To such belong the kingdom of heaven…

Her name was Josephine. She was 3 years old. This was not the only gravestone of a child in the cemetery. I also found Annie’s grave nearby. She died at 1 year old. I do not know Josephine’s story or Annie’s story, and I can only imagine the grief of losing children so young. Their births likely brought great hope and promise. Their deaths would have brought deep sorrow and despair.

I may not know the cause of death for Jospephine and Annie, but I do know the cause of death of the 18 children and 4 adults who were murdered in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. They were brutally shot down by an 18 year old who had just earlier that day killed his own grandmother.

Reason fails me when I try to grasp how this could happen. What evil could so fill the heart and mind of a young man to do something like this? That he died in a shootout with law enforcement officers only brings the comfort of knowing that no one else died at his hand. This was pure evil birthed in the pits of hell. Perhaps one day we will have some clue as to how it took such deep root in his heart.

Jesus loved children. He rebuked his disciples when they tried to shoo them away. Jesus took little ones in His arms and blessed them. He called His followers to be like children. He said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. This school shooting and sadly so many others like it show an utter disregard for life – and most especially the lives of the most vulnerable and precious in our nation.

So, today we pray for the families, for the community, and for our nation. We pray for the classmates who witnessed their little friends being gunned down and for the parents who will hold them as they cry tonight. We pray for the family of the shooter as they bear their own grief and wonder what they might have done differently. We grieve. We weep. We cry out to God to make it all stop.

The arguments will go on regarding gun control, law enforcement in schools, arming teachers, unbridled violence in video games, and the like, and all the while these families and community will somehow go on even with the horror of this day now etched in their minds and with wounded hearts that have a piece forever torn from them.

One Twitter response said, “We can be better.” Yes, we can, but will we?

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)

Surprise! The Ideal Candidate Doesn’t Exist…

Well… maybe that’s not too much of a surprise. After yesterday’s post presenting what my ideal candidate might look like, I felt I needed to bring things back down to Reals-ville.

Since the ideal candidate doesn’t exist, what are we to do with our vote? This comes a little late for some of you, because you’ve already cast your vote early – I did the same – but it is still worth pondering, since we’ll be marching right back to our local polling place in the next election cycle.

The “wisdom” I have to share will not be earth-shattering. I’m not claiming some fresh insight or providing a magical equation that spits out a superior voter guide for you to review before casting your ballot. Most of this is just common sense… or at least I hope it is.

Consider your options. Don’t just look at party affiliation or listen to well-crafted commercials. Take time to do a little digging. Sometimes you don’t have to dig too far, but don’t put all your trust the surface level information. Every source has some level of bias.

Pray for wisdom. As stated previously, the ideal candidate doesn’t exist, so pray about it. Ask God to guide you through the process and even as you step up to the voting booth. I’ve never received direct revelation that I should vote for a particular candidate, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t guiding me in more subtle ways. The book of James tells us that if any of us lacks wisdom, we should ask God – so ask God (James 1:5).

Consider the candidates more closely. So, you’re praying about it, and you’ve done a little digging. Dig a little more. If it won’t risk your friendships, ask your friends what they think about a candidate and his or her positions. But don’t just ask friends – ask people outside your circle what they think and how they ended up with their selection. Getting out of the echo chamber of people who think like you can help you get a broader perspective. Don’t enter into these conversations in order to argue or persuade; enter with a listening and learning mindset.

Pray for discernment as you compare where candidates stand with your own biblical convictions. Our praying is not done in a vacuum. In the process of gaining information about the candidates and where they stand, we should also be bringing God’s Word to bear in our contemplation. The fact that a person says they are Christian, quite frankly, is not enough. How do the positions and policy statements made by a candidate line up with your understanding of biblical principles and Christian teaching. The more we know of God’s Word, the better off we’ll be.

Vote. I guess this should go without saying, but exercise your right to cast a ballot in every election you can. You and I have the blessing of living in a nation where we can have a voice in our leadership. Voting is part of our obligation to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Mark 12:7), but it is also an opportunity to influence our government for good. Just as with everything else God has entrusted to you, you are a caretaker of your vote. Use it, and use it well!

Pray for God’s guidance on the victorious candidate – even if it’s not the person you voted for. Having done all you can do, commit to pray for those who will govern in the years to come – even if you didn’t like the election outcome. There are a lot of people praying prior to the election. We need to be just as diligent and committed to prayer after the election. (1 Timothy 2:2)

Trust God. Some of you will be utterly frustrated on the day after the election. You may even be “fit to be tied,” as my grandmother might have said. Others will be overjoyed that the election results went their way. But we must always remember that God is behind the scenes working toward an end. Not everything that happens is good, but nothing is beyond God’s sovereignty. Remember, He uses all things to bring good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). How we respond after the election shows whether we believe Romans 8:28 is true or not.

