America, America. . .

I’ve decided to write my post election blog post before election day. This is for my believing friends mostly. And just a place to ramble without polluting facebook more than I already do.

America Is Not a Christian Nation

We’ve never been a Christian nation. But we’ve been a nation that has sort of by and large pretended to be one.  It’s sort of been the “in” thing to just assume folks were. It’s still like that some in some places like the South or the heartland. But it’s changing. It’s turning.

America isn’t. No nation is. We really haven’t ever been. This is something that isn’t more true today because ___________ won the election. This isn’t more true today because _______________ lost the election.

It’s always been true. God deals with nations (see my next heading). God is sovereign over all. But he doesn’t “have” nations any longer. That passed with the New Covenant.

We’ve been tricked a lot to think that we are a Christian nation. The moral majority and “religious right” and “evangelical leaders” like to remind us that we are. And then they tell us that to prove it we must vote a certain way. They are no different than the image of Rome fighting the reformers. Politics first. God as a tool or weapon of politically minded men to control those who just follow.

The change this year shows that we aren’t Christian more than many years have. For the first time ever the GOP has put forth an admittedly immoral man. A man who has said things that make me have to mute my TV if I want to watch the news in front of my daughters. A man who has said rotten things about people. A man who uses a paint roller instead of a broad brush when talking about groups of folks. He has accurate points in that roller around laws and policy, don’t get me wrong, but he’s careless in his words.

For the first time a national candidate could sit there in a debate and unequivocally say that she absolutely unequivocally supports abortion. And not just abortion – but even the more visibly grotesque (all abortion is grotesque mind you) form of abortion called Partial Birth Abortion. And it didn’t hurt her.

We live in a time where morals are brushed aside. Where moral relativism reigns. And the only accepted absolute is that there are absolutely no absolutes (except they say it with straighter faces).

So…

I don’t know who won yet. But I can tell you that neither candidate represents Christ. Neither deserved the full-throated endorsement that the “evangelical” “leaders” gave to Trump. Neither deserve to have their morals overlooked.  I couldn’t endorse either. I did vote for one of them though. I voted for the one that is least like the same system that has been ruling over us all these years. The one least likely to commit boots to faraway wars because it isn’t in their best business interests. But it wasn’t an easy choice. It was that or no top portion of the ballot and if I could do it again I cannot say for sure I would do it again.

So what do we do on Wednesday once _______________ wins?  We pray. They need it. Our nation needs it. We read our Bibles. We realize that we have more power over what happens in our lives by living Godly lives. We put off our sins. We look at Psalm 51 and look at our own sin as more disgusting than that of others. We purify our hearts. We ask God what He would have us do. What we should have been doing all along.

We should change what the charlatans have done to bring the “church” down. We should listen to Isaiah 1:17 – learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed.

We should love on those who voted for her. We should love on those who voted for him. We should love on those who voted for the other him. We should love on those who decided to not vote because their consciences wouldn’t let them.

America didn’t lose when ________ was declared winner later today. We lost when they were nominated honestly. We probably lost well before then.

But God can work with that piece of clay. The Potter knew that __________ would win. This is in His Plan A. Because He has no plan B. He works ALL things out for His will.

It’s cloudy at times from our perspective. But go on an airplane trip during the day on a really cloudy day. Low ceiling. Low visibility. It’s hard to see while you are taxiing. From our perspective there is no end to the clouds. No end to the dismay. Then we get into the clouds and it’s a lot worse. Eventually? You get out of the clouds. On top of the clouds, and you need sunglasses. You can see as far as your eyes will let you. It’s clear. To me whenever I fly on a cloudy day, I think of God’s will and purposes and plans. Every time.

So.

We aren’t a Christian nation.
We never have been. It’s more clear now.
That should call us to repentance of our laziness and lack of concern for the souls around us. The political parties look like Rome in the dark ages – courting religion as long as it helps them.
The solution to what ails us isn’t political.
God is in charge no matter what.
We should pray. For our leaders. For our nation. For our friends who don’t believe. For ways to live out our faith more.
Know that God is still in charge.

Use the election of _______________ to inspire you to prayer. To humility. To urge one another on to Good works for Him. Tell a lost and dying world that ________ isn’t going to answer the real problems. Or the suffering in their heart which is at enmity with the God who created them. Only Christ’s sacrifice can ease that pain. Only God is good all the time.

A psalm to close:

Lord, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin. Selah
You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.

Psalm 85 (ESV)

Before a Tragedy…Normal

It’s September 11th. It’s 2016. 15 years after the events that have forever changed the meaning of the date and given it recognition and significance. To some it’s a day they celebrate the time they succeeded in an attack. To some it’s a day their parents talk about and remember and they vaguely understand what happened. To others it’s the last day their loved one was alive.

I’m sitting in an airport. It’s the second or third time I’ve ended up traveling on 9/11 after the events that beautiful September day. I’m watching the interactions. I’m watching the conversations – I’m a people watcher. As I do this, I found myself struck by two thoughts. Not really spectacular thoughts, but just thoughts I wanted to explore in a blog post.

Before a Tragedy…. Normal

Most of us don’t have the blessing or curse (depending on perspective) of knowing “Today is the day I’m going to die” or “In 3.72 weeks, I’ll be dead”. We don’t get the chance to plan, to close relationships. Most of our deaths will be a surprise to those around us. And to us, in a sense, though I don’t know how long the surprise is.

As I sat at a restaurant at the airport I watched the folks around me. I watched the folks at the gate adjacent to the restaurant. Each scene wonderful in its own way because it represented a life. It represented a human being. Created in God’s image. With unique circumstances and perspectives and burdens and expectations.

Next to me was a couple playing Gin Rummy. They were maybe in their late forties or early fifties. They were laughing. Giving each other a hard time. Being playfully competitive. You could say they were flirting while they played. Laughing. Having fun. Their conversation kept darting to “remember that time a kid did this?” or “remember that mother’s day?” I don’t know how old their kids are but they have some and they aren’t here with them.

Outside in the gate area was a young couple travelling with an older relative, perhaps a mother of one of them. Good looking couple. Smartly dressed. The wife was tall, blonde and had an addictive smile. She had a baby carrier on, and in it was the most precious little girl. I’d say she was about 2 months old, if not younger. She had an overfull head of hair. Reddish and curly. Reminded me a lot of one of our daughters when she was a baby. The baby was a little cranky, but the smiling mom was dancing to the pop music playing at the restaurant. Walking up and down, dancing with the baby. Holding her hands. Twirling. Trying to get the baby to dance. A few smiles and laughs broke out.

I was in a high seat at a counter. Sort of beneath me was a couple at a table. I think they had a fight earlier. She was giving him that look. He seemed a bit broken and sad. They talked to the waiter, but not to each other. He wouldn’t look at her but the look was palpable. Their phones were busy. I’m sure they love each other very much. I’m sure he deserved the look even. I imagine they both knew it would blow over, tomorrow. So they didn’t care about fighting the cloud of frustration.

Next to me on the left was a busy business man. On a Sunday night still making work calls. Still sort of rushing whoever he was talking to in some office somewhere. I couldn’t tell the business, something to do with energy or maybe energy commodities trading. He was quick with the waiter. The waiter was there to serve him and this man didn’t have the time for pleasant conversation. I’m sure he has a family. I’m sure he is sweet and nice in certain situations.

