Category Archives: Community

Making Sense of This

I can’t. I can’t make any sense of this. My dear friend, Auline Platt, died yesterday. She leaves behind her faithful husband, Mike, who is a good man. And 11 children.

Michelle and I met Mike and Auline in 1994. I remember it like it was yesterday. The church I was serving as youth pastor in Dayton, OH was growing fast. My youth group was growing fast too. 8 kids at my first youth group meeting had turned into 50 in one year – and 150 in five years. I needed help. I got a phone call one evening from a guy named Mike. He told me that he and his wife were in the military and would only be in Dayton for a year. They had decided to attend my church and wanted to know if they could serve as youth leaders. I had just attended a seminar at a National Youth Workers Convention that had scared me straight about the potential risks of volunteer youth workers. In the seminar, I learned a 10-step process for vetting potential volunteers. I told Mike that night that he and Auline would have to go through all 10 steps. They were the only ones I made do this because after I put them through it, I saw how ridiculous it was. To this day, I laugh when I look at all the paperwork I made them fill out. So do they. I kept it all.

The first night Mike and Auline attended a youth group meeting back in 1994, we let our then 3 year old daughter, Emily, ride with them alone to a restaurant afterwards. We didn’t know them from Adam, but they had passed my 10-step vetting process, so I guess I felt like I could trust them – strangers – with my daughter. Auline reminded me of this often…and laughed. That night began what would become a lifelong friendship – a bond – that would stand the test of time and the test of miles. The Platts moved to Albuquerque in 1996. We had only a bit more than a year with them in Dayton, but our friendship had been solidified. They fell in love with our children there and became dear, dear friends.

A few years later, Mike called me and said that he had put my name in for the open youth pastor position at Foothills Fellowship – the church they were attending in Albuquerque. When he told me this, I told him that he was a jerk for doing it. I was happy in Dayton. Why in the world would he do such a thing? But over the next 13 months, God moved my heart and placed a calling on me and Michelle to take the position. So, by faith – and knowing that we would be reunited with our dear friends, the Platts – we left Dayton for Albuquerque in 1999…and had another year with them. Then they left – this time for multiple overseas military assignments. But our friendship grew nonetheless.

All this time, Mike and Auline loved on our children (and many others) while trying to have children of their own. Even back then, they talked of someday having a lot of children – biologically and through adoption. Ironically, for years, they couldn’t have children. And then along came Seth. And then precious Maggie – who passed away after only a few days on this earth. And then sweet Ava. Then, they set their minds and hearts on adoption, and along came 4 adopted children. And then, foster care…and 5 more children. 11 in all.

They returned to Albuquerque a few years ago specifically to be a part of our church plant in the International District of Albuquerque. They could have gone anywhere. They made deep friendships all over the world, but they decided to return here to move into one of the poorest areas of the city so they could minister to and live among poor and hurting people. They moved their entire family into an area of town that many people try to move out of.

In December of 2016, my church commissioned them and a few other families to begin a new church there – a church made up of people who had sacrificed much to move into one of the poorest and most dangerous parts of our city to bring the Kingdom of God there, and Auline was a key piece of this new ministry. Her ability to connect with and love people – regardless of who they are or what they had done – was unparalleled.

And yesterday, Auline died. And I can’t make any sense of this. And I may never…

It’s in times like these that I must enact my faith – regardless of how I feel or of what I understand or don’t understand. The Scriptures make it clear that God’s ways are higher than mine. It also makes it clear that death is not part of the ultimate and perfect plan of God. Death is part of the curse of sin that Jesus came to defeat. And He did. God’s Kingdom broke through on this earth at the coming of Jesus, but sadly, it’s not here yet in all its glory and perfection. Already but not yet – and as long as the not yet is not yet, we will suffer and we will die.

As Auline’s husband, Mike, walked through these last days with his precious wife, his faith astounded and encouraged me. He led his family in prayer a couple of different times, and through his tears, he proclaimed his faith to the Lord by saying things like, “Lord, even though we don’t understand this, what we do know is that you are good.” This is where I choose to be too. Confused, devastated, incredibly sad…yet still clinging to what I know of the Lord – that He is loving and good.

Will everything be ok? I don’t know. Would it have been better if Auline had not died? I sure do think so, but I’m not all-knowing. Are all of her precious children going to make it through this tragedy ok? I don’t know, but I pray so. Is our church plant in its infant stage going to be as effective in reaching their community with her gone? I can’t see how, but I HAVE to trust the Lord and believe that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

I truly believe that for Auline, all things are better now. No more struggling with the curse of sin and the brokenness of this sin-stained world. I also truly believe that Mike will be ok too because He loves God and is one who is called according to His purpose. And our church plant will be ok too, because the birth of this church is an obvious call of the Lord.

