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An Unwanted Trip

I wrote these words almost a year ago. In many ways I can't believe it's been that long. On November 2, 2016, my big brother and best friend called to tell me that one of his closest friends, a guy I grew up with and admired, had unexpectedly passed away. A year later I still miss Dean Johnson. There are so many things I look forward to when I visit home (Indiana), but the one thing that gave me life was playing poker with my brother Chris, my dad Terry, Kenny Knartzer, and Dean Johnson. I thought today would be a good day to post my thoughts about Dean as I wrote them on the way home for his funeral.

Miss you Deano ...

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Today I'm taking an unexpected trip home to Indy. Usually I love going home, but not today.

Last Wednesday night I received the kind of text/call that I simply never wanted to get. Someone close to me had passed out and it "didn't look good."

I hate those words.

My longtime and dear friend Dean Johnson was teaching a small group of high school boys at church when he passed out and began gasping for air. My brother, Chris, was called and, on his way to the hospital, let me know that things "didn't look good."

I was sitting in the parking lot at the Bluffton School of Dance, 800 miles away, waiting for Sadie to finish her ballet class. When we started home I texted Chris to let him know I was praying for him too. By that time he was at the hospital with a room full of worried friends and frightened teenagers. He sent me a short, heartbreaking response:

"No one here knows yet, but he's gone ..."

I wept when I read it.
I wept when I got home.
I'm tearing up as I write this 3 days later.

Dean Johnson passed away almost immediately on Wednesday night from what is believed to have been a massive heart attack. He was 47.

Is this happening?! Am I really sitting in the airport to fly home for Dean's funeral?

HOW. IS. THIS. POSSIBLE?

Dean is one of those guys who makes everything better. He's full of joy. He creates laughter. He makes situations better ... he makes people better. And his motives are pure. I honestly don't think I've ever heard him say a disparaging word to anyone; he genuinely chooses to love people.

I don't remember the first time I met Dean, but I remember being around him as a teenager. He was one of my Big Brother's best friends, so I was required to look up to him! It was always Chris, Dean, and Kenny Knartzer playing basketball or whiffle ball or softball or football. When I got a little older (and bigger) I was invited to play, and I was always on Dean's team. He was my basketball and football teammate, always playing against Chris and Kenny.

The battles we fought and the fun that we had!

24 by 4, best 3 out of 5 or 4 out of 7 in the sweltering heat, playing on the goal at the culdesac down the street where the crack in the pavement served as the 3 point line. There were the moments Dean would simply take over the game by saying, "And now entering the game ... number 33 ... Larry Bird!!" Then he'd make the 'hahhhehhahh' sound of the crowd roaring. I would just smile and move out of the way as Dean would more-times-than-not step back and drill some absurdly long 3 pointer to win the game!

Whenever Chris would ask if I could play I'd drop whatever I was doing with a resounding "Yes!"

It was fierce on the basketball court, but it got downright bloody on the football field! We won a lot, and we lost a lot too. The Hilltop Super Bowl. The "Chad Beck" game. The Bloody Finger game. The unstoppable "hook and ladder." Dean's strip-tackles. Karl Knartzer's improbable running game. I would drive 100 miles from Cincinnati Bible College whenever I could to be a part of the Putz Football League!

I remember these games as the best of my teenage and college years.

I've played basketball, football, and a little whiffle ball as Dean's partner, and I've played some softball and golf with him too. Looking back I can't think of a single time that Dean got angry with me or pressed me or made me feel smaller or less than the rest of them, even though I was 4 grades younger. He just let me be me, win or lose.

It has been a long time since I've thought about those days. In recent years the four of us, mostly retired from competitive sports, have taken to playing poker. In fact, every time I come to Indianapolis ... my home ... we get a poker game together. These games have become a cherished tradition for me. It is one of the only places I feel truly "home." Chris' obsession with Blackjack. My Dad (Pop) calling 7-card, low hold, last card down and dirty. Kenny calling Baseball. My love of 2 legged continual sequence. Jacks or Better/Trips to Win. And then there's always the night's closing game from Dean: dollar-dollar-dollar (Screw Your Neighbor). I generally always sit to Dean's left, which puts me in the "catbird seat" for Screw Your Neighbor, but I never seem to win! Poker with my Big Brother, my Pop, and my Big Brother's friends ... MY friends Kenny and Dean.

