Freedom, Dialogue, and Coercion

Need for Freedom
One of the bedrock principles upon which our nation was built is our freedom to speak freely.  Our ability to have intelligent discourse, especially when there's disagreement, will determine whether our nation stagnates or continues to grow.  When we allow one side of a conversation to silence another, the resulting monopolization of ideas puts us on a dangerous path toward tyranny.

America is more polarized than ever.  That's not to say that opposing sides are necessarily further apart.  Rather, the polarization seems starker because any effort to bridge the chasm is disparaged.  The extremes at each side of a debate become so inflexible that no divergence or alternative is tolerated.  When we disagree with another, the response should not be to silence them by shouting louder or threatening the source of their livelihood.  If we believe that we speak words of truth, let those words be enough.

Coerced Speech and Silence
Two days ago, Phil Robertson was summarily suspended by A&E Network from his role in Duck Dynasty over comments he'd made in an interview.  Whether and how much we agree or disagree with what he said, should he be suspended or fired over his comments?  Should the fact that a significant number of people were deeply hurt and offended by his remarks justify his suspension?

The Freedom of Speech I espouse is beyond the protection guaranteed in our Constitution.  I understand that no laws have been made by Congress to impede his right to expression.  However, the principle behind that freedom that's been eroded -- the ability to have civil discourse without coercion.

Both sides of the political spectrum have been guilty of the same underlying tactics.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz spoke for 21-hours to voice his objection to President Obama's healthcare law;
  • Texas State Senator Wendy Davis spoke for 11-hours to block passage of an abortion law; 
  • Protesters shout and demonstrate at military funerals, condemning the country in the name of Jesus;
  • Blocking of Facebook pages after opponents complain of "hateful content"; and 
Win Them Over
Sadly, many of these tactics succeed -- at least in loose definition of the word "success."  A position wins, not due to agreement or even compromise, by submission.

At home, we try to teach our children how to have a proper discourse.  WSpehen we communicate our rules (or consequences), they are allowed to question for the purposes of understanding.  After understanding, they are allowed to express their opinions and try to change our positions.  However, they must always conduct themselves respectfully in word, tone, and conduct.  We don't always succeed but we consciously try.  Peggy and I take seriously our duty to teach them certain truths; our desire is for them to do more than just follow the truth but to fully accept it.

Those who know me know where I stand on key issues.  More importantly, you know (I hope!!!) where I turn to for guidance on my positions.  Though I hold my convictions to be truth, I realize others won't be convinced simply by my speaking louder or silencing them.

Anyone with a wise heart is called discerning, and pleasant speech  increases learning.  (Pr 16:21, HCSB)
A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.  (Pr 18:2, HCSB)

Gifts of Grace

Theologian Gordon MacDonald has said, "The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church.  You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace."  (Snyder, Jamie, Real, Pg 112)

As Christians give and serve during this and all seasons, let us remember for Whom and by Whom we serve.  When we distribute food and toys, these aren't just acts of charity.  Let us not settle for fleeting joy.  Rather, what we share ought to be His everlasting grace.  During this season of giving, better yet, even after this season of giving, let our charity be extensions of His grace.  Let all good that we do be an extension of His love and point to His lovingkindness.

Unspoken by Dee Henderson

My wife and I have read and enjoyed Dee Henderson's O'Malley series.  Though many have tried, few successfully blend faith, action and romance as Ms. Henderson has.  Against this backdrop, I eagerly anticipated this new novel.

SPOILER ALERT: I have yet to figure out how to review a book of fiction without giving away at least some part of the story line.  For that, I confess my shortcoming and apologize in advance.

The description on the back cover states, "Charlotte Graham is at the center of the most kidnapping in Chicago history."  So, though I approached this book with anticipation based on past joy with Ms. Henderson, my joy wasn't unfair.  This line led me to believe there would be more action and suspense.  Unfortunately, the kidnapping had occurred years prior so the events are described reflectively, lacking the anticipation and energy I'd come to expect from Ms. Henderson's books.  Overall, the pace lacked briskness.

What I did enjoy about the book was the burden of a large inheritance.  If your desire is to dispose of a large inheritance in a responsible manner, what would you do?  What criteria would you use to choose meritful organizations or projects?  Would you drop a few large sums of money or distribute the money among many organizations?  Though few of us will have such a "challenge" in our lifetimes, I appreciated the opportunity to consider the dilemma and apply it to my own, lesser situation.  Am I being a good steward with my riches?

