Thy Will Be Done Part II

Yesterday I described a travel experience that taught me a lot about faith, planning, and God’s omniscience. Today I want to add more context to describe the richness of my experience in-between takeoff and landing.

The whole purpose of the trip was to spend time with my family. I hadn’t seen them in two months and missed them terribly.

I got to watch my son play his best game of the season.

His team crushed their opponent, 40-0. He kept the defense buttoned up while protecting his QB and clearing paths for the running game and even recorded a “pancake block.”

I watched my younger son at his basketball practice and was so impressed by his “handles” and how his game had improved in two months.

I fellowshipped at my church and participated in getting two new elders confirmed.

We had lunch with family friends and talked about everything from movies to security to current events and nappy hair. I spent time mentoring up and coming leaders and discussed new security threats.

Sadly I also learned of the passing of an old family friend and prayed for his family’s strength. Uncle Hayford and my dad had been friends for over half a century.

There is a time and season for everything under the sun. A time to celebrate, a time to grieve, a time to rejoice, and a time to reflect. A time to be so freaking frustrated and a time to realize who holds the whole world in His hands.

The time was way too short but it was so rich I wouldn’t trade the experience. I thank God for the journey. His grace is still sufficient

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Planes, Trains, & Automobiles: Thy Will be Done

I recently planned a trip to watch my oldest son play in his final high school football home game. It’s his senior year and he’s played all four years; junior varsity and now varsity as a starting right guard.

Since I was flying solo, I opted to fly on a military aircraft as a space available passenger. This is when those affiliated with the US military can fly to various destinations depending on how many seats are available for non-mission related passengers.

It’s a sweet deal if your blood pressure can handle how harrowing it gets or if you have nothing else to do. Well, I was 1 for 2; I actually thought my BP could handle it; however I was under a tight timeline and really couldn’t afford to miss days on either end.

Enter the most stressful I’ve ever felt as a traveler…and that includes convoying through minefields in Afghanistan!

For starters I missed my original flight from Baltimore to Germany. So I caught a train to NJ to catch another military cargo plain heading to Germany. That aircraft had 19 seats available so I was hopeful. I checked into a hotel room after midnight and got a good night’s rest and early in the morning signed up for a flight leaving 8 hours later.

For most of the day I was the only name on the list…my hope kept rising. I’d already lost a day and didn’t want to tag onto it. Everyday spent traveling was a day I wasn’t with my family.

By 3:00pm that list had climbed to 13. I was still hopeful when I noticed my name on the list had dropped down to #4. When called, I checked in my luggage, received a boarding pass and relaxed knowing I was that much closer.

Then the ball dropped!

Officials announced they now only had 5 seats!! How did we lose 14?!! Somehow I had forgotten this was Space-Available (a.k.a Space-A). Which means cargo is more important and so are those on missions. I was on leave. Humbly I retreated and began to consider my options.

When you choose to use “Space-A” as your first option, every alternative becomes cost-prohibitive. So as I checked my options, it dawned on me that I was screwed. I was being forced to placed a price-value on how badly I needed to watch my son’s game; was it worth a $4,000 ticket. I thought to myself, that’s several semesters of college tuition…I’m sure he’d understand. 😳

Fortunately, God had other plans because while I was sitting outside the terminal getting bitten by giant NJ mosquitoes and pondering my next move, 9 additional seats materialized; I boarded and made the uncomfortable 7-hour flight from NJ to Germany. The reality of getting to my destination outweighed the discomfort of jump seats easily. I did conclude then and there that this would be my last Space-A trip after I returned. Inside I hoped this would be the worst and that the return trip would be easier—there are always seats available on the return legs.

I was very very wrong!

As I type this, I’m seating on an Air France flight heading to Paris. From there I’ll catch a flight to NY and then onto my final destination in VA.

What happened you ask?

Only 30 seats were available and I wasn’t in the top 40. I went into plan B mode and found this flight. Now the challenge was getting to the airport in time. Of course this is when taxicabs make money. I figured taking a train would be easier…so I grabbed a taxi to the train station and arrived in time to catch a train leaving in 15-mins only to be told that train was fully booked. 🤬🤬🤬

I rushed back outside to grab an exorbitant taxi to the airport 70+ miles away. I settled in to the taxi and worked to buy my Air France tickets online. 20-mins into the ride realized I’d left my backpack in the first taxi!!!!

