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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Love Stinks

The J. Geils Band, founded in Boston and generally remembered as a feel-good, party band in the 1970's and 80's released an album entitled Love Stinks in 1980. The title track made the Billboard Top 40, and the LP peaked at number 18 on the album charts. The song Love Stinks is an ode denigrating the concept of romantic love.

I remember liking this song; it had an infectious beat, a funny video and it fit into an ethos that resonated with a lot of young men - and probably women, too - real love was way too dangerous, tricky and painful. Maintaining a relationship with a woman was hard work, darn it, and wasn't it easier to just maintain casual relationships that were fun and didn't come with all the drama?

Confession time...

I married young. Really young. Eighteen-years-old-young.

By the time Love Stinks was released, my marriage was already in trouble. I'm sure there are some eighteen-year-olds out there that can marry and have a great relationship until the day they die. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of them. I could go on and on about the why's and wherefors of how my first marriage unraveled. I could even pile on and talk about what a HUGE mistake my second marriage was. But all that would be just beating around the bush. The fact is, I had no idea what love was all about. I didn't know what it was, what it took to find love, where to look, what to do with it once I found it and most importantly, how to take care of it and make it grow into something spectacular over time.

I put it forward that there are very few people in the world today who really have a bead on true love. What shapes our view of love in the world today? Are all of us growing up without the necessary foundation we need to recognize exactly what love is?

I browse a lot of news sites on the web; NPR, MSN, CNN, Slate, local newspaper sites and more. Of these, Slate seems to be the most hip. I don't have time for a survey, but I would guess that younger people would be more attracted to Slate than the others - it seems somehow more edgy, more modern.

Looking on Slate today, I can't say I'm surprised that there were at least three articles on pornography. One was talking about how today's pornography would be better if it wasn't for the demeaning nature of how the women were treated. This, according to the author, was due in great measure to the founders of some well-known men's magazines. If these guys didn't hate women so much, pornography would be fine. Really?

Perhaps the most disturbing article bemoaned the lack of sex education in public schools and even went as far as saying we should adopt the Dutch model, incorporating the concept of pleasure into any sex education programs we administer to young people. A sociologist referenced in the Slate article quoted research showing that the Dutch model, where parents accept their minor children's relationships and even let them have sleepovers with sex partners, results in much better health outcomes for teenagers.

Excuse me?

If I didn't know how to find, process and nurture love as an eighteen-year-old, how on earth are younger teenagers going to learn it from parents letting them have intimate sleepovers with their young paramours?

In my humble opinion, there is only one place where we need to be steering each other to learn about love.

Ask yourself this question: Who invented love?

If you answered God, go to the head of the class.

The first three words of the Bible say, "In the beginning..." The book of Genesis then goes on to chronicle creation and subsequent events. One of the most important of these was the partnership of man and woman. God didn't put Adam and Eve together and say, "Okay you two, give it your best shot; and if it doesn't work out..."

A lot of folks like to pick out verses that seem to cast a negative light on women and love relationships with men. Despite his reputation as a hard-liner, I think Paul said it well in Ephesians 5:25, 'Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church...' and a few lines later in verse 28, 'In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies...' In those two verses Paul laid it out as plain as it gets. Men, ask yourself if you're loving your wife as Christ loves the church (his people) or even as much as you love yourself.

You know why my first two marriages failed? Because I didn't know what love was. I had some weird view of love based on the fractured relationship of my parents coupled with a vast panoply of societal influences that had absolutely nothing to do with love. In truth, my ex-wives could have said to me, 'Your love stinks,' and been accurate.

Unlike J. Geils' assertion, it's not love that stinks - it's (usually) our love that stinks. We need to learn what love is before we can have love, receive love and give love. And as usual, the answer is easy to find, if you know where to look.

What do you think?


Author's note: As of today, I've been married more than 22 years to my lovely wife. I'm still learning how to love her the way I'm supposed to, but God is helping me through the learning process every day.

