Unplanned Fathering

In 2014 the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org) reported that 26% of American kids grow up without a father in the home. This year that number is reportedly up to as high as 33 %. That means that if my kids were average American kids one of my children would be living somewhere else without my day to day influence and guidance in their life. The absence of a parent of either gender brings great challenges to the overall development of a child in every way. If it takes two people to make a baby it takes at least two to raise that baby to become all she/he can potentially be.  Fathers matter for more than their initial donation. They are needed as providers, protectors, and patient advocates as well as counselors, coaches, and cheerleaders of their children. Fathering matters to children and not just on Father’s Day.

Fathers that are absent from their children’s lives are not only hurting their children, but they are hurting society. A kid without a father in their home are four times more likely to live in poverty. They are seven times more likely to become teenage parents. They are twice as likely to drop out of high school. Kid’s without a father in their home are more likely to have behavior problems, be obese, face abuse/neglect, go to prison, commit a crime, and/or suffer from depression. There is no debate that a father in the home and actively involved in their child’s life makes a significant difference in the family as well as society. (See “The Father Absence Crisis in America on http://www.fatherhood.org)

Some Fathers are absent from their children because of their behavior or bad choices. Some are absent because they have betrayed their partner and their children in a way that shows them unfit and untrustworthy. Some fathers are absent because their father was absent in their life and they just don’t know any better. Yet, some fathers are absent because they were thrown out, shut out, or litigated out of their children’s life. Some dads are not in the home, but provide a great example of father hood in shared agreements and responsibilities. All absent fathers are not equal, but they are all in the same circle. The issue is not one of how to judge absent fathers, but rather how do we rescue and rebuild the lives of children in need.

What can we do? How do American men respond? How does the church react to the need? How will 1 in 3 children get the counsel and the confidence they need from a father figure in their life?

We need men of all shapes, sizes, ages, and experiences to see every fatherless child as a part of their family. No exceptions. Fathering must become our highest and most valued vocational calling or in a few years this statistic will double because momentum is on the side of fathers being absent from the home. The primary action is to call, equip, and support every father to be successful in being a father. No one can do “daddy” better than the “daddy” of a child. Fathering is not restricted by lack of money, lack of education, or lack of need. It is only restricted when their is a lack of commitment, concern, and/or character. Every father needs to expect their sons to be good fathers. Every brother needs to encourage their brother to be active in their kids lives. Every friend needs to hold their bros accountable for how they take care of their children and show themselves present and accounted for. Every church needs to teach men how to not only be Christian men, but be good fathers as both roles honor God and strengthen the family.

But we need a back up plan also. The call must go out to those who are not biological fathers of children in your neighborhood or church. You may not have planned on being a father, but children need you to make an adjustment to your plans and get in the game. Maybe you need to sign up to be their mentor. Maybe you need to coach them in baseball, teach them in Sunday School, take them on a camp out, or help them finish high school. Some will need you to become their foster dad and perhaps their adoptive father as over 400,000 are waiting in the foster care system today. Some will need you to come along side later in their life as an adult youth to help them know how to keep a job, how to manage money, how to be reconciled through forgiveness, how to account for mistakes, and how to start their own family the right way and with the best of intentions to follow through. Every man in every community is the back up plan for fathering the children of our country and we need to see this as a critical pro life cause in our generation.

Unplanned fathering does not require course work or membership dues. It only requires the best of faith, hope, and love that a man can give to a child in need. Expertise is not required in this kind of fathering nor is it necessary to consider yourself a hero for stepping in. Don’t see yourself as a world changer. Just be content to be the change that a child needs to not only avoid crisis, but to acquire the certainty that they can make it and make it successfully. Don’t pursue thanks or tokens of appreciation. Be celebrated by the achievement of the kid that you poured your life into even if your fathering was unplanned. Having kids doesn’t make you a father. Raising them in the right way does.

