My American (Mis)Adventures In Canada (Several Mustard Seed Thoughts)

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O Canada! Niagara Falls is beautiful, the people are lovely, and … wow, what a ride. If you want to know how used to your own comfort you are, take a trip out of the country – even if the people there speak your language. There’s never a dull moment.

I knew I was in trouble when I called the credit card company to alert them that we’d be out of the United States… and got the automated service.

“Where will you be going?” the automated female voice asked.

“Canada,” I replied.

“What part of the area will you be going to?” the voice asked.

“Canada,” I replied, disinterestedly.

“What part of the area will you be going to?” the voice asked again, possibly more impatient than before.

“Canada,” I replied, slightly irritated, assuming a bad connection.

“What part of the area will you be going to?” the voice asked a third time.

“Toronto,” I blurted out, picking the one subsection of Canada I could think of.

“I think I heard you say, ‘Ontario,'” the voice said again. “Is that correct?”

“Yes! Thank goodness,” I said. And the trip had begun.

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Our first encounter with Canada was a stop at historical Fort Erie. The best way I understand what happened there? The Americans took over a fort that the British had set up poorly. [It took them three times to figure out that the ice expanded off Lake Erie in the winter, exploding the walls of any building situated too close to the water.] Then the British and First Native People came to expel the Americans but the FNP was late and the plan was botched. A second attempt saw the British overrun the fort, defeating the Americans… until a munitions dump exploded. Six hundred British soldiers died; three Americans were killed. The remaining Americans expelled the British. Who won? My Canadian tour guide said… she didn’t know.

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Upon arriving at the hotel, I discover that we’re situated on the forty-second floor. That’s 42 out of 42 for those keeping score. Have I mentioned that I’m afraid of heights and I could see into the falls from my bed? Five days later, I was no less scared of heights but I had successfully made it into my bed every night without falling down. So there’s that. It did give me forty-two floors to consider how well I face anxiety and how much I value other people who are anxious about other things.

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I’m sure I could post some sort of statistic here about the visitors to Niagara Falls. I can tell you that our hotel was a melting pot of languages, cultures, attitudes, religions, and more. The truth is that humility is universal, and so is stupidity. Rather than tell you that all of the Americans, Muslims, French Canadians, young people, whatever, were [fill in the blank], I’ll tell you that it was one more reminder that while we’re all created in God’s image, we all get to choose whether we show off God’s glory or not.

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One day at the breakfast buffet, a server at another table was trying too hard to clear a guest’s tray. The guest said she didn’t want the plate moved, and the server waved her hand, “But there’s no food on there!” Sometimes, it seems like we can get so caught up in our ‘jobs’ or checklist, that we fail to see the purpose of why we’re here in the first place.

The server’s job was to make the guests comfortable by clearing the table. Clearing the table wasn’t the main thing, making the guests comfortable was.

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Sometimes, I found myself full of wonder at the Falls. They’re beautiful, and powerful, and surreal. It seems like those who want to see the Earth as ‘young’ are missing something, and those who don’t believe that any of this happened according to a divine plan are… missing something. Maybe there’s some truth in the middle that we should consider if we want to embrace our spirit and our mind.

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A woman was trying to get up the steps from the buffet to her table. I could take the stairs, carrying a tray, two steps at a time. This woman had to lay her tray down, advance up a stair, pick it up, and repeat the process. She was fully reliant on her cane. I don’t always get it right but in the words of my eight-year-old, I ‘helped an old lady across the street.’ I couldn’t just watch, could I? I’m honestly not sure she needed my help, but I realized that there were so many things that I take for granted … and so many people struggle with every day. Kind of puts it in perspective.

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I didn’t work at all while we were in Niagara Falls. I didn’t write. I didn’t email. I didn’t prepare a sermon. And the world didn’t come crashing down. [Sure, it helped that the WiFi and phones didn’t work right, but still…] Maybe being a workaholic isn’t the way God intended us to be.

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On the last day, my family met up with the Norton family. Steve is one of my dearest friends, and until that Tuesday, I had never met him. Of course, we have talked every week for three years, about running churches, faith in movies, raising families, being good husbands, and following Jesus. But thanks to our trip to Canada, I met Steve – and realized  how awesome it was to be friends with him. It made me wonder, what would our world look like if we saw everyone as potentially someone we’re supposed to grow to be in relationship with? What if we realized that “kingdom living” means we’ve got to prepare for heaven by actually living like we’re fit for it? Seems like there will be people of all sorts there – even ones we don’t like.

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Anyone have a fish out of water tourism to share? I’m ready to listen :)

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What To Watch: Ten Options From J.K. Rowling To Disney Shorts To National Security

Vacation and back to school will do a doozy to your schedule, especially a writing schedule! So here’s a list of what’s available now – and a few coming soon!