Charlotte Graham, the victim of the kidnapping, is at the center of this book.  All other characters' roles and purposes relate to Charlotte.  Bryce Bishop was brought into her life for a business exchange but their relationship grew in scope and complexity.  Because of the pains from Charlotte's life, their relationship grows slowly and never quite reaches vitality.  Though truthful to the storyline, the lack of passion in their relationship can be disappointing for readers.  The more interesting relationship, to me, was between Charlotte and John Key, her bodyguard, who became head of security for her enterprise.  John's past and skills are not fully developed, which left me yearning for a view behind his mystique.  Perhaps that will be saved for a sequel.

Overall, I don't some readers will enjoy Unspoken.  For me, whether because of undue expectations or otherwise, I found the book lacking.  However, I will continue to be a fan of Ms. Henderson and look forward to her next work.

[Henderson, Dee, Unspoken, Bethany House, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2013]

NOTE: I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House for the purposes of this review.

The Kingdom Agenda by Tony Evans

"The kingdom agenda, then, may be defined as the visible demonstration of the comprehensive rule of God over every area of life." (Pg. 28)

With these words, Dr. Tony Evans seeks to bring all of God's chosen subjects under His lordship.  When we bow down before the King of Kings, we must be aware if we hold back parts of our lives from Him.  Let us not be mistaken that we either submit to Him fully or we fail to fully accept His Lordship.  This should be a welcome reminder for all followers of Christ as we, all too often, compartmentalize our life into family, work, and church.  That is to say, we withhold 2/3 of our lives from His Lordship.

In Part One, anticipating and addressing any objections, Dr. Evans adeptly lays out the theological foundation of of the Kingdom agenda.  If we profess to believe the words of our Holy Scripture, then that Scripture tells the we are to seek His Kingdom, not only eternally but for His Kingdom to reign here and now.  (1Ch 29:11, Mt 6:13)

With that foundation set, Dr. Evans then carefully addresses the effects of a Kingdom worldview in each of the subsequent sections:

  • Part Two: One Life Under God (Individual transformation and responsibility)
  • Part Three: One Family Under God (Role of the Family and each member of the family)
  • Part Four: One Church Under God (Church is both the means and manifestation of His Kingdom on earth)
  • Part Five: One Nation Under God (How the Church should and is intended to participate in government and spread Biblical ethos)
This book is an excellent resource for those who need that extra nudge to live a life of discipleship.  With a perfect blend of Scriptural truth and anecdotes and stories, Dr. Evans presents difficult material in a way that is both convincing and understandable.  Further, each chapter includes enough depth and detail so it will occupy a prominent place on my shelf for continued reference.  

(Evans, Tony, The Kingdom Agenda, Chicago, Moody Publishers, 2013)

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

"If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying to win."

Said [NFL's AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, Terrell] Suggs, "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying to win."  (USA Today Article)

Is this a representation of sports today?  Is this a representation of our culture today, even beyond professional sports?  Though the media has much to say about the use of PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) , the spotlight implies that these are anomalies.  If we examine the root of what causes an athlete to use PEDs, we may find parallels in everyday events that require each of us to more closely scrutinize our integrity.

Suggs' was asked about his response to an opposing coach who stood in the field of play and may have prevented Suggs' teammate from scoring a touchdown.  But his statement may, as easily, apply to any situation where humans compete against other humans.  In academia, students race against students in the context of the dreaded curve.  In the workplace, performance evaluations allow room for only one or two stars.  In order to succeed, one must wonder whether their competitors are crossing the lines.  One must be willing to push, if not cross, boundaries to have a chance to succeed.  For athletes, the boundaries come in the form of "vitamins" or "sports cremes."  Students hire "tutors" who help to "edit" their essays.  Workers, who are eager to claim credit, prove less forthcoming when things go wrong.

In a world where person competes against person, people get hurt.  People cut corners.  Trying to win does require cheating.  After all, the ends justify the means, right?  Perhaps, that's the crux of the issue.  Rather than looking at the means (i.e. cheating), we ought to examine the ends (i.e. winning).  Instead of seeking to win over man, we ought to please God.  As the Apostle Peter taught, "Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ."  (1Pe 4:11, NET)  When we consistent seek God's will, we no longer need to concern ourselves with what others are doing.  In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16), Jesus taught that we will each be rewarded individually.  Final judgment will not be graded on a curve where our performance is judged against another's.

WHOM do you Thank?

"Thank You" -- such a simple phrase and yet so easy to take for granted.  Our son, Luke, has a generous nature.  He's often buying things for his little sister.  Her "thank yous" are all the "payment" he needs.  There's something magical when someone expresses their gratitude.  Now, imagine the difference if she dropped the "you."  Imagine how Luke feels if she just said, "This toy you bought for me makes me feel thankful."