Because the ideal candidate does not exist, we are left with the daunting task of sorting through truths, half-truths, and outright lies to find the best possible choice. Rarely is the choice between the better of two goods. More often it feels like a choice between the lesser of two evils. But we must take the stewardship of our vote seriously.

Let me add one word of caution – Don’t ever forget your primary purpose here on this earth. Jesus did not commission us to go and win elections or transform public policy. Those are needed, but they are not our mission. Our mission is to go in Jesus’ authority and make disciples of all nations (people groups), baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus commanded, while His abiding presence remains with us to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

How we express our opinions matters. Our lives are to be marked by the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Is that what people hear when you talk about political matters? Do you resort to name-calling and demeaning the opposition candidate over their looks? Do you repost tweets or Facebook posts without bothering to check if they are true? Are your opinions expressed with arrogance and condescension? ? Are you mean-spirited? Check your heart!

Politics is a mean business. It has chewed up and spit out many a well-intentioned person. It has also consumed and transformed countless others into something resembling the world far more than resembling Jesus. Don’t let that be you. In your fervor to get a candidate elected, don’t sacrifice your soul on the altar of politics, and don’t sacrifice your witness in order to win an argument. Remember, there is coming a day when we will give an account for every word we speak.

If you’re eligible to vote, then do so. May God both bless this nation and be merciful to us.

My Ideal Candidate…

As I write this, we are one week from election day. We have heard (endlessly) from both major political parties that this election will determine the future of our nation. Each party’s candidate declares that they will lead us to peace and prosperity, while the other party will lead us to ruin. The ads that fill our TV screens, newspapers, and social media feeds lionize Candidate A and demonize Candidate B.

I am glad I live in a country where I have the right to vote and, in doing so, have a voice in determining the direction of our nation, state, and community. It is not a perfect system, and it is one that can create a great sense of frustration, but it is a rare privilege in the history of nations that we can cast a vote that matters.

As we look at the array of candidates scattered across the ballot, it can leave us feeling a bit disillusioned. How often have you walked out of the polling place only to admit that you had to “hold your nose” as you voted for a particular candidate? We know that no candidate (just like no person or pastor) is perfect, but we long for better choices to fill these important offices.

I woke up this morning thinking of what was most important for me when considering a candidate. I’m not talking about their voting record or party affiliation, but I’m referring to the kind of person they are. In other words, what kind of person do I desire to see running for political office.

A PERSON OF CHARACTER. We have plenty of characters holding public office, but not nearly enough women and men of true character. What I desire to see are people who can be trusted.

How do do you know if a politician is lying? If he’s moving his lips, he’s lying. Too often this is the case. We have a wealth of promise-makers and a dearth of promise-keepers. I understand that politics is the art of compromise. Elected leaders cannot always deliver on the commitments they make, because those decisions are not made in a vacuum but are formed in a maelstrom of divergent views. We all understand this.

Just tell me the truth. I can handle it. I want a man or woman whom I feel I can trust to make the hard decisions based on the best interest of the citizenry, rather that their desire to get re-elected for another term.

A PERSON OF CONVICTION. In addition to character, I want to see a candidate or office holder who has genuine convictions. I want to know where that person stands. I don’t want a person who is inflexible and unwilling to listen to reason or even change their mind. I want someone who has a sense of what is right and what is wrong. And I want that person to be willing to do the right thing even if it’s not the popular thing.

A PERSON WITH COMPASSION. The most capable and trustworthy of leaders needs to have a heart. It is not enough that he or she loves this country; I want them to love people. This may seems a little mushy, and perhaps it is. A leader needs to be able to have the perspective of distance, to have the ability to step back and see the big picture. But a leader also needs to know that the decisions they make not only affect financial markets and consumer confidence; those decisions also impact families.

A politician may make beautiful speeches with star-spangled backgrounds, but do they care, truly care for the people that make up the nation? Is their concern only for a segment of their constituency or for all? Are they as concerned for the least of these as they are for those perceived to be far greater? Perhaps it is naive of me, but I earnestly want them to be people of compassion.