Near the entrance to the restaurant, a family on some trip. Tired kids, slightly cranky mom, sort of clueless dad meandering along (man that family looked familiar). They were deciding on eating there or going for snacks.

Behind them a woman with an adult in a wheel chair and the wheel chair attendant from the airport. Maybe the adult in the wheel chair had Cerebral Palsy, maybe advanced MS or something else that affected both the body and the mind. I don’t know if the woman travelling with him was a wife, a friend, a relative. But she cared a lot for that person. I can’t imagine their experience traveling. The extra screens. The wheel chair hassle. She was happy. And pleasant to the attendant and to the hostess.

Here in the Sky Club now that my meal is done. I see a lot of folks with nose in their phones like I am here in my laptop. I see a couple folks chatting. A black woman with a beautiful smile and really pleasant demeanor is in a conversation with an older greying man sitting in a chair she was walking by. They started talking about the Giants/Dallas football game on the screen. But now they are just talking about life and family and life experiences. Engaged. Hands flying. Laughs. Smiles. Loud talking. Makes me smile to just watch them smile and talk.

Between me and them is an older woman by herself. She’s smiled at me a couple times and I at her. She doesn’t seem like a chatter. Just a smile and nodder. So I smiled and nodded. In fact I just did again while typing this. I don’t know her story. She may have Parkinson’s – just a slight head shake. She’s just waiting for her flight.

I could keep going. All these people. Thousands of them at the airport, hundreds or more in my terminal alone. All with stories. All with lives outside of the airport.  All of them, well at least almost all of them, if not all, have one thing in common. Well two. They are about to jump on airplanes. But they all have lived their lives today like they have another day tomorrow.

They are all assuming that there isn’t going to be a sudden heart attack. A plane crash. A terrorist event. A car crash leaving their next airport heading home or to their hotel.

Is that bad? I don’t think so. But watching them having normal days on 9/11 made me think of those who also had normal starts to their days 15 years ago today. The mother and baby. The playful couple. The angry couple. The friendly strangers. The flight attendants with great plans when they got to LA, maybe one who was about to be there for the first time. The parents eager to go home and give a stuffed animal to their kids. The tender and caring caregiver who is everything to a disable family member. The self important business person with a tender side. All of these types of people were on planes or in offices on that clear morning 15 years ago. Completely unaware that their day would change.

I’ve been to many car accidents or untimely deaths as a firefighter and EMT. Same thing with them all. They had stories and weren’t living knowing that “today was the day”.

So.. What?

I don’t know. Let me ask you. How are you living today? Are you living with a sense of your finite state? If that couple at the table in front of me down low knew today would be their last or one of their lasts – would they be doing the silent thing about whatever small thing it is? (And it is small. If they love each other and the thought of today being it would cause them any pause, it’s small. It may be big. It may be huge! But it is smaller than them being apart forever by death or dying together in a tragedy). I suspect that couple next to me playing Gin wouldn’t change a whole lot, but maybe they would have been home with their kids.

I could probably write an equally long post about the things I would have done differently today and yesterday and the day before if I knew that today would be my last. Or my wife’s last. Or my parents last. Or my kids. Or the person I bump shoulders with on this next flight.

Moses said in Psalm 90, verse 2 “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

That’s a wise saying. I don’t think we should live our lives in this fragile “I could die today!!” anxiety riddled worrisome state. But we should live lives that are pleasing to God. To the humans we interact with. To the humans we are intermingled with.

So. What about you? What would you do differently? What would change if you knew?

We have a unique opportunity because we are still alive. We have a chance to think about these things. Even if the end for us would be in 3.5 days, because we are alive now to ponder and act on it.

I’m happy I’m Christ’s and I’ll enter His Kingdom. That I trust in Him for my salvation and have given my sin burden to Him. But there’s more than that. I mean that’s most important. But there is more than that. There are a few dozen things I could have and would have done differently just this weekend if I knew.

So let’s take advantage of the opportunity. Get right with God. Get right with our loved ones. Treat others with decency and kindness, even when we are different and disagree about things. We’re in this game of life together.

Alright. Time to board.

Love,

Mike

America – Too Angry to be Terrorized…

I don’t know how to express what I’m trying to express here. But I feel like I have to put the thought somewhere lest I get too distracted by it. Last weekend, in Florida, a man went into a nightclub and shot a lot of people. 49 people are dead. Many more wounded. A news report yesterday suggests that there are still 4-6 critical patients who may sadly add to the death toll, or carry severe lifelong disability. This club was nightclub for the gay community (I don’t know the proper/PC term to use here). He used several firearms – including a semi-automatic long rifle with detachable magazine, and a couple handguns. He is Muslim. He made claims of inspiration by several Islamic terror groups to 911 operators, and his own backstory is complicated to say the least as the stories are pieced together.  This week the news, the social media talking heads, the politicians – they’ve all been on overdrive. And it’s a real mess out there. It’s with that backdrop that my mind has been dwelling on the content of this post. I’ll try and keep the thoughts together, and maybe I’ll even manage to come up with a title. Dislcaimer – Perhaps this is hypocritical. To write and publish thoughts like this while being frustrated with the media, the social media, the hyper charged partisan environment, the ignoring of pain. I acknowledge that and apologize, but I’m comforted by the fact that this blog of my personal is much more rarely traveled than my technology blog..  Here Goes.

Dear Person Who Would Seek to Terrorize America,

Stop. It’s a waste of time. I understand the various motives that exist. Perhaps you are frustrated about our involvement in the Middle East. Perhaps you don’t like our warrant-less foreign drone killing program. Maybe you adhere to an orthodox version of your faith which seeks physical subjugation and conquest to spread your ideology. Maybe you are a racist American who thinks this nation is wrong for (sort of) getting over the Civil Rights struggles. Whatever reason. Let’s just stipulate that you want to destroy America. You want to weaken our foundations. You want to turn us into a barren and smoky wasteland where once a great nation stood. Maybe you think that some great event or series of smaller events will make the news focus on the fear, the terror and the horror and that Americans will become too afraid to do anything and thus commerce will grind to a halt and you can shout about how you terrorized us. About how you paralyzed us.

I am not passing judgment on  your goals here. We disagree, but let’s just leave it at that. You don’t need to bother. That’s all. I’m trying to save you time, effort, physical pain and the expense of training and equipping. We seem to be heading towards the desired ultimate outcome of paralysis, inability to execute, etc. on our own…  I’ll explain in light of the recent shooting. This shooting caused no fear. And we were too busy to even notice what we noticed on 9/11. No patriotic songs will be written. No bipartisan renditions of patriotic hymns. Sure a few vigils here and there, some genuine vigils, some a combination of genuine and “issues oriented rah rah rally”, mostly, though, we’re too busy to be terrorized.

Now the American spirit isn’t one that gets easily terrorized anyway. I mean 200 years ago, a bunch of farmers, former Royal soldiers, lawyers, bakers, inventors, pastors and philosophers decided to fight the worlds’ most powerful army – and won. We have a steely resolve and we can’t be terrorized, it’s just not in our DNA. But I’m not talking about that here. We haven’t even been able to go into our “You can’t terrorize us!” mode, like SNLs “Is it okay to be funny again? Why start now?” response after 9/11.

