Finding Your Place After Falling From the List

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A local Las Vegas magazine publishes each year The List.  The List identifies celebrities, entertainers and other influencers whose contributions to the city or to charitable works made an impact for the previous year-it is quite the honor to be selected.  In 2013, as an up and coming business owner who donated much free print to charitable causes, I was one of the year’s honorees.  As shown in the image, I was listed just above the likes of Carrie Underwood and further down on the list, Eddie Griffin.  Admittedly it was quite a shock.  And of course the cover and the list are framed and hang proudly in my office as a reminder of something and someone I used to be, past tense. Perhaps if I had been a bit less charitable, my business would still be in existence, who knows.

There is an old cliché, and hit song, “What Have You Done for me Lately”.  We tend to be defined not so much by past achievements or contribution as much as what we did last week.  While The List or any other designation recognizes deeds, it also implies status, and sadly status is relative and ever changing.  Many people who were once touted now find themselves in obscurity, having gone through challenges that most certainly knocked them off the mountain, but more importantly, left them lost and struggling to find their place when everything familiar has been removed.  It is a tough place to be.

Those of us who are a bit older will recall road trips when a paper map or Atlas was needed to navigate the course.  We didn’t have google maps or GPS, and if we didn’t know how to navigate a map, or if the map was outdated, it would be easy to get lost and end up way off course.  There is nothing more frustrating than being miles from anywhere at night, low on gas, hungry from the trip and having no idea where you are at or where you are going.  It is a lonely isolating feeling to not know your surroundings or recognize and markers. Such is life for those who fall from status through their own bad choices or as innocent bystanders who are blindsided by life.

When jobs change, relationships end, family ties are unexpectedly severed, the fall from status is hard and impactful.  Those who suffer from depression face each day trying to find their place, their role, their purpose.  The current number of suicides each year by celebrities, business moguls and even clergy illustrate this fact.  It doesn’t matter sometimes how the world sees you-if you feel you have lost your way you are in a vacuum of despair trying to fit in like a game of musical chairs in the dark.  And even we as believers can lose our way or sense of purpose or worth when faced with some of life’s toughest challenges, especially when God leaves us to our own devices as an unwelcomed test.  No one welcomes this kind of testing.

Truth be known, each of us have our own version of The List, a group of people who are held in high esteem in our lives because of their genuine love, concern and guidance.  A list of celebrities may be framed and forgotten but a list comprised in the heart is a living document that endures.  And while each of us have such a list, each of us would also be found on someone else’s list.  We all matter to someone, even on days when we don’t believe it.  Our lives are always under a microscope, especially when you profess a Christian faith.  Our sphere of influence may not be obvious to us during darker times but is exists all the same.  The approach we take to hardship, our response to loss or change, are always being reviewed, and those reviews determine whose lists we end up on, and our consistency determines if we stay on those lists or are easily blocked or removed like social media connections as in Unfriended, Unfollowed or Unlisted.  Our goal should be to constantly have positive influence on someone daily, even if it is as simple as mentioning someone in prayer. A published list distributed by the world may be a cool honor, but a heart-created list of influence by friends and family is enduring.  My prayer would be that each of us find our place, our purpose, our worth in our circle of friends and family, and our name on their list.

 

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New Beginnings from Old Endings

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It’s one week into the New Year and I’m guessing many of us have already broken at least one of our resolutions. Typically the new year signals the start of new beginnings, change of habits, a renewed focus on things we prioritize as important in self-improvement.  New Years and birthdays are good opportunities to reflect on the past, take inventory of our lives and make adjustments as we move into the future. For many these are exciting times, but for others, they are unwelcomed detours.

A wise philosopher is quoted as saying that new beginnings often come disguised as troubled endings.  You may be embarking on a new job but only because you were unceremoniously dismissed or laid off from the one you loved. Perhaps you are starting the year off debt free but only because your prior financial situation resulted in bankruptcy. Maybe you are in a new relationship but only because of a recent heart wrenching separation or divorce. Indeed some new beginnings are only a result of painful endings.

