Thursday, November 24, 2016

Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias!

In case you're wondering, that means "Happy Thanksgiving Day" in Spanish! As I write this many of you are gathering with friends and family to celebrate one of my favorite holidays -- Thanksgiving! It hasn't fallen into the trap of commercialism or competition and remains largely about family, friends and fellowshipping around the things for which we are thankful. And I have so much to be thankful for!

I'm writing this from Las Choapas, Veracruz, Mexico where my daughter, Hope, and I visiting the "International" part of Christian Challenge International. Lori and I were privileged to be part of the missionary team that established the Agua Viva family of churches in the southern part of Mexico back in the 1980's along with Joel and Angel Dyke. What started as a small Sunday morning worship time in our living room in Coatzacoalcos has grown to become a network of churches across three Mexican states. I have the honor of personally overseeing a branch of that work that consists of 5 churches under the leadership of Pedro and Coqui Chulín, who we helped lead to the Lord and disciple.

It's been a real treat to have Hope with me on this trip. This was her first time in an airplane and she travels like a champ! We had a few significant delays, including the de-icing truck catching on fire in Alexandria which caused us to leave too late to catch our connecting flight to Mexico City. We ended up having a 10-hour layover in Atlanta, which Hope and I made the best of by leaving the airport to visit the World of Coca-Cola museum and create some memories. We then flew out of Atlanta at 7:20PM, arriving late in Mexico City - in fact it was nearly midnight by the time we collected our luggage, went through immigration and customs and finally got to our hotel. We then had to get up at 4:00AM (again!) to catch our 6:00AM Tuesday morning - only to discover that one of our suitcases didn't make the flight with us! It finally arrived on the 11:30AM flight and after collecting it we made the trip over to Las Choapas in time to eat a delicious fried fish lunch at 2:30, rest up a little bit and hit the ground running. Here are a few pictures of our travel....

The escalator from the bottom of the MARTA subway
station to the ground level is very LONG!!!

In front of the "World of Coca Cola"

Coca-cola is probably the world's most well-known product.

This Mayan pyramid was constructed as a museum on Coatzacoalcos' waterfront.

In front of the giant Mexican flag - no wind.

Hope enjoying her first ever coconut water. (I finished it for her!)
I was operating on three nights in a row of +/-4 hours sleep so I can't really tell you much about the first night, other than there were about twice as many couples as expected and the tears, hugs and kisses at the end were evidence that God was doing a healing work! I shared on Marriage Killers and Healers and watched God touch so many hearts, renewing love and giving hope. It was a great way to kick off the week! (Sorry, no pictures.)

Round-table discussion after the teaching.
Wednesday morning I went to a pastors' breakfast while Hope went with the family of Dr. Cesar and Fanny Marin to see the Revolution Day parade. (It had been postponed a couple of days due to rain.) She had a blast with this much-beloved family and I got to share a teaching on How to Deal with Insecurity in Ministry to the pastors from 4 of our 5 churches as well as a couple of other pastors from the city. Between breakfast, my teaching, and the round-table discussion the meeting lasted 4 1/2 hours! Then we left from there to have lunch with the family that had hosted Hope. (They fell in love with her and have invited her to come back and spend some time with them next summer. She's praying about it.)

After lunch we headed back to our accommodations and I was only going to take a short nap, but 1 1/2 hours later Hope was gently waking me up telling me it was time to get ready for church! We had a wonderful praise service and I shared a teaching on "God Is In Charge of Who's In Charge" based on Daniel 2:21. This was a much needed teaching as Mexico is very concerned about America's next president and some of the things he has said about them. God used this time to remind His children that He is working His plan to prepare this world for the Second Coming of Jesus, which is very soon! Four people gave their lives to the Lord last night and we also had a wonderful time of intercession for our lost loved ones. Here are a few pictures from the service that Hope took.
Worship in Agua Viva is always AWESOME!

Hope got a nice panorama shot. The children meet in a different building.

"God Is In Control of Who's In Control!"

Three of the four who gave their lives to Jesus last night!
Today is actually a day of rest for us. We had made some tentative plans but didn't have any services scheduled. I asked Pedro if we could cancel our plans and just rest, and I think he liked that idea. His son, Oscar, who once ran a taco stand while going to college, is going to make us a mess of "tacos al alambre" for lunch! So while you're eating turkey and ham, we'll be feasting on the deliciousness of authentic Mexican tacos! I think I might be getting the better end of the bargain! ;)

We still have three more meetings - Friday night I'll be speaking at a church-wide leadership training session, then Saturday Hope will speak at the youth service, and Sunday I'll share in the regular Sunday worship service. We'll fly to Mexico City Sunday evening, spend the night there and fly back to Atlanta Monday morning, arriving in Alexandria around 5:00PM Monday night. This is the toughest travel schedule I've ever had for one of these trips - normally it's only one-day down and one-day back, so having to do each direction over two days is very tiring. But it's totally worth it to be used by God! And to create some wonderful memories with my daughter, Hope! So happy Thanksgiving, y'all! We've got a lot to be thankful for!