We’re too busy to let you terrorize us. I don’t mean that flippant “I aint even got the time to be terrorized” use of busy.

I mean we are too.busy.to.be.terrorized.

Too busy…

… Giving litmus tests
… Taking litmus tests
… Judging (please note I’m not saying read Matthew 7:1 and stop reading)
… Blaming
… Fighting over nuanced positions
… Doing what the politicians on our team tell us to do
… Watching CNN’s voyeuristic replay over replay of the footage of bullets with interviews designed to make two politicians fight over soundbites and stoke interest and make you sit there, or MSNBC’s repetitive footage about why guns are bad and Republicans are bad. Or FoxNews’ repetitive coverage about why Islamic extremism is bad and Democrats are bad.
… RTing, sharing, posting all this nonsense that the others in our corner shared
… Fighting about Presidential politics – which are especially weird and Kindergarten like this year
… Arguing about why this is a perfect example of why our pet issues (guns, gay rights, anti gay this or that, anti gun this or that, immigration policy, Islam vs other faiths, Watch lists, FBI effectiveness) matter.
… et cetera

Basically – we cannot be terrorized. We’re too busy to even notice. We’ve mostly been too busy to even notice that fellow human beings are suffering. There are 5 stages of grief, well that’s what some psychologists say (Denial/Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance). Nationally we seem to only know two. “Anger, bitter Anger bordering on hatred…” and “Next!”…

So you can’t terrorize us. We won’t even notice we are supposed to be terrorized. We’ll just yell and scream at each other.  Normally, I’d suggest to you that that is still an effective outcome. And you should still try and get to us – inspire this loathing. Inspire this yelling. Inspire this bitter divisiveness through giving us attacks to fight over. But I have to be honest with you, save your energy for some other nation.

Here’s what I mean.. That shooting in Orlando? It didn’t actually create a single new fault line. It was just a frost heave that moved a few around and brought a new one to the surface. That would have happened with another news story if not this one. It didn’t cause Americans to start doing these things. It didn’t actually cause CNN, Fox or MNSBC to change their formatting. It didn’t really change the dialog nationally about these issues. Basically, you just need to be patient. Relax, enjoy the weather wherever you are. Be patient and wait us out. We are imploding all by ourselves here. The 24 hour news cycle, the social media proliferation, the politicians invading our sanctuaries (whether that is a church, a social club, a group bonded together by some common social issue they fight for, etc). The “Either Or” nature of the world. We’re doing it to ourselves.

So just stop wasting your time. The hatred, rancor and anger is far worse than anything you can do here. And in all honesty? You run a risk of a serious enough attack actually uniting us on one ore more of these fronts. There is actually a risk that something could be so drastic that you’d make us have a period of unity across these fissures which society, politicians and social media tell us to be apart over. Then your goals are set back even a bit further.

A Plea…

I can’t end it there. As a Christian. As a human. As a father. As a husband. As a son. As a friend. I can’t leave it there. But I have to say – some exaggeration and hyperbole aside – I believe those words above are truer than they aren’t. And truer now than 10 or 20 years ago.

My plea is that we’d stop. My plea is that we’d listen. Sure I have my pet issues. As a believer there are things I believe in adamantly. But one of those things is this sense underneath it all that I am to treat others with dignity. Even when we disagree on something so critical or central to what may make us up. Even something so core that if you don’t work a little at it and don’t remember the love and dignity and respect first that it should be something to divide over and break friendship over even. But yet I manage to have friends who aren’t believers. Friends who are but don’t read the Bible as I do. Friends who are gay and see no Biblical prohibition or problem. Friends who are and say “whatever”. Friends who are Muslim. Friends who are Yankees fans. Friends who like Oracle as a Database Platform. Friends who think farm raised eggs are weird because they can’t fathom getting food from anywhere other than a supermarket. Friends who think Global Warming is completely man made and the data they look at shows it. Friends who think the data is faked there and think it’s a scam. Etc.

So I say this as someone who has sincerely held beliefs. Who believes things that are disagreeable to probably more of his friends than agreeable.. Stop. Let’s stop.

We have to stop this rancor. This bitterness. This divisiveness. This go team stuff. We need to realize that to some extent “things are going to be what they are going to be” .  We all have so much to change with ourselves, our own families, our own jobs. We can stop trying to change the whole world ourselves and work on these things.

As a Christian, I exhort my fellow Christians to remember who is over all things here. Who is the ruler who rules over rulers. We serve the God who overcomes and overcame and will overcome all things and all evil. We should work to make this world a better world for our fellow humans whether they believe or don’t. I believe God uses us for common grace offered to all. I believe that as Christ’s elect we have a special duty to be kind and gentle to those created in his image who don’t yet acknowledge His rule. Partially in hopes that they are his elect and just don’t know it yet. Partially because we are to be decent and loving and repay evil with kindness and repay negativity with positivity.  Partially because we who have tasted grace should know all the more how much grace means – how it works. We should remember how little we deserved it ourselves and should be aware of just how true Romans 3 is of our natural selves.   (I’m not saying be a welcome mat, but loving a neighbor who is different isn’t being a welcome mat, even if our political team spokespeople want to make you feel like it is. And that’s the problem. Our litmus tests and urge to categorize has many people snowed that “being decent and loving to another human who disagrees on maybe even core issues is tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy.” IT ISN’T!)

And when we stop. We need to start something else. We need to look around and see other human beings. With beating hearts. Bills to pay. Stress at home. Family situations that are sad. Loved ones dying. Pains. Struggles. We need to see that we are all in this thing called life together. That we are more similar than the “spokespeople” and rabble rousers let us realize.

Sure I believe Truth exists. Sure I am confident that the Word of God is the only true and infallible rule for faith and practice. I’d die before denouncing that. But part of that rule for faith and practice says I’m to be at peace with all as much as it depends on me. Part of it says I am to walk an extra mile when pressed into walking a mile for a soldier who has subjugated me. Part of it says I am to walk across the street, go to the stranger who belongs to a group that would normally rip me apart and tend to their needs..

We aren’t doing that. And if you don’t have this raw, eye watering, sore throat feeling when you stop and think about what happened in Orlando last weekend, I pray that you get it. If you have to pause and say a few caveats first. If you won’t accept grief from another because they haven’t passed enough litmus tests to be acceptable to you I pray that you’ll change your heart.

The Bible suggests we should weep with those who weep. We should mourn with those who mourn. We used to be a nation that did that. Yes, if we start doing this, then we’d potentially be susceptible to terrorism and terrorist antics, we’d actually notice the impact. But then our unity and indomitable spirit would be the reasons why it wouldn’t work. Instead of ” don’t bother we’re already imploding all by ourselves.”

