Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Letter 2012

Our Christmas Tree, pictured on Black Friday after we decorated with our parents and the kids...

Dear Friends and Family

C- Christmas Joy, and Christopher Pop-in-kins- He’s our “elf on the shelf” who finds a new place to sit every evening after the kids go to bed, and they excitedly look for him when they come down the stairs for breakfast. With decorations, desserts on the counter, and Christmas music streaming from the internet, a festive feeling is in the air. Jace recently inquired about Santa, saying, "Does Santa bring presents to big kids too?" To which Sarah replied, "Yes, of course--the ones that are good. That's a lot of pressure isn't it?"J Life is filled with a lot of laughs from the way our preschoolers relate to one another, and to us. We are in blessed days, and thankfully, we are aware of it.

H- Happiness, Helping, and Heaven- While adjusting to three kids has been a challenge, there is much laughter and joy in our home.  Gwyneth is an active, happy little girl who is celebrating her third birthday this December.  She tends to want to do the opposite of what she is told to do, but will quickly help in any way she is asked.  This may involve smothering the baby in burp cloths or pushing a large storage bin at church.  Jace, at 4 ½ years, is smart enough to sit back and let her help him at every opportunity.  Jace is currently taking tae-kwon-do classes and we are seeing improvements in confidence and coordination.  Being a thinker, he recently had a day when he was focused on heaven all day. Right around bedtime this culminated in a crying little boy who told Daddy he didn’t want to go to heaven without his blankie.  Another comment that made us chuckle was his desire to have a “peanut butter and jelly casserole” – according to Jace “it’s a dessert”.  It is wonderful to watch the kids enjoy life and we do all we can to savor this stage.

R- Rest- We look forward to a little more…

I-Iowa- We had a chance to visit Sarah’s family, from the Des Moines area, in September. She scheduled an internship to complete a portion of her certification as an acupuncturist. Sarah’s sister, Hannah, took some of the pictures you see, while we were there. Thankfully, we’ve been able to see all our immediate family in IA, KY, and IN. The times with our families fly by too quickly and are immensely enjoyed, but with a seven-month-old baby, two preschoolers, and Sarah’s full work schedule, trips take some planning.

S- Stay at home dad- John builds his skill at doing laundry, keeping the house clean, reloading and unloading the dishwasher, and doing everything again and again… He continues to make it to the gym three times a week, read and write on the side, and recently has enjoyed volunteering for the Clergy Education and Development Division of the Wesleyan Church by calling pastors to pray for and encourage them. John helps to teach a preschooler Sunday School class, host a small group with Sarah, and greet on occasion at Harvest Church on Sunday mornings.
Grandma Packard and the kids...

T- Thanksgiving- It was a privilege to go to John’s sister, Becky Perkins’, home for our Thanksgiving Dinner. All John’s side of the family attended, and Sarah’s mother, Linda, graced us with her presence as well. It was terrific to have both sets of grandparents in our home for a few days following the Thanksgiving holiday to connect and bond with our kids.

M-Miracles- This family believes in them. David and Anna Verne Lee (John’s parents) have both battled cancer over the past years, and all is clear in both of them! We thank the Lord for the birth of a new daughter as well. Quinn Michelle, as referred to by Jace and Gwyneth, arrived on April 24 and is growing up quickly. She is a happy baby who knows how to demand our attention when something in her life is a little off kilter. Sarah recently began introducing her to solid food. She’s beginning to master sitting on her own and she is more mobile than her siblings were at the same age. We are aware of God’s blessings through the journey, and don’t want to be blinded to anything new God wants us to see.
Thanksgiving, with all the grandparents here...
A- Acupuncture- Sarah is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. It is very rewarding to help pets live a high quality of life whether conventional medicine has failed or the owners desire a different form of treatment.  She has also developed additional skill in herbal medicine to supplement the needle treatments. Her schedule is busy and her clients are faithful. We still enjoy Fridays when she is home, and our shopping day on Tuesday, when we get to go to Costco as a family and enjoy all the samples

S-Savior- We are thankful for Jesus, who brings hope and light into our lives. He saves us from our sin and sets us free to serve others. In a VBS this summer, Jace went forward to signify that he wanted to make a commitment to a relationship with Jesus. We try to foster that relationship with Christ in ourselves and each one of our kids.

Have a blessed Christmas! John, Sarah, Jace, Gwyneth, and Quinn
Isaiah9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (NIV)


Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's NOT Over!

