Vision IMPACT: Deaf Time!

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Proverbs 29:18

Where a vision is given by God, often the people prosper through obedience and faith.

I just returned from an incredible Deaf Missions conference of 450+ people connected with the Christian Deaf community: Deaf Christian Leadership Conference and Christian Interpreters Conference. We are now fully engaged in the Fourth Wave of Deaf Ministry. There has been a Christian revival in the Deaf Community over the past twenty years since I signed these words below about “Deaf Time”; which has come about by the willingness of diverse parts of the Christian body caring for each other and serving the Lord in collaboration and friendship. We truly are better together, than any of us trying to “go it alone”.

Though not directly connected with this conference, I do believe at least some part of this current revival in Deaf World has roots in a gathering of 39 participants in February 2001 at Country Lake Christian Camp just north of Louisville, KY. From across the country and denominational spectrum, youth ministry leaders came together to worship Jesus, “major on the majors”, love each other in Christ, and become willing to collaborate, encourage, and support each other. Some of those friendships and networks continue to thrive and produce fruit today.

In 2004, I published Deaf Diaspora and want to share a direct quote from that book. I believe God gave me a glimpse of his future blessings to come to us simply by how we care for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. We continued our annual Deaf Youth Ministry conference for twelve years. This is how the world knows we are Jesus followers, how we love each other.

“At the inaugural Deaf Teen Ministry National Symposium in 2001, I closed our meeting together with the words, “It’s Time.” Repeating these words and tapping my watch, I expressed a deep sense of the beginning of a revival across our land. It was an awesome awareness of God’s vision for reaching his people at this particular juncture. The time is now. It is Deaf time. It is the Deaf turn for a revival that redeems both individuals and a community for Christ. The impact of the national symposium on our lives was huge as God brought us together to experience Christian community from across the country and the denominational spectrum. We are God’s people and we are called to work together for his purposes. We cannot delay. We cannot remain separate. The Evil One has kept us weak by keeping us divided. To become strong, we must be willing to come together. But we are no longer orphans in a storm. We are family. Together, we become the church, and the gates of hell cannot stand against us.”

Bob Ayres, February 2001 at the inaugural Deaf Youth Ministries National Symposium

Vision. IMPACT.

By responding to God’s vision of reaching Deaf teenagers with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are able to enjoy being part of the impact of God’s Spirit moving in this world. We may be riding the Third Wave but God is the creator of ALL the waves throughout history. He was reaching the Deaf community long before any of us were alive and He will continue long after we are gone. Now, at this particular point in time, we must respond to the changes in our world with wisdom and intention. We must find new ways to share an old story to a new generation. We are the Body of Christ; He has called us and the time is now.

It’s Deaf time.

It is time for a new vision for reconnecting the Deaf community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot turn the clock back to an earlier day when most Deaf gathered around the schools for the Deaf; they are a scattered people. With God’s help, we can create a new way for Christian Deaf, hard of hearing and hearing adults to invest their lives into the lives of Deaf teenagers. It is a new day! The time is now.

The teenage years are the most important ones for making lifelong (and eternal) decisions. A person with an idyllic childhood may destroy his or her life by making bad choices during the teen years. A person with a horrid childhood may come into a personal relationship with God and flourish. After high school, relatively few people accept Christ. It is those who are teenagers now who will reach the next generation of Deaf young adults with the gospel. The spiritual hope of the Deaf community lies with those who are now children and youth.

Hearing teenagers have enjoyed excellent quality youth programs for many years. In the past, Deaf teenagers had some opportunities. Now, there are few, painfully few, ministries specifically for Deaf and hard of hearing teenagers. God has spoken; God has signed.

It’s Deaf time.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples… if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, NKJV). It is love that changes the heart of the lonely, the mind of the confused, the strength of the weary, the soul of the isolated; it is love that defends the faith and teaches it to a new generation. God calls us as a community to reembrace the spiritual legacy that once was integral to Deaf-World. God is pursuing the Deaf individual and no longer will being Deaf become a barrier to understanding the greatest gift given to humanity.

It’s Deaf time.

Now, finish, now.

The time is now; we cannot delay.

Deaf time, now.

Excerpt from Deaf Diaspora: The Third Wave of Deaf Ministry (iUniverse, 2004), p 122-123.

Learn more in DEAFCHURCH 21: Vision for a New Generation, co-authored with Dr. Rick McClain.

When Life and Faith Seem at Odds

At the start of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Jesus hosted more than five thousand excited followers who loved the free-lunch, quick healing services, and great sermons; yet the next day he was left with only a few, beaten and battered disciples experiencing spiritual vertigo. The crowd who proclaimed the day before, “This is the Prophet!” dwindled to a sad gathering of followers who grumbled; “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it!” Then John tells us, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

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When we are confronted with the difficult parts of our faith, whether in scripture or life, there is a tendency to make one of three missteps: sanitize our belief in an effort to gloss over the tough things in life; distort the truth by removing or redefining scripture which doesn’t align with our personal biases; or most unfortunately abandon biblical faith all together.

