A couple of years ago my friend Andrew Pray, myself, and our wives were online looking at ‘Awkward Family Photos‘. I told him I felt like I had one that qualified. When I showed him this photo he laughed as hard as I ever saw him laugh…and it went on for a while. I promised him that one day around the start of the Christmas Season that I would either submit this to the Awkward Family Photo web site, or just post it myself.
On this day, his birthday, and in the hopes of making others smile and laugh as hard as Andrew did, I submit to you ‘Christmas Eve 2008’. What can I say? We have a Disney Side! For the record, my wife looks amazing, my boys are handsome rascals, but I look like a Christmas Creeper. Celebrating the life of my friend, who is gone far too soon, with a wink and a smile.
There are moments and days you will never forget. Most of them are filled with happiness and blessing. Some of them are filled with loss. This is one of those days. I remember almost everything about November 21st, 2012. It is the day my friend Andrew Pray was tragically struck and killed by a bus while cycling on Hwy 41 North of Atlanta.
To know Andrew was to love and be valued and loved in return. He was a fully devoted follower of Jesus, and a lover of God and people. He was a top tier Worship Leader in every aspect that goes with that. He invested in others heavily, and was completely present with whomever he was with. He was a tremendous Dad to Noah, Halle, and Carson, and loved his wife Courtney completely. He believed in all of them with everything inside of him, and wanted to see all of God’s plans for them fulfilled. He made all of us want to be a better Husband and Dad.
For me, he was my closest friend. This past year there have been some intense moments of sadness and grief, combined with lots of happy memories and immense gratitude.
Lately when I think of Andrew, which is daily, I think of a story from the Bible. In his late teens and early twenties, before he was enthroned, King David, had a close friendship with King Saul’s Son, Jonathan. They had some of the deepest level of friendship the Bible can describe. It was pure hearted, strengthening, encouraging, and sharpening of one another in ways that we get very little of in our lives. That is certainly how I would describe my friendship with Andrew. Seldom has someone pushed me farther and believed in me more.
It’s unclear how long they were friends. It was for just a few years. One thing is sure, this friendship marked King David’s life for the rest of his days. Year’s after Jonathan’s death the fruit of this friendship brings us one of the greatest stories of grace found in the Old Testament. In Second Samuel 9 it says, One day David asked, “Is there anyone left of Saul’s family? If so, I’d like to show him some kindness in honor of Jonathan.” What unfolds as a result of this question is pretty incredible.
The word used for kindness carries some others with it like faithful love, and grace. For the rest of my life there will be moments where the urge will strike to show that level of kindness to Andrew’s family, and to others that shared friendship with him.
To honor the God who gives and takes away and whose name is blessed, the one who everything He does is kind, and to carry the legacy of those we love, forward consider who you might show kindness to. In doing so you will celebrate life, and write new stories of grace that others will want to read.
I was speaking with a Ministry Leader at another Metro Atlanta Church a couple of weeks ago. This person is coming to Local Church leadership from another vocation, and in the conversation made a statement that made me want to stand up and worship right there in that coffee shop. He said, (And I’m paraphrasing) “One of the things that I love about the local church is knowing that on any given Sunday anything is possible.”
I don’t know what your knee jerk reaction is to that comment. I hope that you respond with “Of course it is!” However, I believe a lot of congregations don’t show up on Sunday with that kind of holy expectancy. Worship, volunteering, and vocational ministry can get mundane in a hurry. But with prayer and in the power of the Holy Spirit, “Anything is possible…today!”
Today could be a day of major breakthrough.
Today could be the day when a prayer is answered.
Today could be the day the prodigal returns.
Today could be the day when a life is changed.