I’m not making this up!

God was still in control as I was able to get a hold of the taxi driver and subsequently paid for my backpack to get its own limo ride to the airport!!

I’ve started the journey back and if there was ever a time one could say they needed a drink, it would be right now. I’ve chosen to settle for a tomato juice instead and to write this blog entry as my therapy or pillow scream.

Here’s the lesson: when you start your day beseeching God for “His will to be done” in your life, don’t expect a smooth ride:

1. Expect Him to be in control.

2. Expect that He is with you (and your stuff) all the way.

3. Expect to learn what faith truly means—“the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Thank you Lord. Thy will be done!

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Deep Firework Truths

Got to experience another July 4th “FreedomFest” event last night. Started off with a hosted dinner with key leaders in the local community. A chance to join us in celebrating our independence and experiencing an American tradition…fireworks.

I’ve had my share of fireworks experiences.

From watching my older brother try to make a case when we were kids that fireworks (or bangers as we called them in Lagos back-in-the-day) were effective weapons for taking out lizards; or the New Year experience I’ve had all over the world (Nigeria, South Korea, Dubai, Portugal, East Coast, Mid-West, etc.)

Last night was different. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m aging and tend to see a lesson in everything. Here’s what I saw:

This was my favorite sequence. Sitting on softball field bleachers with my son, friends, and associates I captured this shot early during the 30-minute show. What an amazing display.

I paused to take it all in:

— The loud explosions took me back to Afghanistan in 2008. I thanked God again for His protection.

— The array of lights surrounded by darkness reminded me that despite my own imperfection(s), I am God’s hands and feet here on earth.

— The presence of friends and family reminded me that I don’t have to go it alone.

— The 30-minute duration of the show reminded me that life is relatively short…I should make the moments count.

This particular sequence was humorous to me. It conjured thoughts of the key to life itself. Millions looking for one to land on. Screaming as they search. Who knew fireworks could turn out to be so deep. 🧐

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Just Love; No Caveats

Lately I’ve been assessing my journey on this side of heaven and my relationship with my creator facilitated by my belief in His Son as my Lord and Savior.

I’ve pondered the penchant for religious legalism and whether my life reflects that of a religious zealot or one with a relationship with God.

In essence I’ve had to ask myself the question: “If I was arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?” 

What physical evidence would be presented based on my daily activities and habits?

What if the investigator followed me for a week? Yes, that includes social media “following”.

If witnesses were called to testify, what would they say I was like? What would co-workers, family members, friends, gym-buddies say?

Would their testimony convict me of being a Christian or would it say otherwise?

Would all the witnesses say the same thing or would it confuse the jury?

What about strangers? Would they say I behaved like a Christian when our paths crossed?

I’ve thought a lot about these questions especially as I examine my own walk.

We now live in a world were more people associate Christianity with intolerance than with the model Jesus presents…and so our credibility is diminished in some spaces; especially the West. We are known for what we stand against but not necessarily for what Jesus stood for.

If Jesus is the model of how we are to love, then what is our grade?

— Is our love conditional? Directed at only those who think like us, dress like us, believe what we believe?

— Does our love and treatment of others reflect the way God treats and loves us or is it “Love, With Caveats”

I like the way Shane Claiborne puts it when he says:

“Those who follow Jesus should attract the same people Jesus attracted and frustrate the same people Jesus frustrated.”

So how do we know if our confession as followers of Jesus is real?

The Apostle John has a few things to say about loving God and loving others. He is very clear that those who claim to love God should manifest that love in how they love and treat others.

Basically, if we say we are Christians and that we follow Jesus, then what is the evidence? It should be seen in the way we love and treat others.

Love is such a powerful word; one that we throw around nonchalantly at times. Think about some of the things we associate with the word love: TV Shows, restaurant chains, sports teams, cars, and chocolate.

This is not what John is referring to in his letter.

There are two main truths about love that John points out in 1 John 4:

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. (1 John 4: 7-8, The Message Bible)

The first truth from John is this: TO KNOW GOD IS TO KNOW LOVE

Have you ever been at a family reunion with a whole bunch of aunties and uncles engaged in conversation and then you do something simple like laugh or try to make a point and someone yells out: “OMG! You’re just like your dad?” That’s what John is implying here in this scripture.