A PERSON OF CONFIDENCE. With compassion, convictions, and character, a leader can point people to a brighter future and begin to lead them there. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian church that if a trumpet doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the people know to get ready for battle (1 Corinthians 14:8)? If a leader is uncertain and wavering, it is nearly impossible to hold the confidence of the people.

Arrogance, of course, is a poor and dangerous substitute for confidence. Arrogance will cause a leader to ignore differing opinions and forge ahead believing that he or she knows best. I want a leader with confidence. I want a leader who is strong. But I want a leader who is confident enough that she or he is willing to listen to wise counsel and make course adjustments while holding onto deeply held convictions and maintaining the integrity of their character.

A PERSON WITH COMMON SENSE. It would be nice to have a genius running things, but I’d rather have someone with common sense – that ability to process information through a filter of sound, practical judgment. This is not ignoring the facts or downplaying intelligence; rather, it is the exercise of real-world intelligence rather than merely “book smarts.”

I am not saying I want those in leadership to just act based on their “gut,” but I do want them to consider what their “gut” is telling them. Admittedly, this is a bit difficult to quantify, but leaders who display common sense along with intelligence create confidence in their constituency.

PERHAPS I’M EXPECTING TOO MUCH. I’ll admit that the list above is daunting. It would be a challenge to fill a compact car with elected officials who could check all the boxes. Still, I am convinced that we need to set higher standards for those seeking high offices.

In a 2018 NPR/PBS/Marist poll, pollsters reported the confidence level in the Presidency stood at 43%. For Congress it was even worse – 25%. Do we deserve better? Yes, but we have the leaders we elected. If we want better, we need to demand better.

But… before we grab our picket signs and hit the streets, let us consider one thing further – Perhaps our political leaders are a pretty fair reflection of our culture. In other words, we don’t have higher expectations of our leaders because we don’t have higher expectations of ourselves. We may want to vote for people of character, conviction, compassion, confidence, and common sense, but are we committed to be those kind of people?

Note: If you haven’t voted early, make your plans to cast your vote. There are no perfect candidates. Be informed, pray, vote, and then pray some more – and don’t forget to be gracious in victory, as well as, in defeat. Remember, our candidates are not our messiahs. People will disappoint us. Political parties will let us down. Make sure your confidence is someone who is sure and certain, and whose promises are always kept. Jesus is not on the ballot, but He can be in your heart!

… because it was bitter

As we read through God’s Word, we sometimes come to stories that seem a bit odd, and here is one of them from Exodus 15 –

22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.

There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.” (Exodus 15:22-26)

Though I believe absolutely that this is a true story, I must admit it’s rather unusual. Three days after God delivered the children of Israel from the Egyptian army by allowing them to pass safely through the Red Sea, this mass of people found themselves thirsty as they traveled through the wilderness. They came to a spring in the wilderness of Shur, but the water was bitter. They couldn’t drink it. What look liked it held great promise turned out to be a huge disappointment.

They were thirsty. There was water. But the water at Marah (meaning “bitter”) was unable to quench their thirst. So they turned their complaints to the guy who (in their opinion) had gotten them into this mess. They grumbled against Moses. “This man is obviously in over his head. Sure he got us through the Red Sea, but his leadership skills are woefully lacking. He leads us to a spring, but it’s worthless! You got us into this mess, Moses. You get us out!”

They were correct to assume that Moses didn’t have an answer to their problem. God hadn’t given him a map showing the location of the nearest fresh water supply. So, he did the only thing he could do. He turned his eyes and heart heavenward and asked the Lord to intervene. It was an impossible situation, so Moses turned to the Lord who had already shown He could make the impossible possible.

The Lord directs Moses to a piece of wood. (The word could also be interpreted as”tree” or “log.”) The Lord instructs Moses to throw the piece of wood into the bitter spring. Having done so, the water became drinkable, and the people quenched their thirst and were refreshed.

There are lots of lessons we can gain from this odd story. We could learn that no problem is too hard for God. We could learn that when we have no answers, we can go to God who has all the answers. We could learn those who lead on behalf of God will often face complaints. All that is true, but in light of our current national situation, perhaps there is another lesson for us.

Moses listened to God’s instructions and acted. He may have wondered why God would ask him to do such a strange thing. Who ever heard of a piece of wood turning bitter water sweet?! But Moses did what God told him to do, and God met the need of that grumbling group. So, what might that mean for us?

We live in a time of deep bitterness. The hurt and anger and violence we see in the streets of our major cities is just a symptom of a deeper problem. This world is broken. People are broken. It began with the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden. It’s still alive in the world today. It may hide in the shadows for a while, but it reemerges with a vengeance at every opportune moment.