I can’t make any sense of this, but I have no choice but to trust in the God who knows all, loves His people, and works in mysterious ways. My heart is broken, but my faith is strong. May yours be too.

Smaller Is Better – For Me

largechurch
I pastor a church where 225 people call themselves “regular attenders” and another 60 or so are “trying us out” on any given month.  When people ask me about my church, I often refer to it as a “small” church, because I know of several larger churches.  However, it looks like I’m wrong.

According to Outreach Magazine, 90% of the churches in the world have fewer than 200 people, and 80% have fewer than 100.  Most pastors will spend the majority of their ministry in small churches. 90% will never pastor a church larger than 200 people.

I love my church – the people that is (as opposed to the building or institution) – and I’m very content (and blessed) to be their pastor.  We may be considered “large” by comparison to the rest of the world, but I’m glad we’re not too large.  Years ago, I was offered a position to pastor a church that at the time had 1,000 attenders.  At the same time, I was offered the position I’m currently in.  I had to decide between pastoring  a “large” church or a “small” one.

the-pastorIt just so happened that when I was faced with this decision, I was reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir called The Pastor.  In it, he talked about the “small” church of 300 people that he pastored for 30 years, and in great detail, he described the deep connections he was able to make.  He said that because of the smaller size, he was able to “know” everyone in the church.

This really made an impact on me because at the time, I was serving as an associate pastor at the 1,000 member church and felt unsettled not being able to connect with and know all those people.  Especially unsettling was when people would come up to me during the week in public and tell me how my preaching was making a difference in their lives, and until that meeting, I had never seen them before.

I don’t have a problem with big churches; God has just made it clear to me that smaller is better – for me.  I’m glad that I “know” the people of my church, and I Iove that they invite me into their lives.

But armed with these newly discovered statistics, I may just tell people – when they ask – that I pastor a “very large” church – one of the top 10% in size churches in the world!

My Thoughts on Ferguson

ferguson

I know very little about all of the details in Ferguson. However, I do know quite a bit about serving on a grand jury. I was the foreman for a grand jury for 3 months a few years back.  I served a total of 26 days and heard literally hundreds of cases.

Read about it here.

Very rarely did we ever return a “no bill.” Meaning, very rarely did we ever not decide that there was probable cause (which is the grand jury requirement as opposed to reasonable doubt) and “indict” the person being prosecuted.  The attorneys almost always came in with an air-tight case, and at times, I felt like we were just there as a puppet jury, churning out “true bills” left and right.

However, there were a few times when the facts in the case just didn’t add up.  A few times (maybe 5 out of the hundreds) when the facts were presented and the case was handed over to the 12 of us – and we just knew that the person being prosecuted probably wasn’t guilty of the charges.

In those rare cases, we would call the attorney back in and deliver a “no bill.”  It was very uncommon, and the prosecutors didn’t like it, but for the sake of justice, we just couldn’t indict the person.

The reason why so many indictments are handed down by grand juries is because cases that aren’t airtight don’t usually make it to them.  98-99% of the time, cases that come to grand juries are no brainers – the accused is probably guilty.

But when a “no bill” is handed down by a grand jury like the one in Ferguson, I tend to trust the grand jury.  They’ve decided that there is not probable cause for the accused.  My hunch is that the case against the officer was not airtight at all, but the pressure from the media and the community demanded that it go to the grand jury anyway.

Again, I don’t know much about the details in Ferguson, but I am confident – because of my experience – that the grand jury was correct when they handed down the rare “no bill” and did not indict the officer.  Not because I know the facts – but because “no bills” are so rare and are reserved for only those times when the facts just don’t add up.

Why I Hate Election Season

I wrote this 2 years ago today during the 2010 mid-term election season. I still feel the same. 

I hate election season.  I’m not anti-voting, anti-democracy, or anti-American.  I just hate the onslaught of negative media campaigns where political opponents slam, slaughter, and condemn one another.  It’s so bad that my kids have caught on.  We try to out-do one another with ridiculous and hilarious fake smear ads.   On the way to school the other day, Taylor and Alexis saw a billboard for one of the candidates for governor here in NM and began spouting off funny smear ads that made me laugh so hard I nearly wrecked the van.  Unfortunately, condemnation of one another is nothing new.  Jesus told His followers to knock it off nearly 2000 years ago.  He said…

“Judge (condemn) not, that you be not judged (condemned). 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5

Judging and condemning one another is standard operating procedure for most.  It’s an American pastime.  So, if followers of Christ are supposed to refrain from judging and condemning one another, then we need to be told how to stop.  From Jesus’ words above, I believe He gives us three very good and practical ideas on how we can stop condemning one another.