New is described as recently originated or produced, not seen before.  We love the idea of driving a new car or moving into a new model home.  But new is also defined as unaccustomed or unfamiliar.  New can be intimidating or scary. New can be unwelcomed and dreaded requiring changes which were not of our choosing. The world turns, our environment and circumstances shift, we adapt and prepare to move forward but it is not without trepidation. Fear of the unknown and not being able to see the path before you is only welcomed for haunted house adventurers, not everyday people.

In the original new beginning God made everything new and perfect-man was a new creature, the earth he inhabited was new, the sun, moon and stars all new and good.  Then man did what he does best, he inserted his own will into the equation and messed everything up and became separated from God. So God came up with a New Covenant through His son Jesus, the best New we could possibly welcome.  The Word as always has much to say about newness and starting over from the past and should serve as words of hope and encouragement when read.

Jeremiah 29:11; I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and a future and a hope.

2 Corinthians 5:17; Anyone in Christ is a new creation. Old things are no more and the new things have come.

Isaiah 43:19; Look, I am doing something new and it springing forth even now, do you not see it?

Lamentations 4:22; The steadfast love of the Lord never ends! His mercies are new every morning.

Ephesians 4:22; Put away your old self, your old former self with its corruption and evil desires, and be renewed and put on the new self created in the likeness of God.

Job 8:7; Your beginning my have been small but your new latter days will be great.

Isaiah 40:331; Those who wait for the Lord will be given new strength.

Ezekiel 36:26; I will give you a new heart and I’ll put a new spirit within you.

Revelation 21:5; He who was seated on the throne said “Look, I am making all things new”.

I like many of you know the joy of being given a new opportunity because of something I worked hard to achieve. And I also know the pain of a new beginning due to a less than perfect ending. I write from a first person point of view because in most cases I am the first person, reporting from inside the storm.  Some of the most encouraging words we have to live by today were written by an Apostle while he was in chains and sharing his sleeping quarters with rats. It is only through the Word that we can embrace new beginnings with a renewed sense of hope that a sovereign God will see us through our new surroundings as we eagerly await the ending of this life on earth in exchange for a new home in a new kingdom where everyday is a new and refreshing beginning that will never have a painful ending.  Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a 21st Century White Man

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Hello, my name is Joe and I’m white. I’ve been white for, well, almost fifty-five years. I never really thought I had a white problem. I denied being white for many years.  After all, there were people much more white than I was. Then I thought I could control my whiteness by just being white on occasion without going overboard, or that I could quit at anytime. But recent events have convinced me that I have a problem and I’m here to confess.  I’m white and I’m sorry.

This opening statement was not intended to be humorous or offensive, but rather to lay the foundation for what will be a painfully honest and transparent post about the role I have played through apathy in helping to maintain the status quo of poor race relations in our country.  I can’t say for sure why the recent tragedies in MN, LA and Dallas had such a powerful impact on me compared to the hundreds before.  All I can offer is that for some reason this time it caused me to take a hard inward look at myself, to see the real man in the mirror without my color tinted lenses, and I didn’t like what I saw.  I’m remorseful and I need to change in order to be an instrument of change around me.

Let me be clear. I don’t believe I am racist, at least not on the surface.  I grew up in Indy’s West side in a racially mixed neighborhood.  I attended equally mixed schools. I grew up listening and preferring Motown music, wearing clothes that would make most white men blush and most black men jealous. Even now through the modern miracle of social media I count many black brothers and sister as just that, my siblings and I have a diverse list of friends including blacks and Hispanics. I appear to be doing everything right, but am I really?  If I and my white counterparts are truly living bias free, why are we still dealing with race issues in America?  We just last Monday celebrated two hundred and forty years of freedom but are all of us free?  The answer is a painful and resounding No! We are all still shackled by prejudices.  We are still enslaved by generational baises. We are still chained by fears and misunderstandings of the differences that divide us. I was driven to my knees in search of an answer as to why seemingly good and Godly people were having such a minimal effect on racism in our land. And I cringe at the epiphany I received in my soul searching.