I love this season of Thanksgiving.  We unashamedly gather together with family, friends, and loved ones to express thanks for our many blessings.  Though I wish each day was a day of thanksgiving, one day or one month is still better than none at all.  However, as we count our blessings, let us remember whom we're thanking.  Certainly, we're not sitting around the turkey saying, "I feel good about...." family, friends, love, career, etc.  No, we gather with our loved ones so that we can thank the grantor of those gifts...our Lord in heaven, the You we thank.

This Beautiful Mess (Book Review)

Life is hard.  I’ve coped best with life when I’ve been God-focused and kingdom-focused.  It’s no wonder then why Rick McKinley’s book, This Beautiful Mess, would appeal to me with this promise, “In the mess of everyday life, you can live in the beautiful presence of the kingdom.”  For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. 

Before I get into the content, let me first commend Pastor McKinley’s writing style.  Many of the topics could have been heavy and hard.  However, with elegance and grace, his words draw in the reader helping us to marvel at his topic: God’s creation.  Examples from his own church, Imago Dei Community, help the reader to imagine the possibilities and avoid getting bogged down in theological ideals.
The book with its oddly attractive title is about how, “Jesus invites us to live out the historical reality of His kingdom in our contemporary post-everything culture.”  The book breaks down into three sections (four if you count the appendix, which is often a “throw away” section in most books, but not so here): 1) Discovering the Kingdom, 2) Re-Visioning Life in the Kingdom, and 3) Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom -- knowing, seeing, and doing.  McKinley expertly weaves scripture and practical application to convincingly argue for how we should live among His creation, His kingdom.

My only knock on the book is addressed by McKinley himself in the Appendices.  The book was all too focused on this world and this life and not enough, for my taste, about God’s glory and eternal salvation.  To be fair, I was looking for something for which the book was not intended.  In Appendix 1, McKinley encourages us to look beyond the dichotomy between the gospels of salvation and kingdom.  He warns us that focusing too much on one loses sight of the transforming power of the other.  Until I read the appendix, which I, admittedly, skip more often than not, I had the uneasy sense that McKinley was too focused on the creation and not at all (or at least not sufficiently) focused on the Creator.  In the end, everything about the kingdom and the reasons to practice the kingdom mindset is important only because Our Lord and Creator is worthy of our praise.

NOTE: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review

Fear in the Morning

Growing up, I'd wake up some mornings and just want to stay in bed.  The night before, my mom had been, furious.  Not knowing whether her temper had cooled, I preferred to stay in bed.  Sometimes, not often, I'd hear a hint of cheer in her voice in the next room and know it was safe to emerge.

These memories came back this morning.  Luke woke up early (as usual for a weekend).  But instead of coming downstairs, he stayed upstairs.  I knew it was because of my anger from last night.  I'd allowed us to go to bed angering and him to wake up with fear and doubt.

No matter the reason, I don't desire for my children to wake up in fear.  Don't get me wrong.  I, as a parent, have a duty to teach and, when necessary, to discipline.  However, I also have a responsibility for sheltering and protecting.  They should know that no matter what they've done, my love and desire to protect them is unyielding.  Any anger at their actions cannot be allowed to fester and stunt their joy.

Review of Authentic by James MacDonald

“The more we can be like Jesus, the more we will be living an authentic life.”  With these introductory words, James MacDonald begins to lay the foundation for a walk of sincere faith.  The walk consists of the disciplines of Bible study, prayer, fasting, fellowship, service, and worship.  Each fills its own chapter with each chapter beginning with MacDonald’s personal testimony.  One of the attractive elements of the book is MacDonald’s obvious willingness to allow his own life and walk to be examined for authenticity.  His willingness to be scrutinized helps to ensure that his points are accessible, removing any patronizing undertones that so often ruin books on sanctification and spiritual growth.

My main difficulty with the book is my failure to connect with the author.  Each of the chapters focuses more on the reasons we should engage in each of the disciplines.  The reasons often come in the form of “surveys” for what’s missing (what need would be fulfilled by the discipline) or people’s objections/obstacles.  While I agree with some of the observations and reasons, I finished each chapter still feeling unfulfilled.  In the end, I realized that my premise for sanctification may not align entirely with the author’s.  My own journey has led to an inflaming of the Spirit within me, which, in turn, has led me to desire to partake in each of these “disciplines.”  Like most believers, I faced obstacles in the actual exercise of them on a consistent basis.  However, I didn’t need to be convinced or given reasons why they’re valuable practices for a follow of Christ.  I had hoped for more ideas on overcoming the obstacles to walking “authentically” rather than more reasons why a certain practice is needed.