Friday, November 18, 2011

This post is not about Tim Tebow

After going for so long  - several months - without writing much of anything, the blog faucet has apparently been turned on. I'm not up to a post every day, or several posts a day as those professional bloggers do, but I have a boiling cauldron of subjects in my head that want to be written about; the trouble is, which one do I pick when I can only write occasionally as time and circumstance dictate?

It's Friday morning; I've had a subject in my head for about 24 hours that has been working itself into a full-fledged thought line that would make a bang-up blog post. And then last night happened...

                               Tim Terrific does it again...

It's getting to the point where casual fans or those who aren't even really football fans are starting to be touched by the buzz surrounding the man who some call the worst quarterback in the NFL. The problem is, this mess of mechanics, this poster-boy for what is not an NFL-caliber winning. The Denver Broncos are 5-5; not a stellar win-loss record. But they are 4-1 since Tebow began starting games and, believe it or not, are a half-game out of first place in the generally woeful AFC West.

But this blog post is not about Tim Tebow...

I've been thinking a lot about human nature lately. It actually started back in September or October as I was getting ready to head off to Haiti on our latest mission trip. One of these days I'm going to break down and start learning Creole. If God continues to call me to Haiti it's a given that learning the language is something I need to do. But in lieu of learning Creole this year, I brushed up on the little French I know and while researching Les Cayes, the area where we were going to be working, I ran across some Haitian proverbs.

Recent readers may remember the proverb Dye mon gen mon that I wrote about on November 14th. Beyond the mountain is another mountain. The proverb that got me thinking yesterday is Degaje pa peche. The literal translation I found was managed by sin. However it's more colloquially understood to mean to get by is not a sin. What does that mean? Basically, it means if I have to do something that I might not normally do - lie, cheat, steal, bend the rules if not completely break them - in order to get feed myself or my family or to somehow survive, then it's not a bad thing.

I think Solomon recognized this mindset back in the day; Proverbs 28:21 [NIV] says, "To show partiality is not good--yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread."

                              Motorized bike...sort of

In the grand scheme of things, getting a boost from passing vehicles while riding your bike is probably not something many people consider sinful. However, our translator said it was illegal (as it is in the USA). We all agreed the greater risk likely lay in the danger, not the illegality. Driving through Haiti - especially in Port au Prince - can be harrowing enough. But holding on to a speeding truck while riding a rickety bike? The man in the picture was apparently willing to break the law in order to cut his travel time significantly, even at the risk of physical harm, if not arrest.

All of this got me thinking about how we live out our Christian faith. What things do we do each day or maybe just occasionally that would fall under the heading of to get by is not a sin? Do we speed in our cars to get somewhere more quickly - kind of like the man on the bike? Do we hit the express lane at the grocery store with more than ten items because we have somewhere else to be? Do we cheat on our taxes because we need that extra money this year from our return? Do we take advantage of someone else's misfortune when it benefits us and no one knows? Do we throw someone under the bus at work because it makes us look better or gives us a leg up for promotion?

I could go on...and I could give specific examples of where I've fallen short of God's perfect, yesterday...even while I was in Haiti on mission. How bad is that?

We are creatures who desire comfort. We like to be comfortable. And we like to feel important and valulable. So I totally get the mindset behind to get by is not a sin. And as I've mentioned before, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere so, can we really blame them if hitching a ride, keeping some found money, snitching a loaf of bread for their family...doesn't feel like it's a bad thing?

I'm not writing this to judge the man catching a free tow. I'm trying not to be the judging kind. What I want to do - and what all of us need to do more of - is think about stuff. You may be reading this and you're not a Christian. You might be thinking to yourself, 'How can that guy possibly turn any subject into a discussion about faith?'

The answer to that is, 'Because everything we do impacts our faith.' Jesus' Apostles personally witnessed some amazing things during His time on Earth. But when Jesus told them to go and make disciples of all nations, he wasn't talking about them just going and telling them about the Gospel of salvation, he wanted their whole lives to be a witness for others. He wanted their faith to be an unspoken component of the Gospel that, like creation, bears silent witness to its veracity.

