Old Feelings From Newtown

On the morning of Friday, December 14th, I dropped off my 6 year-old daughter at her kindergarten class for the day.

Just a little over an hour later, my perception of elementary schools as safe havens would irreparably violated. The tragedy at Newtown cuts deeper and lingers longer than other stories of shootings because of the age of the victims. The idea of terrorizing 6 and 7 year olds is seemingly inconceivable and unforgivable.

On Monday, Fort Lee residents and clergy gathered for a candlelight vigil in Monument Park (video). The passage I shared that night was from Habakkuk 1 and 3.

How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.

~ Habakkuk 1:2-3

The prophet Habakkuk found himself amidst a society that had increasingly become rampant with violence and injustice. He called out to the Lord for salvation but felt that his cries went unanswered. Many hearts of the people in this nation today must be echoing the cry of Habakkuk.

Where are you, God? Why is there so much evil around us?

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9/11, OK City, & Me

Planes exploding like missiles, skyscrapers falling like waterfalls, and debris scattering like sawdust. Eleven years ago, I turned on the TV and saw the same pictures that you have seen.

Andy, my closest friend at that time, worked on the 93rd floor of the North Tower. No one had heard from him. During the week, I drove around to local hospitals to see if there had been any unidentified victims, dead or alive. But I was grieved to realize that there just weren’t any remains to be identified.

By the time Saturday arrived, I had come to grips with the fact that I would never see Andy alive again. This was not a sudden realization, it was a slowly diminishing hope. I, myself, had to make the decision that he was dead. There was no one to tell me, no one to decide for me. I had to be the one to kill the possibility of his survival. Some decided before me and some decided after me. But when I decided, I decided alone.

In my mourning, the impulse was to stare at the injustice of it all—What had Andy done to any of these people?—and blame someone. I wanted to climb to the top of the tallest building still standing and shake my fist at God and yell, “How could you do this? How could you let this happen?”

And then I remembered something that stopped me dead in my tracks. Continue reading 9/11, OK City, & Me

My Last Blog Post Ever

It’s the end of the world as we know it… and I feel fine.

As you may have already heard, Harold Camping has been getting his small army of volunteers to spread the word that the world is going to end tomorrow, 5/21/2011, at 6am. So, naturally, this will be could be probably won’t be my last blog post ever.

My first reaction is to dismiss this. In fact someone first mentioned something back in November when they heard an ad on Star 99.1. And I didn’t think about it again until I heard it on ESPN radio, where they were mocking the guy about a month ago. I didn’t think about it much because I feel like the more that we pay attention to these things, the more they don’t go away.

But then, somehow, it’s hit the mainstream media. It’s on about every news outlet. Even the CDC released a tongue-in-cheek Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse primer just 4 days ago.

So, if CNN is talking about it, then I perhaps my mentioning it in my blog won’t make a remarkable difference in the amount of attention that this is getting.

Continue reading My Last Blog Post Ever

Church Confusion

There are plenty of things that make the job of a pastor difficult*. These are well documented. But one of the difficulties is confusion.

* I love my job.

Pastors are called to build their church. Not the dozen churches in his town. Not the hundred churches in the surrounding towns. Not the thousands of churches within driving distance from his church. Just his church.

But pastors are also called to build the Church. The universal Church made up of all believers, all places, all time. So, he is called to build up the dozen churches in his town and the hundred churches in the surrounding towns… and the thousands of churches within driving distance. Not just his church.

Just his church. And not just his church.

Confusing, eh?

Continue reading Church Confusion

A Miner Perspective

On ss-101012-chilean-mine-rescue-02.grid-9x2August 5, a mine shaft in Chile caved in, trapping 33 miners almost 1000 feet underground*. Yesterday, after 69 days, they began rescuing the 33 miners one-by-one. The magnitude of the effort to save them cannot be understated. The story can be followed here.

* That’s about the distance from the Empire State Building Observation Deck to the ground.

The weeks following today’s rescue will be filled with a mixture of elation, relief, rest and gratitude. I imagine it will be days, if not weeks, before any of the miner’s lives get back to any semblance of normal. In fact, one of the miners, only 19 years old, has written a letter stating that he believed God had a purpose for him to be down there and his life will not be the same afterward.

However, imagine, if you would, that many days from now, one of the miners decides that he actually prefers his life in the mine shelter and finds a way to climb back down the mine shaft and plans to live the rest of his life down there. At first, there would be curiosity and probably ridicule. However, eventually, there might even be outrage over the gargantuan effort it took just to extract him from that very shelter in the first place. Eventually, however, I think sadness would be the prevailing sentiment that would rule the day. How could this man, who was rescued from that prison, still desire to live in it?

It is with the same ridicule, outrage and sadness that we must view ourselves when followers of Christ return to a life of sin. You see, we have been rescued from a pit of darkness from which we could not rescue ourselves. However this pit was not just 1000 ft deep. And we were not just at risk of death. And it wasn’t just 69 days. The pit we were trapped in is our sins… and it rendered us spiritually dead.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.
~Ephesians 2:1

Having been rescued from that pit of death and raised to life, through Christ, how could we return to a life of sin? God rescued us by climbing into the pit and saving us. And the new life that we have been given is to be lived for him… for his glory.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
~ Galatians 5:1

So, remember, you have been set free by a God who rescued you and who died in your stead. He did it to rescue from the pit of death called sin and he also did it to give you a new abundant and fulfilled life. So, live with a new purpose and new perspective. And stop climbing down the mineshaft again.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
~John 10:10

A Kurt Response

I don’t really watch too much TV. I’ve never watched American Idol. Never watched Survivor. And I’ve never watched Dancing With the Stars.

However, one of the compelling reasons to watch DWTS (if I were to watch it) is to see former Sports stars dancing. This season, Kurt Warner, former QB of the NY Giants (what? he played for other teams, too?) who has been to 3 SuperBowls and won 1 (Sure makes it seem like it was with the Giants, huh?) is on the show.

Kurt Warner has an amazing story. [Both worth clicks!] But what makes it even more amazing is the way that his faith has really carried him through this amazing LifeStory. Here is just one example: a game that they play when the Warner family goes out to eat. Faith in action!

Well, apparently, he has received some criticism from Christians about his decision to do DWTS. Well, apparently, he’s written a letter that has circulated around the tubes of the interweb that let us read, in his words, the reason for doing DWTS. Enjoy!

Hey y’all, hope this letter finds you well.  Life has me crazy busy and I miss having the opportunity to connect with all of you.  But, I find myself with a little extra time on a flight to STL for a couple events & wanted to use a little of it to share with you something that God has placed on my heart recently.

Read more at richleeblessed.com.

The Authentic Wall of China

Back The Authentic Wall of China in 1996, I went to a Missions trip to Shanghai, China. During our debrief period, we took an 18 hour train ride (that took 24 hours) to Beijing.

We did a bunch of sightseeing including Tiananmen Square (somber), Temple of Heaven (ornate), Summer Palace (huge), and Maidonglao (McDonald’s).

But the place that I was looking forward to the most was the Great Wall of China. We had an opportunity to choose which Great Wall we wanted to visit: the restored Great Wall or the original Great Wall. Luckily, we were persuaded (by me) to visit the Original.

There was something profound and ponderous about sitting on a wall that had been built millenia before me. It took longer to drive to. We had to climb through shrubs to get to it. The steps were ridiculously steep. It wasn’t as pretty (and certainly more dangerous) as the rebuilt wall. But it was the authenticity of the Wall that made it profound. It was the knowledge that these stones were carried and laid here by people that had long since passed on that led to it’s impact. Rather than a reconstructed version that was better suited to sell souvenirs and keepsakes. There was something undeniably real about this wall.

I was reminded about the Great Wall of China this week because of a conversation that I had with someone. I was challenging this person to be authentic in their community at church. For too long, they had chosen the safe route and kept people at a distance. Is it any wonder that they had not felt like a part of the church community? They had not connected with anyone in any authentic way. You cannot be part of a community unless you let the community be a part of you. To choose to be real, no matter how hard or risky that may be.

It might take longer to get there… you might have to climb through some pretty thorn thicket to get there… it won’t be as pretty… and it’s certainly more dangerous. But it the authenticity that makes it profound.

So, if you are presented with the choice of being real and authentic in your community or hiding under the safety of public perception and platitudes, then choose Authenticity.

And, if you have a chance to see the Great Wall of China… choose Authenticity.

To read more of Pastor Richard’s blog posts, check out his blog at www.richleeblessed.com.

Heroism in Perspective

You might have heard about the HS football star that disarmed a gun-wielding girl on a school bus just a few days ago.

People will very easily link this to the story of Jesus, seeing how someone put themselves in harm’s way in order to ‘save’ us. However, I would like to remind us all, that this story doesn’t come close to what Jesus did.

What Jesus did would be tantamount to climbing on the bus. And then in saving the 22 people on board, he would be shot. And die.

The football player is heroic, no doubt. But let’s not forget the magnitude of Jesus’ heroism and sacrifice for you.

Video after the jump.

Continue reading Heroism in Perspective

Bill Clinton is Jesus! (Sort of…)

In Clinton and Kim Jong Ilcase you hadn’t heard, Laura Ling and Euna Lee have been freed from their detainment in North Korea and pardoned from their sentence of 12 years in a prison work camp for entering the country illegally to conduct a smear campaign.

As soon as the story broke, I tweeted, jokingly, that “Bill takes the lead as the most culturally-relevant Clinton!” While that may be true. I think, at least in one sense, he has got me thinking of an even greater person.

AsLaura Ling greets family I perused some of the images on the internet of Clinton’s trip to North Korea (DPRK – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — How is this country called Democratic, the People’s or a Republic???), I was struck at some of the similarities of my own experience.

I was once a prisoner, convicted of crimes that my freedom could not pay. And so I was sentenced not just to 12 years of hard labor, but to a life sentence. In fact, we all are given the same sentence.

“For the wages of sin is death” ~ Romans 6:23

Mr. X-President left his place of prestige (and celebrity), traveled to a foreign land, spoke up on behalf of prisoners and mediated their release from their sentence. In the same way, Jesus was one who was willing to leave his rightful place, traveled to earth, spoke up on my behalf and mediated my freedom from my punishment.

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” ~ Philippians 2:6-8

However, there are some very distinct differences between Clinton and Christ. [ed note: Shocking, I know!] First of all, it seems that North Korea actually made the plea for some sort of envoy like President Clinton to come and ask for amnesty. But, we didn’t ask God for salvation; God granted it graciously. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of my own need for salvation. Yet, God granted it graciously.

Second, at the end of his humanitarian trip, Bill returned safely on the same plane as the freed prisoners. Jesus did not walk away scot free. Instead, he had the punished that I deserved exacted upon himself in my stead. If Clinton really wanted to model Christ, then he would have worked those 12 years (x2 = 24yrs) in the labor camp in order to free Ling and Lee.

But that would be crazy!

Well, that was the length to which Christ was willing to go, the price which Christ was willing to pay in order to purchase our freedom from our sins. It wasn’t 12 years in a labor camp. It was dying a criminal’s death on a cross, which should have been reserved for each one of us. Instead, we are free because of Christ’s mediating our freedom through his death.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” ~ I Timothy 2:5

To see footage of Laura Ling’s offering of gratitude to her supporters, check out the video. **Warning: Emotions may ensue.** [Oh, and the tall Korean guy standing next to Lisa Ling in the background, Paul Song, used to go to Bethany Church when we were growing up.]

To read more of Pastor Richard’s blog posts, check out his blog at www.richleeblessed.com.