Saturday, March 14, 2020

GTAMs Response to Novel Coronavirus & COVID-19

As the World comes to grips with the onset of the Novel Coronavirus and the resulting COVID-19, I believe it is important that you hear from your Pastoral leadership to help guide us as a congregation through this time. Of utmost importance is that we avoid fear along with the panic and hysteria that it produces. The Word is replete with encouragement and admonition that we do not live under the umbrella of fear, terror or dread. Psalms 46:1 is a reminder that God is a very present help in times of trouble! Selah.

We should take steps to be informed and make prudent decisions based on this knowledge. In keeping with our E3 approach to Ministry, I will use this writing as an opportunity to Educate, Engage and Empower the Church to Live Life Well under the present circumstances.


There are many credible informational resources available to inform us about the Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 including the international World Health Organization (WHO) and United States Center for Disease Control (CDC). Additionally, State, County and other local health organizations have been providing guidance on local and regional implications of the virus. Your Doctor or insurance provider are excellent resources for personal health advice. As with most things, caution and discretion should be used before embracing information obtained through Social Media and non-credible internet and media sources.

The virus causing this issue is the Novel Coronavirus. It is Novel because it is a new strain of the virus. So, while there have been other forms of the Coronavirus such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), this particular strain is evidently new in human populations. The WHO name designation for COVID-19 refers to COVI for the acronym of coronavirus, D for the word disease, and 19 for the year of the outbreak.

Because this is a new strain of the virus and resulting disease, there are no known vaccinations or immunizations available. Most indications are that it could be 12-18 months before a vaccination is developed, approved and widely available. There also hasn’t been an opportunity for our bodies to develop a natural immunity to fight off the disease.

Initial indications are that COVID-19 seems to be more contagious than other viruses and as such can spread more quickly. It spreads through close contact with someone who has been infected with the virus. (Note – there are no indications, that I am aware of, that would indicate this is an airborne disease) The incubation period for Coronavirus is believed to be 1 – 14 days. This means that someone can have the disease and not show any symptoms for up to 2-weeks, though typically symptoms emerge in 5 – 10 days after exposure to the virus.

An Outbreak is the sudden rise in the number of cases of a disease in a particular area. An Epidemic is the spread of a disease over a larger geographic area or region. A Pandemic is the global spread of the disease over many countries. The WHO declared COVID-19 a global Pandemic on March 11th after the number of cases exceeded 100,000 and was found in over 100 Countries worldwide.

In spite of how contagious this virus appears to be, reports are that in most cases (80 – 90%) the resulting symptoms are mild to moderate. It is estimated that up to 20% may have the virus and be asymptomatic, meaning that though they are carrying the virus they never display any symptoms. To keep things in perspective, without diminishing the importance of this Pandemic, there are slightly more than 327 Million people living in the US and under 2500 cases reported to date. The number of reported cases will likely rise as tests become more readily available, but it is important to keep a proper perspective of the magnitude of this event.

You have likely heard that COVID-19 has a higher mortality rate that the Flu. Reports on this vary depending on timing and source, but conservative early estimates suggest the Flu kills approximately 0.1% of those infected by it while COVID-19 kills around 1%. This would make the mortality rate for COVID-19 approximately 10 times more lethal than the Flu. The vast majority of those who have succumb to COVID-19 are the elderly (defined as above the age of 60) and those with underlying medical conditions, especially conditions that impact or compromise the immune and respiratory systems. So while the number of cases relative to the size of the population is small, the consequences of its spread can be significant, hence all of the concern and measures to constrain its dispersion.

You have likely also heard the term Social Distancing in recent days and may be wondering what that means, how does it work and what does it mean for you and the Church. In an effort to contain and slow down the spread of the Coronavirus, Governments across the globe have imposed Social Distancing measures. Because the virus spreads through close personal contact, defined as 6 feet or less, Social Distancing looks to minimize the opportunity for large groups of people to be in close proximity to one another.

The most extreme form of Social Distancing, a national Quarantine, has been deployed in Italy which has the second highest reported cases of COVID-19 only behind China, which is where the disease seems to have originated. Other more measured, but still severe Social Distancing measures, include cancelling events with large crowds such as major sporting events, the likes of which we saw in every active major US sport as of earlier this week, cancelling school, etc. Other more modest Social Distancing measures include employees working from home where possible, not shaking hands, etc.


Epidemiologist (Medical experts in the field of disease & outbreaks) and Government officials responsible for public health and safety have several recommendations and steps they recommend to both protect yourself and slow down the spread of COVID-19, the most basic of which is exercise good personal hygiene with frequent and thorough hand washing (20 seconds or longer).

GTAM has proactively taken certain measures to maintain a healthy physical environment in which to worship. Some measures already in place include:

·        Hand Sanitizing dispensers in all public spaces including at the main entrance, both Men & Women’s restrooms, all Kingdom Kidz classrooms and the Live Life Well Multi-Purpose room

·        Touch free soap and paper towel dispensers in both Men & Women’s restrooms

·        Training and protocols for Kingdom Kidz volunteers on how to handle children that may have an illness

·        Guidance provided to our staff and volunteers to stay home if not feeling well

·        Cleaning guidelines for the Church facility before and after services
One of the guidelines offered by Epidemiologist to contain the potential spread of the virus is to limit close contact with others. Given the size of our facilities and current attendance levels, there is plenty of space for congregants to spread out across the sanctuary.

GTAM is known for how we unconditionally love people wherever life finds them to where God wants them to be. This love is frequently expressed through gestures of warmth and compassion such as hugs and handshakes. While many may be comfortable continuing with this practice in the current climate, many are not for a variety of reasons. Our consideration should be towards those who may be uncomfortable and not impose upon them, even with our best intentions, something that may create unease. If someone expresses uneasiness about a handshake or hug, we should respect and honor that without judgment or making them feel awkward. We can continue to be friendly, kind, warm and supportive in other ways.

