Monday, August 18, 2014

I Thought He Was Jesus

I remember when I was a child, I thought he was Jesus.  No, he didn't have long hair and a beard and he didn't wear a robe and sandals.  As a matter of fact he wore a suit and tie and his hair was slicked back in a very conservative hair style.  Still I was convinced he had to be Jesus.  When he spoke, it was as if God, Himself was speaking.  I remember he spoke with authority and his voice filled up the room.  I felt like his eyes could see right through me.  He was a bit intimidating without being scary, if that makes sense.  Perhaps intimidating is not the word I'm looking for but the picture I'm trying to paint is one of reverential fear.  An awe inspiring type of thing.  One who was real and approachable, but one who was to be honored and respected.

I later discovered that this man, Wayne Brashear, was not Jesus.  He was my first pastor.  And while I only sat under his ministry until I was about 8 years old, his impact on my life has continued until this day.  My family left Urban Park Assembly of God nearly 40 years ago when my father was transferred to the Houston area.  I thought it was odd that even after many years we still received a monthly newsletter from the church.  What was even more odd was that at a young age I looked forward to reading it every month.  It was as if, even though we were 200 miles south, we were still connected to the only church home I knew as a young child.  When we would visit family back in Dallas, we would often pay a visit to Urban Park Assembly, something I always looked forward to.  To this day I can't tell you why exactly, but I can tell you it wasn't the pinched cheeks or the "my, they look so grown up," comments we always received.  There was just something about this man of God that I was drawn to.

I remember years after we had moved and left the church, my dad was in the hospital in the Dallas area.  Somehow word of my dad reached pastor Brashear and he showed up at the hospital to pray for him. This wasn't a "token" visit because throughout my dad's hospital stay, he showed up regularly. We hadn't been members of Urban Park for a couple decades at this point, but that seemed to be completely irrelevant.  This wasn't an isolated case either.  We had extended family members who never stepped foot into the church he pastored, yet, whenever they needed him, he showed up.  Whether it was hospital visits, a death in the family, or something else, you could count on him stepping in if he was ever needed.  I think the thing that amazed me the most was when my father died and he drove 200 miles to be a part of the graveside ceremony and to be there for our family.  A family that hadn't been members of his church in over 30 years!

Several years ago, I was afforded an opportunity to minister along side of him.  My grandmother had passed away and the two of us were asked to minister at her funeral.  I remember sitting there beside him and although now a minister myself, the awe factor was still there.  He had done hundreds of these while this was my first. Yet, he didn't treat me like a rookie.  He treated me with mutual respect, as if I was no different than him.  I was honored to minister along side him that day and when it was all over I was left with the sense of how awesome it would have been to serve along side him in ministry for a season.

This week he'll step down as senior pastor at Urban Park Assembly of God after more than 55 years.  After more than 5 decades of loving people and proclaiming the Word of God. To put things in perspective, I'm coming up on year number 7.  If I make it 55 years, I'll be well into my 90s. I'm different than he is.  He speaks with a booming voice that is clear and concise. I sound like you would expect someone to speak with DNA from West Virgina and East Texas.  He wears a suit and tie.  I wear a jacket with jeans and seldom strap on a tie.  He speaks behind a big wooden pulpit.  I use a music stand.  But that's enough of the irrelevant stuff.  Our goal is the same.  To make a difference in the lives of others.  To love others with the love of God and to challenge them to be who He created them to be.  To proclaim the gospel of the kingdom in a world that desperately needs it.  And above all, to live our lives in such a way as to reflect the image of the One we serve to a world that needs to see Him instead of us.  Perhaps some 40 years ago, he was already getting this last thing right and that's why I thought he was Jesus. He's got a bit of a jump start on me but my goal is to follow him as he has followed Christ.  And who knows, just maybe someday I'll too be mistaken for Jesus.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I Used The Jedi Approach

The arguing was driving me up the wall.  My boys had been at it all morning. They were arguing about everything.  After several warnings had gone completely unheeded, they had pushed me to the brink.  So, I stood up determining to put a stop to the nonsense.  I walked into the bedroom, opened my closet door and pulled out the thing that would put an end to all the arguing.  Yep, my robe would do the trick.

I strapped it on, located the closest lightsaber, checked the mirror to make sure I looked good in my Jedi attire, and walked back into the living room.  I then declared war on the arguing subjects and for the next few minutes engaged in one of the most intense lightsaber fights ever.  I fought valiantly but the two of them proved to be more than I could handle.  I took a lightsaber in the side followed by one to the neck.  I wanted to continue, but everyone knows you can't survive those kinds of blows, so I fell to the ground in defeat.  When the dust had cleared the arguing was gone and laughter filled the room. As a matter of fact, those same two boys who moments earlier acted like they couldn't stand each other were celebrating their joint victory with one another.   

