Mask mandates, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

Tonight life changed again. Many families were excited by the news, many were upset. Mask mandates changed in my county and you see both sides of the issue are either angry and calling it child abuse, others are relieved by the news saying finally someone cares about people. Knowing people on both sides of this argument I can tell you this post isn’t about the merits of wearing a mask or not wearing a mask. What I am struck by today is how the news today seems to have such strong response from everyone. My thought today is why do we always go to the extreme in our words about others.

Recently I have noticed more and more that we all seem to use language that attacks people in as strong a way as possible. If you don’t like masks you are murdering people and you don’t care about my loved one. If you are for masks you are a child abuser… We seem to want to go the extremes when it comes to attacking those on the other side of an argument. This isn’t just about masks. We attack people about race, politics, parenting styles, and faith. These days extreme language is everywhere. Maybe we need to rethink how we speak and comment to each other. Maybe sometimes we need to turn down the heat not escalate the situation.

I don’t know about you but for me recently I feel like words are just dividing us. Our anger towards others isn’t helping us have any sort of unity in the spirit. Yes we have things to talk about. Yes we can have passion for our point of view. Yes their is a right and a wrong. Just because someone sees the world differently doesn’t mean they are evil. That is a truth we all need to grapple with.

Maybe today as you go to bed angry about others views or mandates or something else, you should stop and avoid the name calling, the over simplification of the others points and listen, reflect and pray for those who see the world differently. Maybe tonight you will pray for that neighbor, friend or coworker who has said mean things to you and offer forgiveness either to them or in prayer. Maybe we can find the right words to speak with each other tomorrow. Maybe tonight we can turn the temperature on our conversations down a bit and find peace with each other.

I don’t know about you but I am ready for a world with less conflict. A world where people can use words to ask questions, understand, and hope together. Maybe for our kids we can show some restraint in see the good God is doing in others. Be passionate about your point of view but speak the truth in love for your neighbor.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:19-27 ESV

Lessons from the mission trip #2: Do you remember what real Christian community feels like?

Did you notice this year that you have been isolated from your faith community? How connected are you to faith in Jesus? Do you even remember what real community feels like?

Isolation was a real challenge this past year. For many of our young people, and even some of the adults, it has been months since they had been in a church or were part of a faith community. This past year has been hard on students and families. Between masks, quarantine, vaccines and questions about what it all means, many of us fell into isolation. Our faith walk was always meant to be done in community. For many of the students on this trip they had fallen away from faith and didn’t even notice

As I walked with students on this trip I was amazed at how many talked about how they had just gone through the motions of faith this past year. They watched worship, they maybe showed up once, but they were too focused on everything else going on. Life got in the way of their faith and its growth. It became so little a part of their life with others they didn’t realize they were missing that faith connection with others.

For many students on this trip realized they were missing real Christian community. For some it meant letting out emotions, pain and broken parts of their lives with others. For others is was sharing Christian community with others. This year really was a time for students to recognize what they were missing.

So how about you? How is your faith going? Are you just watching worship, or are you with other believers. Are you just sitting in the pew or are you actively trying to grow you faith. I believe that if we don’t maintain these relationships they die. I believe that in this time we can get so lost in the news, our world, and everything else, we know we are missing something but we aren’t even sure what we are missing until we happen to stumble upon it again. Today lets actively try to get back to it. Lets go to worship, get involved in a Bible study, find a Christian community to be involved in. This faith thing was not meant to be done in isolation but actively perusing our faith in Jesus together.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV

Lessons from a Mission trip: Everyone needs a site coach

Group Mission trips, over the years have taught me many lessons about my faith and life. I learn from students, adults, and staff that I get the pleasure of serving with for the week. It is an intensive week of service that makes me slow down and listen to what God is doing in and around me. Over the next couple of weeks I am going to be writing about things I learned this year.

I want to tell you that this week challenged me in ways I haven’t experienced in a lot of years. I had the privilege of meeting and serving a wonderful resident named Ellen. She was a great faithful woman who had a hard time getting around. She needed a wheel chair ramp so she could get up and down to her home and bring in her groceries. So on Monday we went to work. Things were going well. We got the previous steps out of the way and ripped out bushes in less than 10 minutes. I had a student on my crew who was a hurricane of energy. I thought to myself, we will bust this thing out in a couple days. I was excited for an amazing week. Then Tuesday came. We started digging holes with the post hole digger because the auger hadn’t arrived yet. We dug for 5 hours to make our first 6 holes in hard clay. The Auger arrived (yeah) to finish the last 10. Wow I thought now we are moving. This is all going to be great. Two days of things going right.

