Freedom

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#SoberCycle#Review

Tuesday, November 30th, 2021

I can count on one hand the good things I think that have come out of the pandemic of the past close to 2 years.  One was the church implementing a live stream. That was most definitely good because it was very much needed. The other is podcasts, as in, I started listening to them. I have always said that I have trouble listening and driving. So I listened to music almost exclusively.  After I started listening to podcasts I had to change my tune. I figured out the reason why I could listen to them: they were not sermons.  Sermons are by nature one-sided so my mind wandered. Not so with most podcasts.  Honestly, I no longer listen to some of the podcasts I started with.  Some got too complicated. Some too business-oriented. Some too large-church oriented (I’m a pastor of a church in a small town so no relevancy there).

But one I have continued and consistently listened to is Bleeding Daylight hosted by Australian Rodney Olsen. I first “met” Rodney when we crossed paths while blogging.  We also had something in common: he was  a cyclist. Anyway, Rodney’s podcast is his interviews with various people who have overcome challenges and “kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.”  Like all interviews, some kept my rapt attention and some I lost interest in. One of the most recent featured a woman by the name of Sherry Hoppen from Hudsonville, MI.  Sherry’s story is one of addiction to alcohol.  It kept my attention from start to finish, not because I have an issue with it (I have never had a drink), but because I have some I know who do.  It was for them I listened; it was for them I was blessed.

Sherry has written a book chronicling her journey in a much more in-depth way than the podcast could do.

Sober Cycle: Pedaling Through Recovery One Day at a Time

I confess that I am hesitant to review or even suggest a “self-help” book.  Most of them are of the “your best life now” genre. I loathe that approach. Life is a challenge; life is tough, and no amount of self-talk will get you out off that treadmill. But Sherry’s book is much more than self-help. It is a memoir of sorts.  It is a revealing book. It is a brutally honest book.  Since I have never had an issue with alcohol, I do not totally understand its grasp on people. Sherry enlightened me as to the struggle addicts face. I wanted to simply say to her, “Well, then walk away. Don’t drink” but it wasn’t that easy.  And to my friends here, I now have a better idea of what they are going through.

I gave my copy to my friend. I now have another. I know another friend who has one waiting for him when he comes out of rehab.  I have to admit that I was impressed by Sherry’s battle, but I was totally impressed by her husband, Craig, who stood by her through it all. I know many husbands (and wives) who would have walked out and away at the first sign of addiction, let alone stay with her for years as she struggled.  Kudos to Craig!

I must also tell you that Sherry’s hobby is cycling.  Her first real effort at getting free from her addiction was a bike ride from Michigan to Maryland.  But her addiction was so bad she even started the ride with a hangover. I’m telling you folks, you need to read this book. For yourself. For your friends. For your alcoholic friend or relative.  And then pass it along.

Oh, one more thing. Sherry’s ministry is called She Surrenders because that is what it took for her to finally get free. Surrendering daily to the lordship of Jesus.  I can’t speak highly enough of Sherry’s book.  You can order from her website (https://www.shesurrenders.com/ or if you prefer, Amazon.

 

#RandomThoughts#VaxxNoVaxx

Monday, October 11th, 2021

I’m hoping this does not sound like a political statement or rant since this is not the time or place for that. However,  after speaking with someone last night about the “mandate” which has come down to his work and the lives affected by it, I’d like to add my .02 worth.

I am neither pro-vaxx or con-vaxx. It is my personal opinion that each person, each family, must decide what is right for themselves. And please don’t get me started or side-tracked on the whole stupid mandate-mask or vaxx-thing. Trust me when I say I have feelings about that. (Bet you didn’t know that! 🙂 )

I chose to get vaccinated. I had COVID as many of you know. It ravaged my body so that I lost 48 pounds in about 4 weeks time. After a couple of procedures cleared me from some things, it was decided I had gall stones blocking my bile duct. Two more procedures were needed to make things right. I feel God restored my health, although there are still some lingering long-haul affects. I chose to be vaxxed-not because I wanted to or even needed to (ever heard of antibodies?), but for another reason.

