Monday, October 22, 2012

Good Grief?

This past week our family has had to deal with the unthinkable.
Just saying the word causes me to have chills.
I don't even want to write the word.


Yes. Awful. Sad. Heartbreaking. Confusing.

Needless to say, it's been an incredibly difficult week.
My eyes hurt so much from crying.
No one is ever ready to deal with death, even when we all know it's a reality of life. But death of this kind makes the whole process loaded.

"Normal death" comes with sadness, expectations lost, questions, confusion, family hardship, and different coping mechanisms.

This kind of death jacks up every one of the elements, sending them whizzing around in a completely different direction.

My only hope, my only sense of peace and stability in this situation has been God.
 (Jesus wept, snarled, when he encountered the death of Lazarus).

So, during the past eight days, I've simply practiced what I believe. Death was never God's plan for humanity. We have an enemy who's mission is to steal, kill, and destroy God's people and goodness in the world. God created us to know him and live in Him. God created a way to live an abundant life. God is not only near, but within. The same Spirit that resurrected Jesus from the grave, lives in me. Therefore, I can go on. I can live, with hope.


Comforting people through death can be awkward and difficult.

Words are never enough and sometimes they are just not even right response. We don't know what to day and sometimes we say too much, weird stuff, and random things.


That is what been the most comforting for me.

Honestly, I'd rather not even talk about it, let alone post about it via social media.

But in the spirit of authenticity, I'm trusting in what God has been preparing in me the past couple weeks (speaking out), because others need to hear this story.

I avoided posting anything this week except scripture and most amazing readings from the book, "Jesus Calling." It's how I've found any ounce of hope and rational thinking.

As well as playing lots of music like the new Bethel album, "For the Sake of the World."

When I spoke at my Grandma's memorial, one of her friends approached me afterward. Both her husband and her brother took their life. She has been under a cloud of sadness, and after hearing the hope of Jesus, she found encouragement.

I spoke about how NOTHING can separate us from the LOVE OF GOD.
Romans 8.
Not life, death, suicide, nothing.

My Grandma was sick. She was bedridden and unable to take care of herself and her bodily functions. She was extremely sad, steeped in grief from my Grandad's death in April. I loved her immensely. We had a great relationship. I prayed with her many, many times, even dealing with her desire to end her life before. I tried to remind her of the value of her life, God's love for her, and that God had a purpose to go on living. But She was, in Martin Luther's words, "overcome."

Here is what Luther said:
“I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. . . . They are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way.” [Vol. 54:29].

 What has give given me hope? That Jesus hated death and gave his life to conquer it and connect us with God the Father. And God is a great father. A lover. A hope giver. Even though feelings, and circumstances are painful, I believe and trust good will come, because God is good.

I'm letting myself feel sad when I need to feel sad. I'm letting myself be quiet when I need to be quiet.  And I'm letting myself cry when I need to cry (holding my kids and listening to certain songs has been doing it).

And all the while, I'm embracing God's love and presence with me, and for my family. I will not let the evil one win. I reject his work, because I know God redeems, God wins.

Lamentations chapter 3. Words from one of God's own, his prophet, Jeremiah, have helped me during this dark time.
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
 it is good to wait quietly for the Lord.
So......prayer for me and my family is greatly appreciated. I AM grieving. And trying to find the good and healthy way to do so. And hoping I can help my family (and others), do so, too). The experts say, even though work gives you three days to grieve, realistically the process will take three months to three years. I'm grateful to walk with Jesus, the creator of the universe, giver of life, and conqueror of death, through it all.  Grief can be good.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shut up or stand up. Part 2

Two weeks ago we heard a challenging message. Over 7000 people groups in the world have never heard the name of Jesus. (Listen here). It makes me want to just yell! NO WAY! Why aren't we doing anything about it? 

It seems that way about a lot of things, and it can be overwhelming.  We hear stats revealing that there are over twenty million human trafficking victims and over one hundred and forty million orphans in the world. And we clam up, ignore it, or just excuse ourselves from not doing anything because ___________________ (fill in the blank). It's too big of a problem, it will never change, my life is already busy, I have my own kids/problems, and on, and on, and on it goes.

