Monday, February 22, 2010

I'm Different

Four years ago, Michael Tristanis, his wife Jeanette, and their twin girls, were tired of the crime, traffic, hurricanes, and cost of living in Miami. They wanted to do something about it. Then, the Tristianis’ saw an ad from the Hazelton Development Corporation, in Hazelton, North Dakota. Michael said the ad was an answer to prayer.

The corporation was developed by a group of concerned citizens in Hazelton, ND, who wanted to save their town from extinction. The dwindling town of 240 people was offering families up to two free lots and up to $20,000 towards home purchases. They were also offering free lots and up to $50,000 for businesses who located in the small town.

Michael and his family decided to give it a try. They packed up their belongings and took Hazelton up on their offers. They obtained the two free lots and bought a third. They purchased a house, built by students in Bismarck, which is about 45 miles away, and had it moved to their newly acquired land. They opened a bistro and coffee shop, and settled into their new life in North Dakota.

The pleasantness of having no crime and plenty of elbow room, soon faded as they realized how little they had in common with the rest of the folks in Hazelton. In an area where pick-up trucks are the vehicle of choice, and flannel shirts go with everything, the Tristianis’ didn’t quite fit the mold. When they rode into town, they were driving their Lexus. They wore fashionable clothes, gold chains and Rolexes. Michael said, “They thought I was a drug dealer.”

The bistro business failed. Michael began buying houses in Bismarck to repair and resell. Jeanette went to work for a calling center in the nearby town of Linton, but lost that job when the center went out of business. They have decided that they simply do not fit in this small town, and some of the locals agree. One local was quoted as saying, “Not everyone fits in a small town.” The Tristianis’ have given up on small town life and are trying to move back to Florida.

This story made me think of how silly we are, as Christians, to think we can blend in with the world and be effective for the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, we take great pains to make ourselves appear to be like the world. However, those who are not Christian, can sense that there is something different about us. They may not be able to identify it, but they know that we are not like them. To them, we are no different than Michael Tristianis showing up in Hazelton, ND, with gold chains and a Lexus. We stand out whether we want to or not.

A bank, from the upstate of South Carolina, had one of the most successful ad campaigns in recent history. American Federal Bank ran commercials that contained the Randy Newman song, “I’m Different.” Their mascot was a black sheep named Scooter, who usually wore roller skates. The whole idea was that they weren’t like other banks. The lyrics to the song were changed a bit from the original, but the message was in tact. “I’m different, I don’t care who knows it. Something about me’s not the same. I’m different, and that’s how it goes. Ain’t gonna play no white sheep games.” (Any of you who remember those commercials will now have that song in your head for the rest of the week. You’re welcome!)

Jesus said in John 15:18-19 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” That means that no matter how we try, if we are called out by Jesus Christ to follow Him, we will never be accepted by the world.

So, what do we do about it? Do we just grin and bear the fact that we’re different? Yes. The world needs us to be different. The world needs for us not to compromise. The world needs desperately to see people who will stand for their beliefs and boldly lift up the name of Jesus Christ.

Are you willing to be a “black sheep” for Jesus Christ, in this world of compromise?

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." (1 Peter 1:13-16 NIV)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Where are the men with a moral vision for their families, a zeal for the house of the Lord, a magnificent commitment to the advancement of the kingdom, an articulate dream for the mission of the church and a tenderhearted tenacity to make it real? (John Piper)        

OK, so the Super Bowl is over. For those of you who are huge football fans, like me, we have a long, dry spell before we get to enjoy another game. For those who hate football, or don’t care, you are probably happy to be rid of the games on TV. However, there’s plenty of sports action happening for a while. The winter Olympics are coming up, NASCAR begins with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, and basketball is already filling up the ESPN airwaves.

I watched the Super Bowl with my family. I have to admit, this was one of the rare games that I couldn’t choose a favorite. I am a big fan of the Colts and Peyton Manning, but I like to root for the underdog, too. The fact that New Orleans had never been to the Super Bowl, made me also wish they would win. So, I was perfectly happy with the outcome of the game. Congratulations to the Saints!