As Christians, we often quote Romans 1:20 when talking to others about how God's creation speaks for itself.  Apply that to your life. If someone you know is talking to others about your faith, can they say it (your faith) speaks for itself? Or do they stumble over some of the things you may have done to get by?

Degaje pa peche may be true on Earth, but if we claim to follow God, we are held to a much higher standard. Yes, salvation is a free gift from our Creator, but our faith should reflect His grace, not the same old, worldly attitudes we carried with us before. I know I've got a ways to go, but I'm trying.

What do you think?


Monday, November 14, 2011


How much time do you spend wondering about your life? Family, friends, work, church, recreation, habits, addictions, issues, health; the list goes on and on...

Or is it more likely that you - like me - tend toward what, in the political or corporate realms, is known as damage control? If things are going well in your life; if you're getting enough to eat, you've got a comfy place to sleep and watch television or movies or play video games or read, if things are going okay at the office, you've got no major blow ups in your relationships...things are good, right?

But when you wake up one day and find yourself lashed to the railroad tracks and hear the whistle off in the quote a popular beverage commercial, "Here we go!"

                        Nell is saved from mean ol' Snidely...

That's when things get crazy and you wish you could hear that annoying GPS voice say, "Recalculating!"
For those who may not have a GPS yet or who haven't seen (or don't get) one of the more recent Allstate commercials...the ones that have the character I like to call the Allstate Harbinger of Doom...

Sometimes recalculating is a good idea - like when you're lost with only a vague idea of where you are and the GPS can actually recalculate and get you back to recognizable terrain.

But often, as is the case with the video above, recalculating at the wrong moment or in the wrong way can have disastrous consequences.

If you would've asked me ten years ago or maybe even five years ago, 'How about you go down to Haiti and spend some time with a few hundred kids,' I don't know what, exactly, I would've replied. But I can pretty much guarantee it would not have been, 'Sure, when do we leave?'

God has a way of leading us to recalculate.

As followers of The Stream will know, I just returned from my second mission trip to Haiti. the organizers call what I do in Haiti Vacation Bible School. I don't really go along with that. Maybe it's the years I've spent recently teaching VBS in Florida or even teaching teachers how to teach VBS at their churches...something about Haiti and the kids we minister to and the term vacation just doesn't seem to mesh.
Maybe it's the fact that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere...

Maybe it's because the culture in Haiti doesn't lend itself to the term vacation...

In a country where life revolves around a daily effort just to have food, water, and shelter...vacation anything seems out of place.


The week I spent in Haiti was awesome. It was not without challenges...but it was just as rewarding as my first trip last year. The people we worked with were just as committed to helping the people and children we ministered to. The people and children we ministered to were just as happy to see us.

                                   Deye mon, gen mon...

In Haiti there is a saying that reflects the difficulty of life the Haitian people face every day. Deye mon gen mon basically means beyond the mountain is another mountain. One of the things that surprises just about everyone is how mountainous Haiti is. The mountains make everything a little harder there...often a lot harder. But while there are those who use the expression to give up, after all, why try so hard when we'll just face another mountain when we get over this one; there seems to be a mindset that is more along the lines of getting over this mountain will prepare me for getting over the next one.


                    What do we know about mountains...

For example, the second day we were in Les Cayes, our Bible school team went to two different schools. The first one, pictured above, consisted of a two-story, cinder block building. Upstairs were the older kids. Bare walls, no windows, a nasty old chalkboard, no doorway between the three classrooms. And here we were, a group of weird Americans who showed up to play some games, sing some songs, make flowers and talk about God and life. It would have been easy for them to look at us and say, 'You've got no idea what our lives are like. You can't relate to us now be gone with you.'

Instead, we found a group of roughly middle school to high school-aged young men and women who welcomed us, listened interestedly to what we said, laughed with us, sang with us, made silly paper mache flowers with us, and felt so comfortable with us after a couple of hours that one even decided it was okay to ask us hard questions about God. Beyond this mountain is another mountain...what do we think God thinks about that?


