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Echoes Blog

Who are You Going to Vote for?

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With only a week away from the election, there is a flurry of headlines about the presidential candidates' email habits, tax fraud, lies, lewd behavior, and leadership abilities. The election has become more than just a tough decision about who would be the best President of the United States of America. It has also become a reality TV show, a preview for what Saturday Night Live comedy skits will be and has pulled our attention away from everything else.  

I have been asking myself, what really matters in our lives today? Does the election matter? The short answer is yes, it does. And my prayer for you as you vote is that it begins with prayer, thoughtfulness and most importantly—that you do vote.

I have to tell you, I know what will happen on November 9th. No matter who is elected, I can promise you that God will still be our God. Pinnacle will be worshiping on Sunday, November 13th, no matter who wins. People will still be in need, the sick who need your prayers and our community won’t change just because one candidate won and another lost.

What saddens me about this election is that many of us have forgotten who we are. You might be a Trump supporter or a Hillary supporter—but before all of that, you are a child of God called to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.

Directly after Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, I received many e-mails, phone calls, and texts asking, “How are our friends in Harmony Ministries doing?” “How is Pastor Luc?” I could answer that our friends had survived, but still need help. Many lost roofs, the church and school in Leogane was destroyed, some roof damage was discovered in LaSalle, food and water supplies were scarce, livelihoods were lost and cholera was a huge concern. These are still concerns. But we can give thanks that no one was severely injured or dead. In my Ministry Moment during a 10 am service, people clapped their hands in praise. Some money came in for immediate relief and prayers were lifted up for our friends.

But as the days went on, the election came back into focus and the struggles for our Haitian church family in Harmony Ministries became more desperate. Some aid agencies have successfully delivered food and water supplies to the larger cities, but it isn’t enough. Currently, our Haitian brothers and sisters are starving because food and water supplies are scarce. They have no roofs to protect them from the harsh sun and the intense rains, and cholera has already begun to spread. 

Usually when we get a chance to speak with Pastor Luc, he is positive. Even in the midst of great struggle he points out the challenges and that through prayer and God’s faithfulness, God will provide. But that was not his most recent response. He described a community that is desperate. Church members in LaSalle and Leogane have little to share, and struggle to get aid because they are not in the large cities. We have responded by sending funds for Pastor Luc to purchase rice and drinking water, but more is needed.

My question for you is this…, who are you going to vote for? In other words, what is the priority in your life? As a faithful believer, is this election and its drama what is most important? Or is it caring for the sick, weary, lost and in need of help. 

My hope and prayer is that we would all vote for the second. And that our vote would begin with our church family in Haiti. This vote begins with a refocus our priorities, for prayer and financial support. Our friends need you. If you would like to support our Haiti partners you can donate online or in the offering plate on Sunday.

Who are you going to vote for?

The Greatest Generation

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” ~Matthew 18:1 

We all want to be the best. Whether it is in sports, at work, at school or in life, we want to excel. We want people to notice us. We want to leave a mark.

Last week I got to spend a few days with my grandfather-in-law, Earl Buckley, in Mankato, Kansas. If you have never heard of that town, I am not surprised. It doesn’t even make a blip on a radar screen. For those who know the TV show, The Andy Griffith Show and its town of Mayberry, Mankato isn’t that big, but life still runs about the same.

Earl has lived in Kansas almost all his life, except for the time he spent in the Navy during the Korean War. He is a man who has no worldly recognition, nor does he seek it. He has lived a pretty simple life compared to some, yet to be around him you know you are in the presence of a great man.

Earl has been involved in his church his entire life. He is a Gideon, and despite the fact that he has a hard time getting around, he spent Memorial Day weekend driving (with my wife and children) around to small country cemeteries decorating tombstones of family members and those for which no family remains.

But that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Earl was a farmer. He planted and farmed his own land, and when that wasn’t enough to keep his family going, he went to harvesting other’s land; from southern Kansas all the way up to North Dakota. In addition, he began working in construction and has a book filled with pictures of all of the buildings he put up in his town and the surrounding area. He did a lot of this until just a few years ago when he was encouraged to take it easy.