So, hopefully as soon as the election is over, we won’t be logging off social networks with a lump in our throats, feeling a heaving sensation in our chests from all the political dialogue to which we’ve been exposed. Honestly, I feel pain on a profound level when I consider some of the positions that my friends hold on volatile issues that have been discussed, but I can imagine they feel the same about some of mine. But, “I’m right!” No, I don’t really mean that. The extreme views and propaganda of freshly spun story lines and words spoken, yanked from their context, have been enough to make a person ill. The political spectrum’s right, left, and even the independent camp are all guilty.

No matter the outcome from the votes, we can bet the news media will take us through a short honeymoon for the administration of the POTUS, and those newly elected to the House and Senate. But, in no time, the onslaught of attacks will begin afresh. Maybe the hope of the media is to uncover inconsistencies that elected officials need to fix. Or, maybe it is a barrage mudslinging to the demise of a person with a different approach or perspective in solving the nation’s problems.

Yet, with all the intensity that this election evokes, an important question emerges:  If the candidate you want to win, WINS, will that really solve all of our problems?!!!

Of course it won’t! And, that’s not to say that great leadership doesn’t make a difference.

As I’ve observed the political process through my life, I’ve come to conclusions that often people make decisions based upon, "what’s in it for me?” Not always, but most of the time. I know that self-centeredness is what I see on a daily basis with my preschooler and toddler, and to be honest, real honest, I have to go to God, A LOT, about my own.  And no matter what policies a government puts  in place, it seems that eventually, self-centered people  are after a slice of the pie, for any benefit that can be acquired, free, from the governing authorities.

Capitalism is awesome!  Awesome as long as we all are upright, blameless, righteous, and just people. When the moral fabric of any culture crumbles, it doesn’t matter how well the political rails of the cultural train have been placed. Just to add, I don’t know of ANY founding fathers who laid a better foundation than the nation in which I currently reside. So if our governing officials stick to that foundation, we can expect a flourishing future. Yet, a necessity to experience a flourishing future we so desire is that citizens, on an individual basis, get in touch with a deep sense of righteousness and justice. That sense needs to be deep enough that it moves each person to responsible action.

So, my prayer is still, “God bless America.” PLEASE do, right down to the core of our being. Because what is going on in our hearts, the seat of our affections, motivations, and actions, is more important than any ideology to which we hold. Heart change brings awareness of our capacity for selfishness, and it can help us to know that with God’s help, we can do what is best for others, even if it costs us everything.

Amos 5: 24 “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (NIV)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Achievement Hunger

Watching the ’12 Olympiad from London has been quite an experience! I fast-forwarded through hours of recordings to see the interviews and the competitions that resonated with my temperament and personality. Once in a while, I saved a recording of the equestrian events or gymnastics for Sarah as well.  As I’ve watched returning athletes, like Phelps, May, Walsh, Bolt, etc…, I’ve contemplated about how they are able to win, and even return after four or eight years, and triumph again.  There are all types of components in being a ‘winner’, but what gives a person that intensity of desire of hunger? It’s that longing or desire that keeps a veteran competing, and helps a young athlete to rise to the occasion. That’s the theme that I’ve wondered about through the ups and downs of the games in London.  Disciplined and repetitive preparation, training, focus and even athletic ability all combine to make a champion, but an underlying, and even more important element seems to be a yearning to compete, and ultimately, win…

On a personal level, we all go out and, to a degree, contend in the marketplace. Some of us have a hunger to do what we do. There’s something deeper that drives us.  Yes, sometimes that drive is more passionate, and sometimes, unfortunately it languishes.

So, I’d like to ask a few questions and read your feedback. I’d love to write an entry someday with the thoughts that you have, since your responses may help provide expertise on the subject of that inner drive. What do you think feeds such a deep desire to win or triumph? Where do you think that get-up-and-go comes from?

Across the board, I think we’ve seen the athletes who lose that drive and the competitive edge, and all of a sudden, the medals and accolades no longer accompany their efforts. It happens in the work-world too.

I’ve also felt that the hunger and drive has an innate, divine quality. It is almost like a calling for each one of us. What do you think? I’d love to read your comments on my Facebook page about how to feed the desires that will help you accomplish and where you think that hunger comes from.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Gift of Freedom (by my cousin, Lori Cameron)

Some years ago, I had a Cambodian student in my class. He struggled heroically with both speaking and writing English but finished with a C minus. In spite of his difficulty, he came to class every week wearing a big smile on his broad, beautiful face. I had warmed to him considerably during the term, so, when he stayed after class the last day—as he was inclined to do—I sat down and talked to ...him for longer than usual. Our conversation drifted to his home country, and he began—in his faltering English—to describe what it was like to live under the Khmer Rouge. I sat speechless as he described how people were driven from their homes and either killed execution-style or forced to march for days to slave labor camps where they were forced to work for the regime. He said one word of protest, one false move could get you killed. At one point, I stopped him and asked, “How do you LIVE in such circumstances? How do you survive?” He replied, “You do work the government give you, and you keep mouth shut.”