Sanitize, distort, abandon: unfortunate responses when life and faith seem at odds with each other. Instead of staying around, instead of asking the hard questions, and struggling to learn the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words, people just walked away.

“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”: My tendency, and maybe yours, is to skip over the troubling parts of the Bible. Life seems much easier to sanitize our belief by ignoring (or removing) those scriptures that cause us pause; anything that makes us feel uncomfortable.

We might think if we ignore the difficult parts of faith and life, they will just go away. Seems like a good strategy. Problem is, you really cannot ignore the troubling parts of scripture without undermining the inspirational parts. A sanitized belief system removes the possibility of real answers by ignoring the real questions, as though they don’t exist. It is nice to ‘imagine a world without problems or uncertainties’ but there is real evil and brokenness in the world; both within us and around us. We cannot just wish it away by ignoring the hard parts.

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Some in the crowd began to distort the truth of his words and like many people who take this route, they did this for selfish purposes. Distorting the truth lets us off the hook for confronting the challenging parts of living out our faith, particularly when it comes to loving others.

Throughout history, there have been large and dangerous movements who distorted scriptures that conflicted with their own biases, prejudices, or perspectives. Historically, those claiming to follow Jesus justified slavery, oppression, abuse, racism, and even things that seem more innocuous such as materialism, gossip, legalism, and isolationism. This is equally true within the anti-religious arena. Distorting scripture to erase other’s belief is likewise a play for power, privilege, or control. This is evidenced in places where religious freedom is seen as an enemy of the state. China’s repression of Muslims and Christians is our most recent example in the news.

At the heart of this negative response to Jesus’ words, was a resistance to the overall metanarrative of God’s intention for the redemption of the world through him. Jesus is speaking of a spiritual reality of his being one with the Father and the true Messiah. Some may have been offended by the imagery, but I suspect their sarcasm was not about Jesus violating their understanding of decency: “Eat your flesh? Drink your blood?” I believe it was about who Jesus is, and what following him might mean to their preconceived notions of status and position.

Here is why I think this: Jesus had returned the previous evening from the bordering countries where he healed, preached, and feed thousands of people from countries seen as enemies. To accept Jesus as the True Manna from Heaven meant those hearing his message would have to change, to reject their old prejudices and learn to love their enemies. I believe many in the crowd found an off-ramp from this religious holy man by latching on to a concrete interpretation of his words. They distorted Jesus’ words to justify rejecting him, so they could stay aloof from the demands of following him: “Love God, Love Neighbor”.

When there is too much that unsettles someone, the response is sometimes to abandon biblical faith all together. Please don’t do this. You think life is tough facing problems WITH God? Imagine (or remember) the despair of believing there really is no ultimate purpose in life. Theologian Brian Brock reminds us of the story of Jacob who wrestled all night with whom he thought to be a man only to realize his struggle was ultimately with God (Genesis 32:22-31).

“This is a seminal story in the formation of Israel’s identity. Jacob is given a blessing—he is named “Israel,” one who wrestles with God. Forevermore Israel’s children will be known as those who wrestle with God.”

Brian Brock, Disability: Living into the Diversity of Christ’s Body

Jesus and the Early Church modeled for us caring Christians communities, sharing lives of hope, encouragement, and wrestling with the application of biblical faith. We have this unchanging, eternal truth that has to be discovered anew by each generation. No tricks; No gimmicks. Just ordinary people like you and me living out the grace and truth of Jesus Christ in our daily lives.

“So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Let those words resonate in your soul for a moment: “to whom shall we go?”. These words momentarily take my breath away. Like some of you, I have tried other pathways in hope of some enlightenment, some peace. I know nowhere else to turn. As Saint Augustine observed “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Then Peter answered his own question: Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” This is as close to the core of the Christian faith journey as it gets: “We heard your words. We believed what we saw, learned, experienced. We now know who you are. You are the Holy One of God.”

Do we hold on to our doubts as an excuse for not believing; or do we engage with our doubts, even wrestle with God, as an essential part of believing?

Fr. Bob Ayres

As followers of Jesus, our challenge is to open ourselves to engage with biblical truth and embrace a living faith. Theologian C. Kavin Rowe reminds us in Christianity’s Surprise: A Sure and Certain Hope, “Human life is just too hard to have a boring Christianity.” Following Jesus may be unsettling, challenging, even disheartening at times, but is certainly not a calling to boredom.

So, how do we engage, embrace, and find our balance in a world that feels so unstable?

