Sunday, April 27, 2014

It's All God, It's All Good.

By the time I was ten, I had been on life support and in intensive care
By twenty-five I was on dialysis, had lost half my body weight due to severe nausea. According to certain doctors, the strain the kidney disease put onto my system lead to a heart attack. 
By thirty, I had had a kidney transplant, been in respiratory failure and spent a month in a coma.
By thirty-five, I'd had close to twenty surgeries. Some minor vascular surgeries, some major, like brain surgery. I'd also dealt with kidney failure twice. 
I'm 37 years old now and if you were to add up all the time I've spent in hospitals, dialysis units and other various health care facilities, it would easily be a third of that. And you know what I think, when I look at it right now? I think wow, I am truly blessed.

Hold on, stop, wait! Did this dude just say he feels blessed? Sounds like somebody's been hitting the pain meds again. I assure you, that's not it. What it is, is this. Right now, at I time of peace, I am able to sit back and take a look at what God has done for me and praise him for it. We're are always happy to accept God's blessings when they feel good, aren't we?  For example, Heather's brother and his wife, after years of trying, were blessed with a beautiful baby boy. He's all smiles and sunshine. Truly a joy to be around. My nephew is more proof that God is good. I have another nephew. His mother, Christina was my older sister. I say was because she died when she was 31 years old. His father died from cancer shortly thereafter. Did God bless my sister by giving her a painful cancer? No. But he used that so the people around her could see how a Godly woman handles struggles. She was an inspiration to the people to knew her. Anyone who got to know Christina during that time would be blessed by knowing her. Now she is in the very presence of Jesus Christ, singing praises to The Lord. I can think of no greater blessing than that

When something like illness or death happens to us, we often ask "God, why are you doing this to me?" Or "deliver me from this trial". Perhaps we should try a different tack. You see, God is incapable of malice. God cannot lie to you. So often we use the term 'mixed blessing'. This part was cool, but I could've done without the rest. 'My new boyfriend is great, but his sister is kind of annoying, so it's a mixed blessing' Let me clue you in. Everything The Lord does is for your good. Now that doesn't mean it's going to feel good, but if it's from God it's for good. You can take that to the bank. To get a loaf of bread, you have to put dough in a hot oven first. A diamond is coal that has been placed under immense pressure. In that same way, we can use our life experiences to grow in The Lord. People ask me often how I handle my health issues, and I have to be honest. Nine times out of ten, I don't. 

On more than one occasion I was ready to throw in the towel and call it a day. However God saw fit to keep me here, and for that I am thankful. So instead of asking why all of those things happened to me, I should thank God for what he's done for me. I know that God was holding my hand through every tear, ache or pain. I know this because there is no way I'd be able to do all that on my own strength. I'm tough guy, sure. But I wasn't born on Krypton, and everyone has their limits. Countless times I've been pushed to my limits and been ready to call it a day. Countless times God has blessed me with the stregnth and character it takes to deal with those struggles. 

He has also made sure I've never had to do it alone. God regularly puts people in my life to help me as I navigate this struggle. Relationships like that don't just happen. Some people never get close personal friends like the ones I have been blessed with. Friends that would wake up in the middle of the night and bring you a sandwich while youre in the emergency room. Or a friend who'll drive 8 hours in a snowstorm to attend your father-in-laws funeral. For me to have so many is truly a gift from the Lord. My friends are a blessing. 

I could spend the next 12 pages talking about how wonderful Heather is, and it still wouldn't describe how there is no doubt that she is a gift grom God. Or relationship is special, and unlike any other I've seen. I also have wonderful supportive parents, people who are there to back me up when I need it, but love me enough to tell me when i'm headed down a drak path, as any loving parent would. 

Not to mention my boyish charm and stunning good looks. Okay, so God also gave me a sense of humor.. God has blessed me with the gifts and talents to pursue the career he's called me to. I'm content for the first time in a very long time. Even with all I've been through, and all the pain I've suffered, I can't help but take a step back and thank God for everything he has given me. Last week would have been Christina's 39th birthday. I wonder sometimes what she would be doing if she were here. Raising her son? Pursuing a career? I guess it really doesn't matter. Christina is standing at the foot of God. And I believe there will be more people there because she was here. She was a blessing. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Take what you want and leave the rest.