I could feel the strength leaving my body. My student then described his break for freedom. He said that Cambodians often rushed the Thailand border en masse, making it difficult for the soldiers to catch or kill them all. Some were caught. Some were killed. Some were severely injured, but many made it across safely. My student and the group he was in rushed the border under cover of night, and, while my student made it across unscathed, another man was shot. Once across, he helped the injured man make it to one of the refugee camps set up across the border where the American Red Cross was helping the sick and injured. The man was treated and lived. After some time, my student learned that some Americans had donated money earmarked for airfare so that some of the refugees could come to live in America. Against all odds, my student acquired a plane ticket and came to the United States. He said he lived here a while, got married, had kids, then decided to go to college and learn computer programming. He wanted to get a better job to provide for his family. I asked him later, “How did you feel when your plane landed? What did you do?” He replied, “I got off plane, got down on my knees, and kissed ground.”

I cried all the way home that night. I realized that sometimes I cloister myself into a tiny world of slights and imagined wrongs. Sometimes, I think I am the victim. That night, I realized that I lived in the greatest country in the world, and at times I hardly acted like it. I get impatient standing in line at the grocery store—a store filled with more food and greater variety than can be found most anywhere in the world. I get frustrated in traffic, but I’m driving a car with soft seats, music, and air-conditioning. I sigh heavily when my flight is delayed, but I can travel freely in this country, anytime I want, anywhere I want. I can speak my mind and worship as I please. I have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I make my own choices and mark my own destiny. It seems to me that the people who come here from other countries—people who have fled civil war, famine, poverty, and oppression—are the ones who appreciate this country the most. They understand. They feel the contrast right down to their bones. We cling to our curmudgeonly ways.

When we start to cloister ourselves in our tiny worlds, we must stop. We must go the other way. We must make our world bigger. Make it stretch across the ocean to another place. Make it reach all the way to Cambodia—under cover of night.

Tomorrow is Independence Day. The liberty we have is a precious gift—given to us by God and by men and women willing to lay down their lives to keep us safe. I hope that in the midst of the fun, we remember that we possess the single most valuable thing a country can ever give its people, and the thing so many people would willingly risk their lives for—freedom. by, guest writer, Lori Cameron

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

21 Day Experiment-Thanks

21 Days! Some of you may be thinking, “What is the significance of that time period?” I’d have to answer by saying, “I’m not quite sure.” I noticed that most habits are set within the 21 or 28 days, and 21 fit my schedule better than 28.
For the past three weeks, I’ve practiced what I addressed in my last blog entry. I encourage you to check it out, “A Key to Faith in Your Prayers,” where I suggested to the readers to mix thanksgiving with all your prayers. It should boost one’s faith. Well, that’s  what I’ve been doing purposefully.

Now before I give you the results, you must understand, I’ve been transitioning a ton in the last 21 days. Three weeks ago, our daughter Quinn was born. I’ve had sleepless nights, days when I was too tired to pray, days where I felt as though I were on top of the world, and days when I was looking up from the bottom. They have been days of experiencing many of the emotions one normally feels through the ups and downs of life. Here are the results of making sure to mix thanksgiving into my prayers:
It affects my perspective. I am positive. I’m tending to fixate on gratitude rather than whining prayers for my desires to be fulfilled. The worn path from the thought patterns in my brain lead to faith and hope rather than despair and negativity. Correct thinking patterns are crucial in achieving amidst the challenges all of us face in the uphill climb toward impact for good.

It grounds me in God’s Word. It is challenging to offer back to God promises from His Word that He has made concerning me, others, and any circumstance for which I am praying. I am reminded of Scriptures that I’ve memorized in the past, and challenged to memorize more, just to have the truth available in my arsenal, as I tell God of what He already said. When I can repeat God’s Word back to Him, it gives my thanks potent content.
It helps me to surrender to God’s sovereignty. No, I can’t control a situation just because I pray the right words. Certainly prayers can affect the outcome, or they would be an exercise in futility. But, when I begin to thank God that He is in control, no matter the outcome, I find my soul resting in HIS sovereign plan for me, realizing He is good in all HIS ways.