Two Broke Girls: The Complete Fourth Season (out now!) -Twenty-two episodes of Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, Max and Caroline, are still tearing up Brooklyn while they try to make sure their cupcake business stays afloat. The Kardashians, Teddy Ruxpin, and Victoria’s Secret pepper the show, but this season’s highlight might be the potential nuptials of Sophie and Oleg. Seriously, in season one, did you see that coming? This one strikes me as a Married With Children type of show: you watch it to remind you that your life is actually pretty good, and a lot less desperate! rating: stream it (I know, that’s a new one!)

Mike & Molly: The Complete Fifth Season (out now!) – Like the above season of Two Broke GirlsMike & Molly finds an unlikely centerpiece/highlight this season: the de-evolution of Carl and Victoria’s (Reno Wilson and Katy Mixon) relationship. Melissa McCarthy is hilarious, and has launched a viable cinematic career (for the record, Billy Gardell is working, but hasn’t caught on yet). But Wilson and Mixon are why I tune in, to see them squabble … and say ridiculous things. While we know Mike and Molly (Gardell and McCarthy) are the rocks of the show, it’s mostly the other two dysfunctional nuts providing the waves. And wow, do they! rating: buy it

The Casual Vacancy (out now!) – I backed into this one. It was a story by J.K. Rowling but it doesn’t star Harry Potter (sigh). Okay, so I’m just kidding but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Rowling’s story gets an HBO miniseries transition that revolves around the English village of Pagford where things are not as they might appear. (One might hear elements of Stepford Wives meets Desperate Housewives). I did want to dig it but I fear it might be too British (from an ironic, humorous perspective) for me. Those with more of a global sense will appreciate this one more than I did.  rating: rainy day it

Miles From Tomorrowland (out now!)- A favorite show in my house, this one finds Miles and his intrepid family traveling through space to connect the Interstellar Super Highway. Think Swiss Family Robinson meets Lost in Space with cartoons. It’s hilarious (thanks to Merc the robo-ostrich) and exciting, and there are usually teaching moments built into what the show has wrapped up in an entertaining story. This one came with a hoverboard flashlight, so it was received with great celebration at home. rating: buy it

Person of Interest: The Complete Fourth Season (out now!) – Whew! I needed to brush up on my PoI knowledge before tackling the fourth season of this intense show centered around the brawn, Reese (Jim Caveziel), and the brain, Finch (Michael Emerson), who the Machine sends out to stop crimes before they can occur (a la Minority Report). It’s waaay more complicated now that they have other lives to deal with like Shaw (Sarah Shahi) and Root (Amy Acker) but they’re on the run from Samaritan, an evil computer program that attempts to show ‘singularity.’ And if that’s not enough, The Brotherhood rises up to impede the mission of our small band of heroes. It’s captivating (and terrifying from a personal information perspective), and leaves me wondering whether or not they’ll be able to keep the show going too much longer? Nonetheless, those looking for a thriller to tide them over until the fall season launches should check this out. rating: buy it

Walt Disney Short Films Collection Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD (August 18)-  Twelve Disney original shorts (and eighty-eight minutes worth of animated bliss) are available on this collection. Some folks will like the ones starring people they know, like “Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa,” “Tangled Ever After,” the Mickey-starring “Get A Horse!” or the brand-new “Frozen Fever.” But it’s two of the absolutely original, not-based-on-what-we-know stories of “Paperman” and “Feast” that make this a collection that any lover of animated power must buy. I might tear up while I’m talking about it that I think they’re so amazing… and I don’t get that hyper about this! “Paperman” is a beautiful love story, and in it’s own way, so is “Feast.” But the story of a dog’s love for his owner, and an owner’s love for his dog, is perfectly capsulated in this one. I give it the most stars possible and an even wilder rating: give it

Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem (August 18) –A Halloween-themed DC original, the film finds that some of Batman’s worst adversaries, Scarecrow, Clayface, Solomon Grundy and Silver Banshee, formed a team to take what they want from Gotham. Thankfully, Batman has a team of his own in the form of Green Arrow, Cyborg, Nightwing and Red Robin. There’s more madness involved though, because the Joker is pulling strings and has a bigger, more dastardly plan. Can Batman stop him? (Of course he can, he’s Batman!) This one comes with the Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD with fun that the parents (the comic-influenced ones anyway!) can enjoy while safely tackling it with the kids. rating: buy it