After our Third Service yesterday I spoke to a guy who said he spent $4,000 on cocaine alone in the last week. That is in addition to his struggle with methamphetamine. Yesterday was the day he came forward to begin the journey of putting Christ in charge of his life. Alongside of him was his fiancé who has been asking him for months and months to come with her to Church. With tears in her eyes all that she could say in a barely audible whisper was, “He came today.”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)
There are moments in life when you might feel absolutely paralyzed. Where your mind is so clouded by circumstances or overwhelmed by clutter that you don’t even know where to begin. That may be you today. In fact, if your brain was well organized and you were prepared to get work done there’s no way you would be reading this. There’s a pretty simple formula for dealing with this. Here goes;
#1 – Pray.
Too many times we ignore prayer. The longer I listen to Christian leaders who really get things done, and read scripture about great leaders the more I realize that prayer is not a meaningless footnote or a glossing over. It is a necessary first step to accomplishing anything that will make a difference on this day and beyond.
#2 – Just write today’s plan.
Keep in mind this is if you are stuck and overwhelmed. This isn’t the weekly, the monthly, or the annual plan. This is just today. I can be a compulsive planner. I can plan about planning and when the day is over all I have is a plan. If you are really stuck think of it this way; when you get home at the end of the day to engage your family what accomplishment will give you the most peace. If that thing left undone is going to make you grouchy or irritable (I have experience in this), then get it done before you go home. Don’t drive angry.
#3 – Take a Baby Step
I love the Bill Murray movie “What About Bob”. It’s right up there with ‘Groundhog Day’ when it comes to true classics. Bill Murray’s character Bob suffers from multiple phobias, and at times is literally overwhelmed about even the thought of taking the right next step. Until Dr Leo Marvin gives him a ground breaking book called Baby Steps.
There are times I have been overwhelmed by grief, by financial stress, by job pressure, you name it. I bet you have too. During these times I do my best to discipline myself to stop and pray, and then God reveals He has given me today. Today, is full of God-breathed potential, and could be a day with a breakthrough or a Divine appointment.
No matter what you are faced with don’t think or look too far down the road. Just take a baby step.
Earlier this year I was in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso as part of my work as the Executive Director of Engage Burkina. This non-profit was began to help pull more resources into this incredibly under-resourced country in West Africa to provide water, schools, and opportunities for women. Seeing projects accomplished is inspiring, but it’s the people that make the efforts worth while.
One of those people is a man named Tomas Traore. He is a Pastor and Leader for hundreds of other churches as part of his denomination. He is a Board member to this non-profit. I like him because he is shorter than I am, and because he is a powerful man of prayer. Occasionally you encounter people that just seemed to have a different wave length as it applies to the supernatural. Pastor Tomas is just such a man.
I was sharing with him the story of losing my closest friend, Andrew Pray, in a cycling accident five months previous to our conversation. With another non-profit director and partner in the room as well as the site leader for Engage Burkina, John Arnold, I began weeping as I told the story. It was an ugly cry, if you know what I mean. There was no stopping the tears or controlling the octave levels of my voice. I was hot, tired, had just overcome a special version of West African Revenge in my intestines, and grief was still much closer to me than I expected.
It was in this moment that Pastor Tomas leaned over his desk and said to me, “May God give you courage.” It was the first time I have ever heard anyone associate courage with grief. I have heard and used words like comfort, peace, and strength to those in grief. That day a light went off for me, courage has been the antidote I needed for grief.
I am used to thinking of courage as standing up out of conviction for what you believe in, or having the gumption to face a fear and those are true. By definition courage is first; “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear”.
If you have only experienced grief as an emotion, or only treated it that way, courage may not make a ton of sense. However, if you have experienced the pain of grief you understand the need for courage. Emotion can sneak up on us, and can hold us back for a moment. Pain can be sharp and sudden. Pain can be a weight. It can be a dull ache you carry with you that can constantly remind you of how the wound was caused. Pain can stop you in your tracks, make you want to turn around, and lay yourself back down. It is courage that stands you back up, keeps you moving forward, and helps you face another day.
I have observed grief from afar, from up close, and watched it emerge with my own tears. For as long as I live when I approach grief I will say to myself and to others, “May God give you courage.”