I can't tell you the number of times we have been in tears laughing or staring in disbelief at an unbelievable hand of "In-between" or "Screw Your Neighbor" over long talks about 80's music, the Colts, the Pacers, or politics. And then there's Dean's uncanny, unnatural, inhuman encyclopedic knowledge of Country music! Seriously, 10 seconds (usually less) of any country song from virtually any decade and Dean can tell you title, performer, and year of publication ... and on occasion song author and awards won!

While he loved sports, politics, and country music, his true passion was following Jesus. I don't mean the "go to church and read your Bible" kind of following, I mean the "dying to yourself" kind. Dean didn't spend years on the mission field in a foreign county, he made everywhere he went a mission field. At work, in his neighborhood, and especially when hanging out with the high school boys at Mount Pleasant Christian Church. He didn't spend his time telling people about Jesus because he was too busy being Jesus to them. He served people. He encouraged people. He challenged them. But mostly he just loved them.

A few hours after Chris told me about Dean's passing he said, "I don't think I've known anyone more faithful than Dean."

I couldn't agree more.

It is both poetic and powerful to know that last Wednesday night when Dean passed out he was in the middle of teaching a group of high school boys about the importance of their faith. My brother was scheduled to teach on finances that night, but a week or two earlier Dean decided to change the lesson because he didn't think "his guys" were "getting it" with regard to living their faith.

Faithful to the end.

And so I'm traveling home on an unwanted trip to say goodbye to my friend Dean. It won't be an easy trip, but it will be a good one. There will be tears for sure, for Dean will be missed terribly, but there will also be celebrating. We will celebrate Dean's smile, his kindness, his laughter, and his wit. We will talk about how fortunate we all were to have known him and to have spent time with him. We'll be inspired by the stories of his faith and challenged by the example of his faithfulness.

And we will embrace the hope we all so dearly need; a hope that lets us know that we'll see Dean again someday.

And while I don't know exactly what heaven will be like, I do believe that I have not played my last game of poker with Dean Johnson.

Until then ... thanks Deano, for being my partner and my friend, and inspiring me to live faithfully and run the race well to the very end.

I can't wait to sit in the catbird seat with you again ...

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A Gun Owner's Thoughts After Las Vegas

(For my friends and pastors who subscribe to the "An Ordinary Guy" blog, this is NOT a "faith based" post. Instead, it is my thoughts/ideas on guns and gun control.)

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We've all seen the pictures.

We've heard the stories of horror and the accounts of heroism.

As a nation, we woke up on October 2nd in disbelief ... or at least in shock.

And by 10:00 AM EST people began forming their narratives about this tragedy. Politicians, celebrities, gun rights activists, the NRA, late night talk show hosts, bloggers, Facebookers - everyone had a thought and everyone wanted to share it.

After reading Hillary Clinton's posts about the shootings in Las Vegas, I was frustrated at the lack of compassion and respect for the at least 58 dead and over 500 injured by the acts of mad man, Stephen Paddock. The post was simple enough: can we just take one day - 24 hours - to come together to grieve before we completely divide and argue.

The responses to my post spoke loudly: apparently not.

I responded to a few of the posts by saying that a discussion absolutely needs to be had, but not less than 24 hours after the terrifying events at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. So, true to my word, here are a few of my thoughts, as a gun owner.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS ISSUE

The issue of guns and gun control is important to our country, and incredibly divisive by nature. It has become such a profound issue that it has embedded itself into the identity of who we are as a people. Because of the undeniable prominence of guns in the history of our country, including the 2nd Amendment, this is not an issue that is easily solved. And yet, it is a problem that must be addressed and fixed.

58 lives in Las Vegas demand it.
49 lives in Orland demand it.
14 lives in San Bernardino demand it.
21 lives in Charleston demand it.
12 lives in Washington, D.C. demand it.
26 lives in Newtown demand it.
12 lives in Aurora demand it.

This list takes us back to 2010 and only includes shootings with more than 10 victims. Imagine if this list included shootings of one person, a few people, several people ... 

It's time to move this from discussion to action.

THE COMPLEXITY OF THIS ISSUE

The reality is that there is more to this issue than the "right to bear arms."

This is a FEAR issue.
This is a SAFETY issue.
This is a HEART issue.
This is a PUBLIC issue.
This is a PRIVATE issue.
This is a POLITICAL issue.
And yes, this is a MONEY issue.

