Tuesday, September 16, 2014

No Time for God

Fall is among us in full swing!  How is your schedule looking these days?  My guess is it is full, really full.  It seems to me we shuttle our children from event to event at a ragged pace.  Why do we do this?  At what cost do we do this?  Is it really worth it?  These questions have been tinkering around my mind for some time now as I look around me and see the crazy pace of parents hauling their children from one even to another.    Please don’t take this as me judging you, or anyone for that matter; this is really just my pondering the issue of extra curricular activities as it relates to my family's relationship with God.

This summer our small group Bible study explored the book of Joshua.  We came to this verse at the end of Joshua, just as summer was coming to a close, “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, chose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods of which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods to the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).  This verse really struck a cord with me as it related to sports and the craziness of our schedules today.  I can’t help but think that the mad dash of life leads us away from God and towards the things of this world.  I really want to give God priority in our home and I fear that small pulls will lead me astray.

Growing up there was never any conflict between sports and church because I wasn’t in church.  That made things easy.  Now, I’m a Christian and church is important to me.  It is a priority for my family and me.  Yes, I am a pastor, but that’s not why I go to church—if I ever reach the place where I’m going to church because I’m a pastor, I’ve got some big problems.  I love church. I’m committed to worshiping, serving, and being a part of my local church because I’m a Christian.  I doubt it’s exclusive to Southern California, but with our great weather there is a great pulling of people toward all sorts of events.  It seems to me there are many Christian children absent from church on Sunday regularly because of commitments to athletic teams of all sorts.

Really, I’m not being legalistic at all in this.  I’m simply wrestling through questions and concerns that I have.  Is it okay to ever miss church?  Sure, of course there are times.   Will a sports commitment take priority over my commitment to church?  I’m feeling more and more convicted that I need to respond, “No.”  

Maybe this post is more for research.  These are questions I’ve been struggling with:  Can my kids participate in sports without having to decide between the sport and going to church?  What happens to kids who don’t participate on Sundays?  If I encourage my child that it is okay to participate in a sport that requires them to ditch church on Sundays, am I demonstrating to them that sports are more important than church?

I’m curious how other Christian parents handle these questions.  I don’t think there are easy answers, but I’m starting to think that without careful thought, it is easy to get sucked into this vortex.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Statue of Liberty, A Thing of the Past?

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed the topic of immigration has resurfaced again through a variety of streams.  There seems to be a new sort of harshness in the voices of many.  I’m conflicted about what to think about the situation and a little troubled by some of the things I’ve read by American Christians.  I don’t want to repeat a blog I wrote about a year ago titled Misericordia Por Favor, which is translated “Mercy Please” in English, but I can’t help but to resurface this discussion.

It strikes me as sort of funny that I’m thinking about this on July 3, the day before we celebrate the founding of our nation and as I’m preparing to teach on the letter of First Peter which carries the theme of living as aliens throughout it’s entirety.  How should Christians respond to these children that our government is trying to handle?  To be honest, I’m not sure that I know the answer.

I guard myself from getting political.  We as Christians are called to submit to our authorities.  Thankfully in the USA, that means we are encouraged to vote and voice our concerns to our representatives.  I’m not sure of all the facts, but it seems something politically was said, or done, that is encouraging people to send their children hundreds, really thousands of miles, alone to enter the USA.  Is it okay to respond to our leaders about this situation?  Sure, I really don’t see a problem with that as a Christian.

However, as a Christian, as an American, I have concerns for how these people are being treated by my fellow countrymen.  I have never been in a situation where I have wanted to flee from my homeland.  I can’t even begin imagine that I would ever load up my four children and send them to another country without me.  Take a moment to ponder how bad the situation would have to be for you as a parent to think sending your children away, possibly never to see them again, to another country by themselves because there was hope of a better life.  I can’t ever imagine being in this place.  It makes me sick to my stomach just pondering being in a position where this would be the best option for my family.

Are you aware of the quote on the Statue of Liberty?  I believe it’s a good word for us to ponder as Americans.  The quote reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  Is this still true of our nation, or is it time to remove the quote?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Guest Post: Memorial Day

Today I welcome Debbie Lee, mother of Marc Lee (KIA, August 2, 2006), to share her thoughts on Memorial Day. Marc was a teammate of mine and I'm thankful for Debbie's faith through this journey. May we each pray for her and the other Gold Star Moms. 

