”, the paper would have been criticized for using a judgmental term about a mass murderer. Without the sick video taped ranting by Cho released by NBC, it is clear to most of us that one does not lock the exits to the building so no one can escape and then go kill 32 unarmed innocent people unless one is “deranged” (mentally disturbed) and “mad” (angry, provoked).

Also in the news over the weekend was the acceptance of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey into the Episcopal Church and into the Episcopalian General Theological Seminary where McGreevey will be trained for the ministry. For the media the story is another chapter in the unusual story of a twice married and now “outed” gay man who will go from the governor’s mansion into ministry.

In my mind the story is about a “liar” (having been “outed” in many lies to his wife and New Jersey constituents) and an “oath breaker” (marital vows broken) and an “adulterer” (having a sexual affair with another person who is not your spouse) who is “unrepentant” (without acknowledgement of wrong-doing and sin) being accepted as a candidate for ministry. I feel no ill will toward McGreevey nor do I feel compelled to try to condemn him. I’m simply using appropriate language to describe the known realities about his life.

A judgmental attitude that contemporary culture frequently screams about is also unacceptable to Bible believing Christians. We sin if we seek to build ourselves up by tearing other people down. But, the Bible also makes it clear that when someone cheats on his wife he is an adulterer. One who tells lies is not prone to exaggeration but is in fact a liar. One who knowingly takes the life of another is a murderer. If someone’s esteem takes a hit because of such language then it should because they have crossed a moral line established by God and therefore he or she has “sinned”.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

No One Ever Really Gets Away With Doing Wrong

The Seattle Times tells of a 35-year old man who was scheduled to appear in court in Chehalis at the Lewis County Courthouse. As Eugenio Anthony Colon approached the courthouse he knelt in front of some shrubs and hid a container containing marijuana before entering.

What Colon didn’t realize was that the shrubs were in front of a window and behind the window were a number of police officers that watched Colon hide the container before their very eyes.

Colon was surprised to be arrested inside the courthouse for possession of marijuana and confessed that he didn’t realize that he was in front of a police window when hiding the container.

The Bible tells us that nothing escapes the watching eyes of God, not even our so-called secret thoughts. How does that make you feel? Frankly, if you’re living well and in keeping with the character of God it should make you feel good. The Bible tells us that God will reward us for doing good and especially for doing good in secret.

However, if we are doing wrong we are to be sure that we will be found out and that there will be a day of judgment and recompense where we’ll receive our “payment” for doing wrong.

A friend of mine recently faced some very unfair treatment at work and will lose a significant amount of money for comp time and promised bonuses that is due but won’t be paid. The boss is being both unprofessional and dishonest. What does one do? Certainly there is some legal action my friend could take. But mostly we both acknowledged to one another that God will continue to provide and that some day God will settle that injustice.

This is but one more reason that I choose to be a follower of Christ.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Green Hotel" Replaces Bible With Al Gore Book

According to the Bloomberg Report the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa wants to be “the” green hotel in California. Therefore the hotel is equipped with waterless urinals, solar lighting, recycled paper and a toilet paper dispenser that only dispenses one sheet per visit. Sheryl Crow would love this place.

Additionally Bloomberg reported that the hotel had also replaced the Gideon Bibles that one typically finds in the hotel room nightstand with copies of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” which is central to much of the current day discussion about global warming.

When a few other news outlets began to highlight the story of Gore’s book replacing the Bible, the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa contacted Bloomberg and asked for a correction. They stated, this is “a new hotel, the grand opening was held on March 30, 2007. Gideon Bibles have been ordered for all the rooms and will be made available to guests.” Gore’s book will also be on the nightstand. In other words the hotel is claiming that they didn't replace the Bible, they just hadn't received their order yet.

I have great respect for the Gideon ministry and I’m grateful for the placement of Bibles in hotels, hospitals and many other places where a reading of Scripture can provide comfort or inspiration. I hold the Bible in highest esteem.

Still, the story strikes me as a bit funny because of the news coverage by reporters who probably have a low regard for the Bible and a hotel management that was sent scrambling because of little if any regard for the Bible. It seems to me to fit the analogy of the “pot calling the kettle black.”

But, the story does raise an interesting reflection. Every year the Bible is a “best seller”. Some people own 4,5 or 6 copies of the Bible. The sacred Book is frequently given as gifts for the birth of a child, graduation, birthdays, etc.

Yet, Americans are becoming less and less a “people of the Book”. By that I mean that the virtue and morality and worldview that the Bible expounds is becoming a smaller and smaller minority way of life.

Whether a copy of the Bible is on a hotel nightstand, used in a court of law to swear in a witness, sits on your coffee table or is referenced by a politician all means very little unless its truth resides in the heart. It’s the Bible that commands us to love our enemies, to forgive those who hurt us, to give to those in need and to keep our hands off of the spouse of another. The Bible is a treasure of wisdom and a revelation of the Person and purposes of God.

I agree that Americans need to become more “green”. I also contend that if we become more biblical we will become more careful stewards of a globe that God has placed in our hands.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Signs FOR the Times

Every now and then in the Seattle area I drive past a church that has a “reader board” type sign. Usually these have one phrase posted that conveys a message worth reflection. When you have a moment for reflection consider the following:

“He who kneels before God can stand before anyone.”

“Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.”

“Exercise daily, walk with the Lord.”

“God answers knee mail.”

“Give God what is right, not what is left.”

“Faith is a journey, not a destination.”

“Love God with all of your heart, then do whatever you want.”

“A dam holds back water. It’s not my last name. God.”

“Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.”