 

Flint Michigan – It Isn’t Only About Water

First… A disclaimer.. I struggled with a title for this post. I wanted to say “Flint is lucky” then I wanted to say “Flint won the lottery” then “South Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore Need Lead in their water”.. I also struggled with the tone. My wife tells me I’d stay out of trouble more if I kept quieter. I’m sort of breaking that rule here. What I have to say could sound a bit offensive to some. To others it will sound like I’m embracing the full depth of “It takes a village” or going off the deep end and Feeling The Bern.. I’m not trying to be offensive or insensitive. I’m not trying to minimize the real health and physical difficulties the folks in Flint are facing. And I’m not all of the sudden saying that money alone fixes everything. So if you read angry right wing racist rant – then, well I guess – who are you and why are you one of the 3 or 4 people who read my posts. If you read this as progressive democrat or socialist then I ask you to wipe your goggles a little.

My Premise

I was driving to the airport this morning, and I ended up tuning into a rebroadcast of the Rachel Maddow MSNBC town hall in Flint, MI (seriously, I’ve not gone full moon bat. I actually didn’t like some of the political tone injected into event. but this post isn’t about that). It was interesting. I understand lead poisoning can have many effects, some life threatening or longevity effecting. But one of the major focus points was on the gradual and harder to fully quantify impact. They were talking about the cognitive issues, the learning disabilities, the impact on graduation rates, the fact that the kids of Flint who have detectable lead levels are at greater risk now of being left behind. They are at a greater risk of cognition challenges. They are at a great risk of impulsiveness, violence. Basically the experts on her stage were talking about them having an uphill battle to take their education and apply it.

That breaks my heart. For many reasons I have a heart for those who have learning disabilities and challenges succeeding. I know the makeup of Flint in a socio-economic manner of speaking. You can see the statistics. Here’s the deal – the kids in Flint already had a tough road ahead of them. Statistics don’t say much good about their potential graduation rates, their avoidance of violence, their college acceptances, their ability to string an education into rosy futures.

The panel was talking about how it’s incumbent on the educators to watch ever so carefully. For the parents to get their kids to the pediatricians and get involved in their schooling and look for the signs so they can get learning challenges identified and get plans in place to plow past them.  The pediatrician talked about how there was a real lack of great food options in many of the effected neighborhoods and areas and how nutritional support isn’t there and how key that is to developing minds. They talked about how no school in their district has a school nurse and what that means. They talked about some true education funding challenges they are having (* huge asterisk here.. I’m not a fan of money = problem solved, more money = problem more solved… And there are wastes in education, some union led by paying for teachers who should be gone, some bureaucracy induced…).

And everyone is listening. And everyone is watching. And heads are rolling. And people are being held accountable. And with all the eyes on them? They are going to get what they need.

I have a friend whose wife is an administrator at a school in the south that is a Title 1 school – most of their students are on free or reduced lunch. They have struggles. They have learning disabilities. They have to work hard to get parents to the table to partner in their kids’ education. And they get funding. But the funding our schools get often comes with so many strings. You want to give every kid an iPad? There’s money for that. In fact.. There is money that comes first, and then you must use it to get the iPads. There are mandatory items to spend on that don’t help and just add frustration. Not to mention the emotional and fiscal cost of the testing for NCLB. But you want an art teacher? Or a music program? Crickets.

We’ve taken education out of the control of the folks who know what is best and we’ve led DC decide what is best. It may very well be well-meaning people who start an idea. But by the time it gets into the mixer, beat to heck and then sent through the sausage grinder – it doesn’t look the same at all. It looks like most of what comes out of DC – and then it gets thrust onto the states, one size fits all/

But I digress..  My premise is – Flint was screwed before the lead.  They were screwed by me. By you. I can’t begin to understand that. Most of my friends can’t either. I grew up in a middle class world. Mostly white. Mostly two parent families. Mostly intact communities. Athletic boosters, decent budgets to the enrichment opportunities and I lived in towns where what happened in Flint wouldn’t have been allowed to go on for more than 1 month because the multi-generational poverty wasn’t there, most of the community had education, had voices and when we spoke we were listened to. We could advocate for ourselves and do so in a way that would get attention (See my father’s day series when I first started this blog..  That was just one middle class white kid who could string thoughts together to paper and a copy machine and a lot of stamps that started a media firestorm)

Flint was screwed already. Those kids? So many of them would get the outcomes that folks are worried about. Some of it is the school funding. Some of it is the economic status of the parents. Some of it is broken families. Some of it is a multi-generational curse because our programs don’t help lift up and out and teach tools to do something different – it is easier for the system to just keep someone down and “surviving” it seems.

It’s not just flint though. Detroit. Baltimore. Philadelphia. Parts of NYC. Neighborhoods in Boston. Swaths of LA. The south side of Chicago. These other cities don’t have a water crisis (which for the record.. I’m pissed about the injustice of the water crisis in Flint. I think the governor should resign. It isn’t all his fault and it isn’t a party problem – it’s a “gub’mint” problem). These other neighborhoods with the same make up. The same socio-economic challenges, the same feeling of abandonment from those who have moved on.. These cities are all just as screwed as Flint was.

We won’t talk about those neighborhoods. Because there just aren’t headlines about a huge inept government challenge. There aren’t politics angles and actual people to blame and castigate so clearly in those areas. You see.. In Flint? We have a scapegoat. And that scapegoat isn’t all of us. We will never allow the scapegoat to be all of us. It has to be someone with a face, a name, a job title and an R or a D after their name.

Well.. Flint was screwed already because of us all. I’m not saying that the socialism of Bernie Sanders is the answer. I’m not saying that the policies out of our federal DOE are the answer. But I am saying that we all live here together. We all share this space. We are all created in the image of God. Maybe responsibility sounds like too strong of a word to my more strict Libertarian friends – but we do have a responsibility to one another. It’s in the Bible. All over the Bible. Now I don’t think that has to be the by force contract the government has with us. But I think we’ve all looked the other way.

We’ve abdicated our responsibility to a government. And then we look away when it doesn’t get it. And we just get frothed up and blame the party we don’t support and then move onto the next news cycle. Our guilt eased because government stood up and said “I got it… just give me a few of your bucks, but don’t worry I’ll take more from people who make more than you” and we sort of shrugged and said “cool” but inside we sort of know it’s not helping. Now don’t get me wrong. Government is good – it’s ordained by God for a purpose. And it can be a force to help and a force for Good. And a social contract isn’t evil on its face.

But we’ve been failing whole communities. Whole classes of people. Even, perhaps most sadly, colors of people for generations. And we think this is working.

I don’t know what to do here. But we can’t let Flint’s conversation be ONLY about the lead and horrible policy of emergency city managers. Because if we keep the conversation there we may fix Flint – for a decade or two – but we won’t move the needle on anything else.

I keep coming back to this verse with injustice. But let it speak to you here.  Let it speak to you as you think about the least of our citizens. What a crying shame that we are letting so many get left behind.

Isaiah 1:17 (ESV):

Learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

 

A Juxtaposition in Two Videos

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in America. We celebrate family, what we have to be thankful for, we spend time with family, we pause for thanks. We eat turkey. We relax.

Then the next day a lot of folks here go shopping. Or that night. And they fight for more stuff. Sometimes for themselves, sometimes for others.

There’s nothing wrong with that. And it’s good to see folks in retail have work to do. But these two videos paint a difference of cultures…

America at a lot of shopping malls this week:

 

A woman living in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia – she spends her day fetching water for her household. One of the 660 Million or so people without easy access to clean drinking water:

 

I’m not saying don’t shop this Christmas. But –  Check out Living Water or Charity Water and see how you can make a difference.