                  Life in Haiti is not all sweetness and light...

The picture above is a very mild example of what passes for daily life in much of urban Haiti. Port au Prince especially has areas of heart-wrenching squalor and poverty. Our team spent time during our trip discussing how we felt God wanted to use us - to use our church - going forward. Did He want us to continue to minister to the people of Haiti alone or should we step out farther and go with the message to places where many have not heard?

Before we arrived home, I think most of us were ready to cast our steps farther abroad. But not too many weeks after we returned to the States; returned to our nice homes, comfy beds, and refrigerators that dispense ice and water you don't have to wonder about, we are already talking about a place in Northern Haiti where there is only one church.



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

C'mon man!

The title phrase is used humorously on ESPN's pre-game coverage of Monday Night Football. I didn't watch the pre-game or the game last night. I spent time at our new home with my wife watching something else and talking about the passing of an old friend, among other things.

But in the back of my mind was the continuing reaction to the abuse scandal unfolding at Penn State University. I am having a hard time processing the fact that grown men acted the way they have been alleged to have acted. Jen Floyd Engel, a Fox Sports ( reporter I'm beginning to admire for her well-written and insightful articles, wrote something today that kind of sums up my thoughts on the matter.

A sidebar in Ms. Engel's article contained a poll asking whether long-time coach Joe Paterno should step down in the wake of these allegations.


Should Joe Paterno step down in light of Penn State scandal?
  • Yes - 59%
  • No - 21%
  • Let's wait and see - 20% 

Total Votes: 21,172

Thankfully, 59% of respondents said yes, Coach Paterno should step down. I'm one of them, and I'll tell you why:

Joe Paterno is the head coach of the Pennsylvania State University football team and as such, next to the university's athletic director and other institutional officers, is the authority in charge of football facilities. Young boys were abused on his watch, in his facilities, by people who had been on his staff. Others in Coach Paterno's chain of command witnessed these events and either did nothing, or hid behind some heirarchical rules.

I'm sorry, but to the 41% of poll respondents who believe Paterno is somehow above the fray on this one - that's roughly 8,160 people - I believe you are horribly misguided.

In my opinion, the buck (i.e. responsibility) stops at Joe Pa's desk. He is the man in charge. He had the opportunity to take action and stop the abuse. He didn't. At the risk of being humorous in the middle of a deadly serious discussion, if the president of Penn State doesn't have the guts to fire Joe Paterno, get Donald Trump in there because today, right now, someone needs to walk into Paterno's office and say, "You're fired."

What do you think?


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Are you ready for

The NFL (no Febreeze league) is in full swing; those who know me know that I'm more a fan of the type of football where players use their feet (for more than kickoffs, punts and field goals). I've been keeping up a little with the NFL thanks to my annual membership in a long-running fantasy football league. After this weekend's action, I should be comfortably in (at least) third place.

Followers will also know that I just returned from Haiti and that Jesus has been on my mind a lot lately - as He should be all the time.

But I wanted to update everyone on some potentially exciting news in the world of futbol...

On January 18th 2010, I posted about Landon Donovan's loan move to Everton FC of the Barclay's Premier League. For those who live under a (sports) rock, Landon is widely regarded as the best American football (soccer) player at the moment. He currently plays for the LA Galaxy who are, as we speak, playing Real Salt Lake for the privilege of taking on the Houston Dynamo for the championship of Major League Soccer.

                 Gazing back toward the UK?

And while getting past RSL to the championship game is a priority, there is already some chatter about Donovan reprising his loan move to Everton during the upcoming MLS off-season.

I, for one, believe LD will make the move. Last year, he had played an awful lot of football between the MLS season, the loan to Everton, the World Cup...he needed a break. But this year, he can take a few weeks off and head to Everton during the Premier League's January transfer window.

Everton could certainly use some help as they are currently languishing in 17th position, just one above the dreaded drop-zone.

Come on Landon...make the jump.