Everyday is Father’s Day. Not for celebration, but for work because fathering is hard work. But its the best kind of hard work we will never get paid for. Don’t plan on earning anything as a dad. Let the agenda and the slate remain open and clean. The best kind of gain is that which you don’t plan on receiving. It is found money or found freedom. Unplanned fathering will bring great gain into the life of a man, but nothing like it will bring into the life of a child. As children are a gift from the Lord to fathers (Psalm 127:3) so fathers are a gift into the lives of every child in every generation (Exodus 20:12).

Please adjust your plans today. Take time to think about what kid needs you. If it is your child that needs you to step up your game as a father then do it and don’t worry about how you failed in the past. If it is a niece or a nephew, a cousin, or a sibling that needs you to step in and be the father figure then go for it and don’t look back. Perhaps it is a sibling group in your neighborhood or an only child on your baseball team that needs someone to mentor them into maturity. Maybe there is a grown man in the cubicle next to you who never knew his father and needs your mature and balanced voice in their life. Make yourself available to any child/youth/adult that needs your fathering input and then see what God does with your willing spirit.

Regardless of the plans you have for your life it just might be that God has other plans for you to consider. Based on who He is I am certain that He wants us to be all that we can be for kids in crisis. The most God honoring thing we may ever do with our life is to be a father to the fatherless in our generation. Make sure to plan your availability for the redemptive role that God has for you. The plans that you make for yourself are small in comparison to the plans He has for you. Unplan your plans so that God can reroute your work/calling in life to intersect with a kid in need. Could it be that this new role just might be the one that you have been searching for all of your life and that a kid has been waiting and waiting for you to step into it as their unplanned father?  God loves it when that kind of plan comes together.

Growing A Church Is Bad For Your Soul

There are many things that we know are bad for us. Candy eats away at our teeth. Bacon clogs our heart (allegedly). Texting while driving takes lives. Smoking gives us cancer and/or lung disease. Isolation brings depression or at least deep loneliness. Anger breads bitterness which births cynicism, hard heartedness, and just plain old meanness. Some things in life should be avoided because no matter how they taste or feel they are just bad for us.

There are many spiritual practices and positions that are similarly bad for us. The avoidance of corporate worship, a rejection of accountability, the judging of others behavior and intentions, the willingness to live disobediently are all things that Christians know are bad for us and should be corrected immediately if we want to have healthy spiritual lives and relationships. Some things just don’t mix and anytime we have more of our own self, our own freedoms, our own flaws mixed with the work that God is trying to do in us we will find self inflicted wounds and perhaps fatal tendencies in our formation. The good things that God gives us often come into conflict with the bad feelings, choices, and habits that we are desperate to maintain our freedom over and that is bad for the Christian soul.

Pastors are no exception to this truth. In fact, we may even be in more danger as we are fatigued by the weight and worry of a church culture that is less and less interested in being a Christian community and much more fascinated in being a Christian club or take out service. We are all in need of salvation and not just from our sins, but from our sinfulness, our selfishness, our self reliance, and our searching for a God that we can make in our own image. Pastors that follow the pattern of cultural trends will discover sooner or later that they are neck deep in the soup that brings sickness to our souls.

It is no secret that the church is in trouble in America. Much of the responsibility could be credited to the misunderstanding and mistakes made by pastors in leading the church and forming disciples. Those two are not the same thing, but that should be aligned or at the very least headed in the same direction. Too often they are not. While there are many reasons that the church is the way it is, it seems that the American church has done a particularly good job of messing up what God began birthing as a beautiful creation. Instead of making disciples and building beautiful community we have been busy enlarging, expanding, and exponentially obsessing on getting bigger, more powerful, financially stable/secure, and way too often chasing relevance as if it was a core value for the New Testament church. Leadership training is more common in churches than spiritual formation. It is easier to convince someone to be a better leader than it is to suggest to them that they should go deeper into discipleship. So pastors pick the more popular and profitable route or message.

This. Must. Change.

