Sunday, August 13, 2017

What Color Christian Are You?

As a little boy, growing up in the South in a Southern Baptist Church. I recall one Sunday morning sitting in church, our city gripped in racial turmoil. I can't recall any message that day though I would venture a guess that restraint & prayer was part of the message. What was not a part of the message was let's open our doors to anyone regardless of the color of their skin. Let's go meet with other churches of the area that are just as segregated as we are & talk.

I remember sitting in that long uncomfortable pew thinking isn't this where we should seek peace? I knew in my heart we were talking about the same God & even as a child it resonated with me that church should be a place of peace & not division. Specifically I remember thinking, "Isn't this where we should all come together?"

I told no one of course. I was after all a small child & I grew up in the South as a white boy & I was guilty of many of the same stereotypes that if not taught directly certainly were not discouraged.

It still disturbs me that in my childhood the church taught racism-again if not directly-they certainly did nothing to discourage it. I recall my mother telling about a traveling choir coming for a visit with one person of color & people left-even some of the deacons of the church. People that perceived themselves as very religious. They had followed all the steps to salvation. They held positions in the church yet held this notion of separation in their hearts. I even heard it said many times, "Well, of course Jesus loves them but we are to stick to our own kind." I guess they taught us to sing Jesus loves the little children but we were not suppose to live it.

Why was this in me as a little boy to make such an observation? Coming together in church? God knew one day that He would reach out & touch me in dramatic fashion. I emerged from my Damascus Road in my nineteenth year & without explanation I knew & accepted in my heart that God sees no color. He does not view me as his white, Christian child. He views me as  his child. Period. That is who I am. I am a child of God. Scripture, if you believe in that & I surely do, substantiates that.

Fast forward to today & like many I am troubled by the events in Charlottesville this weekend. Hate has no part of Christianity. How can anyone in their right mind say I love my God while hating another person? 

What disturbs me greatly & not just this weekend but for quite some time now are these statements by Christians saying the White Evangelicals or the Black Evangelicals, White Christian Church, Black Christian Church needs to do this or that. People I love have said this. It breaks my heart. Should we not follow God in the way He does things? Do you think our Father in Heaven looks down upon this mess & says, "My White Evangelical Church, My Black Evangelical Church. My White, Black, Church." There is no way that can be true. Not the God I know intimately. We are His children. End of sentence. No other descriptions & for the love of our God no labels.
I love to tell the story about a visiting minister we had at Lifepoint a few years back. He is pastor of a church in Baltimore. God told him to integrate his church. He followed that direction & he was met with quite a bit of resistance. Some members departed. Some in his family left. He proudly stood before us & stated that their church is now 20% integrated. You with me? Here is the part that I love to tell when people are listening. He was pastor of an African-American Church.

Great story but I wish we were beyond stories like that.  Are we still a church of a certain color as we were in my youth? Why have we all not moved beyond that time?

I don't have all the answers but I know division & labeling is not a cure for anything. I do know who has the answers & we should be seeking Him for guidance. Forget any wrong teachings we were raised in. I have. 

My most proud line in The River Hideaway, "Hearts Have No Color." I believe it & I will live it till the day I die. 

If you feel the need to label me as a White, Evangelical Christian, feel free but that is not how God sees me & it is certainly not how I view myself. I am a child of God.

Be part of the solution-not part of the division. 

Let's remember who the Church belongs too. It belongs to Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

FREEDOM CONFERENCE (Past, Present, Petty)

Many years ago, my director was new in her job & it was also her first stint as a manager. She would go away to seminars & return like the next Tony Robbins. Upon her return an immediate staff meeting was called & she would be gushing about all she learned & what changes we were making. None of the changes that I recall made it to the end of the work week & truthfully by Friday she was on to the next thing. Maybe booking her next conference. It reached a point where one day I pleaded with her. "Please don't go away to any more of those motivational conferences & return to make all these changes that won't last two days." Believe it or not she laughed.

One of her first moves as a young director was to take a veteran staff & put them through one of those team building classes. Full confession. I hate those things. I am pretty certain she was the only one excited about it. It sure didn't improve morale as we had more issues in a dysfunctional work environment than a Ropes course was going to repair.

Don't we as Christians do this as well? We go to the next big teaching & everything is going to change for us. Sometimes months later I can't even remember the name of the conference/teaching I attended.

This spring I attended a 13 week work shop at our church, Lifepoint. It was the Freedom Conference offered through the Church of the Highlands. I heard terms like what a game changer it would be. Full disclosure I hear that term & I immediately think about all the times I have heard that before in church & it turned out not to be true. It is like when someone views a new movie & goes on & on about how great it is. By the time you see it you might walk away thinking it was really good but it had been built up so big that in essence the movie is a let down.

I won't say that about Freedom Conference. The first twelve weeks were good, not earth shattering but the final day was the culmination of it all & that day did not fall short. In fact, it met the conference build up for me. No small task.