Jezi se wa!

It's been about a week since we returned from Haiti. Last week I was able to attend services at Ferris Hill Baptist Church, home of the team that went on this year's mission to Haiti. Today, we gratefully accepted the extra hour of sleep afforded by the return to Standard Time, but missed out on worship up in Huntsville due to some, er, health issues. Everyone is fine but somewhat indisposed to phrase it politely. We had looked up several local churches on the web, one or two that I had visited, a couple that our neighbors attend and another that is nearby. Next week!

Thinking about worship brings me back to our experiences in Haiti. I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ rather late in life, accepting Him as my savior in 2001. Although I like music, I'm not musical and I've always found it somewhat uncomfortable to be overly demonstrative during worship services. This is not because I don't love God and am not moved by the Holy Spirit, it's just because I'm not going to give Jesus shout outs or wave my arms around just because everyone else is doing so.

As a member of Ferris Hill for the entirety of my new life in Christ (so far), I've discovered that Southern Baptists in general are not a very demonstrative lot when it comes to worship time in church. A quick note to those for whom church is not a regular occurance...although we may refer to the entire service as worship, once you are in church the term worship generally refers to the part of the service in which the congregation sings praise to God.

            After revival services at night - church is a party!

With apologies for the long-winded explanations above, all of that was to contrast how we worship God with how the Haitians worship God. It's not an acceptable practice to go about taking photographs during church in Haiti so we were only able to get shots afterward. Suffice it to say that in a Haitian Baptist church, worship is dynamic! And even an old fuddy-duddy like me is swaying and clapping by the end of the night.

You may be wondering about the meaning of this blog's title: Jezi se wa!

That is Creole for, "Jesus is king!" It's a phrase that features often during worship in Haiti. And as I was thinking about how to continue this blog series for our experiences in Haiti this year, I kept thinking back to how often we heard Jezi se wa and how often we saw the name Jesus when we were in Haiti.

                       Christ on the cross in Les Cayes

Just down the street from our hotel was the traffic circle in the picture above. Can you imagine pulling up to a major intersection in your town and seeing a twenty-foot tall cross with a life-sized Jesus hanging there? What an incredible daily reminder of what God has done for all of us.

Jezi se wa!

After our frantic trip to Les Cayes from Port au Prince; after finally getting settled in our rooms following a tasty chicken and French fry dinner; after a decent night's sleep and some seriously strong coffee (sorry, no creamer); we went and worshipped God last Sunday morning at the church in which we would be serving at revival during our week in Les Cayes.

Sunday afternoon, we went back to the church and spent some time with the kids there, playing games and getting to know them. Sunday night we had revival. In between, we continued to ponder and plan for the next day's Bible school. Being somewhat settled, we did what most of us would do when feeling a bit out of our element - we went in search of the Internet!

                      Facebook and Skype are our friends!

It was awesome to speak with - and in some cases see - our families. Modern technology is amazing. It's still somewhat unbelievable that in a small Haitian town, we could hit the dining area in our hotel and get access to the wider world through wireless satellite Internet access. The ability to communicate across the globe always reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 about the Gospel of the Kingdom being preached to all nations - and then the end will come. There is nothing that will help you get over the discomfort of travel and circumstance like remembering that you are actually doing what Jesus has asked you to do.

Jezi se wa!

It had been morning and evening on our second day in Haiti. Monday was to kick off all of our teaching ministries: Pastors, ladies and children. This seems like a great place to stop for today. Thanks for reading and stay tuned to hear about our teaching experiences and see pictures of the kids!

God bless you.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

…but the greatest of these is love.


           The welcoming banner at our hotel in Les Cayes

This is the first of I’m not sure how many blogs that I will post over the next few days or weeks in an effort to share thoughts and insights gained from our church’s recent trip to Les Cayes (Aux Cayes) Haiti. This was my deuxième voyage to Haiti and this trip was very different from the first one I went on last year. I’ll write more on those differences later.