Church growth is not only not good. It is bad. Please read that again so that it sinks in on every level. The effects of professional ministers offering professional goods and services in the pursuit of making the gospel popular at all costs has made the church weak, confused, and sick. The prognosis is not only negative, but it is terminal unless we are delivered from our empty philosophy and mistaken identity.

The key to moving away from a church growth mindset and practices is not a change in strategy, but spirit. It does not require a new method, but a new master. To achieve freedom from the weight of promising big things we need a vision from producing small circles of disciples and quality leaders. If pastors are to be saved from the ministry of the American ideal it will necessitate an act of God that is greater than the activity of being professional competent or charismatically capable.

Pastors be warned what I am suggesting is not easy and will not work like an overnight charm. You can not blink your eyes and be transformed from your old habits of multiplying, maximizing, merging, mastering, and making up success stories to alleviate denominational loss and augment the need to be personally glorified or respected. It will be a process. It will be a slow, painful, lonely process, but along the way you will be affirmed in your spirit and you might find pilgrims that are on the same journey you are on.

Many churches will not like what you are saying/doing. It goes agains the grain of there investment over the last 40 years. You may not be voted out, but they may vote to personally leave or they may stay and offer the most apathetic involvement you or they can imagine. Don’t give up and don’t lose heart. Keep at the task of forming disciples and creating a community of faith, hope, and love. Preach the gospel rather than pragmatic principles and let the Holy Spirit show them the “how to’s” of living the Christian life.

God expects you to walk in the righteous way rather than the relevant way. No matter what a book or a Bishop says to you as a pastor the primary leading of a pastor is in the way that Jesus is headed. Anywhere he goes or anything he says is relevant. The world then fits into his agenda. Jesus may have gone to the people and shared in the culture, but it is a mistake to say or think that he acclimated to the Roman way or even the way of popular Judaism. The only relevancy test that we have as pastors and as congregants is based in forsaking this world and following him.

Denominations aren’t likely to lead this change, but they might follow. They also might not. You may not get support from anyone in your tribe that would think what you preach or propose makes sense. Your work might produce the kind of results that gets conference leaders to visit you with questions and concerns. Don’t panic. If pastoral work is to be fruitful it will not be from the hormones of fool proof ideas for breaking the 200 barrier. It will be the product of a long obedience in the direction of God’s leading you to form disciples and call those disciples into ministry.

The vision that God gives to us is not a body that grows bigger and bigger. It is a vision of a church that grows deeper in discipleship and broader in mission. That is a vision that is good for the soul because it leads us to measure our ministry in lives formed in Christ rather than parking spots or programs launched.  A church may very well grow to become a large body of believers, but it is not a healthy church if disciples are not being formed and sent. Any obsession that a pastor has over their work should focus on a passion for being faithful to the gospel and spilled out in Christian service to others.

Growing a church is bad for your soul or at least it can be. Any good doctor of the church would remember often that maybe growing the church isn’t the job of the pastor. That’s the job of the Spirit. Perhaps the reason that growing a church can be bad for the soul is because that is not what God intended us to do. It just might be that the the sooner we get away from thinking we are called to grow a church and get to the work of telling our people not to dream of such things, the easier it will be for us to get to the work God has called us to. That kind of work is forever good for the soul.

 

Mother’s Day Revisited

We all have a mother. There is no getting around it. Having a mother is an intricate part of the procreating process that God dreamed into our earthly reality. While I know that science and social experimentation have tweaked the birthing process since it was first introduced, the genetics of a mother are still required. Without a mother there is no baby. The same is true of a father, but I digress.

What happens following birth though is greatly different from child to child. Some will be placed in their mother’s arms and held tightly until they leave home as grown ups. Others will never be cradled by mom and will long for her touch. Others will find warmth, nurture, and tenderness in the arms of another mother and be forever grateful for her role in their life. Many will reflect on their mother’s touch as hot or cold or as accepting or rejecting. Mothers come in all shapes and sizes as well as perspectives and practices. Hopefully we can all appreciate our mother for who she is rather than what she did for mothers are real people in our life and not just providers of our next meal.