I have a real-life experience that hopefully offers a useful analogy: it involves a longshore current, sandbar, and some people sitting on the shoreline in beach chairs. Recently, Kathy and I were swimming at St. Augustine beach. The current pulling me down the shore was strong so I wondered, “If the current is down below, can I stay above it, float on my back, paddling to overcome the current?” I did this and thought I was doing well until I looked up and saw I was pulled way down the beach. In my mind, I was making progress moving against the current or at least holding in the same place, but that wasn’t the case at all. The current in this story represents the pull of the troubles of the world away from walking with Jesus.

So, I got out of the water, walked back up the beach and tried again. This time, I stayed upright and dug my toes into the sandbar to hold against the current as well as I could. It was tough and involved paddling with my arms, but it worked fairly well. In this analogy, the sandbar represents my faith, the scripture, my experiences of Christian community, and I was doing a pretty good job of resisting the current.

But I needed more. I noticed a small group of people sitting in chairs on the beach in front of me. I locked my eyes on them because they became my “point of reference”: I could tell when I started sliding away. This gave me something tangible to fix my eyes on, to know if my efforts to stay put were working. In this analogy, these people represented our “cloud of witnesses”, the Church, the body of Christ.

In life, I need the friendships, encouragement, role-models, sound doctrine, and reminders I find when I gather with other Christians, I am not tossing alone out at sea without hope. Others become my “point of reference”. We face dangerous currents and powerful undertow in our world, which can cause spiritual disequilibrium, but a community of faith helps us stay grounded. We need each other. Now, as always.

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Simple analogy, but an important point: When confronted with the difficult parts of life and faith, don’t let the rip current of confusion pull you out into an ocean of despair.

I encourage you not to sanitize belief, distort truth, or abandon faith. Jesus has shown us a better way. Engage with the biblical narrative, even the hard parts, even the parts you question and doubt. God invites us to embrace a living faith as part of a community, the Church; one that is authentic, grounded, and willing to face the hard questions and days with grace and truth—even when life and faith seem to be at odds.

When asked by Jesus if they were going to stay or go, Peter replied on our behalf, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Consider the Source

Here is another bit of advice that has carried me far: consider the source. This seems to take on much deeper meaning during this time of misinformation and disinformation. When considering information or input, take the time to evaluate from whom you are receiving the information. What is their agenda? What biases affect the giving or receiving of this information? Algorithms are accelerating information loops that read our responses and feed our biases for the purpose of marketing. We start thinking we are right, if we hear our own voice echoed often enough, regardless of its true connection with reality. Pausing may make a world of difference in not only information flow, but personal relationships. Start by considering the source.

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Let’s focus first on the relational level. Does a specific person giving you feedback actually care for you? Do they have your best interests in mind? My younger sister and I are separated in age by sixteen months. For most of our childhood, people thought we were twins. One of my favorite pictures of my sister and me was while traveling to North Carolina from Florida with our family. We were about five and six years old. There stood a tall, gray water fountain at a gas station that neither of us could conquer alone. We took turns getting on our hands and knees and stood on each other’s backs for the purpose of getting a drink of water.

This inspirational and symbolic moment is a snapshot of trust and cooperation. When someone has been willing to let you stand on their back for a drink of water, you are willing to trust them. Having the attitude of a servant is part of earning the right to be heard. As Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

Jesus in Luke 6:43-45

Now let’s see how this applies on a communal level. Some societies and ethnic groups are more tuned-in to contextual cues and referred to as high context cultures. I learned this concept from a workshop presenter named Milton Creagh. Members of these cultural groups pay attention to what is being said based on the context of who is saying the words. Accordingly, they might respond positively IF they accept the credibility of the messenger. In our English-influenced society, we tend to listen to professionals based on their credentials. But this is not necessarily true in high-context cultures. By the way, Generation Z (those 24 years old and younger) is reasonably considered a high-context culture. As a group, the do not tend to trust authority or logic, only relationships vetted by personal experience.

Much of the information tsunami in social media has nothing to do with truth but with “hits” or “views” or “likes” or “comments”, which ultimately results in money or power for someone. When we become obsessed with seeking the approval of others, we are giving up control over ourselves. Most of us want to be liked, but this can be a dangerous power to be put in the hands of others, some with the intention to harm us. Nefarious players are seducing wide swaths of our population by sowing seeds of untruth and chaos. Consider the source. These are dangerous influencers who can certainly lead many to violence, and already have.

So, whether we are talking about a relationship, neighborhood, classroom, or any other social construct, sometimes the crowd will love you, sometimes they will hate you. Best to get used to it. Best to keep our eyes fixed on the Savior who already walked this road ahead of us regardless of the response from the spectators.

Never be too enamored with their cheers. Never be too intimidated by their jeers. Palm Sunday and Good Friday are only five days apart.

Jesus was aware the source of the Sunday praise and the Friday cruelty was essentially the same. Both crowds wanted to use him for their own unsavory purposes. Those intentions were evil; each wanted to control the Son of God for some worldly gain. Sunday was an effort to thwart Roman control, Friday to avoid Roman retribution.