When we love the way God does, we clearly highlight our spiritual DNA and tell the world who and whose we are. When we stand up for injustice; when we defend the oppressed; when we visit the incarcerated; when we feed the poor; when we love those no one wants to love or stand up for the weak…we show that we get it…that we know God.

Which brings me to the second truth from this letter in verses 19, 20, & 21:

“We love because God loved us first. But if we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see? The commandment that God has given us is: “Love God and love each other!”” 1 John 4:19-21 CEV

The second truth from John is this: WE SHOULD LOVE THE WAY GOD LOVES

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in the Book of Luke. Interestingly, to the Jews he was telling the story to, “Good” and “Samaritan” was an oxymoron. Sort of like saying: Jumbo shrimp, Pretty ugly, Minor crisis, or Deafening silence.

Jesus has just been challenged by a lawyer about what to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers his question with a question and says: “What’s in the law or what does the book say?” That’s the equivalent today of answering a question with “Have you googled it?”

Lawyer responds (because I guess he did google it) and states:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

But then asks Jesus, “who is my neighbor?” To which Jesus tells this story:

“A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?” He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Most of us would admit that we’d probably do what the Good Samaritan did. We would render aid, call 9-1-1 or 1-1-2, etc. But it’s not the doing good part that we struggle with.

It’s the loving the unlovable part. It’s the side comments about those who can’t help themselves. It’s our readiness to stone the woman caught in adultery.

It’s our willingness to walk past the homeless person because we think they’ll just get drunk or do drugs if we give them money.

It’s the silence when we see injustice and oppression and the enthusiasm by which we tell the world it is going to hell.

Jesus tells this story and gives us a practical tool regarding how to love others:

1. The spiritual vision to see those who are hurting and in need of God’s love. The priest, Levite, and Samaritan all saw the injured man.

2. The compassion to love as God loves us. We do this well because it costs us nothing. When we see others in need, we offer thoughts and prayers at no cost to us or the victims.

3. The willingness and courage to go where the need is and do whatever it takes to meet people’s needs with God’s love. This is where we don’t do as well. Loving the way God loves should cost us something. It cost the Samaritan some denarii and he was willing to return to pay more. It cost God his only begotten Son to forgive us our sins. What does it cost us when we love? Everyone Jesus displayed love too before his crucifixion was shunned by the church. Today we are quick to shun those who wear their sin on t-shirts; as if God would do the same for our “hidden” sins.

So before we become like the Pharisees so willing to stone the woman caught in adultery to death, let us take a moment to remember what it cost God to love us unconditionally.

Just as we eagerly look to defend our beliefs, remember when it came down to it, all Jesus said we had to do was Love God and love others.

There were no caveats to His love for us when He hung on a cross 2,000 years ago. There shouldn’t be any in our love for others if we say we know Him.

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Funerals

I’ve been to four funerals so far in my life. My maternal grandmother’s, a good friend from college, a young Airman in my unit, and yesterday, the husband of a co-worker. Each were very different but all had one thing in common: the air of sadness from a departed loved one.
Yesterday’s was even more different.  It was the first one held in a language I didn’t fully understand. It was the first one where the dress code was surprisingly quite casual; shorts, t-shirts, jeans, slacks, blouses. Besides the clergy, only the military members were dressed up. It was the first one where the body was cremated and the urn was being laid in the ground. I recognized a solemn hymn sung in Deutsch (Bleib bei mir, Herr!) or “Abide with Me”, the Lord’s Prayer, and a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the end.
Back home, I was very young when grandma died. I remember a huge celebration and then a lot of wailing. I remember watching my mum and her sisters cry out loud. I didn’t cry. I mimicked dad’s calm demeanor and stuck to his side the whole time. I was too young to have the kind of relationship with my grandma that my sons have with their grandma-Lagos today. I didn’t know enough to cry.
In college when my boy BH died, it rocked me. He’d joined the Navy after graduation and become a pilot.  He died in a plane crash. It didn’t hit me until I saw his casket lowered into the ground…that’s when I lost it. I had an outer body experience as I watched my self cry my eyes out. The crowd slowly walked away from the gravesite and I just froze and cried. Somehow I didn’t want to stop crying…I felt I owed BH all my tear ducts could muster.
When Zac died in 2011 (https://u2times.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/remembering-zac/) the funeral was a classic military funeral. Honor guard, gun salutes, thousands of American flags lining the streets along with citizens rendering salutes to a fallen warrior. My heart was so heavy. I knew him…he was my Airmen. I remember getting on bended knee to present his dog tags to his younger brother. The long hug with his mum and his dad’s stoic look throughout.
This is not one of those topics anyone should jump for excitement about. I write this because, inevitably, we will get to say goodbye to someone at some point or another and regardless of the culture or the circumstances, the feelings evoked at a funeral are universal: we miss them terribly; there’s a hole where there wasn’t one before; the things we were so concerned about before are no longer as important as saying goodbye.
Rest in Peace Manfred!
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Remember Me