Now, I don't always use the Jedi approach.  As a matter of fact, this was my first time using that technique.  Most of the time its a tough scolding followed by grounding or other forms of discipline.  This day however, I went another route.  And, it worked.  The atmosphere in the home changed.  Imagine that, a 15 minute make believe light saber battle and the atmosphere in our home was changed. My only regret is that I didn't do it sooner.

I'm a little over 11 years into this daddy thing, and I'm still learning on the go.  Some days I get it right and some days I get it wrong. Sometimes I forget that my role as dad is to correct wrong behavior not simply punish it.  Believe me, there is a huge difference.  It's easy to lay down the law, but it takes a bit more effort to be engaged and relational.  The latter doesn't exclude discipline, it just understands that discipline is simply a tool and not the goal.

I could have scolded my boys that day, sent them to their room, and grounded them.  At least the room I was in would have been free of the conflict.  But the longer I live the more I learn that life is not just about me. I didn't just want silence, I wanted to see the two warring mini-mes at peace with one another.  I wanted to see them getting along.  It's amazing how me simply challenging them to a lightsaber battle transformed these two opponents into a team.  Instantly they became a united force working together for a common goal.  Now, if I could just bottle that up and have them take a dose of that whenever they are at odds with one another.

Scripture instructs us to, "train up a child in the way that they should go and when they are old they won't depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).  That "training" is so much more than demanding compliance to a set of rules.  It requires more than demanding obedience because "I said so."  Sometimes it requires the time to explain the "why."  This training is about creating an atmosphere of honor and respect so they can see firsthand what a biblical model is in regards to how we interact with others.  It's about so much more than demanding they get along, its about showing them how to get along.

I am less interested in making my boys get along and more interested in them wanting to get along.  That will never happen if I choose to be a relationally detached dictator.  Therefore, I'll choose to get out of my recliner and strap on a lightsaber, or put on a batman mask, or pick up a football.  Whatever it takes to train up my boys in the way that they should go.  And for the record, this Jedi could have taken them both down, but shhh, don't tell them.  They are convinced they really beat me, "together." And that is far more important than me proving my superiority in wielding a lightsaber.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I'm Hoping That He Can Finally Laugh Himself!

He made me laugh.  He made me laugh a lot.  There are dozens of roles Robin Williams played that left me in stitches.  Although I enjoyed watching him on the the big screen, he made me laugh when he was simply in "impromptu mode."  There's not many in Hollywood I would like to meet, but he's one I would have loved to meet.  He's one I think I would have enjoyed getting to know.  One I would like to play Pictionary with, or Taboo, or Catch Phrase.  I'm thinking that would indeed be a blast!

The news of his death came as a shock to me as it did everyone else.  As I sit here taking it all in, I can't help but think how broken our culture is.  I mean, here was a man who entertained us.  A man who made us laugh.  A man who made our journey better by the laughter he brought us.  He made us laugh.  He made us all laugh.  And that's really all we wanted from him.  Never mind the inner turmoil he walked through life with.  Never mind the struggles he had as he tried to navigate through this life.  Because we are so programmed toward being entertained, all of his issues were irrelevant to us. Until a moment like this.  Then all of a sudden we sit in front of our television numb. The laughter all fades and we are hit with the harsh reality that all we choose to see is not all we need to see.

Beyond our laughter was a man with problems.  Beyond the characters he played was a man, just like all of us.  A man, who faced major challenges.  And while the masses screamed, "Make me laugh," he obliged, all the while struggling to make it through the next day. He made us laugh, but I'm thinking he should also have made us pray.  I'm talking genuine prayer, standing in the gap, asking God to help this man who makes us laugh find the joy that escapes him.  Afterall, he didn't hide his problems.  They were out there for anyone who cared to see. But who among us really cared?  As long as we were laughing, how many of us really cared about the one making us laugh?  At his death we sit here stunned wondering how one who could make others laugh struggled to enjoy life himself.  The truth was always there, however, below the surface for anyone to see who truly cared to see it.

I know we don't really know him.  We watched his life from a distance.  We watched as he put on the masks and we determined not to look beyond them.  That would require something from us and we simply wanted something from him.  That's how we approach all the entertainers in our culture.  I don't know how many times, when those "stars" among us give us a glimpse of who they really are, and I just want to pretend I didn't see the "real person."  I think, "please sing or act, because I like the entertainer much more than the real you."  Perhaps, you're not like me but I think there are more like me then not when it comes to this.