For the average white person to deny the existence of lingering racism they have to be intellectually dishonest or deliberately blind to the world around them. We live in a society designed to be systematically divided, stating at the top and rippling all the way to our homes. We have been duped for generations into electing officials who promise change but disregard their own campaign slogans once in office for the same reason there is no known cure for cancer.  Officials are elected by creating fear in their constituents so they may be viewed as a potential savior. But we have failed to realize that our officials have been running on the same platforms for decades because nothing has changed and they have no intention of bringing about solutions that would give them little else to campaign on. That’s not on them, that’s on us. Two of the biggest contributors to racism in our society are the Republican and Democratic parties. Racism is not going to be eradicated at the government level by electing the right person.  Many of us believed that electing a black POTUS was a sure sign that racism had ended and relations going forward would improve. Recent events have proven that notion to be anything but true.

But I don’t lay our problems at the feet of our elected representatives.  The problem lies much closer to home.  This is where it gets painful. This is what I was forced to see in my search for answers. This on many levels is a church problem, and you and I who are the church are guilty. This past weekend I saw several posts about local churches having urgent prayer services to heal our nation.  The prayers go something like this: God, our country needs you to heal us.  Our country has rejected you and now we beseech you to remove the hatred and heal our land”. On the surface that might seem like a legitimate and sincere petition.  The problem with it for me is that it removes the onus and the blame from the roles I have played in aiding and abetting racism and places the burden of resolution on God and not on me. We are asking God to do something that he already mandated as our responsibility in his Word.  It is not for God to send reconciliation-he already did that when he gave up his Son for our restoration. Consider the often quoted passages, “love your neighbor as yourself”, “love others as Christ loved the church”, “do unto others as you would have them do to you”, “there is neither Greek or Jew, slave or free…”, God is not a respecter of persons”, and on and on.  But for many these have become lifeless words suitable for framing and hanging on a wall in our offices or our homes or a cleverly designed tattoo or piece of jewelry and little more. We have removed their powers by not applying them to our hearts.  They have become as meaningless as a Facebook meme.

We gather each Sunday in the safety and comfort of our local churches and we sing songs like Love Lifted Me or Make Me an Instrument and we each let our lights shine so brightly among our fellow parishioners that it is blinding. We quote from Matthew chapter five that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a city on a hill and we sing and we dance in emotional responses and displays of insincere agreement, high-fiving each other and anointing each other with blessings of favor and prosperity and brotherly love. But as soon as the service ends and we exit through the church doors the slightest breeze of disagreement or trouble immediately snuffs out our light.  The light we are to carry into the world, the light of love and peace and forbearance and unity, is never seen in our schools, our places of work or our communities, because the light doesn’t even remain lit until we reach our homes. Without this light we are attracted to other source of artificial light that skews our thinking and our responses. Without this light we find ways to justify injustices.  We wax indifferent to the loss of life. We as white people respond to misconduct by painting victims as having lengthy records and being less than perfect and somehow deserving of their fate. We are quick to deflect complaints by quoting black on black crime rates.  We are hardened to suggest things would be different if there were more engaged black fathers. We diminish the loss of a young life by pointing out the number of black abortions as if one carries more weight or dismisses the legitimacy of street crime. We as a white people, and specifically as white Christians have lost our ability to be empathetic to the plight of our black brothers and sisters who deal with everyday life on terms none of us could possibly understand. I’m guilty. My heart is broken.

I’m guilty because I haven’t been an active advocate of peace and unity. I’ve simply prayed for peace in the solitude of my prayer closet. I haven’t gotten my hands dirty in the fight. I’m guilty because I approach the debate but become easily distracted or offended when my black brothers try to lay some honesty on me that I receive as a personal attack, so I take my ball and go home to where I’m safe. I’m guilty because the actions I try to take in confronting social injustices I do so in the relative safety behind a computer. I’m guilty because I sing on stage or play with our Worship team but quickly lose my religion on the freeways of Las Vegas.  My light is extinguished by the first driver who cuts me off in traffic. I feel the words of the Apostle Paul. what a wretched man I am.

