Soft Hearts

soft-hearts“Be kind to one another tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Right relationships are not just about the don’ts — don’t hold grudges, don’t speak badly of others, don’t seek harm toward others.
Right relations are also built by positive actions. Paul tells us to have soft hearts toward one another. That means be sensitive toward one another, allow your heart to be moved by others. Bitter hearts become calloused. Paul encourages that to be replaced with softness and compassion.
He, also, tells us to forgive each other. That is the positive reflection of softening of a heart of resentment and anger. It isn’t enough to discard your bitterness. Bitterness needs replaced by forgiveness. We need to relate to one another as God relates to us because of the sacrifice of Christ.
Paul’s very clear implication is that since all of us needed forgiveness at the expense of Christ, we ought to demonstrate forgiveness to one another. How is it possible to hold someone hostage in unforgiveness for the very things Christ has forgiven?
Does your heart need some softening?
— Pastor Steve

Our Political System Is Broken


Our political system is broken (and it’s not in how you think)! 
The brokenness has little to nothing to do with voter fraud, rigged elections, media bias, or all of the other things that were made a point of emphasis this election season.
It isn’t really about who was elected President. I think that the candidate that was elected is only different in the particulars, but not really in the expanse of lack of character.
It isn’t really about who the two leading parties set forth as their representative candidates (though that is part of the fall out) because the problem isn’t so much the election system as the politics which is getting played between the elections. 
I think that the real brokenness in the political system is us. We have traded away our birthright as American citizens for a bowl of stew (see Genesis 25:29-34).
We haven’t risen to the level of character that is implied in the words of the John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Rather, than rising in character, we have gotten down in the mud.
Today, we may look at this as a Republican problem. It is being said, “It is those non-college educated, white, male Republicans who saddled us with a misogynistic, racially prejudice, blabber mouth with a streak of vindictiveness and cruelty as President for the next four years.” Whether or not all of the things that have been said about Trump are true or not, enough is true that it has mobilized the most unsavory segments of American society.
However, to have such a limited perspective, we fail to adequately address two other groups of people:
1) Those who voted for a woman whose pro-abortion/anti-religious agenda would have made abortion without any room for conscience the mandate of the nation, and would have forced those who disagree to join her in the sin, not to mention her long history of checkered moral and ethical compromises;
2) Those who opted for either Trump or Clinton out of expediency of keeping the other from being elected — in effect making them an accomplice in the moral depravity of their candidate by essentially showing that such moral faults are no longer that big of a deal. We will look past them if it fits our agenda.
On both sides, we have been too willing to trade character for a promise of our cut from the American dream, or American made in our image. Happiness has become our idol, and the hell to anyone who impedes our dream of that self-indulgence because it is all about us.
Meanwhile, we turn away from a large segment of broken American.
We learned from this election that numerous segments of our society are feeling left out, disenfranchised, and without hope. It was this large segment of broken America that cried out to be heard in their vote for Trump (I don’t buy the argument that most of the people who voted for him are racist or misogynist). It was the same dynamic as in 2008 with many who voted for the promise of hope with Obama.
Some were willing to roll the dice on Clinton. Others voted as if the entire system needed blown up so they voted for Trump.
How did this happen? Because our political system has been so entrenched in polarizing society that they have forgotten the people who make up the society. Those that don’t fall in the extremes have been allowed to fall through the cracks by the political elite and the political extremists. Meanwhile, their party advocates cheer them on.
We need to stop the selfishness, and open our eyes to the hurting people around us. We need to make the first steps to healing the alienation of large swaths of society. We need to be agents of reconciliation and redemption instead of demeaning devices of divisiveness. A good start would be a simple return to civility, talking to and listening to others as if they have feelings, and not as foes to be vanquished.
How can we heal the brokenness? We need to stop shouting at one another over the cries of those who are hurting. Stop shouting and take time to listen. Listen to the blacks fearful of police. Listen to the mothers who are afraid of sending their children outdoors. Listen to the chronically unemployed and underemployed that have to make a choice between taking a low-wage job that will cost them benefits, or continue to suffer the soul sapping humiliation of reliance on government hand outs. Listen to those amassing incredible debt paying for college to get a job which may not put them in a place to payoff those loans. Listen to those given a series of promises about health insurance which have amounted to nothing more than paper dreams. Listen to the children attending failing schools which are failing them. Listen to the midwest farmer that has been left behind.
We need to work toward a system that doesn’t force us to choose from extremes, right or left. We need our government representatives to stop with the partisanship, and start mutually working toward solutions that effectively provide assistance to those who are angry and disillusioned.
We need to reclaim the grace, selflessness and love that many in this country had been known for before we abandoned our deep Christian moorings that allowed us to love others as ourselves.
I don’t think, though, that we will ever experience that healing and happiness that we crave until we also rediscover the one who makes such healing and joy possible.
— Pastor Steve