In my last week's post, I started to share about the opportunities to stand up God was giving me. My sabbatical gave me ample time to relax, enjoy my family, and dream dreams for my life and the ministry he entrusted to me. I returned energized and ready to make some change. But within a week, and on and off all month, I found myself discouraged and ready to go back to life as normal. ( As normal as it was in May before I left). Why the quick turn around? It was little things. Little lies I believed about myself (my calling and abilities), people around me, and lies about God. Yes, lies I chose to believe about God's power to change things, and to change people. 

Many people say the season after a sabbatical is often very challenging and my circumstances were "normal." But I noticed my normal was a temptation to apathy and business as usual. But God's thoughts are always greater than our thoughts and his ways greater than our ways. God gave me every encouragement and opportunity to stand up, instead of shut up! (Take that Devil!).

So, there I was, walking in all these intense thoughts about doing great things with God. Sure I had some opposition, and some things didn't look as exciting as I thought they should be, but I was doing what I thought was my best. 

Cue "inciting incident. " (If you've never read Donald Miller's: "A Million Years in a Thousand Years," do yourself a favor!).

 I was volunteering at my kid's school. I was the new dad on campus. It's our first year being in the "school system." And it's a public school. So we view our involvements as opportunities to serve, bless, and share Jesus with kids and staff. So, one day last week I'm walking to the bathroom during a parent training. I was on a little break. Minding my own business, ready to check Facebook and post a little nugget about my P.E. training. When all of a sudden, I get a bomb dropped on me. I just happened to pass a teacher disciplining one of his students. It was obvious there was a behavioral issue in question there. But in the twenty seconds I "happened" to pass by, I heard the teacher say something that sent chills down my spine. I'm not going to give details, (and it wasn't a profanity, or racist comment), but it was shaming, hurtful, and inappropriate for anyone, let alone a seventh grader. 

So there I was, accountable. I had a choice. Shut up or stand up. Ignore it, make an excuse why I shouldn't address it, or face it head on.

I continued on my way to the bathroom now with my mind spinning. What I thought was going to be a little break, ended up being an intense dialog with God. It actually started with, "God, really? Now? Here?" I hadn't planned on having to confront a teacher, one that I don't even know. I pictured myself saying, "Um, hi. I'm the the father of a KINDERGARTNER, who was eavesdropping on your conversation for a wee twenty seconds and I want to tell you that what you said could have been said different." And blah blah blah, I had to fight the lies and dumb insecurities. 

God kept calling me up and out. I just witnessed an injustice. I just heard a child have to defend his family, even internally have to question his value by one shaming statement.

I knew I had to go and talk with the teacher. I knew I needed to speak truth. And God was very clear. This teacher wasn't the enemy. I didn't need to be mad AT him. He was a created being of God. He was loved by the most high. He also needed encouragement. Teaching is hard. Public schools have ridiculous ratios and underfunded programs. 

I'll cut to the chase. Two hours later during the lunch hour, after my volunteer training,  I searched out this teacher. I introduced myself and told him what I had overhead. I told him I assumed I didn't know the extent of the situation, but humbly wanted to share what I thought I heard and say. What I heard was a statement that would shame any one. I suggested some other ways to express what he wanted to say. He was so humble, and acknowledged in the heat of the moment he could have used different words. He even thanked me. We shook hands. It was amazing. I left there so encouraged. 

Crazy thing, turns out I've seen this teacher a lot more since. As we share some mutual activities and common life intersections (I'll leave it at that). Was it awkward the next time I saw him? Yes. But so worth it. So worth it to have the ability to be free from carrying the burden, judgement,  or bitterness that I might have had. And, I know God did more with it than I was even aware of. IN ME..and I hope in that teacher.

Read Hebrews 12 about how God loves and disciplines.

Want to hear another funny thing? A few days later, someone came to me to confront me about something I posted on Facebook. And right then in there, in love, I had the opportunity to listen and humble myself. I had to thank the person and consider what I had said and how it might have been taken out of context, and how I might have said it differently. I just pictured this same person going through exactly that I went through in order to STAND UP and not shut up. Grateful for life learning lessons.

Wow. God you are amazing. Thank you.

Now, is there anyone, for any reason, that you need to speak truth to? To encourage? To call out and affirm, or help? Don't allow lies and excuses to prevent you. This person could be an unreached person across the globe, a family member, a co-worker, a stranger you overhear, or someone hurting someone else. Be aware of God's voice leading you in paths of justice. 