Yesterday across the country millions of people stopped to thank mom. Flowers, cards, gifts, and expensive meals were provided as a gesture of appreciation. Christian congregations ordered their liturgy to reflect on mothers and how they are gifts of God to children and to the family. Sports teams and entertainment venues marketed Mother’s Day as a great time to come out to the ball park or come into the concert hall. Parks and backyards were full of families eating and laughing who get together only two or three times a year to catch up and refocus on the family. Mom was the MVP, MOP, GOAT, and the GDP all in one yesterday and rightfully so. Yesterday was a day for mom to rest, reflect, be revered, and rejoice at the work of her hands. It was her day of reward.

But that was yesterday.

Today is a day for mom to go back to work. You have 364 days until your next free day and every one of them will count. So let’s make the most of the next year. I am writing to every mom on behalf of every kid so read carefully and apply where appropriate.

Mom’s we need you to…

  • Help us to smile, laugh, breathe, and skip. Life takes that away from us at every chance.
  • Remind us of how much you love us, pray for us, and appreciate us. Sometimes you are the only one who does.
  • Teach us to mind our manners, eat right, and behave ourselves. We forget those things that you taught us so long ago.
  • Recount for us the story of our birth and beginnings. That will help orient us time and time again in life when we are lost or confused. Heritage is way more valuable than we sometimes think.
  • Be a person of real faith and certainty that God is at work in all things. No matter what seems to be taking place.
  • Stop worrying about us. Advise us and encourage us, but worry, anxiety, and heart burn only hurts you and us.
  • Show us how to forgive and faithfully love those who hurt us. No one forgives like a mother so teach us please.
  • Stop chasing our childhood and help us navigate adulthood. It is a jungle out here and you know the way. Show us like you showed us how to tie a shoe or wash behind our ears.
  • Take care of yourself. Not with cosmetics and clothes or fads and follies that adorn your outward appearance. Take care of the inside of you – your heart, your mind, your soul. Those are the treasures most important to your children.
  • Tell us that we are smart, we are kind, and we are important. (Thanks Aibileen!) That is all that we ever really need to know as children and you are the greatest source of it on earth.
  • Never give up on us. We are still growing up sometimes even at 44.  🙂

I will likely think of other things for your mom “to do” list, but that is a start. Don’t try and conquer all of it today or this week. Pace yourself as you get back to work. Don’t be overwhelmed by the load. You are a mom and God has made you just a little lower than a super hero (but a much better cook (probably.) You’ve got this and you getting this will make all the difference in us.

We love you. Hopefully it won’t take another year to say that. Let’s talk soon. Now get to work so we can go back to being kids.

You Get What You Pay For

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That isn’t a very original thing to say. Everybody has heard it at some point. I didn’t coin the phrase, but I sure believe it to be true. Now that I am looking at buying cars for teenage drivers, new instruments for teenage bandies, and college tuition for soon to be young adults pushed out of the nest, I am realizing that I have choices to make about where and how I spend this money.

Over and over again in life I have gotten what I paid for. At times I have bought something inexpensive hoping to get by or make due. Other times I have broken the bank and splurged for the top of the line and the best in the market. In every purchase or investment I have gotten exactly what I paid for. Sometimes I have been very, very happy with a purchase (new Taylor Made irons) and sometimes devastated by going cheap (upper deck tickets at Minute Maid on opening day 2008.)

The consumer in us has us immediately thinking products or experiences. Getting what we pay for makes us think of blue jeans, boots, cars, haircuts or television sets. It makes us think of vacations to Vegas or cheap hotels at the beach. It reminds us of good food we eat on our anniversary and average food with jacked up prices at the ball park (maybe not an example of getting what you pay for.) What we wear, what we eat, and where we go is directly related to what we have paid for that product or reality.