I attended the last day with the attitude of I have come this far. I might as well take the final step even if it means all day on a Saturday when the beach weather was great for the first time in days. But my attitude as I arrived that morning was if this is suppose to be a big purge of my soul with a bunch of strangers they can forget me participating. Hold that thought.

Someone like my group leader Randy could explain just what Freedom entails far better than I. It has been hard to put into words when I have been asked. My attempt to explain here is probably lacking terribly but I will give it a try.

Empty your spirit of any past things that may still be hindering you. At the end ask for a filling of the Holy Spirit to replace what God has removed completely. Walk away that day ready to make the Word of God more prevalent in your life as you encounter situations.

As I went through the steps that day my attitude shifted. My heart was open. There were things in my past that while not  bragged about they were spoken about with my wife, Julie. She has lived a good Christian life for all of her life. I have done anything but that. My past far more checkered. I probably did more bad in one day than all her days combined. That is not meant to be an overstatement. It has not been a real problem for us but it has been joked about, especially in regards to my sexual history.

By the time we reached that step. Remember this is the guy that went there to reveal little. I approached one of the prayer leaders & with tears streaming down my face I said, "I really want all this gone. I want to feel as if I belong to Julie & her alone in this lifetime. I want my past gone."

We had been encouraged to write down names of our past before the prayer. Where as I once would have wrote down those names in a bragging way. This was anything but. (Disclaimer- no one looks at what you write. It is between God & you what you reveal & what you don't.) After the prayer we were to tear them into little pieces & leave that part of our past scattered on the floor. I went one step more. I walked to the Cross in the room & tore it up at the foot of it.

I came home exhausted. Collapsing in my bed. I found out the next day I was not alone in that act. I told Julie there were to be no more jokes about my past in that regard. It was in the past & we were going to live in the present. I belonged with her, to her, & to her alone.

As I moved forward I wrote three things on the chalkboard we have mounted on the wall by the front door. Past, Present, Petty.

We were allowing ourselves to get way too bogged down in the pettiness of this life. It is easy to do & I am pretty sure we all do it. The word petty means- of little importance; trivial.

If we believe in our God to be so colossal isn't much of what troubles us-petty? I am not discounting real struggles by any means. At this moment when I pray there are four people I know in a battle with cancer. But what about the other stuff? Unexpected car repairs. How about driving? How about that driver that in a traffic jam can't clear the intersection drives forward anyway because the light is green? They sit in the middle of the intersection unable to move & the light changes to red & then the other people can't drive because the intersection is blocked. That probably should be a capital offense. But regardless of how strongly I feel about it, isn't it a minor thing in our day? Even a petty thing to get upset about?

So I came out of Freedom, shared all this with Julie, & we have just been so above being petty now for weeks. Yeah, right. I knew as soon as I made that declaration we were going to be tested & boy have we been. Right away there was a situation with Julie where we felt like one set of rules had been applied to her & a different set for a newcomer. I can take being slighted, well I try anyway but don't slight my wife. The gloves come off then. But we recognized it as a test & we pointed out all the valid reasons why her situation was handled differently.

As I look back we have allowed many petty items to return. I don't like it. I want to always remember that one word, petty, that I came out of Freedom with.

I have been traditionally published once for my novel, The River Hideaway.   There were countless rejections along the way. I have other stories written & I remember long ago an author I read saying that they were disillusioned by the thinking that once they were published one time it would get easier.I guess there was a reason that has stuck with me all these years.

A few weeks ago a writing friend told me of a publisher in North Carolina that might be a good fit. I followed directions. I shared of the successful book signings at Barnes & Noble & how I had an open door to return to their stores. I shared of the magazine article that was published nationally last year. I tried not to but I got my hopes up. They asked for the first twenty pages. The rejection letter came this week & I was not in the area they are interested in. This one hit harder. Maybe I am losing hope. Maybe I am beginning to think no matter how much my heart's desire is to be a writer it may not be God's plan for me. Is the writing a big deal to all of us that write? Yes it is. But my reaction of going into a funk was petty. Julie knew when she came  home what was wrong even though I share little of my writing world with her. I don't want to disappoint her so if I ever land another book deal she will be the first to know but only after it is a done deal. Contracts signed.

Today at Lifepoint as I was listening to Pastor Jeff the story of Mary & Martha came to me.

40 But Martha was very busy and distracted with all of her serving responsibilities; and she approached Him and said, “Lord, is it of no concern to You that my sister has left me to do the serving alone? Tell her to help me and do her part.” 41 But the Lord replied to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered and anxious about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part [that which is to her advantage], which will not be taken away from her.”

Couldn't Jesus just as easily be saying, "Billy, Billy, you are worried & anxious about many things? Or insert your name into the scripture. Maybe we should do that more. Insert our name into the passage. 

A wonderful friend in our small group, Dennis has shared his story about coming to Jesus. The preacher was quoting, "Lazareth come forth," as he sat in church. That is not what he heard. He heard clearly, "Dennis, come forth."

This morning I was reading Mark Batterson's book, Play the Man. There was one line that jumped out at me & reminded me of how petty I can be. 

One of the dragon's most insidious lies is that God is holding out on you.

That will probably leave a mark. I could easily say, "Well great for you to write that. You have the writing break you desired." Truthfully, I have thought that about others but never in jealousy. What someone else has is of little concern of mine & it will add nothing to my statue by resenting their success. It cost me nothing to be happy for them & I am particularly glad that Mark received  his break because I have read almost every book he has written. He is my favorite Christian writer.

Believe it or not my one deal being traditionally published & all the money I made :( (maybe $1500.00) brought out jealousy in other writers that never have been able to be traditionally published. Some would hint to Julie & to me. "Now did Billy pay the publisher anything?" It reached a point where I thought about producing my contract which stated I would never be asked for $$$$. But then my pettiness might match theirs. Let people think what they want. There is a short list of people I need approval from & as long as I keep God at the top of that list everything else will fall into place. 

I do not know if I will ever be published again & it is my heart's desire. That is nothing small for any of us. But the way I react is. I can take it in stride & believe God has other plans for me or I can act petty. The choice is mine. I can continue to seek & follow God's path or go my own way as I have most of my life-telling God just how He should use my gifts along the way. 

During a particularly frustrating time, I exclaimed, "Rather a thousand copies with You God than a million without You." It shocked me that I meant that. I still do. In fact, I will add, "Rather no publishing contract ever with You, than a million without You." I have learned things gained without His hand will never be what I desire them to be.

I think it is time for those three words to go back on the chalkboard as a reminder. Our God is bigger than any words to describe.

Past- Leave it there. Don't bring it back up.
Present- Each day is a new day with our Lord. Let's treat it that way & not get too far ahead. (I am guilty of that one as well.)
Petty- Keep the small stuff small. Don't let it interrupt our walk with our God. 

Update- One month later I signed a publishing contract for The Preacher's Letter.

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Letter to my Son

It is hard to believe that my son, Micah, will turn 30 next month. Last week I had a long ago memory visit of my one goal as a parent that I often said when he was a child. It was not that he would be rich, educated, a ballplayer. I had one very simple goal that I don't think I ever shared with him until I wrote it in a card for him this week.

As an adult, will he when faced with a troublesome issue think I can talk to my Dad & he will listen? He will help me sort this out. My thinking was that if he did that than I had done okay as his Dad.

I knew even when he was little I would not be that parent with a desire to control my adult child's life. That kind of defeats the purpose. You raise a child & then you let them go, or at least that is my philosophy. You will always be their parent. Always be there for them but it is their life. Will they fail at times & make wrong choices? You bet they will but didn't we as well?

I wrote my son this week, not asking for a pat on the back but an honest answer. Did I meet my one goal? Do you think that my Dad can help with this problem? Do I listen thoroughly to you or do I start dispensing advice before you finish?

Lots of parents routinely do that with their adult children. Some are even a big part of failed marriages because their children are not wise enough to live out all of Genesis 2:24..

2 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

I always loved the part of the two becoming one...the intimacy. But after one particular failed relationship I realized the importance of the first part of this scripture.  There comes a time to leave your parents & forge your own way. A husband & a wife need to run their own race as a couple. Seek advice from your parents-yes. Allow them a voice in your marriage-no.

I wrote to my son that if I am failing in this regard both now & in the future, tell me. I will correct it. Life is to short & often the things allowed to remain unchallenged in a family become the very matters that construct walls that imprison families. It is difficult to break habits & often hard to see our own bad habits in how we interact with our family. Some find it easier to fashion the Norman Rockwell painting that they know did not ever exist. I never could buy into that. It is only with dealing with the truth in any relationship that we can break down the barriers & reach a better place. Pretending things are better than they are is like putting a band-aid on a deep wound.

There is another thing I wrote in that card. I want Micah to learn not only from the good things I have taught him but I want him to learn from the things I did wrong. There are many important life long lessons I have taken to heart from my Dad that were anything but positive. The things he did I knew were wrong & even as a child I swore I would not be that way with my own child when that day came. 

My Dad was a good man but he was like a lot of men in that era. They left the parenting to the Mother. But I still learned because they were still failures on his part. He could not apologize & admit to being wrong. Never once to me in my entire life. But I learned. Maybe in reverse but I learned & I am grateful. Grateful that I often said to my son, "I am sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me." 

Micah also never went to bed at night without hearing I love you. Even to this day. Every phone call, visit,  ends often in multiple I love you's exchanged. Again I learned this in reverse from my Father & Micah it is okay that you learn in reverse from me. I failed often. I realize that. I own it.

As I have written before that my idea for The River Hideaway came from watching one of my favorite movies. A Time to Kill.

There is a wonderful exchange between the young attorney, played by Matthew McConaughey & his mentor, Donald Sutherland.

Jake Tyler Brigance: I can't be you, Lucian.
Lucien Wilbanks: Don't be me, Jake. Be better than me.

I  have thought of that line often in regards to Micah. Don't be me. Be better than me.

I love you son.

My adult son. My best man on Julie & my wedding day.