As the Pastor of GTAM, under these circumstances, I believe it is important that I model the behavior that is expected. Historically, I have been comfortable initiating gestures of love towards individuals we meet in the Ministry. Until we are beyond this season of high sensitivity over concerns with the virus, I will respond to what I am presented. If someone wants a hug, I will respond with a hug. If someone extends a hand, I will respond with a handshake. If I do not get an indication that physical contact in these forms is welcomed, I will respond as I normally do with a bright smile and life giving words in the absence of any physical contact. Our love will not be diminished in any way, even if how that love is expressed changes!


On Wednesday of this week, March 11th, as a Social Distancing measure, the Governor of our state imposed a ban on all public gatherings greater than 250 people, including religious gatherings. Currently, regular Sunday service attendance at GTAM does not meet this threshold and so we are not restricted by this Social Distancing measure and will continue to conduct our services and Live Life Well forums as scheduled.

However, we do have events scheduled over the next 3-months where attendance levels may reach or exceed this threshold including the Who’s That Lady (WTL) Walk-A-Thon scheduled for March 21st, Easter service on April 12th and the WTL Annual Conference May 29th – 31st. Given how fluid this situation is, how quickly things change and new information is becoming available, we will make a determination on how we will address these events as the dates draw closer. We have decided to reschedule the Get Plugged In Fair that was scheduled for after service tomorrow to a date TBD.

GTAM is a diverse worship community! We are socio-economically diverse, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and a multi-generational body. We have a Christian responsibility to look out for our neighbor as we would ourselves and to protect the most vulnerable among us. We strongly recommend that individuals from our fellowship that are at high risk of exposure or whose exposure to this virus poses an exponential risk of severe adverse outcomes utilize their best judgment and consult with their medical providers to determine their best course of action. GTAM will be here for you both now and into the future!

The E3 approach to Ministry is intended to empower informed decisions that position us to Live Life Well and to give us more control over our GTAM experience. For those that determine it is best to not attend services, we are working on ways to deliver the service experience to you in the most effective ways available to us. Because of limited internet service to our current facilities, live broadcast of the service through our LiveStream account is currently unavailable. However, we are exploring ways to capture the services and then publish them shortly after service concludes. I will share more on this as we learn and develop the capabilities to do so. Alternatively, you can watch the services live through the GTAM Facebook live broadcast, Sis. Shantail Miller’s Facebook live broadcast or others in your GTAM network that frequently broadcast the services live from their personal Facebook accounts.

Lastly, you can continue to extend your financial support to the Ministry through a couple of remote giving options:

1.       Online giving through our website (

2.       Utilizing your banks pay system to send contributions automatically to the church

               Grace & Truth Apostolic Ministries
               9425 S. 248th Street
               Kent, WA 98030

In conclusion, it is important the we make informed decisions and that while we are prudent, we are not paranoid and that while we are prepared, we do not panic! “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” II Timothy 1:7

It is important that while we are under these protective measures, that we do what is reasonable to continue on with our lives. I also encourage you to keep in mind, many of the measures in place to contain the spread of this virus are temporary and do not reflect a permanent state of things. We should not expect a permanent lifestyle of distancing from one another. God created us to be social and we should resist the temptation to make Social Distancing a permanent component of our lives.

I look forward to seeing those of you who decide to join us in prayer, praise and worship tomorrow. We will continue our Ministry series “Word Up” demonstrating the value, integrity and infallibility of God’s word! For those unable to join us, please stay connected through your Huddle Up groups and watching the services where you can. My prayers are with all of us and my faith in God that we will emerge favorably through this remains unshaken. All the best…

Michael H. Miller, Sr. Pastor

Friday, December 6, 2013

Church Anniversary and Pastor & Wife Appreciation Services

In November 2013 our church Grace & Truth Apostolic Ministries (GTAM) celebrated 14 years of Ministry. I am often asked why we celebrate our Anniversary the way we typically do (though this year for the first time in our history we did not have a formal celebration service) and why we do not have Pastor and Wife Appreciation services. So I thought I would take this Blog post and use it as an opportunity to answer both questions.

Church Anniversary Service

To some degree, celebrating key milestones and accomplishments are biblically supported. The Old Testament is filled with examples of Memorials erected to mark the place and remember the time when God did something memorable. Additionally, in Jewish culture feasts were established again to revisit and rehearse the exploits God performed or to celebrate what God has done.

In modern cultures, it is also usual and customary to celebrate key dates in individual’s lives and organizations history. Whether it’s birthdays, wedding anniversaries, etc. we celebrate memorable events in our lives. Companies also celebrate employment anniversaries for their employees, remember and celebrate the date the company opened for business, etc. So it is appropriate that churches celebrate their anniversaries as well.

I have always aspired to be true to our vision and keep it top of mind in all that we do. In particular, it is important that we keep our focus on souls, both in our evangelistic efforts as well as our on-going ministry to them. This has carried over into the way we think about, plan and celebrate our church anniversary.

I strongly believe that the only reason God allows our ministry to continue to flourish is because of the souls that we add to the Kingdom and the growth they experience both naturally and spiritually. If we were ineffective in Ministry, I do not believe that God would waste His resources on us.

It is for this reason, that our Anniversary services are a celebration not of the Church or its history per se, but a celebration of the souls that were added through the Ministerial efforts of GTAM and their resulting growth. Additionally, it is an opportunity for us to use our deeply gifted ministry to creatively prepare an evangelistic opportunity that will attract new souls to the Kingdom and an atmosphere for continued spiritual as well as natural growth.

So while we readily acknowledge, though usually informally and very low key, the anniversary of GTAM and celebrate its accomplishments over the prior year, it is really more of a celebration of the souls. Admittedly, this is not the traditional approach to a church anniversary service, nor do we intend for it to be.

We also typically have short anniversary services consisting of a Friday night special event like a Play or Musical, that is free and open to the public. Sunday morning we may have a special guest speaker and acknowledge that years “Spirit of Excellence” Award winner, followed with a Sunday night service that has varied in form over the years. There are many creative and effective ways to present the gospel. We don’t typically have any other special presentations or awards, though one year we did a video collage highlighting the souls that were baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit and other meaningful Ministerial events and achievements for the year. We also don’t have any special pledges or offerings. We try to keep it streamlined, genuine (organic – new GTAM buzz word) and effective.

So far, this approached has been well received and seems to be fairly effective. It is very refreshing for all involved in the planning and delivery as well as for those who get to receive and enjoy the experience these services create.

Pastor and Wife Appreciation Services

The other question I am often faced with is why we do not have Pastor and Wife Appreciation services? In fact, we have never had an Appreciation service in our 14 year history. Let me share this up front, it is not because the congregation has not wanted to have an Appreciation service or couple our Anniversary service with an Appreciation service. It is because I have resisted this effort by the congregation to date. That is not to say that we will never have an Appreciation service, but for now I have continued to resist this effort.

So the real question is why have I resisted having an Appreciation service? Let me start by saying it is not because I think there is anything wrong with them. I have seen them done very tastefully and have participated in several well-conceived and executed Appreciation services. I do not begrudge any other Pastor who receives or fellowship that chooses to honor and celebrate their Pastor in this way. In fact, I applaud any fellowship that demonstrates appreciation, loyalty, faithfulness and sincere love to their Pastor in any way that their Pastor would receive and recognize it.

For me personally, however, there are a few reasons why I prefer not to have an Appreciation service in the traditional way.

The greatest appreciation anyone can show me as their Pastor is to live their life well. A life lived well is more precious to me than any words spoken or gift given. God has placed us in the lives of those that are a part of GTAM to look after their souls. My prayer is that they are excited to have us in their lives. Living their lives well, following the guidance we share, embrace and run with the vision and growing as people both naturally and spiritually is a great gesture of thanks and appreciation for all that we have already invested and plan to continuously invest in their lives.

To me, this is far more valuable than any gift we could get or check we could receive. What good would it be for us to receive a big check or get an expensive gift if the congregation (the giver of those gifts) isn’t there when they are needed or openly resisted the vision, did things their way without regard to how we wanted things done. Sure, the gifts and financial support are nice and we are open to receiving them, but they must always be accompanied with commitment, loyalty, dedication, faithfulness, personal growth, etc. These are the things that lead to a life lived well and to me that is the greatest appreciation I could ever receive.

My wife and I, though important to the health and vitality of the Ministry, are only 2 members of a team of people that make GTAM what it is. My ego is intact; I am fine if I do not get a lot of attention. In fact, I would prefer that people not make a big fuss over me. I am just a guy, no different than anyone else really.

I happened to be called to Pastor a congregation and am happy to serve in this capacity. There are others who are also called to serve the congregation, but they do so in a different capacity. Some serve in hospitality, others by caring for and instructing our children while their parents receive and participate in ministry. Yet others by caring for the affairs of the church and those that serve through the arts. We are all members of the same body and every member as important as the other. (I Corinthians 12)

If we are going to have an Appreciation I would prefer it be for our entire Leadership Team. So much attention and privilege naturally falls to the Pastor. I think it would be nice to recognize and show appreciation to others that make GTAM what it is who do not naturally receive recognition and appreciation. That is in part why we established the “Spirit of Excellence” award, to recognize those behind the scene unsung heroes of GTAM.

We also encourage our Sr. Leadership Team to find creative ways to recognize and show appreciation to the host of volunteers that so generously share their time, talents and resources with us. We hold Leadership Team Summits quarterly and try to do different things occasionally to show our appreciation for them. We should all be appreciated for what we bring to and do for GTAM that allows it to flourish. I would feel selfish being at the center of an appreciation service knowing it takes the effort of an entire team to make GTAM what it is.

Lastly, we are fortunate enough to live a fairly privileged life derived from the income I earn from my secular occupation. So, it is difficult for me to be publically showered with gifts knowing there are so many others who I delight to serve who do not live such privileged lives.

I have often wondered is this arrogance on my part? I certainly do not intend for it to be so. It’s not that I see myself as better than anyone else, just recognition that we have a very comfortable, though not opulent life style. I do not feel guilty about the life style we have been afforded to live. I have worked hard, made a lot of personal sacrifices and have been incredibly fortunate and favored by both God and man to be in the position we are in.

I would much rather see the resources that would be directed towards us, redirected towards others that are really trying, working hard and doing the best they can, but need a little help. Honestly, I would appreciate that more. It would delight me to see someone from GTAM materially helping someone else get ahead or overcome a setback. That would be an indication to me that they get it! They understand the heart that God has given me for His people. What greater gift of appreciation could I receive?

If our natural condition were different, perhaps I would have a slightly different view of things. That's why I’m not suggesting we will never have an appreciation service, you just never know what may happen or how things may change. But for now, I think I’m good with how things are.

For those that really feel compelled to do something for my wife and me personally to say thanks or show appreciation, I do not want to rob you of that opportunity either. We know first-hand how much joy we get from blessing those we love with something tangible that they would enjoy. It isn’t always money or big gifts, but we made it a point to learn our spiritual leadership and what they value and enjoy. Then we make it a point from time to time to do those things.

That opportunity is always there. But it can be done discreetly without the big display or presentation. Though it may be given in private, God will bless you openly for your heart.

So there you have it. I’d love to hear from you and your thoughts on this post.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Values vs. Value, which one is driving you?

Luke 12:34 NKJV

 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Whatever it is that we treasure or value, that is where we will commit our passion and our resources. What I wonder and hope to explore in this blog post is whether the church, institutionally and individually, has compromised its values in favor of value. In other words, have we gone silent or absent from the national discussion on things related to our core values, belief system, moral imperatives in favor of gaining greater financial relief, assistance or some perceived racial justice? Where is the heart of the church? To answer that, we must explore where the treasure of the church lies and what does it value.

To some extent, this will be a political discussion and exploration. And yes, I have my own personal political persuasion (Fiscal Moderate & Social Conservative in case you’re interested), but my objective is not to necessarily change or alter your own particular political affiliation. There is no perfect political party; they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, it is incumbent upon us to understand what we value or treasure and the impact that has on our values and choices.

The Individual Church

Individuals make up the church. No different than individuals make up corporations, government, etc. It is easy for us sometimes to demonize organizations and institutions as corrupt, greedy, insensitive, etc. But the truth of the matter is that we are really being critical of the individuals that make up those organizations and institutions. So in this discussion on Values vs. Value, we will first take a look at individuals within the church community.

Keep in mind; depending on which statistics you look at, 50% to 80% of Americans consider themselves to be Christian. George Barna in his book “Grow Your Church from the Outside In” puts the number of American’s that believe in God at 95%! (The Barna Research Group in California does a really good job of compiling statistics, analyzing their results and suggesting balanced interpretations of the data.) You would expect, given such a high percentage of Christians, that most Americans would find things of moral relevance significant in their decision making, very similar to how Jesus determined His priorities. However, I’m not sure that recent political outcomes reflect this value system.

In the latest National elections held in November 2012, we voted to legalize the recreational use of behavior altering drugs (Marijuana) and same sex marriages in many states. We the people have historically voted to legalize the early termination of unwanted pregnancies (abortions) remove any reference to God from public buildings and outlawed prayer from public schools.

In exchange for what I believe/hope most Christians would agree are positions that Jesus would not advocate, we have been provided things like National Health Care (which I am not opposed to by the way), Tax reductions, the proverbial check in the mail signed by the federal government and paid for by working, tax paying citizens and the like. We have received financial gains in exchange for allowing social immoralities to flourish. What we have said, loud and clear, is that we treasure value more than values.

Generally speaking, the same people, politicians, political party that brought us the influx of social services, government spending increases, “help for the poor people”, also brought us abortions, same sex marriages, took prayer out of public schools, etc. What I don’t get is why are we so shocked when these social issues are passed into law?

It’s not like they bait and switched us. They told us up front, they were “Pro-Choice”, that they supported same sex marriages, that they were in favor of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. In order to get tax breaks extended, expanded social services, higher taxes on the wealthy and lower taxes on everyone else, core values on social issues that should be important to Christians were compromised. We knew that going in, yet that is how we voted. We chose value over values. So why are we shocked and dismayed, this is how we voted.

It could be argued that there are no clear choices and that our vote for a candidate or political party does not reflect our full value system. I would agree. However, what do we use as a tie breaker? What do we put greater weight to in making these determinations? When we have to choose between our values and the value created by certain candidates who support undesirable social issues, what drives our voting decisions?

I have heard justifications for voting decisions supporting values over value ranging from racial motives wanting an African American President no matter what, to financial motives looking for help with their Home Mortgages, Student Loans, Welfare support etc. It’s not that the other moral or social considerations are not important, just that finally getting an African American President or financial support is more important. That’s where our treasure is located.

In Washington State, there were 2 major arguments I heard by Christians in support of the legalization of Marijuana and it further illustrates where our heart and treasures lie. One argument was that African Americans were disproportionately incarcerated because of Marijuana related crimes and that by legalizing its use, it would reduce the number of African Americans in jail. We treasure our racial affiliation. The second argument was that by legalizing the recreational use of Marijuana, it could be taxed and the revenue generated from the tax could help fund more government programs. We treasure our social services.

While this may not be true of all Christians, I believe it is a fair characterization that many Christians have placed value over values. We have placed as a higher priority in our lives things of material value over things of eternal value. I hope this blog post helps to bring this unpleasant reality to the forefront of our minds and causes us to do some introspection on our personal value systems and core beliefs. I pray that we are moved and driven by those values important to Christ and not value as is common to secular society. I’m not suggesting Christians have intentionally and certainly not maliciously intended to behave this way, but can’t help but wonder if that is the net result of our actions.

The Institutional Church

Organizations and institutions are an extension of their membership and leadership. Consequently, what we see in individual behavior we should expect to see in institutional behavior. I believe this is also true when we compare the institutional churches values vs. value, though perhaps evidenced in different ways.

Politically, the institutional church has been largely silenced in favor of preferential financial treatment. In exchange for a Tax free environment, the institutional church does not speak out against political parties or candidates and often does not take a formal position on many political issues. This, largely out of fear that if they do, they could jeopardize their tax-exempt status and subject their often incredibly large revenues (contributions made to the church) to various taxes. Again, choosing value over values.

In fact, just recently I saw a bumper sticker that read, “If religious groups want to involve themselves in political discussions, let them pay taxes.” This illustrates how many people believe the institutional church should behave; that we should remain silent on political issues and if we don’t we will have our tax exempt status revoked. Never mind the fact that the congregations of these churches pay taxes, the leadership of these churches pay taxes and that much of properly run and managed churches revenues go to support community needs. (In case you didn’t know it before, let me make it unambiguously clear now… I have no intentions of being silenced!)

However, this is just one area in which the institutional church may be compromising values in favor of value. So much of operating and managing a church resembles operating and managing any secular business venture. And in large part they are very similar. Businesses and churches need to generate enough revenues to cover their expenses or they will cease to exist. Both businesses and churches have to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits and other forms of liability exposure. They each must provide a service deemed valuable to a customer base or risk not having enough business to remain viable. Businesses and churches do not function on their own, it takes talented staff to operate both and those staffs need to be fairly compensated. The church has an added benefit because of the wealth of talented individuals who lend their skills and abilities to the church through their volunteer efforts.

There is a key difference however, between the motivation of the church and that of secular businesses. This key difference is often forgotten or buried into the deep recesses of thought when many churches conduct their business. The motivation of the secular business is to generate a profit acceptable to it owners and/or shareholders. The motivation of the church is to minister the gospel and serve the community. For the church, financial resources are a means to an end, they help to facilitate ministry. In the secular business world financial resources are the end themselves, that’s why the company is in business. While many of the actions taken by the church and secular businesses are the same, their motivations are not. This is where we can see if the institutional church has compromised values for value.

For example, does the socio-economic status of individuals come into play when determining who has access to the church leadership, the level of influence in shaping church decisions, preferred seating and/or parking, etc.? I understand it takes financial resources to operate a church, but would you deny services offered by the church to those who cannot afford to pay for them? If you are not a tithe paying member of the church, can you get ministry from that church? Is the only way to get a book, copy of a message or bible study is to pay for it?

I’m not suggesting that people that can pay for these things shouldn’t. It takes financial resources to operate a church and everyone affiliated with their local church should do their part to help it operate with excellence. In fact, in the 1st Century church established by the Apostles, everyone in that particular church community funded the gospel by contributing all of their worth to the cause. (Acts 2:44 – 45) Those who could contribute, but chose to try to withhold from contributing their fair share faced life threatening consequences. (Acts 5:1 – 11) You wouldn’t have a functioning church in our current society for very long if you didn’t have capable individuals supporting the church’s efforts with their financial resources.

However, we can get so caught up into value that we lose sight of values… so consumed with financing and funding ministry that we forget about ministry. Keep in mind, the reason for a church service on Sunday morning is not to raise money, it’s to minister the gospel and serve the community. When we dominate the service with offerings, fund raising, selling items, etc. we have compromised values for value. The conference is intended to bring ministry to those in attendance. And while it costs to put on the conference and attendees may have to pay to attend, the rate should be determined and driven by the costs to hold the conference and not by a desire to make a name for oneself or live the life of celebrity.

I am not opposed to wealth or wealthy people; I just don’t believe it is healthy for the individual or institutional church for that wealth to be gained on the backs of those you are called to serve. 1 million people giving a dollar is a lot different than expecting 1 thousand people to give 1 thousand dollars.

We Can Do Better

I believe individually and institutionally the church can do better. Individually, we can be diligent and conscientious about our choices, understanding that they provide insight into what we value. Sometimes, we may have to have a harder go of it materially in order to take a stronger stand on things socially. While it may not be on the top of any of our lists of most enjoyable things to do, if it becomes necessary to make adjustments to our lifestyle or standard of living to support issues Christ would support, then so be it!

We cannot look to our political or governmental elected officials as saviors. Yes, we have a responsibility to vote and select the candidates who best represents our total interests. No, there will never be a candidate that represents all of our interests equally or well. However, when at a crossroads values should trump value in our selection.

In the meantime, our efforts should be to actively address the social and economic issues that plague our community. But we should address them in a manner that will not compromise our values. We will not have to worry about a disproportionate number of African Americans being incarcerated for drugs or any other crime for that matter if we are effective in addressing what lies at the core of African American criminal behavior. Passionately and skillfully addressing things like single parent homes, dysfunctional dual parent homes, the proliferation of alcoholism and drug addiction, the sexualization of women, education support, etc. (Coincidentally, this is true beyond the African American community)

If we eliminate the drug customer, the drug dealer will go out of business and all of the ills associated with them. If we can address the issues that cause people to want to escape reality or cope with the harshness of life through drugs and alcohol, we will not have to worry about the legalization of recreational marijuana use. If we can effectively combat unwed pregnancies & sexual promiscuity, promote personal responsibility and accountability abortion laws will not matter because there will be no one seeking abortions.

Prostitution would not be a viable source of income if there were no John’s patrolling the streets looking to pay for their sexual gratifications. If we can positively influence men to control their impulses, view women as more than objects to fulfill their sexual appetites, we wouldn’t have an issue with prostitution. If we could help these desperate women extract the value invested in them by their creator, they would find alternative sources of income and eliminate the supply of willing participants for the John’s advances. Again, this would eliminate or at least reduce the challenges communities face with prostitution.

I understand that much of this may sound idealistic and admittedly it probably is. But that is the genesis of radical societal change. There must be an idea so profoundly different than what the current norm is, that its adoption results in prolific change. This is where our heart and treasure should be. This is what we should value. Putting our financial and human resources, our talents and abilities, our passion and desires towards those immaterial elements of life that reflect the values so passionately pursed by Christ. We can do better individually and institutionally.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Values vs. Value, which one is driving you?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

God Doesn't Say Oops!

God doesn’t say oops… He doesn’t make mistakes. While many may say they understand and agree with the premise of this statement, most do not live as though they do. It’s as if we believe He is perfect in everything He does or did with the noticeable exception of how He created us! When it comes to us, many behave as if God said oops or made a mistake somehow, even if they do not intend to do so or consciously decide to think or act in such a way. Before getting too far into this, I will try to build the case that God doesn’t make mistakes.

God is said to be sovereign, meaning His rule and authority is unquestionable. If we believe this is the case, doesn’t it make sense that God could not make a mistake or say oops since whatever He decided to do or create would be unquestionably right? God is said to be omnipotent, meaning all powerful. If we believe this is the case, doesn’t it make sense that if God did somehow make a mistake or say oops He would correct it and thus eliminate the mistake? God is said to be omniscient, meaning all knowing. If we believe this is the case, doesn’t it make sense that if God did somehow make a mistake or say oops, He would know it before it was created and correct it before it was created and thus eliminate the mistake?

In Psalms 139:14 David recognizes that he is fearfully and wonderfully made and that he is the marvelous result of God’s handiwork. David comes to this understanding about himself in spite of his many failures, shortcomings, physical limitations and blemishes. Everything that God created, including humanity, He said was good or very good. (Genesis chapters 1 & 2) He did not rest from His creative efforts until all that He created lived up to His exacting standards and defined specifications. Simply put God doesn’t make mistakes and He didn’t say oops after He created us!

Recognizing that we are just what God had in mind when He allowed us to be conceived should be empowering to us! It should position us mentally, emotionally and Spiritually to achieve all that we were created to achieve, without excuse or apology. One of my favorite versus of scripture is found in Jeremiah 29:11 where God reassures Jeremiah that his life was on purpose and with an intended end.

“For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (KJV)

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

Because we experience hardship in our lives and even fail from time to time, does not diminish in any way the thoughts that God has for our lives, nor does it have to alter our expected ends! God was aware of every misstep we were going to take before we were formed in our Mothers belly. Yet, He still chose to give each of our lives value, purpose and meaning.

So with this understanding, we should stop making excuses for why we are not achieving and excelling in life. We have everything we need to accomplish the great things we were created to accomplish. My High School basketball coach Harvey Kitani had a saying that used to make us all laugh at the time, but now I get it! He would say “If you’re going to sit on the toilet, do something! Don’t just sit there and blow farts all day!” Of course you can see why we laughed uncontrollably as a group of inner city 16 – 18 year olds. But now, I get it. Do something with your life and the time you’ve been given, don’t sit around making noise, creating excuses, but in the end not really doing anything.

Look, some of us don’t have the greatest set of circumstances surrounding our nativity. There are many of us who were conceived in less than desirable conditions. I’m not just talking about natural conditions and surroundings. Some of us are the products of rape, fornication, adultery, etc. Many of these individuals carry around the stigma and shame of their conception circumstances and are often too embarrassed to speak openly or share with others their family history for this reason.

Truthfully, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are surrounding your conception, who your mother and father are or even if you know them! What does matter is that God knew the circumstances surrounding your conception and still declared of you that your life was on purpose and going to serve a purpose. It was not a mistake that you were conceived, no matter what your parents or other may have told you… God never told you that!

Who told you that you were naked? God never told you that, just as He never told Adam and Eve they were naked in the garden. God doesn’t see us the same way others may see us. Others see us and declare we are naked or a mistake. God sees the same thing and does not see nakedness or a mistake, He sees the beauty in what He created…and so should we!

So what’s the moral of this story? God doesn’t make mistakes… He didn’t say oops when He created you…so do something meaningful and productive with your life. Go out and achieve your goals and dreams and fulfill the purpose God had in mind before you were a twinkle in your daddy’s eye!

One more point I’d like to make before wrapping up this blog post…since God doesn’t make mistakes or say oops when He creates us, we need to stop making changes to what God created. How do you improve upon something that is already just the way it should be? You can’t! The moment you start messing with it is the moment you start messing it up.

I believe we were fashioned to look just the way God wants us to look. I am a strong advocate of keeping things pretty natural. I’m not a big fan of things artificial or altering natural things, especially when it comes to our bodies. Every time we make modifications or incorporate artificial things to our bodies, we are in essence telling God “I don’t like what you created, so I’m going to change it into something I like”. Or “What you made wasn’t good enough, so I’m going to fix it and make it better”.

I know for some, we probably have never looked at it quite this way, but that is essentially what we are doing and it’s an insult to God. Let me give you an example. I am a bit of a steak snob…yes, I’ll admit it…I love a well prepared steak, and only order steak from the best restaurants or cook them myself at home. When I go to a steak restaurant, I order my steak, usually a USDA Prime Rib Eye cooked Medium +. Once the steak hits my table, I will eat it as it is served, because that was the way the Chef intended for it to be consumed. If I were to add anything to the steak, I am saying to the Chef “You did not prepare it to my liking” or “The way you prepared my steak is not very good”.

The Chef started out with the very best cut of steak available. Seasoned it the way they thought would bring out the best flavors of the steak. Cooked it to perfection and then served it to their guests for their enjoyment. Add extra salt…ruined it! Add steak sauce…God forbid! Anything you do to the steak after it has been served to you changes it from what the Chefs original intent was. Now, don’t blame the Chef if the steak is nasty after everything you did to it after it was brought to you! That was your doings, not the Chefs!

I hope you can see the parallel in this example. God started out with the very best He could get His hands on…YOU! Seasoned you through all of your life’s experiences. Cooked you to perfection by allowing you to go through just enough for just the right amount of time… not too long so that you would become tough or too little where you would be overly sensitive and raw. God is a master Chef and knows exactly how to prepare our lives and to present us faultless before His presence with exceeding joy! (Jude 24) All we have to do is leave it alone and not mess up what God is creating. No need to add or take away from our bodies, alter or modify what God has blessed us to have, etc.

We should do what we can to take care of our bodies, showing an appropriate level of respect and appreciation for Gods handiwork. Imagine having a fine, rare and expensive piece of art that you have just laying around in the garage getting dusty and damaged. That doesn’t show an appropriate level of respect for the work of art nor for the artist that created it. Not to mention the damage being done to something that should be preserved and cared for.

This is how we should look at our bodies. They are fine, rare and precious gems that should be preserved and cared for. The Bible puts it this way:

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
I Corinthians 6:19 – 20 (NIV)

We honor God with our bodies by taking care of them. Eat right, exercise; keep yourselves clean and well groomed. Don’t subject your bodies to things that will do them harm. Drugs, excessive alcohol, violence are all examples of things we should look to protect our bodies from.

We were created in the image of God; can you think of a better image to be modeled after? We show God that we respect the image He created for us by not tampering with that image or trying to put on a different image or face. If someone can look at you and readily tell something about you or on you is not natural, you should rethink if that is the image God intended for you. If God wanted you to have blue, green, hazel, red or whatever color eyes, that’s what He would have allowed you to be born with. I know some may think this is old school. I just believe we should respect what God created.

So, where do we go from here? No need to dwell on the past and what you did to your body in the past… that ship has sailed. All you can do is move forward from here and determine to not allow yourself to be subject to those things any longer and commit to taking care of the body God gave you. Remember, God doesn’t make mistakes, He doesn’t say oops… and He didn’t make a mistake with YOU or say oops when He created YOU to be who and what you are. Live free, without the pressure to have to live up to a false image imposed upon you by friends, family and society. Be the YOU, God had in mind for YOU when He said of YOU I know the thoughts that I think towards YOU… God didn't say oops with YOU!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Response to Alaska Airlines Executives re: Removal of Prayer Cards

Dear Mr. Ayer and Mr. Tilden,

I have been a long time and loyal customer of Alaska Airlines since 1995 (Mileage Plan # XXXX1980). I am certainly not your longest tenured customer nor greatest frequent flier by any stretch, but have enough experience with Alaska Airlines to comment credibly on the change announced below. (Currently greater than 460,000 lifetime miles on Alaska Airlines) It is my hope that my comments are received by each of you for your contemplation, though I do not anticipate at this point a change in your decision will be made. I can appreciate the amount of time and thoughtful consideration each of you along with your staffs placed into making this decision. I am confident many hours of discussion, data gathering and analysis, consultative input received and the like contributed to the outcome shared in your note below.

I cannot imagine there was a purely economic driver which compelled Alaska Airlines to discontinue distributing the prayer cards as you call them. I would suspect the cost to produce them are fairly nominal to insignificant in the overall cost structure of your Airlines. Consumer behavior in the Airline industry, as in most service oriented industries, I would expect is typically based upon convenience (availability of flights in your case), price and service. So while there may be some, I do not believe there are an appreciable number of customers that have chosen not to fly with Alaska because of the prayer cards or that fly the airline because of them. I am of the same or similar opinion with this decision to eliminate the prayer cards. You will likely not see an appreciable increase in the number of passengers that choose Alaska because of the prayer cards nor those that will no longer fly the airline because of their removal. Any impact there would be is likely negligible and would offset one another. So I do not see this as an economically driven decision.

To be completely honest with you, I was surprised and impressed the first time I saw them in 1995. In a time of political correctness, I was surprised and impressed to find a private sector, non-religious entity with the courage to stand upon and publicly display their commitment to Godly principles. At first I thought it was something that was temporary or a promotional activity. As my travels with the airlines increased and I continued to receive them I realized this was not a mere Marketing scheme, but the airline was truly committed to values derived from Biblically based principles. I always found the cards to be tastefully presented, not an over the top or in your face offensive attack upon the religious or moral values of anyone. They were simply positive, motivating and inspirational Psalms as I recall. How refreshing!

Now, I can appreciate that there are many travelers with Alaska Airlines of varying religious backgrounds and affiliations. I can also imagine that some of those passengers filed complaints with the airlines about the prayer cards. After having received enough of these complaints, I’m sure you were compelled to give consideration to discontinuing the practice. I am saddened to see that in an effort to be inclusive and considerate of alternative views, that Alaska Airlines has acquiesced and abandoned a 30 year tradition that spoke as much about the Airlines and its values as it did about broader American ideals. I would have preferred to see Alaska take the courageous position, though perhaps not the most popular one, and stand behind this simple and tasteful expression of the basis of their values.

Now, my entire position, I must admit, presupposes the prayer cards are truly more than a 30 year old Marketing scheme that has run its course and that they truly reflect something more intrinsic about Alaska. If I am in error, then I have little objection to the removal of the prayer cards. However, if the premise of my thoughts are sound, though Alaska Airlines may not be defined entirely by the prayer cards, pressure from a minority of society should not be profound or leveraging enough to manipulate this change.

As I stated earlier, I do not anticipate my note will alter the course that was made public today. Nor do I anticipate it will have a material impact on my travel decisions as they are derived, like most consumers, based upon the criteria I shared earlier. However, something that once differentiated Alaska from other airlines in my mind is now gone and it has, in many degrees, truly become fungible. Fortunately for me, I will be travelling First Class on the eve of January 31st, just in time to hopefully receive one of the very last pieces of Alaska Airlines history that carried value for at least one of its most traveled patrons.

My sincerest thoughts and prayers will be with each of you and Alaska Airlines as you, along with many other American organizations, navigate the onslaught of attacks waged upon your values. All the best…

Original e-mail from Alaska Airlines CEO Bill Ayer & President Brad Tilden

You Can Still Achieve 2012  MVP Status

Dear Michael,

At Alaska Airlines, we have provided prayer cards to our customers for more than 30 years. A former marketing executive borrowed the idea from another airline and introduced the cards to our passengers in the late 1970s to differentiate our service.

The cards have been provided only to our First Class customers since meal tray service ended in coach six years ago. Beginning February 1, 2012, however, we'll be eliminating the cards entirely. This difficult decision was not made lightly. We believe it's the right thing to do in order to respect the diverse religious beliefs and cultural attitudes of all our customers and employees.

Some of you enjoy the cards and associate them with our service. We also know some of you consider the cards to be a tradition that reflects your own spiritual beliefs. At the same time, we've heard from many of you who believe religion is inappropriate on an airplane, and some are offended when we hand out the cards. Religious beliefs are deeply personal and sharing them with others is an individual choice.

It's important that everyone know that this decision does not change our core values nor our care for our customers. We'll continue to distinguish ourselves through the pride and professionalism of our people on every flight and in our communities.

Our priority at Alaska is to fly our passengers to their destinations safely, on time and with their bags. We thank you for the opportunity to serve you and for the chance to demonstrate this commitment each time you fly with us.

Bil Ayer
Brad Tilden
Bill Ayer
Chairman and CEO, Alaska Air Group
Brad Tilden
President, Alaska Airlines

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Power of Words

For many of us, since the early days of our youth, especially around the time we started Elementary or Grade school, we were taught that words could not hurt us. In fact most, if not all, of us can recite the nursery rhyme that helped to cement this point into our impressionable minds;

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

We were taught this idea, usually in response to the often cruel and malicious attacks levied by children towards one another. It was an effort to help the victims of this cruelty keep from continuing to wallow in the hurt they were already experiencing.

And in fact they are correct… to a point. The weight of words carries very little force at all. In fact, the substance of words struggles to blow out candles on birthdays and aroma therapy candles around bathtubs. In an absolute sense, words do not have the physical capabilities or characteristics to do us any physical harm. They certainly do not possess the strength or destructive force to kill us.

However, that being said, words are certainly a powerful force in the universe and arguably the most powerful natural force found in humanity. The power of words is not found in their physical characteristics, but in their ability to influence humanity to act! Words are so powerful, they can inspire us either positively or negatively.

I am not alone in my assertions on the power of words. Solomon shares this nugget of wisdom with us in Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”. Note that both death and life, negative and positive outcomes, can be influenced by the words we speak. With the words that we share we have the ability to build up or tear down, to inspire or to denigrate, to motivate or to discourage. The choice is ours.

This is about more than being an optimist or a pessimist, a cup half full or a cup half empty person. Our words have the power to reshape the lives of those we speak them to, either for better or for worse. It’s fine if we choose to be pessimistic with our own lives, but when we allow that pessimism to influence others through the words we speak into their lives, we become a destructive and in the extreme a deadly force.

How many dreams, ambitions and hopes have been summarily executed by the firing squad of discouraging, depressing and damnable words? What about the confidence, esteem and sense of worth that were ruthlessly assassinated by demeaning, dispiriting and disheartening words. Our communities, families and churches are littered with corpses that have been laid waste by words.

Relationships have been slaughtered because of what someone said, or what someone said someone said. Marriages massacred by the hateful words shared in moments of anger, anguish and anxiety. Pastors murdered by their congregations because of the divisive words of the divisive in their midst. Yes, I’m afraid Solomon was true in his assertion that both death and life are in the power of the tongue. But, why is this? Why are words so often destructive? Why does Solomon say Death and then Life are in the power of the tongue? Why death first? Is there any significance to the presumptive order? I believe there is.

The New Testament writer James, perhaps more than any other biblical author speaks to the nature of words and their motivation. In the 3rd chapter of his epistle, James describes the tongue of humanity as a fire, a world of iniquity, a source of defilement for the body, unruly, untamable member of our bodies and filled with poison. (James 3:5, 6, 8) Think about it this way, our tongue… the words we choose to express… often come from undisciplined, uncensored and unforgiving mouths. James calls it unbridled tongues in 1:26.

In other words, we often speak out of our frustration, disappointment or anger and say destructive things. Once those words have left the barn of our mouths, they can never be corralled. As I like to say, that shipped has sailed! How many fights have been started because someone got angry or frustrated and blurted out something unfiltered? And no we cannot blame it on Tourette’s syndrome either… at least most of us don’t have that excuse. How many wars fought because of some despot leader’s uncontrollable rage superseded their better judgment?

Our kids do something that frustrates or angers us and before we could think, those damnable and destructive words raced from our lips and into the ears. Too late to take them back now. Our spouse, whether intentionally or unintentionally, depresses our fire ignition button and all hades breaks forth from our mouth. Who would have thought such words could be heralded towards the same one we said we would love, cherish, honor, etc., etc., etc.

That’s how it happens and all too often, that’s how it happens FIRST! The negativity and destructive force of our tongue is unleashed upon the world, leaving in its wake a trail of lives, confidence, esteem, relationships, etc. all slain by its hand.

But before we are filled with despair, alas there is hope. Not only do we find that death is in the power of the tongue, so also is life! And though death may have come first, we do not end with death, rather we end with Life! I love this about the power of words. Though death may have been brought to us in the beginning by words, it can be overcome with words and result in life…and that more abundantly! (John 10:10)

If we were to look at the intent of words, they were never intended to destroy, they were always intended to build and create. In the beginning God used His words to create. (Genesis 1, 2) The serpent then came and used words to bring about destruction and death. (Genesis 3) You will also note that God declared that what he created with His word was good.

But God always gets the last word… if we allow Him. Though the serpent will bruise the heal of God’s redeemer… referencing the crucifixion of Christ… His redeemer will bruise the head of the serpent… referencing the eternal judgment and damnation of Satan. (Genesis 3:15) God gets the last word, not Satan… good, not evil if we let Him. And take special note of this fact as well, the redeemer of God was also brought to life by God’s word (John 1:1 – 14). Want to talk about the power of words!

There is a valuable lesson to be learned from this. Whenever words are used destructively, we know they are derived from an evil source. Conversely, whenever words are used constructively, we know they come from a heavenly source. This holds true even when we are the ones sharing the words. If we allow ourselves to get worked up and speak negative and destructively, we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by ungodly influences. Contrast that with speaking positively or from God’s word in the face of frustration. Exercising discretion and control of our tongue speaks to the power of God through His Holy Spirit at work in our lives. (Acts 1:8)

God framed the world with the creative and life giving power of words and in a sense so can we. Imagine what our children will become if every word spoken into their impressionable lives were life giving? Or how our marriages would be if all we had to say to one another inspired life and creativity. What if in our churches we consumed ourselves with learning and expressing a vocabulary replete with virtue, healing, love, compassion, sensitivity, forgiveness, empowerment, faithfulness, loyalty, dedication and the like.

Yes, death and life are in the power of the tongue, but I choose to speak words that bring forth life. This is a power that we all have and can readily exercise.

There is one other element to the power of words that I would like to touch on for just a bit and that is the power to influence the thoughts and actions of others. This is, in part at least, one of the reasons I believe I was called into the Pastorate. Every week I am given an opportunity to speak words that have the potential to influence the thoughts and behaviors of those that choose to listen. Whether I’m speaking from a pulpit or in personal advising meetings, the ability to influence is the same.

This is a powerful position of influence that I and others of this calling have been granted and one that I do not take lightly. Every time I step behind that sacred desk of the pulpit I am reminded that every word that proceeds from my mouth can have a life changing or profound influence upon someone’s life. Decisions and choices related to life and relationships are often shaped, in part at least, by the words that I have been inspired to share. What a humbling and intimidating position to be in. Selah.

While it can be unsettling at times, I relish the challenge of being led and finding the perfect words to express that will help move people closer to God and each other. I believe there is a combination of words, if expressed properly and at the right time that can move anyone under any circumstances in the right direction. We do not always find that right combination of words, but I do believe they nevertheless exist.

This, I believe, is the power of words. The ability to find the right combination of vowels and consonants that will influence the thoughts, decisions and actions of humanity. This power can be used to draw people into battles or guide them towards reconciliation. This is the power of the pulpit. The use of God inspired words to draw people towards reconciliation with Him and each other.

Some with this gift of oratory will undoubtedly use it for less than honorable purposes. However, for me, I have determined to use this gift to the best of my ability to inspire those that read and listen to my words to achieve their created best. To empower them in thought and deed to live up to the noble calling of their creator. To eradicate and bring about the demise of destructive negativity, with the creative and life giving breath whose genesis is found in the heavens.

The power of words? That you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.