This saying though applies to many other areas of life if we under “pay for” something in terms other than monetary exchange. Sometimes our payment comes in the form of time or talent. Sometimes it comes in the level of engagement or enthusiasm we have for something or someone. Sometimes we pay by being present and being ready to participate. Our cost in those cases are not measure by a reduction of our bank account, but in the addition or heart, mind, and soul into a scenario.

Think about these “you get what you pay for” realities.

As parents we get what we pay for when we put extra time into the development of our kids character and not just their skill development or athletic progress. Our children understand the value of character better because we have given time and space to the topic with them rather than assuming others will care for that need.

As leaders we get what we pay for when we bring energy to our team and not just work flow charts or new objectives for success. Our team senses that we believe in what we are asking them to do because we are personally involved as we give ourselves all in to the assignment.

As pastors we get what we pay for when we avoid settling conflict in the church, keep doing the same old things all of the time because its easy, and/or refuse to consider how culture is shaping our people more than the gospel is. Our church senses a lack of care and concern for the health of the church and an overall indifference to how lives are being changed.

As friends we get what we pay for when we expect to be the center of attention with every friendship and have the final word on every topic tossed around in conversation. Our friends see us as self absorbed and therefore not trustworthy or approachable with their needs which keeps relationships on the surface and usually on very shakeable grounds.

As married couples we get what we pay for when we make time for each other, listen to what is on each others heart, pray over the big (and small) things in life, and consider our spouses feelings above our own. Our spouse will know they can rely us to be safe, supportive, and so concerned with the relationship that other details of life are always second place.

Of course when we pay very little as parents, as leaders, as pastors, as friends we end up getting exactly what we paid for it. Usually nothing, but rejection, disappointments, failure, discouragement, and/or loneliness. Conversely, by paying big for those things we find that our relationships are healthy, balanced, and usually exactly what we need (or even more.)

How can you get more (or get a better product) by paying more today? Now that is really a pay it forward idea worth pursuing. Don’t delay and don’t keep being cheap. Put your best- your everything – into it. You will be glad you did. You will likely end up getting exactly what you paid for and more.

 

Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.                                                 (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

Women Should Know Their Place

Today is International Women’s Day or so the internet says. I have seen and read many of my friends writing heartfelt thanks and memories to the women in their life. Others have written about women they never knew, but made a difference. Everyone has such a list of women that were directly involved in their success as well as many other women across time and space that have made their/our world an easier place to live. Only the most foolish will deny the impact of women in our world, but alas, the world is full of fools.

Many will remember on this day that a woman played a key role in their success. They might even say something nice, send a card, buy flowers, or offer a hug of thanks. The one who remembers will feel good about their memory and feel enlightened for highlighting the value of that woman in their life. And then tomorrow they will likely return to another 364 days of ignoring, taking for granted, and sometimes reducing women to a position that is less significant than our memory reminds us of and our heart tells us is true. Most of us have real short, pathetic memories.

Women should know their place in this world. I want that for my wife, my daughter, my mother, my sisters ( Amanda and Renee), and the many women that I have worked with over 20 years. I am at least somewhat successful because of how many women have given the best parts of their days to help me along. Most did so because it was their place in life as mother, wife, employee, or friend. They have the scars to show for being in their place in my life. Thank you God for sending them into my life to be in their “place.”

When a women knows her place then her ceiling is unlimited and her future unstoppable. Women that know their place have made bigger steps of faith and courage than millions of men who lead without knowing anything about place, power, or proper rhetoric. I know what you are thinking – “And just where is a woman’s place?”

Well, history reminds us that many, many women knew their place. Let me remind you of a few that come quickly to my mind.

Rosa knew her place…on the front of that bus. Eleanor knew her place…leading and championing civil rights and poverty causes in a broken America. Sally Ride knew her place…right inside the space capsule. Hilary knew her place…offering herself as the most qualified candidate for President in the history of the USA. Oprah knows her place…as the first African-American billionaire and most successful television personality ever. And Jamie knows her place…as a great teacher to specially made children, a gifted musician and leader of praise, a brilliant storehouse of knowledge of many things, a faithful friend to everybody she meets, and most importantly to me,… the love of my life.  But I digress.