Memorial Day Remembering Their Sacrifices, by Debbie Lee

As a Mother of a hero who willingly gave his life in combat, Memorial Day has taken on an entirely different meaning. My son Marc Alan Lee was the first Navy SEAL killed in Iraq 8-2-06. Three times that day he stood up into the direct line of fire and willingly gave his life defending his teammates and our freedoms.

Marc understood that there was a price for our freedom and like so many others before him, was willing to go into battle to keep America free. 

Memorial Day is set aside to remember those brave warriors who while defending us, lost their lives in combat. 

We have over 600,000 men and women who have died in combat since WWI. 600,000 Gold Star families and Brothers at arms, who have buried a loved one and to whom every day is/was Memorial Day.

You can imagine the pain and frustration to the friends and families of these fallen heroes when the majority of Americans are clueless as to the real meaning of Memorial Day. Our loved ones gave their final breath so that you could enjoy all of the freedoms and blessings that you have in America. All we ask is that as a nation we come together this weekend and acknowledge, honor and remember our heroes.

I have been on a campaign for years trying to educate people about the history and meaning of Memorial Day what it is and what it is not! It is not a time to "Celebrate Memorial day", it is not "Happy Memorial Day."  I am sure that ignorance plays a part in the party mentality of the 3-day weekend. We see major advertising about big "blow out" sales, advertisements to "kick off your summer", prepare for the big bar-b-ques and camping trips and parades. Many families know it marks the end of the school year and the community pools will be opening.

I was part of that ignorant group for years. I wasn't taught the real meaning of Memorial Day. Oh we visited a few graves through the years and placed flowers on the graves of family members who had died in child-birth, from sickness and different causes. Most of the time it was just a family gathering with picnics and bar-b ques enjoying all of the freedoms that we have but not reflecting on those who paid the ultimate price so we could enjoy them. I was not taught, and I am sorry for the opportunities that were missed to honor our fallen, and focus on the sacrifices made for me.

Often times people mistakenly recognize and thank all of those who have served. Veterans Day is the National Holiday when we do that. I've dedicated my life to honoring and thanking our troops 24/7 364 days of the year, but Memorial Day is for those who died in war.

Tradition used to be that businesses closed on Memorial Day and flew their flags at half staff to remember our war dead, what a switch from today, where it has turned into a major money making weekend.

After the civil war ended Maj General Logan established Decoration Day and spoke these words. : "We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic." 

Have we as a nation forgotten the cost? Will you help me put Memorial back in Memorial Day?

Please plan your weekend to remember those heroes who gave everything for you. I'm not asking you not to have a bar-b-que, picnic or gatherings with families or to walk around with sullen faces the entire weekend. Our loved ones sacrificed so you could enjoy those freedoms, but there should be somber moments when we focus on the cost that was paid.

As you gather take advantage of that time together and take a few moments to share the story of a fallen hero, remind others what the real meaning of Memorial Day is about. Tell your children and grandchildren about these brave heroes who paid the price for them to enjoy this day, take them to a National Cemetery and place flowers on graves or stop and honor them. Attend a ceremony or memorial, watch a video or TV program about our fallen, read a story, find a Gold Star family near you and let them know you will never forget. If you know other Veterans ask them if they've lost a teammate and maybe they will tell you about them. Pray for the families of the fallen.

Technology has changed our world and it is so easy to find the History of Memorial Day, read about heroes, and reach out and honor and remember our fallen and their families. It is also a great way to remind your friends the real meaning of Memorial Day, use that tool to educate others and honor our fallen heroes who are America's National Treasures.
While we look back and remember our fallen heroes this weekend, we focus forward and live our lives worthy of the sacrifice they made for you, for me and for America, "the land of the free, because of the brave."

Debbie Lee and son,
Marc A. Lee
First Navy SEAL KIA in Iraq
Aug 2, 2006

Thursday, March 20, 2014

God's Wonderful Provision!

I’m a few weeks out from celebrating my anniversary of coming to Valley Baptist Church.  May 20, 2014 marks the completion of 7 years of serving Christ at this wonderful church.  I’m simply in awe of what God has done during my time here.  This isn’t a blog to talk about church numbers to build up my resume or self-esteem.  The reality is, I know how little I’ve done and how God has been the master orchestrator behind the restart of this wonderful church.

God’s provision over the years is highlighted through my present circumstances.  In a recent blog,  Thankfulness Revived”, I shared about almost losing my wife and child during the delivery.  I mentioned that there were a number of things I was processing concerning God’s faithfulness to me.  I’d like to share about His provision to us through this trial.

