The One Absolutely Necessary Ingredient for a Great Sermon

Here is a hard truth: Most preachers are “big picture” people. They have a ton of information, they see how all the pieces fit together, and they know how important it is to see that “big picture.”


Sadly, this is one of the biggest obstacles that, as a communicator, you have to overcome, but overcome it you must. The good news is this: it’s not that hard. You can actually become a fantastic communicator if you know how to write just one sentence.

The Three Key Ingredients for Sermon Success

In my life, I have worked with more pastors than I have fingers and toes. If I had two more hands and feet, I still wouldn’t have enough digits to be able to count the different approaches I have seen to sermon preparation.


That being said, I have found that the best sermons consistently have three ingredients in their preparation. The inclusion of all three of these can help you insure that your sermon is timely, educational, and edifying.

How to Build Your Church Social Media Strategy: Part 1

Understanding Your Needs

What does it take to build a sound social media presence in today’s world? This can seem both overwhelming and extremely simple depending on a lot of factors.


In this series, I’ll give you an overview of everything you need to know to develop a sound social media strategy for your church. Part 1? Understanding your needs.

Manuevering The Mothers Day Minefield

Once a month, I send an article to my pastoral clients that is written just for them. Usually, it addresses a question that one or more of them have asked either in a conference call or by email. This month’s letter was slightly different.


I wasn’t asked for my input on this one, I was just having a conversation with one of them and he happened to express some frustration/concern over how some of his people wanted to handle Mother’s Day.

I gave the matter some thought and tried to convey what was on my heart. With their permission, I am resharing that letter here.

The Prodigal Was the Bad One, Right?

Recently, I was asked to teach at a Men’s retreat. The subject? A very familiar parable of Jesus: The Prodigal Son. Easy, right?


The problem, for me, was finding that angle, that insight, that fresh perspective that would turn this familiar story into something that could speak to where these men were. What do you say about a story that we have all heard hundreds, if not thousands of times, a story that has been retold through all kinds of movies and television episodes? I prayed hard over this one… and, then, it hit me.

Your New Year Resolution Will Fail (But You Can Still Succeed)

Did you make resolutions this year? Well, I hate to break it to you: You’re gonna fail. Why? Because resolutions don’t work. There I said it.


Now, it’s possible, I guess, for someone to make a resolution and keep it for a good portion of the year, but, I guarantee you, more often than not resolutions will wind up rotting in the trash bon of your past.

But there is a way to make 2015 your best year ever.

4 Ways to Excercise Your “Fear Not” Muscles

If all you do is watch the news, then there is a LOT to be afraid of in 2014. The real problem isn’t choosing what to be afraid of, it’s trying to figure out what you don’t have to be afraid of.


The big news is that, according to Jesus, you don’t have to fear anything.

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Why I (Am Trying to) Quit Saying “Oh My God”

Recently, my family and I were driving around town on errands and I heard, from the backseat, my youngest daughter exclaim, “Oh Em Gee Oh Ess Aitch!” (OMGOSH) I was thrown by the unfamiliarity of the phrase, but it got me to thinking: Why didn’t she just say “OMG?” After all it’s popular enough. For that matter, why didn’t she say “Oh My God?”


It occurred to me that we have been habitually reinforcing in her young mind to follow, as well as to respect the spirit of, the Ten Commandments, and one of those is, of course ‘Do Not Take God’s Name in Vain.”

I have argued, before that far too many people take this commandment the wrong way. After all, God’s name is not “God” right? It’s Who He is. He IS God. His NAME is something else altogether.

Yes, Penelope, There Is A Judge

It may be one of my favorite pictures of all time. It’s certainly the most honest.

Let me clarify…

Penelope Soto was in court on drug possession charges. You can tell from the video (posted below) that she is taking her appearance in court anything but seriously. When asked how much money she makes, she replies “about 200 bucks a week.” When asked if she has anything of legitimate value (e.g., a house, car, jewelry), inexplicably, she says “yes.” When asked to clarify she says she “own[s] a lot of jewelry, all right.” When the judge asks for clarification regarding her jewelry’s worth, she says “it’s worth a lot of money… like Rick Rolls.” (Now, either this girl has no idea what a “rick roll” is, or there is an entire generation of clubbidiots who have appropriated the name of one of the greatest bait-and-switch jokes in internet history as their new slang for “a lot of money.”)

The Public Defender, to his credit, offers to take the girl on, but the judge sagely points out that, if she has all of this expensive jewelry, she can sell it and hire her own defender. She is initially fined $5,000. She coyly bids the judge “adios”, and, with a smile on her face, turns to leave. As she’s walking away, the judge laughs… but then calls her back. What happens next is just… I have…. “no words… they should have sent a poet.”

The judge takes back the paper and changes the fine for Count 1 (there were multiple counts) to $10,000. And then… this… glorious thing happened.

Yes, Penelope… There are consequences for your actions.

Just look at her face! She pleads with the judge, as innocently as she can, “Are you serious?”

And that awesome arbiter of justice responded, “I am serious. Adios!”

In a world where teenagers weren’t habitually spoiled and coddled from the ramifications of their words and actions, this would be the end of this story. But, luckily for all of us, it isn’t.

2013: Let’s Do This

We are officially a week into the new year.  My colleagues in the blogosphere have already hit the ground running. Michael Hyatt released a great podcast on “How To Develop More Discipline“, Cliff Ravenscraft released “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That – Goals Vs Resolutions And More!“, Jeff Jones sets up an interesting challenge in “How to Have the Year You’ve Always Wanted“, Dan Miller even decided to engage his readers with a contest. Churches in my area have started a Daniel Fast, and various Bible reading initiatives, some reading through the entire Bible in a year, some covering just the gospels in the same time and some reading through the entire Bible live in the sanctuary in less than ten days!

The approaching new year has always caused me frustration. Resolutions, failure, rinse, repeat. 11 months later, repeat again. The approaching twelve months always seemed so huge… so overwhelming… so much bigger than me. The annus novus was my enemy. No… my nemesis.

But then something changed. I can’t pin down when it happened, but in the course of 2012 I discovered the power of the word “in.”

For years, I’ve had faith “in” Christ. I put my trust “in” His salvation. I believe “in” the promises found in Scripture.

But something was still off…

Then I read Colossians 1:26-27 like it was the first time:

For ages and ages this message was kept secret from everyone, but now it has been explained to God’s people. God did this because he wanted you Gentiles to understand his wonderful and glorious mystery. And the mystery is that Christ lives in you…

I realized that the important was “in” me. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives inside me. It almost sounds like children’s Sunday School, but that is a HUGE deal.

Since I’ve begun to embrace this reality, I have been confirmed in my calling, my father in the ministry has blessed me and broken chains off of me that I didn’t even know were there, and the doors have begun opening up for me in a way I have hardly dreamed.

I’m kicking off 2013 a little differently than I ever have before. I’ve made no resolutions. I have started doing some things that are resolution-like, but they are not built into resolutions. I have instead set particular and specific goals for the year. I’ve never done that before. The New Year isn’t the overwhelming thing it once was.  The months, weeks, days, hours and minutes that lay ahead are not the enemy; they are the canvas upon which I am called to paint this scene of His Masterpiece.

Another year? Gladly.

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Book Review: The Fantasy Fallacy by Shannon Ethridge

SEX! There, I said it.  Now let’s move on.

In all seriousness, the intimate moment is one that many in the church are afraid of discussing.  That’s one of the things that makes The Fantasy Fallacy so important. To many people, believers and unbelievers alike, the subject of sex, nevermind sexual fantasy, is a topic so taboo that the discussion of it is relegated to hushed whispers and secret book reading.

Not so this new work by Shannon Etheridge (incidentally the author of another great work on this subject, The Sexually Confident Wife: Connecting with Your Husband Mind Body Heart Spirit). In her work, The Fantasy Fallacy, has not pandered to titillation or indiscrete arousal. Instead, she seeks to help the reader “connect [our] own dots and make sense of [their] own sexual thoughts.”  Etheridge is refreshingly forthcoming and honest, yet maintains a sincerely compassionate approach. The book’s artwork (as well as the time of release) tends to make the reader connect to the insanely popular “Fifty Shades of Grey” novels.  I have written my thoughts on that series, but Stephen Arterburn, author of Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time, takes time and care to point out that Etheridge’s purpose is not to bash E.L. James story, but instead to “help women and men — both married and single — to take a second look at the fantasy world they may be creating through romance novels, pornography, or their own imaginations. It will also help them get out of that fantasy world and back to building real, healthy relationships.”