Why do we need the approval of others? Sometimes, we even seek sanction from those who mean us harm. Isn’t that odd? Be wise. Be discerning. Act don’t react. Pause and consider. Pray.

And importantly, always consider the source.

(Adapted from a chapter in Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road by the author of this blog.)

QAnon – “Big Lies”

Gnosticism was the first heresy that confronted the early Christian Church. This movement was a cult built upon “hidden knowledge” known only to the initiated that distorted the essential beliefs of the Christian faith. Cults usually congregate in remote compounds or cloistered communities, but now a new one has emerged that spreads its beliefs online: QAnon.

A recent Wall Street Journal post describes the movement:

“QAnon followers are awaiting two major events: the Storm and the Great Awakening. The Storm is the mass arrest of people in high-power positions who will face a long-awaited reckoning. The Great Awakening involves a single event in which everyone will attain the epiphany that QAnon theory was accurate the whole time. This realization will allow society to enter an age of utopia.”

Wall Street Journal

According to a recent NPR/Ipsos poll of 1,115 U.S. adults, 17% believe and 37% are not sure whether “a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media” — a bizarre allegation of QAnon followers who actually believe these elites are cannibals. 39% of those polled believe there is a “deep state” working to undermine Donald Trump.

At first, I thought QAnon was similar to movements like the Tea-party or Moral Majority, but the more I research, the greater my concern has grown. QAnon has an extensive fictional narrative that is truly dangerous and predicts/incites violence. This “Storm” mentioned involves hundreds of thousands of executions worldwide.

So, what is the appeal of such “Big Lies” by QAnon? This expression, coined by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf describes a propaganda tool of promoting a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe they “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”. In other words, “the story is so bizarre, it must be true”; a proven trick of skilled propagandists and cult leaders.

These false narratives are hidden from outsiders who might otherwise reject this insider information reserved for the “faithful”. I mentioned Gnosticism because of its patterns of using hidden codes and insider knowledge to which only “true believers” have access. The covertness of online communication systems has allowed this secret society to grow and invade our society and threaten our national security. Instead of a cult located in a specific geographic location with a visible leader, QAnon has a mysterious “patriot/prophet” leader with a worldwide audience. This should concern us all greatly.

My dear friends, many false prophets are in the world now. So don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God.

1 John 4:1

This QAnon movement more closely resembles the Game of Thrones than the Suffering Savior from Nazareth who was crucified for the sins of the world. QAnon has little or nothing to do with Christianity even though it targets a specific religious audience interested in end-times prophesy. The “Big Lies” of QAnon seek to justify violence, harassment, and bullying which is seen as a way of reestablishing a distorted version of an earlier so-called “Christian Nation”.

Maybe not so ironically, the German letter “Q” (first letter of the German word “Quelle” which means Source) is well-known in higher-criticism theological studies as a reference for “Source Documents” for the New Testament. I suspect “Q” has a theological background and “QAnon” stands for “Anonymous Source”.

What is the solution to this impending cascade of evil? Changed hearts through friendship. The Church has a wonderful opportunity to preach, teach, and show by our actions the fundamentals of our Christian faith. Start by emphasizing the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Christians who have been swept up in this movement need caring friends to help them remember “who they are and whose they are” as followers of Jesus Christ. We serve a Sovereign God who requires us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Christianity looks like Jesus, not these symbols of hate, oppression, suspicion, distrust, and violence. Love your enemies. Pray for them. Gently encourage those moving out of this distortion of our Christian faith. Jesus promises us peace that passes understanding.

My dear children, you belong to God, so you have already defeated these false prophets. That’s because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. And they belong to the world, so what they say is from the world too. And the world listens to what they say. But we are from God. So the people who know God listen to us. But the people who are not from God don’t listen to us. This is how we know the Spirit that is true and the spirit that is false.

1 John 4:4-6

Love God. Love your Neighbor. Love One Another.

Never Pet a Wounded Dog

Laughter is often a survival skill for those in less-than-ideal environments. I grew up in a family with wonderful parents who were often better apart than together. Yet, amid persistent struggles, all of us including my parents, we maintained a great sense of humor. Laughter is a gift from God for encouragement to the weary and reward for their effort. For me, growing up at times was exhausting and I was glad to enjoy laughter as a colleague and comforter.

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One time when I was a boy, one of my older siblings was extremely upset about something–I cannot remember what–and was furious. Being the assigned peacemaker in the family, I felt it my duty to rush in and comfort him. I knew my role; I had to help. My efforts to console were met with a harsh rebuke, yelling at me: “Get out of here! Leave me the hell alone!” I was crushed. Tears welled in my eyes as my effort to help was rejected. He calmed down long enough to say something in humor that has served me well: “Never pet a wounded dog.”