As my wife came out of recovery from surgery, we slowly learned how close to dying she and the baby came.  From the very beginning the doctors were very firm about how long the recovery would take.  Six weeks was an optimistic timeline, but they were very clear that I needed to be there for her and the family for the duration or complications from the surgery and blood loss would develop.  Without hesitation, I assured her that I would take a break from everything to focus on her and the family.  No preaching, no counseling, nothing but focusing on my family during this time.  Okay, clearly I’m not six weeks out yet, but I’m at home with my two-year old son nipping at my heels as I type this so hopefully you get the heart of what I’m saying.  Oh, and I may have slipped out under the cloak of darkness to spend some time with the K-9 Unit of EPD a few weeks ago while my mother-in-law was over...I guess this is my confession.

I haven’t preached since February 16 and I won’t return to the pulpit of Valley Baptist until the first Sunday in April.  Yes, not preaching is killing me, but I’ve always said my family is my priority and I mean it.  What I’m trying to say is that the reason I can do this is through God’s provision and timing.  For the last 7 years I’ve worked hard.  I’m not complaining at all, I love my calling, but it’s very normal for me to put in 60+ hours a week in ministry.  My family loves serving the Lord and we’ve learn to balance family and ministry in a way that works for us.  Between my working from home (in large part) and home schooling the kids we’ve learned to balance time with each other and the heavy workload of my calling, but this isn’t really relevant to this post.

Getting back to the point.  Back in the hospital room, when I told my wife, “Everything is going to be fine.  I’ll take the next six weeks off to minister to you” tears filled my eyes.  Yes, I was worried about my wife, but even more so, I was thankful to God for His provision that made my ability to say this to my wife truthfully.  I truly could take this time off for God had provided the help I needed in order to care for my family.

Throughout the restarting process, God has faithfully sent the right people at the right time.  Too many to list so I won’t even try.  A few years ago, I started to feel like I was stretching way too thin.  Things were slipping through the cracks.  As a pastor, “things slipping through the cracks” means people had shepherding needs, but I was failing to care for them as I feel they should be.  No one was criticizing me, complaining to me, or anything like that, but my heart for the sheep was deeply burdened.  I didn’t know how to solve this problem because I couldn’t give any more.   I decided to press on and pray, as I had no remedy in sight.  

Well, a little over a year ago God set the ball in motion to bring me help through the coming of Chaplain Ben, a Navy Chaplain who started attending Valley Baptist Church.  It wasn’t long before we hit it off.  We share a likeminded passion for the ministry and share the same philosophy for the church and how to care for people.  This doesn’t mean we see eye-to-eye on every theological point, but we are in total agreement for how to handle and apply our differences of theological positions.  It was a wonderful friendship that I would enjoy for as long as he was with us.  As a former Navy man, the one thing I’ve learned about Navy buddies is they move on.  This would be the case with Ben as well—or so I thought!

Word came that Ben would be getting out of the military and everything changed.  Long story short, we both came to the conclusion that God was calling him to serve at Valley Baptist Church as an associate pastor!  You know, if you asked me to describe the perfect associate pastor to serve with, I would have described Pastor Ben to you.  I don’t say this lightly.  We agree about how ministry should be done and we have complimentary gifting.  He was a chaplain in the Navy and in many respects, Valley Baptist Church needed a chaplain-like pastor to help stop people’s needs from slipping through the cracks.

Now, fast forward to February 2014.  Pastor Ben was essentially out of the Navy and we began planning what this partnership would look like.  We spent hour’s together working through our roles and responsibilities.  I believe we both felt comfortable with the new dynamic and we planned to introduce him formally on March 2 and he would preach for the next three weeks so I could focus on my family with the coming of the baby on March 7, you know, the due date.  Have you heard that saying from Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps”?  That was sure applicable here because my plan wasn’t inline with God’s plan at all!

Please don’t miss my sarcasm, but wouldn’t you guess that God’s plan is way better than my plan?  What better way for Pastor Ben to figure out the ropes at Valley Baptist Church than to totally take me out of the equation?  This was a win-win situation for church.  Pastor Ben’s coming on staff completely freed me to care for my family.  He is so competent and capable to serve the body, which ultimately put me at ease to shut off my phone and email (for the most part) without worrying about the church.  Not having me around forced him to figure out every little detail concerning the church.