Etheridge divides all chapters into two sections.  The first part is the basic information covering the chapters topic, while part two “Behind The Curtain” takes all of that information and presents a real-life, rubber-meets-the-road application.  It is this approach that was most practical for this reviewer.  Too often authors give good information but leave the reader in the position of figuring out a way to apply the lesson on their own.

This book is one to read alone, with your spouse, and then read again.  The content of the chapters is excellent, but this book also gives some incredible content in the appendices. Long story short? Get this book NOW!

My Rating

Just Get It

The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual Thoughts
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (October 16, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0849964695
ISBN-13: 978-0849964695
Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches

Buy the Print Version or the Kindle Version

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Lessons from the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

I wish it had not been my daughter. You see, the moment I tell you that this story involves my daughter, you will read these things and think, “He’s embellishing that.” I both swear and affirm that I am not. This conversation is burned into my brain. Some of you are going to drift. “Oh, he’s just a dad bragging on his daughter.” Believe me when I tell you that there are elements of that here, but what I wish to convey to you is surprise and hard truths that came from a very unexpected source.

As a preacher, you’re always looking for stories, examples, analogies… ANYTHING to help convey a larger point in a memorable way. I was once called the king of analogies.

We were riding in the car the other day, when my eldest, 10-year-old Liliana, said, “Daddy, I think we should get a Charlie Brown Christmas tree this year.” (We had seen them in the pharmacy and other stores. You can buy a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of your very own here.)

“Why is that, sweetie?”

Well, it reminds me of my favorite verse.

……….. (That’s actually what appeared in my head. Just a stream of dots trying to make a connection)

“What do you mean, Lili?”

“Well, you know how when Charlie Brown went to get the tree? He really liked it. But it couldn’t support more than one ornament, and nobody else thought it measured up. Everybody said it was a dumb tree and didn’t look like a real Christmas tree.”

………..

“How does this remind you of your favorite verse?”

“Well, I don’t remember where it is, like the numbers and stuff, but it says, ‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.'” (For reference sake, that’s I Timothy 4:12, and, yes, she actually said the whole thing.)

……….. (Starting to grasp it, but the shock is setting in)

“And, like, God wants me to be me, and do the stuff He wants me to do. And I might not look like everybody else, and I might not even be what people expect me to be, but I can be what God wants me to be.”

The eyes are getting wider. She is oblivious.

“And, like, the ornament, you know? Remember when you said that God has a calling for each of us? That’s our ornament. That’s the ONE THING that we need to focus on because that’s our calling. And, so if I do that, and I try my best to be who God wants me to be, then it doesn’t matter what anybody else says. So, I just think we should get a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”

I literally had to stop the car. I was crying. I tried to hug her and tell her how awesome she was, and how proud I was of her… I am certain I failed miserably. I don’t have the vocabulary to express my pride, my wonder, my amazement.

Yes, I was once the king of analogies, the master of the illustrated point.

I have been dethroned.

And, yes, we did buy the tree.

Liliana and the TreeMerry Christmas, everyone!

Thoughts On Sandy Hook Elementary School

I started writing this post a couple of days ago. This morning, news broke that both informed and fundamentally changed much of what I was going to say. You see, in case you haven’t heard, this morning in Newtown, Connecticut, a 20-year-old man walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary school and began firing guns, one of which was a .223-caliber rifle. At the latest report, 27 people, including the gunman are dead.

18 of those are children.

18.

Now, in the days to come, I am sure we will see the standard media blitz. Some journalists will convey information, some will sensationalize, some will use the events there to boost ratings. Punditry will kick into high gear, we can be sure, over gun laws and interpretations of the 2nd Amendment. You may even hear “experts” try to explain the behavior of a man doing what people on Facebook, and news forums have called, “unthinkable”, “horrible”, “wicked”, “awful”, etc.

And that, really, is what this post was supposed to be about. How can someone do something so horrible to something or someone so helpless?

My daughter occasionally deals with this. I see in her a wisdom beyond her years. It is a wisdom untainted, so far, by cynicism and experience. She sees things as they are and notes that when something is wrong. Not just wrong to her, but universally, fundamentally wrong. I am usually in the position of “person-to-go-to-when-something-doesn’t-make-sense” (a position I treasure), and so I have to answer these questions. She reads or hears stories about people using drugs… “Daddy, why….?” She hears about child abuse? “Daddy, how can….?” She reads about assassinations, wars, addictions and all manner of evil…

I’m sure that when she finds out what happened today I will get questions. Here’s my answer.

In Proverbs 29:18 says:

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (ESV)

Look first at the opening phrase, “where there is no prophetic vision.” What this means is that in a place, people, or nation, where the truth of God has been dismissed; where God’s law no longer has merit; where God Himself is dismissed. It isn’t just about prophecy or seeing the future.

What happens when those circumstances are the norm? “The people cast off restraint.” The “unthinkable” becomes acceptable. What was “horrible” is defended as personal choice. What was once “wicked” becomes “weird” and then, “well, whatever.”

I am not saying that my expectation is to see anyone defend the gunman’s attacks on this school, and the murder of these poor children. What I am saying is that when events like these happen, it behooves us to look into the mind of the perpetrator and realize that the normal restraint expected (even in a godless social contract) has been cast off because God Himself has been cast off.

I have prayed today for the families affected by this shooting, for the lives lost, for the potential cut short.  I am left with only the urgency to say “Do not throw God – the One Who loves you, Who created you, Who stepped out of eternity for you – away!”

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalms 1:1-3)

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Most Thankful

A lot of my friends are doing the “# Day of Thanks” thing. I’m not doing that. I don’t have a problem with it, and I see no harm in it; nor am I about to write an post about how we are supposed to be thankful every day. I just needed a way to start.

As some of you know, my wife had a pretty invasive surgery on Monday of this week.  Enduring a septoplasty, doctors hacked at her with hammer, chisel and other instruments of torture until there was no deviation left in her septum. Now, I want those of you who have not had the distinct pleasure of this experience to imagine this (and, yes, this is exactly how the doctor described it to me): “Imagine if you’ve been punched repeatedly in the face, but from the inside of your head.”

Needless to say, my lovely bride had been useless this week. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t say “useless” in the sense that I am somehow disappointed with what she has and/or has not been able to do around the house or with the family this week. It isn’t that. You have to understand that my wife’s primary spiritual gift is hospitality.  She loves to serve. She serves her family, her friends, and, sometimes, even strangers. God put that desire in her. But this week, she can’t do anything.

Monday night a married couple prepared dinner for us – a delicious pot roast with brownies for dessert. It was enough for dinner and lunch the next day. Tuesday night I discovered that yet another couple was planning to send us dinner. I called to double check (as I had a rehearsal and would not be home), told them it really wasn’t necessary but they insisted. The next night, yet another couple brought a pan of lasagna that was, from what I am told, legendary!

Yesterday, another couple invited us into their home to celebrate and partake of their bounty. We ate obscenely good turkey, spicy corn, dressing, spinach dip, cranberry sauce, green beans, candied carrots, yummy buttery rolls, all washed down with legit southern sweet tea. Pumpkin and pecan pies and crock pot chocolate lava cake for dessert. BE JEALOUS! Afterward we talked, watched the “Browncoats Unite” reunion special followed by various episodes of something called “Duck Dynasty.” My wife spent time vegging on the couch and doing girly stuff with the chef, and my friend (who is also a pastor) and I talked theology interspersed with random movie quotes.

My family and I hang out with these couples on a regular basis (especially if it’s not soccer season). I love them. They are crazy! Their hilarious! They are insane! They are… (How does that saying go?) … nuttier than squirrel poo.

So, yesterday, I sat thankful for all the blessings and opportunities God has seen fit to bestow upon me. I sat thankful for a thanksgiving experience that was not “low stress” but “no stress.”  And today I remain thankful for my family – the nuclear version, the extended version, and the version that has grown out of unlikely friendships.  I am thankful for a God Who is “Father to the fatherless”, and for the family that we can be in Christ.

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him – his name is the Lord. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
– Psalm 68:4-6

Jumping The Shark

It pains me to confess that when I hear a person under the age of 30 use the phrase “jump(ing) the shark” I want to, in the words of famous mafiosos, “give him such a smack.”  That kid doesn’t know what jumping the shark means.  He didn’t have to sit through the horror of watching Arthur Fonzarelli, the man who was supposed to be the coolest cat on television, water-ski while wearing both a full leather jacker AND a yellow floaty belt, all while sporting jean shorts that would make Daisy Duke blush and engaging in “tricks” like lifting a leg out of the water and holding the bar in his teeth while giving his signature “thumbs up.”  Even as a five year old kid I knew what I was watching was ridiculous.  But the difference between me and that twenty-something year old is that I had to endure it and then live with the inevitable disillusion that followed.

