Morning in America or Mourning in America?

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Today I was riveted by the comparison of two very well produced television ads: the first aired by the Reagan campaign in 1984, and the second one released this week by “Citizens for America” attacking Barack Obama.  The Reagan “Morning In America” ad contributed heavily to president Reagan’s re-election. Republicans hope the “Mourning In America” ad focusing on the failed policies of the Obama administration will be equally effective in boosting conservatives who are running for office all across the country this Fall.

Here is my take: I love both of these ads. But more than that, I see some poetic justice here. Mr. Obama campaigned by heavily attacking his predecessor, George Bush. On inauguration day he spurned him. He never stopped attacking and degrading the man. Never has a sitting president spent so much energy and exhibited so much arrogance beating up on his predecessor.

Obama’s chickens have come home to roost. What goes around comes around. The “Mourning In America” ad says it all. I have included both ads below for your viewing enjoyment. They are short ones, only a minute each—well worth the time. Watching them consecutively blew my mind and stirred my heart.

(Just as an aside, I would like to point out that after inheriting a recession when he came into office, and after suffering the attack of 9-11 and the tremors that caused throughout our economy, Bush enacted tax cuts and pro-business policies that resulted in 53 consecutive months of solid growth accompanied by low unemployment (in the 4% neighborhood). That was 4 years and 5 months of good economic numbers. In November 2006, propelled by a strong anti-war sentiment, the democrats swept both houses of congress. Just a few months after Reid, Pelosi and the democrats took over, the economy started sputtering and the recession began. That’s a fact. Look it up.  GW wasn’t perfect…but he didn’t/doesn’t deserve the derision Obama has given him.)


Power Encounter in Cebu

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I’ve never ventured to shared this story before. It’s one of my  my “naked faith” experiences I had while on the mission field in Asia.  As you will see (if you bear with me through the long narrative) it is “Outside the Box” of normal human experience, at least in the Western world…TRUE STORY.

In the summer of ’88 we spent two months ministering up and down the Philippines, conducting open air outreaches in remote villages, sleeping in grass huts and abandoned houses. Our team, which consisted of 14 people from about 7 different countries, was a “special ops” ministry team of sorts, trailblazers who endeavored to press the envelope and establish contacts for future ministry. We used drama, pantomime, personal testimony and preaching to communicate God’s love to all we came in contact with—drawing crowds ranging from 20 to 1000 or more, depending on the time and place.

What a beautiful and colorful country, the Philippines! The culture there is outgoing and gregarious, the people warm and very open to the Gospel. Everywhere we went conversations abounded. The afternoon and evening meals were always sumptuous affairs where half the neighborhood showed up to meet us: these young, intriguing people who had travelled so far to be in their village. Pit smoked pig, “Lechon Baboy” (head included), was the centerpiece of the spread, which also included a large serving bowl of baby coconut milk, a potpourri of dishes made with shrimp, rice, noodles and vegetables and fruit.

One highlight of our trip was the day we boarded a motorized banana boat (40 ft long by 8 ft wide) on the island of Cebu and sailed for the Camotes Islands, which sit like tiny freckles east of Cebu, so inconsequential that they don’t even show up on a standard map. (There are over 7000 islands in the Philippine chain.) We began the trip at 9pm, and during this 12 hour overnight joy ride we experienced the full range of emotions. The waves were choppy most of the way and at times we were certain the boat was going to capsize. Only an hour into the trip our daughter Brittany, just two and a half, vomited all over my lap. By the time we reached land the next morning. Typhoon warnings had been issued all over the Philippines, adding to our anxiety. But we had been getting used to it. Having been in this beautiful island chain just over three weeks by this time, we had come to realize that what for us was living on the edge, was for the Filipino people simply a way of life.

It was a bright morning when we pulled into port. No one was there to meet us. All we saw was jungle. When contact was finally made with our hosts, we were carted several miles inland, where the king and the entire island population (we were told) awaited us. It was party time!

After a 3 hour celebration our team was introduced to their hosts. The plan was for team members to pair up (guys with guys and girls with girls) and stay with different families on the island. Being the only married couple on the team, efforts were usually made to keep us together. On this occasion it didn’t work out—so I paired off with a 19 year old guy from Sweden (the youngest team member). They stayed in the home of an elderly couple and their grandson, in a thatched roof house tucked away in the woods. The hospitality was warm and the grandson, Bayani, spoke English. He was 11 years old and loved playing chess. He was very frail and it was clear to me that he had some kind of affliction. I did not let the opportunity pass to play chess with him and to strike up conversation and share the Gospel with him. The more we talked, the more I realized God wanted to do something special for Bayani.