Various estimates exist for solving the world’s water crisis. The number is probably somewhere between $10 Billion and $30 Billion.

On Black Friday? We’ll spend somewhere around $51 Billion…

The Pilgrims were Refugees…

This weekend in churches across America, especially in New England, the Pilgrim’s journey to the new world will be discussed. We’ll hear things like “they were coming to simply escape persecution.. To be able to live free from the horror of families being split apart by a world turned against them. Fathers ripped away from families.” We’ll hear about the very real persecution faced by many as they first escaped to Holland and then to the new world. Looking for freedom, peace and security. You’ll hear words like Providence and a conversation about a sovereign God preparing a way. You’ll hear of the peaceful Thanksgiving dinner with some of the indigenous population (though they also were met with weaponry by others still). We’ll hear about the plights, hopes and challenges facing these people who were  forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.  (quick note… that’s the definition of a refugee from Google there in italics)…

Yes. So in many churches my fellow Christians will be speaking of God’s providence, the hopes and thankfulness of refugees who settled a land, formed a nation and received what they sought after fighting an uphill battle to get it..

Psalm 107 and Cognitive Dissonance

In many of these churches, Psalm 107 might be discussed, quoted or preached from. Some call this the “Pilgrim’s Psalm.” I suppose you could call it the refugee’s Psalm also.

He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.

He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in;
they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield.

By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their livestock diminish. When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow, he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;

but he raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.
Psalm 107 33-42 (ESV)

Catch that! Yes. The Psalm is here referring to the happenings of His people, Israel – but there are a few key takeaways elsewhere in the Bible and here that should make us think. Should make us ponder and consider:

1.) Common Grace – throughout the Bible, the concept that grace exists to the benefit of all the inhabitants of this land, is not foreign. That doesn’t mean I’m a mushy humanist first or foremost. The chief end of man is to Glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We are all rotten sinners who cannot do that apart from Grace. People are brought to salvation by God first so they can give Him the glory due to Him. The glory due to his name. So Christ can receive the rewards of his suffering – converted souls. But there is much benefit for us. And the fact that we all have any breath at all after sinning just once is grace. The hospitals, orphanages, charities and shelters started by believers is grace. The end should never be just common grace or social justice – it should be to honor God by caring for those created in His image – but the point remains… Common grace should drive us to ask the hard questions and care for people in the hard ways.

2.) See that bolded part? When the hard thing is done, when God’s people pull up their sleeves and let Christ show hope through them? The upright see it and are glad, and wickedness shuts its mouth.. That verse alone makes me want to weep for how we’ve missed this.

Where’s the cognitive dissonance?

This weekend fellow believers will be in church this weekend listening to messages speaking about how amazing God is. How much we have to be thankful for. They’ll hear or even give messages talking about the plight of a group of refugees who came to a land inhabited by others to try and get the space and peace and safety they needed to live freely. There will be Amens. There will be nodding heads. There will even be some pulpits slapped by the fists of men of God rightly proclaiming God’s sovereignty over everything and the security that comes from that.

Yet… Across much of  in name only “Christendom” and actual Christendom in America – by Sunday afternoon, eyes will be glued to the TV, the websites, the anger will boil and rise. And shouts against refugees looking for what the Pilgrims were looking for 400 years ago will crescendo and echo throughout the airwaves, houses and status updates.

Maybe those will be outright shouts. Maybe they’ll be what I’ve caught myself doing with fence sitting comments like “yes. we should help some, but…”

This morning sitting in a great message for Thanksgiving I wrote a lot of notes. I fully agreed with all the words of my Pastor – but I wrote some quotes he shared and questions I found myself wondering about when he was talking. His message was about the Puritans we call Pilgrims, but I kept going to the refugees. The thoughts below are thoughts I had about the cognitive dissonance:

“Is He Sovereign Or not?” – If he is? We should care about security and not be foolish – a sovereign God doesn’t mean we should jump off Everest. But it means that we can be rational and ask rational questions – and when they are answered and we learn the risks aren’t what we think they are – we should be willing to relent and not just say “fine.. let them come” but we should actually strive to be the body of Christ we are called to be! All the way. If he is sovereign – we should be willing to do the uncomfortable thing and the thing with a slight slight slight  risk of fearful outcome if it means doing what His clear and revealed will is in caring for others..

“Pilgrims – it was providence.. Refugees Today? GO AWAY!” – That seems to be what I see and hear a lot.

This quote – My pastor shared in the context of what the Pilgrims were trying to do. He attributed it to Swiss Psychiatrist Paul Tournier “…we long for a place to belong, a place to be home all our lives, and we are restless until we find it.” – Hear that? It’s a good quote. That’s what many of these refugees are looking for. They had that, by the way. But it was ripped from them.

The Mission Field Is Coming To Us – We often get excited about putting the money and prayer and time into sending missionaries. But right now? A mission field wants to come to us. And we are screaming and shouting at them and telling them to go back to the ruins they are fleeing… You could call these folks “the least of these” and if you did, then Christ’s words in Matthew 25:40 should haunt you. I got at this in my talk speaking about the Problem with The American Church in a post a year or two ago. Let’s take care of the mission field coming to us.

Closing Thoughts

No. We shouldn’t just open the borders and not enforce security. But we need to understand that the refugee process is perhaps the vector least likely to be used by terrorists. The vetting process is crazy there. Meanwhile visa waivers, overstayed student visas, an unsecure border, etc are far more threatening.

Many of my conservative friends hate it, just like I do, when the refrain of “DO SOMETHING!” comes up about guns after an incident and irrational legislation starts. We get uncomfortable with the statements that start with “if just one life can be saved”  yet we use the same here. If we were serious? Then we’d want to use that logic to stop a lot of other causes of terrorism that some of the liberal policies speak to. We can’t use the logic we hate being used against things we care about. It’s dishonest of us.

This year I’ve come back to this verse in Isaiah a lot. And it works here also. Are we going to do Christianity? Or are we going to do Politics Infused Christianity? It’s a choice we have to make. Let’s wake up and look at the suffering in front of us. Let’s look at the extras we have. Try and imagine ourselves in their shoes. Even just for a second. What will we do?

Isaiah 1:17 says “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” –  Oppressed? Check. Fatherless? Often. Widows? Often. Their cause? To survive and maybe provide a chance for their family to thrive..

They may look different. Many of them may even believe differently and worship a false God. Many are confused. Many don’t speak our language. And a couple bad apples could be mixed into the throngs of scared and hurting families.  But this verse doesn’t talk about these things. It just says learn to do good, seek justice and correct their oppression. So what are we going to do? Obey? Or yell and push away?

 

A Tale of Two Worlds…

This past week at the PASS Summit was perhaps the most meaningful PASS Summit experience I’ve had yet in a lot of ways. The diagnosis I blogged about has me with a new outlook and perspective (another post later for that – in short – I hope it continues and doesn’t go away as it all settles in and goes to “new normal”). So many great conversations. So much encouragement. So many friends. So many conversations with folks praising God in much deeper valleys.