Where Hope Grows (August 23) -A story of unlikely friendship, the film finds Kristoffer Polaha’s out-of-luck baseball player Calvin Campbell befriended by a local grocery worker, Produce (David DeSanctis). While the odd couple friendships in movies might be deemed ‘old hat,’ Chris Dowling’s story is deepened by the fact that DeSanctis is an actor with Down Syndrome who plays the disability to his strength. Campbell’s inability to get his life straight, or parent his daughter, gets a crash course in reality (and grace) from this kind-hearted man. rating: buy it

Citizen Four (August 25) -A documentary by Laura Poitras (and executive producer Steven Soderbergh), the film won the Best Documentary award at the Oscars. Addressing Eric Snowden’s information about the National Security Agency and wiretapping, the film shows the power of the NSA, and raises questions about how concerned we should be in general. For fans of political intrigue and social debate, this one seems to be a keeper – and a definite discussion starter. rating: buy it

DC LEGO Justice League: Attack of the Legion of Doom (August 25) – This is just fun. While the latest direct-to-DVD DC films are coming out in PG-13 format and not intended for younger audiences, the LEGO series provides the typical adventures of Batman, Superman, and the rest of the Justice League with hijinks aimed at making the kids (and adults) laugh. This one finds the JLA bickering over who would be the best leader, while the villains are banding together to take over. There just might be someone instigating the trouble in the JLA, but can they figure it out in time? The special edition Blu-ray/DVD/Digital also comes with a special collectible LEGO mini figure – always a hit with the collectors and the kids. rating: buy it

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Sunday’s Sermon Today: Packing The Essentials (Romans 12:1-21)

I must admit: I like going on vacation. But there’s something about vacation that I don’t like, and it’s similar to what I don’t like about Christmas [which I, general speaking, love.] I can’t stand packing, even more than I dread the abundance of work that comes when you get home from a week away and have to do all that laundry and figure out where all of the bags you got out to pack in actually came from.

Packing takes planning, and thought. Especially if you’re going with someone who wants you to wear more than a swimsuit and t-shirt.

You’ve got to have the right pants, shirts, belts, shoes, socks, etc. You have to have the medicine, the shampoo, the toothpaste, etc.

Some people might even say you need a list.

My mother has a list like that – saved on her computer. Yes, it’s editable, but for the most part, she knows what she’s going to be taking with her. She knows the essentials.

The twelfth chapter of Romans is a crash course in what it means to be filled with grace, to be a loving representative of the Creator God, to be a Christian. It’s like the basic essentials of being a Christian.

Consider that for a minute: twelve chapters into the book of Romans, Paul lays out what a Christian looks like. It’s really that simple.

Now, he breaks the chapter up in three parts: there’s the introduction to grace, the way that followers of Jesus should treat each other, and the way that followers of Jesus should treat people who don’t claim to be followers of Jesus.

A classic, three-point sermon for you!

Let’s unpack.

#1 Paul tells his church in Rome that they should be willing to live as a sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. He says that’s what real worship is. Think about that for a minute: Paul shows it’s valid, justifiable, worthy to live a life of sacrifice. Too often, we seem to focus on sacrificial death for faith and downplay someone who lives humbly, quietly even. First question today: what would it look like for you to live a quiet life of faith as your sacrifice to God?

#2 He says they should not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Somewhere along the way, Protestant Christianity read this phrase and said, “whoa! We’re supposed to completely pull back from the world. No culture, alcohol, films, books, etc. Only ‘Christian’ stuff.” That’s not what Paul said. He said we should be different, changed as our minds become more Christlike.

What do you take for granted? What do you assume is true? Is it really trye, or hasn’t been handed down culturally? [For instance, we don’t actually know how many wise men there were but most people would say there were definitively three. More contemporary to today, many people assume whatever their favorite news station says is true. Just saying…]

#3 Once you are transformed, you will be able to know God’s will. A little tricky, no? How do we know God’s will if it relies on us being transformed? How can we be sure? Remember the whole ‘journey’ motif? Seems like we’ll always be in process.

It’s that process that leads to the second section of Paul’s twelfth chapter: the love of those within the body of believers. It’s not enough to love people who believe like us (even if we don’t always agree and if we don’t always like them.)

Paul gives us a few pointers about what it means to be disciples representing Jesus in the world.

#1 Don’t think more highly of yourself than you should. Paul knows we have value because we’re created in the image of God. We were bought with the blood of Christ on the cross. But we ourselves are not to put ourselves above anyone else – even those who we deem not to know God the way we do – or in a position to judge others as God himself.

#2 Recognize that you have special gifts the community needs, and that so does everyone else in the community of faith. (The corollary is that no one is as gifted in every aspect.) This one works both within the church and outside of it: if you’re not in your community (church or otherwise), you’re withholding the blessing of your gifts to that community. If you disregard someone else, you miss out on the way that those people bring something special and powerful to your community, too. Don’t assume that someone else isn’t important to God or to the community of faith.