So far, this post isn’t too deep in the theology.  Well, I have another confession to make.  In all the years I have used the phrase “jump the shark”, and all the times I have heard it used by others to derisively describe a moment or episode where a TV show runs afoul of its core, one thing has never occurred to me.  At some point, there was a person who thought that the Fonz jumping the shark would be a good idea.

Bob Brunner, a writer and producer on Happy Days who both named Fonzie and also reportedly suggested that the character jump the shark, has died, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 78.

Brunner died of a heart attack on Oct. 28 near his home in Northridge, Calif.

Read that first paragraph again.  This guy, Bob Brunner, has, as his two most defining moments, naming one of the most iconic characters in television – even literary – history, AND that he made that character a laughing stock and the source of a phrase that would be used derisively for decades to follow.

It never occurred to me before today that, somewhere, there was someone who might squirm every time he heard the phrase “jump the shark.”  And you know that he couldn’t really talk about creating “The Fonz” because the inevitable follow up would be, “Oh, wow!  You did?!?!?  Hey… Whose idea was it to make the Fonz jump that stupid shark???”

But Bob Brunner’s career didn’t end with Fonzie jumping the shark.  He went on to co-create and executive-produce Brothers and Sisters and Working Stiffs, and executive-produced Diff’rent StrokesWebster and Love, Sidney. He co-wrote the 1999 film The Other Sister and Exit to Eden, both with Marshall.

Some, maybe even most, would have given up the TV/Film writing game had they been shouldered with the responsibility of bringing “jumping the shark” into existence.  But Brunner didn’t. Did he have a mega-blockbuster to his credit?  No.  But every bio tells the story of a man who worked hard and continued until the end to hone his craft.

The moral of the story, I think, is this: One failure doesn’t make you a failure.  Proverbs 24:16 says:

Even if good people fall seven times, they will get back up. But when trouble strikes the wicked, that’s the end of them.

Maybe you’ve made a bad call in your job, in your education, in your marriage or other relationships.  Maybe you picked a career that turned out to be not what was best for you or not even your calling at all.  Maybe you’ve failed miserably at it.  God says, “get back up!”

Look at some of God’s promises:

When you’re down, God will give you a new song

I patiently waited, Lord, for you to hear my prayer.  You listened and pulled me from a lonely pit full of mud and mire.  You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm, and you gave me a new song, a song of praise to you.. (Psalm 40:2-3)

God promises that, through the Messiah, we are given…

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

God promises that we can ask…

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

Yes, you’ve failed, you’ve messed up, you’ve lost everything, you’ve jumped the shark in every possible way…

Jesus says “Behold! I make all things new!” Or, in the “Not-So-King-James” translation…

You jumped the shark? So what? Let me do something miraculous through you.

Leaving A Legacy

I was at a Men’s Encounter this past weekend and I heard a song that is TEN YEARS OLD!!!  Apparently, I missed it the first time around, but, like all truly great songs, it stands the test of time.  I share it with you today, because, in the spirit of the Barnabas Initiative, I want to encourage all of you to not lose heart, to not grow weary in doing well.

Take with you the story of Edward Kimball.  By most accounts Kimball was a mild-mannered man.  He was no great success in business or industry.  But he was a man devoted to his family and his church.  A sunday school teacher, he was known for going out into the community to visit his students and their friends in their home, work and school environments.  One day in 1854, Kimball paid a visit to a young 17-year-old man named Dwight who was working as a shoe clerk in a local store.  Opening with the line, “Hey, I’m worried about you. I want to talk”, the Kimball walked with the young man into the basement of the shoe store.  There the Sunday School teacher led the young man to Christ.

This young man, Dwight L. Moody, went on to become one of the greatest evangelists in the history of the world.  He is believed to have shared the gospel with over 100 million people in his lifetime alone.  In the early 1870’s, Moody was asked to speak at a revival in York, England.  There, he influenced a leader of the Higher Life Movement, F.B. Meyer, who, in turn, while speaking at a revival in Northfield, Massachusetts, led a young J. Wilbur Chapman to Christ.  Chapman became a very effective evangelists and led meetings where he was assisted by a man named Billy Sunday.

Sunday learned how to preach under the tutelage of Chapman, and eventually took over Chapman’s ministry.  While leading a Crusade in Charlotte, NC, a group of Christians dedicated themselves to reaching the lost of their community for Christ.  They invited evangelist Mordecai Ham, who held a series of meetings in 1932.

It was at these meetings that a lanky 16-year-old boy walked in and, intrigued by what he heard decided to come back the next night.  He came the next night, and the next, and the next… Finally, young Billy Graham responded to the impassioned preaching of that crazy, white-haired preacher and gave his life to Christ.  Yes, Billy Graham, who has preached the gospel to more people than any other person in history has a place in the lineage, the legacy of Edward Kimball.

But Edward Kimball is not the person I want to think about.  I want to think for a moment about the person who reached out TO Edward Kimball, poured into his life, discipled him, loved him and led him to be the kind of man who would walk into a shoe store to share the love of Christ with one of his students.  THAT person’s name is lost to us.  But what a great legacy there is.  And what about the person who converted that person….  It goes on and on.

What is your legacy, right now!  Do you want more?  Legacy is not about fame or success.  Legacy is about pouring yourself out and into the lives of those you encounter.  Legacy is eternal.

Election Day – Why I’m Not Afraid

This post is going to be a long(er) one.  Forgive me in advance.

This is an odd season in America.  The past couple of months have seen more political bickering, arguing and debate than I can recall in all my years.  The future of this country, many say, hangs in the balance.  I have a friend who wrote me and several others on Facebook a few weeks ago asking:

Please pray for me friend…I am so concerned with this election and the future of our country that I am unsettled in my spirit and keeping headaches. I am surrounded by a lying spirit of fear and worry. Please stand in the gap for me. I covet your prayers.

I’ve heard this plea from friends on both side of the political fence.  I feel a need to remind people, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ, of a few things we learn from the Bible.

Who Elects the President?

Daniel 2:20-22 is an incredible passage. First, let’s recap the story:

Nebuchadnezzar had been experiencing horrible dreams. He called forth every magician, seer, prophet, wise man and sideshow psychic in the kingdom and demanded not only that they tell him what the dream meant, but what the dream was! They failed, and so, he ordered them all killed. Daniel showed up and said, “Give me a night.” Daniel had a dream and then appeared before Nebuchadnezzar and said:

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.

Later in Daniel 4:17, he says something similar:

This decision is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men

What Daniel says here, and what we really need to grasp, is that God establishes kings and rulers of men. In 4:17 we see that sometime God establishes bad/incompetent/stupid rulers (the lowest of men) in order to ensure the establishment of His will.

Why Do We Fear

God’s promises to us are numerous, but the one I want to focus on now is found in Deuteronomy 3:16. Here we read:

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.

I’m not afraid because God’s promise is that He is always with me.  I’ve heard that the phrase “Fear Not” (or some variation thereof) is found 365 times in the Bible; one for every day of the year.  There are people who dispute this, but let me point this out: God only had to say “Let there be light” ONE TIME! He only needs to say “Fear Not” one time for us to know that, with God we have nothing to fear.  Why?  Because He promised He would never leave us or forsake us.

That is God’s promise.  It doesn’t matter who gets elected. It doesn’t matter who doesn’t get elected. It doesn’t matter what laws get passed.  It doesn’t matter what laws don’t get passed. Those circumstances don’t affect the truth the God is always with us.

So, for my friend and any other who might be fretting about the outcome of today’s election:

I pray that the Lord will bless you with peace that passes any human understanding. That by His Holy Spirit you will remember at all times that His perfect love casts out all fear, that by the stripes of Jesus we have been healed, and that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Further, I pray for you, as I have for my daughters every night of their lives, that God will give you peaceful rest and pleasant dreams and that you will wake in the morning refreshed, restored and renewed.
Finally, I pray you remember that it is not power, or money or even elections that bring men into power; it is God alone, for “He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.” “…for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
He holds you, and all of us in His hand, and we have nothing to fear.

Final Disclaimer:

Don’t read this as me saying you shouldn’t vote, or even that it doesn’t matter if you do or do not vote. I’ve already spoken about that. If you are a citizen of this country, you have a responsibility to vote. Nor am I saying that evil leaders are necessarily God’s will. But what God wills and what God allows might be two different things (See the nation of Israel and the appointment of Saul as king.) The point here is that you and I can know that, no matter what happens, God is with us. So tonight when either Romney or Obama is elected, be careful of putting your faith in one or reviling and lamenting the election of the other. God’s will is for you to know that you are not alone, and that He alone rules in the affairs of men.