Then Wednesday and Thursday happened. Many of the holes we had dug were not straight. I wasn’t paying enough attention to the details and well we had to pull out shovels and post hole diggers to get the holes lined up Wednesday. Thursday was probably the hardest day I have had on a worksite in my 17 years of Work Camps. We as a team made so many mistakes that the whole day was spent screwing in things and then removing them because we messed up. I removed and installed 12 lag bolts. Holes had to be moved again. one of the platforms moved and had to be put back. By the end of the day we had a broken post hole digger and I was beyond frustrated. I took my crew and another back and thought I will need to go back out so I can cement the last posts. Then it started raining, and I couldn’t go back out.

I was so broken that afternoon that I believed that this would be the first time is 17 years that I wouldn’t finish a project. Ellen this woman who I promised to build a ramp for would be let down. I was so frustrated I took it out on a few students who I yelled at over reacting to something they did and then went back to seek their forgiveness. It was a rough day.

The next morning I was getting breakfast and I saw my site coach. These are the red shirt people who are there to help you get your project done and figure out solutions. They are amazing people who go from site to site helping people problem solve. Jeff said to me “So did you get the posts cemented in?” I said “No we didn’t because of issues and rain, and I said their is no way we are going to get it done today.” That is when he did something that changed me this week. He looked me right in the eyes, and smiled, a smile I had seen all week. He said Steve I guarantee we will get it done today I promise you. It was what I needed in that moment. His confidence in what Jesus could do in this moment is what I needed to push with my crew and, another who would join us, and get it done.

For me in that moment Jeff was Jesus. He may never know it, but he had a profound impact on me this week. I don’t know about you, but maybe you are in a place where you feel you can’t keep going and everything you thought you know is falling apart. Maybe it is your marriage or your faith, or your job, or whatever, but you don’t think you can keep going. I pray God brings you a site coach to be Jesus in your life. A site coach like Jeff who walks along side you and picks you up in the hard days. We all need people in our lives who will be Jesus when we need them.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.

Romans 15:1-5 ESV

Who meets Paul at the pearly gates..How can I cheer on those who hurt me?

Photo by Adam Kontor on Pexels.com

This was a quote I read this week from a Christian “The crazy part of the Gospel is that Stephen would be the first one cheering on Paul when he arrived at the pearly gates.”

Have you ever thought about those who will be waiting at the pearly gates when you arrive. I know I don’t often think that way but this week quote caught my eye. I suppose I always thought about it being Jesus. My grandparents and others who loved me who have gone to be with Jesus before I did. I look forward to the days when I will see them again. The Scripture “Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” is a profound thing to me, but what about others who I may not be as close with?

This quote gets me because of the scandal of it all. Paul coming to the pearly gates not as someone who was just greeted by his friends and family. When we think of the Apostle Paul we often think of him preaching the gospel to all people, but we often forget early in his ministry he wasn’t just mean to Christians, he had them killed. I have always been drawn to the story of the stoning of Stephen for obvious reason as we share a name. Paul had him killed. He approved of his death the text says. Paul would have a reputation of trying to destroy the Christian Church. Many early in his ministry were put in prison, their lives destroyed or in the case of Stephen, murdered.

But as this quote says, I imagine Stephen was the first one at the gate cheering on the one who approved of his death. What a profound revelation. For me at least, I struggle with having a faith that strong. A faith so full of the gospel that I can imagine cheering on those who hate me, or even cheering on those who are against me. Over and over in the scripture Jesus, His apostles, the other disciples, and those who follow him today are called to cheer on everyone who comes to know Jesus. This is what makes the Gospel the gospel. You see all people no matter how horrible they are need Jesus. They will celebrate with us in heaven one day if they come to know Him. No matter if they follow from the beginning or in the end. May we celebrate not just our friends who come to know Jesus but our political enemies, those we dislike and even those who might do us harm. For God wants all people to come to His saving grace.

This lent may we consider not just sharing Jesus with our friend but may we cheer on our enemies.

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:54-60 ESV