I chose to be vaxxed for other people. I wanted people to feel safe around me. I wanted them to know if I visited them in the hospital, nursing home, in their own home, on the street, and especially here at the church, that they could feel safe around me. Again, it was my personal decision and I will judge no one who is or is not, just as I will not judge over the wearing of a mask.  (Please don’t get me started on forcing young children to wear one. Okay…you twisted my arm…what a crock!)

Let’s turn this: When Paul wrote to the Corinthians in I Cor. 8, he would not abuse his liberty at the expense of others. In other words, for the sake of others, he would forego meat offered to idols.  “Hold the hamburger please” would have been his words. 🙂 

Jesus went to the cross-not for Himself-but for the sake of others. For me. For you.

What a great way to live! Living for someone else.  Perhaps we need to start asking ourselves the question, “Who am I living for?” What do you think?

This post is my opinion. This blog is mine. It is not stating the views of the church I pastor or the elders of the church. The opinions expressed here are strictly mine. 

 

#September9#September11

Thursday, September 9th, 2021

I am posting this early for several reasons.  On Saturday, 9/11, I will be taking part in the memorial service the town of Spencer will be having to remember the 20th anniversary of the attacks by cowards. But an even greater reason confronts me. Today, September 9th, is the 10th anniversary of the death of local soldier, Brett Wood, in Afghanistan. I did not know Brett. I know his brother, Nikk, who attends OVCF now. So I post this in honor of Brett and to remind you not to forget.

Even writing those words-that date- brings back haunting memories.

Planes hitting two towers. Papers falling. People dying.  Metal crumbling. Layers of smoke and dust and debris in the air and on people and cars. People digging. American flag waving on site, almost like a guardian and inspiration.

“Let’s roll.” Brave passengers. Todd Beamer. Rumors of the plane headed to the White House.  An empty field. Plane crashed. Crisis averted. Lives lost.

Pentagon. The “seat” of military power. A symbol of military might and genius. The hub of decisions. Fiery death. Walls breached.

A nation united against evil. For once. “God Bless America” sung by political rivals. A common enemy. Swift action. Swift reprisal. Manhunt. Finally got him (them).

9/11…Never forget. This is not a matter of forgiveness. This is a matter of remembering the fallen.  As of today, there are just under 3000 innocent lives gone.  Heroes who rushed burning buildings. People who went to work that day not having a clue. Some of them I will see someday. Some, sadly, thought they had more time. And a few consigned to hell where their vestal virgins do not await. Only tongues of fire.

Matthew 26…Never forget. A memorial feast set aside for a Savior to never be forgotten.  Paying the ultimate price. For me. For you.

LEST WE FORGET

“Father, the memories are fresh as flashbacks occur on this 20th anniversary of evil’s destruction. Thank You for Your faithfulness through it all. Giving hope and life to so many. And thank You for the cross. Help me to never forget.”

September 11, 2001 was part of the inspiration for Brett, and his brother, Nikk, joining the military. I am proud to be a part of a community that wants to honor their fallen. We had a memorial service this past Monday, Labor Day, to honor the 13 who died in Kabul over the fiasco that is Afghanistan.  The views expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of the church I pastor.

#Leadership#Afghanistan#Cooke

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

The following is an article by Phil Cooke on his blog.  He writes about leadership and other subjects on his blog at philcooke.com. I am including this article-not to make a political statement, but to make a leadership statement. Perhaps some good discussion can ensue in churches and among leadership about the way decisions are made and carried out.  Here is the article:

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM JOE BIDEN AND AFGHANISTAN

The documentation of President Biden’s decisions surrounding the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan are now legion. But aside from the tragic results those decisions have created, it’s worth looking at what leaders could learn from this debacle. In coming years, we’ll have a chance to see much deeper into this situation and how much it tarnishes his legacy, but for now, here’s a handful of immediate reflections that leaders should consider:

1) Incompetent leaders can rise to remarkable heights. In 1972, 29-year old Joe Biden ran for Senate against Republican Senator Caleb Boggs. I was a senior in high school that year, so that’s a long time. And yet, Robert Gates, who worked with him and served as defense secretary for the Obama administration, has been quoted as saying that Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Many of the changes he’s proposed so far in his presidency have made many ask why he hasn’t already accomplished these things over the last 40 years while in office. Never be caught off guard by poor leadership. In politics, business or the nonprofit sector, never think every high level leader deserves to be there or is capable of being effective.

