Monday, December 17, 2012

The Challenge of Comfort

We are all aware of the tragic shootings which took place in Newtown, Connecticut this past week.  Less than forty-eight hours after this heinous event took place, politicians, media talking heads, bloggers, radio show hosts and even people on Facebook were pontificating about the causes of this senseless violence.  There is already a call for stricter gun control laws with our president vowing this will never happen again.  I have heard the prattle that stricter laws would have kept this from happening (Even though the shooter broke over 40 laws in existence while committing this violence).  I have heard the prattle that had their been a policeman with a gun or if the principal or teachers had been armed, the shooter would have been killed before he could do any damage.  People have held vigils in front of the White House, asking the president to end violence by taking away the amount of guns and ability to get guns.  I have heard people comment about the amount of armed guards surrounding the president, even as he spoke out against automatic weapons and in favor of stricter gun laws.  People have gone to Facebook to post pithy little sayings, supporting their point of view.  This morning on CNN, they held their news from Newtown and spent over an hour reporting on this tragedy.  Then one of their commercials was an advertisement for the latest assassin video game with the tag line being, “Rated the number one shooter game in America”.  In the days to come, we will be inundated with people who have the solution to this problem:  Stricter guns laws, more citizens carrying guns, mental health improvement, better parental involvement, dangers of medication given to children and much more.  All the while, the next person is plotting how much damage he can do and the publicity which will be stirred by the gruesome act he is planning.

The truth is that the cause of this violence is far deeper than can be addressed on a Facebook post or a blog or on a newscast or an op-ed piece.  As followers of Christ, we know the issue gets back to our most basic human problem:  sin.  This is not giving a simple answer to a complex problem.  Yet, sin really is the root cause of the problems in our world.  We also know that sin will never be eradicated, which is the reason laws continue to be enacted to curb the base instincts of humanity caused by sin.

However, lost in all of the rhetoric is the pain of loss.  Parents have lost children.  Children have lost mothers.  Children have lost classmates.  When the political and media pay-off isn’t there anymore, the politicians and news will pack up for the next calamity.  Oh, they will always bring up Sandy Hook again whenever it is expedient for the cause they are pushing.  But the parents of those students will forever have a loss which cannot be replaced.  Only those who have lost children can understand the pain these parents are experiencing.  Unfortunately, politicians and the media will interview and quote the parents whose words fit their agenda.  But the pain of these parents will never go away.  There will always be a place at the table which is empty.  There is a bed which may never hold another child.  There is a room which carried the unique decorating of that child which is now empty.  There are arms longing to embrace a child who will never come home.  Birthdays will come and go with parents wondering what their child would be like at a certain age.  The town will grieve and mourn, but life will not stop for them.  The mundane aspects of life (Like work, bills, preparing meals, etc.) will all be awaiting them in the near future.  The publicity and out pouring will move on once another “tragedy” strikes.  Then, parents will have to find a way to place their memories in a perspective that is healing rather than destructive.  In a perspective which will lead to an appreciation, not depression.  It will take more than months or years.  This is a loss that will color their entire lives, from which there is no escape(Nor would any parent want to escape the memory of his/her child).

Our church challenge for 2012 was “Comfort”.  In Isaiah 40:1-2, we see God’s call to His people is to bring, not just comfort, but comfort comfort.   God repeats the word comfort to us as a reminder that comforting those in need is an investment which may not have a pay-off any time soon.  The chief call to the follower of Christ is not to pass laws seeking to end gun violence, but to bring comfort in our corner of the world.  There are people all around us who are struggling to cope with life, especially during the month of December.  There are many around us who are thinking about giving up and see no reason to live.  We are called to have eyes that see beyond our own world and look for the hurts of others.  Jesus told us in Matthew 25 that whenever we do this for someone, we have actually touched the face of Jesus. 

I cannot and will not even attempt to give answers concerning this tragedy in Connecticut.  My Facebook will never post a “bumper sticker” with quick words about how to fix things.  Because of sin, there are not easy answers and quick fixes.  However, I want to be more faithful in reaching out to those who appear as outcasts and loners.  I want to reach out to those suffering loss and bring them a sense of God’s comfort and peace.  Maybe that is avoiding the issue, but I would rather be an instrument of God’s healing than invest my limited energy ranting about that which I cannot fix.  As a follower of Christ, will you take the time today to look with the eyes of Jesus?  Will you reach out to someone who appears to be hurting?  Will you seek to bring comfort, comfort to your corner of the world?  Will you seek to embrace with your arms rather than confront with your words?  Giving comfort is not for the timid nor easily discouraged.  It is a calling which will radically change our priorities and the lives around us.  Will you keep responding to the 2012 challenge to comfort?

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Lesson Learned?

"I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people's accomplishment.  The front page has nothing but man's failures."    Earl Warren 

The reality of my life is that most of my life's greatest lessons have been learned or sharpened in the sporting arena.  Sports offers us a wonderful opportunity to see our weaknesses and push ourselves to excellence.  Team sports can help us understand more about serving in a church than most any other experience.  Individual sports teach us about determination, sacrifice and endurance.


We have become a nation enthralled with watching sports.  We would be much better served to play sports than watch them.  We would have much less obesity, depression and illness if we would spend one half of the football game we plan to watch exercising, then watch the second half.  Of course, most Americans are addicted to entertainment, so I doubt this will happen any time soon.  The lessons we would learn if we would only participate rather than just watch sports are life lessons which prove invaluable.

Unfortunately, this obsession also affects the examples we have in life.  Too many people want to imitate the athletes in how they dress, talk and walk.  Charles Barkley put this into perspective when he said:  "These are my new shoes.  They're good shoes.  They won't make you rich like me, they won't make you rebound like me, they definitely won't make you handsome like me.  They'll only make you have shoes like me.  That's it."  What a wonderful reality check as Michael Jordan just unveiled his latest shoe line, which costs $250.  There will be people in America who MUST have these new shoes and will dish out that kind of money for a pair of shoes.  Whatever happened to PF Flyers which promised to make us run faster and jump higher for only $10?


I've learned many lessons playing sports and continue to learn them as I continue to play sports.  One of the game changing lessons I learned came from my Dad and involved the sport of tennis.  For those who don't know me, I have just a bit of a temper.  As a teenager, I was playing tennis when angry players like Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe were at their zenith.  So the natural thing for me to do was express my anger on the court like they did.  Now, my Dad was not really known for being quiet or docile and was rather passionate himself.  He and I would play each other in tennis, just banging away at each other with my Dad usually dusting me.  I knew I had finally improved when one Saturday, he invited me to play doubles with his usual crew.  As a cocky teenager, I thought, "I'm going to show these old men how to play."  Well, older players may not have the strength, but they have the wisdom and guile which comes from experience.  So they were wearing me out and I was getting frustrated and voicing my frustration.  To me, I was just doing what I normally did on the court, but my Dad was having none of it.  After the first set, he pulled me aside and told me that if I didn't watch my temper, there would be a huge price to pay when we got home.  Of course, that only stoked my fire.  Though I kept quiet for the rest of the matches, I was fuming when we got into the car to leave.  Before my Dad started the car, he looked at me and said, "If this is the way you are going to play tennis, I suggest that you quit.  You embarrassed me in front of my friends.  Your lack of composure will do you in one day unless you get it under control."  That became a turning point for me as I began to see how my temper was not only affecting me, but those close to me.  I still have a long way to go, but I thank God for a loving, Godly father who was willing to point out my flaws, speaking hard truths to me.

Proverbs 14:17 - "A quick tempered man does foolish things."
Proverbs 14:29 - "A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly."
Proverbs 19:19 - "A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again."

I share that lesson to remind you that we each have lessons we need to learn in life.  As you run your race, what lessons are you learning?  If you need a few new ones, get on the court, ball field or gridiron and let God speak into your life.  then put those lessons into practice.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tis the Season

Tragic news greeted the sporting world on Saturday as Kansas City Chiefs' linebacker, Jovan Belcher, took the life of his girlfriend and then took his own life at the team's practice facility.  The families and the Chiefs are heartbroken and struggling to understand how this could happen.  Belcher was only twenty-five years old, a professional athlete with a bright future, but all of that ended suddenly.  I'm sure there will be an investigation, which will probably find no easy answers to this tragedy.  How does someone who is so young with so much ahead of him become so hopeless that the only way out is death?

I bring this up, not to make light of this situation nor to try to devise any answers, but to remind us that this is the season of depression.  The suicide rate actually doubles during the month of December, which tells us that depression should be taken seriously.  We too often look at this season as a time of joy, when in reality, for many people, it is a most-depressing time.  There are a variety of factors for this:  Many who have lost loved ones during the year are facing the pain of Christmas without that loved one.  Many have high expectations for the season and then they are not met, depression overwhelms.  Many are simply lonely and this time of the year magnifies that loneliness.  The rush of the season, but itself, can cause overwhelming stress.  There are so many expectations and activities that we get overloaded.  The list could go on and on.  One of the holiday classics, "It's A Wonderful Life" shows a powerful portrait of a man who has lost hope during the holidays.

I share this, not to rain on your parade, but to make us aware that there are many hurting people around us.  We have a fantastic opportunity to offer the true hope of the "Holy-days" in Jesus.  Psalm 42:5 puts it this way:  "Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why do disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will praise my Savior and my God."  Too many around us have lost hope because they have placed their hope in things that cannot bring them lasting hope.  We have peace for a moment, but that peace if fleeting.  If we would take the time to slow down, we would see a slew of hurting people around us.  They have lost their way, have lost their passion, have lost their energy and have lost their hope.  Yet our hope is in the Lord.  Isaiah 40:31 tells us that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  God promises to be our strength when we put our hope in Him.  He is our lasting hope.

To what have you been turning to for hope?  Your success?  A relationship?  Our money?  A drink of a drug?  Sports?  Friends?  Church?  If we are ultimately trusting anything other than Jesus, we will be disappointed and left empty.  Embrace Jesus for your hope and then you can help others who are hopeless.  Would you keep your eyes open this week for those who seem to have lost their hope?  Will you take a moment to listen to their story and try to help them turn to the only One who can give lasting hope?  Jesus, the Messiah?  May this Sip help you satisfy your thirst in Jesus.  Tis the season for more than depression - Hope in Jesus!