And herein lies the complexity of guns and gun control.

Let's not be naive about guns and gun control. The "right" needs to understand that arming everyone and their brother is not going to fix violence, and the "left" needs to recognize that taking guns away from everyone is not going to eradicate evil. BOTH sides need to come to a simple understanding:

More guns increase the potential for more shootings,
but no guns does not eliminate gun deaths.

While that truth may be too simplistic, it is fair, especially based on research. (You can check out a telling chart here. For a more in depth study about gun ownership and gun cultures, you can buy a report here.)

Again, this is not just an issue of "rights" as much as we make it out to be.

THE SOLUTION OF THIS ISSUE

If I had a hard and fast solution, I'd gladly give it. I'd be the first one on the steps of congress to address it. I'd knock down the doors to the NRA to explain it. I'd travel to gun shows and churches, to town halls and peace rallies to proclaim it. But I don't have an easy answer, just a few thoughts/suggestions:

We can learn from other cultures.

  • Germany - To buy a gun, anyone under the age of 25 has to pass a psychiatric evaluation.
  • Finland - Handgun license applicants are only allowed to purchase firearms if they can prove they are active members of regulated shooting clubs. Before they can get a gun, applicants must pass an aptitude test, submit to a police interview, and show they have a proper gun storage unit.
  • Italy - To secure a gun permit, one must establish a genuine reason to possess a firearm and pass a background check considering both criminal and mental health records.
  • France - Firearms applicants must have no criminal record and pass a background check that considers the reason for the gun purchase and evaluates the criminal, mental, and health records of the applicant.

We can listen to the words of victims.

  • Sit down and have a conversation with victims of gun violence - family members, friends, communities affected, etc.
  • Hear their stories and suggestions, and honor their pain.

We can continue to commission non-partisan, outside-the-country studies.

At the end of the day, it is time ... past time ... to do something. Learning, considering, listening, and commissioning are all great, but we MUST ACT.

THE PUSHBACK ON THIS ISSUE (especially this week)

By now many of you are already writing this post off as either not enough or too much. Some are already thinking:

"Not enough because change has to happen now! Michael, you must be a gun-loving, right wing 2nd Amendment hick!"

Or ...

"Too much because nothing would have stopped Stephen Paddock from doing what he did, he was a psychopath that no rules/laws would have stopped! Michael, you must be tree-hugging, left wing, Hilary loving extremist!"

The truth is neither side can put me into a box that small.

I'll tell you what I am ...

  • I'm tired of waking up and feeling the way I did on October 2 when my wife said, "More than 50 people were shot in Las Vegas last night."
  • I'm tired of writing sermons and having to preach on Sundays about finding peace in the midst of senseless violence.
  • I'm tired of listening to the left protect their side of the aisle and the right protect their's in the name of "democracy" and "freedom" instead of sitting down in the middle to figure out a solution.
  • I'm tired of lobby groups like the NRA fighting for the money of gun manufacturers instead of the lives of people.
  • I'm tired of reading everyone's rants on Facebook instead of having a meaningful face-to-face conversation with someone you disagree with.
  • But most of all, I'm sick and tired of seeing people die.

THE FIRST STEP

Admittedly, I'm going to say this and everyone will see all of the issues listed above come into play. They say the first step is always the hardest, but here it is:

We must be able to sit down at a table and have a civil, honest, productive conversation centering on what's important.

The most important issues are NOT money, fear, or politics, in fact the only issues that should be central to this discussion are life and peace.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
- The Declaration of Independence

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
- The Constitution of the United States of America.

It seems to me that the pursuit of rights, the pursuit of money, and the pursuit of power and control have superseded the stated unalienable right of life and the purpose of the U.S. Constitution to insure domestic peace to the point that we can't even sit down and have a civil conversation about what's best for the citizens of this country.

The point is, it's time to start talking about what happens next, either we make societal changes on gun control, or we wake up to another bloody day. So ... to that end ... here are a few of my thoughts on common sense gun control. If you don't want to hear my thoughts on gun control, that's ok, feel free to stop reading now, but at least consider what's been said to this point.

 

MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS

For the record ... I'm a gun owner, and I don't want to see my "right to bear arms" stripped away. That being said, gun owners can not sit out of this conversation citing their right to bear arms over the value of life. Our nation's gun laws need to be rewritten to protect people AND to protect the very right their afraid of losing.