The warm, open reception to the Gospel I encountered up and down the Philippines was amazing. Having been a youth pastor and a minister of evangelism for several years in the states, presenting the Gospel one-on-one was something I was very accustomed to teaching and doing. I loved striking up conversation, building bridges, handling objections, asking good questions, quoting the scriptures, and leading people to a point of decision for Christ. Watching the light go on in people’s eyes was a priceless experience for me.

In the Philippines, where the whole culture seems to thrive on conversation, sharing the Gospel was easy. Everywhere we went, our team would set up the sound system, present dramas and give testimonies. One of us would close the program with a simple 2 minute Gospel message. At that point, we would fan out among the crowd and further share the Gospel one-on-one. So often, instead of one-on-one, it was one-on-six or eight or ten. These groups of people would be hanging on the words that came out of our mouths and often tears would be flowing down their faces as the Holy Spirit brought truth and conviction to their hearts.

As we sat on his grandparents’ veranda, I shared the Gospel at length over the chess board with Bayani. At some point in the conversation, I felt like the Lord showed me that evil spirits were living inside him and were intent on taking his life. I did not share this with him. It was, after all, just a thought that came to me. What if I was wrong?

It was clear something was wrong with him. His breathing was labored, pointing to a serious respiratory condition. He was very frail and small for his age. He said the doctors had diagnosed him with a severe case of asthma. Whatever it was, this condition appeared to be choking the life right out of him. I told him the Lord would heal him if he would surrender his heart.

When I asked him if he would like to pray to receive Jesus, he hesitated.

“I want to,” he said, “but something inside won’t let me.”

I’ll never forget the pitiful gaze he gave me when he told me that, his eyes conveying both longing and despair.

“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I think I have evil spirits inside of me.” He replied.

I got goose-bumps at that point. And before we could go any further with the conversation, our team leader arrived, announcing that I had to come with him right away so we could conduct an open air meeting on the other side of the island. I told Bayani I would be back before we left the island. I wanted to pray for him because I believed God was going to deliver him from these evil spirits and heal his condition. He told me he would like that. Then I left.

Several days later, the afternoon before we left the island, I visited Bayani. Once again I explained the Gospel to him, then told him I was going to pray for him and ask Jesus to free him from the evil spirits. It took about an hour. I ordered the spirits to leave in Jesus’ name. I believe there were seven of them, because seven times Bayani’s convulsed and spat up mucus all over the table. Stephan, the Swedish kid who was with me, was wide eyed in amazement. He has never seen anything like that before. I was praying like crazy, feeling like I was in a spiritual wrestling match, and excited because I knew we were winning!

After each incident, there would be a silence and then more prayer—and the process began again. Finally, Bayani came out of his trance and looked at me. His eyes sparkled. He started breathing deeply and blurted out “I am healed! Jesus has healed me!” We all started jumping up and down with joy. His grandparents, who had been in the house, came out and joined us in the victory dance. Before we left I prayed with Bayani and he invited Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. Why not? At that point, apparently, He already was!

Searching for the Father’s Love

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A story is told of a father and son in Madrid, Spain who had a falling out.  The son left, never expecting to return.  After many months the father put an ad in the paper for his estranged son that read :  “Paco, meet me at the Hotel del Centro at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love, Papa.”

When the Father arrived at the Hotel del Centro that Tuesday there were 800 young men named Paco waiting for their fathers…all on their own quest for reconciliation!

The longing for forgiveness, the hunger for acceptance from our Father, the thirst for love—this is what drives us all. It makes no difference who we are, what station we have in life, or what role we play.  We were wired to experience the Father’s love. In His strong arms, resting our heads on his heart, is where we all want to be.

At the Love In Action Center, where retired couples and orphans alike tread the ground that is level at the foot of the cross, I see this quest for love and acceptance on all sides. The kids are looking for kind, gentle, wise parents. The retirees are looking for the opportunity to love without the risk of disappointment. The kids are young but have a void that is defined and deep: with no living parents or parents that are alive but are so abusive that a separation is necessary. The retirees  are much older and on the surface would seem to have it all together. Yet inside, many of them are looking to experience—- in the disarming smiles and tender hugs—- the unconditional love they never got from their own children.

Many come to Love In Action hoping to have a second chance at loving. Many are lonely. No matter. It’s all good. It’s all God. HE is the one who works to will and to do of HIS good pleasure in us all.

I think God designed life so that we would need each other and most of all need Him. Our limitations and frailties draw us to the place where God can mold us to be more like Jesus.  While there is the desire inside all of us to strike out on our own, scream “I AM!”  and scamper off to carry our own weight and build our own dreams, the One who created us calls us to take up the cross, recognize our weakness, and lean into the Father’s love.