The biggest shift I’ve noticed just in this first week besides the peace and contentment I blogged about in the earlier post, is a more acute reality of just what a vapor this life is. We are temporary creatures and we are all in it together. Our days are numbered and the priorities should shift as a result.

Add to that a sense that I’ve had building in me, and I got into a little on my guest post on Pinal’s Blog  , that we have discrepancies in this world we oughtn’t to have. We also seem to have the money, the talents, the technology and the innovation to do something about that in ways that are fresh and new and feel more possible than at other times.

I don’t have an answer here. You could accuse me of saying the common refrain from politicians on either side of some aisle – a sort of brain dead, soundbite refrain of, do something!”.. That’s a fair accusation. I’m not proposing answers here. But I do know the answers are there. I do know the communities out there innovating an using data to do amazing things are creative an solve first world business problems easily and readily. And I know the story I’m going to share is true.

Is this the greatest need facing the world? As far as eternity goes, I would say not at all. But I’m also a fan of common grace. God causes the rain to fall on the just and unjust alike. We aren’t islands in this world. We should be here for each other.

In this post? I’m just introducing a thought with a quick story.. We can all help in a different way and place. Get inspired. Go do something.

A Diaper Genie and A Real Need

I was talking to a really good friend who lives out this way. He and his girlfriend have cats. They hate the smell of the litter box. So they bought a diaper genie. A neat contraption to hide the waste and smell of diapers. It is a trash compaction and collection system. It’s neat. And he loves it.

Well the other day – in the afternoon or evening he realized that they used the last bag. Oh crud! he thought. He’d have to do it the old fashioned way and let the smell spread. But then he went to Amazon. He ordered his replacement bags and he selected the 1-2 hour shipping available in his region..

In two hours he went from having a need. For something that is hard to find in some brick and mortar stores. To having it. In under two hours.

That’s fine and great and there is nothing wrong with it at all.

But. Halfway around the world that same day he did that – a teenage girl aged out of an orphanage. And she had an inadequate education. And she became statistically likely to become a trafficking victim sometime soon… A family was holding a vigil over a dying baby with a distended belly because of hunger – hunger at a time where we have more than enough food to fee the world most likely..  At the same time, a woman with no educational opportunities or freedom was in fear for her future – knowing she had no chance or choices because she wasn’t afforded an education. Someplace else, another family was going through a long walk to collect dirty, poisoned water a couple hour’s journey away.

We Have the Right Stuff..

We can fix these problems. Together. Many people are. But this generation has the tools, time, money and innovative ideas to solve these problems.

Let’s figure out how. So much more in future posts. So much more. We’re all in it together.

Philippians Contentment Radical? Not at all.

Time zone changes + naps during the day + steroids mean I wake up at odd times. This is a quick wake up after 6 hours of sleep and I hope that when I’m done typing, I’ll be tired again and finish my night’s rest.. Two days ago, I posted about my really recent MS diagnosis. It was a rambling post. I started reading Philippians yesterday, too (go figure 😉 ) and I really feel like God is showing me a lot about myself and about life just in these first few days of unpacking and reflecting on what this means for me…. 

I want to get to a few main thoughts running around in my head. But I want to make a point of saying, that one of them isn’t attention, or extra measure of sympathy or pity. 🙂 This is a thing, a thing with some unknowns, but most of the time, a ton more good than bad. There are many people suffering from many worse things  (like actually suffering.. I’m not really even suffering at all – except for a minor frustrating bout of double vision and some wobbly-headedness when closing my eyes and leaning backwards). Enough by way of introduction. Today I’m going to try and get the first of the thoughts out. It’s about contentment. It’s about maturity. It’s about a vision of myself. It’s about a tenderness from God. It’s about Paul in his Prison cell.

Paul Was In The Right Place

I went to bed with Phiippians on the mind. I went to bed with some conversations with friends about the MS on my mind. I went to bed with my family on my mind. When I woke up at 3AM – it was with a thought and smile “Paul was exactly where he needed to be when he wrote that letter.”

Look at some evidence from his letter:

 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  Philippians 1:12-14 (ESV)

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Philippians 18-26 (ESV)

See that? Paul’s letter goes on with some admonitions and advice for living the Christian life. But his occasion of writing makes those lessons that much more powerful. He was in a prison cell. He didn’t know what would come next. Maybe he had guesses. Maybe he had ideas. But he knew the actual answer actually didn’t matter. He was confident and assured of his deliverance in vs 19 either way. Whether it be an open cell or a cruel death.

In verse 20 he adds to that thought. His desire is to see Christ honored through whatever happened next. Whether it be a courageous life in prison, living boldly after release or facing death with honor.

Paul Was Content.

(and that period in my heading was on purpose 😉 . He was – Content – period) Paul had been through the ringer a lot. He never had to be either. He was a persecutor of Christians. He was – as he said – a Jew of Jews. A Pharisee of Pharisees. He could have ascended to the halls of power in his day continuing his fight against the Christians. But he was converted. He was knocked down and turned towards Christ by sovereign grace. So he knew the high life. He knew comfort. He probably thought he knew contentment before. Maybe a few years before – he would have said it was having three cloaks to chose from when going on the prowl for believing Christians.. Having a pass from temple sacrifice and duty because he was on “official business”, having folks helping him out and maybe attending to some of his needs. If you were to ask me what contentment meant over the years my answer would change. Every so often, something happens where I feel like my definition gets more sparse. I think through this, it’s getting more basic again. But in Philippians 4? Paul gets to the heart of this himself:

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:10-13

I’ve blogged a lot here about how we have too much stuff. We have too many distractions. We have too many things that end up being substituted as contentment or fools as Provision. In some ways – I may say in some round about way that being a relatively healthy, middle class or higher American Christian is harder sometimes than being one someplace else. We don’t worry about survival. We don’t worry about comfort – pretty much ever, and when we do you could call it “first world problems”. But those things. Those comforts.. They distract us from true contentment. I’ll get back to this below when I close but hold it in your head if you can until then..

Paul – he got it. This is saying “Hey.. Thanks for your prayers. Thanks for being worried about me. Stop it now. I’m good. Wherever I am? That’s where God has me. Whatever I find myself in? That’s what God has me in. I am content because I am His. I can be brought to the lowest places in our minds yet I will abound because of Him who strengthens me.

Paul was where he was supposed to be. Paul was content. Because I’m an American Christian – I keep wanting to say he was “radically content” – (Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed and was moved to change by the book Radical. I’m okay with adjectives. Anyone who knows me knows that). I don’t need to add that, though. Paul was content. Just content. It’s not radical. It’s not unusual. It’s natural for the believer. But I think it’s hard to see it through the comfort and false contentment.

It’s not until you are brought low that you realize just how much Christ is Christ. It’s not until you are sitting in your prison that you can fully taste grace, maybe. I don’t know – maybe that’s just me.

Closing Thoughts – About Me

So I just got done talking about the example of Paul. I risk ruining an already too long post with talking about me. I want to preface this again by disclaiming with – I’m good. I really am. And there are so many worse conditions to have. And so many people who have MS who are just living and having great lives and not blogging about what it meant to be diagnosed because the medicines and help are that good.

