The Unsung Peacemakers of Baltimore


Even though we are a few weeks removed from the events that happened in Baltimore, I want to bring us back to those events just for the sake of trying to get a fuller picture of the events that took place.  It was not all bad things that came out of this.

While the destruction was very troubling, not everything that happened was bad.  Sometimes, out of great tragedy, we see heroes step up and do great things in bad situations.  They are like little beacons of light in an overall dark place.  We saw this very thing so powerfully on 9/11 and the weeks and months following that great tragedy.

If you were like me, you saw the images coming from Baltimore and the destruction to that city very troublesome.  Following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a man who died in the custody of Baltimore police, rioters in Baltimore torched countless vehicles, businesses, and community assets.  With police officers injured and some 200 rioters arrested, no wonder Maryland’s governor called in the National Guard.  Destroying property and endangering lives is not a protest, it’s a crime.  Lighting things on fire is not the right course of action.

I am a White Sox fan and because of the riots, the Orioles and White Sox played the first game in the history of baseball in which fans were not allowed into the stadium to watch the game.  This was because they decided that they could not spare security or any law enforcement to be at the game.  The Sox lost by the way.

The steady stream of images and sound-bites coming from Baltimore quickly got wearisome not because they weren’t true, but because they weren’t the whole truth.

In an article that ran in the Washington Post, Trilla Newbell of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission asked, “can we please start sharing the good news out of Baltimore?”

If you didn’t know that there was good news, you were not alone.  Newbell calls them “stories of quiet faithfulness.”  There were photos of Baltimore residents forming human barricades to keep rioters from the police, children passing out bottles of water to National Guardsmen, and a video of a Vietnam vet shooing hoodlums away.  These photos showed a side of the city that many people never saw.

But what really filled me with hope was the response made by the Christians of Baltimore.  Local pastors locked arms and marched into the heart of the riots, urged people to remain calm, and even held impromptu church services in the streets.  A video was shown of a chorus of “Amazing Grace” breaking out into the streets.  There were images of church volunteers sweeping up broken glass among all the chaos.  These were just a few of the moving images and stories that leaked out on Twitter while footage of burning police cars dominated the TV coverage.

After several schools closed, several area churches opened their doors to provide safe place for students.  Some, like Metropolitan United Methodist, handed out sack lunches to kids who otherwise would not have eaten.

Brad O’Brien, a Baptist minister and church planter, turned out with others early on that Tuesday morning to help with the cleanup.  “We know that if the Gospel can resurrect our dead hearts then it can bring hope to this community,” he said, trash bag in hand.  “Our hope is not in our police chief or the governor.  Our hope is in Christ alone.”

Amen.  I agree completely.

Perhaps the most profound moment was a Monday night CNN report on the three-alarm fire at a community center.  Slated to open this year, the Mary Harvin Transformation Center was a joint project between churches looking to provide housing, recreation, and a family atmosphere in one of Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods.

Looking on as flames engulfed years of work, Reverend Donte’ Hickman of Southern Baptist Church had nothing to offer but forgiveness.  “My heart is broken,” he said.  “…somebody obviously didn’t understand that we were working on behalf of the community…we were seeking to restore people.”

“What do you see here?” asked a reporter.

“I see revival,” Hickman calmly replied.  “I see the opportunity to rebuild from the ashes.”

As Chuck Colson once said, “In the worst of times, Christians do the best of things.”

There’s no question that what happened in Baltimore was the worst of times, but the examples of Christian citizens who weren’t content to spectate or to curse the darkness, brought me great hope.

You can be sure that for the residents of Baltimore, these peacemakers did what the rioters failed to do: they brought positive change.  Even if not all of them made the evening news.

Let’s learn from their example and the next time the world around us is filled with darkness, let’s step up and be shining lights of hope.  Let’s be the people who God created us to be.  Let’s let the ways of love and peace guide our thoughts and actions.  Those are the very first baby steps to real and lasting change.

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Choose to Make the First Move

first move

Colossians 3:12 (NLT)

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Too often, when something doesn’t go the way we expect it to, we make the mistake of telling ourselves, “It’s not fair.  It’s not right.  When that changes, when that improves, then I’ll have a better attitude.”  Sitting around and waiting for your circumstances to change before you get on with your plans just won’t result in the plans you have.  You have to make the first move.  If you do your part, then God will do His part.  We need to quit worrying about God changing another person and allow God to change us first.

