Brokers of Hope: The Gilroy Tragedy

This week another senseless shooting happened in Gilroy, California. While shootings at large events grab our attention, the truth is that there are lesser known shootings happening somewhere in our country on an almost daily basis. 

What makes this shooting, and others like it, so disturbing is the apparent randomness of the shooter.

Reports came out of the festival that, while he was shooting, someone yelled, “Why are you doing this?” The reply they heard was, “Because I’m really angry.” 

But thanks to quick thinking of police officers on scene, they quickly engaged the shooter and lives were saved. While the gunman was hit by police fire, the medical examiner found that the shooter turned his own gun on himself as well, ending it all. 

What makes these large event shootings particularly sad is that what is supposed to be a community event becomes a community tragedy.  Now, five days later, the investigators are still sifting through the information looking for a motive.

One of the reasons we want to know the why is so we can bring some kind of closure or solution to this kind of tragedy. But, in many cases, we may never know why and are only left with questions. 

Jesus wasn’t a stranger to senseless violence. At a time in history when his country was occupied by a foreign power—and the night before he went to the cross—he said this to his followers:

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Jesus is saying that in the unexplainable tragedies of life (the many trials and sorrows we experience), “…take heart” because, as he said, “I have overcome the world.” In other words, death is not the end. Ultimately God’s purposes will prevail and evil will not have the final word. There is more to this life than this life.

If the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, teaches us anything it is that while situations around us may be heart breaking , there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light is a beautiful, renewed world. A place where evil and despair will never have a place.  

It appears that this shooter was angry enough to despair and end his young life. While some may despair and give in to hopelessness, Jesus’ followers have the answer to despair: it is Jesus himself. I often wonder what would have happened if a youth pastor had connected with some of these young shooters? What a difference it would make if they were able to see beyond themselves and understand that they were created for something more—much more. 

We are brokers of hope.

While tragedy may cross your path, take heart—Jesus has overcome this world. Death isn’t the end, and this life is only a dress rehearsal for the next.

So, while despair may have a grip on some, each of us can be a broker of hope.

No one can turn back the clock on these shootings. But as followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to bring comfort and hope into a bleak situation: by comforting those who are grieving; to truly sharing in their loss; by weeping with those who weep. And, in so doing, point people to Jesus. This life is not the end. There is more to come.

Don’t miss your opportunity to bring hope to those you know—even in the face of senseless tragedy. We are brokers of hope.

Good Friday: Four Examples from Jesus in Dealing with Critics

If you’ve ever wondered What would Jesus do?—even in the most extreme of circumstances—here is what he did:

Ever had a critic…or two? We are tempted to think that if we did things better, or never made mistakes, we would never have critics. But it fascinates me that even Jesus—the son of God—had critics. Despite his abilities to heal, help and lead, people still criticized him. So, what can we learn from Jesus as it relates to dealing with critics?

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross. I was reading through this specific passage on Good Friday from Luke 23 today, and some powerful examples from Jesus’ life come to light. If you’ve ever wondered What would Jesus do?—even in the most extreme of circumstances—here is what he did:

If you’ve ever wondered What would Jesus do?—even in the most extreme of circumstances—here is what he did:

  • After Jesus was arrested, he was beaten and then accused of sedition before the Roman governor Pilate, who asked “Are you the King of the Jews?” The reason Pilate asked this was to see if he was responsible for uprisings against the occupying Roman army. Jesus simply told the truth. While he never incited a riot, he replied “It is as you say.” He didn’t qualify, he didn’t nuance, he was simply honest. Under the pressure of a political powder-keg, Jesus spoke the truth.

In a pressure-filled situation, Jesus spoke the truth.

  • After he is nailed to the cross, the soldiers around him cast lots to see who would get his garments. Apparently, this garment was woven without seams…a rare, valuable piece of clothing. So, as Jesus is on the cross with nails piercing his wrists—torquing the nerves in the carpal tunnel area and sending a constant, fiery sensation throughout his body—he watches his executioners gambling for his clothes. He is naked, in excruciating pain and his only possessions are being carried away. In spite of all this he says “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” In an excruciating, spite-filled situation, Jesus forgave. 