Moses was instructed to do something that seemed ridiculous, but it turned bitterness into sweetness. You and I, fellow believers, are called to do something that may also seem ridiculous. We are called to love everybody. We are called to serve everybody. We are called to be set apart from the ways of the world and to live a different lifestyle. We are called to be salt and light, to make a difference wherever we are. Jesus said, “They’ll know you belong to me because of how you love one another.”

In the face of the violence and hatred and division we are witnessing daily, intentionally expressing love to others may seem like such a small thing. What good is this little stick tossed into the bitter spring? But never underestimate the power of God’s calling on your life to change hearts and minds and circumstances. When we do what the Lord calls us to do, it unleashes a power beyond our imagining. And there is no power greater than letting God’s love flow through us.

Dominican Republic Mission Trip – Day 7

Today was a shorter day, but still full. We are all pretty tired, so a little less strenuous effort was welcome. After some real spiritual oppression and demonic dreams had by some of our team members, we spent a good part of the evening praying and planning for today. When we arrived, we met wtih Pastor Alberto (on whose home we are working) to find out the best way to approach the situation without causing undue distress on him and his familiy or church members. Basiclally this is how it went …

We march from the church to his house carrying a wooden cross. Our interpreter (who just appeared out of no where on Friday) led the way by singing songs in Spanish. When we arrived, we planted the cross in a sand pile and sang “Nothing But the Blood” and “Holy Ground.” Pastor Alberto then sang a song in Spanish. We shared Scriptures in both English and Spanish, then entered a time of concerted prayer for the believers in the Batey and against the spiritual forces there. Alberto then prayed in Creole a powerful prayer that captured the attention of the entire Batey! It surely carried down to the voodoo temple. After several embraces, we began our work completing replacing half the tin on his roof. The next team will complete that chore, but Alberto and his family will stay out of the elements … and his home will be much larger. We also had teams prayer walk the area near the witch doctor’s place.

I have left so much out of this blog. I did not mention the joy of the children or the tears of our team members or the graciousness of John and Donna Bearden or the truck/van rides to and from the site … or the dust!!!! I’ll leave it to other team members to fill in the details upon their return.

We will leave the hotel at 7 tomorrow for the 5 hour bus ride to the airport. We fly out of Santo Domingo early afternoon and land in Atlanta around 6:30 … God willing! Pray for our safety as we travel. Just as important, if not more so, pray for the believers we will leave behind that they will be strong in the faith and stand against the wiles of the devil.

Dominican Republic Mission Trip – Day Six

Last night we got some rain, so I did not have the chance to log on and blog … so this will of necessity be brief.

The work went along very well. We can come to a stopping point on Pastor Alberto’s house that will not disrupt his family life for the next two weeks as he waits on the next team to finish the work that we began. He (and perhaps more importantly his wife) are quite happy!

Bible school went quite well yesterday. There were perhaps 125 kids who showed up. The story that they heard was of Noah (Jim Moore playing that part). We then made a bee line to the gospel so that each child could hear the good news of salvation. It was a moving time!

Let me update you on the spiritual warfare front. Members of our team have been under assault by the forces of Satan. This came to a head last night, and we came together to stand against it. Sleep last night was far more peaceful as we are determined to come against the spiritual stronghold of evil in Batey 7. We will seek Pastor Alberto’s wisdom as to how to do this, but we are determined to do it. Pray that we will have have discernment and that God will remove all fear. There are so many people in spiritual bondage to voodoo, and even believers who still feel those chains though they have been set free by Jesus. Pray also that the believers in that area will be able to stand up against the subtle pressures brought to bear and the overt threats made. Long after we are gone, spiritual skirmishes will be fought. Praise God the victory is found in Jesus!

More later today, God willing …

Dominican Mission Trip – Day 5

I begin with a confession. I have been misspelling “Batey” all week. For those who didn’t notice, “Batey” is not spelled “Batay.” Oh, well, if that’s the worst I do, I shouldn’t complain.

This will be short since I am tired. We finished the trusses today for the church roof. The ladies are almost finished sealing the roof at the clinic. And we are closing in on finishing our part of Pastor Alberto’s house. Waynesboro First Methodist will come next week to wrap up both projects.

Aside from a few cuts and scraps, we’re all doing well. The Lord has blessed us with health all week. Okay, Mallory did have a hammer fly by his head, but I promise it slipped!!!!!