After my first blog entry, Heather sent me a link to a sermon online by Pastor Frances Chan. My only previous experience with Chan was when I started a book he wrote called 'Crazy Love'. At the time I was a youth worker, and the youth pastor, Cory Hunneyman wanted all of us volunteers to read it. Cory is a trusted friend and an outstanding pastor, so when he recommended the book I was anxious to read it. The book, starts by saying how much God loves us, which I had been taught for years. However in the next chapter, he says something which rubbed me the wrong way. Something along the lines of "You Don't Matter". Now, for someone who's never felt like they fit in, and struggled with low self-esteem their whole life, telling them they don't matter isn't exactly a good way to earn brownie points. I closed the book and gave it away. I just figured Cory dropped the ball on this one. Nobody gets it right all the time

Fast forward 3 years or so. I'm no longer a youth worker, Cory is 2500 miles away. And my wife sends me this video. Now, I learned a long time ago that when my wife 'suggests' that I do something like that, she really means "If you know what's good for you, you'll do it". So I start this Frances Chan video, and sure enough It's a sermon based on that crazy book. But again, I've learned to trust my wife on these things, so I tried to watch with an open mind.

I can't even say that I remember most of the message. I remember agreeing and saying 'Amen' in my head a few times, but like with many sermons, it didn't stick with me. At least not at first. But toward the end of the message, Pastor Chan said something that stopped me in my tracks. He said he disagrees with the Bible A LOT. Here, this bestselling author and then pastor of what would be called a 'Megachurch' in modern vernacular is standing in front of his congregation and questioning the Bible. If that weren't enough he posted it on YouTube for the whole world to see. This dude really is crazy! But what he said next changed my perspective, and my opinion of him entirely.

 "I don't have to agree to obey. Because even though I disagree, I know that God knows better than me." Amen! After I came off my high horse, and was honest with myself, I knew there are things in the Bible I feel the same way about. There are things that go on in our world that just didn't exist when the Bible was written. It's easy for Solomon to write be slow to anger, He never dealt with rush hour traffic. And in his letter to the Romans, when the Apostle Paul chastised them for their sins, he included homosexuality, and disobeying their parents with theft and idol worship. Did Paul have gay friends who were in a committed relationship? People that truly love each other? I don't know. But I do. And I honestly don't understand what is wrong with it. I read a story on CNN that made me cringe. A father and his wife locked their 5 year old son in a closet, in the dark for weeks. When authorities found him, he was emaciated from malnutrition and wearing a filthy diaper. Does God honestly expect someone to obey parents like that? Yes, I believe he does. When he says forgive, he says forgive. Not forgive people you like. Forgive people who have only done certain things. Before my wife and I met, her cousin sexually abused her for years. Around that same time, I was growing up in a small town outside Rochester full of elitist snobs who chastised anyone who was different. A fat black kid, for example. I have forgiven a lot of people for a lot of things. But I hate that man for what he did to my wife. And if you talk to me long enough, you'll find out I'm not too fond of my 'home town' either. Forgiveness isn't exactly my strong suit. But I'm able to acknowledge that as my own shortcoming, and not an error in God's word. Because whether I like it or not, as a Christian, I am called to forgive. Even people who hurt the ones I love. And if you think Chen or I are crazy for obeying a God we don't agree with, consider this. I don't agree with the entire US Constitution either. But I respect it, and I obey it. And I would give my life to protect it. Wouldn't you? Why then, should the Bible be different?

So many people reject the Bible because there are things about it that are uncomfortable, inconvenient, or don't line up with their lifestyle or personal beliefs. The problem with that is our lifestyles change. Our beliefs change. So what then? What if something you stood firmly against at one point, is suddenly acceptable? Well, then you change your beliefs accordingly. But God does not change. He is eternal, and so is his word. More times than I care to count I've let myself down, lied to myself, and took the easy way out when it was convenient.  God has never lied to me. God has never let me down. And if you know me at all, you know that he has never let me take the easy way out when it was the wrong way.