As I begin to come out of hibernation, I can’t help but to thank God for His ways.  They are so much better than my own.  I’m excited for the future of Valley Baptist Church and truly believe our pastor team is stronger than ever because of this personal crisis of my own.  I’m more excited than ever to see how God is going to move amongst us in the years to come!

Let me close by saying “Thank you.”  I’m thankful to God for His provision.  I’m thankful for the people of Valley Baptist Church who recognize and support my priority of caring for my family.  It means so much to me.  In being free to minister to my family during their time of need, I will be able to minister at Valley Baptist Church for the long haul.  Your love and support mean more than I can adequately express.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thankfulness Revived

I haven’t blogged in a while.  Life’s been a little crazy to say the least.  God’s been working on me, but I’m not sure how to articulate things at this point.  I’m sure thoughts will mature over the course of my life.  First, and foremost, I thank the Lord for His continual blessings upon me.  I don’t deserve them.  None of us do. 

Almost a month ago, my wife and I welcomed our fourth child into our family.  We are thankful.  However, nothing was normal concerning the arrival of this sweet boy.  The above picture is of my wife and son in recovery following emergency caesarean section delivery (for the record, the term “emergency C-section” is used far too often, but in this case it truly was).  I have had a number of doctors look at me after his birth and ask me, “Do you know how lucky you are that they are both alive?”  I was told that I came 1-4 minutes from losing them both.  This is sobering.

I’ll be processing this last month for a while, but one thing that I’ve been pondering is worship.  Everything went well with our near miss.  Seriously, a number of things had to go the way they did for us to have this happy ending.  The word “miracle” has been used often surrounding the birth of my son.  I’ve been praising God for His provision in sparing my wife and son.  I mean this sincerely, as you can imagine.

Yes, I continue to praise the Lord through the positive circumstances of these scary events, but what if things went differently?  I know I can’t really answer that question from a speculative position, however, this question percolates in my thoughts repeatedly.  Had my wife and son both died, would I worship God just the same?  Obviously, I hope that I would.  Well, I doubt the same, but I hope I’d be worshiping Him respectively if that makes sense.  I should love God because He loved me and saved me through Christ, not conditionally based on “good things” that happen to me in this life.  My life, death, and eternity are His.  He is worthy of my worship because He is my Creator.  Job’s words seem particularly relevant to me now, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  I am thankful they were spared, but that doesn’t imply my worship of Him is contingent on things going well.

Another thought that has been circulating my thoughts is the question, “How often does God spare me each day and I don’t even notice?”  God’s protection with the birth of my son was pretty spectacular.  It’s easy to give Him thanks for His protection in this very clear sparing of life that was almost lost.  But what about the accidents I don’t get in while driving down the freeway, or not hitting that car while backing out of my spot at Costco, or whatever that accident was that I didn’t have and didn’t even notice?  I’m pretty sure that I should be thankful for all the non-eventful things I have each day. 

We each have so much to be thankful for, but shamefully our focus is grumbling about petty rather insignificant things in the grand scheme of life.  I’m a master at this.  I might not verbalize my complaints, but they’re there loud and clear in the recesses of my heart.  I’d like to say, “Not anymore!” But, I know me all too well.  I will say that my desire and ambition is to work on being more thankful and appreciative for the little things in my life from deep within my heart on a daily basis.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Santa Claus and Christians

How should Christians handle Santa Claus?  Answering this question could start a fight…which I have no intention of doing.  I’m certain that your personal background shapes how you answer this question. 

Personally, I really enjoy Christmas.  There are a lot of things I like about Christmas that really have little to do with Christmas Day.  I love Christmas Carols.  I’m not too embarrassed to admit that I look forward to rocking out to Elvis’ Blue Christmas for most of the year.  I love seeing colorful Christmas lights everywhere—the more the merrier!  I love decorating the Christmas tree.  I love seeing the lights on the tree.  Who doesn’t love seeing gifts under the tree?  I love my family’s tradition of Christmas Eve dinner, the opening of one Christmas gift, going to our church’s Christmas Eve Service, and ending the night by watching Elf (yes, you read that right).  I love the laughter and joy this season brings.

I share the previous paragraph with you so you know that I really do like this holiday.  I’m not opposed to having fun through imagination.  I’m not bunkered down teaching my kids that “Santa is just Satan spelled differently.”  However, I am very careful with how we’ve handled the issue of Santa Clause with our children and with my teaching at the church.