In an excruciating, spite-filled situation, Jesus forgave.

  • As a large crowd watched on, there were two men crucified on either side of him; thieves who were being punished for their crimes. One scoffed “If you’re the Messiah, get yourself down and get us all out of here!” The second thief said to the first “You’re facing death and all you can do is make a joke of it?” He then turns to Jesus and says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus ignores the scoffing, but responds to the second man, saying “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus ignored the scoffer but assured the seeker. He spoke hope into a seemingly hopeless situation.

Jesus spoke hope into a seemingly hopeless situation.

  • Finally, at noon a darkness came over the land for a 3-hour period. There were earthquakes and the sound of splitting rock. At that time Jesus said “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.” Then taking his final breath he died. In his final moments, Jesus doesn’t despair, he doesn’t lash out verbally at the soldiers, he doesn’t whimper. Instead he focuses on what is most important: he entrusts himself into God’s hands. People may fail you, but God never will. His final words were words of trust in his Father.

Jesus’ final words were words of trust in his Father.

Chances are that you and I will never face this kind of torturous, life-threatening scenario. But in the shadow of Jesus’ death, four things stand out:

First, under accusation he spoke the truth: his words reflected reality. Second, in great pain he forgave the unforgivable. Third, before an audience of critics, he didn’t respond to his critics but spoke words of hope to the receptive.  Fourth, with his final breath he entrusted himself to the only One who can ensure our future: God the Father himself.

I hope today, in every difficult situation, you can rely on God’s goodness by speaking what’s true, by forgiving others (even if they never forgive in return) and by speaking hope into a hopeless situation.  This is possible as you continue to entrust yourself to your heavenly Father who is good—even when our present situation may not seem so good…because remember, Sunday’s coming.

Happy Good Friday.

Be Jesus: Be the Calm in the Chaos

Instead of flaming and shaming people on social media, there is a better way.

If there is a word that describes our time in history, it is chaos. There have never been more voices on social media, TV or radio, screaming for your attention. Now, more than ever, anyone can make their voices heard. And the chaos is increasingly unsettling.

As followers of Christ, we have a unique opportunity to be Jesus’ representatives in our world (2 Corinthians 5). How are we, as believers, supposed to act (or react) in the toxic mix of political/corporate shouting matches? What if—instead of adding empty words into the chaos of rhetoric and angry noises—we lead by our actions?

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, wrote to a group of Christians in the first century, who were trying to figure out how to live this new life. Right after he helps these new believers see what Jesus’ lifestyle looks like in families, he writes this:

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. (1 Peter 3:8–9)

To Peter’s readers, the idea of having a “humble attitude” would have been radical. Humility was not how things worked in the Roman empire: personal honor was first and foremost! Revenge was the Roman way. Payback was real; humility was weakness. Personal honor was a commodity that you accumulated at the expense of others…and so it still goes today! We broadcast our own points on social media and say things we would never say to a person face to face. We flame them and shame them. We communicate our outrage that such a person could ever even think “that way,” and then dismiss comments from others who object to us by telling them, “you don’t know what you’re talking about.” The image we project to the world is our new idol…in other words, our culture is drowning in self-worship. And you can’t get away from it by saying “I don’t care what you think about me, my image or my opinion,” because it’s just more hot air, more empty blustering and posturing—more pride.

We broadcast our own points on social media and say things we would never say to a person face to face.

By contrast, Peter’s words give us a completely different approach, something that is counter-cultural, both then and now. He encourages his readers to be of one mind: harmonious; striving for unity.

Will what I’m posting promote oneness in the body of Christ?

He tells them to be sympathetic: understanding what others are going through, feeling for them, and allowing them to speak without judgement.

Do I understand what this person is going through?