God is not a buffet, where you take what you want and leave the rest. God will always tell you what you need to hear when you need to hear it. But it doesn't do any good if you don't listen. If you want someone that's going to tell you what you want to hear, look up Joel Osteen. He's another pastor at another 'Megachurch'. Joel is really good at spinning the word, and telling the 'Good News' in a way that suits 21st century America. He's also sadly misguided, and would serve himself and the millions that follow him by taking his head out of his butt, and sticking his nose into the book he professes to believe.

Another thing that Paul wrote, and something I try to live by can be found in his letter to the Ephesians

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10, 11, 14-17 NIV Emphasis mine)

He doesn't say put on whatever parts you agree to. He doesn't say put on the comfortable parts.  He says the full armor of God. The FULL armor. The word of God is the truth. The word of God brings righteousness. With the gospel comes peace. Without the full armor we can, and do fall into the devil's traps. And yes, as Olsteen and many others demonstrate, Satan uses the Bible to deceive. And when he does it's particularly destructive. Far too many people hear part of the word, and miss the rest. And they will pay a price for it that no one should ever suffer.

Paul also says take up the shield of faith. Faith is believing what you don't see. Faith is trusting. So, yes there are parts of the Bible I don't agree with. And there are parts that I don't, and may never understand. But I have put my faith in God. And I'm not so arrogant to think I know better than him. So when I come those points I don't agree with, I obey them anyway. Because like Pastor Chan says, you don't have to agree to obey. Maybe Cory was right about him after all. (But don't tell him that)

Check the sermon out here. Be warned, there's some heavy stuff.

Monday, March 17, 2014

What are we waiting for?

So I want to start of with some statistics. In 2013, the average American income was just a bit more than $51,000 a year. Down from $58,000 in 1999. As I'm sure you've all heard, the 'middle class' is disappearing. The rich get richer, as more and more Americans live in poverty. According to the US census bureau there are about 50 million Americans living I poverty today. They define poverty as family of four who makes less than $23,000 a year, which comes out as about $450 a week, or one person who makes just under $12,000 a year. Again, you probably have heard these numbers before. Then there are statistics like this, which again, I'm sure you've heard. 

Last year golfer Tiger Woods made $78,000,000. That's right seventy eight million, to play a game. In Major League Baseball, the top five teams alone spend almost $900,000,000 on their payroll. Just to play a game. And that doesn't include the other 25 teams. Then you have football, basketball, the list goes on and on. Not to mention the movie and television industry. 

Now here's some things I'll bet you didn't know. 40 percent of the worlds population, or about 2.8 BILLION people live on less than $2 dollars a day. That's right. Almost half the worlds population couldn't take a days wages and walk into McDonald's and buy a 'happy meal'. Another interesting fact. There are 27,000,000 people living in slavery today. More than any other time in history. In Calcutta, a woman can be purchased out of slavery for between the equivalent of $200-2000 in American dollars. In other words if the Dodgers, Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox used one tenth of their annual payroll to buy women out of the sex trade, instead of paying self indulgent arrogant men like A-Rod to play baseball, they could buy at least 45,000 women out of the sex trade. More than enough to fill Fenway Park. 

The fact of the matter is, Americans have it pretty darn good. People ask, 'Why does God allow famine?' Or 'Why does he allow war?' The truth is, God gave us everything we need on this planet. He also gave us free will. So the fact that we're willing to pay an adulterous golfer $78,000,000 a year while half the worlds population lives on a tiny percentage of that is not God's fault, it's ours. You've heard that guns don't kill people, people with guns do. People with guns also start wars. Don't blame it on god because man has managed to take our natural resources and use them to destroy our fellow man. There is enough food and water on earth to feed every single man woman and child 2500 calories a day. 