Relishing the Say Hey Kid

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I recently finished reading “Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend” which was published earlier this year. It was a fun read because Mays is my childhood hero and because I love baseball, period.  It was also a walk down memory lane, of sorts, for me. Having been first introduced to baseball when I was about 6 years old, I have my first memories of seriously watching it on TV when I was about 8. Our family lived both in the San Francisco Bay area and in the Los Angeles area during my childhood years so as it turned out we were divided between Dodger fans and Giant fans. My dad and I loved the Giants. My two bothers were loyal to the Dodger blue.

I love Willie Mays because he could do it all. He could hit for average, hit for power, run like the wind, catch any ball hit in the approximate direction of center field, throw out runners with his cannon arm, steal bases—you name it, Mays did it. The man was an inspiration and a catalyst for his team. Mays provided leadership by example–and he did it with a servant’s heart.

The guy was humble and really liked hanging out with kids. During the days he played in New York,  his apartment was located near Harlem, and on homestands, before going to the stadium, he would spend time on the street with the kids in the neighborhood playing stickball.   On one or two occasions he was so wrapped up in this activity that he lost his sense of time and showed up late for the game. What I wouldn’t give to have been one of those kids hanging out with the great Mays on my street!

I learned a lot about my childhood hero from reading this book. It provided a boatload of insight about what made him tick and just how powerful an impact he had. When I put the book down I realized Willie Mays was even better than I thought he was.  I have always felt he was the best all around baseball player in history—but was never totally sure. Now I am. No one could do it all the way the Willie Mays did. Without steroids. Without the modern travel comforts.

Willie Mays played his heart out every day. Until I read this book I wasn’t aware of  just how much, even at a young age, he was overcome by exhaustion because of the level of intensity and effort he put into each game. To me, this is one of the things that set him apart. He played with a flare and intensity that was rare in baseball.

In life, I still want to be like Willie Mays.

The Say Hey Willie song:

Video clip of “The Catch” made by Mays in the 1954 World series:

The Power of Showing Up

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The older I get, the more I have come to believe that just showing up is 90% of the solution to life’s problems. Though a great deal may hang in the balance of the remaining 10%, not enough can be said for the simple art of engagement. As I write, we have yet another president in the “hot seat” for for violating this principle —(I speak, of course, of the BP oil spill which has become a Big Problem for Obama)—reminding us once again, that the “chief executive” must be engaged before he can execute anything. Even when there are no buttons to push, no bills to sign, no breakthroughs to take credit for, the important work of showing up–being there, operating as “feeler in chief” if nothing else–covers that essential 90% in the recipe for success.

So much of life is in just showing up. God calls us to the mundane work of waiting on Him even when we can’t hear His voice or see his purpose. That is why we wait—-to dial down our restless hearts and minds so we can capture, even if for a brief window of time, His cadence of victory and transformation for the battle we face.

In Acts 1, Jesus instructs his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the power comes. So much had happened at Calvary and the empty tomb and during forty days that followed. God was just getting started with the “new thing” He was doing.  But it all hinged on the 120 disciples “showing up” as instructed.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” Acts 2:1

Today I stumbled upon an excellent example of the power of showing up, in a brilliant column written by author Vin Suprynowicz. Vin relays the amazing story of the battle of Midway on June 4, 1942—sixty eight years ago this month.

Vin opens up with these words:

“As our leaders suck their thumbs and decline to commit “too much force” because the polls might turn against them, one can’t help but wonder if America has anyone left in long pants still willing to take over. (A few years back, it was Mr. Aspin refusing to send tanks to back up the Rangers in Mogadishu, today it’s an Afghan “war” with a pre-designated surrender date.)

In such moments, it bears remembering that within living memory, a desperate nation entrusted to untested Rear Adms. Jack Fletcher and Ray Spruance three of its four remaining front-line aircraft carriers (the Saratoga arriving two days late) in a desperate gamble to turn the tide of Japanese conquest at a little mid-ocean sandspit called Midway Island.”

WWII is chock full of examples of crazy turns of fate hinging on the simple principle of engagement. The Battle of Midway is a stand-out in this regard, marking the day when the tide began to turn on the Pacific War. Up to that day, things were not looking good for the USA.  After that day, there was a sense that we would eventually win.  It is a remarkable story  not only because it shows the power of simply showing up, but it encourages us that even if we show up late, or a bit out of synch with our original plans, great things can happen. The fact is, some of the greatest, most transformative moments in life come seemingly by accident as people have made the effort to show  up and be  part of the action. There is a principle in guidance that rings true here: do the very next thing God tells you to do. That’s all He asks. Life hinges on just that. History is made that way.