Oh, and here are just a few more food pictures thrown in for good measure! ;)
Fried Mojarra - yummy!

Memela - thick tortilla topped w/refried beans, chinameca meat, fried bananas, avocado, shredded chicken, cheese, etc!

Fresh fruit & strawberry yogurt w/fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast!

An assortment of Mexican "antojitos" or snacks. Yummy!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Why I Love Fall

I love fall! Always have! I’m not sure exactly why, but when the heat finally begins to break and we get that first little taste of a nip in the air, something inside of me leaps for joy!

One reason may be all the great memories I have of fall. Marching band was one of the highlights of my high school years and although we started practice in the summer, the majority of our performances were on cool fall Friday nights, plus performing in the fall competitions or marching in the Christmas parades were the epitome of marching band. Sure, I enjoyed concert band in the spring, but marching band was where we got to show off and strut our stuff!

Maybe I just like fall because it was a relief from the brutal heat of summer. But there are other fall memories that are so meaningful to me, things like bonfires, “weenie” roasts, hayrides, fall festivals, the parish fair, bobbing for apples, sack races, football season, squirrel hunting, camping out, Thanksgiving turkey and the list goes on and on! Sure, there were a few unpleasantries about fall, such as raking the yard – but even that often ended up with a huge pile of leaves (or pine straw) to jump in!

As I look back at my list of reasons to love fall I notice that most of those activities imply the involvement of family and friends. Since I’m a pretty social kind of guy, events that bring the people I love together are always going to be high on my list.

But fall also has a more sober side. The changing of colors from verdant green to flaming hues of orange and red, and then to grey bare limbs reminds me that winter is near. Winter, that season of short days and long nights with bitter cold to trap you indoors. And the very leaves themselves, once vibrant and lush soon will lay on the ground, brittle to the touch and fading back into the dust of the earth. Perhaps fall is also a reminder of our own mortality, that one day we, too, will return to the dust from which we came. Which is a great reminder to “make the most of the time” (Eph 5:16) we've been given.

Even in spite of that somber perspective, I find that fall is like a promise – it’s a promise that change is a constant in life. Seasons come and seasons go, and God promised it would always be that way as a sign of His providential care of the earth. His promise to Noah, after the flood, was, “"While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease." (Gen 8:22 NASB)

It may seem odd that the changing of a season would remind me of the steadfastness of God, but it does. It draws to the surface an almost unconscious acknowledgement that God is in control. That He is the one who determined the earth’s distance from the sun and maintains it at a perfect 23.5 degree tilt, thus guaranteeing summer, fall, winter and spring (unless you live near the equator or one of the poles!). Less tilt would mean colder poles and hotter equator and more tilt would have more extreme seasons of hot and cold, both of which would affect living conditions, food production, etc. It is by God’s hand that all these things are balanced and work together. Paul, discussing the preeminence of Christ said that “…He holds all creation together” (Col 1:17 NLT). And fall reminds me of that.

Fall also reminds me of the seasons of life we all experience. Not just the growing up from childhood through adolescence, teenage years into young adults and (hopefully) wise elders. But other seasons of life such as seasons of ministry, focus, and calling. We all go through them and sometimes it’s uncomfortable or awkward when God begins preparing us for another season. But often it’s like that fresh nip in the air, the scent of fall, that hint of relief from the heat of the current season! You’re thankful for the productivity of the past season, but you’re also excited for the one to come!

I’ve been through those seasons of ministry and calling. I’ve served as a missionary, associate pastor, youth pastor, worship leader, senior pastor and lots of other roles in ministry. Some of the
transitions were clear and easy, others were gradual and almost imperceptible. But each season had its own special grace, and when it was time to transition to the next season there was grace upon grace (John 1:16). And new mercies every morning (Lam 3:23)!

Whatever season of life you find yourself in, take comfort that God is in control of all the seasons! In fact, according to Daniel, God is the one who “changes the times and seasons!” (Dan 2:21 HCSB) I believe He does this for His purposes and for the benefit of His children. He hasn’t forgotten the season you’re in – and if He allows it to linger, it’s because He’s still working something out inside of you! Or preparing something else for you!