My dad passed along another saying that was common lingo on the farm where he grew up: “You’ll draw back a nub!” (It took me years to figure out this one.) It simply means, if you are not careful around farm machinery, you might reach into something and pull back only a nub of what used to be your arm. It may dramatically change your life to stick your hand into potentially volatile situations.

Let see… “Never pet a wounded dog or you may draw back a nub.”

A compassionate heart and a quick reaction may combine for an impulsive response. Pause. Slow down. Do not just rush into every explosive situation. Pay attention for the right time to offer input. I am not talking about neglecting duties to visit those who are angry. Just consider your timing. Avoid becoming part of the emotional dynamics too quickly, even if well intentioned.

One time I was leading a ministry team that had a terrible tension developing between two leaders. I was immature, well-intentioned, and completely lost my leadership objectivity. My desire to fix the problem became part of an explosive situation that destroyed the unity of the team. More recently, with the benefit of age and experience, I faced a similar situation where I moved more intentionally. I reminded them to behave like Christian adults and they responded appropriately. It kept me out of the middle of a fight between two “wounded dogs”. They talked through the tension, set new patterns, and strengthened the team, a much better outcome.

When a leader—particularly in ministry—first gets involved with a life-changing mission, it is intoxicating. I chose this word intentionally. We can become like a drunk who jumps into every fight, with the adrenaline rush of helping others. Somehow, it stops being about their needs and becomes about ours, and becomes a toxic threat to the unity of the team. Notice the similarity between intoxicating and toxic. An obsessive need to be needed becomes an unhealthy pattern that is actually makes people worse; the very ones you are trying to help.

Give to others in a way that protects your spiritual and physical life, and the health of your family and calling. Sure, you will get hurt occasionally, even if you are very careful ministry involves sacrifice and risk. Ultimately, being more careful helps the other person in their recovery. They do not want to injure you. They do not want the guilt of having lashed out at someone trying to help. Sometimes, people just need some time. Let them know you care, but be careful as you become more personally involved.

You may get bitten.

And it hurts.

In more ways than one.

Love sharpens sensitivity. The more deeply we love, the more deeply we can be hurt and the more deeply we feel joy and satisfaction.

Charles W. Conn

(This is a revision of an excerpt from my book Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road.)

Leading in a Pandemic: Five Key Leadership Traits (ASL & English)

Dr. Rick McClain and Dr. Bob Ayres of REA Leadership Resources first presented this content for a webinar hosted by Deaf Millennial Project. These two instructors are well-known in the Christian Deaf Community in the U.S. and co-authored “DEAFCHURCH 21: Vision for a New Generation” in 2019. Many leaders in ministry and non-profits have become uncertain of how to move forward during this pandemic. Drs. McClain and Ayres have practical advice with a Christ-centered approach to leading well through difficult times like the one we currently face.

The course is NOW available for FREE at Udemy online training: CLICK HERE

Best Bad Decision by Far

Many years ago, a friend and I were discussing the age-old questions about situational rightness and wrongness. I posed the question: “If someone breaks into your house and you have only two choices, kill this person or they will murder your family, is it wrong to kill the intruder?” I figured the killing would be justified by the situation.

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“No,” my friend said. “It’s still wrong to kill.”

“But the other option is even worse! In this situation, it must be okay to kill to save lives.” I countered.

Being the wiser of the two of us, he replied, “True, it might seem that way. The lesser of two evils is never a “good” choice. It may be the better choice, but that does not make it “right”. Taking a life is against God’s intentions for us regardless to what it is being compared.”

Even though I continued to push back in this conversation, over time this insight began to make a great deal of sense. I have seen practical implications applied in many experiences in life: the ending of irreparably broken marriages, painful parenting decisions, ethical choices at work, setting boundaries. When forced to make a choice that is wrong—though better than the other choice—still requires a certain level of personal heartbrokenness. Finding peace after making “the better of two bad choices” still requires repentance and forgiveness (of self and others). Making these painful decisions should not result in a hard heart but rather a tender, humbled spirit. Tears should eventually follow these moments, even if one would make the same decision again, if given the same circumstances. Recognition of this paradox ultimately leads to personal peace with making the better of two bad choices.

Sometimes you might have only two choices, and both are wrong, even the better one. When a life is taken, even a life that was dangerous, still there is need for pause and remorse. When a marriage is irreparably broken, there are no winners. When a loved one is taken off life support, there is a time to mourn. When a parent has to use “tough love”, it is never what was hoped for. No one would have wished tragedy on a person, their family, or the victims involved. Tragedy is tragedy and there is no need to portray it as something good. Even the worse of humanity is created in the image of God, and tragic situations require a recognition of God’s good creation being distorted.

Faith is like the roots of a tree, with knowledge as its branches. The greater and more luxuriant the branches become, the deeper the roots need to be; else, when the storms of doubt push against the branches, the tree will fall for lack of depth and strength.