Overall, I would willingly share the book with others as there are many good points in the book.  While it was not what I looked for, I don’t deny that it will serve others well.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Relative Obligations

The other day, the following Proverb caught my attention, "A relative offended is harder to reach than a strong city." (Prov 18:19a)  In my own life, I've found it to be true that some of my biggest conflicts and the hardest to resolve are with loved ones.  Prompted to dig a little deeper, I found the following insight by the Reverend Matthew Henry:

Great care must be taken to prevent quarrels among relations, and those that are under special obligation to each other, not only because they are most unnatural and unbecoming, but because between such things are commonly taken most unkindly, and resentments are apt to be carried too far. Wisdom and grace would indeed make it most easy to us to forgive our relations and friends if they offend us, but corruption makes it most difficult to forgive them; let us therefore take heed of disobliging a brother, or one that has been as a brother; ingratitude is very provoking. Great pains must be taken to compromise matters in variance between relations, with all speed, because it is a work of so much difficulty, and consequently the more honourable if it be done.

What struck me most about what Rev. Henry had to say is the idea of obligations.  As I wonder why it's easier for me to have grace with another child in AWANA than with Luke, my own son, the answer may lie in the fact that I have higher expectations of him -- I've placed on him a greater obligation.  But does that mean I should lower my expectations?  Not necessarily...

  1. Identifying Expectations: Before I can begin to lower or eliminate an expectation, I must first be clear just what it is I'm expecting.  Often, I don't realize what I've expected until I feel upset or disappointed when that expectation hasn't been met.  
  2. Weighing Expectations: As Rev. Henry states and the Proverbs at least imply, obligations are relative.  Scripture is clear that parents and children have certain duties to each other.  Similarly, what we expect of fellow believers is different than what we should expect of the "lost."  Even having settled that, we must still discern whether our expectations are worthy.  Are they intended to honor and glorify God?  Could it be that our expectations are manifestations of our need for control?
  3. When Expectations Aren't Met: Assuming we've assessed and concluded that our expectations are warranted.  How should we respond when they're not met?  Should we, as Rev. Henry recommends, "disoblige" and take "great compromise matters"?  Absolutely.  I want to be clear that I'm not talking about lowering standards or not speaking the truth.  However, we must remember that we must be quick to forgive and eager to edify.  When a God-honoring expectation hasn't been met, we ought to be disappointed and aggrieved.  But we must be careful that we don't encroach on the Lord's work -- to judge and change hearts.
Questions to Consider (or Reply):
  1. Have you had experience with a conflict/disagreement with a loved one because of a higher expectation?  
  2. Is there a time you can remember where you've been disappointed but haven't been able to explain, even to yourself, what your expectation was?
  3. Do you agree that we must often "disoblige" and be quick to forgive?

Associating with Hope

Let's play a game of word association.  What's the first thing you think of when you hear each of these words?
  • Mother...
  • Father...
  • AIDS...
  • Orphans...
  • Jesus...
  • Christians...
  • Tumaini...
In Swahili, Tumaini means hope.  Around the town of Masii in Eastern Kenya, the ministry known as Tumaini International is the epitome of hope.  Having helped over 1,600 children, Tumaini has a well-deserved reputation in the region.  People know that Tumaini children have access to quality medical care while receiving assistance for necessities like food, shelter, and schooling.  Tumaini staff walk alongside the families, offering not only financial support, but also medical, psychological, educational, and spiritual assistance.

Near Masii, there's a family of seven living in a room that was barely 8' by 8', smaller than some closets in America.  Half the room was occupied by a single bed.  Those who don't fit on the bed sleep on a thin rug, which barely separates them from the cold concrete.  The room itself is rented.  The family has no land of their own on which they could raise animals or plant crops.  Without land, the family has no means of sustaining their meager lifestyle.

Against such a backdrop, one might wonder what difference we, as a team, could make.  We traveled across the world bearing stickers (yes, kids love stickers!), food, toys, games, clothing...  Even the $35 per month to sponsor a child -- what difference will that make in the long run?  Asked in that way, those things and money will have little lasting impact.  However, it's what those things and our actions represent that matter to the Tumaini children.  To those children: 
  • Tumaini means a team of foreigners who care enough to have travelled across the world to play games with the children.
  • Tumaini means strangers who love them enough to drive a couple of hours to deliver a bag of food and visit with them.
  • Tumaini means someone noticed a need and loved them enough to replace their tattered shoes and clothes.
  • Tumaini means a staff of people, both locally and in the United States, who have both the heart and the talent to encourage and equip their livelihood.
  • Tumaini means opportunities to start a small business with the support of microfinance programs.
  • Most of all, Tumaini means that all of these people care by God's grace.  
LORD, you know the hopes of the helpless.  Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.
You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them. 