We have to be better than this-protests, marches, movements, boycotts and yes, even prayer alone have not proven effective in providing healing to the festering wounds and visible scars of evil and hatred that has plagued us since the beginning of our country. But what do we as a people do?  I heard some well intentioned commentators speak about finding common ground between blacks and whites so we can build on something. But at the core level, that notion in itself is divisive. Common ground? The fact is there is very little uncommon about us. If I need a new heart I can receive one from a blood typed black brother. If they need a kidney they wouldn’t want one of mine, but any white man with healthy kidneys could just as easily be their donor.  We are not from different planets that we have to search for commonality in order to progress past prejudices. We are created in the image of God, unique but the same, individual but bonded as one bride to Christ.  We have much in common and any suggestion otherwise only exasperates the issue.

How can I as a white man be a conduit of real and lasting change and reconciliation to my black brothers?  I can only offer my humble thoughts.  This has to begin first and foremost with taking an honest personal inventory of each of our lives to see if through deliberate action or through inaction, or worse, gross negligence we have contributed to the cancerous racial tensions in our communities. We have to pray that God will not change our country but our individual hearts, to remove the blinders that keep us from seeing the reality of the situation, to get beyond our standard white defenses. Once God through his spirit has opened our eyes and empowered us with resolve, we then have to take it to the streets. We have to come to the table of peace, blacks and whites alike and deliberate and reason together a solution.  For me as a white man, this means I have to become vulnerable, remorseful, to drop my guard and to leave my bullet proof vest at the door.  I have to be willing to sit and endure the valid complaints and everyday challenges young black men face through a designed social system without feeling offended, without firing back with the latest crime statistics or meaningless arguments of justification.  I have to, perhaps for the first time in y life, really listen to the complaints being lodged without retort.  Only by honestly identifying the ugliness of the issue and the centuries old evil schemes we have fallen for in further perpetrating injustices in our world can we develop the appropriate treatment and response. You can’t vaccinate against a disease until you have properly identified it so the correct vaccines can be administered. The vaccine for hate is love.  The vaccine for bias is understanding. The vaccine for social injustice is acknowledgement. And our black brothers, although they may feel it useless because they have been at the table of peace before, have to come back one more time and engage us in dialogue.  These efforts should be instituted in our local church assemblies first, but not limited to the office of the local clergy. I am the light of the world-you are the light of the world. When light is introduced into darkness, the darkness fades.

I’m genuinely fearful for the world we are leaving behind to our children and our grandchildren if we don’t take action once and for all to fight the dark forces at work to cause our destruction.  I want better than that for them.  I want a world where a white man can see a black woman and without a second thought say to himself “dayum, what a fine looking woman. Gots to meet her!”. I want to live in a world where a black woman can view a white man and think to herself ” he looks like marriage material, like someone who would treat me like a queen”. I want to live in a world where a white son can bring home his black girlfriend  and have his parents say ” if our son loves you, that’s good enough for us. Sit down and have some quiche”. I want to live in a world where a black girl is not reluctant to introduce her white boyfriend to her parents and to hear her parents say “welcome into our home young man. Have some chicken and waffles”. I want to live in a society where police officers are well trained and not fearful for their lives simply by doing their job, so they can go home at the end of their shift. I want to see a society where young black men are not afraid of being shot over minor traffic violations. I want to live in a society where hateful people are prosecuted for crimes against their brothers, and where there exist no blue code but a human code.  I want to see a world where racism is not instilled into us by a government dependent on minority voter support so they can live a lifestyle their constituents can never realize. And I want to live in a world where our lights shine brightly beyond the four walls of our churches, where we are not content because we have a black or white friend or two. I want to live in a world where my black brothers are not tired of the same shit different day lives they lead, and a world where whites are not despised because of our negligent and historic approach to the disease of racism. I don’t know if I can make a difference but I sincerely want to try this time. This is the confession of but one white man, a confession that is bound to cost me a few friends but one I feel is worth the risk if I am to ever be the good Samaritan I am called to be outside of my local church.

