I saw someone the other day win an achievement award. In their acceptance speech they said words that have become sort of a mantra: “Follow your passion at all cost. Don’t give up. Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do something.” I can appreciate the spirit of his words. I certainly appreciate his success at his craft. But I have to be honest; I think the advice to “follow your passion at all cost” may be the worst advice floating around.
Passion has two definitions. It can be a “strong and barely controllable emotion” or an “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.” I think the man who won the award was speaking of this second definition. And, although I understand the sentiment of his statement, I think passion by itself can be a horrible guide for life choices. Here are 3 reasons why passion can lead us down the wrong path.
Did you ever watch American Idol? Many times the show would introduce a contestant with a short video. The video would communicate the person’s passion to sing; then their audition with the judges would take place. It was not uncommon to discover the individual had no talent and no tone. Their shock and disappointment when the judges told them they would not be moving on in the competition revealed their passion was more dream than skill. Years (and I think for some of them only weeks) had been wasted. Their passion to be a great singer was dealt a blow of reality.
Just because we have a passion doesn’t mean we have a talent. Some poor soul hears “follow your passion” and they begin to think passion is all that is needed to succeed. Unfortunately, it can take months or years for someone to discover their passion is pipe dream. Passion can point us in the wrong direction and that can be waste of time.
It is possible to be passionate and successful. However, many people become so passionate about being successful at their craft that they are willing to overlook the development of their character. Passion may drive a person to succeed, but it rarely drives someone to be humble. Unfortunately, proud people usually have major character flaws. The current revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct among Hollywood’s elite, along with the long list of dishonest CEO’s and politicians, provide many examples of successful, wealthy people with passion but no character. When success at our passion means we have to step on the less fortunate, take advantage of a vulnerable person, or be dishonest to reach our goal, then our passion becomes our demise. We trade character for success.
When I was in high school my passion was being a football player…all 140-pounds of me. I dreamed of playing football. I spent hours each week lifting weights, running, going to practice and watching film. I just knew that “growth spurt” was coming, and when it did, I would play football in the college ranks. Only one problem, the growth spurt never happened. I do think I was the best 140-pound football player at my high school, but that is as far as my passion could take me.
All that time I spent on football, and it was over when I graduated from high school. I often think: What opportunities did I miss while I was chasing my passion? How much better could I be at what I do today if I had started pursuing then the skills I use now? My passion distracted me from opportunities that might have been more beneficial.
If we can’t follow passion, then what options do we have? Are we doomed to a life that is characterized as ordinary? Are we forced into a career of mundane routine? To answer these questions let me share two promises God has given to people who love the truth of Jesus Christ.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
Reflect on these promises and notice two things:
One of the greatest fears we have is that we will not like God’s plan. We fear God will ask us to do something we will hate. Yet, He makes it clear that if we seek Him, pray to Him, let our first passion be Him…then He will show us His plan and we will experience fulfillment, hope and a good future. We don’t ignore our passion when we seek God. We bring it with us and let Him direct it to the plan He already has in place.
Don’t follow passion. Follow opportunity. If God has already prepared works for us to do then we don’t have to beat ourselves up trying to make our passions a reality. All we have to do is walk through the doors of opportunity He has already placed on our path. Through those doors we will find our passion.
I’ve been married for 23 years. I am not a perfect husband. Truthfully, I would not even call myself a great husband. Almost every week I read about, hear of or see a man do a wonderful thing for his wife and think, “Gee, I wish I had thought of that!” Even though I might think I’m the best husband around, I do think I have learned some good husband habits. I have much more to learn, but hopefully some of this might be useful to you.
Several years ago Dr. Gary Chapman wrote The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to the Love that Lasts. I encourage all husbands to read the book (or watch the videos) to discover their love language and the love language of their wife. I know it sounds mushy and emotional, but it is a good read. There is even a quick online quiz available to help get someone started. The information contained in the book, if put into practice, will change the way you give and receive love. Ultimately, it will help your marriage be more fun.