Peter also says, “Love each other as brothers and sisters”—and this is the crux of the issue: when we love each other, we will give others the benefit of the doubt. When we love each other, we are ready to overlook an offense. When we don’t love others, everything we hear about that person now is another reason we don’t like them. In the absence of love there is suspicion, skepticism, jumping to conclusions.

Will this post show my love for them and others?

Then he says to be tenderhearted: not only overlooking an offense, but willing to forgive it and move on with Jesus’ mission.

Am I willing to forgive? Or have I already hardened my heart?

The apostle then tells his readers to keep a humble attitude. Where did Peter get this? From Jesus. Imagine this kind of humility: leaving the perfection of heaven to be born in the squalor, disease, hunger and thirst of 1st Century Palestine. In humility, the Son of God emptied himself and became obedient to death. And he did it all to bring us into his family. And now, we have the privilege of being his hands, his feet, and his voice to a world in chaos—a world that desperately needs the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Am I keeping an attitude of humility? Or do I just want my words to be heard?

Writing or sharing a Facebook post is so easy, and so is commenting on a post with a little jab or a sharp rebuke…but this kind of interaction never changes hearts and minds. It is, however, effective at dividing, at distracting, and at muddying the message of the gospel.

For this reason, with Jesus as our example and scripture as our aid, I would ask that you—men and women of God—ask yourselves these questions before posting anything on social media:

1. Will what I’m posting promote oneness in the body of Christ? Am I preserving the unity of Jesus’ people? Or am I trashing it?

2. Do I understand what this person is going through—do I have the ability to sympathize with that person?

3. Will this post show my love for them, and for others? How can I uplift that person?

4. If there is a perceived slight (from others toward me), am I willing to forgive? Am I being tenderhearted? Or have I already hardened my heart?

5. Am I keeping an attitude of humility? Or do I just want my words to be heard? Do I rush to defend my position/reputation?

By the way—there is nothing weak about living out Peter’s words. It will often take the power of God’s Spirit to avoid getting into an argument—or perhaps posting an empty, inflammatory remark. Anyone who lives this, knows it’s true.

So, in all the chaos we see around us, YOU be the calm. Be Jesus in your world. Be Jesus, especially on social media.

The Transforming Power of Gratitude

When I was about 6, my parents asked me to send a thank you note to my grandparents for a birthday gift they sent to me. I thought that was a pretty good deal—I get a present in exchange for a card! What I didn’t know then, is the life-changing power of gratitude.

Many leaders know the power of showing gratitude to encourage those in their organization. They know their organization will go further, faster in an environment of gratefulness. But I’ve seen this principle at work at every level in various places around the world.

Gratitude

In my last blog post I told you about the organization Serve the Children.  On my first trip with Serve the Children I went to a children’s residential home in Central India. The driving force in this school is a woman named Nalini, whom the children (and adults) all call “Mommy.” Many of these children are the “untouchables” and come from the poorest of the poor in India. Some were found abandoned, literally plucked from the streets. Mommy has a daily schedule for the children, which includes chores, school time and homework, but when visitors come, there are always thank-you-crafts to make.  When visitors first arrive, all the children come to show their appreciation by waiting at the gate and cheering their arrival.  Each night, after the chapel time, every child files by these visitors to say “Good night uncle, or auntie, or Didi (sister) or Dada (brother). “Thank you for coming” is what they are communicating every night.  On our first visit my birthday fell toward the end of our two week visit.  Every child wrote a hand-made birthday card; some put flowers in them.  Then after the evening chapel time, they presented these gifts to me one by one.  It brought tears to my eyes.

The reason I had traveled to India was to serve these children—through teaching—but their gratitude for my coming served me in ways that I never imagined.  As we left they all gathered around the gate to say goodbye and thank you for coming. Mommy is creating in them an attitude of gratitude that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Gratitude.

I was at a Veteran’s day assembly this week at a local elementary school that CenterPoint supports, and I watched for 45 minutes as the children (and their instructors) told the many veterans who were present how much they appreciated their service to our country. Not only did they sing songs of thanks, but they invited these active or inactive veterans to come to the front, share their name and branch of service, then presented each one with a gift and continued to sing in thanks for their time of service. My heart was filled with thanks for the service of these brave men and women who set aside a time in their life to serve others.

Gratitude.

In many churches we have a time in the service which happens either weekly or each month, called “communion.” An older name for this the Eucharist.  This word means “Giving of Thanks”. We have set aside a time in our worship for no other reason than to say “Thank You” to Christ for providing us with something we could never provide for ourselves: his redeeming work on the cross.

Gratitude.

One of the greatest ways we can help create an environment of change at every level is a simple thank you.  Whether you work in a place of oversight in a large organization, are a “one man” operation, or are in the process of rearing your own children, don’t miss the power of this message: Giving thanks is powerfully transforming.  In my experience, it is not the thinking about gratitude that is transformative, but the actual showing of gratitude that is life-changing.

The best way to create children or employees who give throughout life, is to lead by example.  Don’t miss the opportunity to show gratitude to those in your sphere of influence, and encourage those in your oversight to follow through in gratitude to others.  It will transform your family or your organization.

Every day you have the opportunity to show gratitude for all of those who come around you to make you successful in what you do.

At CenterPoint we truly believe Jesus’ words, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  Take the opportunity to give thanks to someone this week.

21,905 Days and Counting…

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

A few years ago I took a trip with a good friend of mine, Doug Collier, to Liberia (West Africa) with the mission organization Serve the Children. During our time there I was reading through the book of Psalms, and I came across this verse:

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. —Psalm 90:12

I had read this verse before, but now it stood out on the page…there is nothing like a mission trip to see life through a different lens! It made me wonder, “How many days have I been here?” I recently I looked up the number days that have passed since my birth—I know my age in years, but to see the number of days—startling!

21,905

Maybe it’s on my mind, since my 60th birthday is this month (day 21,915), but the lifespan for the average American is 78.74 years…which is 28,761 days. This means that if I live to the average, I have 6,861 days left.

My natural mother was born on February 10, 1939 and passed away in April 11, 1998. She lived 21,611 days.

A good friend that I went to high school with passed away recently. Since I was thinking through this idea of numbering my days when he passed, I calculated his days: 21,929.

I mentioned in a previous post that our family wrote, recorded, and played music during the time that I worked with an organization called Youth for Christ. As a result, we traveled a lot during that time. On one of our trips, we were a guest band at a YFC Germany event between Christmas and New Years’ Eve in Nuremburg. On one of the days there, we toured a local church called St. Sebaldus. The building was filled with beautiful carvings, photographs and amazing architecture. While we were there, we were befriended by a member of the church who guided us through the facility. As we were leaving he showed us a carving next to the exit which looked like a youth on the front, carven with a gown. However, on the back, the gown was parted and the backside showed worms, frogs, and internal organs—kind of disturbing. As we wondered what this meant, the man interpreted the statue with a beautiful German accent. He said, “The front shows us as we see each other, but the back shows to us our final state…we must remember that the front view will not always remain. We are mortal.”

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. —Psalm 90:12

I believe the reason the psalmist tells us to number our days is not to simply dwell on our ending, but to remember that none of us lives forever here. When we think wisely about our lives, our days and years, we will consider the use of our time.

Jesus tells us that there is more to come, and that this life is merely the dress rehearsal for what is coming. He called it “the Kingdom of heaven.” One of the lenses I tend to see life through is this: “If it’s true that what we do in this life impacts the next, how am I using my time? What can I do with the time I have left to make a difference?”

If there is one thing we all know about our time it is this: we have 1,001 distractions. But in light of the life to come, let me ask you this same question: how are you using your time? Maybe you’ve been making a bucket list? You and I have so many ways to spend our days, but “numbering our days” is a great way to help us to prioritize what is most important—how to use our time to truly make a difference.

How many days for you so far? You can calculate that here…and maybe (if you’re like me…) you’ll think through how many days you have remaining. But more than that, I hope you’ll think wisely about how to make the most of your time, your energies and your resources in light of the world to come.

And, would you let me know your thoughts? I would love to hear what thoughts/ideas you are planning!

Does Evil Exist?

Reflections on Mandalay Bay.

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” Romans 12:21

 

Does evil exist? So much ink has been spilt on this topic, and it is easy to talk about the existence of evil in an academic way, until you—or someone close to you—experiences it up close. Then it is not so academic.

It’s personal.

When the shooting at Mandalay Bay happened a couple of weeks ago, I had more questions than answers. “Who was this guy? What was his motive? Did he act alone? Apparently it was well-planned, but why did he do it? Was there some kind of pay-off involved”…and the questions went on and on. One answer that I did have immediately was that, yes, evil does exist.

Many of these same questions arose after 911. Why would they do something this evil? Why all the planning, dollars and risk to destroy so many lives?

When our kids were younger and still at home, we all played in a band and toured different parts of the world. In 2002 we were returning from a European tour and had a stop over in Zurich, Switzerland. I had seen the impact that 911 had had on air travel in the US, and it appeared that this was true for Zurich as well. I asked the person who helped check our baggage for the flight: “Has 911 changed the way you operate flights in Zurich?” She said “911 changed the way everyone flies everywhere.” Evil has left its mark: the security measures that were put into effect persist, as a reminder of that day.

And while the questions linger for this inexplicable horror in Mandalay Bay, so does the pain for those who lost loved ones. “How could this have happened?” For most of us, the thought of planning—let alone following through on—this kind of evil is unthinkable. But here we are.

 

What motivates people to commit acts of evil? The word for evil in Hebrew has the idea of being broken into pieces; to be made worthless; offensive. The word melds together the act with it’s consequences. Or, as Forrest Gump might say, “Evil is as evil does”

Mandalay Bay is a reminder that this world is not the way it is supposed to be—in other words, it is not the way God intended it. Evil is alive and it has one goal: destruction.

 

The scripture describes the mystery of evil in the opening chapters of Genesis. In the original family, a sibling, Cain, is jealous of the perceived preference of his brother, Abel. Aware that Cain is succumbing to evil, God meets with Cain and asks him:

“Why are you so angry…Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master” (Genesis 4:6–7). Sadly, Cain opens the door and gives way to evil. He plans, then follows through on these plans, by murdering his own brother. I can only imagine the weeping and anguish his parents and other siblings felt as they experienced evil through their own family member. “Why? Why would you do this?”

 

While the motive for evil is baffling, one thing is certain: it won’t last forever. The scriptures tell us that one day we will experience what Adam and Eve experienced in the paradise of the garden—only this time it describes paradise in a city with many, many people. Paradise found.

Between now and then, Jesus gave us a remedy for the evil at work in our world. Here is how he described it to his followers:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43–45 NIV). This is game-changing. While it may seem rare in our world, there are people actually living this out.  They are quiet, unassuming people. Raising their families, working to try and make ends meet; loving others with a love that is, in many ways, inexplicable…apart from Jesus.  This is the first taste of what God himself will reestablish one day.  Paradise found.

 

One of my wife’s favorite childhood figures was Mr. (Fred) Rogers. During his childhood, when he heard of something that was frightening or scary, his mother would remind him: “Always look for the helpers. There’s always someone who is trying to help.”

This is exactly what Paul described when he wrote: “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” Romans 12:21

 

 

For further reading on this topic: The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis

The Cure for Loneliness

Loneliness literally ravages our brains and our bodies.

When I was in the third grade, my favorite superhero was (and still is!) Superman—the “strange visitor from another planet…” If there was a job that no one else could do, Superman got it done—solo. He didn’t need an army; he didn’t need back up; he just got it done by himself—even if the bad guys had Kryptonite!

Throughout my life, the idea of “getting it done alone” has often been the path of least resistance; especially if it means “troubling” someone for help.  But the truth is we not only do our best work with others, but we hunger for—and thrive in—community.

The first time I experienced this personally, was when I was going to the University of Washington in Seattle and my girlfriend Erin (now my wife!) was going to school in LA. During those long months of separation, I tried focusing on my studies in Seattle, but while we were separated, I couldn’t think of anything but her!

Then after we were married, we joined a group of young adults where we worshiped to mentor the youth in our church. It was a group that planned, prayed and hung out together. It was an incredible time. I didn’t understand why we were drawn to and enjoyed these people so much, but here is what I discovered since: I was created for community.

When I say “community,” I don’t mean simply having access to a lot of people. I define community as experiencing a significant life-connection with others. I spent my summers in NYC during my high school years, and it was during those summers that I experienced how it is possible to be lonely—even in a city of nearly 8 million people.

Most of us have experienced loneliness (in one way or another) in our lives. But did you know that there is clinical data that demonstrates the destructive power of loneliness? Professor John Cacioppo, of the University of Chicago, has spent his life studying social neuroscience, and has demonstrated over and over the effects of loneliness on our bodies and brains. The outcome: loneliness—in other words, living lives without significant connection to others—is lethal. It literally ravages our brains and our bodies. [1]

In fact, the day after I completed the rough draft of this blog, LinkedIn hosted a number of articles on the powerfully negative effects loneliness is having in the workplace.  Not surprisingly some of it is a result of substituting social media for real community. Here is one example. 

Why do we thrive in community? Scripture gives us some powerful insights.

God himself lives in community.

In the earliest lines of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, God said,

“Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us…” So God created human beings in his own image (Genesis 1:26, 27, emphasis mine).

What is only hinted at here in Genesis, Jesus made clear later: God, who is One, exists in Community.  Jesus taught that God exists in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).[2] God lives in community: a community of unity, interdependence, love and cooperation. Father, Son and Holy Spirit cooperate to accomplish God’s purposes in our world and our universe. Which means this: the reason we hunger for community (significant life-connection with others) is evidence of God’s image in us.

Jesus’s idea of community

Then, Jesus demonstrated the power of community by calling 12 men to do life together: his twelve disciples. When you read through the gospels, you discover that Jesus was a real-life Superman. He could have done it all—on his own! So then, why did he call the twelve to be with him (Mark 3:14)? I believe it was because Jesus himself knew that we are created for community. And not only are we created for community; we thrive in community!

At CenterPoint, we express this kind of connectedness in our Growth Groups: groups of people who live in community, doing life together. In these groups, we interact around God’s word, pray for (and with) each other, and serve our greater community as a group. And when we do this, we experience what we were created for: living out God’s purposes in our lives. Together.

Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

[1] https://newrepublic.com/article/113176/science-loneliness-how-isolation-can-kill-you
[2] This pattern of describing God as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is used numerous times by Jesus, and then by his disciples as well. (e.g. Jn 15:26; 16:13-15; 17:21-24; 2 Cor 13:13-14; 1 Pe 1:2)

Letters from South Tacoma

Stretching the time continuum, one post at a time…

Welcome to my new blog! One of the reasons I’ve wanted to start this blog is that between work and other activities, I miss communicating with the people who are most important to me and our family (you)!

Is it possible you’re experiencing something similar? The same kind of time limitations? I look at my schedule each week and it is full. I also look at the time I spend with people during the week, and wish there were more hours in a day, more days in a week and more weeks in a month…just to hang out.  So far I’ve been unsuccessful at stretching the time continuum, so—I’ve settled on a blog to help bridge that gap.

I love road trips; traveling and seeing new places.  Think of this blog as an extended road trip that we’re on together!  My hope is to share things I’m learning along the way to help you in your family-life, work-life, your faith—both personally and professionally.  My personal vision is to be a relevant source of hope.  Every thing I write about, think about and move toward, flows from that. I hope this blog will be that for you: a source of relevant hope.

Looking forward to hanging out with you in the days to come.