The five-year vacation

Two days ago marked the beginning of my family vacation. I ain't gonna lie, I don't vacate all that well. It's hard for me to unplug and disconnect. I didn't necessarily advertise to the world that I was going on vacation, so I had my fair share of emails and "important" texts that first day. I did respond, but tried to be brief. By the next day there were only a few communique's, to which I observed but didn't respond. Today...nothing. Except for this blog, which is relaxing for me so it really doesn't count.

Today, this is my office. I sat in a chair and read a book, went for a long swim with my family, and people watched - which is always interesting. I have no idea if I had extra emails or those "important" texts because I never checked while I was out there. I finally feel as if I am on vacation.

I don't write or show you all of this to rub it in your face. And for those of my friends back in Southport and Oak Island, this probably doesn't do much for you since you see a similar view pretty much every day. But I do want to stress just how important it is to unplug and get away, to vacate from the chaos that is everyday life.

When God created the heavens and the earth, he designated the seventh day as a day of rest, which we call the Sabbath. This is a day for God's people to set aside for rest and no work, which for the most part I and most Christians I know are pretty lousy at doing. I realize that Sabbath doesn't necessarily mean vacation in a biblical sense, but it certainly can be just as energizing spiritually as it is physically.

Everyone needs some time to unplug and get away from it all. Whether it's a day trip with family or a  big elaborate vacation, I've never known anyone to regret spending more time with the ones they love. It's been almost 5 years since my family has had a full-blown vacation together and I could not be enjoying this time any more if I tried. Get away. Allow God to nourish your soul. And make memories with those that you love that will never fade away.

A non-PC response to an issue that desperately wants to divide us

Orlando, FL, in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016. 50 men and women dead in a club, all shot by the same gunman, and many more wounded.

That information alone is enough to crush one's spirit. It did mine. Who goes out and senselessly guns down men and women like that in cold blood? When I heard the news and the massive amount of lives lost, it hit me to the core and I grieved and continue to grieve for those affected by this senseless act of violence.

Oh how I wish that we could all see it that way, as a senseless act of violence committed by a man whose intention was nothing short of evil. Yet we are not allowed to see it that way, not in our politically correct world. By the way, whose idea was it to put the words "political" and "correct" together in the first place? Talk about an oxymoron!

The victims were at a gay bar. They were all gay, thus it's a hate crime against the gay community.
The shooter was a radical Islamist. He claimed allegiance to Isis, thus it's about Muslim terrorism.
Guns are the problem. We need gun control!

On and on the rhetoric has flowed. Is any of that true? Maybe some of it is or perhaps all of it is, but when we succumb to the labels and the venom and the finger pointing that the media and our politicians vomit on us, we find ourselves going down paths that take away from the reality of not only this tragedy, but any tragedy that we see or experience in our world. Real people lay dead, all sons and daughters who will never return home. 

So in the midst of all of that, I want to encourage you to turn off Fox News and CNN and MSNBC and I want you to close the Drudge Report page on your web browser. 

You see, what really is the core issue in all of this is not the sexual preference of the victims nor the religious ideology of the shooter or even the types of weapon made available on the free market. The root cause goes much deeper, all the way to the heart and the soul. The reason this tragedy and tragedies like this happen are because we live in a lost and broken world that has been indelibly marred by sin. And sin, when it takes root, bares it's ugly head in unimaginable forms.

Will seeing this from a theological perspective change what happened? Will calling it sin stop the next nut job with a gun from mowing down people in public places? I am not saying that we cannot respond in a way that offers prevention and helps those who have been affected right now by such senseless acts. Decisions must be made by those whom we have entrusted to make those decisions.

But for the rest of us who have the luxury of playing armchair talk show host while we busily click away at our computer keyboards on social media sites, our task must be different. We must begin by seeing the flaws in humanity as they are, not as we want to make them out to be.

The problem is sin. The solution is Jesus.

Jesus died for the sins of the world, not just the sins of those who are straight but also the sins of those who are gay. Not just for those who would one day place their faith in Him, but also for those whom He knew would reject Him. We are ALL sinners. I am, you are. And because of sin we are marred by it and we act in ways that sometimes only affect our own lives but more often affect the lives of others. If sin wasn't a problem, then Jesus would not have died. We all have sin and all of us need the forgiveness and redemption that only Jesus can offer. 