do-this-in-remembrance-of-me-Super-bread-wine-christian-wallpaper-hd_1920x1200
Earlier this week my oldest son asked me if I was religious. I was excited about the question because it told me he’d been paying attention to the message I delivered on Father’s Day about the Incredible Dad.  Without hesitating I answered that I wasn’t but that I had a relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ.
However, the question made me think about things I might be religious about. More importantly it made me think about sin and how much it separated me from God. I also thought about the words of King David when he said his sin was ever before him (Psalm 51:3) and how in reality, we only separate ourselves from our vices by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. We can’t do it on our own!
It dawned on me, then and there, that there is indeed one thing that I’m religious about; the cup and the bread.  I NEED communion. I NEED a SAVIOR and I’m thankful that Jesus commanded that we do this ONE thing to remember Him (1 Cor 11:24).
So much is done by individuals today to be remembered. Every minute a new YouTube video pops up with someone doing something ridiculous for fame. We dedicate days to past Presidents, renowned leaders, and Saints.  We contribute to charities in memory of loved ones.
There is a human tendency to want to leave a mark on the world.  To have our lives have some meaning. To leave a legacy of sorts.  I know what that tendency points to: It’s God’s purpose for our lives. It’s no surprise that His only Son, who was sent for a purpose, would, command his disciples to do something symbolical to remember Him. Rarely has someone’s request for remembrance been accompanied by a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
What we couldn’t do for ourselves, Christ did for us and that was wash away and cleanse us from our sins. He took away all the thoughts of getting my life together on my own and my attempts at getting clean first.  Like the debt we would owe if someone took a bullet for us, Christ’s sacrifice for us implores us to live for him.
 
So taking communion gives us an opportunity to reconnect with Him if we’ve been disconnected. A chance to connect if we’ve never been plugged in.  A chance to acknowledge that what He did was for me (us) and that the bread and the wine, like a military retreat ceremony, is a reminder of His great sacrifice on Calvary’s cross…for ME.
For this, I will religiously remember Him, as often as I can.
 
“…the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
(1 Corinthians 11:23b-26)
 
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The Incredible Dad!

happy father's day

Today in over 70 countries around the world, to include the U.S.A, we celebrate Father’s Day.  Fathers are part of the reason we’re here. They are the other side of the biological equation that God created and used to bring us into this world.  They are famous for many things like:

  • Teaching us to ride a bike
  • Throwing us our first football or baseball
  • Teaching us to drive
  • Scaring away your first boyfriend
  • Making some of us sweat as we sought permission to marry his daughter

Fathers are also known for say things like:

  • “You alright?
  • “Are you sure?”
  • “Y’awl better not be playing in that toilet!”
  • “It’s going to be okay, you’ll get them next time!”

Not everyone has pleasant memories of their fathers, or looks fondly at their own performance as fathers. And so, I thank God for His grace and that He can make up for our imperfect earthly fathers by being our perfect, loving and forgiving Heavenly Father.

Today is always a quietly emotional day for me. First because as a son, I am so grateful for the example my own father set for me.  He’s my mentor, my role model and the wind beneath my wings. As a father, I sometimes struggle as I strive to be the same for my own two sons. As an uncle, thousands of miles away from my nieces and nephews, I struggle to be of some presence in their lives.

And just like an amazing Big Brother, Jesus places one of the more beloved and preached parables in the Bible to teach us about the power of forgiveness that we can experience with true repentance, and the opportunity we then have to welcome others into God’s grace as well.  These powerful truths are applicable to all of us in our various roles in life.

Some dads need help connecting with their kids.  Some are clueless about this parenting thing and afraid of messing it up. It’s one job you can’t screw up. Or maybe your own kids have grown up and left the nest and now you find yourself surrounded by a new generation of young people and are not sure how to relate or connect.  Whichever the case, Jesus’ parables in the new testament contain vital lessons for fathers particularly.  One popular story Jesus tells is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  If you’re familiar with this story you can probably relate to the son’s need for mercy after his journey down Stupid Avenue.