Charles W. Conn

The oft-used adage “prevention is better than cure” does apply. Do everything you can to avoid being put in the situation of being left with only two bad choices. But sometimes in life you are stuck between two options, both wrong. Don’t try to self-justify or explain your actions away or simply make excuses; these things only delay the emotional journey to peace. Accept the reality of the situation and depend on the grace of God in Jesus Christ for restoration. Reformer Martin Luther wrote in 1521, “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.” Sometimes the better choice, is still a terrible choice.

 confession… forgiveness… redemption… healing… hope…

There are some choices that are always right.

“Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.”

Martin Luther, Reformer 1521

By the way, these comments have nothing to do with the election of our next President. Don’t look outward for the “lesser of two evils”. Look inward for the unresolved pain of wrong decisions that once were made. Look upward for the promise of forgiveness. Even God once had two bad choices to make, let his Son die on a cross for the forgiveness of humanity’s Sin or let humanity (you and me) die without eternal hope. But the “better bad choice” of the crucifixion of Jesus resulted in his bodily resurrection, which gives us the presence of the Holy Spirit and hope of eternal life. This is Grace. It cost God his Son. As a result, he overcame sin and death. And this is where we find the peace that passes understanding. This was, in fact, God’s “best bad decision by far”.

We’ll Try Anything Once

Sarah was a REALLY old lady at our church. I met her when I was a young man; in fact, I am still not her age. She had snow-white hair, lots of wrinkles, and walked slowly. Yet, if she is to be judged by what I heard her say following a church meeting once, I believe she had the heart of an eighteen-year-old.

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The church was struggling with how to reach more people for Christ in the neighborhood. We were in a part of town that was not exactly declining but was certainly not growing. Most of the neighborhood consisted of older people, transient renters, and a smattering of students attending the local university. The challenges for church growth were significant.

During a quarterly business meeting, different ideas were shared about new ministries to reach out to the community. Suggestions were floated and creativity was generally appreciated. No one knew exactly what to do but there was a general openness to new ideas. Leaving the meeting, I overheard Sarah say confidently to one of her friends about one of the ideas presented, “Let’s do it. We’ll try anything once.”

Quite shocking coming from an old lady.

Sarah expressed what all effective ministers know; what matters is attitude. She was old and wise enough to have seen the danger inherent in being afraid to try. She oozed wisdom and experience. She probably went to grade school with some of the Apostles. She knew the value of being willing to take a risk and she wasn’t afraid to try.

Her passion was for people to know God; this drives away all fear.

At the time, I was a youth minister at the church. I drove a motorcycle, wore jeans, a bandana, long hair and a beard–those things were actually cool back then. We took many risks with the program. We began a coffee house ministry on Friday nights as an outreach to local teens. I led a discipleship class for teenagers at six a.m. on Friday mornings (believe it or not, it was well attended). We programmed exciting events and camps. We were very intentional about building a team of committed adult leaders who took responsibility for relational ministry with teenagers. It was an exciting ministry.

ALL of these things are risky. We might fail. We might attract teenagers who didn’t know how to behave in church. Someone may get hurt. Teenagers may bring drugs or alcohol into the mix. But as Sarah knew, the greatest risk was to play it safe. It is much riskier NOT to take risks. We must be willing to try anything once–in our efforts to introduce people to the person of Jesus Christ.

Fear sees a possibility and mistakes it for a problem; faith sees a problem and recognizes it as an opportunity.

Charles W. Conn

Be willing to try new ideas to reach different groups of people. Insanity has been defined as trying the same old thing and expecting a different result. Be willing to re-package the product to attract a new audience but keep the content consistent.

New wine deserves new wineskins. “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)

Jesus said he came to give us life, and give it abundantly. Pour it over, splash it around, dripping, and enjoy that refreshing life that wells up inside your heart. It is the passion of Jesus poured into our earthly vessels. Embrace the thrill of a new challenge. God took the ultimate risk when he sent Jesus into the world. He knew we may reject him. Many did. Many still do. He was willing to take the risk because of His love.

Remember the parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25:24-26. “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!” The words of the Master become even harsher as the story continues. It is not a happy day for the servant who was afraid to try; afraid to risk, afraid to fail.

There is certainly a risk in taking risks; this is why it is called “risky”. It is easy to be fooled into believing something is right, just because it involves the thrill of risk-taking. Abundant life is fun and exciting and sometimes, risky. Sin provides a shadowy imitation of the thrill of abundant life. It is a deceptive mimic. That is the attraction of sin; taking risks is inherently exciting. We must avoid the trap of sin. Don’t take risks simply for the thrill of taking them; have a calculated reason for your decisions. Be wise.

I am proud to say that I have failed at more things than most people have even thought of trying. I could wallpaper my office with rejection letters. It is no fun to fail but occasionally, something I have attempted has continued, and even flourished. This sure makes it fun. Above all, following Christ is about faithfulness, not success.