Because of that, I am broken in my spirit over the affects of sin in our world. Whether it is a drunk driving accident that causes fatalities, physical abuse of a child, millions of abortions around the world that prevent unborn babies from living the lives for which they were created, or even the ravaging affects of cancer as it destroys the human body, sin always leaves its mark.

And this is the perspective I am asking you to take in all of this: To grieve for the lives that were lost to the sinful acts of this man and to offer up prayers of peace and comfort to 50 families who will no longer hear the voices of their loved ones or see them over the next holiday. Call upon the name of the Lord and pray for a mighty rush of revival in our land. Do not fall into the trap of reserving your empathy for only those who look like your or believe like you. Jesus did not distinguish in such a way and neither should we. 

Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus.

Accountability doesn't have to be a lost virtue

By now you've heard and read all about the Stanford University student Brock Turner - who happened to be an accomplished swimmer - who raped an unconscious woman after a party behind a trash dumpster early last year. If you haven't, then I'm sure what I just typed sickened your stomach just a little. I hate to add to your discomfort, but his trial just ended and the judge sentenced him to only 6 months in jail because he believed that a prison sentence "would have a severe impact on him." Only 6 months for raping and abusing an unconscious young woman who had no way of defending herself. Wow.

I do no not want to dive into the details of this case because they are disturbing to recall and they are out there for anyone to see with just a little research. You can also find what Brock's father said to the court, almost excusing the actions of his son and quite possibly suggesting that our justice system was depriving him of having the fun life that he's worked so hard for. All the while Turner has admitted to drinking that night in question, yet he has never admitted any fault in the attack that he says was consensual in nature.

If your blood is boiling, join the crowd. The failure of any sort of justice in this instance can lead us to all sorts of conclusions and finger pointing: A corrupt judge who is a graduate of Stanford himself; a privileged student who used influence and money to escape blame; even a justice system that favors the status of elite whites over that of underprivileged minorities. All of these make a compelling argument. But the one area that is most glaring to me is the lack of accountability taken on by the accused and now convicted young man and his family.

It's not my fault. It really isn't a big deal. He/She is just as responsible. This isn't fair, I didn't do anything wrong. Why should I have to take all the blame? You can't do this - I've got big plans for the future and you are ruining them for me.

On and on the excuses go when we refuse to accept responsibility for our actions. Yes, being held accountable means that there are consequences we must face and penalties we have to pay. That's part of life. Yet somewhere along the way it's become acceptable and even fashionable to embrace an assumed plausible deniability in order to avoid any negative consequences for our poor choices.

Your. Poor. Choices. That's right, when you make a bad decision, that decision is yours to own, not mine or anyone else around you. I hate it when I make a bad decision and have to suffer the consequences. It's at those times I wish I could find a scapegoat to pass the buck to, yet I realize that in the end I have to own it. We all do. And when we see such graphic examples of those who seem to get away without accepting the responsibility and blame for their own actions, it brings out the most visceral of reactions in us.

While we are all to be held accountable for our decisions, there is someone out there who is willing to take the blame for all of the bad decisions that you have made. His name is Jesus. He didn't come to get you off the hook of serving your deserved sentence here on earth for your poor choices, but He did make a way for you to receive forgiveness that lasts for eternity. When He died on that cross those many years ago, He did so to forgive your sins and mine. Not to cover up your responsibility for the sins that you've done, but rather to pay the eternity penalty that you could never hope to pay by yourself.

Let's face it - our actions here on earth have consequences. If you are a parent, you have the responsibility and obligation to teach that to your own children. This is gonna hurt me more than it's gonna hurt you! couldn't be any more true or needed than it is today. And begin by taking a look at your own life and how you handle your own mistakes. Own them. Confess them. Accept the consequences. And then look to Jesus not only for forgiveness but for a better way to live and make your future decisions.

Heroes aren't just in fairy tales

Once upon a time there was a teacher who didn't want to go to school to teach that day. It wasn't a Monday and she wasn't coming off of a nice vacation. She didn't want to go because she truly believed that the students she was there to teach didn't care. 

Day after day she prepared lesson plans and poured her heart and soul into making literature come alive. Yet time and again her students came to class unprepared and she was convinced that almost none actually read the books she assigned - they opted for the Cliffs Notes instead. Yes, there were those bright students who engaged her now and again, but those seemed few and far between. 