Over the course of the next few days, the television will be saturated with news of Robin Williams'  death.  The internet, social media, and our personal conversations will be full of the same.  Then, it'll all fade to silence and another story will captivate our attention. Someone else will make us laugh. I know there will never be another Robin Williams, but there will be another who will make us laugh. There is never a shortage of those who are willing to step out on that stage and do a song and dance for us.  So, someone else will entertain us.  And when they do we'll not care about the issues that haunt their lives.  We want to be entertained and as long as we are, all is good with our little world.  Yeah, we'll laugh again.  And the whole time we are laughing we'll fail to truly see just how broken this culture is that we insist on maintaining.    

Robin Williams was so much more than a goofy alien from Ork, or a genie in a bottle, or a boy dressed in a green suit that taught us the power of "happy thoughts."  His gifts and talents are well documented but we make a huge mistake when we try to define him by what he brought to the stage.  It's equally important that we not define him by the struggles he walked through life with. As with us all, who we truly are and the value of our lives is determined only by the One who created us.  God looked far beyond the roles and all the characters he played and all the masks he wore, and saw not a star, but a man.  A man He created to be His son.  A man worth loving regardless of what he did, what he didn't do, or the value he brought to the table.  Jesus saw a man who was worth rescuing even if the cost required His life in exchange.  Williams stardom was irrelevant in God's assessment of his true worth and it played no part in who he was in God's eyes.  Hmm, wondering how things would be different if we could approach others with that same perspective?

I have no idea as to where Williams was in relation to His Creator.  I could easily take some of the news I hear and form an opinion that in the end has no bearing on his eternal destination.  I've finally determined to let God sit in that seat rather than me.  While I would love to hold to the hope that I will one day see him again so he can make me laugh, I think the point I'm trying to get across is that life isn't just about "me."  With that in mind the message I'm trying to communicate is, I'm hoping that, after a life long struggle to find real joy, the man who we first got to know via television's Happy Days can, once and for all, finally laugh himself!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Angel Visitation

It was just a normal day.  Nothing really out of the ordinary. We were making a few cuts to our monthly budget and in doing so were making a change regarding our internet service provider.  I was awaiting the arrival of the technician when the doorbell rang.  I went to the door and there stood an Angel.

He wasn't 10 feet tall, wielding a sword, or adorned in white.  He didn't have wings and I didn't fall to the ground "sore" afraid.  He was cloaked in technician attire but I knew immediately he was an Angel.  How you ask? I'll get to that in a moment.

After he did most of his installation procedures, he was about to wrap things up.  The two of us were alone in the office, when he looked at me and began to share something very heavy on his heart.  He was weighed down with something and he needed a listening ear.  He didn't need advice, he needed truth and he took a chance with me a complete stranger.  I say a complete stranger, but this fellow believer seemed to understand the concept of the "household of faith."  He knew I too was a believer and for him that seemed to indicate we had a relational connection that made this a safe place to share his heart.  So, he went for it.  He held nothing back.  He spilled it all out there hoping I could hear from heaven for him.

At first I was a little dumbfounded.  I couldn't believe what was happening.  I just ordered internet service and thought this would be a quick in and out procedure.  But, while waiting for the lights on the newly installed modem and router to indicate the install was complete, I found myself engaged in kingdom business.  I knew this was not a chance meeting but a divinely ordained encounter. I sat there staring into this young man's eyes and I saw hurt, disappointment, and confusion. Suddenly my internet speed and how much money I was going to be saving became irrelevant.  I was no longer simply a customer here, but was now an instrument in the hands of God.  I was an ambassador from another kingdom entrusted to speak on behalf my King.

After I listened carefully to him sharing his heart, I spoke.  I didn't shy away from speaking the truth even though it ran the risk of being rejected.  I didn't sugar coat it in order to try to make it appear more palatable.  I looked him in the eye and I spoke to the root issues in his life, and he acknowledged I was right on.  With humility he sat there in front of me, hanging on every word.  He was man at a crossroads in his life and longed for change.  Real change.  He didn't need to hear a 3 point sermon on how to change followed by an altar call.  He was determined to change right then and there in my office while installing my new internet service.

When we were finished I asked him if I could pray for him and his eyes filled with tears. I prayed for him, and assured him I would continue to pray for him.  As he left I thought to myself, how often are we surrounded by people just like him?  Individuals who are hurting.  Individuals who a looking for real answers.  And how many times do we hurry through life distracted by things that blind us to the needs of those people.  This encounter was easy for me because he started the conversation.  But how many out there are longing for us to start the conversation?  How many of our waiters/waitresses are needing us to start the conversation?  How many of our bank tellers are wanting someone to start the conversation?  How many of our neighbors need desperately for us to start the conversation?  I'm convinced there are people all around us that are a simple conversation away from a life changing encounter with their Creator. I'm just wondering who among us is willing to speak?

You're probably thinking as I described my Angel visitation that he didn't resemble any angels you've read about in Scripture.  I can assure you however that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man who came into my home that day was indeed an Angel.  How, you ask?  When I opened the door I clearly saw his name tag that read...."Angel."