The Super Bowl commercials always get a great deal of hype. Most people, including myself, enjoy the commercials as much as the game. This year, however, I noticed a trend that I thought was a bit disturbing in the commercials. Apparently, I was not the only one who noticed. One of the top stories on this morning read, “Guys take a beating in funny Bowl ads”.

The men, in a lot of the commercials, really did take a beating. Most of them were made to seem less “manly” if they did certain things, like shop with their wives, or play football badly. There seems to be a theme out there for men to try to define who they really are.

Men went through a period where we were told that we needed to be more sensitive. Women encouraged us to be more like them, so they could talk to us like they talk to their friends. We tried to accommodate, but it is difficult to change the way God wired us. We are men, and while there may be times when we do things to show the women in our lives how gentle we can be, most of us are simply not designed for such.

I believe John Eldredge tapped into this in his amazing book Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. (If you are a man and have not read this book, go out and get it now. It is wonderful!) He writes, “Society at large can’t make up its mind about men. Having spent the last thirty years redefining masculinity into something more sensitive, safe, manageable, and, well, feminine, it now berates men for not being men…’Where are all the real men?’ is regular fare for talk shows and new books. ‘You asked them to be women’, I want to say…Christianity as it currently exists, has done some terrible things to men. I think most men in the church believe that God put them on the earth to be a good boy…Walk into most churches in America, have a look around, and ask yourself this question: What is a Christian man? Don’t listen to what is said, look at what you find there. There is no doubt about it. You’d have to admit a Christian man is…bored.”

Not every man likes sports, camping, hunting, or the outdoors. If you’re not one of them, its OK, you don’t have to. What is truly important is that you be the leader that God intended you to be. God expects the men in society to lead the way when it comes to spiritual matters. Paul addresses this in several of his letters. For example, 1 Corinthians 11:3 reads, Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” He also gives a command to fathers in Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

I was recently talking with a pastor who said the search committee from his church asked him “What manly things do you do?” I don’t remember what his answer to them was, but a very appropriate answer could be, “I love Jesus Christ, and am on an incredible journey of adventure and discovery with Him.” Whether you are a man or a woman, there is no greater adventure than the one waiting for you, when you become the spiritual leader God wants you to be.

In your prayers this week, pray for God to lead you to whatever adventure He has in store for you! Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.(1Corinthians 16:13 ESV)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dead or Alive?

A few weeks ago, Josef Guzy, a beekeeper in Katowice, Poland, was out near his barn, when he suddenly collapsed. His wife discovered him and called for an ambulance. When the ambulance arrived, the medics checked him over only to find no signs of life. One of the more experienced doctors, who specialized in resuscitation, found that Mr. Guzy was not breathing and had no heartbeat. The body had also cooled.

The 76 year-old was pronounced dead at the scene. The funeral director came to retrieve the body and took Mr. Guzy’s lifeless form to the funeral home. He was placed in a coffin and arrangements were beginning to be made for the funeral.

Mrs. Guzy came by the funeral home, to ask if a necklace that her husband was wearing could be retrieved. The funeral home director was happy to comply and went to the coffin to get the necklace from her husband’s neck.

When the coffin was opened, Darius Wysluchato, the funeral director, reached in to loosen the necklace. When he did, he noticed something odd. Wysluchato said, "I happened to touch the artery in the neck and was totally shocked. I checked it again and shouted, 'There is a pulse.' My assistant checked as well. I leaned in close and I could tell that he was still breathing. My God, it was a miracle,"

Mr. Guzy was rushed to intensive care and was released from the hospital after a few weeks of treatment. He said he is grateful to Wysluchato for finding his signs of life. "The undertaker saved my life. I am so grateful. The first thing I did when I got out of the hospital was take him a pot of honey," he said.

I’m reminded of the time, in Luke 7:11-17, where Jesus happens upon a funeral procession. The only son of a widow had died, and a crowd of people were carrying the man to be buried. Jesus felt her pain, and walked over to the coffin, and raised the son from the dead.