So many women don’t know their place and that is a shame. Maybe they don’t think they have a place of standing, leadership, or relevance in this world. That is not true. So let me attempt to build a framework for them so that the next Rosa, Sally, and Jamie can get ready for the road that is ahead of them.

Women of all ages, all colors, all backgrounds, all upbringings,…your place is in the home, the classroom, the steel mill, the pulpit, the oval office, the space shuttle, the race car, the board room, the news desk, the locker room, the barn yard, the operating room, the fire station, the coffee shop, the war room, the play ground, the drafting table, the lectern, the kitchen, the subway, the Broadway stage, the finish line, and about anywhere else you want to be.

So go to your place and thrive, hustle, challenge, and lead away. Many people will follow you. Trust me they will. Only fools will discount your abilities and rights to be there. They will be the minority, but they likely will not be silent. Don’t listen to them. Keep going. Only the real foolish will objectify you and disgrace themselves (and their families/nation) in doing so. Don’t lose heart over them. Pray for God to have mercy on them. You are vital to the flourishing of society on every level. Don’t forget it and don’t ever think otherwise. Every generation is watching you and waiting for your example of faith, hope, and love to stir the  waters of the world.

Happy International Women’s Day/ Year / Decade / Century/ Millennium! Your place is right here.

Rethinking Sunday

thinker

Yesterday I preached  from the following text…

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:  “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15 – ESV)

This short story is coupled with similar stories bragging on a God that goes after lost sheep, coins, and sons. Those three objects don’t tell the full story about the things our God is after. He is a reconciling, redeeming God who is intent on embracing everybody and everything with His grace and mercy. Anyone or anything left out will not do. He is in it to win it and more importantly He is in it to win you.

The focus of the sermon yesterday was on calling people to repentance and sharing in the heavenly celebration of each and everyone who God reclaims. It would have been good, but a slightly different sermon to preach about the possible response of the 99 sheep left in the open field or more precisely of the congregation wondering why Jesus isn’t given them more attention. When Jesus tells the story he leaves no room for the 99 sheep to complain or push back, but anyone who has led Christians…I mean sheep…for 5 minutes knows what a fuss and ruckus it would cause if a pastor abandoned 99 to pursue 1. That kind of ministerial math never makes sense and is highly frowned upon. Good pastors focus on the 99 and leave the 1 to find their own way home…or not.

I sometimes wonder if  most people in the church would prefer to hear the passage this way…

Now the good church people were all keeping notes of what Jesus was up to. They began to stir up Facebook and Twitter by saying “This man wastes his time with the wrong people and doesn’t manage the church well and keeps talking about changing things around here.” Jesus told this story in response. “What kind of pastor spends her time hanging out and pampering those who should be mature in Christ? If one person or family is outside of the family of faith a good pastor gives the greater part of her attention to reaching them with the gospel and urging them to return to their faith in God. While she is shepherding lost sheep the sheep who are safe and sound can tend to each others needs and the business of the barnyard.” But the good church people responded with suspicious and critical hearts saying people who abandon God and the church should not be celebrated, but judged. The church is for saved people and the pastor should protect, provide, and predicate everything around them. Jesus urged the good people to have a right spirit about the gift of repentance that God offers us all. Everyone should rejoice when God gives grace for anyone or anything – for those in and those out. However, the 99 persisted in their beliefs and demands that Jesus could do much greater things if he would only tell and retell the stories that they liked to hear him tell…over and over…again and again….softly and tenderly…for those who are living right and keeping their membership covenant only…like the Father intended. 🙂 (Luke 15 – GDB2 version)

Every story that we tell about God should make more of the life and ministry of Jesus and less about the gory details of our shame and suffering as well as our selfishness and stone heartedness. Bragging about God’s grace is much better than bragging about our sinful past. Nor is it important to highlight how good, faithful, decent folk have been born and raised in the church and never needed God to rescue them. This story highlights the seeking, searching, soul saving nature of our gracious God. God is determined to give grace to the sinner and grace to the saint. Everyone gets grace!!!