Yesterday a good friend with MS saw me at a SQL event, gave me a big hug and asked “How are you?!” and I knew what he meant. My answer was “I can’t explain it. I’m not excited at all to have a condition that has some really expensive drugs, some weird unknowns and a prognosis that has a small risk of changing like the wind.. But right now excited almost comes to mind.. Content. At peace” and I tried to explain but it ‘s hard to explain. Here’s what I mean though…

Like I blogged about yesterday – I can be better in many areas of life. I have maturity to gain. I have battles to give to God. I have time to allocate more properly. I have so many things that are distractions and I let them distract me. I let my Bibles collect more dust than they ought. I give my kids more superficial time than actually giving them myself. I give my wife my needs and concerns and don’t take hers like I should. I louse around too much. Now don’t get me wrong. I could be a lot worse. But I could be a lot not worse. This is not a death sentence diagnosis. But it’s a stop and refocus moment.

No clock has been set up for me to count down to a bad moment in my life. But. There are unknowns. It’s not a cold sore, it’s not bronchitis – I’m living with the knowledge that things can change. That what I am able to do today, I may not be able to do in 20 years. Or 30. Or 10. Or even 5. Everyone is affected differently. The drugs help everyone different. It really is a strange disease and it could do nothing different than the dizziness and double vision and some of the tinglings and issues I’ve noticed before. Or it could put me into a wheel chair at 55.

And what that does? What that’s doing? It’s making me understand more fully what Paul was getting at here. I’m shuffling the list of “contentment factors” in my mind this week and as I pour things onto the screens to filter out whats critical from what’s not – I’m left with the image of boulders, rocks and sands.. The sand goes out easily. The rocks easier. But the boulders are hard to move. And the boulders are actually small in number..

God. Family. Friends.  That’s it. I say “what about providing for my family?” And the answer is God. Now that doesn’t mean I stop working – but it means if I focus right, if we spend right – God provides a way.

Instead of searching for the next device. The next fun experience. The next pleasure. What a world of contentment I’m surrounded in with just those boulders. Job lost sand, rocks and boulders, All he was left with was his wife who wasn’t so helpful 😉

This MS thing? I think I am in the right place. Sure, I’d give it up (at least right now) if given the opportunity.. Actually I don’t know.. Now that I type that – I’ve known I ought to find a more humble sense of contentment. I know what I’ve ought to have made first. But I’ve often found distraction easier. Maybe I wouldn’t give it up, if God continues to show these things to me about myself. If he continues to bring me along to the kind of contentment Paul shares. If he brings me low to let me see the beauty of his grace best. If it makes me mature more. If it makes me run to Christ more. If it makes me abandon myself and my selfishness for more of Him.

Because? That’s what this life is about first and foremost. It’s about our relationship with Christ, it’s about preparation for eternity with Him. It’s about our horizontal relationships here. It’s about preparation. And what prepares you for realizing that all you need is Christ than circumstances showing you how important He is?

That’s what I mean when I say excited. And I have to be careful using that word. In my genes is a slight desire to be the center of attention. A desire to have crisis surround me. I won’t get into where it comes from – but it’s there. So I don’t mean it like that at all here. That’s why it’s not the right word. I do worry about what burdens my family could have, but I’m confident that we’ll all learn and grow through this. And I’m confident that a dad who is being pushed along towards contentment in God alone (pushed along because I’m not there yet.. It’s a journey. I can tell you that through the adoption. Through this. I’m closer to it than I was 5 years ago.. but still so far away) is a good thing for that family to have – even if I wake up one morning and I have a temporary relapse where the whole family has to drag me out of bed and down the stairs 😉

I want to type so much more. And so many hymns come to mind to quote here. The one that keeps singing in the back of my head while I get nearer the end of this post is “It is well” but I don’t want to quote that one. I want to quote Rock of Ages instead. A great verse from the song that always punches me. But it punches me sweetly right now.

Before I post it – just a question for you.. What about you? Are you content? Have you thought about what it means? Are you distracted? Run to Him if you are his and ask him to show you where to focus your time and energy. Get back into the word if you’ve fallen out of it as it is so easy to do. Right now? In health, wealth, comfort? It feels like the lyrics below are only true “in a way” but in reality? They are fully true. And we’re all only a car accident, disaster, financial crisis, or diagnosis away form understanding the lyrics more. Work on gaining that understanding now instead 🙂

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless, look to Thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Savior, or I die.

On a diagnosis..

If you’ve been to this blog or my FB page or anything – you probably already know I share stuff from time to time 😉

Quickly typing rambling thoughts is cathartic for me. Maybe it’s also helpful for someone else sometimes. So this is the first of a couple posts I’ll be using to go through some lessons I’m learning after a very recent – like 2 day old recent – diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS.. Looks like there are two important MSs in my life. The one who makes the technology that has enabled me to have the career and life I have.. And one that stands for a disease).

Not sure what I want to get out here. But basically a few quick lessons I’ve been reflecting on the past couple days 🙂

1.) I am good at not sweating the big stuff. I sweat the small stuff too much… I’m a control freak with little things. But I roll with the punches with the big things. I guess that’s okay. But it’s also a sign of some spiritual maturity I lack. The big stuff is easier to just accept – because it is the stuff that is clear that I have no control over.. The adoption. That was big stuff.. We did our part but God had to lift more. This diagnosis? I just had to show up and get the MRI and complain of the double vision symptoms to cause the avalanche of tests and appointments that resulted in that simple “So.. You have MS” meeting last week. But I fight and wrestle for control in other areas where I think I stand a chance. I’m a shepherd. I think it’s cute when my sheep think they know what’s best and try and do it. I let them eventually, but then they get themselves cornered and find themselves in my crook, or tangled up in the wire I was trying to steer them away from. To be honest? I laugh at them a little.  I wonder how many times God shakes his head and laughs at this stubborn sheep. (See the most recent post for a good example there.. All we like sheep have gone astray..)

2.) I can’t be all things to all people all the time…  People pleasing. I have a lot of interests and wants and desires. But I have a few positional responsibilities. To my Sovereign God to praise, Worship, spend time with and read love letters from.. To my patient, loving, forgiving, emotional rock of a wife. To my beautiful children. To my church family. To my customers, colleagues and teams I help manage.. I spread myself too thin. I think I’ve known this before. MS is sort of a neon light flashing in my brain saying “Here’s your sign”.

3.) I fight too much. Well I don’t. I mean I think it is fine to share the hope that lies within my heart. I am never going to be silent about oppression. Whether it is halfway around the world, in a prison down the road from us, in an abortion clinic, in a family that has to decide to choose feeding their kids or paying the light bills. Silence is the dark and damp that the mold of decay rots in.. But I can be less boisterous with that. I have friends and family of all beliefs and walks of life. I need to do a better job balancing truth with grace and love. But that doesn’t mean that truth loses its truth. Or salt its salt. or Light its light. Make no mistake – I believe we serve a sovereign God. I believe That the truth of God is known in every heart – but most ignore it and run from it. I believe in common grace. But I believe that that means that we are given time to live and enjoy life even as sinners apart from God. I believe we are shown much about our God and ourselves through our hearts and nature. But that doesn’t mean I need to use this like a pick axe. I have friends of many interests. I have a whole SQLFamily and FamilyFamily and Friends who don’t believe like I believe but have much else in common.. This past week has reminded me of frailty. It has reminded me that time is precious. That time in our right minds is precious and a gift. I ought to do something about that.