“I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope.” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)
Dreams can truly inspire. Dreams that paint a picture of how the world should be can change the direction of millions. Shared dreams can create revolution.
When Dr. King shared his dream with over 200,000 on August 28th, 1963 it was a truth he believed from a place down deep. He had been speaking about ‘the dream’ for several years. He owned it. But when he went away from his prepared speech to “Tell them about the dream” (as Mahalia Jackson implored him to do) he illuminated the dream that had been in the hearts of millions of people and he discovered this dream was shared. It is shared because it came from our Creator. He planted that seed. It’s His dream for how the world should be. And the Creator’s dreams are unstoppable. It is a vision of a reality one day to come. The kind you are invited to actively participate in. The kind you want to be a part of.
If you have never taken 17 minutes of your life to watch ‘The Dream’ speech I would invite you to do that, and ask God how you can share in and live the dream.
I know what any communicator who says this means. Most often I have heard this statement apply to making a moral mistake in the area of sexuality. The problem is I’ve never met anybody who spontaneously combusted into jumping in the sack with someone other than their spouse. I’ve also never met anyone who has come to the end of themselves in financial ruin who did all that credit damage at one time. People don’t become alcoholics after the first drink. Before anyone makes a decision to take a step across a harmful line there are the steps up to the line. By my observation, before the stumble and fall, there are a series of choices where you begin to open yourself up to being tempted in the first place. Although, I have come to believe that the most damaging choice of all is to disregard all of these thoughts, live every day as what appears to be a passive follower of Jesus, and just do nothing.
In Proverbs 4:23 Solomon says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Another translation says it this way, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Be diligent. Be alert. Be watchful! The worst thing you can do is nothing. There’s a lot of good emphasis in Christian culture right now on ‘Do something.’ Do an act of kindness. Do something for your neighbor. Do something for the poor. Those are all great and I completely agree, but the first thing for a follower of Jesus is to DO SOMETHING… about your heart. Every day. Every moment of every day, guard it, defend it, strengthen it, saturate it with truths from God’s word, and soak it in prayer.
To be a passive believer in Jesus and do nothing is to be as reckless as the guy who walks into the strip club. It is a reckless apathy that plagues a culture of Christ-followers who want to sit back, play nice, and wait for the sweet by and by.
The non-profit I direct is experiencing a tremendous month of generosity as individuals give the gift of water for Christmas. Some are doing this in honor or in memory of friends and loved ones. But Engage Burkina does more than just water in coming alongside the people of Burkina Faso.
I was in Burkina in mid-November with some Pastors as part of a partnership trip with Compassion International. Along with our team members John and Betty Arnold we were able to present several people with a gift they needed most. In West Africa, there is a rare disease attributed to malnutrition causing people to go lame in almost ‘all of a sudden fashion’. In one of the poorest countries in the world where personal transportation is a premium and public transportation is non-existent these people are forced to crawl around on the dusty streets. Our partners on the ground with the Christian and Missionary Alliance have developed a solution. It’s a bike. It’s not a traditional bike, but one that can be pedaled with your hands. These bikes give dignity, and hope to people largely overlooked in an overlooked society.
The man in the picture crawled many miles (who knows how far in advance) to join us on this day. As part of the presentation to each recipient of the bike we would actually lift them, place them on the bikes, and have a word of prayer. It is truly a powerful experience to know you are meeting someone at their most basic level of need.
One of the leaders on this trip, Kim Harris (Leadership Strategist at West Cobb Church in Marietta, GA) shared this story, and we received a letter from someone giving a bike for this Christmas season. I thought it was truly a beautiful gift.