I vote my conscience and not my party because God rules in the affairs of men. Click To Tweet

The Barnabas Initiative

What I’m about to say is true for pastors, obviously, and it is true for every believer.

I’ve often heard it said that every person should have three kinds of people in their life: A Barnabas, a Silas and a Timothy.  So, who are these people?

Silas – Silas is the guy that stuck with Paul through everything.  Silas was his friend and ally.  Silas was willing to be put in chains with Paul

Timothy – Paul’s son in the faith.  According to Scripture, Paul mentored Timothy by pouring into his life, teaching him, instructing him and constantly encouraging him.

Then there’s Barnabas.

Barnabas and Paul’s relationship was a tricky one.  After his conversion, Paul was still deep in his reputation as a Killer of Christians.  But Barnabas vouched for him to all the Apostles at Jerusalem. (Acts 9:26)  Barnabas put his rep on the line for Paul’s sake.When Barnabas was sent out to the church at Antioch, he took Paul along with him.  Later, Barnabas wanted to add John Mark to the mix, but Paul thought that he, John Mark, was a liability.  Consequently, Paul and Barnabas parted ways.  Eventually, they reconciled.

The point is that, early in Paul’s work as an evangelist, when the way seemed like a dimly lit path, Barnabas was there to help Paul find his way.

So there you have it: Barnabas the Mentor, Silas the brother-in-arms, Timothy the Son in the Faith.  That’s who you should have in your life.  Barnabas the mentor who guides and directs you in your calling, Silas who links up with you, supports you even if he never receives any glory or spotlight, and Timothy who is guided by you.

I think the Silas role is the easiest to fill.  If you’re working hard, you’re going to eventually run across someone who can be a Timothy to you.  The Barnabas role is harder to find I think because so few people are willing to be Barnabas to others.

To that end, I’m calling on every pastor, preacher, evangelist, teacher, etc. (other Christians too… You aren’t exempt from this need.) to find someone you can be Barnabas too.  Someone who is where you were in your past, and help them to get where you are.  In the meantime, find someone to be Barnabas for you.

When you find someone, make mentoring them a priority, and spread the word with the #BarnabasInitiative hashtag on Twitter.  Let people know that this is important.  We have enough bad statistics.  We need successes.  For that we need mentors, friends and sons in the faith.

Join the Barnabas Initiative Today!

Book Review: Tough Guys and Drama Queens by Mark Gregston

Written by, Mark Gregston, the founder and executive director of Heartlight Ministries, and host of Parenting Today’s Teens (subscribe to the podcast), the new book Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not to Get Blindsided by Your Child’s Teen Years, is an insightful glimpse into the unique challenges facing parents, tweens and teens in the 21st Century world.  Gregston has over thirty eight years of experience working with teens, and, as such, has a vast repository of touching stories of real-world encounters as well as first-hand knowledge of workable techniques which parents can use to bridge the divide caused by overexposure (chapter 1) lack of connection (ch. 2) lack of respect (ch. 4) loss of gender difference (ch. 5) and the general uncertainty encountered in today’s world.

My Response

The book is written in three sections.  This works organizationally but you have to wade through some dark stuff in sections 1 and 2.  Part one is laden with stories of all that children have to face in today’s world and the litany of things that so easily beset them.  I can’t lie: it’s depressing.  Some of the stories he tells about children, especially young teens, that have gone through Heartlight Ministries, broke my heart.  As a father to two dynamic tweens myself, I couldn’t help but see my little ones in the place of these poor girls.

Part two is devoted to “Parenting Practices to Avoid.”  Honestly, I thought that most of these should be self-evident, but, again, I have to defer to Gregston’s experience on this one.  He has obviously seen them in action enough times to consider them bookworthy.

Part three of the book lists practices that Gregston finds successful.  As with part two, these seemed obvious.  But, at least, this section wasn’t as depressing as the first two.

Now, it may seem like I din’t enjoy this book, but that isn’t the case.  I found it an easy and quick read, and none of the stories seemed overblown or burdened with an overabundance of dramatic license.  The hardest part of the book was understanding the frustration that parents of teens might encounter wishing they had read it while their children were still tweens.  My advice: Get the book anyway!  It’s never too late to start.  Any divide can be bridged and any wound can be healed.  I’m stil naive enough to believe that. I think Gregston is too.

My Rating

Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not to Get Blindsided by Your Child’s Teen Years
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (July 10, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0849947294 ISBN-13: 978-0849947292
Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches

Buy the Print Version or the Kindle Version

Hurricane Sandy

Short and sweet today…

Whenever something like the devastation of a Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, or Isaac occur, when Tsunami’s crash over people’s lives, when earthquakes cause communities to crumble, when fires ravage mile after mile of forest and neighborhoods, when droughts shrivel up the food supply of a nation… Somebody always asks me “why?”

“Why would a loving God allow something like that to happen?”

I want to be really clear here.  God did nto cause Hurricane Sandy or Katrina or Isaac, etc… These things happen because our world is broken.  It has been broken by sin.  Period.

I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. In fact, all creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who his children are. Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth. Romans 8:18-22

There it is.  The world that God created has been broken by sin.  Just like us.  Sin has broken us.  And we all eagerly await redemption.  That time when God will create a New Heaven and a New Earth, and all of this will pass away.

In Revelation, Jesus said “Behold! I make all things new.”  When you look at that sentence in the Greek, Jesus says something very interesting.  The way the sentence is worded gives the sense that there will come a time when every second of eternity is a second where Jesus makes EVERYTHING NEW! Every experience we might have, will feel like the first moment.  Every time we see the face of someone we love it will be like the first meeting after a long period of absence, even if we just saw them.  Every second Jesus will be making a new heart within us.

So when you hear people say that God sent Hurricane Sandy as retribution on the United States for the government allowing abortion and gay marriage and for our less than stellar relations with Israel, or that God sent a hurricane to ravage Haiti because the people there once sold the island to the devil, or that the Tsunami hit Asia because of this or that or whatever… Don’t believe it.  They can’t back that up with Scripture.

But don’t believe that this stuff just happens either. Our planet, our entire universe, ALL of creation is hurting and crying out for redemption.

The good news is that redemption is available.  The Bible says that we’re going to see a New Earth.  But that redemption is available for us right now!

I don’t often right “salvation” posts, but, just by chance, if you come across this and haven’t accepted that free gift of salvation… Don’t wait! Find somebody, a pastor somebody and talk with them about what it means.  Let Jesus start the recreation process in you today!

The Problem with Pastors

We have a problem with pastors. We have a problem with all teaching leaders. The problem is this: We always expect them to be around. We always expect them to teach and to lead. Sunday services are a time to be ministered to (among other things).

That’s their job, right? That’s their calling. How is expecting them to be who they are called to be a problem?

I’ve often heard church services described as that time of the week when the faithful can come in, wash off the dirt from their week in the world and be refreshed, recharged and renewed. It’s an oversimplification, maybe, but I don’t think it’s an unfit description. I know that there have been times in my life when when I was at the lowest of lows and a single service brought me out of that.

Now, have you ever wondered what your pastors, youth and children’s workers do when they’re in the “lowest of lows”?

All day Sunday is work time for them. Mid-week services too. The rest of the week is filled with office hours, pastoral care, hospital and shut-in visitations, counseling, staff meetings and planning. Somewhere you have to cram in time for Bible study, research, sermon preparation and prayer. Of course you want to make time for non-sermon focused personal devotions.

Hopefully there’s time to spend with the family.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint. I think I can speak for other pastors, preachers and evangelists when I say, the work is fulfilling, rewarding, and a wonder to experience. But here are some numbers I want all of us to consider:

  • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
  • 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
  • 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear,and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.

Go back and read those statistics again. Slowly. Let some of them really sink in. Read each percentage like this, “There a 70% chance my pastor doesn’t have any close friends. “50% of the time, my pastor feels unable to meet the needs of his job.” Now read this…

1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.

October was Pastor Appreciation month. But the Church is losing 1,500 pastors every month. So I’m encouraging ever member of every local church to spend time not just in prayer for your pastor, and your leadership team, but taking some time to send an encouraging email, card or letter. When you see members of your pastoral team at church or around town, take some time to love on them a little bit. Most importantly, remember that the only difference between you and your pastor is that your pastor has been called to lead a particular local body. Your pastor is still human, still flawed, still susceptible to every failing that you are.