I love fall because it reminds me of all of the above! Hopefully you’re encouraged in whatever season you’re in. Take a moment to consider the things I’ve shared and thank God for all the seasons of your life, the easy AND the hard. For they’ve all been used to prepare you for the next one!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Why I'm Not Celebrating Trump's Victory

"Photo: Christian Holmér"
Eight years ago today I wrote a post entitled "Barack Obama is My President" that generated a little controversy from some of my (much) more conservative friends. But it articulated my thoughts on the election of 2008 as best I could, expressing my mixed emotions. It's not a long post so I'd love for you to read it before reading the rest of this one. Go ahead, I'll wait for you......

Finished? OK, let me revisit a couple of things I shared there. At one point I said, "I think it speaks well for our country to that we did not make a choice based solely on the color of his skin. That encourages me." I still stand by that today. While I did not support candidate Obama based on his platform, I did NOT oppose him based on his race. In fact, I'm proud that America elected an African American president! I just wish it had been a conservative one, like Thomas Sewell, J.C. Watts, Allen West, Condolleeza Rice or Dr. Ben Carson! My opposition was strictly to President Obama's policies. But I'm still proud that our country elected a minority to the highest office in the land. However, that leads me to my next point.....

I went on in that same post to say this:
I remain seriously concerned about the planks in the Democratic Party platform that oppose the values and morals of a world-view that is based in Biblical teachings. Will life be cherished? Will the sanctity of marriage be upheld? Will secular humanism be the promoted religion of our land? These are questions and concerns that only time will reveal the answer.
Unfortunately, time revealed answers that were more troubling than the questions asked. Elective abortion is still legal, and championed, even up to just moments before birth. The sanctity of marriage was certainly trodden under foot. "Gender identity" has become a choice rather than a determination by the creator. Our country has gone so far down a path towards "self determination" (aka, secular humanism") that I don't know if we will ever return to a "firm reliance on the protection of divine providence" (source: Declaration of Independence).

So why am I not celebrating Trump's victory? Since he ran on a platform of life, sanctity of marriage, pro-Israel, religious freedoms, etc, shouldn't I be rejoicing? Perhaps I should. But I simply cannot.

First of all, this election was so divisive and hurtful that some people are literally afraid today because "their side" lost. It's almost as if we have endured a civil war and the wounds are so deep that we need another Abraham Lincoln to proclaim "malice toward none, for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, ..." Will there be healing in our land? Or will hate divide and conquer us so that we devour ourselves? For this reason I cannot celebrate when many of my friends in minority communities feel marginalized and less than human today. Because they matter to me.

But the main reason I'm not celebrating is that Trump's victory has NOTHING to do with where my main citizenship lies. I am a citizen of heaven first, and regardless of who is president or king or Caesar or emperor, JESUS IS MY LORD! Presidents come and go, but the Kingdom of Heaven is eternal. I've chosen to "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Mat 6:33), not the kingdom of a political party.

Yes, I want traditional values to be championed. I want unborn children to be as safe in their mother's wombs as they are in their mother's arms. I want marriage to be celebrated as God's idea for a man and a woman to represent Jesus and His bride, the Church. I pray for the peace of Jerusalem and want my nation to stand with her. And I hope that our nation will return to those values. But it will take more than a flawed president to make that happen. It will take revival in our hearts. And loving each other, just as Jesus said.

I pray that we will start talking to each other, and more importantly, listening to each other! Hear the pain, hear the fear, hear the hurt and the cry of the heart that feels threatened by the outcome of this election. And as you listen, pray - for them and for yourself, that you can part of God's healing. Pray that more souls will be brought into the Kingdom of God through your life and testimony. That will give you reason to celebrate things that really matter for eternity!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

2016 Election Recommendations

Source: Public Domain
I’m often asked for my take on elections, probably because of my involvement in the local political scene. In previous years I would give my recommendations on candidates for specific offices, but several years ago I stopped doing that. Partly because I often know so many of them and have friends that support opposing candidates - awkward! So in the last few years I’ve essentially limited my recommendations to Constitutional Amendments, mainly because they are often hard to understand, and only occasionally have I spoken about a candidate or cause I feel strongly about. But because of the importance of this year’s election, I’m going to dabble a bit in some of the races before jumping into my thoughts on the amendments.