3..) Count the blessings!! Listen – I am still learning more about my case. And in the coming weeks with more tests I’ll learn more. It’s definitively MS. Multiple lesions in the brain. Some active. Some old. Different areas. Symptomatic with this annoying double vision thing that makes me dizzy and nauseous in crowds or feel off when looking in my left side view mirror without winking one eye.. It’s sort of a pain in the butt. I have four beautiful children who I should be spending so much more time with.. And this is a crushing reminder of that fact. Most cases of MS and the majority chance is that that won’t be affected. But I don’t know for sure yet. Only time will tell. While I have contentment, peace, joy and feel blessed (as I’ll list below) – I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a slight bit of apprehension. About my kids. About my wife. About my work life balance I put on myself. About the time I waste from both work and life making both suffer at times. So this is a chance to wake up and see the blessings. Wake up and take stock of what I have. Of the awesome blessings I have.  More in another post some time later. But just a few blessings from this Dx alone:

– Where I live.. I live in the cradle of advanced medicine. Specialists abound. Information abounds.

– I’ve found an amazingly patient and kind Neurologist who I can already tells cares deeply about his patients.

– I’ve found handfuls of people I know have this disease and they are doing great for the most part.

– I have a career that allows me time to get tests and treatments.

– I have a history of enjoying medical knowledge and applying it in EMS and Paramedic school. The new words and treatments aren’t that new. The concepts in the risks of the treatments are understandable.

– I have been diagnosed at a great time. So many treatment options. With more coming on the market. So much research. So much help.

– I Serve the sovereign God of this world. He holds my life in his hands. He formed me out of clay and he called me to himself for no cause in me. I’m his and nothing can change that. Even if the mind goes. Even if the physical goes. I’m his and that CAN NOT change.

– My children are mine sure, but they are HIs. What peace is it to face uncertain times knowing that my kids are his. That the God of this world caused them to be born into or adopted into a family that has two parents elected by Sovereign Grace. I know that they’re futures are not shaped by me alone. That they are not only loved by me.

– My wife. I’m not the greatest husband all the time. But she is an amazing wife. She gives me peace. Strength. a Reason to fight. A reason to smile. I’ve known this. But this Dx? It shows it to me even more clearly.

– I’m seeing what’s important more than ever. I saw that some during the adoption as I blogged about here. I see that as I go deeper with God. But this is a warning sign in some ways. And a refocus. A reshift. WIth time allocated to make that shift.

– Linchpin People – my business partners, my friends there. What a caring and loving team. God has me right where I need to be. And when I bump into my SQL family at the next SQL event, that’s going to feel great also.

 

More later 🙂 No edits yet. Just posting.

All We Like Sheep

Most people who know me know we have a small farm brewing at our old farm house. We have a growing flock of Icelandic Sheep. One of our lambs born in the 2015 lambing season, Jacob, recently got his head stuck in the cattle panels making a hoop house I built. I’m going to share the story of Jacob and the time I had to wrestle him free.

I want to relate it to one verse in the Bible, though. Isaiah 53:6. I’ll share the first part of that

Jacob as a new lamb

Jacob as a new lamb

verse to start:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;

– Isaiah 53:6A

This means a few things. As a new shepherd I understand the illustration. We’re stubborn. We care more about ourselves than others too much. We choose our ways over God’s ways and we even reject the good things and good instruction and common sense he gives us….

The other day Jacob had wedged himself in the hoop house with his right horn. Because of the curve of the horn to free himself he had to move a certain way – but it was a way that would have made him feel more trapped. It was the “wrong way” from his perspective. He was baaing like a mad sheep while pushing forward as hard as he could. He would have not freed himself in a million years doing that. But he kept trying. Stubbornly. He felt like he knew what was best.

The hoop house he got stuck in...

The hoop house he got stuck in…

To succeed he would have had to move backwards and in an awkward way – almost like he was making himself more trapped. It was probably a position that made him feel like he was going to be in trouble. Probably an uncomfortable position. Definitely awkward.

So I had to help him.I tried to coax him and sort of shoo him the right direction, to no avail. Instead I had to straddle my legs over his body so I could use my thighs to try and steady him and pressure him towards the direction I wanted him to go, while I grabbed his left horn with one hand and sort of held him in a headlock with the other and tried to move him back. He’s a lamb, probably only weights about 100Lbs,  but he fought hard!  It took multiple tries and considerable strength. He bucked and moved against me the whole time. He wanted to be free his way. He wanted to be free on his terms.

He knew what was best from his perspective and his vantage point. I was adding stress and making him angrier, certainly to his understanding no helping, but hurting.

Except. I eventually freed him. In spite of his complete unwillingness and inability to free himself. I fought him for control and won the wrestling match and he ended up free as a result. He ran off to join the flock and was fine while I sat there catching my breath chuckling about his stubbornness and his blindness….

(Quick aside – funny that it was Jacob who decided to get into a wrestling match with his shepherd…)

All WE like Sheep…

Replace the shepherd above with “God” (not that I am anything comparable to Him, in spite of my name) and replace Jacob with “me” or “you”..

How often does God know what’s best for us. How often does he try to give us what is beset for us – while we – like a dumb and stubborn animal fight and kick at Him – as he frees us in spite of ourselves?

From our salvation – where bitter hearts set against God are turned in spite of ourselves, to our sanctification where Christ works change in those changed hearts. To the way he answers prayer, it’s not always (contrary to the prosperity movement) a “yes! whatever you think you want!!!” or “A New carr!!” sometimes the answers – from our view are bitter and hard to understand. Think of Christ’s prayer in the garden “let this cup pass – but nevertheless not my will, but thine” – we sometimes miss that second part. And we get stubborn.

One of the most beautiful verses in the Bible speaking about grace – God’s grace to sinners like us – is in Isaiah 53:6 here. And it applies well in this situation. Both my wrestling match with Jacob – and the times we wrestle with God ourselves.

Remember – it starts out: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way;”

We’ve all gone our own way. Stubbornness rules our hearts. Self will and self determination win. We think we’re entitled, owed even, to this. We don’t want God in our natural state. We are enemies of Him from Adam to now in our natural state.

God could end this verse with “So, I let them go their own way and turned my back on them.” or “So I gave them what they wanted and set their enemies against them”.

Except he doesn’t

Isaiah 53:6 ends with:

But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

Who is the Him? Read the rest of Isaiah 53 to see who is described. I’ll give you a cheat –  Christ is described. God has been turning the hearts of stubborn, stray sheep happy going the wrong way for generations. And he’s still in that business today.

Frankly – it doesn’t matter how you are stubborn. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. You don’t have to come part of the way to him – you can’t. You wouldn’t be one inch closer to Him after a thousand lifetimes of trying. That’s how great the gulf is between his holiness and our sin. But he comes to those who are his. He causes our iniquity to be deposited onto Christ.

I’m Christ’s but it isn’t because I figured out how to get my own head out of my fence. In fact, just like Jacob will probably do again, I am constantly putting my head back into fences… I’m Christ’s because God elected me before the foundations of this world – but not for any cause in me.