Secondly, I want to encourage other pastors. First, thank you for your work in and for the church.

Now I have to rebuke you (and myself).

Unless you’re a weird one, you don’t go around with red and blue tights with a giant “S” on the chest underneath your clothes. Even if you do go in for weird costuming, you’re still not Superman. No, you don’t have a weekly opportunity to “wash off the dirt from [your] week in the world and be refreshed, recharged and renewed.” But you can.

I take time every week to meet, either in person or via FaceTime/Skype with other pastors that I went to school or seminary with. Yes, we sometimes fall into the trap of talking about “church stuff”, but, usually we self-correct pretty quickly and spend that time encouraging each other, confiding in each other and being iron for each other.

Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other. – Proverbs 27:17

You can do that to. Technology has made it remarkably easy to have face-to-face interaction with people you trust. Pastors, Church Leaders… we all want to be Paul, but every Paul needs a Silas.

How can you encourage your pastor? If you are a church leader who is encouraging you?

Raise Your Vote (or “The Lesson of Two Evils”)

In case you didn’t know Mitt Romney was a Mormon… um… Mitt Romney is a Mormon.  A lot of my friends think that’s kind of a big (bad) deal.  People have asked me what I think.  I tell them I love it when Mormons come knocking on my front door.  We have some great conversations, I give them whatever refreshments they feel comfortable accepting, and we discuss Jesus.


“No,” my friends say.  “What do you think about Mitt Romney being a mormon?”  See, what they’re really asking is do I plan to vote for someone who (if he believes what the LDS church teaches) thinks that Satan is Jesus’ half-brother.  Can I, in good conscience vote for a man who thinks that one day he could have his own planet and be “God” for that planet?

Or they ask me, “How could you or any Christian vote for a man that would allow abortion and same-sex marriages?” (or whatever the hot topic is for them)

And yet more of my friends ask, “You still believe in God and Jesus and all that stuff.” (Some of my friends have selective memory loss about me.)

When The Bible Disappoints (Part 2)

So, the last post was kind of a downer, huh?  Yeah, but it’s in the Bible, and that’s hard.  Sometimes the Bible says very hard things.  Sometimes we open the pages of the Bible for comfort, and find words that confront us, challenge us and take the wind right out of us.

Before I proceed, let’s recap the salient points of the last post:

  • Anything, good or bad, can happen to any of us
  • It’s terribly unfair that good and bad things happen to both good and bad people
  • No matter how unfair it is, there is every chance in any situation that you will come out the loser

So, that’s the gist of Ecclesiastes 9.  How do we, as people on this side of the victory of Christ process that?

Honestly, it’s very simple.  Read Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

It’s hard, I think, for us to not see what’s going on immediately around us and, instead, see the bigger picture.  But that is exactly what this verse says.  You may be going through a hard time right now.  You may be going through a time that makes a “hard time” look like a walk through Disney World.  But this time that you are enduring, this time that Solomon would call “terribly unfair” is still a time that God is using to work all things together for good.  For YOUR good.  For HIS good.  For the good of the KINGDOM.

And read this clearly, you may NEVER KNOW why, this side of Heaven.  You may, one day, have a complete turnaround and all of a sudden, you are traveling from mountaintop to mountaintop.  You will think back on this time and wonder, “I sure wish I knew why all of that happened.”  And you’ll never know.  Until Heaven.  That’s when Jesus takes you by the hand and says, “Hey, here’s something you’ll find interesting… Remember those years of poverty and disappointment and near despair?  Here are the people you touched and inspired during that time, because you never lost sight of Me.”

You’ll look across those faces and say, “I’ve never met these people.”

And Jesus will respond, “Yes, you have.  This is the lady whose groceries you carried when it was raining.  This is the man who was begging on the street.  You gave him some food.  This man is the little boy who was at VBS for one summer.  He went on to be an evangelist and led thousands to Me.” And on and on…

My friends, for those who are in Christ and are called according to his purpose, all things – ALL THINGS – work together for good.

When The Bible Disappoints

It’s difficult to admit, but sometimes you open up the pages of the good book and close it feeling worse than you did when you opened it.  It’s not intentional, I’m sure.  The Bible is an honest book.  There is only one perfect person in all of it’s pages (Enoch is a close second, but whatever), and the list of remarkably imperfect, flawed, dysfunctional people is astounding.  Shouldn’t that give me hope?  Shouldn’t it give us all hope?  Yeah, that’s all well and good, but there are some stories and reflections in the text that, honestly, tend to make me feel miserable.

Recently, as my twitter feed will confirm, I heard a sermon on Ecclesiastes 9.  Before I begin, I should warn you that Ecclesiastes is a difficult book for me.  It has my favorite chapter (Ecc. 12) in the entire Bible, and is, at the same time, one of the most depressing things you might ever read.  At any rate, I was feeling pretty low when the sermon started, and I felt no better by sermon’s end.  Let’s look at a couple of things.

Ecc. 9:1b – Anything can happen to any of us, and so we never know if life will be good or bad.

That’s pretty straightforward, right?  And not too terrible.  Basically Solomon says that you never really know for sure what life will bring you.

Ecc. 9:3a – It’s terribly unfair for the same thing to happen to each of us.

Ain’t it the truth?  Solomon talks here about how unfair it is that, ultimately, you live an a life of the unknown and whether you’re a “good” person or “bad” person, you still wind up in the grave.  But then…

Ecc. 9:11 – Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.

TIME AND CHANCE?!?!?!?  Holy Schnikes!  So what Solomon wants me to walk away with is that I might be the fastest, or the strongest, or the wisest, or the most intelligent; I might be the right person for that job, or the person most deserving of that promotion; I might be exactly right in every argument BUT…

There’s every chance I’m going to come out the loser.

And why is that?  Well, according to Solomon, just because.

You see, Solomon in this chapter (and, indeed, in much of Ecclesiastes) was focusing on death.  He says here to us that good things will happen to you and bad things will happen to you, but, whatever… you’re gonna die anyway.

And he’s right.  Sort of…

You see, Solomon didn’t have these words of comfort:

I Corinthians 15:54c-55 – “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

Sometimes, when we read or hear the Bible we lose sight of a greater context.  Why did God allow/inspire Solomon to write these words and then why did He allow them to be included in the canon of Scripture?  I dare not speak for God, but, remembering proper greater context, I am reassured the Solomon easily the wisest (and dumbest) king to ever live felt bad, really bad, from time to time, just like I do.  Yes, it’s true that time and chance happens to everyone.  Yes it’s true that I’m going to be mistreated and overlooked; that the investment of time that I make is going to prove to be a complete waste; that the  person who is least deserving is the one who will be praised etc.  I could go on.

But Solomon’s focus on the grave is important.  We must remember:

  • This world is temporary
  • This world is not our home
  • Our vindication, our redemption, our justification will never be found in anything we achieve (or don’t) here on earth.

Finally, when we take all that into consideration, read these words:

Ecc. 9:7-10a – Be happy and enjoy eating and drinking! God decided long ago that this is what you should do. Dress up, comb your hair, and look your best. Life is short, and you love your wife, so enjoy being with her. This is what you are supposed to do as you struggle through life on this earth. Work hard at whatever you do.

God gives the OK to:

  • Eat, drink and enjoy it!  Be a foodie, there’s nothing wrong with that.
  • Dress nicely, and do whatever you like to fel “pretty.”  There’s nothing wrong with that.
  • Look at your spouse.  God gives you a super clear OK to enjoy all the benefits of being married.
  • Whatever you do for work.  Work hard at it.  That’s a good thing.

Finally, remember that the Bible is chock-full of people just like you and me: messed up, sometimes confused, depressed, frustrated, angry, tired, fed up, bitter, hurt, dejected, and lonely.  But here, on the other side of the empty tomb, we’re able to see things that remind us of the hope.  So, when the Bible disappoints – as it sometimes will – just keep turning the pages. The story is bigger than the moment you’re in.

Update

I’m sometimes terrified that in describing a situation, it might sound like I’m complaining.  Most who know me are aware that I am a kind of “independent contractor”.  I travel for speaking engagements, I work in audio editing (promoting my newest client, Jesse Lahey over at mancaveradio.com), writing (I ghostwrite… Don’t ask, I can’t tell), work in local regional theatre… basically a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  If a job comes up, and I have the skill set for it, then I go for it.  That’s kind of what working for yourself means, right?

Well, the point is, I have been a busy camper the past couple of months.  I finished one large book job, started another, served as musical director for two shows, I teach, and am completing the work for my D. Min. so I can graduate in June.  The constant writing (two books, and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, whew) has kept me more than a little busy.  So, apologies for being MIA.

I want to thank people who have written via email or Twitter to encourage me.  Don’t worry, I’m still putting shoes on my theology, and I’ll keep doing so for as long as you guys keep reading… and probably for a little while after that.

In Heavenly Peace

So, we’re in New York.  Christmas has come and gone.  We had a great couple of days.  Christmas Eve was ridiculous.  You really can’t get a bunch of Puerto Ricans together (my wife’s family) without a lot of food.  My unbelievably talented and gorgeous cousin Esther made me a meal centered around Dominican Salami (YUM!), and my equally talented and gorgeous cousin Christina made me this apple Brown Betty type of dish that was so good… I don’t even have words.

Christmas day was a very cool event.  Very traditional in a lot of ways, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Christmas night we had a large dinner at my in-laws house.  There were so many people there and so much food… Ugh! I get full just thinking about it.  We played games (my wife won a race to tie a tie around my neck with nothing but verbal assistance from me.  Of course she did.  She’s awesome).  We ate.  We Skyped and FaceTimed family far away.  And, of course, there was dancing.  So much dancing.

That brings me to the one stressful factor of going to visit my family at Christmas. In my family, our Christmas mornings and even evenings were quiet affairs.  Each person took a turn opening presents while others expressed appreciation for that.  Soft carols played on the stereo, the lights were relatively low, that kind of thing.  Now, I’m not saying that this is how Christmas is supposed to be.  I’m just saying that, for the better part of three decades, that’s how my Christmases functioned.

Christmas morning at the Salva house is very different from that.  I was a little surprised this year when we woke and went into the large living room.  Carols were playing on the stereo.  I was shocked.  However, once everyone settled in, the salsa music was turned on… loud!  People attacked the presents.  Only a very few special gifts received any kind of special attention. (The look on brother-in-law’s face when he opened up the iPad 2 that he thought was just some DVD’s was PRICELESS and so worth the trip right by itself.)  Then, before you knew it, it was all over.

Then preparations for the evening dinner began.  (SIDENOTE: If you haven’t seen a group of Puerto Ricans prep for a giant meal, then you are missing something!)  Salsa music continued.  That night, during the dancing, I got out my iPhone and opened my metronome app (yeah, I’m a music geek, so what?) and, I swear to you, the slowest song of the night was 160 beats per minute.

I, of course, was stressed at this point.  Heart rate: up.  BP: up.  Enjoying myself, but still.  And I really have no explanation, EXCEPT for the fact that it is SO very differnt from what I grew up with.  This has been the case every Christmas we have spent with them (Four in our ten years of marriage).  And I’ve never tried to defend my reactions.  I know they’re silly.  But this year, something was different.

That night as I lay in bed, I felt a kind of conviction.  I say a “kind of conviction” because it was so soft and gentle.  I felt God saying to me, “James, why are you stressed?  It’s not the music or the lights… it’s Me.”

And then I realized, that my real problem was I looking to find peace in my surroundings when I was supposed to be looking for peace in God.  He is my peace, my shalom, my Sabbath rest.

Are you tired?  Stressed?  Worn out?  Take it from someone who finally gets it. Don’t go looking for the right mattress, or the proper scrip, or the newest relaxation techniques.  Turn your eyes to God and say “You are my hiding place! You protect me from trouble, and you put songs in my heart because you have saved me.”  Then sleep in Heavenly peace.

Merry Christmas!

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

So my daughters have been asking for MONTHS if we can go visit the family in New York for Christmas.  For a long time, I didn’t think we would be able to go.  We prayed and asked God to provide a way, but I just didn’t see how it would be possible from a financial perspective.  Well a few weeks ago, I got a surprise contract that provided enough for us to go.  Still, I was concerned.  Should we spend a large portion of this on a trip and then find ourselves, financially in the same place when we returned?

Then one night my oldest daughter asked me again, “Daddy, can we go to New York for Christmas?”  I said, “Baby, the answer hasn’t changed.”

“What was the answer?”, she asked innocently.

“I said, baby, that we have to have enough money to be able to go and I don’t know if we have enough” [to spare, was the unspoken addendum].

She looked at me and said, “Daddy, you can have the twelve dollars I was saving, and you don’t have to get me anything for Christmas if it will help us get the money, because family is more important than presents.”

I was struck down by the simple honesty of her statement.  She believed – she had faith – that, if she made that sacrifice, it would help.  I knew at that moment, every financial concern aside, we would be going to New York for Christmas.  I knew it, because I had to reward that level of sacrifice.  It’s the same way with God.  He rewards according to our sacrifices and our faith, not our merit.

Give Thanks

Thanksgiving Day is coming up. Hence, the obligatory post on giving thanks.

The truth is, I have, for the past several years, become increasingly ambivalent about Thanksgiving. Last year, my in-laws were in town visiting, and my father-in-law made our turkey. It was ridiculously delicious. He marinated the thing for two or three days (in a combination of spices that is, most unfairly, a secret), and, when we removed it from the oven, it was so tender we almost couldn’t transfer it from the pan to the serving plate. I had a flashback to a BBQ my fraternity in college had. The Pitmaster demonstrated his BBQ prowess by showing us that his chickens were so perfectly smoked that the leg bones could be cleanly removed. I tried it with the turkey. It worked.

But that’snot really the point. I’m just making you jealous of my thanksgiving day spread’s awesomeness. The point is my ambivalence. I don’t have a problem with Thanksgiving. I don’t have a problem with the food. I don’t have problem with the gathering together around a table. I don’t have a problem with any of the “trappings” of Thanksgiving. What I have a problem with is my personal tendency to be “more thankful” on the last Thursday in November and my tendency to make giving thanks more important on that day than on other days.

If I have the right attitude and mindset, then every day is Thanksgiving. I am supposed to Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

So, as I sit down this Thursday and help my daughters create special placemats for the Thanksgiving Day table, and then as we sit to eat from the abundance the Lord has provided, I pray that I will remember that whatever “special” feeling I have, should be a part of my every day life. Lord, help me in all ways, at all times and in all circumstances to be truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Mmmm… Narcotics (or “I Smell… Yellow”)

Do I have your attention yet?  Because this post is actually NOT about narcotics… exactly.  Let me bring you up to speed.  The other day (Tuesday, Oct. 11), I went to the ER.  See, I had been having chest pains for about a week and I was getting kind of fed up with it.  I initially sent out a message via Twitter saying I was having some chest pain issues. Next day, it felt like I had just stretched some muscles out a little too much, so I wasn’t too worried. But, since then, it had grown increasingly more painful. Monday night, I was in a semi-significant amount of pain, and Tuesday I almost passed out because I would take a breath and pain shot through my chest like lightning.

I drove myself to the doctor.  Chest pain, right?  The doctor asked me some initial questions at reception and said it was probably musculo-skeletal, so please just have a seat and wait.  When I was finally brought back, the lady who took my BP absolutely FREAKED ME OUT.  She was nice and everything… don’t get me wrong.  But when the initial BP reading beeped, I saw her eyes get kind of… big.  She says to me, “let me check this again.” She takes out the old school BP and takes it TWO MORE TIMES with her eyes getting progressively rounder each time (think small coffe cup saucers. Something was freaking this girl out.)

“What’s wrong?”, I asked.  She said, “it’s just really high.”  It was 186/120. Ambulance was called. Hospital was visited. EKG’s, blood and other test performed.

My nurse, who was WONDERFUL, came in and administered a POWERFUL narcotic to help me with the pain.  Slightly strange and loopy things were spoken (At one point I’m told I said, “I smell something. It smells like… yellow.”). My wife was an amazing, calm and prayerful presence until Tia and Tamara came on the television. 🙂 Figures…

Eventually, all the bad things were ruled out. No heart issues. No clots… It just seems that, at some point, I somehow tore muscles in my left upper rib area. The high BP was caused by my body dealing with the pain.  So, while I won’t die from this, it just feels like I’m going to.

What’s my point?

I found out something that day.  Narcotics don’t do anything for you really.  The pain in my chest never actually stopped.  (I found this out as the narcotic started to wear off) The narcotic they gave me, just stopped my receptors from sending the signal to my brain.  And that concludes today’s medical blog post.  Wait… I don’t do that here.  I had a different point, didn’t I? Oh, yeah…

One of the things I do with some frequency is play drums.  When I asked the doctor if this was going to affect my playing he told me that I would have to lay out for about six weeks due to the range of motion issues.  If I kept it up, my body wouldn’t heal and I would just be back at the hospital in worse condition.  The problem, of course, was that I HAD to play the very next night.  But I told the doctor not to worry… I was playing at a Presbyterian Church which was almost like not playing drums at all. (That was a joke.  I actually love playing at this church.  I play with them several times a year.  The spirit of the joke, however, is true.)

So, I get to the church and as we’re playing I start a drum fill and I twist funny and the pain shoots all through my chest and down my left arm… IT WAS AWFUL.  I never missed a beat, but I sure wanted to.  We started playing a song called “Ancient of Days” (it’s already considered an oldie), and there’s a part where the audience, back when it was a fresh and new song, would clap together.  Over the years, it has become kind of standard for the drums to play the clapped part.  So I did.  But then…

I looked out over the sea of, mostly, passive faces, and there was one person who was really throwing herself into worship.  And then, I saw another who was doing the clap on the pew in front of him.  I have to tell you… My pain went away.  Now, I felt my pain still, but suddenly it wasn’t bothering me anymore.  It was like God was using these two tiny instances as a kind of “spiritual narcotic” for me. It didn’t do away with the pain, but it helped me to not feel it, at least in the same way or intensity.

Later it hit me… How many times does God use us to do little things that we consider not a very big deal, but that do tremendous work in someone else’s life?  Those two people will never know this side of Heaven the effect they had on me that night.  I say that to my shame.  I should have sought them out afterwards and at least said thank you… or something.

We shouldn’t dismiss the tiny things that we do or that are done for us.  Jesus said, that to give someone a cup of water in His name, was the same thing as giving Him, Jesus, a cup of water. (Matthew 25:35).  I drink (sometimes) 8-10 glasses of some kind of water based beverage everyday.  I usually eat at least two hot meals, and thanks to my wife’s cold naturedness I sleep under one sheet, a blanket and a GIANT comforter.  These things are NOTHING to me anymore.  I sometimes forget to appreciate them because I’m used to them.  Now we could certainly make a big deal of giving the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords an giant offering and we would probably be inclined to look down on our own offering if all we had to give was a cup of water, but what if the recipient is just a person in a hospital bed sick from cancer… or a person on the street who is living with meth addiction… or a person who hasn’t eaten in three days.  How HUGE would a cup of water be to them, much less a hot meal or a blanket?

Don’t discount the huge work that God is doing in you and through you.  It’s the little things.

Progressive (or Whatever) Christianity

This morning, a friend of mine posted a link to an article. I hesitate to call it interesting (it was) or well-written (it was, sort of). For me it was saddening. I urge you to go read the article before continuing here.  Just click here and it will open in a new window. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

You’re back! Awesome! Now let’s continue.

The basic premise of this article is that “Progressive Christianity” is sure to become mainstream Christianity in the near future because people are much more enlightened now than they were in the old days.  The problem with this assertion is that the writer demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what theology is and what it is not.  The author treats theology as a personal view of God that is malleable and wholly dependent on what a person chooses as right and wrong, good and bad, holy and unholy, etc.  In this view, God is what we make God and not what God is without regard to our opinions and/or preferences.

Theology proper, is the study of religious faith, practices, and experiences, yes, but it is primarily the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.  Which is to say, theology is the study of who God is and not who we want him to be. This is the problem with Progressive Theology (as well as Green Theology, Liberation Theology, et al.).  It approaches the understanding and study of God (and Scripture) with an agenda, as oppossed to just trying to understand who God is – or what Scripture says about a particular topic – without regard to a particular previously held worldview or preconceived notions.

It doesn’t matter if I know Jews or not (I do), or if I am friends with homosexuals or not (I am. It’s impossible to not be friends with homosexuals when you spend your life working in theatre.), or if I am “related to, [share] a neighborhood with, [work] with, or [go] to school with someone who is gay, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Mormon, Unitarian Universalism, Wiccan, Native American, Shinto, Baha’i, Rastafarian, Cao Dai, Tenrikyo, agnostic, atheist, or any combination thereof” (with the exception of Cao Dai and Tenrikyo – as far as I know – I have every one of those covered), the truth is the truth.  I can’t reshape it to make myself more comfortable.  I am called, as each of us are, to search dilligently for the truth no matter what it is or how we feel about it.

All of that is to say, if the truth says things that make us uncomfortable about the state our “gay, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Mormon, Unitarian Universalism, Wiccan, Native American, Shinto, Baha’i, Rastafarian, Cao Dai, Tenrikyo, agnostic, atheist, or any combination thereof” acquaintances, friends, family (or any combination thereof) are in, then it is our obligation to share the truth with them in love, not to make futile attempts to change the truth so that we, and they, feel more comfortable.

We are unwise to undertake the study of God and/or Scripture with an “Humpty Dumpty” approach.

Alice approaches the wall where Humpty Dumpty rests. They engage in a long conversation riddled with mis-communication before we are made to understand why the conversation is so confusing for us (and for Alice) when Humpty Dumpty says:

“There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

And that, truly is the heart of the matter; which (or Who) is master? Your preferences, your worldview, your desires, what you (or I) would like to be true… or what is, in fact true and Who is, in fact, master.

Alzheimer’s, Divorce, and Morality

Yesterday, I saw on Matthew Paul Turner’s blog a post that shook me. It was called, “Pat Robertson: Divorce Your Wife With Alzheimer’s.” As a disclaimer for some people who read this blog, I have to say that MPT and I disagree on many points. Many. MANY.  Now… that issue is out of the way.

This video has received a lot of attention in the past couple of days.  Russell Moore at the Baptist Press had some interesting things to say.  Ken Davis wrote a very personal response on his blog.  The Huffington Post, Newser, The Christian Post, ABC News paraphrased Roberson’s remarks as “Alzheimer’s Makes Divorce OK”, and even the New York Times got in on the action.  All in all, it hasn’t been a banner week for Pat Robertson or the 700 Club.

Now before we get started (and in case you don’t feel like navigating all those links) here’s the actual video:

The 700 Club has addressed the statement and some of the comments that followed.  On the outset, let me say that I didn’t hear Pat Robertson say quite what it seems everyone else seems to think he said.  The general consensus seems to be that Robertson is condoning divorce in the face of Alzheimer’s as long as the person pursuing divorce takes care to see to it that the spouse suffering from Alzheimer’s is cared for. What I heard Pat Robertson say was, if you’re going to cheat on your spouse then it’s best to get a divorce.  The problem, of course, if that this particular situation is all wrapped up in the horror of Alzheimer’s.

The problem I have, however, is not that Robertson did or did not condone the man’s actions or the possibility of pursuing divorce. The real issue, for me, is that, as a man of influence and position, Robertson didn’t say to the man “you’re wrong in what you’re doing. Marriage is a commitment forever. You made a vow to your wife to be with her in sickness and in health, and whatever your attitude toward God is, you are absolutely NOT justified in cheating on your wife, much less in getting a divorce form her in this situation.” Gone is the voice of correction from pastors, and that is, in my opinion, a failing on the part of the Church.

I have a friend whose wife suffered from an Alzheimer’s-like disease. Everything I know about that situation says that her final years were terrible. Sadly this was a case of early-onset, and the two of them were, relatively, young. A few months after the wife died, my friend got married. Did he engage in an affair? Honestly, I don’t know. At the very least, it was probably an emotional affair. But he stayed with his wife until the end. That’s the kind of self-sacrificial love that we are called to have for our spouses.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  –  Ephesians 5:25

I Swear On A Stack Of Bibles!

Earlier this week, a friend at church asked me which translation of the Bible I preferred. When I teach, I don’t usually cite the translation I am quoting from and he couldn’t figure out why sometimes the verse I gave matched what he was reading and, at other times, didn’t.

The question of translations is a tricky one in many churches. I have colleagues who have told me stories of prior to preaching in a church that they could only use “___” translation. Many times that version is the KJV (or the NKJV), but, just as often, I’ve heard them being given a list of translations that they could NOT use (the implication, of course, being that this list of Bibles is OK, but these Bibles are not.) Time and space don’t allow for a full discussion of the merits or demerits of various translations or the process whereby they were accomplished, and, ultimately that isn’t the point of this post. Let me, first address my friend’s question.