Repentance is the singular appropriate response to that gift and all of us should practice it…today…right now…in everything. Repentance is for the one who strays, but it is also for the 99 who kept the faith, but maybe got sideways about the church or something else God was doing. Repentance is for the one who makes a bad decision and follows the wrong spiritual leader, but also for the 99 who in their heart values the politics of their party over the Great Commandment or the Great Commission. Repentance is for the one who has life pound them in the ground so hard that they stop believing God really knows them by name, but it also for the 99 who grumble over first world problems and the privileges they think they are entitled to as Christians. Repentance is for all of God’s people – lost and found. It’s a shame that we reserve it only for the really, really bad, shameful, dirty sinner.

Repent today of anything in your heart that might be against or between you and God. To Repent is to confess, turn away from, and abandon anything that does not honor God in word, thought, and deed. You will not only feel better (confession is good for the soul), but your life will be better for it (and so will others.)  You might even hear a song being sung when you do because Jesus tells us “there is more joy in heaven over the 1 who still see their need for God’s grace than the 99 who desire to stand on their own works and ways.” And who doesn’t love good music on a Monday morning?

I Have Some Bad News

pux-phil

Today is that day. You know the day that comes around once a year and gets us all in a ruckus. No not Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter or 4th of July. Not even Saint Pat’s Day or Valentine’s Day or Pastor Appreciation Sunday. Today is Groundhog day and we will find out if more winter is on the way or if Spring is springing early this year. Cross your fingers and say a prayer.

Most of my life there was only one source to get this valuable information – Punxsutawney Phil. He lives of course in Punxsutawney, PA and for 130 years has given us cause to pay attention to his town on February 2nd. Every town should be famous for something and a rodent whose shadow controls the emotions of his citizens is as good as anything I guess. This morning I found out that in Marion, OH there is a hog named Buckeye Chuck. Unbelievable. What a rip off. I bet Phil is a mad little critter. His one day to be the center of attention for the whole world and his fame is tarnished by an imposter from North Central Ohio. Poor Phil.

I have some bad news. Imposters are not just in the ground hog species and they aren’t just in Ohio. Although there are plenty of those around here to be found. Imposters come in all shapes and sizes, all colors and creeds, all cities and settings. Don’t think your space is void of the possibility. Be warned, but don’t be alarmed.

Imposters are rampant in our day. Some try tell you they are the best leaders when they are really copy cats of someone else’s better ideas. Some will tell you that they are making things great again while they subversively take things in a particular direction that pleases and profits their constituency. Some will make you believe they are the powerful teachers on truthful topics when they are only telling you what you want to hear and fueling your fears/insecurities with familiar rhetoric. Some will make believe to like you, accept you, love you, all while searching for your immediate replacement to meet their needs or fulfill their agenda. Imposters come in the form of leaders, pastors, teachers, churches, Trump University, celebrities, friends, and of course ground hogs.

Imposters are wide spread and wildly popular. Don’t be fooled. Listen carefully and look into the life and character of those you listen too and follow. Think, pray, discern if their words or direction do good or bring harm to others. Reject new things that are only shiny, but possess no substance. Embrace old things that have shown themselves to be tried and tested. Question those who make promises to some while offering threats to others. Be willing to walk away from those whose leadership doesn’t pass the test of authenticity, good will, and generous living. Buy into people who buy into people, but rid yourselves of the stock of those who discount others based on race, religion, or the right side of things.

Be the real deal. Impeach the imposters in your life (at least in your heart.) Be authentic. Don’t believe everything you hear. Learn to look, listen, and launch in a direction that benefits you AND others. Champion words and ways that are substantially useful and not just stylistically comforting. Resist the temptation to hope for a quicker change of season so that you may live into the season that God has called you to.

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. (Proverbs 4:18)