“Dear Engage Burkina, I am enclosing a check for Engage Burkina in memory of my husband, “Daws” who went to heaven this past July. He died after a long and physically devastating disease in which he gradually lost use of his motor skills. For the last two years he was totally dependent upon his wheelchair. When Kim Harris showed slides of the handicapped people with their new pedal-propelled bicycles I knew that I had found the perfect Christmas gift for my beloved husband! After 45 years of marriage, I knew his heart as well as my own and had he still been with us he would have wanted to give, in Jesus’ name, a gift of joy and independence to someone who needed assistance to walk. In Jesus love, Margaret”
If you want to give a gift this Christmas you can do so by visiting the Engage Burkina Story page by clicking here.
Let’s begin with full disclosure. I’m a Pastor at a Local Church. I’m not the Senior Pastor, but I still can’t endorse a candidate. It’s over now, so I’ll just tell you where I stand. I’m Pro-Small Government, less taxes, and less regulation. I think a President should pass a balanced budget. Heck, any budget at all would be a good start. I’m not a fan of government controlled healthcare for lots of reasons, but I wouldn’t throw all of Obamacare out the window. I don’t understand why we don’t thoughtfully harvest the energy resources in our own country like every other country on the planet. I understand the ramifications of the direction I believe our country is taking more than I will say here because I will sound like Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory. I love politics, and I love my country. I love Jesus, and His Bride, the Church. But Christians blew this election.
It has become more than a little unfortunate to see and hear the reactions of people who call Jesus their Savior as it applies to this year’s Presidential election. Many of the ones who voted for the Republican candidate are now fully on their way to spontaneous combustion. After they get done lashing out at everyone they will move into a state of depression. Angry, sulking, and without a tribe is a tough place to be.
In all circles, not just evangelical ones, people have used social media to attack their friends and neighbors over this election. I’ve not seen one post of anyone attempting to thoughtfully persuade someone with the heart of an issue. Just people who want to be right, and who want to WIN at all costs. Here’s the problem, when you equate your Christianity with your politics, and you live in a country that is divided approximately 51-49, you do more than express a different political view. You basically just sent half the country to hell with the inference that they have to choose your politician as much as they need to choose your Savior.
Do we really want to dilute the Gospel message of Jesus and bring it down to the level of American politics?
An openly Democrat neighbor came to our door last week, and asked if everything was good between their family and ours. Evidently, she had just attacked everything that even smelled Republican (oddly enough it’s the same smell as a Baptist Church Fellowship Hall on Wednesday nights) with a facebook rant that used some words I frankly don’t know the definitions of. Why did she ask? Because she knows we are Christ-follwers. Because we have talked politics, and she knows where we stand. Can we still be friends? Yes. Can we have a difference of opinion about politics? Yes. The only thing I am digging my heels in on is that there is only one path to get to God and it is through His Son Jesus. We can discuss that in a loving and meaningful way, but there’s just no room for waffling and tolerance with that one.
A large portion of evangelical Christianity has just ostracized themselves from the opportunity to share the greatest (and only real) message of Hope and Life Change in the history of all mankind by rushing to defend one half of an imperfect political system. It’s more than just a little short-sighted, and the eternal ramifications are much more important than the future of the American dollar.
Some mistakenly say that if Christians had just spoken up louder then their guy would have won. Ironically, the louder the Christian rhetoric gets the more people run the other direction. Our rants are not speaking to people’s hearts and our lives are not displaying a message of Hope that would otherwise be admirable and attractional. The message of Jesus is challenging enough. To try and demean people into listening is enough to cause people to run away from Him never to return. To the 1600 ordained Men and Women Pastors who thumbed their nose at our government, endorsed a candidate, and declared ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’ a few weeks ago, please stand up this Sunday and let people know that there are communities of Christ-followers who care more about eternity, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, than anti-colonialism. Our arms are wide open and we are willing to start extra services to welcome the people you have alienated, and to let them know that God’s love is bigger than disagreement on a political worldview.
If you are a Christ-follower and your boldness about your politics has now gotten in the way of your credibility to be able to share the Gospel then you blew it. Plain and simple. Take responsibility and you can earn back the trust necessary to carry every important message in your life forward.