In my honest and humble opinion, we need better common sense gun laws such as:

  1. A nationalized gun policy.
  2. A national gun license registry.
  3. Better/Deeper background checks, including criminal record checks, mental health/psychiatric checks, and an in person interview with law enforcement.
  4. A qualified, express reason for gun possession.
  5. The passing of a certified aptitude test.
  6. Proof of approved firearm storage.
  7. The outright banning of all automatic weapons for non-active military citizens.
  8. The outright banning of all conversion kits transforming any weapon to automatic status.

These are just a few points/thoughts as I'm sure there are and will be many more suggestions made.

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10 Thoughts on Being a Good Dad

In a few weeks my oldest daughter, Avery, turns 18. 18!! She'll be off to college this fall and I'm blown away by the young woman she has become.

My youngest turns 13 in less than two weeks and will be finishing her last year of middle school. Sadie is full of spunk and fire and joy ... and hormones! She lights up my heart with laughter and joy.

Our adopted daughter, Summer, graduated college in December and is out on her own enjoying her season of life, somewhere between "having fun" and "adulting."

And Karrie and I just spent our fist week alone at our own house in more than 13 years. With both of our girls at camp this week, we realized that the last night we spent in our home together without either of our girls was before Sadie was born!

This year I've been spending a lot of time in reflection about a good many things: I turn 45 in September and I'm at the "halftime" of ministry, Karrie and I have been married for 22 years (together for 26), Summer has moved out and is thriving on her own after living with us for three years, Avery heading college, Sadie in high school (soon), my parents in retirement and the physical distance between us ... there is a lot going on in this bald head of mine!

As Father's Day approaches, I've been thinking a lot about how Karrie and I turned out the way we did, and how our girls are turning out. Over the years when I've asked my parents, "What did you guys do to turn out my brother and me?" their general answer is, "we don't know!" As Karrie and I have been asked about our girls, we tend to have the same response.

Parenting is many things - rewarding, challenging, difficult, joy-filled, infuriating, extraordinary, educational, reflective, revealing. There is no way I could describe it in a word, a sentence, or even a paragraph. To parent is to play the long game for decades, and the weight and privilege of it never ends. It is a treasure that grows in value every year, and a responsibility that changes by the minute.

So Dads, today I thought I'd give you a few pieces of advice as I reflect on being a dad. Believe me, I don't have all the answers, and I've screwed many of these up more than I get them right (ask my girls), but I hope that this Father's Day these thoughts/suggestions will encourage you. Here is a list of 10 Thoughts on Being a Good Dad:

LISTEN
Yeah, right out of the gate I'm going to hit you where it hurts. We aren't great listeners. Most dads (men) are fixers. We want to solve stuff and fix stuff and provide stuff. There will be opportunities and time for that, but most of the time our kids just want us to listen to them. JUST LISTEN. Don't interrupt, don't make suggestions, and don't try to fix the situation ... OR your kids. Just. Listen.

PREPARE
This is the one I think my daughters would say I struggle with the most. As a pastor/teacher/leader, I see everything as a "teachable moment." After a movie - "what did you learn?" After a failure - "what did you learn?" After a success - "what did you learn!" Sometimes I'm a bit obsessed with it, to be honest. Often the best way to prepare a child IS to teach them and train them. In fact there will be thousands of opportunities to teach/train your kids. But often it is more about preparing their hearts instead of teaching their minds. Don't miss out on the chances to "walk them through life" instead of "lecturing them through class."

ENCOURAGE
Have you ever had someone come into your office/room/space and in an attempt to encourage you, try to change you? You know, "Man, that was a great presentation, right on the money ... next time you should try ..." Or how about this one: "You are so good at (blank) ... know what would make you even better?" What is it about us that makes us always have to add our opinions or expertise? Let me encourage you with your kids ... sometimes they just need an "atta boy" or "atta girl" ... and that's it. They don't want or need your expertise, they just need your encouragement. 

BE PRESENT
Seriously ... if I see one more dad (or parent) at a dinner table or sitting in the stands at a game ON THEIR FREAKING PHONE ... for the love of all that is good ... Dads, more than anything - MORE - THAN - ANYTHING - your kids wants YOU. Your attention. Your focus. Your presence. They don't want you to show up, they want you to BE THERE.

PARENT
This one is HUGE. Be a parent, not a friend. I know what most of you are going to say - I can be both. Let me be honest with you - no you can't.