1. Recognize that to the extent we do (or don’t do) something, it will be done (or not done) to us by the Lord.

This is what I like to call the Reciprocal Principle of the Kingdom. Jesus makes it very clear in Matthew 6 that if we forgive one another, then we will be forgiven by the Lord.  If we don’t, we won’t be forgiven by Him.  In Luke 6, Jesus again shows how this principle works.  He says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”  Recognizing that we will be condemned by the Lord if we condemn others ought to give us good reason to stop.

2. Recognize that we are often guilty of that which we condemn others for.

Theologian John Stott profoundly says, “Human beings unhappily possess an inbred proclivity to mix ignorance of themselves with arrogance toward others.  We have a fatal tendency to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize the gravity of our own.  We seem to find it impossible, when comparing ourselves with others, to be strictly impartial and objective.”  Jesus may have been being a bit light-hearted when he used the log/speck analogy, but there’s nothing light about it.  How can we condemn others when our sin is often so much more heinous than the sin of the one we are condemning.  Recognizing this truth will go a long way in helping us to stop.

3. Recognize that our self-examination must result in mercy toward others.

Jesus says in Luke 6 that citizens of God’s Kingdom are to “be merciful even as your Father is merciful.”  How can we not be merciful to others when we begin to fathom the unfathomable amount of mercy that the Lord has poured out on us?  As we realize that the Lord loves and forgives us even in light of the huge log of sin we possess, then the speck of sin possessed by our brother or sister in the Lord suddenly doesn’t look so bad.  We may need to address his or her sin in order to bring about their restoration before the Lord, but it should be done in a spirit of gentleness and mercy.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”  Understanding the mercy we have received from the Lord ought to kill any inclination to condemn others for their sin.

So…enough with the condemnation.  Bring on November 3rd! (November 6th this time around.)

Kick A 103 Year-Old Woman To The Curb?

A Georgia judge ruled yesterday that a 103 year-old woman and her 83 year-old daughter were to be evicted from their home because it foreclosed, so he sent the sheriff department out to do it.  But, the sheriff department couldn’t do it, and neither could the movers.  So they left.  And after receiving pressure from the community, the bank decided to back off as well!  Watch this report and see how this 103 year-old woman never doubted that the Lord would care for her.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/NbreCQyWIE4[/youtube]

You Need Me. I Need You.

We were not meant to live as self-reliant, independent operators.  Yet many of us choose to live this way because we are afraid of vulnerability.  Being known scares us.  Admitting feelings or failures shames us.  Somewhere, life taught us that openness was dangerous, so self-protection becomes huge.  Fences and defenses keep people at arms length.  Being competent and in control keeps our weakness and struggles out of the reach of others.  No wonder we feel alone when we struggle with loneliness, temptation, and pain.  The walls around us are thick.  Furthermore, the effort we pour into image maintenance separates us from who we really are.  Hiding the “real me” from others sadly hides the “real me” from me.  Image management, pretense – it’s a lonely, diseased road.

Clearly, we were not designed to journey alone.  Without trusted friends, we wither and sometimes die.  God created us for community and interdependence – with him and with others.  We need others.  We need their wisdom in unmasking defense mechanisms that keep the truth at bay.  Many of us can not get through a day or a relationship without falling back on rationalization, denial and blame.  And our blind spots hinder us from recognizing  how manipulative and hurtful these defenses are.  However, what we can not see is often blatantly visible to others.  Without their help and love and truth, we will never know the taste of real freedom.

Taken from the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us
by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun.

Am I Listening?

I recently attended a conference along with 1400 other people where Christian author and social critic, Os Guinness, spoke.  Although I was just one of many in attendance that day, it was as if he was speaking to me.  He said, “In America today, everybody’s speaking and hardly anyone is listening.  Focused attention is rarer than gold in America today.”

A few days later, I read these words from one of my Christian heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Just as the love of God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.  It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.  Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render.  They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

He who can no longer listen to His brother will soon be no longer listening to God either.  This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life.  Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother – but only for himself and for his own follies.

I’m pretty sure the Lord is asking me if I’m listening – to Him and to others.  Is He asking you the same?