Dear Father of us all, place in me forever the burden of confronting my fears, my biases and my inaction so that I can have a positive impact on the world around me. Bring me to tears over the things that break your heart and help me God not to hide behind the veil of my faith in combatting evil but rather spur me to greater works in being instrumental in ushering in a movement of change and peace in my community until that day when peoples of every tribe and every tongue will bow at your throne to worship in unity the creator and lover of us all.

The Static Nature of Change-Lessons From the Chameleon

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The ability to adapt to an ever changing environment is never so evident as when observing certain species of chameleons. As seen in the image above they can change to camouflage their appearance to avoid detection by would be predators. However they can also change to signal to others of their species as in flirtation or simply to display their current mood. It was long thought that process was achieved due to numerous pigments beneath the skin but studies as late as 2014 proved this to be false. Instead they found that some species actually have a sub layer lattice of nanocrystals that can be manipulated by the chameleon to affect the way wavelengths of light are reflected or absorbed to create various colors. As for mood swings highly agitated chameleons will appear as red, dark or even black while calm, relaxed or non-threatened ones will appears in the softer blue and green shades.  So in essence it is possible to know the mood of your pet lizard just by observing their color.

There is at least one thing about life that never changes, and that is that life will always change!  Change does not discriminate-it comes to us all.  Many times those changes are welcomed and embraced-you get that promotion you worked for-you meet that special someone-you recover form an illness-you move to that location you always dreamed about-you attend the wedding of your child-you escape an abusive relationship-you change your hairstyle.

And then there are the unwelcomed and unsolicited changes we dread-you become unemployed-your spouse asks for a divorce-you receive bad news from your doctor-your financial and credit status take a major hit-you fall off that trail you’ve navigate before in a foreign country and shatter your leg-you lose your hair. Like it or not, good or bad, a change is a comin’.

Much of the Christian world has been in a panic over recent decisions by our courts that are contrary to our belief system. They feel the church is heading for disaster or even that our standard, God’s word has been compromised or forcefully changed. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have an assurance from Christ Himself that His words would never change or pass away.  The Gospel is an absolute static truth.  What will change is how we effectively use it as a weapon of defense in these trying times.  The face of our enemy will change-the strategy against the family unit and the church will change-the effective polarization of the church will change-the increasing test of our resolve and relationship with Christ will change. Like our chameleon friend, we have to be ready and able to adapt to our new surroundings, and we have to determine how that change needs to take place.

There is a passage familiar to many in the Book of Habakuk, chapter 3 which reads like this:

Though the fig tree does not bud  and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.

Many use this passage as an affirmation of faithfulness and devotion to God, and rightly so. But when I read a bit closer, I see an assertion that faith will remain in spite of the pending season of change.  In fact the verse preceding this one eludes to pending calamity. Just for my benefit, this scripture carries much more meaning when I read it as when the tree doesn’t bud and when there are no grapes and when the crops fail and there is little food. Why? Because few of us will escape this world of troubles without facing these seasons of change. Season by definition eludes to something different than the now. If indeed there is a season for everything as written in Ecclesiastes 3, then our expected norm should be the expectation of change, or the change of life’s seasons. If we live our lives prepared for the possibility of change, then change can’t possibly come when we least expect it.

God in His sovereignty is the source of much change in the life of a growing and maturing believer. In every area of life where we ascribe for something higher, whether a higher degree, a higher job title, a higher belt or certification, there is a time of testing that is required to see if we have satisfied the requirements to obtain that higher level. As faithful followers of Christ we should expect nothing different. I have never gone through so great a season of testing than when I asked God to take me to a higher level-a season of spiritual change. I’m not sure I’d do it again, but the change was for my good. Be careful the sincerity of what you ask for!

Thank God for the NEVER changing Word that we an fall back on in our EVER changing lives. And thank God for lessons from the most unusual of His creation. I wonder what it would be like to be purple for a day.