The difference in these two stories, is that the man in the Bible account, was truly dead. Mr. Guzy only seemed to be dead. One man needed a miracle. The other needed to be rescued.

Many times, Christians are a lot like Mr. Guzy. We are alive, but there are no visible signs of it. Jesus wants us to not simply exist during our time on earth, but to be fruitful. Jesus did not lay down His life so we could simply be comfortable and barely living. He wants us to have vibrant, effective lives, as we live out His salvation for others to see. We are to be His hands and feet on earth.

He has called us to be His ambassadors to the world we live in. However, many of us are no more effective for God’s kingdom than Mr. Guzy. We are, for all practical purposes, dead.

When John the Baptist was jailed and coming to the tragic end of his life, he sent people to Jesus to ask if He was indeed the Christ. Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." (Matthew 11:4-6)

Give your life to Christ and allow Him to live through you. When we do this, we find a wonderful, fruitful life that cannot be imagined as we live out His purpose.

I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:9-10)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Breathe in, Breathe out, Move on

In January of 2009, I wrote about how harmful the things we say in anger are. In that column, I equated those kind of words to actually throwing things at the person with whom we are angry. It seemed that during that week, there were a number of stories, in the news, about people throwing food in anger. Here is a portion of that column.

A Florida man’s mother called him down for dinner, but when he did not respond, she unplugged his Xbox. He then went to the table, called her an obscene name and threw a taco at her. He is now in jail for assault. Another Florida person was arrested when she assaulted a man with a bagel. She is also in jail. I also read about a New York man who must have thought that throwing food was wasteful, so he picked up the family cat and threw it at his wife during a dispute. (Neither the cat nor the wife was harmed.)

There must be something about the winter months that cause people to do some unusual things. This week there is a very similar story in the news from Fairbanks, Alaska. Thirty one year-old, Warren Strickland, went through the drive-thru at a Taco Bell. He believed the restaurant got his order incorrect and drove back to the drive-thru window. Management accused him of lying in order to get free food. At that point, Mr. Strickland threw a double-decker taco in the manager’s face.

Mr. Strickland was arrested for the incident, and was sentenced to one day in jail, $100 fine, and one year probation for disorderly conduct. That’s a pretty big penalty for throwing food at a restaurant manager! Oh…the best part is that he is banned from Taco Bell during his year- long probation. (On a personal note, that would not be punishment for me.)

Have you ever done something that seemed so minor at the time, that turned into big trouble? Do you ever look back at one simple decision that you made, and realize that many things would have been different if you had just omitted one word or one action? We say things like, “If I had only turned right instead of left.” or “I wish I had looked over my shoulder before I said what I did.”

The fact is, there are probably many things that we would do differently if we could. In one episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Raymond sees a woman who he went out with once in high school. He remembers that it was snowing and he didn’t walk her to her door after the date. They never went out again, and he regretted that decision for over 25 years. He finally gets to apologize to her and while he remembers the date, she has no recollection of the incident that had plagued Raymond’s conscience for all those years.

We were never meant to carry around guilt and shame. Many times we continue to feel bad for something we’ve done, long after we have been forgiven by others and by God. That kind of guilt can make you miserable and can even have physical ailments associated with it, such as sleep and eating disorders, depression, and decreased mental capabilities.

As Christians, we have many reasons to regret past actions. I remember one of the hardest parts of coming back into the ministry, was the feeling of regret for the 13 years of not following Christ as I should have. The thing that troubled me the most was the guilt I felt for all of the people I influenced in the ways of the world. The realization that I could never get those years back or have another chance to interact with most of those who I led away from God, instead of to Him.

Through much prayer, God showed me that His will would be done with those people, with or without me. I suppose, many times, guilt is simply pride in disguise. We need to learn to let go of the past. Paul writes in Philippians 3:13-14 “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Give God your past. Ask Him to forgive you. Then, breathe in, breathe out, and move on to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)