Start with a vision of what God wants to do in a situation. Put together a plan. Build consensus among like-minded people. Generate excitement. Give it a go. Be willing to fail. Be prepared to succeed. Many times, you can solve an old problem with a new approach. If you fail, you will be in the same place you are now, no real loss… except, hopefully… you will have learned a thing or two.

My wife and I have applied every bit of creativity, problem-solving skills, and risk-taking imaginable to raise our children to become decent human beings. Some thought it risky for us to adopt older children; they come with baggage. From what I have seen, those who birth their own children share risks, as well. Children do not come with guarantees. We all make good and bad choices in life. The problem is people tend to be so human. It is risky business to start a family, yet God calls each generation to do so. We cannot be driven by fear. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

If you are not living on the edge of potential failure, you are not living the abundant life. Even really old followers of Jesus know the importance of a good adventure. Be willing to try anything once. Who knows, it just may work. And if not, you are still in good company.

Excerpt from Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road, (Ayres, 2004)

God is with you through the darkness

Sandy (not her real name) and I were best friends in high school. We never dated but came together to write and play music. Neither of us understood a personal relationship with God at this point but the lyrics written reflected a quest for truth and meaning in life. There was a similar longing in our hearts for a connection with God. Sandy knew me at my loneliest time and her friendship gave me hope. We spent many hours together dreaming of Colorado and adventures in the world of performing music.

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During our senior year, Sandy and I stopped playing music together and drifted apart. I was busy with school and work and dating. We both moved on to other interests and lost touch. I began to follow Jesus and it changed my life. Through the obstacles of all my faults, still I was able to sense of God’s incredible grace. After high school, I became a volunteer leader with a local youth ministry. It was an exciting time of growing and learning each day what it means to follow Jesus Christ. I slept little and often carried on deep discussions with peers through the late night and into the early morning hours.

One time late in the evening, I was at a friend’s house for a party when I received a call from Sandy. We had not talked for almost two years. I stood in a noisy living room and closed my eyes to try and understand her quiet words over the phone.

“Are you busy?” She said.

“No,” I fibbed. “What’s up?”

“I just need to talk with someone. I didn’t know who to call. Can we meet somewhere?”

“Sure.” Of course, as an introvert I’m always glad to leave a party, so I excused myself and headed out. We picked a local 24-hour restaurant to meet and ordered a pot of coffee and chocolate dessert. I remember having a great conversation about several things but there seemed to be nothing specific on Sandy’s agenda. She knew I had accepted Christ and was interested in how this impacted me. A few hours later of friendly chatting, we hugged and went our separate ways. I quietly wondered why she phoned me so late at night for what appeared to be casual conversation.

I later learned it was a matter of life and death.

It was an extremely fragile time in her life that night and my name kept coming up in her mind. Honestly, I still do not know how she got the number for my friend’s house or even knew I was there. I am so glad she did. She later told me that her deal with God was, if you are real, let there be someone who shows that they care; if not, I will kill myself tonight. Completely clueless, I simply showed up.

The story is just getting started. We began getting together almost daily and she did accept Jesus into her life. Three weeks after becoming a Christian, Sandy was confronted with a terrible crisis: her father, step-mother, little sister, and their baby-sitter were all killed in a terrible car crash.

God will hear the cry of His children from afar, but we should live so close to Him that He can hear our faintest whisper of prayer.

Tears are the prisms that make rainbows in the soul.

Charles W. Conn

The news was an incredible shock. Sandy’s relationship with her father had been estranged, yet in the initial process of being rekindled. Suddenly, he was gone. They all we gone. As a brand-new Christian, she was slammed with the reality that horrific things happen to good people. Life can suddenly become unbelievably devastating.

Sandy could have totally rejected the God of the Universe for the tragedy that so closely followed her conversion, but instead she drew closer. She let the God who knows ultimate sorrow hold her while she grieved. There was no hint of trying to minimalize or explain away the shock and grief; no bad theology that turns God into the villain of the story. Sandy recognized that bad things can happen in life to anyone and eventually, to everyone. When those overwhelming moments come, we all make a choice to either face it alone, or lean our friends; to embrace comfort from the God who made us, and is always with us or walk through this valley without hope.

The night before he was to die on a cross, Jesus sat at the table with his closest friends and whispered these words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1) During their last meal together, Jesus comforted his disciples, “Peace, I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27). One cannot turn bad things into good things by simply attributing them to God. Bad things are bad things. However, God can use even bad experiences to bring about good things in life, but this does not change the reality of pain and loss. However, it does adjust our perspectives on them. We are people of hope.