2) Fantasy isn’t a leadership strategy. It’s well documented that Biden’s goal was to “bring the troops home” in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11. That would have been a great victory and scored a lot of political points. But no matter how strong the fantasy, leaders must deal in reality. Ignoring better advice about a more thoughtful and realistic exit strategy, he chose the fantasy instead. It doesn’t matter if a leader’s fantasy is a new product launch, advertising campaign, fundraising strategy or anything else – reality is a brutal wake-up call.

3) Leaders take the hits. In spite of the overwhelming evidence, President Biden still hasn’t admitted he was wrong. It’s been a dark comedy watching members of his team like Secretary of State Anthony Blinken squirm during interviews trying to defend and support the president. But when a leader won’t admit a mistake, his entire team suffers trying to maintain the illusion. In far too many cases that only leads to disunity, frustration, and eventual splits in the team.

4) In a crisis, leaders must face the public. When the tragedy in Afghanistan began unfolding, Biden hunkered down at Camp David and it wasn’t until public criticism became overwhelming did he emerge from his vacation. But even then he refused to answer reporters questions, and immediately returned to his vacation (another big blunder). Only later did he respond to pre-approved questions. But during times of crisis, leaders must be available, candid, and open. For people to believe you’re in charge, you have to show up. Honesty and authenticity may be painful in the short term, but that builds trust far better than hiding.

5) Good leaders listen to advice. After the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, John F. Kennedy created the Executive Committee of the National Security Council whose express purpose was to openly debate issues surrounding national security. Kennedy realized the need to listen to all sides of an argument. President Lyndon B. Johnson actually designated an advisor to be his official in-house skeptic. The best business leaders are willing to listen to opposing ideas. Group-think is a massive mistake for leaders, and if you’re surrounded by yes-men and women, you’re headed in the wrong direction.

6) Finally, never forget that leaders who try to leave a legacy rarely do. A “legacy” isn’t something that’s manufactured, designed, or created. Numerous leaders have become obsessed with their legacy, but legacies are based on how others perceive you and your life’s work. So if you’d like to leave one, stop thinking about it and just get back to work.

I’m sure more lessons will unfold as time goes on, but the important lesson is that during moments of crisis, there is always something for leaders to learn. {End of post}

{My plan is to come back later this week to write about how these 6 lessons apply to pastors and churches. Please feel free to comment here or go to Phil’s blog and make a comment there. Please tell him I sent you}. 🙂  That, and just under a dollar, will buy you a fountain drink at Speedway gas stations.

#LetFreedomRing#GuestBlog

Monday, July 5th, 2021

I read the following blog this morning (Monday).  It is from the Church & Culture blog of James Emery White, Pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church.  I thought you might enjoy reading it. Meanwhile, you might to also check out his website where you will find other blogs. Here you go:

On the 4th of July, I’m always reminded of times I’ve traveled in countries where freedom is severely curtailed. Or where the people have been freshly freed from the chains of injustice, and the joy of their release was palpable.

I was in Johannesburg on the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid.

I was in Korea when the border between North and South was electric with tension.

My most powerful memory came from Moscow, where I was teaching shortly after the fall of communism. 

One night a group of us went to the famed Bolshoi Ballet. It was a long, wonderful evening, and after we took the subway back to where we were staying, the students said, “Come and let us celebrate.” The other two professors with me were as tired as I was, but the students were so intent on our joining them, that we went. 

And then we found out what celebration meant to them. 

They wanted to gather in the dining room and sing hymns and worship God. And we did, late into the night, with more passion and sincerity than I have ever experienced. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know how to sing in Russian—we worshiped God together.