Year End Inventory-A Personal Assessment

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As I begin my last blog of 2014 I want to take a minute to thank those of you who have signed up to follow papaswords.com this year. It is humbling anytime anyone is interested enough in what a person has to say that they choose to follow your weekly posting.  Your interest, your comments and your sharing on topics and the every day struggles of living the Christian faith are always welcomed.

Having been in business and retail in the past I’ve taken many physical inventories.  While some businesses take quarterly inventories the big one is always the one taken at the end of the year. In business much can be learned from the inventory left at year’s end. It can tell you what items you sold or distributed the most.  It can tell you how well you forecasted your annual needs.  Inventory can identify current trends and it can help you better judge which items you will need to restock or liquidate for the upcoming year.

Each year at this time many of us do similar personal inventories.  New Year’s Day is the day when resolutions are made usually for the betterment of our personal lives based on habits or trends of the previous year. There are the standard quit smoking, eat better or lose weight commitments and maybe the read the Bible and pray more resolutions.  However you do it and whatever it looks like, this is the time of the year when most of us swear to make some kind of change in our personal lives. That is unless you have come to the stage where past failures in keeping these year end decisions deter you from taking such personal assessment tests ever again. Like you, each year I too consider what I did wrong the previous year and what I need to do to live better in the year ahead.

2014 was not a kind year for me.  After much effort, sleepless nights and negative health effects, I lost my business.  Some reports in the medical field read that losing a business is as traumatic for some as losing a close family member.  The grieving process is much the same. As a result my personal year end inventory tells a story that isn’t necessarily a pretty one. I am left with many boxes of good inventory that should have been distributed and I have little left of bad inventory that should never have left the building.  Here is what I’m talking about.

The Bible is clear about the inventory of good items that every Christian believer should posses and distribute.  Galatians 5:22 says this;

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

“By our fruit they will know us”.  I’m not sure if I displayed enough of this fruit or inventory in 2014 to convince some of my faith. I certainly didn’t display much peace as I struggled with the business. I can’t say I demonstrated much kindness or goodness to others as I was a bit too focused on my own issues at the time to consider others. While I tried to remain faithful through the process there were many days when I lost control.  These items listed are inventory items that should be replenished at the end of each year because we distributed and shipped all the inventory we had to others throughout the year.  Sadly I still have quite a bit of unused inventory still sitting there on the shelves at year’s end.

On the other end of the scale are those inventory items that each of us are born with because of our sinful nature that should be stored in a part of your warehouse for slow moving items.  The Bible lists these as well. They are listed earlier in Galatians 5:19;

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

I am convinced that God enabled me to be a business owner.  I could not have accomplished purchasing a business on my own accord or with my limited resources. So naturally I had a difficult time understanding why through prayers and fasting and blessings God was taking the business away from me so soon. I depleted all my strife inventory. I certainly had my fits of rage and shook my holy fists at God more than once. Through selfish ambition I tried desperately to hold on to something that was being taken from me. And on more than one occasion my blood alcohol count might have exceeded the legal limit while wallowing in despair in the midnight hours of my home. As I count the various items that one should never be giving away I find that some of these boxes have been emptied and others are shamefully low. Many elements of my personal inventory are reversed.  Like the Apostle Paul, those things I should have I am out of and those things I don’t need are in abundance.

What a blessing it is that with God you can start new inventory habits every single day.  Thankfully His memory is shorter than ours is. We can start each year, each quarter, even each day with a clean slate and fresh start.

Lamentations 3:23 says Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

As you consider on this the last day of 2014 those things you want to achieve in 2015, your good inventory, and those things you wish to change, the bad inventory, prayerfully seek God in humility and ask Him to supply those items He deems necessary for the purpose He has for your life this year. Be prepared for trials-Christianity ain’t easy! But never forget that God forgets! Fresh everyday are the tools and the inventory He sets aside for you to accomplish his will in your life and to bring you through to complete peace and joy.  It’s a long learning process, longer for some of us than others, but well worth the lessons. And don’t forget to inventory your blessings along the way!

I prayerfully wish all of you a blessed, a peaceful and God fulfilled Happy New Year!