People have different ways of trying to make sense out of tragedy. God calls us into viable relationships, not cold isolation. I believe the perspective of God as the perpetrator of evil events sets people up for an eventual crisis of faith. It plants the seeds of deep doubts as to the very goodness and or existence of God. I prefer to accept the reality of our broken world and recognize that God will never leave us or forsake us. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter who gives, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7). This is where we cling to the hope of the resurrection.

Sandy has been there and she knows.

Do not be afraid. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

God is with you through the darkness.

Revised from Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road, (Ayres, 2004)

Show up, dressed, and ready to play

When fresh out of grad school and starting my first teaching job, a motivational speaker was brought in for the faculty at the beginning of the school year. The speaker reminded me of a used car salesman. I strolled in thinking, “Why in the world do I have to sit here and listen to this guy when I have so much work to do?” Oh, the pride of youth; As it turns out, this presentation impacted my life in ways I could not have imagined. In fact, last week I told this same story to a young man I coach/mentor, about how to succeed in his workplace.

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The presenter told the story of a conversation with a young man who once approached him after giving a motivational speech. The man asked him, “What do I need to do, to be successful?” He told of pausing a moment before giving his response: “Show up.”

Puzzled, the younger man said haltingly, “What do you mean?”

Smiling, he replied. “Just show up. That is all you need to do. You will have a delightful and successful life. People will appreciate you and acknowledge your contributions. I wish you well.”

“Okay…” the younger man nodded hesitantly. The motivational speaker continued, “Now, if you really want to get ahead, receive accolades, gain recognition, and have people talking about your traits and qualities then you might want to consider showing up, dressed.


“Yes, dressed. Not only clean and in pleasant attire, but with your mind dressed. Your attitude dressed. Give attention to the details of how you present yourself. How well you listen. Be attentive and ready to perform, as necessary. Be up to the task.”

The young man’s expression froze somewhere between incredulity and horror. These were not the answers he was looking for. Certainly, there had to be more to being successful. Finally, he said, “You mean… is that all there is to it?”

“Oh, no. There’s one more thing, particularly important.” He continued, “If you REALLY want to blow them away, take control of large companies, rise to the top of your field, maybe even have buildings named after you, find yourself in positions of influence and help change the world… then show up, dressed… and ready to play.

“Ready to play?”

“Yes… ready to play.”


“Show up prepared. Study the issue before the meeting. Think of alternatives and solutions before you walk in the door. Do your research, talk to others, consider alternatives before you arrive, be ready to present your well-thought-out ideas. You might even have new insights on the topic. Maybe your handouts printed and the master plan in your mind. If you will do this simple thing, be ready to play, you will take the corporate world by storm. He paused and then said, “That is about all there is to it. Show up… show up dressed… and show up dressed and ready to play.

Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road

There are times in life that the best you can do is show up. Anyone who has raised children understands this adage. Show up for doctor’s appointments. Show up for teacher conferences. Show up for housework. Show up for your spouse. Show up for dinner. Show up for conversations with your children. Show up and you will survive and actually succeed at this thing called parenting.

My career in ministry and community organization has often put me in situations that are simply unpleasant. I have visited friends in jail, walked into hospitals, confronted tough situations, and find myself repeating to myself, just show up. I have danced on the precipice of panic and remembered this adage: settle down, just show up. This is helped me to get up after being knocked down. It is amazing how important it is to just show up in during the difficult times in people’s lives. Do not let uncertainty paralyze you, just push forward and do something. Start by simply showing up.

Second, become aware of your non-verbal communication, how you come across to others. Show up, dressed. Intentionally maintain a positive attitude about the opportunity of helping other people. If you have experienced a relationally rich life, full of hope; share the emotional and spiritual encouragement with others. Meet people where they are and walk beside them. Be willing to adapt your appearance to fit the situation. Dressing is so much more than what you wear, it is how you dress your attitude; how you perceive others. Do you see them as God does? Dress yourself in a mindset that allow you to see others through God’s eyes, their Creator. Look people in the eye, and recognize their inner beauty, even if they make you uncomfortable. Adorn yourself with integrity and respect. Dress yourself with class. Show up, dressed.

Finally, show up, dressed and ready to play. It takes a tremendous amount of planning to make something look spontaneous and fresh. The mark of a professional is someone who can accomplish extremely difficult tasks and make them look easy. This only happens because the professional was preparing while others were watching television. Study each situation before entering it. Ask advice of others who have been there before. For me, prayer is a vital part of showing up ready to play. There is nothing magical about excellence; it is simply taking your responsibilities seriously enough to show up prepared. In Luke 14:28-29, Jesus spoke of the importance of estimating costs before beginning to build a tower… show up prepared. Show up ready to play.

Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on

Do you want to be successful in life’s endeavors? Show up. Do you want your life to “make a difference in this world?” Show up dressed. Do you want to leave a lasting legacy for others to carry on?

Show up.

Show up, dressed.

Show up, dressed, and ready to play.

Revised from Real-Life Wisdom: Stories for the Road, (Ayres, 2004)