#3. Love sincerely; live in peace with everyone (as it is possible). Raise your hand if you know someone who is fake or ambiguous or two-faced or duplicitous. Raise your hand if that person is you (just kidding). Paul tells us that we need to love sincerely in and outside of the faith community. That guy you don’t like at work, learn to love him. The homeless person panhandling at Walmart every day who tells you he doesn’t want to get a job, learn to love him. Love takes time and work, right? Paul says, “don’t fake it.”

#4. Hate what is evil but focus on the good. Whew, the church has really grabbed onto this one over the years. Remember the Crusades? Or the way right for life groups treat abortion clinics? Somehow, we get that we’re supposed to oppose evil but we forget to put humility, and sincere love, and the worth of other people first.

#5. Be devoted to each other in love; honor others above yourself. Devotion. It’s normally a word with associate with our dog, or puppy love, or really, really old wrinkly people. But if you’re devoted, you love that person more than yourself and seek to lift them higher. You want their best, their wellbeing more than your own. Paul says we should be devoted to be outside of our community, who are opposed to our ideals, who are not like us. Paul says we should want their good.

#6. Be passionate about God and God’s kingdom. I don’t know about you, but even as a pastor, I sometimes wish there would be easier ways to say “Hey, God loves you,” than actually walking up to someone and saying that. It can be intimidating, can’t it? And that’s with people we know love us! Paul says we’re supposed to be bold, courageous, powerful, excited about the way that God is working in our lives.

#7. Be joyful in hope, patient in suffering, faithful in prayer. Hello! Those are pretty hard core. It might as well just say “be more like Jesus.”

#8. Practice hospitality. Welcome everyone.

Welcome the pacifist and the militant.

Welcome the poor and the rich.

Welcome the Republican and the Democrat.

Welcome the Muslim, and the Jew, and the Christian.

Welcome in your friends and your enemies.

Whew, that’ll wear you out.

Are you tired yet? Should we come back to how to love people outside the church next week? I’m sure I have work to do on how to love you let alone people who don’t agree with me… at all! My list of “what to pack” is getting longer and longer, because I haven’t mastered these yet.

Last week, I read the story of a guy who gets it. His name is Justin Forsett and he’s the running back of the Baltimore Ravens. He wasn’t featured in ESPN’s article about Arian Foster, the running back for the Houston Texans, who said in the article that he was an atheist.

Foster talked about all the ways he’d been confronted, even verbally abused or ostracized by Christians, who challenged his atheism and disengaged when they couldn’t persuade him. But then there was Forsett, who asked him questions, who shared from his experience and understanding of the Bible, and who repeatedly said he was praying for Foster without recrimination.

Of all the Christians Foster knew, Forsett was the one he was still in relationship with, the one he still couldn’t ignore.

And then Paul says: Bless those who hurt you; in fact, want what’s best for them.  Don’t take revenge.

I’ve got to admit that I have a hard time, not with necessarily taking bloody fisted revenge but with my words. I want to lash out. I want to defend myself or even one-up the other person. I want to win.

When were wrestling with all of Paul’s other instructions, we sometimes lose fight of letting God work on people’s hearts, because it’s our job to work on our own hearts and shard our experience. It’s not our job to change them.

But Paul says that if we want to really be Jesus-following people of faith, we have to do all these things.

In all this, Paul says we will overcome evil with good. Then we’ll show people something to hold onto.

What evil would you overcome if you practiced these essentials?

What would your life, your family, your neighborhood, our church, look like if you and I practiced these things?

It takes grace to believe that this is the way we should live, to follow it through, but it’s that sacrifice that Paul knew helped us to grow to be like Jesus.

By our life lived, gracefully and sacrificially.

By loving ourselves. By loving each other. By loving those who seem unlovable.

Think about it like the journey we’re traveling on, and we’ve got to get packed.

A little grace, a little patience, a little love.

It’ll be worth the trip.

 

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View From The Shore #5 (2.0): Fishing Takes Time

We went to Jennette’s Pier today, the longest pier on the East Coast (or something like that) and enrolled in a fishing class. For the record, I caught nothing.

Professionally taught, geared, baited, and everything. And I caught nothing.

[I did have a good time though.]

And it struck me that when Jesus told his disciples that they would become “fishers of men,” he wasn’t kidding. You can have the right gear, training, and everything, and still feel like your message isn’t being heard at all. 

Fishing is about time and patience; fishing for people is about time and patience and… relationships.

Too often, I hear people talking about a correct formula, the “right way” to share your faith, and I shake my head. [Yes, sometimes I even shake my head where they can see me. That’s just me.] Relationships, sharing love and faith, are not built in a day or a moment; you can’t just show up, throw a line in, and assume you’re always going to be doing something that’s “fixing a jewel in your crown” [wow, I really can’t stand that phrase, but you know what I mean. Or you don’t, and then you shouldn’t worry about it.]

The thing is, I learned something today about casting, about bait, about untangling your line from the pier. That matters for the next time I go fishing.

And I spent a wonderful morning with one of my kids. That’s worth it right there, right?

Fishing takes time, whether it’s pig fish in the Atlantic or people you want to tell that God loves them in your everyday life.

Sometimes, you’ve just gotta throw the line in.

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View From The Shore #4 (2.0): It’s Joe’s Beach & We’re Just Sitting On It

It’s hot. The waves are rough. The sand is scalding. The kids are out of control.

And then, there’s Joe.

When we first meet Joe, he is emerging from the waves breaking in about six inches of water. At first it appears that Joe is goofing around, because as he leaves the water, he doesn’t get up from his position about a foot off of the sand. He motions with his hand and another man, a stranger, grabs it, thinking he must need assistance.

Joe, who we’ll later find out has cerebral palsy, doesn’t need any assistance: he’s just saying hello.

Watching Joe scoot on his backside, crawl on his hands and knees, and throw himself to the ocean floor (or the hard, packed sand) over and over again, I start to wonder how in the world this guy could be having fun? How in the world could someone care about him and leave him here to fend for himself?

And then Joe says, “Man, today is a great day! My family planned this trip to the beach just so I could be here. Isn’t it awesome out here?!”

And suddenly, everything changes. Expectations, perspectives, you name it.

It’s not poor Joe, struggling along, it’s thank God for Joe because I just saw the beach in a whole new way.

Joe doesn’t need our help; he’s here to say that a six-foot-four guy with cerebral palsy isn’t stopped by a life-debilitating disease. He’s not derailed by the effort it takes to make it down to the shore. He’s not hating life because of the cruel case of genetics. He’s not complaining about what he doesn’t have or what’s not going his way.

Joe is living it up, every moment.

Joe realizes that being at the beach is awesome and it’s a sandbox we should all enjoy playing in.

You’ll have to excuse me, I’ve got to stop writing and go splash around some more. Every day should be a day at the beach like this one.

Previous –

#3 (2.0) Dangerous Current

#2 (2.0) Fear the Shark(nado)!

#1 (2.0) Wavelength & God’s-eye

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Sunday’s Sermon Today: Romans 8:28 (Romans 8:28-37)

Have you ever had a really bad day? A day when nothing seemed like it was going your way?

Maybe you’ve heard the story about the guy headed somewhere who gets on the plane to get there. Unfortunately, the plane starts to crash and he runs for the back of the plane. Fortunately, there are parachutes. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough for him. Fortunately, the he sees a haystack in a field below and he jumps. Unfortunately, as he gets closer, he sees that the haystack has a pitchfork sticking out of it. Fortunately, he misses the pitchfork… and the haystack, too.

Doesn’t our life have a cyclic pattern to it sometimes, where we can see God moving after we see something unfortunate/terrible/bothersome?

The truth is, most of us would avoid bad things happening if we could. A few years ago, Steven Spielberg made a film called Minority Report where some special cops (led by Tom Cruise) stop crimes before they’re committed. The whole idea is that if we had the ability to know the future, most of us would edit our futures.

But what if there’s a purpose for the bad stuff?

Frederick Buechner writes, “God’s coming is always unforeseen, I think, and the reason is, if I had to guess, is that if he gave us anything much in the way of advance warning, more often than not we would have made ourselves scarce long before he got there.”

I’m not sure I’m ready to call everything from Romans 8:28-37 a “miracle” but I think that too often, we fail to see when God shows up because we don’t have the right attitude.

Lou Holtz tells a story about a man who was late for a job interview at a big corporate meeting. He’s been circling the parking lot for ten minutes and prays, “God, if you’ll help me find a parking space, I’ll quit drinking, go to church, and be a good Christian.” Almost instantaneously, a parking space appears in front of him and he darts into the building, tossing back over his shoulder, “Nevermind, God, I found one!”

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Now, I’m sure we could have a field day with Romans 8:31 “If God is with us, who can stand against us?” or Romans 8:35 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” or Romans 8:37 “no, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

This is a wonderful portion of t-shirt slogans and inspirational moments for the church in this little portion of Romans. But 8:28 stands out because I think it’s the most troubling… and the most foundational.

Paul says that we know – do we know, or are we being reminded? – that God works for good in all things for those who love him.

Paul doesn’t say that God works some of the time in some things.

Paul doesn’t say that God works, but only in the good things.

Paul says that God works all of the time in all things for all who love him.

John Ortberg tells a story about an older woman who locked her keys in the car and prayed to God that someone would help her. As she opened her eyes, she looked up to see a tattooed, bearded, burly man approaching her in biker’s leather and a do-rag. “Really, God?” she asked under her breath. “Um, sir, can you break into my car?” She asked. “I’ve locked my keys in the car.”

The man took her the rusted hanger she’d unsuccessfully tried to pick the lock with, and within seconds, he was holding open the door to her car.

“You’re such a nice man!” she cried, jumping to hug him around the neck.

“No, I’m not,” the man gruffly replied, “I just got out of prison for auto theft.”

“Oh, thank God!” she replied. “I prayed and God sent me an expert!”

I have to admit: I have a hard time seeing the tough moments as blessings sometimes. I think that’s why I like the juxtaposition of Matt Redman’s verses in “Blessed Be Your Name”:

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

It’s should be relatively easy to see God’s plan when the road is easy, and the material, emotional, and spiritual blessings are flowing down, but what about in the bad stuff?

Buechner writes, “The sad things that happened long ago will always remain part of who we are just as the glad and gracious things will too, but instead of being a burden of guilty recrimination and retreat that makes us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.”

Studies have proven that we most of us have “negativity dominance” (Richard Beck). We have a tendency to see the bad, to even let the bad overwhelm the good. The example used is that if a cockroach falls into lemonade, the lemonade is corrupted because of the cockroach – no matter how much lemonade we might be dealing with (a glass, pitcher, ocean). One cockroach can spoil the whole thing. It’s why “disgust” is considered to be “psychologically promiscuous,” because through that learned behavior, we tend to focus on the bad stuff.

[For the record, my wife says I should write a book called The Power of Positive Thinking, which is (of course), sarcastic.]

But what if we didn’t see that “bad” sometimes had to happen for “good” to result?

A seed has to die to fall to the ground and grow into a tree.

Jesus had to die on the cross to be resurrected from the tomb.

We have to die to ourselves to become more like Jesus.

And in the midst of it all, God works good in both what we consider good and bad. God doesn’t create the bad, but God can certainly use it.

So, wise readers/listeners, I did what any preacher would do — I asked my Facebook friends to share their stories about how something bad was turned into something good. I didn’t specify whether God was in it or not. Just listen to what happened:

My colleague, Glen Riggs, shared with me that he was let go from a job and learned that if he had not been prepared, his family would have been in deep trouble. “I learned that with government assistance, you cannot buy many needed things including toilet paper, diapers, paper towels, laundry detergent soap, and disinfectant spray,” Glen says.  “It motivated me to start a project through my old church to supply those things to families in need and that project has now been going for six years and serve over five hundred families.

Glen adds, “Then I decided to listen to God more, and after seven years of not answering…now I am a preacher.”

A pastor friend, Ben Horrocks shared that checking out a suspected hernia lead to the discovery of cancer. He’s been in remission for four years now. He still doesn’t know if he had a hernia or not, but he knows that checkup saved his life.

Rachel Hundley, a young adult and social worker, says, “Well, of course there are the ways that my personal faith was developed following the sudden death of family members. My grandparents drowned when I was 17, 6 days before I went off to college, and now I look back on it and know that I might not have made it through that first semester away from home if it weren’t for the countless number of people that didn’t forget about me and my grief even though I was away from home.

But also, and more recently, I had (have) a really hard time with my Dad and Stepmom being so far away in California. But I believe that it was no accident that they moved to California and Dad was diagnosed with Lymphoma 3 months later… and they live 1 mile from one of the best cancer centers in the country.”

Lawyer and baseball coach, Joe Moore, has a daughter named Macie who was diagnosed with leukemia. “After Macie was diagnosed with leukemia, an entire group of teachers from her daycare showed up at church the following Sunday,” he says. “Some had never been or not been in a while. Several of them are still coming to church and serving on a regular basis!”

The mother of one of my good friends and the first person to respond to the “What If All The Children Had Coats?” blog, Dawn Lee shared a story about her family’s struggle… and resilience with God’s help.

We were in the midst of trying to finish our Cape Cod’s second floor by ourselves, SLOWLLLLLY, and a horrendous thunderstorm came through, with lightning hitting our house. The 2x4s that were starting to frame the rooms upstairs provided evenly spaced kindling, and the attic went up in flames FAST, and then the ceiling started to break through.