The story is found in Luke 15:11-32.  In telling this story, the main character would appear to be the younger son who was lost and later returned home. However, the true main character of the story is the father. There’s so much to this dad that I relate to just as there’s a bit of each of his two sons in all of us if we’re honest with ourselves.

The first son did the unthinkable. He lived in comfort and luxury. His father was wealthy and had servants. But yet, he saw his dad as a means to getting what he wanted…pleasure.

What was the unthinkable? Wishing his dad were dead in order to get it. That’s what it meant to ask for your inheritance before your dad actually passed away.  You can imagine how loving that relationship was.

The older son saw himself as the “obedient” one. Doing things to gain his dad’s love. It was one of those relationships many of us are probably also familiar with:

  • “Dad will ONLY love me if I get all A’s
  • “Dad will love me if I win the game.”
  • “At least I didn’t screw up like Mikey did.”

In either case, what the dad did in response was mind-blowing!

With the first son…he gave him what he arrogantly asked for and let him go! Think about this for a second: how many of us would actually do this?

You know your kids well. You see the mere immaturity in the request and can script how this would play out even with my own sons.  This Father didn’t force him to stay. Let’s just go ahead and call him Mikey. Mikey left home, blew his inheritance and found himself, broke, busted and disgusted.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably watched your kids make poor choices or head towards bad circumstances and you know that letting them go ahead is harder than yelling them into compliance. But this is what this dad did…he let him go and then waited because “faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.”

The father believed his son would eventually come to his senses. So much so, he did things based on his faith. He planned his return party.  Do you know how crazy that is? Planning a homecoming for someone who wished you dead?!  He was right because Mikey did come to his senses years later and confessed to blowing it.

This is the first takeawayGOD IS WAITING FOR YOU!

Even before you come to your senses, God has eagerly been awaiting your return and has planned a celebration with heaven’s angels.  How do I know that? Because in this story…the father represents God.

Just as the father displayed to Mikey that nothing he’d done before and during the “wonder years” would diminish his love for him. Our heavenly Father’s does the same with us as well.

If you’ve been away or distant or have never established a relationship with Him.  He wants you to know he is so excited to reconnect with you and in fact, the party is already planned.  All that remains is you, the guest of honor, in attendance…AND, he’ll meet you while you’re still on your way.

And so how do we get to this banquet in our honor?  You do what Mikey did which is something the Bible calls repentance.  It is simply agreeing with God’s assessment of our errors, our sin, our disobedience…whatever term you prefer…and then turning away from those things and turning to him to ask him for his forgiveness.

The Bible puts it like this in 1 John. 1:9: “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” Not some unrighteousness. Not only the vile things. ALL unrighteousness!!

Meanwhile, the older brother, let’s call him Johnny, was not pleased.  He was beyond upset and blew up in anger when he heard the house music and smelled the BBQ grilling outback.  You can imagine the conversation. I’ve been working my butt off all these years and this knucklehead son of yours returns home after wishing you dead and living a life of shame and reproach, and you throw him a party?!!

What about me? What about all the good I’ve done? Why do you love him more than me? How many of us can relate to this?

With the older son, dad doesn’t get into a shouting match nor does he call him an ungrateful son. He simply reminds him that he never lacked anything.

If you understand the way inheritances worked in those days, the older son received two-thirds while the younger got a third. So, Johnny got more than Mikey, yet he decided to stay at home and still didn’t feel any closer to dad.  He was still trying to “earn” dad’s love.

How many of us dads remain distant because our kids don’t seem to be able to do enough or meet our expectations?

How many of us grew up in a relationship with our fathers in which we were always striving to earn his approval and hear him say, “Son, I’m proud of you.”  And still to this day, we’re stuck in that cycle of defeat.

Here’s the second takeaway—GOD WANTS TO CONNECT WITH YOU!

Our heavenly Father longs for a relationship with us and that relationship is based on His unconditional love (grace) through our repentance and faith. He offers that to us freely even though it cost Him His only son. The Christian way of life is the only belief system based purely on grace and not on your being good enough or doing good things. Paul explained it in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”

Maybe you’re like Johnny in how you are relating to God…trying to earn his pleasure or dispel his anger by being good enough or religious enough. This parable teaches us that God simply wants a relationship and your attempts are not necessary.