Used by permission - Creative Commons 4.0
This year we have several important elections, including the President of the United States. And for me, that’s a humdinger! On the one hand there is a very experienced candidate running on a platform that as a Christian I simply cannot support (abortion, same-gender marriage, euthanasia, etc). On the other hand, there is a first-time candidate running on a platform I support, but whose personal morality makes it difficult to wholeheartedly endorse. Some Christian leaders suggest that we vote our conscience and select a 3rd-party candidate whose moral lifestyle demonstrates the values they espouse. At the same time, other respected Christian leaders call on us to look at the consequences of an election when realistically only 2 candidates have a chance of winning – and those who vote their conscience essentially take a vote away from a platform they support, reminding us that the winner of this election will select Supreme Court justices (who serve for life). I find both arguments compelling and at the end of the day I urge you to pray and ask God to guide you in your vote, remembering that ultimately it is God who puts leaders in authority (Dan 2:21; Rom 13:1) – and He uses His people to do it!

Louisiana will also elect a US Senator this year, but with 24 candidates on the ballot I’m pretty sure there will be a run-off. I’ve met several of these candidates and have a lot of respect for many of  them. I tend to lean towards John Fleming, Charles Boustany and Rob Maness. (I know you can only vote for one, but they’re pretty good choices - take your pick!)

Source: Wikipedia
In the 5th Congressional district for the US House of Representatives incumbent Ralph Abraham is running for reelection and I feel he has been responsive and done a good job. I’ve met him on several occasions and feel he is truly interested in serving people, not making a name for himself. His background as a doctor certainly helps in these difficult days of medical insurance changes. I have no reservations about recommending the reelection of Congressman Abraham.

The election for Judge in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has two fine candidates who would each do a great job. Van Kyzar is the current District Attorney in Natchitoches Parish and Chris Peters is the current District Court Judge for the 28th Judicial District Court in LaSalle Parish. Both are fine men and every attorney I’ve spoken with says that either would make a great choice. It’s nice to have an election where you can’t make a bad choice. I might be flipping a coin in the voting booth on this one! ;)

Source: Candidate's website
In the race for the open District 4 seat on the Public Service Commission I wholeheartedly endorse Reldon Owens. I’ve known Reldon for many years and have served on committees with him regarding infrastructure and economic development, and he just “gets it.” I believe he would do a tremendous job as our Public Service Commissioner and can recommend him without hesitation. I’ve met the other two candidates in the race, and they are also compelling candidates. But my personal history and experience with Reldon, watching him work for the good of Central Louisiana as part of the Governor’s Transportation Task Force, Chairman of the Board of the Cenla Chamber of Commerce, on the board of the Central Louisiana Economic Development Association, his involvement in the Rapides Area Planning Commission, Metropolitcan Planning Organization and the Central Louisiana Beltway Commission, plus his heavy involvement in his local church and supporter of civic and school organizations all combine to make him a well-rounded leader in touch with the people most impacted by decisions of the PSC. I’ll definitely be voting for Reldon and hope you will too.

And now to the Constitutional Amendments! (At least this year there are only six!!!) These amendments can be confusing, and sometimes you have to vote no to get a positive effect, and vice-versa! I use the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana’s non-partisan guide as my primary source of understanding, but even it can be confusing. So here’s my take on each Amendment, with my reasoning further below:

1.       Amendment 1 – Establishes new requirements for local registrars of voters. NO.
2.       Amendment 2 – Tuition and fee autonomy to college management boards. YES.
3.       Amendment 3 – Eliminates federal income tax deduction for corporations on state tax returns and sets a flat rate. NO.
4.       Amendment 4 – Property tax exemption for surviving spouses of persons killed in the line of duty. YES.
5.       Amendment 5 – Creates a Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund. YES.
6.       Amendment 6 – Adjusts threshold for tapping protected funds. NO. YES.
Now let’s take a look at each one a little closer….

1.       Amendment 1 – Establishes new requirements for local registrars of voters. NO.
Voting is becoming more and more complex with rule-changes to keep up with and technology to stay ahead of. This amendment would essentially add additional qualifications to those seeking to temporarily serve as registrar of voters office in the event a vacancy occurs: bachelor’s degree and 2-years full-time professional work experience, or, an associate degree and 4-years full-time professional work experience; or seven years of full-time professional work experience; or, five years of full-time employment in a Louisiana registrar’s office.
While this amendment looks good on the face of it, my concern is that sometimes it is difficult, especially for rural parishes, to find people who meet these new criteria who are willing to serve, especially in what could be a temporary position. Currently all registrars are already required to take regular extended education classes to maintain qualifications for the job and these new criterion could be crippling for some small jurisdictions. I recommend a NO vote.