It helps me to adopt the posture, “Thy kingdom come.” It’s not about me getting the answer that will help me build any kingdom for myself. It’s not about dreams for me, my family, my friends, and circumstances. It’s all about HIM. When I thank the Lord amidst any circumstance, surrender is my posture. It keeps me focused on His purposes and His glory through the drama we all experience in life.

You’ll notice that all the results are in the present tense, and I plan to keep it that way. In other words, I’m planning to make this a practice of “thanksgiving” as an integral ingredient in prayers I offer to God. I trust you’ll be challenged to do the same. Thanksgiving in prayer is a key to faith, and praying that way makes a difference!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Key to Faith in Your Prayers

Are there challenges beyond your own strength and abilities looming in the not so far future? Overwhelmed!?!?!
Maybe you’ve felt that before. Have you taken inventory of the types of prayers you offer during those pressure packed segments of life’s journey?
Sometimes, to my shame, I have thought, “Maybe if I prayed a little more earnestly or just one more time or stepped out and did a good deed, it might change something. Then, just maybe, God would honor this prayer.”
When I think about some of my paranoid ramblings during life’s seasons of desperation for God’s intervention, a Scripture comes to mind. Jesus gave these instructions just before He presented His disciples with the model to pray, what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer”.
Matthew 6: 6-  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  7  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  8  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Even though I don’t stutter when I pray (the original meaning for babbling), my prayers are repetitive (probably fall into the ‘many words’ category), and God hears the same thing again, and again, and…. That’s not all bad -- especially when you take the story from Luke 18 into consideration. There was a persistent widow who kept badgering a judge about receiving justice.  Consider this: if an unjust judge finally gave in to her pleas, how much more will God, our loving Father, work in circumstances to bring about justice for us. What is problematic is when petitions from my heart are offered without closure. What do I mean by that? Here’s a verse to illustrate:
Philippians- 4: 6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Thanksgiving will help spur your faith amidst agonizing, heartfelt cries that each of us feels when waiting on answers and offering our persistent prayers. It’s mentioned, but almost in passing right in the middle of a command, not to be anxious. Offer the prayers ‘with thanksgiving’ (v. 6).
“How do I thank God when I’m going through harsh circumstances in my life that are clearly out of my control?” you may ask. I think you mix the thanks ingredient into prayers by reminding Him and yourself of promises in the Bible that counsel you with the truth that He will never leave you, that He will not sleep on the job, that He will guard and keep you, that He will direct your steps as you live in submission to His plan for your life, and that He works in your circumstances to bring about His glory and your good. Rest in confidence that He said that He wants to bring you hope and a bright future. When you choose to put those kinds of statements in your prayers, the petitions and requests that you bring to Him are surrendering to HIS good purposes in your life. Choosing to trust that HE truly gives a rip about your heartfelt desires and trusting His heart are central to the thanksgiving. So, choose that posture.
It encourages me to remember that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:8)  If we truly believe that,  we can move on with expressing faith in our GOOD God. Thanks mixed with your deepest expressed longings is key to prayers full of faith.

"Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it." A. W. Tozer in Signposts

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Some recent thoughts on Prayer…

“Prayer changes things! Don't doubt it my friends.” That status on Facebook caught my attention. I know prayer does change things! But, why do I still doubt it at times?

Do you ever struggle with prayer? There’s God’s will, my will, and everyone else’s on the planet as well.  Now if we could just align them all, we might be onto something.

Why don’t we have a formula to follow for the physical healing of someone we love?

Why doesn’t God tell us exactly how to pray to Him if we have a financial need?

Isn’t there something specific to do if we want to see a transformational change in a family member or a miraculous remedy in a toxic relationship?

Or why doesn’t He answer our prayer for a Caribbean Cruise, preferably on a ritzy liner. Right about now, a floating mattress near any beach would suffice.

Have you ever thought about how boring life would be if we received all the prayers we prayed? Boring may be too nice a word. Some prayers we initially prayed, if answered, could be disastrous. Yet, we have audacious promises from the Bible with Jesus saying, “Ask whatever you will in my name, and I will do it”. If we read more, we find that we need to have faith (Matt. 21:22), remain or abide in Christ(John 15:7), AND the prayer should align with God’s will (1 John 5:14) and bring glory to God the Father (John 14:13). 