Water and smoke destroyed almost everything we had, but thanks to an eight–year-old neighbor who saw the flames, we got out before it was too late. The good that came from that was an appreciation for what’s really important in life, a knowledge that ‘stuff’ is just ‘stuff’, an outpouring of love from neighbors, friends, and strangers. One church friend went out that very night and bought each of us the basics—-shoes, underwear, and toothbrushes, so we could get through the first night/day. Others brought food, furniture, toys. It was an awful time, but we ending up being blessed over and over, and were able to even hire the contractors who were rebuilding the downstairs to finish the upstairs for us.

Some years later we were able to walk alongside another family as they spent their first day digging through the “debris” in their yard that had been their life. Leaving that house even twenty-two years after the fire was difficult, because we learned so much there about home.”

Another pastor shared, “I left ministry in 2006 because, I said, if the [denomination] wanted to die, it would have to do it without taking me along with it. That led to a move out of state, which led to being geographically in a new [denominational] [area], which led to me exploring possibilities there, which led to me becoming a new church planter. Which would have never happened in the first place had I not become so frustrated with the dying [denomination] to leave in the first place” (Matt Meisenhelter).

Rick shares, “I planned to attend to Mary Washington College. I had a few deadhead friends there and an old girlfriend. I did not get in. But I got into Longwood and met wife and loved the college. Next week, our oldest daughter applies to Longwood. In August my wife and I celebrate twenty years married. And happily.”

Bambi shared, “How about, the absolute alcoholic rock bottom I hit in the summer of 2011? The night I was blindingly intoxicated, and missed formation and combatives (Army reserve training) the next morning. I sent an email to someone, who in turn sent someone to help, someone I would later find I couldn’t live without, I found God again. and three years, ten months and twenty-eight days later I am STILL sober.”

A friend from seminary, Shannon Fredres shares, “I was married and lived hundreds of miles away from my family. My husband decided to walk away and I was devastated. Now I am able to be where my family is, spending time with my nieces and nephews (which I could never have done in Chicago) and I even met a man who is a MUCH better fit for me than my ex ever was. I know everything always happens for a reason.

Pastor Tom Lester says, “The economy was not good when I graduated college and I, a committed homebody, moved three hundred miles from my real home, and went through three to four years of what I can only call hell without the handbasket at my job. Did I mention I’m a Meyers-Briggs off the scale introvert? But I met MJ. Tah dah! Her version will be much different!”

Another friend from seminary who has worked with kids in some tough settings, Jenny Williams shared, “Because of my parents’ divorce, and living through that nightmare, I’m better able to understand/minister to the students I work with who are divorced kids. It’s only through the grace and love from God that brings something good out of something horrible. Out of the rape that occurred in college has come a passion to help others through similar situations. When I share that part of my testimony to girls and female college students, many are able to break their silence and share their own abuse stories which opens the door for God’s healing.

A contractor, and newly-minted licensed local pastor, Jay Harrison shares, “I lost my job two weeks before my Emmaus walk and because I had nothing to worry about God spoke to me and I could finally hear His call to ministry since all “background noise” was gone. Now I have my own business and it supports my ministry in ways my old job could have never allowed.

Another pastor (and baseball coach), Russ Mason, shares, “In April 2014 I was on the scene of a fatal car accident where an eighteen-year-old, young man was killed on the night of his sister’s birthday (it was a Friday evening around 11 p.m.). That Sunday, we returned to the scene to bring granola bars and water bottles to those who were visiting and paying their respects. At that moment, we met the sister and one of the other young men who was sitting in the back of the car during the accident.

The next day I found myself standing in the living room of the young man who died where I spent two hours talking with the father of the young man and praying with a group of twenty to thirty teenagers. That same night I found myself in the hospital room of the young man who was driving the car that tragic night. In the coming weeks and months, one relationship led to another and by the summer, Shari and I had fifty to one hundred middle school, high school, and college students who were in our lives on a regular basis. All of the families and all of the young people who knew the young man killed in the accident handled this tragedy with great grace, love, compassion, and spiritual understanding. One family even invited us to lead a Bible study in their home! There’s more to the story but that is how one horrific night had many happy endings in the following days, weeks, and months.”

The mother of two wonderful little boys, Shannon Davis shared: “Well for us with Joshuas diagnosis with type 1 diabetes, it was horrific. The doctors told us we were with in 3 hours of him dying, our entire lives changed those five days in the hospital. Everything about it is awful, but because of this horrific disease we have met people we never would have, created amazing relationships, and Joshua testified in the VA senate and house to introduce legislation for type one care in the schools. We have grown as a family, and have stepped into a place we never dreamed of being in. At the age of four and five Joshua was on a first name basis with Senators and Delegates. He has developed a personality that will hopefully help lead change in lots of things in the future. While we HATE this disease and what it has done to our child we are thankful for all it has brought us.