Coming up tomorrow is more work in Pastor Alberto’s house followed by a one-afternoon Bible school. We’re focusing on the story of Noah (Jim Moore is starring in that role). I get to be narrator. We have animal masks (for the animals, of course), water bottles for the rain, and a rainbow parachute for … we’ll you’re smart enough to figure that one out.

Thank you for your prayers. We need them. I want to ask you to pray for salvations in the Bible school and in all of Batey 7. I ask you to fervently pray against the work of the community witch doctor. The tentative plan is to hold a prayer walk/session at his house/temple. May God do whatever it takes to set the captives free.

Finally, we’ve had morning and

Continue reading “Dominican Mission Trip – Day 5”

Dominican Republic Mission Trip – Day Four

It was a beautiful day in the DR. Mostly sunny skies with highs in the upper 80s and a good breeze off the water.

We started with a simple breakfast featuring strong coffee and fresh fruit, then we headed to La Hoya to worship in a church building that was partially built by a previous DR team with some GF members. There was no preached message (hey, don’t get any ideas!), instead the youth led the service with song and dance. They had just completed youth week and they were flying high. The excitement was evident the moment we entered the door.

The pastor, Connie, took some heat for her unique approach to reaching the teens in the area. She gave the believing teens responsibility in leading worship. In fact, there are only a handful of adults in the church. You’d think that it would devolve into chaos, but God has used these on-fire kids to reach their friends for Christ. Eight or more youth made commitments to Christ during the camp and were welcomed as brothers and sisters in the service.

Our host John Bearden shared in our evening devotional that his father’s Bible is sealed in one of the concrete columns of the church building. His father passed away shortly before John came to help build the church. In lieu of flowers, donations were made to help Dominicans. As a way to signify this, John’s dad’s Bible was lovingly placed in the structure of the building itself! What a powerful testimony.

The afternoon found part of our group traveling to see the sites … and there are some incredible sites to see. As I have said before, the DR is a beautiful place. The rest of us hung out at the hotel to relax a bit. A little time in the pool, a short nap, and a way along the ocean is always refreshing.

Tomorrow, we are back at it full force. The half-day Bible school will be Tuesday. We’ll spend Monday working on the clinic/church site and continuing the work on Pastor Alberto’s house. In the mean time, Jim Moore will lead a group to witness in the Batay.

More later…

Dominican Republic Mission – Day Three

It was a good and tiring day. After a hearty breakfast we headed out to Batay 7 to continue the previous day’s work. Good progress was made on the addition onto Pastor Alberto’s house. That means a lot of block was laid by both skilled and unskilled workers! We also had lots of willing little hands to assist.

Worked continued on building the trusses for Alberto’s church … and these are not small things. The cutting took place in the roofless worship center and the construction took place on the roof of the adjoining temporary worship center. Yes, on the roof in the sun. On the other roof some of the dedicated ladies put sealer on the roof of the clinic … also in the direct sun.

We all returned tired and dirty. Showers, supper, and a devotional were a welcome end to a productive day. Tomorrow we’ll head into Barahona to worship at a church that some on the team helped to build. The youth there have prepared something special for us. After lunch we’ll do a bit of sightseeing by bus.

This is a beautiful place with lots of beautiful people. Every one of us is so blessed to be here.

Dominican Republic Trip – Day 2

We got off to an easy start today. Because of the long travel day yesterday, we took our time getting going. It was not time wasted. We fellowshiped over a good breakfast (the pineapple and papaya are great!) After our devotion and some discussion of the day, we loaded on the bus for a 45 minute drive from PlayAzul (the hotel) and Batay 7. The change of scenery from start to finish was stark!

The Batay is populated primarily by poverty-stricken Haitians. Our tasks were seemingly simple – begin construction of trusses to be used to reroof Pastor Alberto’s church. It currently has no roof at all! In addition, around the church-clinic combination, there were lots of other tasks to be done – painting, helping in the clinic, etc.

We were also to increase the size of Pastor Alberto’s house. Before you think this is some extravagance, Alberto’s house is very small by American standards. It is concrete block with a rusty, leaky tin roof. He has 10 children plus some grandchildren living there!! “Packed like sardines” comes to mind. More details on the construction later in the week.

All this work was begun with dozens of Haitian children trying to help or just trying to get attention. All the team members took time out to play with the children and show them a little love.

It was good to spend some time with Haley Garrett whom our church helped to support (along with other individuals) so that she could serve here for a year. She’s healthy, a little wiser, and still a ray of sunshine.

Okay – more later. Keep praying.