Many people ask about what we do when we go to Haiti; in effect, they’re asking, “Why do you go?” For some, it’s not enough that we are spending time with men, women and children, loving them, sharing with them, teaching them, feeding them…giving them something hopeful, something different from their everyday life. I’ve had people tell me that I don’t need to go to Haiti, or anywhere for that matter, and push my beliefs on the people who live there. I respect anyone’s freedom to share their opinion on that with me. I also respectfully disagree.

For one, I’m not pushing my beliefs on anyone. I’m sowing seeds. Each one of us has a choice to make regarding what we believe. All I do – all we do – when we go on an international mission is try to bring light into the life of the people we encounter. That light may be a smile, a helping hand, a meal – or it might be medical care, a new roof, a home.

In 1st Corinthians 12, Paul explains why all of us have to work together for the good of one another and how each one of us has gifts and abilities that we need to use for God’s glory. As I drove to work yesterday, my first day back from Haiti, I wondered about people who don’t believe in God – or maybe do believe in God, but don’t think He’s actively involved in our world. Where is the purpose in their life? From birth to death, they eat, work, play, laugh, cry, get angry or whatever – and then they die. And that’s it. King Solomon must’ve felt a little like that when he wrote what has become the book of Ecclesiastes. How empty it would be to get up in the morning and think that whatever I accomplish today has no ultimate meaning or purpose.  

But I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole today.

Our team consisted of seven people led by our Pastor, Brian Nall of Ferris Hill Baptist Church (Milton, FL). Three of us had been on mission last year and four were experiencing it for the first time. The first of many catch phrases that came out of our trip to Les Cayes is: “Well, last year…” and then you fill in the blank. The four new missionaries wanted to throttle us by Tuesday after about the hundredth time we began a sentence with those words.

                       The team in Port au Prince

This year’s trip was completely different than last year’s. The location was different, the travel experience was different, the climate was different, the kids were different, our in-country team was different, the hotel experience was different, the schools were different, and our team was different.
Corina, Julie, Laura, and Patrick: I’m sorry for beginning so many sentences with: Well, last year…

            The ladies in the back setting out for Les Cayes

The first thing that was different was change. Our first hint of the week to come occurred right after we made our way out of the crowded Port au Prince (PaP) airport at about 4:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Our itinerary called for an overnight stay at the mission house in PaP (about 15 minutes from the airport) and then a five-hour drive west to Les Cayes on Sunday morning. We were all prepped for that after getting up in the pre-dawn hours to make our 7:00 a.m. flight out of Pensacola.

        Everyone out of the bus! Fixing one of our flat tires...

It was a l-o-n-g journey to Les Cayes Saturday night. I think we stopped about five times. A couple for gas and such before we left PaP, and three on the highway. One to tighten lug nuts, two to change flat tires and then to switch vans after the last flat tire so we could complete the journey and get to our lodging in Les Cayes.

Brief word(s) about the term: highway. Potholes; unsafe bridges, detours through a convenient dry wash, speed bumps, mountains, curves…Last year we had a relatively pleasant (sorry Rebekah) drive to Mirebalais. This year, we had Dramamine.

Through God’s Grace, we finally made it to Les Cayes at or about 9:30 p.m. Our in-country team had called ahead and the hotel staff (bless them!) had a late meal of chicken and – of all things – French Fries waiting for us. Believe it or not, the food helped everyone’s stomach feel a little better. Or maybe it was our favorite drink:

               Anyone for a Sprite or fifty?

After dinner, we trooped upstairs to our rooms – three to a room – and were lulled to sleep by the soothing roar of the diesel generator outside. Apparently, it’s cheaper to run the entire hotel off of generator power than pay the government for electricity. In any case, we were most grateful for this modern – if somewhat noisy – luxury. We had survived the journey and were looking forward to a night’s rest and then a morning of worship in God’s house.
We talked a lot about God’s creation during our week in Haiti and it seems appropriate that I end this particular blog here, at the end of our first day. Thank you for reading and I hope you come back to The Stream to catch up on the rest of our mission adventures!