 

Something else Johnny did that we shouldn’t miss was to allow his self-righteousness to keep him from celebrating his own brother’s return.

Sometimes we do this. We forget the sweet, sweet sound of Amazing Grace that saved us when we ourselves were lost and blind. We forget how precious grace felt that hour when we first believed. So, instead of rejoicing in God’s grace and extending it to others, we rush into religious activity and try to earn God’s love by our good deeds while withholding his love and grace from others.

We become like the very people Jesus was telling this story to…the religious leaders of his day who went about judging people while living hypocritical lives.  As a Christian, are you known more for what you stand for OR what you stand against?  If you were in the market place professing your faith, would Christ be writing in the sand and asking those without any sin to cast the first stone or would he ask for the next party with sinners to be held at your house?

No matter how far we are from God. No matter whether we believe God has forgotten about us or how far we’ve drifted from Him. I want you to know it’s never too late to return home. You don’t have to clean up anything.

Remember Mikey didn’t stop by the mall or a Holiday Inn to get cleaned up…he just got up from the pig pen and returned home.

This is the third takeawayGOD WANTS YOU TO COME AS YOU ARE!

This is a story about an incredible earthly father and his relationship to his two sons. It highlights how we separate ourselves from a relationship with our heavenly father by rebelling and satisfying our selfish desires.  Jesus wanted those he shared this parable with to simply realize how much God loved them and wanted to connect with them. More importantly, He wanted them to know they needed to come simply as they were.

This was where I was during my senior year in college. I felt God calling me to Reconnect; but I kept thinking I would only go to church after I’d done some serious scrubbing of the dirt from the pig’s sty. Somehow, I thought that would make me clean enough.

What made me feel that way? Was it the Johnny’s in my community whose judgmental tones I wanted to avoid?

Was it that I felt too far away and unforgivable? That I felt I was too far gone for God to consider or even worry about.

Despite my thinking, God met me where I was just like that earthly father ran out to meet his son on the road.

As a father, as much as I want my sons to be obedient and respectful and kind, what I truly desire is a relationship with each of them. I want them to know how much I love them and I want their “hey dads!” to be just as exuberant and genuine.

This parable isn’t just for fathers and sons. It’s for all of us.  If you’ve been a believer for a while, and like Johnny, find yourself being religious and trying to earn your way; today I want you to know that God is not interested in your religious activity but simply wants to connect with you.

And if you’re like Mikey, lost and at the end of your rope or unsure of all this talk about connecting and coming home; know that God, like the father in this story, has never stopped waiting for your return with open arms and that the “cow is being fattened already on your behalf” as God celebrates that desire in your heart to know Him. He’s been waiting this whole time.

And how do you get there? How do you return home?

You do what Mikey did by repenting and turning to God to ask him for his forgiveness.

And if you’ve been home but still feel distant, how do you get closer? By realizing you don’t need to earn, or be good enough, for his approval.

The story of this father and his two sons, is about us and our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  He is waiting for us, He wants to connect with us, and He wants us to come just as we are.

 

 

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Nothing Happy About Memorial Day

There’s nothing happy about Memorial Day. It’s a day of somber reflection for those brave souls whose graves we mark with Old Glory this time every year. We owe them, at a minimum, 3 minutes at 3:00pm remembering their sacrifice. 

We also need to remember the sacrifices paid by the families whose loved ones will never return. As some have stated well, if we don’t we risk seeing freedom as a birthright and forgetting it comes at a profound price. 

Americans should understand that freedom takes every instrument of our national power: diplomacy, information, our military, and our economy…and we’re good at it! But there are times when it takes even more…it takes the blood of men and women willing to face down the enemy’s gun barrel. 

So we owe it to these heroes to thank the good Lord daily for them and if not, do we deserve to enjoy the fruits of their full measure of devotion? 

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Remembering the Wereth Eleven

STAFF SERGEANT THOMAS J. FORTE

TECHNICIAN FOURTH GRADE WILLIAM EDWARD PRITCHETT

TECHNICIAN FOURTH GRADE JAMES A. STEWART

CORPORAL MAGER BRADLEY

PRIVATE FIRST CLASS GEORGE DAVIS

PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JAMES L. LEATHERWOOD

PRIVATE FIRST CLASS GEORGE W. MOTEN

PRIVATE FIRST CLASS DUE W. TURNER OF ARKANSAS

PRIVATE CURTIS ADAMS

PRIVATE ROBERT GREEN

PRIVATE NATHANIAL MOSS

Recently I was asked to provide closing remarks at the end of an event where a documentary honoring the memory of the Wereth Eleven was shown.  Before being asked to participate, I had never heard of this tragic event in American World War II history. Below are my remarks:

Today we honor the memory of these courageous Americans!