Be Bold. Stand Firm. Speak out. Dispel injustice. 
Do it all with the grace, love, and power I have for you.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Shut up or Stand up! (Part 1).

Be Bold. Stand Firm. Speak out. Dispel injustice. 
Do it all with the grace, love, and power I have for you.

(To get the most out of this post, click the orange links for interactive media). 

Some time in the spring I was driving to Roosevelt Elementary School. This is a school near our Church's campus in which we will be serving this weekend. On this particular day I was teaching an acting group for fifth and sixth graders. As I was driving down the street, I noticed a crowd of pre-teen boys harassing an elderly woman. Yes, harassing. I did a double-take. Waving their hands in her face, "pretending" to kick her, and getting in her way with their puffed out chests so she couldn't move past them, caused this sweet grandma to shirk in fear. Was this really happening in broad daylight at 3pm in the afternoon? The woman was trying to shield herself from their taunts as she ducked from their teasing jabs and name calling. 

I had no time to plan. I parked my car in the middle of the street, (in front of the public library), swung my door open, and made a B-line to the situation shouting, "NO!" Terminator style I strutted to the crowd of boys yelling, "No! No way! Stop!" 

Then I went all Clint Eastwood on them and said, "Not in my city, you don't."

Honestly, I have no idea where this came from. I was as if I couldn't control it. It was as if I had quickly mutated into a member of the X-Men. 
(Do you see how my mind works? I've seen a few too many action/superhero movies but I want to be clear here. This is not my natural first response. This is a product of what God is doing within me. And it is humbling).

The woman walked passed me as I hovered over the boys.  
They were frozen as deers in headlights. 
I looked at each one, I could feel my heart pounding double time, and my ears were steaming like the cartoons. I recognized two of the boys from my acting class, and my heart broke. 

In a split second, I understood what Jesus might have felt to love the very people who hurt him. 
Then compassion flooded within.  I was mixed with grief, sadness, and frustration. I just looked at them and I knew God was about to speak through me. 

"You are better than this. She deserves better than this. That woman is some one's mom, some one's grandma. It's up to you, to us, to make this city a better place." 

Whoa, now I'm Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Heads down.
Eyes averted.

I looked around at each one. That's when I realized the woman was no where to be seen. I didn't even get a chance to see if she was OK. I didn't know her name or what happened to her.

"I don't want to shame you. I just want you to rise up, to be great. That woman deserved to be treated with respect. I love this city and our city deserves better."

Cue crickets. One minute. No one said a word.

That minute seemed like an hour. The oldest and tallest boy, the ring-leader, never made eye contact with me. He just looked away, the whole time.

I asked them all, "How do you feel right now?"

Then one brave little boy broke the silence. "Sorry."
Then another one chimed in. "Me, too."

The others were silent.

At that moment I wished I could have hugged all of them, but what would Clint Eastwood do?
(Just kidding, I didn't think like that, come on, I'm a WWJD bracelet kind of guy. No joke, is this commercial for real???).

I knew they weren't "bad" kids. They were just like sheep, who were were lost
They needed a shepherd. 

As I walked away, I felt amazing. 
But I knew, that this incident meant something bigger. It was part of a bigger story God was calling me in to. 

It was indicative to what is true on a daily basis in our world. People are harassed, and no one, including me, is dong anything about it.

This is post 1 of 2. Because this theme came back this week in a powerful way.

God has been giving me these words, (over and over).

Be Bold. Stand Firm. Speak out. Dispel injustice. Do it all with grace, love, and power  I have for you.

This week, I saw something happen. It was different than in the street, but similar because I had to choose action. I was either going to shut up and let an injustice take place, or I was going to stand up and speak out. I'll blog more about it next week. 

Until then, ponder this:

* Is there someone in your life who is being treated unfairly?
* Is someone treating YOU in a demeaning and hurtful way?
* Are YOU treating someone unfairly?
* Have you witnessed racism, inequality, sexism,  or any other injustice to defend?
* Is there a situation in which God is calling you to speak up and bring change?

As I posted last week, where do we need to be intentional and engaged with God and others for authentic conversations and go deep in real life issues? (Men? Join in the adventure).