When your kids are little be an authority. Set boundaries. Establish consequences. Discipline them. They need you to teach them. And don't explain it to them or reason with them. Your three year old doesn't need to know why you don't want them to do something. Now, that changes by eight or nine, and certainly by 13 or 15. You will parent differently then. You will do a lot of explaining and walking through life with them ... but not as equals. They still need you to be a parent. Love is always there, ALWAYS, but friendship comes on the backside of parenting. It is a natural progression of parenting.

I know you want your kid to accept you and appreciate you and call you a "friend," but don't lose sight of the long game. Every athlete wants to be a Hall of Famer, but they have to start out as a rookie. Be a parent first ... friendship will come.

LOVE THEIR MOTHER
From personal experience, the best way I know how to be a good father to my girls is by loving their mother the best I can. If you are the father of boys, be the model for your sons to learn from; if you're the father of girls, be the example for them to look for. And yes, this is true even if you aren't married to her any more. As the son of divorced parents I can attest to how important it was (and is) that my parents still love and respect each other even though they are no longer married. I can also tell you how vitally important that integrity has been for my daughters ... their granddaughters.

ASK FOR HELP
Seriously ... you won't ever figure this out on your own. Ever. You need help, and you should take all the help you can get! Don't be a stubborn ... guy. Bury your pride, find someone who has been through this before, and ask them for help.

PRAY OFTEN
Yeah, I'm going to bring faith into this ... Along the same lines of "ask for help," you're likely going to need a lot of divine intervention! I cry out to God all the time about almost everything. The craziest thing to me about being a Dad is that it has made me closer to my Heavenly Father. I better understand how He loves me because of the way I love my girls ... and I'm forever grateful that Karrie and I don't have to do this alone.

STAY HUMBLE
Yeah, you're going to screw up ... a lot. And not little screw ups either. You're going to make some HUGE, COLOSSAL, mistakes. Suck it up Big Guy, stay humble, and ...

NEVER QUIT
Even when you want to. Even when you feel like your kids have quit on you. Even when you don't know what else to do. DO. NOT. QUIT. There will always be hard days - impossible days - but somehow, tomorrow will come. There will always be difficult seasons - unbearable stretches that seem to never end - but as Karrie and I were told many times as early on in parenting, "this too shall pass." You are playing the long game; see it through.

And one bonus thought ...

ENJOY THE RIDE
It may sound cheesy, but I mean it with everything in me - there is nothing more heartwarming, more challenging, or more wonderful than being called "Daddy." My girls still call me that at almost 18 and almost 13.

Daddy.

Someday it may change to "Grandpa" or "Pop," but I will always cherish being called "Daddy" the most.

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Do You Love Me

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It’s early! I woke up this morning at 4:30 and couldn’t sleep. It’s a Friday, my day off, come on! It’s been a loooooong time since God stirred me awake in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s just been a long time since I’ve been paying attention ... So what is this all about? Believe me, there are a million things rolling around in my head right now; this morning I was challenged by one simple, four word question that God was whispering into my heart ...

DO YOU LOVE ME?

I know it isn’t original, but it has been challenging. I sat up in bed for a while and asked if I could go back to sleep I must have seemed to God like a child begging for his pacifier and crib! I slowly got up, went to the bathroom (which is happening more often at 44!), and then sat on the edge of the bed asking ... arguing ... about what was going on in my heart/head. Then I heard the question.

“Of course I do, can I go back to sleep now?”

“No Michael, do you LOVE me?”

“Yeah, I heard the question ... I love you ... sleep now?”

“Michael ... if you love me ... then ...”

“Yeah, yeah, I know this one, I’ve heard it before. I’m a pastor, blah, blah, blah, feed my sheep. Can I please go back to sleep now?”

“Michael ... if you love me ... STOP IT.”

Now I’m going to be honest, that’s when I started to realized I probably wasn’t going back to bed. “If you love me, stop it.” Stop what? Questioning? Whining? Doubting? Trying to figure it out on my own? What? Stop what?

“Sinning.”

Yeah, I’m not going back to bed ... but I certainly didn’t want to get up either.

"Isaiah 53"

“What? Yeah, I know Isaiah 53 ... you want me to read it? I’ll just quote it to you, then can I go back to bed? Seriously God, I’ll wake Karrie up ... I have to be up at 7:00 anyway ... I’ll get hungry ... I’ll get distracted ...” (At this point it wasn’t about getting up, it was about not wanting to deal with this.)

“Do. You. Love. Me?”

So a few minutes later I was dressed and upstairs, Bible, highlighter and pen, and iPhone in hand. (Quiet time needs a soundtrack, right?!) When I got to the top of the stairs I started to turn right into our “big room” to sit on the couch, but God directed me to the left, our guest bedroom. We have a desk in that room with a hard wooden chair. 8 years I’ve lived in this house and I’ve only thought of that desk and chair as an accessory for guests ... today God transformed it into my prayer closet.

I sat down and hit Spotify on the phone, pulling up a worship list and started in on Isaiah 53. Then I realized the worship music was distracting me! Was it the lyrics? The pounding beats? The airy voicing? I was a worship leader and/or pastor for the better part of 17 years, I LOVE worship music. But today it seemed to add to the cacophony of distractions. I changed the list to an instrumental/piano only list of hymns. That’s better.

At first I was struck by a phrase I hadn’t really thought much about, “like a root in dry ground.” What does it require for something to take root in dry ground? Water ... nourishment ... attention ... the right kind of tree or plant. Then back to the front of the passage, “My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence ...”

“Yes Lord, it has been a long time ..."

"Do you love me?"

“Nothing beautiful or majestic about him ... nothing attractive ... he was despised and rejected ... sorrows ... deepest grief ... despised ... rejected ... we turned our back on him ... have strayed away ..."

"If you love me, stop it."

I kept reading wherever He decided to take me in the book of Isaiah. 52. 43. 40-42. 54. 55

So many wonderful, powerful verses. Seriously, if you just start in Isaiah 40 and read the above chapters you’ll hear a dozen or so verses that you know. Eventually a theme emerged to me. It looked like this:

  • There is no one like Me.
  • You’ve disobeyed Me.
  • I’m setting you free.
  • It’s time.

I don’t want to get too “high and mighty” here, but sometimes pastors struggle differently from non-pastors when it comes to sin. At least I do. It goes something like this:

God, I know I’m a sinner, but I’m very busy helping other sinners with their sins, so will you just go ahead and hear my generic, very practically based, almost a real confession? And while you’re at it, since I’m investing all my energy in helping build your church, confession will have to cover repentance too ... I’ll get to that when I have time, you know, later.

If you’re reading this as a member Live Oak you’re probably considering a church transfer right now ...

This isn’t just a pastor’s struggle, it’s likely everyone’s struggle, they just substitute a different excuse for not wanting to address the sin in their life. But this morning, there was no escaping it.

”Michael, if you love me, stop it."

“Yes, Father.”

The old hymn, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” just came on Spotify. Perfect ... as if I didn’t feel convicted enough. Then I remember the theme in the scriptures I listed, and what is really important about it. What’s most important about it:

“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless ... those who trust in the Lord will find new strength ... Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen you and hep you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand ... I have ransomed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you go through deep waters I will be with you ... For I am the Lord your God, your Savior ... I - yes, I alone - will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again ... Get out and leave your captivity, where everything you touch is unclean ... for the Lord will go ahead of you; yes the God of Israel will protect you from behind ... He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed ... Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways ... let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them ... for he will forgive generously.”

There is a lot of great stuff in there for me to process today, but here’s what I’m taking to heart. My Father woke me up this morning with a question, “Do you love me,” and a challenge, “Stop it,” but that’s not what he wanted to say to me. I believe the question and the challenge where to humble me enough to remind me one truth I definitely needed this morning:

Michael. You. Are. Mine

This morning be encouraged. No matter how deep the waters of your struggles go, no matter how crushing the weight of your sin feels, no matter who hopeless your situation seems,

You, my friend, are not alone.

So there it is. Just a not so gentle reminder to love God with your best and to always remember that you are not alone.

“Father ... can I go back to bed now?”

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4 Things to Know Before You Vote

With the election less than one week away I'm sure the last thing you want to read about is more election stuff! I understand. You're probably questioning why you should even take the time to read this blog post. I hope you will; I believe there is something in this post for everyone.

First, let me set the record straight on something. Throughout this election year I have stated often that you do not have to vote. I've written that in Facebook and Twitter posts and I've said it from the stage at Live Oak Christian Church. My motivation behind this thought is simple: voting is not a moral imperative. In other words, it is not a sin to abstain from voting. In fact, not only is it not a sin, it's your right as an American to not vote. I stand by this thought from a scriptural perspective and have repeated it out of frustration over those who have said otherwise. To suggest that as Americans we should vote is absolutely correct; to state that as Christians we are morally required to vote is, in my opinion, extra-biblical. All that being said, I DO BELIEVE IT IS YOUR CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY to vote. Just because you can choose not to do something doesn't mean you should choose not to do it.

With that out of the way, here are a few general thoughts/suggestions I'd like to put forth:

KNOW YOUR VOICE

You're vote is your voice, use it. In fact, as I've said before, if you keep your voice quiet on Election Day, you should keep your mouth shut for the next 4 years. Candidates are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to convince you to add your voice to their campaign. You and I have a voice that the United States Constitution guarantees, and throughout our history the right to vote has been fought for, clarified, and expanded through the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments. Candidates, political action committees, and super PACS are falling all over themselves for your voice, vying for YOUR VOTE - make it count.

KNOW YOUR VALUE

And this is where I'm likely to lose some of you. I have made it known that it is my intention to vote for a third party candidate. The response to that decision has been a mixture of disappointment, frustration, and flat out disbelief. I've been told that I'm naive, ignorant, and wasteful. I COULD NOT DISAGREE MORE.

Let me be clear about this: THIS IS MY VOTE. It is not YOUR vote. You can vote for whomever you'd like - that's the beauty of our democracy. And the power of the whole deal is this: my vote counts exactly the same as yours. I get one vote, and so do you, and we BOTH get to let our voices be heard by casting our votes. It is this principle that men and women have died for throughout history, and it is what makes America what it is, the greatest nation on planet Earth.

KNOW YOUR STUFF

One argument during this election that runs through me is the assertion that because I am not voting for one of the candidates from our two party political system I am simply casting a vote for the opposition. "A vote for a third party candidate is a vote for Hillary," or, "A vote for a third party candidate is a vote for Trump." The irony is both sides are saying the same thing! Actually my vote for a third party candidate is a vote for SOMEONE ELSE!

I know that third party candidates generally haven't had an impact on a general election since Ross Perot in 1992 (Reform Party) or Teddy Roosevelt (Progressive Party) in 1912, but that isn't the point. The point is that an alternative candidate can run and I can vote for them. While third parties have not had impacts on election outcomes, they have made an impact on the policies of the two existing parties. They have often served to refocus the two major political parties stance or view on issues that have been ignored or shifted in the parties' platforms.

I get it, there is a lot riding on this election, there is ALWAYS a lot riding on the election. I don't need the lecture about the Supreme Court Justices. I know what's going on. I understand the historical context and impending impact on the immediate future with regard to social issues and even constitutional interpretation. I don't need an update on the policies and platforms of the Democratic or Republican parties. Democrats are going to pull to the "left;" Republicans are going to pull to the "right." Progressive taxation versus flat taxes. Higher minimum wages vs. free market wage determination. Communal/social responsibilities versus individual rights and justice. Pro gay marriage versus anti gay marriage. Pro Roe V. Wade versus anti Roe V. Wade. Moratorium on immigration/deportation versus anti-amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Harry Reid versus Mitch McConnell. Blue versus red. Donkey versus Elephant!

Here's my point on this: next week when you vote, you may be naive, you may be an idealist, you may be a hardline party guy/girl ... but don't be ignorant. Know your stuff.

KNOW YOUR MOTIVATION

One last thought. Know WHAT you're voting for. I've heard arguments over the last several weeks about voting for morals versus voting for policies. I've read articles and subsequent comments deriding people who are going to "vote their conscience." It isn't enough to go to the polls and vote because you should, nor do I believe it is right to vote for what everyone else tells you to vote for. For me this means voting for more than a person or a policy, it's feeling comfortable with both. It's being able to lay my head on my pillow the night of November 8 at peace with how I used my voice ... with why I voted.

I'm voting because I can.
I'm voting because I should.
I'm voting because my candidate embodies my beliefs and I believe in them.
I'm voting because in the grand scheme of things I believe it matters.

In the middle of all the attention-grabbing headlines, accusatory breaking news, and campaign mud slinging, when you don't know what to think and aren't sure what to trust, know all you can and trust what you know ... and on November 8 pray before you "pull the lever."

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