Why “All Lives Matter” Is Unhelpful

Blog All Lives Matter Unhelpful

For many the response to the clarion call, “Black lives matter”, is to respond with “All Lives Matter.” I understand that response for it was my initial reaction, as well. However, I have come to understand that response is unhelpful.
Imagine that your spouse’s mother were to die. Would you say to him/her, “All mothers matter”? I think not, though it be true. He/She would perceive that as condescending, uncaring, unsympathetic, and completely lacking in understanding. You would, rather, relate to him/her as if only the death of his/her mother mattered in that moment. In doing so he/she would feel you relate to his/her pain and grief.
Or imagine that your house is set aflame. You call the fire department. They show up on your street and pull out the hoses. But instead of dousing the flames that are consuming your house, they start hosing down the house next door. You question the Commander why they are hosing down the wrong house. But his response is an unhelpful, “All houses matter.” You would surely be convinced that the Commander was either insane or unfeeling.
Of course, all lives matter. That issue is not up for debate. What we are talking about is racial injustice that has set the nation on fire.
However, the “All Lives Matter” response to the pain of the black community communicates the same unsympathetic, uncaring response to the black community as “All mothers matter” would communicate to your spouse. “All Lives Matter” comes across as a dismissal of the particular plight of blacks. The lack of understanding entertained in ALM says to the African-American community, “I don’t really care,” rightly or wrongly.
Acknowledging that black lives matter expresses concern for the plight of black people as an individual group. “All Lives Matter” can only be true if all black, brown, red, yellow and white lives are recognized as valuable individually.
When we demonstrate understanding particularly to the black community that their lives are valued we will make steps forward.
At the same time it remains helpful to differentiate between the “black lives matter” movement and the “Black Lives Matter” Movement.
–Pastor Steve
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Blind Spots

I was surprised last week at the push back that I received when I reposted “An Open Letter (from a non-mother) to Pastors” on a FACEBOOK page dedicated to those serving in vocational ministry. The letter is a plea for Pastors to be sensitive to the pain that some women can experience related to the celebration of Mother’s Day. This woman was taken to be a self-centered, malcontent who was envious of the attention and praise that was being given to other women. Comments were made that being sensitive to those who find Mother’s Day a painful day would be tantamount to failing to observe the Lord’s Supper or baptism, or preaching about sin. Others expressed that these women “need to grow up and get over themselves.” One comment even suggested that women like that “need to meet Jesus.”

What surprised me so much wasn’t comments that were made. I was not even surprised that the comments came from Christians. Let’s face it – some professed Christians can be the most heartless and blood-thirsty people out there. Non-Christians will vouch for that, but also many Christians who have fallen victim to the sharp claws and vicious bite of other believers.

What surprised me was that these comments were made people who are or have served as the senior staff in churches, those who Christians see as lead shepherds of the flock.

It was interesting that this non-mother, and any woman that she might speak for, was branded one of those people looking to be “offended” (a term she never used in the letter). Any possibility that the existence of real pain existed was summarily dismissed.


I’m wondering if we’re looking at a blind spot.

Now, I am well aware that we are living in an era when many people are seeking to be offended … that some people are more than willing to be put off by nearly anything that somebody can say. Living in the location I do, I am especially aware of the likelihood of someone being offended by what could largely be construed as an innocuous statement that is misunderstood due to the assortment of cultural lenses through which it must pass in order to be received.

I am, also, well aware that the “offended” can be found within any church. They can be a minister’s worst nightmare, especially when they are given the ear of some of the Elders within the church. Single-handedly these “offended” can hijack, and even halt, ministry progress. I have even had one of those “offended” serving as an Elder.

But the more I thought it through I had to wonder, “Is this more about a blind spot?”