It can be really hard to have a good attitude when it seems like life is down on you.  Remaining positive when it seems like nothing is going your way can be a real challenge.  It can be really easy to get down on yourself and say maybe I should just settle.  Don’t settle though.  Get the right attitude and you will find that you will be lifted out of the hole that you are currently in and you will be raised up to new heights that you did not know were even possible.

Is there something you’re letting overwhelm you?  Maybe you think it’s too much to handle.  Make the decision to get up each morning and tell yourself, “God, I want to thank You that I can handle a difficult boss.  I can handle getting stuck in traffic.  I can handle my plans not working out.  Lord, thank You that I’ll have a good attitude wherever I am.”

We need to decide ahead of time that we are going to stay in an attitude of faith and expectancy.  Choose to show the characteristics of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Even when others do not show these qualities towards you, you choose to show these qualities back to them anyway.

We need to choose God’s ways and let Him order our steps all the days of our life.  If we can do this, we will find that this life will be pretty amazing and the next life will be exponentially better than this one.

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Be the Encouraging Word

encouraging word

Hebrews 10:23-25 (NIV)

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Proverbs 12:25 (NIV)

25 Anxiety weighs down the heart,

    but a kind word cheers it up.


Most of us get tons of emails and other social media messages each and every day.  How many of those are so encouraging that we actually print them out and tape them to our desks?  Most likely, it is not many.  I actually do print out messages that I find very encouraging.  I have them taped up all around my computer at work so I can see them each day I am in the office.  These notes and verses are everything encouragement should be- timely, sincere, and specific.  These messages are exactly the kind of pick-me-up that I need and I seem to get them just when I need them the most.  When I am feeling discouraged, all I have to do is read a couple of them and it brings me great encouragement in whatever situation I find myself in.

Modern conveniences like email, text messages, and Facebook make it easier than ever to send a quick note of encouragement.  Maybe it’s a handshake, a pat on the back, or a hug.  It could even be something as simple as a wave you give someone as you pass them on the street.  It might be just the thing to brighten your day.

I have found a way to try to encourage others through Facebook.  Over the past year or so, I have been posting success quotes and Bible verses on my Facebook status on days I am at work in the office.  It is a pretty simple undertaking that does not take me a great deal of time.  I have been amazed by the number of people who have replied to me or seen me and said how encouraged they are by my posts on Facebook.  I had no idea.  Simple things such as this can be so encouraging to others.  This is a small way that I can help encourage anyone who has an opportunity to view my Facebook page.  I just love that I am able to do that and help others.  I think that Facebook gets a bad wrap sometimes, but why don’t we use the power to reach people in the masses to spread encouragement instead of gossip.  Letting our light shine to be able to encourage others is a pretty cool thing.

The Bible is filled with God’s words of encouragement for us.  Open to virtually any page of the Psalms and you’ll likely find encouragement.  Here are two of my favorite verses from the book of Psalms:

 Psalm 119:114 (NIV)

114 You are my refuge and my shield;
    I have put my hope in your word.


Psalm 61:4 (NIV)

I long to dwell in your tent forever
    and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.


Isn’t that awesome?  Promises of protection, hope, and eternal security to lift our spirits.  One of the benefits of receiving encouragement from God through the Scriptures is that as we are encouraged ourselves, we are often more inspired and equipped to encourage others with God’s truth.  I know that has certainly been the case for me.


I want to challenge us all to pray for ways, big and small, to be of encouragement to others.  It may seem like a little thing, but it often makes a huge difference in someone else’s life.

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Job or Calling?


Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

When we have an incredible calling on our lives, as all believers do, it can become all to easy to expect work that is equally incredible.  So when believers find themselves waiting to hear back about a job offer for a position they think is less than exciting, many people simply don’t give it a chance.  Instead, they excuse themselves from the process and go on hoping that something better will come along.  Have you ever passed on a job offer because it didn’t feel right or you weren’t sure whether it was your calling?  Sometimes that may be the wise thing to do, but not necessarily in every case.

Many Christians confuse job and calling, and a few consequently miss out on important work opportunities because they are waiting for a particular position or job title.  The truth is, though, that our calling is not limited to a particular job.  It does not occur only from 9 to 5, nor is it part-time or seasonal.  A calling is every day, all day, and in every place we go.  It is comprehensive and extends to everything we do.  It’s primarily about our identity in Christ.

I think that sometimes we can fall into the trap of being too choosy when it comes to our job.  We can live out our calling in almost any job we are involved in.  There are some exceptions to this, but they are pretty rare.

When we pass up jobs because we think they aren’t right, we may be missing opportunities to share the love of Christ with our potential co-workers.  We certainly need missionaries to share the gospel around the world, but we also need missionaries around town.  Maybe God needs you at that place you are considering for a job.

Your calling is not defined by your vocation, but by how you function within that vocation.

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Moving at the Speed of God


When you are driving down the road and you look out your window at the ground you are passing by what does it look like?  If you are normal, then it looks like a giant blur with some pieces looking noticeable but mostly everything is simply passing by so fast you have trouble recognizing it.  When a car pulls beside you and is moving the same direction at the same speed as you are, what do you see?  Unfortunately, you get to see too much.  Either you see someone driving while texting which is a disaster waiting to happen, you may see them singing along to their favorite song which is always funny, or you make eye contact and awkwardly snap your head back around and pretend you were not looking. Whatever you see when you glance over, the thing is you can see each other as if you were not moving at all.

The same can be said when we see what God is doing in this world. It sometimes overwhelms us because there is so much that needs to be done and so many needs calling out for attention.  Its like I want to join God at work in this world, but it seems so big that doing nothing is the easiest thing to do.

How different would things be if I was moving at the speed of God rather than sitting on the side of the road trying to catch Him when we drives by?

This is the thought that hit me this week.  When my life is focused on Christ, the opportunities to serve appear naturally and they seem doable.  When I have drifted away a bit or slowed down things seem to get out of control much easier.

My only hope is Christ.  I know that line is loaded and applies to pretty much any situation, but if my life is not focused on Christ I am not the husband, friend, co-worker, church member, brother or son I am supposed to be.

To be moving at the speed of God, that means that I need to talk to Him each day.  I need to spend time praying to Him each and every day.  I need to spend time reading my Bible and applying what I learn to how I live my life.  Just like we could not be in tune with a friend that we do not spend time with, we can’t be in tune with God by spending one hour with Him a week on Sundays.  A relationship with God is so much more and so much deeper than that.

I am who I am supposed to be, who I was created to be when I am moving at the speed of God.  I am doing what I was created to do when I am moving at the speed of God.

Let’s all challenge ourselves to do what it takes in our own lives so that we can build a closer relationship with God.  Let’s build rhythms in our daily lives where we deliberately include God and soon we will find that we are with God in everything we do.  In doing so, we will find ourselves moving at the speed of God.


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The Sinner Safe Zone

Josh Hamilton

At the end of February, the baseball world was saddened by the news that superstar and former MVP Josh Hamilton of the Los Angeles Angels had suffered a relapse of his drug and alcohol problems.

It is the latest chapter in a story that has a lot to tell us about what it means to be human and also what it means to be the Church.

In 1999, the Tampa Bay Rays made Hamilton the first pick of the MLB draft and for a good reason: His potential was enormous.  He could hit for both a high average and with tremendous power.  If that was not enough, he could throw the ball 97 miles an hour.

With this kind of ability, the only thing that could keep Josh Hamilton from greatness was Josh Hamilton.  And that is exactly what happened.  Hamilton failed six different drug tests while in the minor leagues and was finally suspended from 2004 to 2006.  His potential seemed to have been wasted and his baseball career seemed to be over.

But it wasn’t.  During that time away from baseball, Hamilton had a conversion experience which enabled him to get off drugs.  As he told ESPN back then, “I’m proof that hope is never lost.”  In 2007, the Cincinnati Reds took a chance on Hamilton, which paid off handsomely when he put up all-star caliber numbers over half a season.

Hamilton was then traded to the Texas Rangers where, for the next five seasons, he was one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball.  After the 2012 season, he signed a five-year $125 million dollar contract with the Anaheim Angels.

His next two seasons didn’t go as well, mostly due to injury.  He has not been able to put up the same level of numbers with the Angels that he had with the Rangers.  Then came the relapse during this past off-season.  Josh voluntarily reported what had happened to him to his team as well as MLB officials.  I think the fact that he chose to bring this to their attention when he could have tried to hide it from them showed a great amount of character and courage.

Our first response to hearing this news should be to pray for Josh and his family.  But I also think that Hamilton’s story should make us think about what it means to be the Church, especially when one of us fails.

It can be very easy to judge Josh Hamilton and his actions, but we don’t really know him.  We don’t know exactly what he is struggling with.  I do know that there is not a person alive who does not have their own personal demons and patterns of sin.  The only real difference between my struggles with sin and Josh’s struggles is that Hamilton’s failures and struggles are made public and, thus, the stuff of potential humiliation, whereas mine tend to be more private and only the stuff of guilt and shame.  I am speaking of myself here, but I think we can all make the connection with our own lives.  I think we can all relate to this.

What Hamilton, myself, and all the rest of us need from the Church is a place that not only celebrates our triumphs, but also, and more importantly, comes alongside us when we fail.

We need the kind of place where we can feel safe enough to admit that, in the words of the late Brennan Manning, we had made a “big slobbering mess of our lives,” even after we had faith and came to have a relationship with Christ.  We need a Church that takes the words of the Apostle Paul, “I am confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” to mean that until that day, grace should be shown towards all sinners.

When people look at the words of the Apostle’s Creed, do we see the Church as a place that there can be communion among sinners and forgiveness for all of the saints?

It can be really easy to sit on our religious high horse and judge the sins and failings of others, but are we willing to look into the mirror and realize that it could have just as easily been myself instead of that person?  Until we can get to the point of viewing every person as a sinner and realize that each of us needs forgiveness, it will be very hard to find a way to forgive others for their sins.

The Church needs to be a safe zone where sinners can come and not have to worry about being judged by other believers.  If a person feels judged, they will not be open to talk about their sins and seek forgiveness.  Without the confession of our sins, there is no hope for forgiveness.  If there is no hope for forgiveness, then what is the point of even having a church in the first place?  The world is filled with places where people are being judged.  The Church does not need to be another one of those places.  The Church needs to be a place where all people are welcome.  Since everyone sins, people in that church will not judge the sins of others, but help them by forgiving them and getting them on the right path to not repeating those sins.  The Church needs to be a place where you can come and read from the Bible and learn about God, learn how to love others, and then take that love out into the world to share with others.

I pray that Josh Hamilton, as well as the rest of us, find such a place.  We all need it desperately.

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Walking in His Steps


The body of Christ (by that I mean the church) is full of spiritually preoccupied Christians.  Somewhere along the way we’ve been sold a bill of goods that busyness is next to godliness, and that we can have all the benefits of righteousness without a deep, intimate relationship with Jesus.  That’s crazy-talk, and it has been around since the time Moses walked the earth.

The writer of Hebrews rewinds to the earliest days of Israel when they were a group of people rather than a territory with boundaries.  God’s power wasn’t a theory.  Think about all that great movie fodder—parting seas, water from rocks, fire on the mountain—all acts of God in Spielberg proportions.  When all those astounding, holy, fantastic moments were happening all around them, the Israelites were sneaking around, worshiping idols, fighting each other, and acting like we often do as Americans.

Simply put, they were stubborn, hard-hearted people.  All they had to do was rest in the reality and power of God.  But they craved to worship their own craft.  They melted gold to make calves.  They complained about the menu.  They hoarded treasures, and they promoted their own treadmill, me-first existence.  In other words, they had Egypt on the brain.  Can you relate to that?  I can.

The pagan culture surrounds us, and we begin to smell like it.  We act like the culture we live in.  We aspire to be successful and we sometimes forget to do what is right.   We get so invigorated by the thought that we could, we don’t stop to ask ourselves if we should. Our heart grows distant.  Our soul cracks open and the world spills out of us.  We become spiritually dull on the inside.

How have we gone astray in our hearts?

Is a strong heart the same as a hard heart?

Do you have idols that you need to show out of the tent so you can have a tender heart toward Jesus?

These are all very tough questions, but questions that we really need to take the time to ask ourselves.  If we don’t, we will find ourselves living ordinary lives in which we do not stand out. Choose to be different.  Choose to stand out in a world of mediocrity.

Choose to walk in the steps God has planned for you in your life.

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