At first glance this may seem silly. You might think, “What difference does it make when I go to bed?” Honestly, it makes a big difference. If a husband falls into the practice of staying up late while his wife slips into bed, he runs the risk of two things.
a) A bored man late at night will encounter the temptation to watch TV shows, movies or websites that he simply would not watch if his wife were in the room with him. I am not saying that every time a husband stays up late by himself that his goal is to watch porn. I am simply warning that if it becomes a regular habit, the temptation will be greatly enhanced. How do I know this? Well…I am a man. Plus, I’ve had countless couples sit in my office and walk through the pain and shame porn has brought to their marriage. Almost 100% of the time, the husband watches porn while the wife is asleep.
b) Going to bed with your wife can be ho-hum or WOW! The problem is we don’t always know which one it will be. The Bible calls marriage a mystery…and that is putting it nicely. I get that most nights may be routine, but not all wow moments have to be sexual. Lying in bed with your wife at the end of a long day is a unifying moment. It is the two of you…together. It may be the first uninterrupted conversation you’ve had all day. The two of you may talk or you may simply listen to each other fall asleep, but either way you are together. The two of you may solve a problem or choose to sleep on options, but either way you are together. You may have a warm moment of holding each other and chuckling about silly things or you may keep to your sides of the bed, but either way you are together. If the husband habitually stays up late while the wife goes to bed, all of those unifying moments are lost.
Every couple has to decide who is going to do what for the household to work. My wife has worked out of the home for most of our marriage. Therefore, I have learned that I just need to “own” a few chores. To own it means I do not have to be asked to do it. For brownie points, choose a chore that uniquely helps her.
Let me give you an example. My wife has always prepared the food in our house. Up until a few months ago, she has also always gone to the grocery store. She never really enjoyed this activity, but since she was preparing the food I assumed it was best for her to go buy it. One day she was complaining to me about another trip to the store…something about rude people, heavy bags and not enough time. All of a sudden it dawned on me, I could go to the grocery store. I asked her if she would like for me to do the shopping. She ERUPTED with joy…like a kid getting their number one wish on Christmas morning! Honestly, I felt a little embarrassed that I had not offered this earlier. I now own this chore. Each week I head off to store armed with the list she has made. (HINT: I would strongly encourage owning more than one chore.)
I have to say no to people frequently. I don’t like doing it, but because of my position I simply cannot agree to every request or idea that comes my way. However, when it comes to my wife I want to say yes as often as I can. Don’t misunderstand me. My wife does not need my blessing to be herself, but one of the challenges of marriage is coming to grips with the fact that the husband and wife are no longer separate individuals. The Bible teaches when a man and woman marry they become one. They share life physically, emotionally and spiritually…as one (remember, marriage is a mystery).
When she approaches me with her ideas, dreams, plans or requests; she is not seeking my permission. She is seeking oneness. Out of her desire to be one with me, she comes to me. And, out of my desire to be one with her, I go to her with my thoughts. But when she comes to me, my goal is to agree as often as I can. When I (or she) says no it means we have to work through it until we find yes. As the husband I must always be willing to do this work. No matter how difficult or unpleasant it might be, I must find the place of yes. If I just reject her thoughts, and then don’t work with her to find the place we can both say yes, I am pulling at the seams what God put together. I have discovered that saying yes to my wife comes more easily when I say no to myself. It is called sacrificial love and Jesus is the One who teaches husbands how to do this. I’m still learning.
When I was kid, organized youth leagues were intended to be an activity that exposed young children to the world of sports. The intent was to teach kids the rules of a sport, learn basic skills, be part of a team, practice sportsmanship and maybe discover something a kid could enjoy playing. When my oldest reached the age of playing sports, I quickly discovered the environment had changed. For the last 10 years all of my boys have been engaged in playing sports. Organized sports, and everything that goes with it, will continue to be a part of our family routine for at least the next 7 years. I have seen first hand (and continue to see) that youth sports programs and high school sports can create challenges that frustrate the family instead of help it.
Don’t misunderstand me, team and individual sports has the potential to teach children, teens and adults many valuable life lessons; but I believe the potential is rarely utilized. I could give you a laundry list of reasons why, but that would make this blog a bit of a downer. I could also attempt to encourage parents to avoid these challenges and just keep their kids at home, but I think that approach is unrealistic and not helpful. Youth and high school sports (along with other extra-curricular activities) are valuable, but we need to be realistic about their limitations and the unhealthy distractions they can create. Instead of shouting how bad things are, let me try to share with you how Cherry and I have navigated the harmful side of sports.
Life on a sports team is not fair. There are always going to be players who get special treatment, more playing time and all the accolades. Likewise, there will be players who seem to be expendable, overlooked and undervalued. When parents see this happen, it feels ugly…especially if it is your kid being ignored. When this happens parents have a unique choice, they can begin to complain about coaches (which creates entitlement issues), pressure their kid to do better (which makes the child feel like a disappointment) or encourage their young athlete to do their best and enjoy the experience (which teaches the valuable lesson of being accepted for who they are and not what they can do). As a parent I’ve done all three and I can tell you the first two options never end well.
With four boys playing sports, my family has seen different levels of success on the field. I have had the blessing of seeing my boys be the star and riding the bench. I noticed when they were succeeding; I was happy and giving a high-five. When they played little or not at all, I would leave the game full of angst complaining about coaches or negatively pressuring my son to do better. When those conversations ended, no one was happy.
I don’t remember when it happened exactly, but somewhere along the way God began to give me a different perspective. It came full circle one day after one of my boys didn’t get to play much in a game. As he approached me I could see the worry in his eyes…Is dad going to complain or get on to me? I could tell he was disappointed. He didn’t need the same old response from me. In that moment God gave me some new words and by His grace I used them. I looked at him and said, “I am proud of you. I want you to do two things when playing this sport. First, please God with your attitude and actions. Second, do what you need to do to help your team succeed.” A weight was lifted, the air cleared and we both began to enjoy the moment and each other.
If we can use sports to teach our kids to live for God and help others succeed, then the potential for sports to teach valuable life lessons is being reached. I realize how backward this sounds, but that is the point. The dangerous side of organized sports is striving to be the best for the sake of being recognized and rewarded…to stroke the ego. The good side of sports is found when we remember to play for something bigger than ourselves. Life works the same way.
The demands of youth sports have changed. When I played, coaches created practice and game schedules that were church friendly. That day is over and it is not coming back. Parents who are committed to passing their faith on to their children must learn to adapt.
When church activities conflict with sports, the trend is to skip the church activity. Faithful families often make this choice and I understand the reasons why (team commitment, punishment from coaches, money poured into the sport, etc.). With four boys playing sports, this has been and will be an ongoing challenge (and I pastor a church). The problem with letting sports regularly (or seasonally) take priority over church activities is that we are inadvertently teaching our kids that faith is a hobby and the sport is the priority. They begin to see and accept that practicing faith at church with others is what we do when there is nothing else going on. We set them up to minimize or walk away from the faith.
The solution to facing this challenge is to sometimes say no to the sport. Or, work harder as a parent to get our kids to church activities. I realize both of these options are painful. Saying no to the sport may mean missing a practice, a game, or maybe even a tournament for the sake of serving or worshipping God. Working harder means parents spend the extra energy, time and money needed to make sure their child attends that service project, bible study or weekend retreat when the calendar is already full. Trust me, I understand the pain of these sacrifices. But when we do it, when we prioritize the importance of practicing our faith; it teaches our kids that life is never too busy to worship God. Also, for God to be first in our lives we have to sacrifice something for Him to get there (and remain there). The sacrifice will always sting and cost something. Kids do not naturally know how to make a sacrifice for the Lord; parents have to teach them.
Here is one goal Cherry and I have strived to follow: we seek to have the whole family together at one church event at least once a week. Only a few times in a decade have we not been able to do this. And surprisingly, only a handful of times have we had to sacrifice a sporting event to practice our faith together.
According to CBS News, only about 2% of all high school athletes will receive a full-ride athletic scholarship. Yet, if you talk to parents at the ballpark, football field or soccer game, one could walk away thinking 98% of the players are on their way to a free college education. Parents are talking about the latest greatest sports camp and the personal trainer that “has never seen an 8 year old with so much ability.” Instead of the sport being an opportunity to play, it becomes an expensive lottery ticket or early college education payment plan. When something is given that much priority, pressure is placed on performance and the joy of getting to play, be on a team and enjoy neighbors is lost in the shuffle. Truthfully, 98% of all high school athletes pay for college some other way.
Imagine a kid being told for a decade they have talent and “a good shot” at a scholarship only to discover when they graduate that no college came calling. Now what are they suppose to do? They followed their passion and all they have to show for it are participation trophies. For a decade they have chased a sport and missed other opportunities that might have helped them to discover their real talents. They enter college or the work force not really having any direction. Here is the point: a sport, by itself, cannot help a teen discover their purpose. Purpose is discovered through talking to the Creator and spending time with people who know the Creator. Many times opportunities to discover purpose are lost because the sport became the god. All sport gods make promises they can’t deliver. Kids are often not mature enough to see this, but parents should know better.
Cherry and I want our boys to have the opportunity play sports; but ultimately, we want them to know God, hear His voice and follow His plan for their lives. Our job is to point them towards that goal no matter what activities they pursue. We are not perfect at doing this, but we are intentional about reaching that goal.
John Maxwell said, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” Daily I make decisions, but I don’t get to choose what happens after I make a choice. For instance, I choose to run a stop sign. I don’t get to choose if I get caught. I don’t get to choose my fine. I don’t get to choose how it impacts my insurance premium. I think you get the point.
The same holds true when I make a good decision. I choose to help my neighbor clean up storm debris in his yard. I don’t get to choose the way he shows gratitude. I don’t get to choose when and how he returns the favor. I don’t get to choose how he views me as his neighbor moving forward. Each decision sets in motion events I have no control over.
The decisions we make are like studs in a wall. We don’t see the studs. We only see the décor studs make possible. I don’t know anyone who wants to make bad decisions. However, a desire to make good choices in life is not enough. Humanity has too many limitations. Selfishness gets in the way. Pride trips us up. Anger is unreasonable. Our ability to see into the future is non-existent…and the list goes on and on. So how do we do it? How do we develop the craft of making good choices? Fortunately, the Bible can help us. Here are 4 things the Bible teaches to help us make good choices.
The choice of right over wrong should not need much explanation, but if it were easy to do everyone would be doing it. We live in a world that disagrees on what is morally right and morally wrong. The disagreement is intensifying and is enough to confuse even the most sincere person. Nailing down which attitudes and actions are right and wrong is truly an important decision. The Bible is my source for moral guidance. It states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
One of the most important choices we make in life is choosing if we are going to follow Biblical morality. If we do, it becomes our moral GPS. If we don’t, then something else becomes the voice that tells us right from wrong.
Making good choices is not just about choosing right over wrong or good over bad (although that is REALLY important). Good choices also require wisdom. Wisdom is needed for two reasons. First, sometimes a choice is not between good and bad. It is between two morally acceptable options, but only wisdom can help us make the best choice. The second reason we need wisdom is because our choices impact other people. Each choice we make will please some individuals and create chaos for others. Wisdom allows us to keep that in mind and view the impact of our choices on others. In the long run, that helps us make good choices.
Wisdom is not easy to find, but fortunately we have someone who will give it us. The Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) Whew! God will give us wisdom for all the choices, but that leads us to next step in making good choices.
Because God is GOD, He is going to see things differently than we see them. Therefore, the wisdom He provides will not be what we would think of on our own. Sometimes His wisdom will defy our logic. His wisdom may direct us to choose something we would not naturally choose. His wisdom may call us to do what is best for others even though in the moment it may not be best for us. His wisdom may point us to listen to someone who may not tell us what we want to hear, but it is the advice we need to follow. This should not surprise us. After all, He knows things we don’t know.
His all-knowing and our limitations do not always play well together. Therefore, we have a tendency to doubt the wisdom He gives. When we do this, we shoot ourselves in the foot. The Bible says it this way, “But when you ask [for wisdom], you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:6-8)
If we start doubting the wisdom God gives, we are backed into a corner and forced to start leaning on our own wisdom. As I’ve already mentioned…if making good choices were easy everyone would be doing it. We have to many issues, weakness and faults to consistently make good choices. If you can’t admit this then another problem exists…and it’s called pride. Pride, the belief that we don’t need help and can do it on our own, is the downfall of many people. Fortunately, we don’t have to be arrogant. We can choose to be humble (another important choice). The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
God sets us up to succeed. He gives us everything we need to do what He created us to do, but He will not make us choose right over wrong. He will not force us to ask for His wisdom or to follow it. He certainly does not make us be humble. All of these things are choices we have to make…studs in the wall. No matter what choice we make with these options, once we decide; things are set in motion. We don’t get to choose what happens next.
But guess what? God in His mercy gives us second chances. He gives us the opportunity to make a new choice. If you are breathing, you have a choice. What will you do?
A couple of weeks ago I was asked, “Where do your sermons come from?” I was caught off guard because the person asking the question had just sat through a sermon. I couldn’t tell if it was a loaded question, a backhanded compliment or a sincere effort to understand the process. With a half-smile I responded, “From the Bible.” The lady smiled and said, “No, really. Where do your sermons come from? Do you write them yourself or do you have a resource you use?” I said, “Really. They come from the Bible.” By this time I could tell she was being sincere. She really wanted to know how I developed a sermon.
Writing sermons is a process and through the years my process has changed. Believe it or not…I used to wake up on Monday and pray Okay Lord, what’s next? That is tough way to develop sermons. I know there are people who might believe I just open the Bible and the Holy Spirit takes over; and even though the Spirit of God plays a significant role, I am not exempt from planning, preparation and study. Fortunately, God works through my personality, life experiences and study habits to empower me to preach/teach His Word. There is no standard formula for me (or other pastors) to follow. Here is how I develop sermons:
Each year I take a few days to plan a sermon schedule for the next 12 months. Several weeks prior to this personal retreat, I ask the elders to pray and give me their ideas for topics or passages they discern need to be covered. On the retreat, I pray and plan using my own ideas and their suggestions to come up with a 52-week schedule. I don’t write all 52 sermons on the retreat. I just brainstorm and come up with 52 passages that will be covered. Therefore, when you hear a sermon at Grace, the planning for it began months ago.
When people discover I create a 52-week schedule many times they want to know if I will deviate from it. The answer is “yes.” When following (or adjusting) the 52-week schedule I lean heavily on this promise: You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail. (Proverbs 19:21)
I take my schedule and divide it into sermon series. A sermon series can either be topical (like a series on forgiveness) or exegetical (like going through the book of Philippians verse by verse) and will have between 4-10 separate messages. I break the passages into manageable segments and share them with the creative team.
The Creative Team meeting is the most fun part of developing sermons. It is here that a group of people read God’s Word, brainstorm ideas and come up with relevant themes and titles for each sermon within a series. There is laughter, “Ah-ha” moments and even critical debate in these meetings. When the meeting is over, I know the theme for the series, the image that will used to promote it and the title of each sermon. The Creative Team usually meets 6-8 weeks before the sermon series goes public.
Up until this point, almost all of the sermon preparation has involved the ideas of others for creativity and implementation; but no one can study the passage for me. It is here that sermon development becomes personal and lonely. I say lonely, but I don’t mean alone. God’s Spirit is active when I’m studying a passage and writing a sermon. It is hard to explain, but it is like a conversation (although I don’t hear any voices…if I did that would be creepy and cause for concern).
I ask the Lord to show me what His Word means and how I should share it with His people. I desire to share it in relevant ways that are easy to understand, and therefore, I ask Him to show me how to do this. He answers with a combination of ideas that come from the inductive study of the passage, reading commentaries, watching world/social events and doing life with my family. The conversation with Him about a sermon is not confined to my desk. His ideas/promptings can come when I wake up, while I’m watching ESPN or at the football or soccer field watching one of the boys play. It can even happen while doing laundry (yes people…I do laundry). Really, His answers to my search in sermon development can take place at any moment because His Word is relevant to life in today’s world.
Using His Word, I will develop an outline incorporating what God has taught me personally (inductive study), what He has taught me through others (commentaries/resources), and what He has taught me from life. I strive to get the outline into manageable points that can be shared and explained in 30-40 minutes (I can see your smirk and hear you saying, “Yeah, sure.”) Once the sermon outline is complete, I must get it to proper office personnel one week prior to the scheduled time to share it. They take the outline and use it to prepare all paper and digital publications.
The process of sermon development starts with prayer (myself and elders praying for direction). It is bathed in prayer with the Creative Team. It ends with prayer before I go public with it. Every Sunday morning a group of people pray for the needs of our church. During that prayer time my name is called out. People pray for the Spirit of God to speak through me while I am sharing the sermon. I firmly believe the success of a sermon comes through the prayers of those individuals. Within minutes of their prayers, I am delivering the sermon.
That’s it. That is how I develop and deliver a sermon. Maybe the process surprises you? Did you know I’m not the only one who comes up with ideas for the sermons? Did you think all the creativity comes just from me? I am humbled each time I hear someone say, “God spoke to me through that sermon.” I’m humbled because I know I did not make that happen. I know I cannot make that happen. There really is no “I” in sermon.
Cherry and I recently got to spend a couple of days in Ohio’s famed Amish Country in Holmes County. It was great. While there, we discovered some interesting facts about Amish culture and people. Their habits, traditions and lifestyle choices may seem odd (even radical) to us, but one can only have respect for their commitment to not conform. Even though I have no desire to live as they live, I do think there are some things we can learn from the Amish.
I always thought Amish men grew their famous beard with no mustache when they got married. I was under the impression the beard meant they were no longer single. I was wrong. Amish men start growing their beards when they are baptized in Christ and join the Church. Their beards are a physical sign of their commitment to the Lord and the community of believers who make up their local church (the Amish are Anabaptists). You can find many articles that speak of ridiculous reasons Amish men grow beards, but you will find few that speak to reason they start growing their beards.
Obviously, I don’t think followers of Christ should be required to grow beards with no mustaches. But, when I discovered this bit of information, it made me think, “What sign do I give people that I am committed to Christ and His Church?” Hopefully my sign is my love for others, my generosity to the Gospel and those in need, and my personal efforts to share Christ with people. What is your sign?
Amish children are required to go to school until the 8th grade. Conventional wisdom says this is woefully inadequate and unfair. However, when looking at Amish education one must keep in mind their purpose for it. The Amish do not educate to promote individuality and critical thinking. Their goal is teach the next generation the values of hard work, ethical living and the importance of being a valuable member of the Amish community. By the time they graduate, they are expected to start contributing to needs of the family business not because their manual labor is needed, but because they have worth, skill and are part of a bigger picture.
I don’t think we should limit our children’s education to only 8 years, but I do think the next generation is missing out on being taught to contribute. It is not uncommon for mainstreamed, educated children to graduate from high school (and sometimes even college) clueless about their role in society. This does not seem to be a problem among the Amish.
Amish teens are given the opportunity to choose another lifestyle, a practice called Rumspringa, and leave the Amish way of life. Most choose to remain. Many high school graduates who attend church in mainstream society quit participating in faith activities once they leave for college or start their careers. Again, the Amish see a much less percentage of their teens walk away from their values. I don’t know why it is this way, but I do admire the Amish’s ability to train the next generation to hold onto their values.
What the Bible calls forgiveness, many times the world calls pacifism. It is true the Amish are political pacifists, and although I don’t agree with this political position, I deeply appreciate the value of forgiveness they practice.
The commitment of the Amish to practice forgiveness made national headlines on October 2, 2006 in Lancaster, PA. On that day a gunman went into a rural, one-house schoolroom and killed 5 Amish children and wounded 5 others before taking his own life. National news media flooded the low-key Amish community to report on the horrific crime, but instead they found a story of forgiveness. The way the Amish community responded to this event not only baffled the nation but also radically impacted the family of the shooter. If you want a great read about the power of forgiveness get a copy of One Light Still Shines by Marie Monville, the widowed wife of the shooter.
Today, when a life is lost to gun violence, domestic violence, acts of domestic terrorism or hate crimes, we see whole communities march holding signs plastered with hateful words. We see large rallies filled with people shaking their fists cheering to words of hate. We find individuals posting angry videos and writing rants on their social media outlets. We might even see individuals respond with their own acts of violence. When this takes place, hate ends up fighting against another form of hate; and when hate fights hate only hate wins. The Amish taught us on October 2, 2006, the only way to defeat hate is to fight it with forgiveness. Jesus was not making a suggestion when he said, “Love your enemies, pray for those who hurt you, do good to those who hate you.” (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27 and 35)
Every culture has pluses and minuses. The Amish culture is no different, but after spending some time in their world and reflecting on some of their values, I think there are some things we could learn.
I have been home for 8 days. The jet lag has subsided and I find myself falling back into my normal routine. Even though I’ve recovered my familiar schedule I do not feel I am the same person. I’ve changed.
Several days before leaving for Kenya I began to pray, Lord, change me. I did not have a specific change in mind. I just felt the need to express my willingness to receive whatever direction my Father wanted to give. Praying that prayer created excitement, and honestly, a little anxiety. I don’t really know why it made me anxious. My Father is good and has never harmed me. I guess it was the thought of being out of control. What, if anything, would He ask of me? Below are 3 things I learned in Kenya.
The first nudge for change came 6 days into my trip. It was when I met Danshire and Dorcas Njoroge. God used this beautiful couple to challenge me in a unique way. They shared story after story of God meeting their needs, blessing their ministry and giving success to their efforts of bringing hope and healing to wounded teenage girls. As I sat and listened to them, God challenged me with some simple words. Cary, you have skill. They have faith. I have reflected on these words seeking to understand more clearly what God was impressing upon me.
I have skill. As I have prayed and thought about these 3 words I must say I agree with Him. God has given me talent and skills. I recognize these blessings and continue to do my part in developing them. I know He uses me when I preach and teach His word, when I lead others, when I make disciples for Christ. I know if anything good comes from me, it is because of Him; but I think these words also speak to how safe I play it. I take calculated risks and move with measured outcomes in mind. I am more strategy than faith. The result, I have the rewards of skill. Things like an intentional calendar filled with meetings, manageable deadlines, and steady routine. People like me surround me; therefore, there is an element of comfortable predictability each day. My life oozes safe and stable…the rewards of skill. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want my life to be characterized by chaos or pushed around by fear and uncertainty, but if my goal is to have a safe and stable life it doesn’t leave much room for the adventures of faith God may call me to. I can’t be satisfied with the rewards of skill. Through Danshire and Dorcas God showed me the blessings of living by faith instead of just strategy. I can’t create faith moments. I can walk into them when God leads me there. I will trust instead of just strategizing. I will aim for blessings of faith instead of just the blessings of skill.
Another nudge I received from the Lord came in a most unusual way. For the two weeks I was in Kenya, I watched no TV. I couldn’t believe how that one circumstance removed a steady flow of clutter from my mind. Without the noise of television, temptations subsided, worry was starved, and distractions were removed. In the absence of news media and Hollywood’s entertainment, I read a book. It was not a faith-based book. It was the true story about a couple that risked everything to rescue Jews in Warsaw, Poland during the Nazi occupation of World War II. I was moved by their passion to help the most vulnerable of their time and God whispered, “What risk will you take to save the dying in your world?” Then it dawned on me. My desire for the lost can be maintained if I will strive to reduce the clutter in my mind. To me, this meant I needed to adopt the habit of watching less TV and free my mind from life-sucking noise of television.
No one can go to the continent of Africa and ignore all the needs of humanity one sees. Our most basic conveniences like food, safe shelter and clean water are their primary concerns. Put on top of that the worries of employment, healthcare, transportation and child-care and the average American is approaching a nervous breakdown. It is their normal. On top of those layers of human need is stacked the spiritual darkness that permeates much of their population. The spiritual and physical needs are just overwhelming. No amount of money could possibly meet all the demands, but it does not keep one from thinking What can I do to help?
One of the rewards of skill God has blessed my family with is that most months we have more money than we need. I know that is a strange thing to say, but I think it happens to many people. Each month we give to the Lord, live within our means, pay our bills and meet our needs. Often, after all that happens, we still have money left over. When this happens I save it. Then I begin to pray, “Lord what do you want me to do with this money?” When I leave my bubble and meet people who are serving the Lord, He directs me. Cherry and I are currently praying about how to financially help some of God’s servants in Kenya.
Lord willing, I will be returning to Kenya (or some place on the continent of Africa). God is opening doors for the Gospel and disciple making. You want to go?