It wasn’t just that Earl was getting older and shouldn’t be driving a combine anymore, although that was one of the reasons. It was not common for him to spend a week or two bringing in a crop and get paid in homemade pies or some other form of barter. And I am not talking about all-you-can-eat-for-a-year pie; just a pie or two. When questioned by his family he would say, “Well, they don’t have much and I have a combine just sittin’ here. So what else am I going to do?” For Earl, to help someone, even at the detriment to himself, is always more important. Even at 87 and having an increasingly difficult time hearing, seeing and keeping his balance, he is out in his community trying to help others. It is just who he is…or from another perspective, it is who Christ has made him.

When the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in heaven?”, they were probably expecting to hear names like Moses, Elijah, King David, or maybe Sampson, Abraham or Debra. They were seeking to be on that list. James and John even go so far to ask Jesus if they can sit at his right and left hand in heaven, a place only reserved for the most honored of people. Yet this is not the answer that Jesus gives them. Jesus says to them, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Children in Jesus’ time were not like children today. Parents didn’t schedule their lives around activities, they didn’t make play dates for them. Children were of little to no value; unless you were the oldest boy, who would be the heir to the house. For Jesus to make such a comment was to change the perspective on what it means to be great. Greatness was no longer something to aspire to, it wasn’t something that meant gaining an attribute or accolade in some way, but instead was something of a taking away. It was the removal of pride, the ousting of arrogance, it was the lowering of brow, the humbleness of heart and the innocent hunger of the child to please and serve. Jesus’ definition stands in opposition to the world’s.

You might think to yourself, “Sure, that’s what people are like in a small town” or “Earl is just from a different generation,” but is that it? I think not. When I sit with Earl I see someone who does his best to live out the gospel message. And the reality is, when his earthly journey is over, his death will go unnoticed by most of the world. But to those who know and love him, a gentle tear will appear on their hearts stitched up by the promise of eternal life through Christ. And I guarantee you that heaven will rejoice in his presence…

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” ~I Corinthians 13: 2b-3

We all have Christmas traditions that we hold on to. Whether it is putting up the lights on a certain day every year, or getting family and friends together. When my wife was little she lived in Missouri. Her parents were both pastors and had to lead worship until late into the night on Christmas Eve. They had a tradition that between the two services her parents led, they would open one present, which was usually pajamas. They would put them on and go to bed, and then Christmas morning they would get up, load their presents in the car and drive to Kansas to spend Christmas with her grandfather. Because of this tradition, after the Christmas Eve service my children get to go home and unwrap one present, pajamas, and wear them to bed. As a parent, I think this tradition is more for us than our kids so we aren’t forcing them to put on clothes in the morning before opening presents so we can take pictures.

My family always attended the late service. So before the service, we would go out to dinner and spend Christmas Eve dinner together - just my parents and my sister and me. Afterwards, we would spend an hour or so driving around looking at Christmas lights before heading to worship. While not on Christmas Eve but a few days before Christmas, we still do this with our family to help us get into the Christmas spirit.

Three years ago, just after Jude turned one, Becca and I found ourselves in a Christmas rut. With three kids under 5 the world was starting to take over Christmas. Every time a commercial would come on it was, “I want that.” When we went to the store it was, “buy me this”, “I want that.” It got to the point that we didn’t want to go anywhere or watch anything on TV because we didn’t want to battle with our kids. The real reason to celebrate Christmas had lost its meaning to busyness and commercialism.

A few years earlier, Becca and I had a friend who died suddenly at the age of 26. For some reason that year, in the midst of everything that was going on, Andrew and his family were put on Becca’s heart. As we sat at dinner one night with three kids under the age of 5, we started talking about Andrew and his family and how hard it would be to lose a child. One thing lead to another and Becca said, “What if this Christmas we do something different? What if we did something in honor of Andrew that was more about helping others than about ourselves? What if instead of waking up first thing in the morning and opening all of our presents, which we had done the previous 4 years and was a nightmare, we started our morning off doing something for someone else?”

We told our kids about our great idea and they weren’t super excited about it, but they went along. So that Christmas morning, after we looked in our stockings to see what Santa gave us, we loaded into our car, still in our Christmas pajamas, and bought 12 sausage egg McMuffin meals to pass out to people in need. We bought 12 partly because it was the number that Andrew wore in high school sports, and partly because that was all we could afford. When we set out we had no idea how long the kids would last or how long it would take us to find people, homeless or not, who wanted a hot warm meal. Any hesitation we had, again this was Becca’s idea and I was just a long for the ride, went out the window with the first bag of food that we passed out. Who knew that love could come in the form of a hot meal?