Maybe you diligently strive to honor God in all you do, and you pray to God consistently about an issue, and you don’t understand why God seems to be so silent on the subject. The prayers have been offered for years, a decade, or even longer. Here’s a shout out about a current book you ought to read on prayer. It is The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, and he says, “The hardest thing about praying hard is enduring unanswered prayers. If you don’t guard your heart, unresolved anger toward God can undermine faith. Sometimes your only option is to trust because it is the last card in your hand, but it’s the wild card. If you can trust God when the answer is no, you’re likely to give Him praise when the answer is yes…You can't pray for open doors if you aren't willing to accept closed doors, because one leads to the other."

I’ve been in that place where my faith has been rocked by the silence of God. At the time, I felt more like a lab rat than a human, wondering what type of test He might be performing on me. But, I’ve also grown up within a heritage of prayer for which I’m grateful. So, I’ve seen a power in prayer that I can’t deny, and when someone writes or speaks about how God moves in response to our heart’s cries, I can sense in my spirit, “Right ON!”

I’m learning to embrace the mystery of it all. In the midst of the embrace I’d like to make these assertions about the subject of prayer:

·         Prayer is a discipline-- discipline is never easy.

That’s why it is called "discipline". For a ripped body, people incorporate a great diet and routine heart throbbing repetitions of cardio and strength training.  On a similar note, If we long to see God do the miraculous in us and through us for His glory, we need to avail ourselves to this training in moral/spiritual development on a regular basis Sadly, Christian families go through a daily routine without ever pausing as a family to thank God for the meal on the table, praying for encouragement of the pastor, for a neighbor’s life, or strength for a missionary with whom the family has developed a relationship. It’s my prayer that we’ll see more emphasis in local churches to underscore this important discipline in the lives of believers corporately and individually.

·                Prayer is about relationship rather than results.

One of the underlying obstacles might be that we approach the discipline of prayer more concerned about results than relationship. Instead of a tight formula for the results we desire, we have an invitation to pour our hearts out to Christ and have faith that HE has our best interest in heart and mind, no matter the outcome. We grow as we wait and keep our focus and faith in God.

Earlier in this entry, I mentioned the challenge of aligning our will with God’s. When we’ve made obedient decisions in our relationship with God, our will more closely parallels His will, and we see more results. His ways are still higher than our ways, so that is why I use the term, “closely”. So, be disciplined, keep the faith, and keep on knocking!

·         Prayer is our opportunity to alter His story.

John Wesley, founder of the United Methodist Church, had a thought provoking quote that said, “God does nothing, but in answer to prayer.” And, it is difficult to deny the effects of a concerted effort in prayer when people honestly seek God and ask for His kingdom to reign in the hearts or people and circumstances that surround us.

Mark Batterson writes, “In the grand scheme of God’s story, there is a footnote behind every headline. The footnote is prayer. And if you focus on the footnotes, God will write the headlines. It’s your prayers that change the eternal plotline.”

So, let’s ask for God’s Holy Spirit to give us the bite into this discipline, focus on aligning ourselves with the Lord rather than all of the results we desire, and placing ourselves in line to be part of HIStory.

“Prayer is the inheritance we receive and the legacy we leave.” Mark Batterson

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Our Father...

March Madness is in FULL swing, and much of the United States tunes into the games, even while at their desks on the job. Many are glued to any device that will feed the fast-paced, nail-biting struggle between the Goliath’s of the hardwood and the David’s who earned the right to face them.  It’s an intense, exciting time for sports fans who love to see the skirmishes where small mistakes remain for a lifetime in the minds of players and decades in the memories of the university’s fan base.

You see players who love to compete AND who rise to the occasion to propel their teams to victory. Every mistake has ramifications, and victory is often dependent on a last second act of heroism.

Have you ever observed the parents of the players while their child is in the thick of competition? CBS and TNT’s camera crew make sure that we experience the reactions of parents in the crowd.

Try to imagine it. Your son steps to the free throw line. If he hits one shot, it’s a tie; then an eventual overtime. If he hits the second, he seals the victory.  If made, you were part of raising a hero. If missed, you may have to pick him up and dust him off when the emotional rubble of the event settles.

As a parent of a toddler and preschooler, I’m not seated watching their performance on a stage like the NCAA Tournament, but I’m painfully aware of the desire I have for my kids to succeed. I want them to live some of my dreams and accomplish their own as well. In fact, I need to surrender my dreams for them and make sure I do all I can to help them achieve dreams that are God-honoring that they have for their own lives.  