As Americans we consume on average 100 gallons of water per person, per day. Every day. Meanwhile there are people who walk miles to get water. And yes I know it's expensive to transport water to the desert, but if we're willing to pay men billions of dollars to play a game, why aren't we willing to pay that to ship food and water to those who need it? In Scottsdale where I live, I see Porsches, BMWs, Bentleys, you name it. People are willing to spend $100,000 on a freaking car! Then we sing feel good songs like 'Imagine' and 'Waiting On World To Change'. Here it is in a nutshell. You can imagine there's no heaven all you want, that don't make it so. And the Bible says it's easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. And if you're reading this, on a cell phone, a laptop, compared to a large percentage of the world, you are a rich person, whether you believe it or not. And we can keep waiting on the world to change as long as we like, but it won't. Not as long as our priorities are so skewed that we're willing to pay criminals millions of dollars just because they shoot a good jump shot.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

It's just not the same

My wife and I have lived in Arizona for about a month now, and we love it here. Before we moved, people warned us "It's a part of the Bible Belt" and "Expect a lot of racism" Our experience so far has been quite the opposite. The people seem friendly, and as a bi-racial couple, we don't seem to get treated different than anyone else. But unless you've been living under a rock for the past month, I'm sure you've heard about legislation that was proposed here to allow businesses to turn away homosexual couples based on their religious beliefs. After contemplation, and immense pressure from the public, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the law, so as of now it is dead.

I want to start by saying that I think discrimination for any reason is wrong, and I think everyone should be treated equally, regardless of their racial background, religious beliefs (or lack thereof) or who the choose to marry or go to bed with at night. But when I read the news coverage and the opinion pieces on this law, I always hear it compared to the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement. And to be frank, that pisses me off.

Blacks were brought here from Africa and sold as property. After the Civil War when they were 'emancipated' certain states systematically enacted laws to reduce them to second class citizens. Things we take for granted today like bathrooms and drinking fountains were reserved for whites. No niggers allowed. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Basically signing a piece of paper stating the the United States officially saw blacks as people instead of property. And with that was supposed to come the constitutional rights of 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'. Instead blacks were marginalized, disrespected and abused. Simply for the color of their skin. And here's something they don't teach in history class. On average between the when the civil war ended in 1865 and 1932 there was a black man, woman, or child lynched once a week, every week. Now fast forward to 1954, when a group of students has to appeal to the Supreme Court to go to school, because the "Separate but equal" schools they'd been forced to attend we're overcrowded and literally falling apart. The following year. Rosa Parks was arrested in Alabama for not giving up her seat on a bus. I'm sure you know all of this already because we're fortunate enough to learn it during the insult that is 'Black History Month'.

 So here's my question. How many gay only schools are there? How many people have been lynched for being homosexual over the course of the last 60, 80, 100 years? Do you think it's anywhere near 2000? Is anyone denied the right to vote in America today because they're gay? How about 'Straight only' restaurants, bathrooms and water fountains? Are gays discriminated against in America today? Yes they are. But if you think that Blacks aren't, try being one of ten black kids walking through the hall in Fairport High School and count how many times you get called nigger. Or walk through the mall with your wife who isn't black and see how many dirty looks you get. And how many black males are arrested and incarcerated compared to any other demographic? But those things are nothing compared to what the men and women before me went through.

People died so I could marry whomever I choose. Men and women had fire hoses and dogs turned on them so I could vote. There is a difference between discrimination and persecution. There is a difference between discrimination and segregation. Homosexuality is more accepted in America today than any time in our country's history, and when people use what people like Rosa Parks went through to further their political position, that minimizes what they did, and it is offensive. And make no mistake about it, it is purely political. There is no shortage of businesses that would be happy to provide their services to a gay couple who is getting married, or adopting a child. So if you have other options, why would you want to give your money to someone who clearly is against what you are? Because if they refuse to serve you because of your sexuality, you can go on TV and talk about how hateful religious people are. I am a husband, I am a heterosexual, I am a Christian, I am black. If I knew of a business that refused to serve any demographic, I'd simply take my business elsewhere. That is, of course unless I was trying to draw attention to the fact that this business was choosing to serve certain people and not others. There's more to this than can fit in one post, so I'll save the rest for my next entry.