We honor the Langer family for their love, kindness, and courage in the face of grave danger.  As you can imagine, they didn’t see eleven sub-humans, as they were considered in their own homeland, but they saw eleven men in need of safety and hospitality.  Even more, they sought to remember them for eternity even though their paths only crossed for but a few hours. (http://www.wereth.org/en/home)

We are grateful to Master Sergeant (Retired) Rob Wilkens for his research and USA TODAY reporter Jim Michaels for taking the story to an even wider audience with the article he wrote in November 2013. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/07/wereth-black-soldiers-battle-of-bulge-army-world-war-ii-history/3465059/)

We owe gratitude to former U.S. Representatives Jim Gerlach and Chaka Fattah (both from Pennsylvania) for introducing a Resolution to the Senate Armed Services Committee to revise a 1949 report to appropriately recognize the Wereth Eleven massacre.  You see, the original report documented a dozen similar massacres during the battle of the bulge, but did not include any reference to the killings in Wereth. (https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-concurrent-resolution/141)

We thank the administrators of the U.S. Memorial Wereth, specifically, Ms. Solange Dekeyser, for her tireless efforts to keep the memorial as a visible reminder to current and future generations. (http://www.wereth.org/en/home)

Quite frankly, like many, I’d never heard of the Wereth 11.  I am a recent convert to the study of American history in World War II.  My conversion took place 6 years ago on a staff ride to Normandy where my curiosity drove me to wonder about the logistics feat it took to sustain D-day and other ensuing battles.  During that tour, I marveled at the youth of the men who fought and died in those battles and have since made it a point to visit some of the cemeteries and memorials in Europe where American service members are buried.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m familiar with many of the more popular stories; the Tuskegee Airmen, the massacre at Sant’anna di Stazzema in Tuscany, Italy, and many others that have had a visible place in our history.

But this story really hits you hard. Maybe it’s the gruesome pictures the photographer took after the snow had melted in January 1945 when the bodies were discovered; maybe it’s the human depravity that led to such hatred of those men and what they represented enough to not just murder them but torture and maim them beforehand; maybe it’s the 50-years the families suffered and mourned in silence as others were acknowledged and celebrated and their loved ones left out. Whatever the reason, this story tugs at our heartstrings.

Have you ever felt ignored?  Ever been in a meeting and felt like your voice wasn’t being heard?  Ever felt like no one would understand your point of view? A very lonely place to be isn’t it?

As I pondered this story and what I’d been asked to talk about, it dawned on me how much richer we become as a culture when we hear others’ stories.  How much deeper friendships get when we try to understand better and how much we learn when we listen to a different team member’s perspective.

So, what’s the takeaway or what do we learn from the story of the Wereth Eleven?

  1. You should learn that each of the over 400,000 service members who died in World War II has a story that deserves to be told and a life that should be honored. Why? Because all gave some, and some gave all.  And because of that fact, the invisible, like the Wereth 11, became visible.
  1. You should learn from a quote by Frederick Douglas: “For a man who does not value freedom for himself will never value it for others, or put himself to any inconvenience to gain it for others.” The Wereth Eleven knew the value of freedom.  They were only three generations removed from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. They surrendered that day in December because by doing so, they would spare the lives of the Langer family that harbored them.
  1. If you’re a military leader, you should learn the importance of fostering a unit culture and environment that is strengthened by the inherent diversity of an all-volunteer force. The diversity of thought, background, upbringing, race, gender, and creed.  Those individual stories and perspectives provide leaders every possible input and consideration to make the best decision for our mission.
  1. And finally, you should learn to dare as the Roman philosopher and Statesman, “Seneca” once said:

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

Dare to make a difference with no desire for recognition!

Dare to excel without fear of it not counting!

Dare to give…for it is better to do so than to receive!

Dare to leave a legacy…for you are descendants of a great one!

Thank you for remembering the Wereth Eleven!

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Thoughts Matter

“The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right.” 

— Confucius

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