--Ps 10:17–18, NLT
In a world that seems determined to defeat them, Tumaini find hope as reflected in the eyes of sponsors.  Through that hope, mothers find reason to take their medication.  With hope, children make the extra effort in their studies.  Hope means those hunger pangs are only temporary and the work in the fields can continue.  The $35 per month buys school supplies, medicine, food, shelter...but in the end, that bit of money represents God's grace to otherwise forgotten people.

If you haven't already, consider sponsoring a child.  If you already sponsor a child, continue praying and reaching out to them.  Treat them as your own -- for that's how they see you.  Write letters; send presents.  And, prayerfully consider sponsoring another child.  The need for hope is great; thankfully, the source of hope is greater.

Tribute to Muia (Video/Photos)

I continue trying to find the words to express all that we saw and experienced in Kenya.  Until then, this video may communicate more than words ever could.

Irresponsible Husband/Parent? (Leaving to Kenya)

Am I being an irresponsible parent/husband by leaving my family for two weeks and putting myself at risk in Africa?

In a little over a week, our team will be on our way Kenya.  During that time, Peggy will be both disciplinarian and comforter to Luke and Bella.  That's precious time I'll never get back with Peggy, but even more so with the kids, who seem to change and grow from week to week.  During that time, any sense of safety or security I offer will be missing.

So I don't argue that this trip is a huge sacrifice for Peggy and the kids.  I understand why some question my choice to go to Kenya in light of my responsibilities at home.

Despite how it might seem, our (Peg's and mine) decision for me to go to Kenya was not involve balancing values.  The fact that going there means leaving here doesn't mean that I value what/who is "there" more than my loved ones at home.  The choice to serve in Africa and my responsibilities as a husband/father stem from the same value: honoring the Lord.  Matthew 10:37-38 teaches us that, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."  I do both to the utmost of my abilities because I believe Jesus expects no less of me.

Even more, in the long run, serving in Africa ADDS rather than DETRACTS from my responsibilities as a husband and father.  Whatever security I may provide by my physical presence doesn't come close to the security our Shepherd. (Psalm 23:4) Any bits of wisdom or discipline I may impose on my children (either during those two weeks or over a lifetime) won't have the eternal consequences of pointing them toward true wisdom and our ultimate duty: to love and honor God. (Ecc 12:13-14, Prov 9:10, Col 3:17)

In the end, what I pray my children will understand is how much I love them and that my going to Africa is not in spite of that love but at least partly because of that love.  The greatest legacy I can leave my children is that anything of value comes from our Lord.  Anything I offer is fleeting and unreliable.  I pray they'll remember this trip as an example of how we're to respond to God's love and following Him.  I believe that when Jesus admonished us to leave our loved ones to follow Him, he wasn't depriving them of us.  Rather, He was teaching us to lead them to Him.

End the Blame Cycle

Has anyone else noticed how quick our reflexes are when it comes to blaming others?  Even as we sense that we're about to be blamed for something, a survival instinct seems to kick in as we prepare to deflect blame, which often means redirecting toward someone else.  Recently at work, someone stated unashamedly that, "someone has to be thrown under the bus."  Even in such a "dog eat dog" environment, that statement caught me off guard.  It's not so much that it doesn't happen; it's just not often stated that explicitly.

Think back to our childhood when we've been caught doing wrong.  "He started it!"  (I've never quite understood the reasoning behind that justification.)  If there's any solace, it's in knowing that we've reacted this way since the very beginning of Creation.  In Genesis 3:12, when confronted by God, Adam's defense was, "She made me!"  And, in case that wasn't a strong enough defense, "And You, God, gave her to me!"  Or Aaron, when confronted by Moses after making the golden calf, answers, "You know how these people can be....And besides, who knew where you were?"  (Ex 32:22)

As Christians, this is one of the areas where we're called to be different.  Here are a few things to considering as we fight the instinct to blame another:
  1. Reflect God's Mercy: When the finger pointing is obvious and directed at you, that's a perfect opportunity to reflect God's mercy.  Everyone watching expects you to either fight back or blame someone else.  Rather, we're called to, "maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears."  (1Pe 2:12)
  2. Avoid Relativism: Subconsciously, when we blame someone else, we're playing with the scales of justice.  Early in our youth, we develop the mistaken idea that those who started "it" or those who did worse are the ones who should be blamed.  That thought process implies that those who "only respond" or have less culpability shouldn't need to answer at all.  Christians, remember that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  (Rom 3:23)  As a result, we're not better or worse than the next person.
  3. Trust in the Lord: Trials tend to magnify our true character.  Do we respond to accusations by shifting blame for our own preservation?  Or do we, "Trust in the LORD and do what is right!"  (Psalm 37:3) (Psalm 37 offers wonderful insight on how the godly ought to wait patiently on the Lord.)
  4. Take Responsibility: Blaming often turns into a vicious cycle.  Thankfully, one person accepting responsibility for their contribution can put an end to the chain reaction.
In the end, though we may be tempted to the immediate gratification from blaming, we're called, "In speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, [to] show yourself an example of those who believe."  (1 Ti 4:12)

Valley's Goodwill Mission

Several weeks ago, a member of the church brought to our attention a Goodwill fundraising program.  If we committed to filling a certain, minimum number of bins, Goodwill would pay us for each bin.  It sounded simple enough, until we saw the size of each bin.  It takes about 15 yard-sized trash bags to fill each bin.  On top of that, large furniture, television and computers would count toward that total.

Though discouraged, we knew the Valley family had come through before.  Even if we could collect enough to fill just 15 bins, that's still several hundred dollars for the trip. 

This morning, the truck showed up.  After a tour of the room where the donations had been stored, they estimated about 10 bins worth of items.  Not bad....but then people started pulling up with cars, vans and trucks full of donations.  Before long, it was obvious the 18 bins they'd brought in the truck wouldn't be enough.  Another truck was needed and with it, they brought another 15 bins...."just to be safe."  By the end of the day, 32 bins had been filled.  We, including the Goodwill representatives, marveled at how the items seemed to have multiplied.  What initially appeared to be barely 10 bins had more than tripled.

One of the early objectives for the team has been making sure we're not just a bunch of individuals traveling across the world with our personal agendas.  We view this trip as an extension of Valley's mission...we go as ambassadors of Valley.  

The thrill we felt at the end of the day was so much more than just realizing how much money we'd raised with our "junk."  In filling 32 bins, our church family had affirmed that they're "all in."  In filling those bins just months after donating for a yard sale, our church family was telling us that we're not going alone.  The money raised would not only help to pay for the trip, but it would also pay children's bibles at the church in Kenya, toys/crafts for the children's games/gathering we'll be hosting, and supplies for the schools.  In filling those bins, Valley had affirmed that those things are important to them.

Valley family: Thank you for encouraging and inspiring us with your big, AWESOME hearts.  As Pastor Mike H. would say, your loving response has been CRAZY!!

Leading & Following: Well Done

Whether we accept it or not, we're all born to be leaders.  That role is defined not by our will or intent, but by those who choose to follow us.  Besides the traditional positions of leadership (father, manager, pastor, etc.), we may have "followers" who are family members, coworkers, or even casual acquaintances.

The point is, we may not always know when we're being watched and followed.  So to be safe, we should be deliberate in our actions to ensure we're not leading people astray.  My hope, my faith is perfectly expressed in the words of "Well Done,"
If people walk with me, talk with me, looking for truth
They're gonna find out soon
If they're following me, then they're gonna follow You
So let my life speak loud and clear
Lord, I wanna hear
Well done, well done
("Well Done," Written by: Moriah Peters, Chad Cates, Jason Walker)

As if it isn't enough that we're responsible for our own actions, Scripture reminds us again and again that we are also responsible for those we affect...positively or negatively.

As a Christian, we can all talk about our purpose of making disciples, living righteously and obediently, love God and our neighbors....  In the end, we can summarize all of that with one simple goal -- to hear our Lord say to us, "Well done."

Enjoy the song:

Packing List for Africa

I've made my packing list.  Since I probably won't be able to run to the store if I forget anything, I figured I'd better be prepared.  I'm an Excel kind of guys so I started typing on a spreadsheet.  Sixty six rows later...I'm wondering how much it'll cost for an extra suitcase.  In all seriousness, I look at the list and marvel at what I believe I need.  What's the worst that happens if I don't have all the electronics (iphone, kindle, cables, chargers, adapters, etc. etc.).

So I asked myself:
  • What would I really really regret if I somehow forgot it?  Phone
  • What would other really really regret if I somehow forgot it?  Deodorant
  • What do I hope I'll never need to use?  Immodium AD
  • What do I need for our primary purpose(s) there?  Us
I had some fun making the list and writing the blog.  At the same time, it did help me to realize how easily our 'niceties' become 'necessities.'  Rather than packing for what I "need" and using the space leftover for gifts and games, shouldn't it be the reverse?

Preparing to Part

Tomorrow, we return Skyler to his mother.  Though we've known this day was coming, it doesn't make it easy.  In our own ways, each of us is preparing to part with this sweet boy.  The seeds of love planted when we first laid eyes on him have been growing for 40 days.

When we first got him, I wondered to myself whether we can love someone while preparing to part.  Though I tried, in the back of my mind was always the thought that we would soon need to give him back.  What I have begun to realize is the wonderful lesson God had in store.  Not only is it possible to love, but He expects no less.  He expects that whether we have a child for 40 days, 40 months, or 40 years.  We may not always know how long we'll have a loved one in our lives, but we may be sure that they're impermanent.