A blind spot is the spot of vision in our cars which you are not able to see without additional effort when you are driving. When not noticed, you hit the car coming up beside you when you change lanes. Or worse, you could hit the person walking through the parking lot as you back up.

People with limited peripheral vision are plagued with dealing with the problem of blind spots.

But blind spots can also be a mental phenomenon. It is that thought that never dawns on you. It is the need that you never perceive.

Just like when I have begun to pull over into the next lane to be greeted with the honk from the driver who is feeling threatened by my maneuver, I have also found occasions when I have encountered blind spots in ministry. Those places where I didn’t adequately percieve all of the dynamics that were playing on what I did observe.

So, again, I wonder if I stumbled into a blind spot.

Jesus when talking to that Samaritan woman, made the disciples raise an eyebrow. They didn’t get why Jesus was talking with her.

Jesus spoke of blind spots when he said, “They say three more months until the harvest. But look, I tell you, the fields are white unto harvest.” I bet the disciples looked at Jesus, turned to the fields, and back at Jesus, with puzzled looks on their faces, and thought, “It is a good thing Jesus isn’t a farmer.” You think they have a blind spot?

Peter had a dream of spare ribs and pork chops, calamari and jumbo shrimp, and said, “Nah. Do you still serve from the kosher menu?” Three times God prepared Peter by sending that dream before He finally spoke up, and said, “Nothing I have made is unclean.” Blind spot?

But did he get it? Later on, when he was at Cornelius’ house, he finished his message, and was at a loss on how to close it out. Usually, he would have extended an invitation, but Cornelius was a Gentile. Blind spot! God had to reverse the normal order of conversion (baptism then Holy Spirit) to give Peter a sign that it was alright for a Gentile to be converted.

I wonder if “needs, hurts, and pain” could be a blind spot for many ministry professionals. Because so many people are inclined to be offended, are we too inclined to relegate the pain that people may experience to a trash heap of offense? Could we as ministry professionals become so calloused that we mistake a cry for a complaint? Do we get so busy getting our job done that we forget that the people are the job? Do we get involved with doing things a certain way, and responding to certain issues and needs that we fail to see and respond to the hurting before our eyes?

Does that blind spot get manifested by a promise to pray when someone asks for a moment to share the crisis they are experiencing, rather than taking the time to pray with them right then and there?

Are we more prone to passing someone in need to shuffle off to a meeting than passing on a meeting to shuffle off to meeting a person’s need? Or worse yet, do we even notice? I sure hope that we care.

When it came to Mother’s Day, I had to think through the assortment of women with the vast diversity of their experiences that I have come to rub shoulders with in ministry, and view the day through the lenses of their life experiences.

    • I thought of the couple of women who early in life had abortions, one of which resulted in sterilization, still battling the guilt of their decisions.
    • My heart broke again for the family who were unsuccessful in attempting to bear children, and after adopting a child from foster care had the child die in her sleep, and another foster child removed as the parents struggled with depression and grief.
    • I wondered at the grace of the ladies who chose to value the life of their child that was conceived in violence over the option of ending that life as a painful reminder.
    • I thought of the several adults that as children were abused by their mother, through physical and emotional abuse, or just plain neglect.
    • I spent a moment thinking about the faithful unmarried, those who desired to get married and have children, but never had their lives unfold that way.
    • I paused a moment to think of the blended families where the step parent has generously poured themselves into the lives of their non-biological children, only to be reminded that they weren’t their parent.
    • I shed a tear for the mother who would be celebrating the day on the third anniversary of the death of her first born.
    • I grieved for the family that shared during the previous week that their mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

Taking the time to turn my head, in order to get a good vision of that blind spot, helped me to grow in compassion for the flock to which God gave me charge.

I have not always been so good at checking my blind spots. Not taking the time to adjust my vision, I have missed numerous opportunities for ministry. I have caused more than a few accidents by not looking good enough at the traffic around me to get a good look at what is going on in the life of the other drivers on the fast lane of ministry. I am not aware that I have ever forced someone off the road by carelessly cutting them off. But more than once, somebody has had to “lay on the horn” in order to beep me back into observation (and just in case you missed it — I’m not really talking about driving).

But may I never grow blind to the real pain that other experience.
— Pastor Steve