She didn't want to go to school today because she truly didn't know if she was making a difference.

Once upon a time there was a volunteer at an after school program that bused in students after school. This volunteer had been serving at this post for several months now, yet all he could show for it was a pack of rowdy kids and exhaustion by the end of the day.

It seemed that no matter what games he came up with or outing he could plan, the kids would either complain or sabotage the whole event. "Jackson, stop fighting!" and "Lisa, please stop sneaking outside!" became the most common form of communication. Not that all of the times with this group of kids were bad; there were many laughs and a few hugs at the end of the day. But for the most part, they seemed to run all over him no matter how much of an investment he made in them.

He was thinking hard about telling the director of the program that some other things had come up and he couldn't help anymore. After all, he truly didn't know if he was making a difference.

Once upon a time there was a set of parents who were struggling mightily to raise their teenage son. It seemed that no matter what they said or did, he criticized their decisions and showed defiance at every turn. Family meal time? Why can't I hang out with my friends instead? You've used to much data on your phone this month, son. You guys don't understand what it's like to be a teenager today! I have to have my phone! This isn't fair!

Frustrated, they reached out for help wherever they could find it - family, friends, the pastor at their church. They were surprised and strangely comforted to find that their struggle was not unique, yet they still felt as if they were isolated on an island with no solid answers for their plight. Could they make it to the end of high school in one piece?

As much as they loved their son, they secretly wondered if life wouldn't be easier once he was grown and out of the house. After all, what difference were they making in his life?

Then one day a family in the community was wrecked by a nasty divorce. The father had been unfaithful to his wife and had suddenly packed up and left without so much as saying goodby. The wife, teenage daughter, and grade school son were devastated and felt as if their world was turned upside down.

At school the next day, the literature teacher was at her desk looking over her notes during her planning period when she heard a knock on her door. She looked up to see one of her third period students standing there, tears streaming down her face. The student ran in the room and almost fell into her, crying uncontrollably. When she was able to calm down, she told the teacher the story of how her father had walked out on her family last night and she didn't know what to do. You've always been so patient with your classes and a good listener, I knew that I could come to you. What am I going to do?

When the bus dropped the kids off at the after school center that day, one of the little boys immediately went to a corner and sat with his head buried between his knees. The volunteer had come that day with every intent of quitting, but when he saw the boy his heart was drawn to him. Yes, this kid had been a holy terror almost every day, but now he saw that things were different. This young boy was grieving over something that was bigger than he could handle.

The volunteer gingerly approached the boy and sat beside him, juice box and cookies in hand. The boy looked up and instantly grabbed his arm, crying into his shoulder. My dad has gone away and he's not coming back! I know it's all my fault because I've been so bad, but I just want him to come home! What's going to happen to me and my family?

Immediately after school the mom noticed that her son went straight to his room after the carpool dropped him off. Normally he would raid the fridge and play video games, but not today. She thought this was strange but decided not to invade on his privacy. She didn't want to push too hard and have her son lash out defensively.

When her husband came home, she told him about the situation with their son, who was still in his room. They agreed that something was wrong and they quietly approached his closed door, knocking softly. To their surprise he told them to come in, with no hint of animosity in his voice. As they entered his room they saw him sitting on his bed writing in a journal, his eyes puffy from crying. I didn't know our son had a journal? Why is he crying? These thoughts flashed through their minds but they did not verbalize them for fear that he would withdraw from them.

They sat on either side of the bed, mom touching him gently on the hand and dad asking if everything was alright. With a trembling voice their son told them that his girlfriend's parents had just split up, her dad walking out on the family. Why did he do this to them, mom? Does this mean that she will have to move away, dad? Mom, dad, you won't leave me like that, will you?

Everyday heroes aren't only found in fairy tales or action movies. Sometimes the most heroic acts occur when we engage in the mundane every single day, working jobs that seem thankless or negotiating frustrating conflicts on the homefront. Is the struggle real and the battles exhausting? You bet they are. But know this: The difference that you are making may not be evident now or in the near future, yet you will never regret the investment that you are making in the lives of students or your own children. The battle is always worth it.

Who's got your back?

As I have gotten older I have grown to truly appreciate history. Not that I didn't enjoy history when I was in school, it's just th...