I encourage you to read whole article, which will only take 5 minutes. I would not venture to even try and give a synopsis of Vin’s excellent piece, which is so well written that it should be read just the way he wrote it. Here’s the  link

In reading it I hope you, like me, will have a fresh appreciation for history—and the faithful souls who made it— so people like us can sip ice tea, enjoy the breezes of  God’s favor, and marvel at what can happen when people simply show up.

Our Time To Shine Is Brief

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Since coming to Mexico I have really enjoyed potting plants. The weather here is perfect for the pursuit and there something about a plant in a pot that enamors me. I like holding the dark, rich mossy potting soil and watching it fall from my fingers—and pressing the uprooted  plant securely into its new home.  Working among the pots brings a lot of spiritual analogies to my restless, wandering mind— like the  ”jars of clay” metaphor Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 4:7, likening us to earthen pots that contain precious treasure. Time seems to stand still as I meditate on the wonder of God.

One of the highlights for me in this whole process has been the delightful moment of discovery, when step out onto our roof-top veranda to find a fresh bloom on one of our plants. Whether gardenias, jasmine or hibiscus—all the blooms are great moments of joy for me, opportunities to appreciate God’s creative genius and to thank Him for caring enough to work out the magnificent details of each bloom just so someone like me could enjoy the sight—and the fragrance, of His glory.

I still remember the morning I strolled out and discovered our first bloom—a bright pink hibiscus that screamed “Look at me! Look at me!” to all passers-by. That discovery was sweet! But disappointment followed when I soon realized that blooms, no matter how spectacular, don’t last. Gorgeous in their time, they live out their brief moments of glory and, sooner than anyone could hope, they wither and fall from their perch, making room for other fresh, new mornings of discovery.

Life here on earth is like that. Our time to shine in life is brief (Psalm 103:15-17). The analogy isn’t perfect. We all have, in fact, multiple opportunities to bloom in our lives. But next to eternity, our lives as a whole are like a fascinating bloom that burgeons only to wither over the course of a day or two. No one can take our place—and our bloom ultimately cannot be squelched by circumstances, limited by our place in life or denied by the enemy of our souls—because God is, in the end, our audience of One. We are crafted for His glory, and His alone.

It’s a sobering thought to realize things will go on without us, that we are  expendable, that a million blooms will follow long after we’re gone.  But as I ponder the thought and focus on the faithfulness of God, I know, deep in my heart, that His work in me has just begun—and the best is always yet to come (Eph. 2:7,10).

Carrying The Right Lesson Forward

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“I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus…”

This month as I watched the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” I finally got the answer to a question my 10 year old daughter has asked me countless times: “Daddy, what if you could go back in time and be any one you wanted to be?”

I have decided that if I had that opportunity, I would like to be the man who helped Jesus carry his cross on the Via Dolorosa. Can you imagine? What an honor and privilege that would be!

Knowing that opportunity will never come my way, I was encouraged to come across a classic sermon by one of my all-time favorite preachers, Leonard Fox.  This is a man who back in 1976 spoke prophetic words over my life as a part of the presbytery at my convocation in Bible College and whose sermons always challenged me to the core.

The sermon is on Galatians  6:17 where Paul writes:

“I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”

Fox points out that Webster defines “mark,” among other things, as:

1) recognition of ownership

2) The outer sign of something that is stamped in written I the character of the person.

So when Paul writes “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus,”  he is proclaiming Christ’s lordship in his life and testifying to the transforming power of God’s grace in his character.

These marks– distinctive traits– were first manifested in the life of our Savior…then the apostles….then passed on to us all who  are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Rom. 8:32) They are the distinguishing characteristics of all disciples of Jesus.

According to Fox, here are 8 distinctive marks of Jesus:

1. Forgiveness of injuries (“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do…” Also Col. 3:13; I john 2:6)

2. No self pity (“Don’t weep for me” …Luke 23:28)

3. Joy in spite of difficulties…(“Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross”…Heb 12:1-4)

4. Calm receptivity…(“I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence”…John 8:38)

5. Courage (Jesus had courage in the face of growing opposition and certain crucifixion–Isa 40:31)

6. The power to take it…unbeatable (“obedient to death…therefore God exalted him.” Phil 2:8-9)

7. He cared deeply…every man’s hunger was His own (“he had compassion on them” Matt. 9:36)

8. He gave himself (“he suffered death, so that … he might taste death for everyone” Heb 2:9).

While only one man was chosen to help Jesus carry His cross on that fateful day 2000 years ago, today the invitation is open to us all:

” Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

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