That first Christmas it took us just over an hour and a half to pass out those 12 meals and afterwards we went home and started our Christmas. What started as 12 meals has quickly grown into 40 hot meals on Christmas morning. For our kids, Christmas doesn’t start when we get home from delivering food, delivering food is part of Christmas. In Michael W. Smith’s song “Give it Away” he sings, “We can entertain compassion for a world in need of care, but the road of good intentions doesn't lead to anywhere. ‘Cause love isn't love ‘till you give it away. You gotta give it away.”

We can get caught up in things like Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas or why Starbucks is bad, not really, for only having red cups with no Christmas design, but in the end that doesn’t really matter. We live in a world of hurt and pain that now, maybe more than ever, needs to experience the love of God first hand. This Advent season, as we prepare to celebrate God’s love for us in the birth of Jesus, I encourage you to find some way or someone that you or your family can help experience God’s love first hand by giving it away.

We would love to hear how you experienced God’s love this Christmas, simply by giving it away.

 

Thanksgiving Thank-You Notes

Growing up far away from extended family, my family and a few friends who needed a Thanksgiving home would sit down for a Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, veggies, and pie for dessert. We spent the day playing games, watching movies together and, of course, calling family who lived far away. Each Thanksgiving we would go around the table and share what we were thankful for, as our blessing over our meal.

The pilgrims, on the first Thanksgiving many years ago, had a little different feel. They celebrated this day because they survived. The people had made it to the new land and had figured out how to live with the native people and how to farm the land. They built shelters and worked together to make it to that cold day of celebration.

What does Thanksgiving mean to you? Thanksgiving might be a day of cooking all day and finally eating a fantastic feast together! We sit down with family and friends to give thanks for the bounty that has been provided for us. Maybe Thanksgiving is the day to watch football or be with family and friends. Or maybe Thanksgiving is the time to start setting up your Christmas decorations.

Yesterday, as I was thinking about what this day means to me, I received a thank-you note in the mail. The note was from a friend, and she was thanking me for a phone call we had a few weeks ago…but that part doesn’t matter; what does matter is how it made me feel to receive the note. It didn’t have a lot in it but the fact that she took the time to write it and mail it made me feel special. It made me wonder what it would be like to write a thank-you note to God for the many gifts he has given me. What would I say? What would I include?

Many of the Psalms are basically thank-you notes written to God. They are the Israelites' way of thanking God for what he provided to them—thanksgiving for safety (Psalm 91 and Psalm 144), thanksgiving for guidance (Psalm 146 and 23), thanksgiving for forgiveness (Palm 51), thanksgiving for the many blessings (Psalm 136 and Psalm 150), and my favorite, Psalm 100, thanksgiving that we know God. What a true blessing it is to be known by God and to know God. Each psalm is beautifully crafted to express the gratitude the people had for the gifts God gave them.

What would you put in your thank-you note written to God on Thanksgiving Day? Below are a few of mine.

  • Thank you for the beauty of the desert, the dry landscape that flourishes reminds me that even in the midst of struggle, God brings life.
  • Thank you for my dog, Calvin, for he brings comfort, laugher, friendship and warm snuggles.
  • Thank you for my family, who supports each other, laughs together and loves each other.
  • Thank you for your church filled with warm and faithful people who seek God in their life.
  • Thank you for my morning walks where all is still silent and I can almost feel the Holy Spirit waking us up with a beautiful sunrise.
  • Thank you for Jesus, who guides me, walks with me and challenges me in my call and work.

May God bless you and keep you on this Thanksgiving week! 

Been thinking about giving of late. End of the year sort of thing for most pastors, as we watch in wonder and gratitude as our people give love and money to both the church and to many important causes. Giving at Pinnacle has been generous. I shouldn't be surprised. This congregation is full of wonderfully generous folk. In a world of development experts, fund raising techniques, endless analyses of giving trends, "benevolence" mindedness, financial anxiety, economic uncertainty, and more, there is no shortage of talk about Christian giving. As I think about this myself I want to offer up four historic principles, or ideas, about...
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