Recently, I tried to pray the “Lord’s Prayer” each day for two straight weeks. The first phrase, is “Our Father….”  You know it: Matthew 6: 9-13.

On a sleepless night, after a tournament game, the imagery of parents in the stands came to mind as I prayed for my own kids. Pictures of parents with faces buried in their hands during those intense moments, or a mother cheering with abandon for a son who hit a big shot were fresh in my mind. These thoughts came to me that evening. If He really is “Our Father,” don’t you think God has all that feeling for us, too? Maybe He wants us to achieve His will even more than we want. I’m thankful that His own security and identity isn’t all wrapped up in our performance, but He certainly is emotionally involved in our victories and our failures. He’s figuratively jumping up and down when we succeed and is moved, even with sadness, when we fail. And He works in circumstances and events to redeem the mishaps that cause us grief, shame, or embarrassment. In life, there are definite parallels to the intensity of competition found in the NCAA tournament. In general, life experience is rich and beautiful, but it is also a struggle with seasons that cause us to dig into win.

Isn’t it comforting to know you have a parent in your corner who wants you to succeed even more than you do? I can’t imagine Him biting His nails, but I think His heart wants us to flourish in all the challenges we face.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Politics, Blah!!!

Legs churning, and wearing nothing but my swim trunks, I still remember the scorching summer day my neighbor’s baying coon dog pursued and took the ten-speed I was riding, right out from underneath me. My body immediately reacted with pain from the friction of impact. It was one of those moments when I wanted to scream but I bottled it.  As I picked myself up from the pavement and observed the cinder and dirt filled strawberries on my hip, knees, and shoulder, I quickly glanced around to see if anyone had seen the humiliating experience.  If you’ve ever cleaned yourself up or gone to a clinic after one of these mishaps, you know the aftermath can be just as hurtful. Have you ever rubbed alcohol into an abrasion, or used a scrub brush and soap to clean out the dirt to prevent infection in scuffed and open skin? That can be just as painful as the incident, but necessary for healing.  

I don’t claim to be a politician or an economist, but I can state with confidence that the federal government in the United States of America is in need of intervention- and I don’t think you can separate pain from it.  I’ve had the privilege of living in many cultures, both within and outside of the United States. My love for the United States is magnified by my seeing the corruption and incompetence in leadership elsewhere. We are an incredibly blessed country. So before going on, I want you to know I love our country and I’m not looking for the government to answer all my questions.

With that said, programs and services within our government need a makeover. Honestly, if steps are taken to actually remedy and fix broken systems, it could be an excruciating experience for many of us- much like cleansing a wound. We have sky-rocketing debt and deficit spending. At present, our nation is a multi-cultured hodge-podge of nationalities, sects, and religions, made up of people who share divergent views and values for society. We have the privilege and challenge of co-existence without being subject to a dictator. Many immigrants work within our culture and benefit from services our taxes provide, but are benefitting illegally.  Healthcare costs present a challenge too many can’t afford. With the development of medical procedures we prolong lives, and our senior community grows at a rapid rate. Many of us wonder if social security will actually be a reality for many of us, let alone our children. Our world is more competitive for the privileges current innovations have produced. We need an educational system that will prepare the next generation for the global competition, challenges, and opportunities. So many issues haven’t been mentioned, like defense spending, national security, welfare reform, creation of jobs that pay for lifestyles we desire, an energy program, etc….

Friedman and Mandelbaum, summed up much of the political struggle we are experiencing with this troubling statement."Unfortunately, the political debate in America has strayed absurdly from the virtues of our public-private formula. Liberals blame all of America's problems on Wall Street and big business while advocating a more equal distribution of an ever shrinking economic pie. Conservatives assert that the key to our economic future is simple: close our eyes, click our heels three times, and say "tax cuts", and the pie will miraculously grow." Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum in the book That Used to Be Us

Political leaders I know of, no matter what party, do their jobs in a manner that will ensure their longevity in office rather than work in a bi-partisan approach toward solutions to preserve our privileges. It’s as if they want to put a salve on our wounds and  throw on a band-aide, without removing the contamination.

 As the November elections loom, here are a few convictions that will dictate the choices I make at the voting booth. I’m so glad that “In God We Trust” is a motto on our currency. Ultimately, there will be NO system of government or any program that will perfectly meet every need. Not one. But, I’m thankful that God is in control and He can be curative through people who are responsive to Him, and He has even proven to use leaders who are not responsive to Him to accomplish His purposes.

·         I pray for leaders who actually demonstrate their trust in an Almighty, through the policies they make.

·         I’m looking for leaders who propose solutions, and have a record of achieving them. We need politicians who will help us face up to the scrubbing we need and who have a rallying conviction about why the federal government exists.

·         I want to see someone propose bold change, knows reasons why he thinks the changes are necessary, and has a written plan.

·         We need leaders who can see the central issues in the problems we face.  Many disagreements among people with differing political opinions revolve around comprehending what is truly at stake. Though the challenges are complex, we need a simple structure for the solutions proposed as a starting point.

·         I will be happy with a candidate who challenges the “establishment”, Democrat or Republican.

·         I think insisting on a balanced budget, paying off debt, and a halting deficit spending are crucial. Once that is in order, we’ll be poised for bold investment again.

·         I will vote for leaders who desire to help those who truly need government assistance and build incentives into programs they propose get my vote. We don’t want to be handing out money to people who have inward ability to better themselves and become productive citizens.

·         I don’t think our representatives need benefits that are different than the people they represent. And… their tenure of service needs to be limited to keep fresh ideas and positive change happening on the federal and state levels. Long live governors who give themselves limits!

·          I prefer politicians who guard and defend The Constitution of the United States of America as well.

Is it possible for the people of the United States to vote leaders into office, who say to with their policies, “this is gonna hurt, but it will clean the wound, and you should feel better soon…”? I pray we will!..

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rose Colored Glasses

Gwyneth, my second-born, is my two-year-old daughter. At times it is difficult to see the beauty in her active lifestyle without knowing her motivation. She really likes to serve and help, and she’ll go for it without asking. Today, she found all the dirty, separated laundry in the hallway and decided to distribute it back into the laundry baskets. The dirty whites went back in her top drawer.  She’ll bring me the wrong pair of shoes, takeoff her clothes when we mention a bath, even though we intend to bathe her two hours later.  She’ll bring her brother’s shoes for him to get dressed, even if they are ones he or I never intended for him to wear.  When I have a pressing and important email, she’ll initiate her baby love for my attention. Her gestures are beautiful because we know she serves from love in her heart. As a dad, I view her differently from someone who is not my flesh and blood. But, sometimes her desire to help and her initiative, at best, can be frustrating and bothersome.

We deal gracefully with her routine interruptions because we know her motivation and her pure intent.

A prayer stirs in my own heart: that God would view me with rose-colored glasses when my performance is less than desirable, but my heart is true. A verse from Scripture comes to mind:

“… He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4: 5b NIV

Earlier in history, when God sent His prophet Samuel to choose a king (known as the greatest in Israel’s history), He gave him some instructions. God told him not to be influenced by the outward appearance of David since God looks at the heart. He knows the motives and intentions of every action.

When Gwyneth is eighteen, my questioning her motives or actions that frustrate me may be in order. For now,  I choose to rejoice in her pure heart. Cause like I said, “As a daughter, I see her differently.” I think God does the same with me when He sees my heart. That shouldn’t be a license for irresponsible living though. Eventually, my actions need to fall in line, because my motivations and intentions tend  to follow the heart’s path.

When I was in college, and that was quite a while ago, there was a song that was popular in the Christian contemporary world. Wayne Watson wrote a song called, “Rose Colored Glasses” and these are the words to the chorus:

                             “His gaze always passes thru rose colored glasses,

                                       Every time He looks on my heart,

                                       And thru love's forgiveness,

                                       Thru purity's fire,

                                      I am my God's desire.”

Thankful for a Father like that…

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Mid-January, and there are still remnants of Christmas candy around the house!  Even though a few morsels remain, the peanut brittle, fruitcake, delights from a Harry & David gift box, and a myriad of chocolate confections no longer clutter the kitchen counter. I was even craving a peanut cluster yesterday… Well, not quite that strong, but I would have eaten one if it was on the counter.

Amidst this type of abundance from the holidays, I came across a verse of Scripture-
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6 NIV

I paused when I pulled this verse from a promise box that sits next to my bathroom sink.
Some questions immediately came to mind that morning.  “On a scale from 1 to 10, how hungry are you for righteousness?” “By the way, do you even have a hunger for a holy life?”

Honestly, when I thought about my hunger for “righteousness” on a 10- point scale, that morning I was at a 3.
I made sure I looked up some key words in this verse to mine out the true meaning behind what was written. Happy is a person who craves to live a virtuous, pure life -- a life that is full of integrity, in one’s thoughts and actions. Why?  Because, a person will be satisfied and fulfilled when his/her desire for righteousness is fervent.

Maybe you have noticed that when your hunger for righteousness is low, other desires begin to nudge your focus from True North.  You know -- the appetites for ambition, feeling significance or importance, the desire for influence, for fame, for money, or for someone to hear your point of view, to lust, etc…

“God, I don’t have a hunger for you.  Why is that?” The transparent confession was coupled with the question, “Why?” And, one step further,  “How do I get this hunger? ”Sometimes it is definitely there, but that day…hmm…, well, not so much.
“Ask Me for it.”

Yes, I think that is what I heard. Pragmatically speaking, I don’t want to raise a question without offering answers. More Bible reading, prayer, or even solitude won’t replace vulnerably approaching God and humbly requesting that He give you something He already wants to give.
So, I asked Him. I’ll keep on asking!

Satisfied (not a complacent kind, but a rich fulfilled kind).  I can’t explain it, but the hunger is there, and the hunger isn’t from me – hunger like that isn’t natural.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Blessed or Cursed?

Christmas is over and people are returning to stores, exchanging gifts or taking advantage of after- Christmas sales. Dads and moms are turning their focus to packing up the tree, lights, wrapping paper, and tinsel for next year before the New Year’s regular pace resumes. What an incredible time of the year to savor moments with family and loved ones we hold dear to our hearts!

At the turn of a New Year, I find myself thinking about what the twelve months ahead hold and all that I want to accomplish. While pondering where I am in life and experiences of the past, a thought surfaces: “Aren’t the times we think are the most cursed, truly the most blessed?”

Think about it…

That’s what I’ve been doing today, and that thought comes back to me…repeatedly.

I still remember being fresh out of college, with absolutely no experience one would deem necessary for youth ministry. Full-time ministry, in a downtown church in Canton, OH, was a struggle after leaving the close friendships of college life. I learned to be faithful to what I sensed God wanted me to do, though much of the time it felt very unpopular. When you lead in any endeavor, it can be challenging to filter out the brashest voices of disapproval. And for the next two years, I prayed for God to help me to love the battle. But when I announced my resignation after two years to pursue a ministerial education, it amazed me that the youth I served showed brokenness at my parting.  Could I have been a blessing amidst days that I thought and felt were an absolute curse in my life? Nothing against some of the great people I was serving and with whom I served! My eyes failed me in seeing what God was accomplishing amidst the personal pain of dealing with the pressures of youth ministry.

Later, my pilgrimage led me into international missions where I served in Mexico for a few years as a single missionary. It was faith-forming to trust in Biblical promises that I tried to apply to my life, when I couldn’t figure out why an “all powerful” God wouldn’t see my need for close companionship. I was so thankful for a buddy who gave me a calling card to make the thousand plus miles disappear, at least a little, when I called my parents or other close friends. At the time, it was a trying existence as I struggled to communicate in Spanish, with ease, from my heart. Opportunities for deep relationships that could lead to a marriage were unavailable. The loneliness of those years, when I wasn’t able to talk to people in my heart language, wasn’t what I’d describe as healthy. The situation left me void of sensing blessings that were obvious. But, in our weakness, God is strong! I’m still in touch with many of the youth I served in that church in Irapuato, a city of central Mexico, and it still thrives as a place where lives are encouraged and transformed. Since I experienced a prolonged singleness, it gave me backbone for waiting in other seasons of my life. Humiliating experiences outside of my own comfort zone have provided backbone to endure through subsequent challenges. So, was all that I experienced a curse or a blessing?

At present, I’m a stay at home, full-time father. Friends with career success have told me that I’m in a privileged position. Most would consider a season of life without employment that shoulders the bulk of the bills in a household, a curse. The obvious blessing is that my wife has a job that cares for the financial obligations. We’ve learned to live at a much simpler level and practice thriftiness. We plan to invest and give at higher levels when greater employment opportunity comes along. Paramount in all of this -- I’m sensing I TRULY am blessed. I’m beginning to give up my angst about professional development and surrender fretting about the unemployment to God. After all, I’ve heard that He works for my good, and HE makes even what you or I might consider to be a curse, an incredible blessing. Looking forward to 2012!

Convinced -- that if I prevail, in faith, through the seemingly unfortunate experiences of life, even greater benefits await me on the other side. The greater the misfortune is felt, the greater the chance that perseverance in faith can turn the season into unimaginable blessings.

Do you feel cursed? It may be the door to your greatest blessing.

Romans 8:28  “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.”