2.       Amendment 2 – Tuition and fee autonomy to college management boards. YES.
Louisiana has had difficulty funding higher education but also is one of only two states that do not allow colleges to set their own tuition and fee levels. And it’s the ONLY state that requires a two-thirds vote to change tuition and fees. This creates a huge bottle-neck and public universities are struggling. This amendment will allow universities to price themselves in a competitive manner, and perhaps even charge different tuition rates for different types of education, depending on actual costs. The tuitions still have to be approved by boards that are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate, so there is still some governmental oversight, but the logjam is broken up by giving each university more autonomous control. I recommend a YES vote.

3.       Amendment 3 – Eliminates federal income tax deduction for corporations on state tax returns and sets a flat rate. NO.
This is a bit of a complex issue, and I can see people coming down on either side of it. In essence what this amendment does is eliminate the ability of businesses to deduct the amount paid if federal income taxes from their state income and adjusts the tax rate from a tiered rate from 4%-8%, depending on income, to a flat 6.5% rate for all businesses. So larger businesses would actually gain a little more by reducing their effective tax rate from 8% down to 6.5%, but smaller businesses would see their tax rate increase from 4% or 5% to 6.5%, all the while losing a deduction that they have come to depend on. So while this amendment could potentially generate an additional $200 million for the state books, it appears to do so on the back of small businesses. While I’m all for a simplified tax system, I don’t want to see mom & pop businesses penalized in the process. I recommend a NO vote.

4.       Amendment 4 – Property tax exemption for surviving spouses of persons killed in the line of duty. YES.
This is a no-brainer to me. This amendment allows a property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a person who died while on active duty, whether it be a member of the US armed forces, the Louisiana National Guard, state police, law enforcement or fire protection officer. The spouse would receive a 100% exemption on the full assessed value of the home (until death or remarriage). The impact of this exemption will be minimal on taxing authorities, but will be substantial for the families of those grieving the loss of a loved one who gave their life in the service of others. I wholeheartedly recommend a YES vote.

5.       Amendment 5 – Creates a Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund. YES.
Here is another complex amendment, and my attempt to make it simple. The State of Louisiana maintains a “Budge Stabilization Fund” (or an “emergency fund” in Dave Ramsey’s world) that is made of mineral revenue funds after certain dedications are met and portions are put into the general fund. This amendment re-allocates some of the excess mineral revenues from the general fund to be used to reduce debt and invest in infrastructure (or “debt snowball” in Dave Ramsey’s world). This will force some fiscal restraint on the legislature and require the State to pay down debt and invest in infrastructure before putting money in the general fund, where it could be used for anything. This will help our credit rating, potentially lower our debt obligations, and in the long run put Louisiana on a more stable financial footing. I recommend a YES vote.

6.       Amendment 6 – Adjusts threshold for tapping protected funds. NO. YES.
One more complex amendment dealing with money. And by now my brain hurts, so I hope this makes sense! In times of several financial downturns the constitution allows the state to “raid the piggy bank” by “sweeping” certain protected funds, up to 5% of each fund’s balance. This new amendment adds several new funds to the “sweepable” list and creates an easier to reach trigger. In fact, it could potentially allow the state to sweep the funds (“break the piggy banks”) even if revenues are projected to INCREASE, in certain situations. This amendment would have us going to the piggy banks more and more often, resulting in one day not having a piggy bank to go to! I recommend a NO vote. If you'll notice above I said that my brain hurt after reading all the complex details of the amendments. After I published the info above I was contacted by a reputable source who told me that this amendment would protect the supplemental pay for police and fire personnel, which would keep them from being political pawns in future budget battles. I had to go dig into the actual language of the bill (SB 201, Act 681) to find it, but it's in there, along with four other funds (Coastal Protection Fund, Hospital Stabilization Fund, Oilfield Site Restoration Fund, Conservation Fund) that will now be protected from sweeps. I still think this is not the best bill, as it makes it easier for funds to be raided on rainy days. And I think the authors of the bill knew this, so they found some funds to protect that would bring large constituencies to support the amendment, such as the law enforcement and firefighter communities. However, even though I think the general concept is not the best, my support for law enforcement and firefighters causes me to rethink my position and recommend a "Yes" vote. I recommend a YES vote.

Well there you have it. For what it’s worth, those are my recommendations, which you’re free to accept or ignore. I promise you that you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of them – or a complete refund of the purchase price, if not fully satisfied! ;) And no matter how you feel on the matter, please don’t forget to vote! It’s both a right and a responsibility of citizenship!

And if you don’t live in my voting district, Louisiana residents can get your custom sample ballot by simply going to - just input your info and you’ll find every option on your ballot this next Tuesday!

BTW, if you have any thoughts or think I overlooked something, please don’t hesitate to comment and let me know. I enjoy the feedback and look forward to some good dialog!

Edited .... here's a great video that really highlights how I feel about the election: