Month: September 2016

You is smart, you is kind, you is important.



Most of you have seen the movie entitled, “The Help.”  It’s a look at life in Jackson, Mississippi back in the early 60’s when racial division and inequality were most evident in the lives of the citizens of that community.  I’ve watched it several times and I am sadly reminded of a time when so many people were marginalized and treated as if they were less-than-human.  I guess part of what saddens me is that much of the division and inequality between races remains still.


In the movie, an African-American maid and nanny named Aibileen Clark, played by Viola Davis, helps to raise a young white girl named Mae Mobley, played by Eleanor Henry.  In her role as a nurturing care-giver, Aibileen attempts to speak encouragement, value and worth into the life of the young girl by having her repeat several phrases along with her.  “You is smart, you is kind, you is important.”  Twice in the movie the exchange between the two is shown. As you watch each scene you get a sense of how important it is to both of them to instill and receive those words of affirmation. (


Earlier this week I participated in a seminar devoted to the topic of “The Role of Faith & Mental Health.” Dr. Steven Scoggin of Wake Forest Baptist Health was the presenter.  Dr. Scoggin spoke about the bio-psycho-social factors that affect the health and well-being of every human.  He spoke about the value and importance of community indicating that a child raised in social isolation will suffer life-long health concerns equally damaging as problems brought about in the life of someone who is a life-long smoker.  In other words, emotional health and words of affirmation go a long way in bringing wellness to someone’s life.  Of the 40 million American adults who will suffer from mental health issues this year, many of them could be greatly helped by encountering people who are kind to them and who listen to them.  In fact, people who are compassionate, kind, and non-judgmental bring a healthcare dimension to a patient suffering with mental health issues, equal to that of a physician’s visit.  Remarkable, right?  Research has shown that whenever someone encounters a person who is kind and listening, there is a reaction that physically changes the brain of the sufferer.  Have you ever noticed that certain people seem to always make you feel better?  It’s because their compassion and grace actually cause your brain to think and feel differently.


So let’s zero in on children’s health for a moment.  One of the most important things you can do as an adult is to speak words of affirmation and encouragement to the children under your care.  How they view themselves, how they see the world around them, and even their mental health can be greatly affected by your words of affirmation.  I was fortunate as a child.  I grew up in a household where I was encouraged, loved, and affirmed.  I’m not naïve enough to think that the same scenario happens in every family.  Maybe your experience was quite different.  Maybe you were not affirmed or encouraged.  Maybe no one spoke worth into your life.  And God forbid, maybe you were emotionally and physically abused.  I pray that you can learn from your experience and refuse to continue the devastating cycle into the next generation.  That takes courage.


The world is a dangerous place.  There are plenty of negative influences waiting to damage the health and well-being of your children.  You have to make the difference.  Invest the time and energy it takes to be present in the life of your children.  Read to them.  Play with them.  Encourage them.  Love them.  Speak worth and value into their lives.  Remind them over and over again that they are smart, kind, and important.

Making the Best of a Bad Situation



There is an old, trite saying that reads, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!”  I hate that expression.  But there is indeed something to be said for making the best of a bad situation, because the truth is that we are all going to have some bad situations come our way.  Life is not always kind and pleasant.  Sometimes we find ourselves trying to survive a very difficult season of life.  Some refer to such moments as “wilderness experiences,” when we feel far from home and out of touch with normal life.  Everything seems out-of-sync.  Relationships are out of whack, contentment is fleeting, and peace of mind is hard to find.  Been there?


The ancient Israelites had experienced the wilderness moment.  After the glory days of the Kingdom, back when David and then Solomon made Israel a world power, soon things got a little off track.  The Kingdom soon divided and things went downhill fast.  The Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom and about 200 years later the Babylonians overran the Southern Kingdom.  The nation was destroyed.  The Temple was obliterated.  All hope ebbed away.  The people were taken into captivity where they lived in exile in the city of Babylon.  It was a desperate, confusing, bewildering time.  Life had handed them lemons.


It is in the context of such a bleak moment that the prophet Jeremiah offered these words.  This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)


Go back and read that passage slowly and look at what God is demanding the exiled people to do.  “Build homes.  Plan to stay.  Plant gardens and eat the produce.  Marry and have families.  Multiply… don’t let yourselves dwindle away.  Work for the peace and prosperity of the city.  Pray for its welfare.”  Can you just imagine that?  Babylon was the last place on earth they wanted to be.  It was the city of their enemies.  This was the place where they were marginalized and mistreated.  These were the people who had destroyed their nation and wrecked their religion.  And yet God says, “Make lemonade!”


Maybe there is a message for you in the words of Jeremiah.  Your life may not be going quite the way you had hoped.  You may not like your job.  You may not enjoy where you live.  You may have problems with co-workers.  There may be problems at home.  Maybe there are too many bills and too few paychecks.  I get it.  It’s hard to be stuck in neutral, especially if you are living in a strange and harsh land.  But Jeremiah proclaims a word from the Lord.  “Invest in the life you currently live.  Make friends.  Pray for others.  Look for the blessings rather than curse the hurdles.  See the potential in what each day can hold.  Find the joy in the midst of the chaos.”


For the Israelites, the exile lasted 50 years.  That’s a long time.  But not a second of those 50 years was lived apart from the presence of God.  I would hope and pray that the wilderness moments of your life will be much, much shorter.  I would pray that God would soon answer your prayers for deliverance and renew your hope.  But in the meantime, make the best of the bad situation.  Be the best you can be.  You may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control your response to whatever life throws your way.  Like the ancient people of God, you are not alone and you are not forgotten.  Not now. Not here.  Not ever.

Did you hear the one about the Rabbi?



I had a very interesting lunch this week.  I had been asked to speak at a local Jewish Temple.  The Rabbi hosts a weekly lunch meeting designed to inform and explore key issues of faith and culture.  The Rabbi is a friend who is interested in our leadership institute here at Belmont and so he asked me to join the group for an hour or so of friendly dialogue.  Imagine the scene… Jon the Baptist taking questions from 35 Jewish congregants.  For over an hour we spoke about matters of faith. We talked about the common ground between our faith traditions and the places where the divide is rather large.  My friend the Rabbi did a nice job in creating a safe and rational conversation.  And yes he asked the $64,000 question… “Do you as a Christian think that Jews are going to heaven?”  At the end of the day the group thanked me for my candor and carefully nuanced responses.  (I also discovered that delicious food is not exclusive to Baptist life!)


Face to face conversations are important.  It’s always different when we talk to people instead of choosing to talk about people.  My discovery through the years is that being in the same room, sharing the same space, and insisting on civil and respectful dialogue is critically important to healing wounds, mending fences, and finding ways to co-exist.  Whenever we can personalize our thoughts and opinions with real flesh and blood it becomes so much harder to stereotype, condemn, and misunderstand.  Having the opportunity to speak, to listen, and to think with each other creates an atmosphere where the distances are spanned and the misunderstandings are clarified.  The problem is that such conversations are rare.  In fact, there must be an intentionality to such gatherings or they will not happen at all.


One of the questions that I was asked was this, “How old were you before you met and spoke with a member of the Jewish faith?”  I responded by saying that “I had met Jesus at an early age and I was pretty sure He was a Jew.”  But after the polite giggle subsided among the audience members, I had to answer the question with a real response.  Growing up in the very sheltered world of the Bible Belt, I was probably a teenager before I first met someone who was non-Christian.  In those days, I was worried about talking to Methodists and Presbyterians!  Jewish people were not even on the radar.  It’s just human nature for us to gather around the stack pole of common belief, faith, and experience.  It is also a very sheltered and limited perspective on life.  We need to recognize the diversity all around us and rather than fear those whose societal, spiritual, and cultural DNA is so different from that of our own, we need to discover ways to learn, to grow, and to befriend.


It has taken over half a century for me to develop a strong enough relationship with a Jewish rabbi for him to call me a friend.  That’s not because of a lack of willingness on his part… it’s because of a lack of intentionality on mine.