I love the imagination and creativity that God has given us.  I’m not looking for a history lesson on the origin of Santa Claus—I’ve already checked out his Wikipedia entry.  I’m fine with telling stories and having fun with creativity.  However, I don’t understand when parents push the line from fantasy or imagination to reality and outright deceit to their children.  I know, I know, that sounds really harsh.  I need to lighten up, right?

Have fun with your imagination.  I’m all for imagination.  I’m not suggesting that Santa can’t be a part of the Christian’s holiday plans.  God gave us creativity and imagination.  Use it, have fun with it.  Children have a special connection to the make believe that I wish I were better at reconnecting with as an adult.  I love that my kids help me tap into my inner child—my wife may not be as thrilled with this as I am.  Just leave Santa here.

Protect your children’s trust.  I have never lied to my kids about Santa.  They have always known that he is make believe, just like the tooth fairy, and any other make believe people.  I will not intentionally deceive my children for a number of reasons, but I want them to know that they can trust me no matter what.  There is nothing greater than anyone’s trust, especially your children’s.  Why would we jeopardize this trust by pitching something as truth when we ourselves know it’s just in fun?

Why this matters to me?  I’m a Christian.  Meaning, I have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe through Jesus Christ my Lord.  I didn’t come to know Christ until I was an adult and when I did, I came to understand the overwhelming historical evidence concerning His prophetic coming, His life, death, and resurrection.   In hindsight, I see that during my youth, I’d begun to lump Jesus with Santa Claus, the Boogey Man, and Tooth Fairy.  Jesus has nothing to do with fairy tales and I want no part in deceiving my children or confusing them about who Jesus is.  This is ultimately why I take the matter of Santa so seriously in my home.  We can get our pictures taken with Santa, threaten coal for gifts if they’re naughty, but let your kids know that it is all make believe.

For the skeptics out there, I encourage you to really investigate the gospel.  My prayer is that this would be the greatest Christmas of your life.  Jesus came and died for you so that you might find life in Him.  This grace of God is indescribable and is truly the greatest gift one can receive.  Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Thankful Heart Leads to Kindness

So it’s Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  I am hanging out down by the beach with my family.  It’s raining this morning and we decided that we would make a journey down the street to the Longboarder Café.  It’s a newer place with surf videos on the T.V.’s and great food.   I really like the atmosphere. 

We were half drenched with smiles on our faces, laughing, and just enjoying one another as we sloshed our way into the cafe.  We splurged and let the kids get hot chocolates and French toast.  The coffee was nice and hot and the picture of my family before me warmed my soul.  I was feeling particularly blessed and overflowing with thankfulness to God for my family.

Just about this time, three young Marines walked in the door.  I must be getting old because these Marines looked like little kids to me.  They weren’t in uniform, but Marines are easy to spot.  These three seemed a more polite and a dressed a little more respectfully than your typical 18-22 year old male.  As I was observing them, I suddenly had a flood of memories of being a young kid in the military being away from my home where friends and family are.  These times of loneliness are hard to explain, but those who have been there, know exactly what I'm saying.  I know these three guys are buddies and will be for life, but there is something about these holiday weekends that makes you yearn for home.

This morning I was reminded of the sacrifice many young men and women are making today around the world as they celebrate Thanksgiving alone.  I don’t have access to all of them, but I had these three right in front of me.   As they sat down, I looked towards my wife and said, “I think we should pay for their breakfast.”  She agreed.  As the waiter came and took our order, I told him that I would like to pay the bill for the three men across the way.  He looked a little surprised and said, “Really?”  I nodded and he walked away thinking that was really cool.

When we finished eating the waiter came with our tab and double-checked that we still wanted to pay their bill.  He then asked if I wanted to send them a message.  I said, “Just tell them we are thankful for their service.”  I was trying to figure the tip when all three of the Marines walked up to our table, looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and said, “Thank you.  That’s really cool.  It means a lot.”  I just thanked them and held back all my Navy banter.

Walking home my oldest daughter asked me why the guys came up to us.  I shared with her how the Bible says it’s better to give than to receive.  We talked about how these young guys were away from the family for Thanksgiving because they are protecting us.  I shared with her that God had blessed us and we were thankful for their service so we bought their breakfast to express our gratitude.  She thought that was really cool.

I encourage you to look for opportunities that you can express a random act of kindness.  You think you are blessing the other person, but I guarantee you will walk away super blessed!