But I went to bed puzzled. I had never seen such passion for spontaneous and heart-filled worship. I was curious as to why they were so ready and eager to offer God love and honor. I received my answer the following Sunday when I was invited to speak at a church in North Moscow. A former underground church that met in secret (as so many churches had been), they were now meeting openly in a schoolhouse. I had been asked to bring a message that Sunday morning. 

I didn’t know that I was in for a bit of a wait.

The service lasted for nearly three hours. There were three sermons from three different speakers, with long periods of worship between each message. 

I was to go last. 

When it was over, I talked a bit with the pastor of the church. I was surprised at not only the length of the service, but the spirit and energy of the people. Throughout the entire three hours, they never let up. In spite of the length of time, they never seemed to tire. Even at the end, they didn’t seem to want to go home.

“In the States,” I said, “you’re doing well to go a single hour before every watch in the place starts beeping.” (This was before smart phones.) He didn’t get my weak attempt at humor, but he did say something that I will never forget.

“It was only a few years ago that we would have been put in prison for doing what we did today. We were never allowed to gather together as a community of faith and offer worship to God. And we are just so happy, and almost in a state of unbelief, that we can do this now – publicly, together – that we don’t want it to end. And not knowing what the future might hold for us here, we know that every week might just be our last. So we never want to stop. So we keep worshiping together, as long as we can.”

As I left, his words never left my mind. I thought to myself, “I will never think about worship the same again. I’ve been too casual about it, too laid back, taken it too much for granted. These people know what it’s about – really about – and because of that, they have been willing, and would be willing again, to suffer for it. To be imprisoned for it. To die for it. Because they’ve discovered that it holds that high of a yield for their life. It has that much meaning and payoff and significance. It matters that much.”

And it should matter that much to all of us.

Happy 4th of July.

James Emery White

Editor’s Note

This blog was originally published in 2013, and the Church & Culture Team thought you would enjoy reading it again.

#Disrespect#CelebrateFreedom

Sunday, July 4th, 2021

I posted this Thursday but then needed to post my sermon for Sunday so I decided to repost it for the weekend.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY TO ALL OF YOU!!

Every week since the pandemic started thousands of years ago, I have put out a weekly Midweek Message that is emailed to everyone on our list. The link is posted on the church’s website as well as our FB page.  It is also picked up by our local Chamber of Commerce and posted on their page.  It is-generally-an informative letter to the folks of OVCF about happenings at the church and in the community, and it was (and still is) my effort to stay in touch (since for so long physical touch and presence were impossible).  I wrote the following in this week’s Midweek Message. I share it with you.

As many of you know, I try really hard to avoid politics in person, and especially from the pulpit. In fact, I can promise you that nothing political will come from the pulpit. But with July 4th coming up this Sunday I would like to add some thoughts to this MM. The most recent display of disrespect given by an “athlete” sort of raises my ire a bit. A female hammer thrower, who may have been ticked off more because she placed 3rd (who really knows?), turned her back on the flag during the playing of the National Anthem and then placed a t-shirt over her head. That kind of disrespect does not sit well with me when several things are considered. One, we still live in the greatest country on the planet. This country isn’t perfect but it is still the best place to live. I sometimes wish those who threaten to leave if they don’t get their way, would. Let them go where they don’t even have the freedom to say what they are saying about the U.S. Second, their actions disrespect all those who served, gave up their families and even their lives, to give us the freedom we enjoy. Third, it says that all those who fought for our initial freedom in 1776 were misguided. It spits in the eye of great men like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and others who saw a new horizon for us. It puts down all the men and women who served. It says to all the great African Americans like Martin Luther King, Jr, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and others that they wasted their time and efforts to make a difference. Fourth, if they are so disgusted by the USA why are they competing for a place in Olympic history? As I post this, the protestor is trying to back pedal and rationalize. Hmmmm. This July 4th I hope you will take the time to celebrate living in a land of freedom. Are we perfect? No, of course not. Neither is the church, but I celebrate it anyway. Be proud of living in a free nation, made free by the blood of all races, colors and nationalities willing to serve and sacrifice.  Okay…off my soapbox. 🙂

The view expressed is mine and is not to be taken as speaking for OVCF, its leaders, or the staff.