What’s the Problem?

What’s the problem?

Why are you mad?

Why won’t you talk about it?

What happened?

Why aren’t you listening to me?

Why can’t I hear you?

What does God say?

Why can you and I both be listening to God and come up with different answers?

This life, it isn’t easy.    There’s so much static and so much noise that gets in the way of life.   

There’s so much that drowns out the true meaning and the true direction of life.

We’re afraid.    We don’t want people to be mad at us.

We don’t want to stand out from the crowd.    It’s lonely.  

Lonely in the crowd and lonely when we take a stand.

Which is more important?

To take a stand or to be liked?

To follow your heart or to fit in?

To be true to yourself or to be true to an organization or a church?

To be true to what you hear God saying or to be true to the “easy” line?

Not easy questions.   Not easy times to have to wrestle with questions.   

And the church is a tough place to have to wrestle……..

Wrestling isn’t fun.    But it’s important.   If we don’t wrestle with the questions, we won’t be able to determine what God’s will is.

And what is noise from that bad guy, Satan.

And what’s just human static that’s getting in the way.

May we all spend time this Christmas season seeking God’s will, taking the time to share both our time but also our hearts with those who matter to us.

And may those who matter take that portion of our hearts that we give them and treasure it, keep it safe and value it.

That’s when we’ll see unity. 

That’s when we’ll all feel valued.

That’s when God’s will is done – even if it’s not the way we think it might be…….

TJV

Who Cares Who Had Whom?

Ever since I was a kid, I always used to (important past tense) think that the genealogies that are listed in the Bible are a sort of really bland, really boring record keeping and they held no meaning other than to verify that there actually were people involved in the Bible and that there was a “line” from Abraham to Jesus.

I realize now that I was wrong.

Let’s look at Matthew 1.    A couple of things stand out:

Judah had two sons – and one of them was  with his daughter in law.   That’s incest and is illegal around here.

Salmon married Rahab – remember Rahab?   The prostitute from Jericho?   So she was a foreigner and also a “woman of ill repute.”

Boaz married Ruth – she was a foreigner.

King David had Solomon – and Solomon’s mother was Uriah’s wife.   So he could marry his wife.

As we get closer and closer to Christmas, remember this……

God uses mixed up people, He uses sinners, He uses people who “don’t belong.”    All of them have a role in the Christmas story.

If God can use them to be part of the Christmas story, He can certainly use you and me.

Tom

Problems, Challenges and God

Last night, I had the privilege to be part of a large multi-generational and multi-racial discussion group at a church in Grand Rapids.   The topic was,  “Ferguson and Michael Brown – How do we respond?”

Let’s say that the 2 hours went by extremely quickly and I was saddened, frightened, sobered, encouraged, engaged and felt the presence of God in many ways.    I’m not going to get in to a lot of the details and my thoughts about it right now – I’ve got enough writing material to keep me busy for quite a while just exploring the thoughts that were expressed there.

But this morning, in my personal devotions, I read part of Romans 15.   Particularly verse 13 spoke to me,  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

These are disturbing times that we live in.   But God says, be at peace and trust in me.   God also says to overflow in hope through the Holy Spirit.    Hope for what?

Hope for the return of Jesus to end the pain and suffering in this world?    I hear that quite often from many of my friends who are suffering or are witness to suffering.    I think that’s a very valid point.

But also, hope that God will bring change, will bring peace and will make this world more like He intended it to.    Several of the people who shared about their story as it relates to racism and Ferguson said that until God, through the Holy Spirit, came into their lives, they were angry, bitter and felt rejected.

God can change that.   He can change us.

Are we willing?

I’ll have a lot more as time goes on…….

Tom

How Should We Respond?

Living in two worlds is an interesting proposition……

On the one hand, I live in a suburb in Michigan – predominantly middle class, predominantly white, predominantly stable and “calm” world.

On the other hand, many of my friends and some of my family (and some of my friends who I consider close enough to be family), aren’t white, have family members who aren’t white, who might not be middle class or who live in areas that aren’t middle class and “stable.”

And how do we respond to the events of recent days in both New York and Missouri given that “composition?”    I want to share a couple of thoughts from the Pastors at Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids.    We had the privilege of attending there yesterday and God used them to speak to  me and mine.

How should we respond?   That is something they are really wrestling with.   On Wednesday night of this week, they are having a prayer and discussion meeting about how to respond.   I’m going to be there to learn more about what my response should be.

How should we respond?    When one of our “brothers in Christ” says that Ferguson was a one time episode?  We should respond as brothers in Christ – how you see Ferguson is not indicative of whether you love God or not.

How should we respond?   When we see Ferguson and New York as indications that the system is more broken than we all hoped it was, what do we do?    What does God call us to do in Micah 6:8?   “Do Justice, Love Mercy and walk humbly with your God.”

How should we respond?   6 Million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.   40 Million Africans were murdered in the slave trade.   How do we respond to this injustice?    How do we respond to centuries of oppression that are still ingrained in many parts of our systems?

A lot more questions than answers.    But it’s obvious that a substantial portion of the black community views the incidents in Ferguson and New York as evidence of a wounded system – not isolated incidents.

How do we respond?    How do we make a difference?    How do we push back against the racist sins of the past and forward into a world where God’s people live side by side the way that He wants us to?

I don’t know.   The answers are few, but I know we need to keep asking the questions.

And I plan on continuing to wrestle with it here.

Tom

Standing

I’ve been thinking a lot about standing this week.

No, not that kind of standing.

The standing that takes a lot more energy.  

A lot more strength.

A lot more emotional toll.

As we all watch the events unfolding in New York and in Ferguson, it’s hard to stand by and watch.

It’s also hard to stand on one side or the other because the truth can be very elusive for those who don’t have all of the facts.

It’s also hard to stand because of those who want to spin things to their side.

But I’ve learned some things about standing this week……

I’ve learned that standing up against wrong is hard.   Very hard.

I’ve learned that standing up against a specific wrong is hard.   And it takes a lot of time and energy to determine the truth.    Sometimes the truth is in a gray area and that makes it even harder.

I’ve learned that standing up against the bigger wrongs is hard, but is often easier to see.

Standing up in the Ferguson case is hard – because it’s hard to know what happened and who is right and who is wrong.

But standing up for the rights of black men, black men like my son is becoming is hard – but not because its hard to know right and wrong.   I think we can all agree, at least I hope we can, that there are still substantial times in this country where black men (in particular) get treated differently than white people do.

And we need to stand up and say, “This is wrong.   Whether you are black or white or any other race, you should be treated the same.”

Ferguson and New York showed that we have a lot farther to go on that than we thought we did.

I’ve also thought a lot about standing with children this week.   Kids are cute.  Well, most of them are.  Smile   And it’s easy to say, I stand for the rights of children.   I want every child to grow up safe and in a loving family.

Who would actually say that they wouldn’t want that?

But when you get to the specifics, that’s when standing with children gets hard. 

When you have to talk about evil things happening to children, that’s hard.   That’s sick to your stomach, can’t sleep at night hard.

But when you know something is wrong, you have to take a stand on it.   Either you stand up and say, “Something is wrong.” 

Or you are essentially saying, “Me and my comfort zone trump what I feel is wrong in this situation.”

But the truth can be elusive – unless you are there.

Unless you look into the eyes of the children and hear them tell their story.

Unless you see the marks on a child’s backside from being………

So how do you stand with that?   A couple of thoughts I’ve had this week:

  • You support the people who are on the front lines.    Those who know the truth about the wrongs need to know that they have others backing them up.
  • You encourage them to push for the right.    Encourage them to keep on fighting.   Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and fight the wrongs – for their sake and for the sake of other kids who might be at risk.
  • You extend grace.   Grace to those who are on the front lines.   Grace to those who might seem to be on the “wrong side.” 
  • You stand with knowledge.   Don’t ignore the facts, don’t take the pleasant road, take the road that’s filled with truth – even if that road is bumpy, full of potholes and has alligators waiting in the ditches.    If you know something is wrong, you can’t plead ignorance.
  • God is a God of justice not “just” a God of love.   There are and must be consequences to evil.   And quite often, I believe that God uses His people to stand up to the evil, to expose the evil, to share what they know about the evil so that God’s justice can prevail – not only in the next life but also in the here and now.   That doesn’t mean vigilante justice.   That means speaking out against wrongs, even when it involves exposing very uncomfortable things.

I’ve also thought a lot about standing with and standing for family this week.   Every day, every week, we are faced with choices.   We are pulled by the world, we are pulled by the devil, we are pulled by greed.

And we need to stand up for our families.   We need to stand up and say,  “This is difficult, but I know this is what we need.”   “While you might not understand, I have to do what is best for my family.”

That standing can involve breaking with traditions.

That standing can involve reevaluating career priorities.

That standing can involve reevaluating worship and church priorities (not IF, but when where and how).

And that is not easy either.

So what have I learned about standing this week?

  • Standing is hard – in almost every situation, it’s hard to stand.    But it’s easy to sit back and go with the flow.
  • Standing is crucial to keeping your balance.   If you don’t look at what’s important to you and what matters to you, you will lose your place in life.   You’ll lose your balance.
  • Standing is important – for the sake of your family, especially if someone in your family has been hurt.   For the sake of those outside of your family who have been hurt.    For the sake of those who are being hurt or might be hurt by faults in “the system.”
  • Standing is important for healing.   To heal the wrongs, to heal the injuries, to heal the wounded souls, you have to stand up and push back.   Standing is important for healing – for you and for others.

It’s been hard to keep standing this week.   It’s been hard to watch many things that are going on – both those in the news and those in much more private situations.

But at the end of the week, I remain convinced that the only way we’re going to make this world a better place is if we take a stand for what we know is right.TheLorax

Tom

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”