Rather than looking forward with sadness, I cherish him/them today with loving abandonment.
Rather than clinging out of fear, I remind them (and myself) that I'm but a temporary caretaker for their Father in Heaven.

Forty days with Skyler has taught me, "that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to enjoy themselves as long as they live." (Ecc 3:12)  Cherish each moment trusting that in good times and bad, our Sovereign and loving Lord is in charge.

Meet Skyler

Meet Skyler.  He's not "ours" but for the first 40 days of his life, we have the privilege of caring for him and loving him as our own.

Safe Families seeks to fill a gap in our foster and welfare system.  Imagine being a parent doing everything you know how to care for your children.  Unexpectedly, you lose your job, your home, or your health...requiring an extended hospital stay.  You have no one to care for your children.  Safe Families works with various churches to screen and qualify "host families," who willingly become the hands and feet of Christ to those in need.  While others may quibble over the shortcomings of the foster care system or parents needing to take personal responsibility, Safe Families answers the calling to care for the least of us (Matt 25:31 - 40).

We've had Skyler for about 3 1/2 weeks.  During that time, I've wanted to share him with all of you but felt the need to hold back.  I share him now in the hopes that maybe someone reading this will be prompted to seek out Safe Families.  There's a need and it truly doesn't take much.  We don't have any special qualification to care for newborns.  All it takes is a bit of time and lots of love (which make those sleepless nights bearable).   And for that bit of effort, the rewards are so great.  Nothing quite compares with the joy of seeing a little creation develop with the first opening of his eyes, the first smile (or was that gas?), the first bath...  We have been inspired by acquaintances, friends, family and our church as they've responded by donating meals, formula, toys, supplies, diapers, prayer, and general love and concern.

For more information,

No Hesitation: My Loving Wife

My wife never ceases to amaze me.  Each time God puts an opportunity (or challenge!) before us, she says "yes."  While I'm mulling over the impact and considering the inconvenience, her heart is already "all in."  Peggy's like Isaiah (Isa 6:8) when God rhetorically asks, "Whom shall I send?" -- with emphasis, Peg answers, "Send me!"

Over the last few days, I've watched with amazement as Peggy has continued to lavish love onto a stranger's son.  Despite averaging  a couple of hours sleep over the few nights, her energy hasn't waned.  When I asked last night whether she had any second thoughts, the question seemed foreign to her.  Her greatest concern is loving Skyler too much and becoming overly attached.

I'm blessed with a wife and "helper" who teaches me daily about love and sacrifice.  The joyful chaos that is our home, at the moment, seems just right.  Peg has taught me to abandon order and control -- which allows us to keep our eyes and hearts on our Lord, whom we're honored to serve.

Faith at Work

When I first started working for AT&T, one of my mentors told me that the two things he's learned to avoid discussing at work were religion and politics.  Subconsciously, I think I've taken that mantra and expanded that in ways he never intended.  It's not so much that I've denied my faith or kept it hidden.  Rather, I built walls to compartmentalize my private (family, faith) and my professional lives.  Actually, that's not quite true -- I've often applied lessons learned from work to activities at church or to help family with computer/networking issues.

Over the last 5 years, AT&T has invested heavily in leadership training for all of its managers.  One common, recurring emphasis has been on integrity and character.  This year was no different -- one of the primary was Harry Kraemer, the author of From Value to Action.  As Harry was speaking, I had one of those smack my forehead moments.  Whatever success I have at work is largely, if not wholly, due to my faith.  I've been abundantly blessed by God with talents and the opportunities at work.  But even more than that, my faith has offered me certain traits (things that don't quite make it on the résumé).

Harry spoke on these four principles of a value-based leader:

  1. Self-Reflection: "the key to identifying what you stand for, what your values are, and what matters most."  He encourages us to set time aside daily to get our bearings.  For me, this is nothing more than waking up an hour earlier than necessary to pray and delve into the Word.
  2. Balance: "the ability to see issues, problems, and question from all angles, including from differing viewpoints."  J.C. Ryle once said, "“For my part I am persuaded the more light we have, the more we see our own sinfulness; the nearer we get to heaven, the more we are clothed with humility.”  No matter how much Christians may wish to believe that they're set apart from the sinfulness of the world, we cannot forget that we share the same origins of depravity.  Our ability bask in the light while relating to the darkness is how we're best equipped to make disciples.  For my part I am persuaded the more light we have, the more we see our own sinfulness; the nearer we get to heaven, the more we are clothed with humility.
  3. True Self-Confidence: "Far more than just competency at your job or mastery of certain skills, true self-confidence is the attribute that allows you to see and accept yourself exactly as you are."  Faith has taught me to realize and accept that we are created (Psalm 100:3), loved (John 3:16), and cared for in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).  With that in mind, I have assurance that I don't need to please my supervisor, co-workers, or even myself.  As long as I keep doing what's right by God (which often, by the way, ends up pleasing supervisors and co-workers), I need not worry doing things for the wrong reasons.
  4. Genuine Humility: "Never forgetting who you are, appreciating the value of each person in the organization, and treating everyone respectfully whether she is a senior manager or a summer intern."  The Apostle Peter teaches us to, "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time." (1 Peter 5:6)  Whatever talents and opportunities I may have are thanks to God.  Just as with true confidence, I'm no better than the next person as we're all objects of His creation fully dependent on His grace and His love.  Our response to that love is not to Lord our blessings over others but to recall that "if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."  (1 John 4:11)
I cannot credit Harry with what God has provided.  However, he brought these principles to light and in the context of the workplace.  I then wondered whether I may have been hoarding God's blessings by keeping my faith out of the workplace.  I have no intention of thumping heads with the Bible, but would coworkers care to know why I refuse to blame others for failures?  Would it serve them in knowing why "jeopardies" and "escalations" don't cause me to panic?  

330 Million Children

"Chinese doctors have performed more than 330m abortions since the government implemented a controversial family planning policy 40 years ago, according to official data from the health ministry."

Read the article for yourself: click here.  Keep in mind, these are official figures and don't include unreported abortions and sterilizations, forced and otherwise.  As a point reference, the population in the U.S. as of July 2012 was 313m.

Reading this article hurts deeply.  Made worse is that it's reported in the Financial Times as an economics issue.  I realize this is a hot button issue, particularly in the U.S.  But I don't care to engage in an intellectual debate about choice, life, or otherwise.  I don't care to understand the why's.  All of the arguments have been made so that this is not an intellectual matter.  Where each person stands on this matter depends on the source of their ethos.  "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  (Joshua 24:15, NIV)

Tonight, my children will wonder why I'm especially affectionate.  I won't tell them why.  It's too painful to voice.

Offering Hope Across the World

How do you offer hope to a child across the world who has been orphaned by AIDS?

For some, it may seem presumptuous to believe that any hope can come from the challenges they face.  Imagine growing up in the care of your grandmother because both parents died AIDS.  Your most reliable meal is lunch at school.  Job prospects in the country, even in the best of circumstances, are grim at best.

One of the ways to help is to sponsor one of these children through organizations, such as Tumaini, with a local presence.  The money from sponsorship is used to "provide the basic needs of food, safe shelter, clothing, medicine, education, counseling and spiritual guidance to AIDS-orphaned children."  Even more important than what the money buys is what the money represents -- a strange on the other side of the world cares.

Whether it's fair or true, many in Africa believe all Americans are wealthy.  Though they appreciate the financial support, they're able to believe that the money is of little sacrifice.  That's why letters and pictures offer such hope -- the money comes from real people who wish to connect with them and share in their lives.

Imagine what's communicated when strangers take time out of their lives to visit them.  There can be no doubt that a sacrifice has been made.  The love communicated by the action is undeniable.  In the brief meeting, the love and hope felt by the child must seem so unreal and irrational.

To a child living under the shadow of AIDS and poverty, hope may come from what seems unreal.  Strangers from afar coming to their homes offering love because they, too, have experienced love from afar.  That's how we offer hope.  That's how we live a life full of hope and love.
11 Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.  (1 John 4:11-14, NET)  

We're Going to Africa

Several months ago, I wrote about the opportunity and wanting to be sure that we sought God's will.  After much prayer and careful consideration, we've decided that I'm going to Kenya with our church this summer.

More details to follow in the weeks ahead as we get the church and our families involved in the trip and begin various fundraising efforts.

We continue to ask for the following prayers:

  • May we go with servants' hearts willing to do what's needed to care for, comfort and bring joy to others.  
  • May the love we share stem from the overflowing love we enjoy ourselves from knowing Jesus.  
  • May our hearts and motives be pure and selfless -- to please and honor our Lord through service.  
  • May any who are called to go have no concerns about finances. 

Lyrical Worship?

I can't say what's gotten over me.  Perhaps my son's hip-hoppityness has gotten the best of me.

In a world clamoring for notoriety,
Being unknown carries a stain of impropriety,
Moment of fame, the goal of society,
As for me, for One, I seek with my piety.

Working daily to keep up with those around me,
Another car, more bling and a bigger t.v.,
Value things more than my own family,
As for me, true treasure waits in eternity.

Praises and comfort we seek from everyone,
Pretending all's fine and having fun,
Deep inside, hurting, searching for the Son,
As for me, I seek Thee to say, "Well done."