Joanne’s coworker and friend, Brandy Hobbs shared:

You know the bad.

The good…. I know that Dean bumping his head changing air filters was a God thing. I remain grateful for the 16 months that we had together after the diagnosis. I am so glad that we were here in Virginia. The friends that we have made here are our new family. They are the reason that the kids and I have no intention of moving back to NC. I have continuously been overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity of others. I have never understood like I do now the powerful connection of the human spirit from one person to another. I could never eloquently explain the gratitude that I have in my heart for all of the kindness that people have shown me since Dean got sick. Although I continue to grieve Dean’s loss, my journey through this makes me want to teach my kids about resilience. I feel like everything we have experienced makes me want to repay kindness to others. Right now, I am more grateful for my life than I have ever been. There is still much uncertainty ahead for me but I have great faith that despite all of the tragedy, the kids and I without question have been blessed beyond measure by the people in our lives. God definitely has favor on my life.

I forgot to mention how much I appreciate all that the doctors, nurses, and health care workers in general did for us. I do not have any regret about the care Dean received and although I prayed for a different outcome, I would not change a thing. Dean loved everyone that was part of his journey and we are grateful to them all. The compassion they showed us was remarkable. Part of the reason Dean was in clinical trials was not only to save his own life but to also hopefully help others. It gives me great peace to know that he did. Hospice nurses should wear capes. Surely, they are everyday heroes.

In my experience, people with deep faith can handle the hurt. It might take awhile, but somehow, they find a way. Eric Metaxas writes, “if he is actually the God who loves us beyond anything we can imagine, even the bad things can ultimately be a blessing. In fact, God wants us to know that, because our sufferings will be easier to bear if we know that God is with us in the midst of them, leading us toward something ultimately redemptive and beautiful.”

But how we deal with it, how we receive all things, has a lot to do with our attitude, and the way we turn to God and our faith community in both the good and the bad. Somehow, there’s something greater at work, right? Somehow, if we could just hold on … if we could just see the “why” of the situation…

Because, Viktor Frankl says, “in some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment that it finds meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice. Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost many ‘how.'”

I don’t know how you’ll make it through your next struggle, test, temptation, or resistance, but I know why you can.

Rest in the power of Christ Jesus, and know that in all things, God works for good in those who love him. And share your story.

Just as these stories blessed me, and I know they will bless you, remember that God says he’ll work good in everything for those who love him. What if it’s not God’s love for you that blesses someone else? What if it’s not that your prayer makes the difference in someone else’s life?

Right now, a college friend of mine, Scott Ungerer, has a young son who is beginning his fight with cancer. We saw about it on Facebook – again, there is that social media giant connecting us to each other – and joined Luke’s Army, an open group on Facebook to encourage Luke and his family, and to stay updated.

And to pray. I’m going to ask you today, to say a prayer for Luke – and to consider how you’re supposed to share your story to be a blessing to someone else, who is struggling right now. Maybe they need to know you’re in it with them; maybe they need to know someone else survived “this,” whatever this is. Maybe they need to know that someone they know is praying to the Creator God of the universe, for a blessing, for peace, for a cure, for them, right now.

Maybe you’re it. It could be all the difference they need.

Amen.

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View From The Shore #3 (2.0): Dangerous Current

During my beach walk, I came across a posted sign that said “Dangerous Current.” There were lifeguards working and people were in the water, but in this posted area, swimmers were warned that something was different than normal.

When I worked at the beach, we called this a riptide: defined by Wikipedia as “a strong tidal flow of water within estuaries and other enclosed tidal areas” or “a fast narrow current running offshore and cutting through breaking waves.” When I worked as a lifeguard, we tried to keep people out of the area, especially if we could tell they weren’t such strong swimmers.

See, in a riptide, you can easily make it out into the water, but when you attempt to come back to shore, you have to fight like mad to make it in. [I’ve always found that diagonally approaching the shore was the way to get out; when people panic, they attempt to get to dry land by going in a straight line.] Most people were reasonably cautious around the riptide, but every once and awhile, someone would think they could do it. The only time I ever had to go into the water after someone, it was when another guard was on the stand near the riptide… and let a tourist go in too far!

Those dangerous current signs are there for a reason. They’re supposed to help us. We have signs in our lives that are supposed to remind us of danger – fight or flight indicators; we have the counsel of family and friends; we have the writings of those wiser than we are, and even the writings many would call spiritual (like the Bible). Too often, we plunge in and ignore the warnings, and then flounder. Then someone else has to pull us out.

What if we acknowledged the signs and steered clear of the more troublesome areas?

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