I don’t use a particular translation. I use several. When doing sermon preparation and general Bible study, I use a computer program called E-Sword. I can, through this program access multiple translations at once in parallel view and compare these translations verse by verse. From this study I can use the software’s multiple add-ons to view commentaries, word studies and topical studies connected to whichever verse(s) I am viewing.  I then select the translation that I think best conveys the point I am trying to make in a particular teaching.  For example, let’s say I am referencing Romans 3:4:

4  God forbid:G1096 G3361 yea, let GodG2316 beG1096 true,G227 butG1161 everyG3956 manG444 a liar;G5583 asG2531 it is written,G1125 ThatG3704 thou mightest be justifiedG1344 G302 inG1722 thyG4675 sayings,G3056 andG2532 mightest overcomeG3528 when thouG4571 art judged.G2919

See all those G###’s?  That’s the KJV+ translation in E-Sword.  Those numbers link to a Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary.  But in the next column:

4  Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

This is the NIV column.  The translation is, of course, a little different.  My next column is worded:

4  No, indeed! God tells the truth, even if everyone else is a liar. The Scriptures say about God, “Your words will be proven true, and in court you will win your case.”

This is the CEV. This translation makes it a little clearer that the last phrases in the verse are specifically about God and not (necessarily) intended to be applied to believers in general.  And in my last column:

4  Not on your life! Depend on it: God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth. Scripture says the same: Your words stand fast and true; Rejection doesn’t faze you.

This is The Message translation. When teaching this passage, I might use this translation of this verse specifically because of the phrase “Rejection doesn’t faze you.” Maybe in the class or church I am teaching, this verse feels like it will best resonate with the listeners. And that leads me to the real point.

The “word” is often referred to in one of three ways: the grapho, the logos or the rhema. The Bible is the Word of God, but it is the grapho or “written” word. This doesn’t mean it isn’t important or is somehow less significant than anything else. The most famous use, of course, of logos is in the Gospel of John. Here Jesus is referred to as “The Word”.  For me, this is, in many ways, a comforting thought. That is, to get “in the word” I have to get “in Jesus.” I like that. It makes sense to me, and, ultimately, places prominence where prominence is due.

Finally, there is the rhema; the LIVING WORD. This is when the word is made real to the reader (or listener) in a way that it wasn’t before. This happens when the promise Jesus made that the “Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth” occurs for the believer. And this is why I am comfortable using multiple translations. In prayer, I approach study of the Bible and beg God to grant me favor and make the grapho given through the ministry of the logos become rhema to me in my mind, in my heart and in my life. The way I look at it, every time I read a different translation, I am engaging with another believer (or set of believers) in a conversation about how they interpret Scripture. So, bring on the Bibles! After all… God is true even if EVERY MAN WOMAN AND CHILD is a liar! I don’t have to worry.

(For the record, the Bible I use for personal devotion/reading is the CEV.  I just like it. There is no deep reason. I also like The Message – though the Psalms in that translation are abysmal. I’m also a fan of the NASB. I also really enjoy the Amplified Bible, and the ESV, the BBE, the NKJV, KJV, and….)

Down… But Not Defeated

I’m really frustrated right now. I promised myself that I wouldn’t use this blog as a place to vent or post my “whatever” stuff (you can read those posts at my BLAHG!) and I’m going to do all I can to make sure that this isn’t a “venting” post. What? I’m two sentences in and already rambling? Let me explain.

I am a Christian (if I really have to explain that, then you forgot what blog this is). For me, that’s really the end of it. When people ask, “what are you?”, I get that they are really asking “what denomination are you?”, and I’m fine with that. I simply answer that I am a Christian. I’m not a Baptist, though there are aspects of my worldview that are reflective of that denomination’s teachings and policies. I’m not a Pentecostal, though… yeah, what I said in the last sentence. I’m not a Methodist, but John Wesley is probably my favorite preacher of all time.  I’m just a Christian. HOWEVER…

I once followed a girl to Lee University, THE Church of God university. Recently, I had a phone interview with a local Baptist church, and I was told that “[the search committee] probably won’t want you because you went to Lee University.” (Not even kidding about the quote.  The guy actually said that.) I wish it stopped there.

I once worked as an Associate Pastor at a rather large SBC church. I was ordained there. Yes, ordained into the SBC. There’s a catch. This SBC church believes in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the continuing gifts of the Spirit. This makes the pastor and the church, 1) anomalies in the denomination, and 2) shunned by many (most???) therein. What’s the point?

When I send resumes out to SBC churches (in the past six months, over 50) it is not unusual for me to hear nothing back from them, and, in the past week alone, it has been confirmed to me by almost a dozen different sources in different parts of the country, that it is a combination of my education at Lee University along with my connection to the aforementioned SBC church (yes, it goes nameless for a reason), that has hindered my progress in “vocational ministry.” Apparently, the assumption is made that I am just a crazy, tongue-talking, oil-pouring, hands-laying-on, (snake-handling?) charismatic who has no real connection with the SBC at all.

But, do you want to know what’s funny? I don’t even have a prayer language. Yes, I have spoken in tongues before (it’s happened twice in my life, and I believe that on both occasions it happened as a sign for me to confirm the veracity and correctness of particular things that were happening in my life at the time), but I don’t have what is commonly referred to as a “prayer language.” I do believe that the gifts are in existence, but I don’t think they started up again in the late 19th/early 20th century. I believe they never ceased. But that’s not even a focus of my teaching ministry. I have rarely taught on tongues or the gifts.

I share all of this, because these experiences have helped to put a fine point on my ministry. Over the past couple of years the focus of my teaching has really come to be about two things: 1) Restoration, and 2) Transparency. Let’s talk about transparency first.

We are, each one of us, called to do and be certain things. As each of us are unique, and have individual callings, it follows that our callings are as individual as we each are. You can’t do the things I can do, and vice versa. As this is the case, then the sad attempts at emulation and mimicry of the lives and ministries of other Christians must cease, and our masks must come off! Very often I have heard from both Christians and non-Christians alike that they wish preachers would be more real with them. “It seems like their life is so perfect and mine is so completely messed up!” (Again, actual quote.) As anyone in ministry knows, our lives are not perfect by a LONGSHOT! TAKE THE MASKS OFF!!!

The idea of restoration is simple (in theory). We have to stop clinging to the unbiblical idea of denominations and embrace the truth that, as Christians, we are one Church, one People and one Body. We might believe different things in terms of our broader theologies, and that’s OK. What unites us is the belief that we are saved by the atoning work of Jesus. He alone is our Savior. We are not saved by the things we do, or the doctrines we do or do not embrace. Do I think a Christian who believes that speaking in tongues and the other gifts of the Spirit are still active is, in fact, not saved? Absolutely not! Do I think a Christian who believes that speaking in tongues and the other gifts of the Spirit ceased with the death of the Apostle John is, in fact, not saved? Absolutely not! These things do not determine our salvation. Only our acceptance of God’s free gift through Christ and our submitting to the Lordship of Jesus affects that issue. Everything beyond that is interpretation and fodder for discussion. (I just offended most of the Body of Christ just now…)

I’m going to leave the rest of that alone, for now, and direct you to this site: Between Love and Doctrine. This is the kickstarter site for my friend Michael Raburn. He has a bead on what I’m talking about better than anyone I’ve ever heard.

Also, I want to be clear that I have no ill will whatsoever toward the SBC, any SBC church or churches of any other denomination. If that’s what you got from this article, please read it again.

So, in closing, yes I’m frustrated.  But my success (or yours, for that matter)  in vocational ministry or any other endeavor has nothing to do with denominations or people who stereotype or pigeonhole me (or you).  Because “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) So, whatever is going on, you can be sure that God is not done with me (or you) yet.

Righteous Anger: My Thought’s On A Friend’s Suicide

As I sat down tonight to write an update post about what a crazy month July has been and how it has kept me from updating as much as I would like, I received a phone call that changed ALL of my plans.

I won’t go into any kind of sordid detail here (it taints the picture, distracts from the point and invades the privacy of my friend’s family) so don’t read further down for it because you won’t find it.  Tonight, I received news that a friend of mine who had only very recently accepted Christ was found dead today.  The coroner’s report will read suicide; it will be incorrect.

I have long struggled with the issue of suicide.  When I was a teen I contemplated it while sitting in the dark listening to sad songs (who didn’t, right?).  But it was always the issue itself from a Christian perspective that has befuddled me.  I didn’t know what to do with it.  I didn’t know how to answer when people asked.

There are those in Christendom who say that suicide is a mortal sin and, therefore, unpardonable.  There are those who say that anyone who could be so foolish as to take their own life are obviously mocking God.  Some question when professing Christians, like my friend, perform such a heinous act if they could even be Christians at all because “the soul who has known the forgiving grace, unmerited favor and limitless love of God would never end his own life, and one who did must, by all rights, not be a Christian in the first place.” (Yes, that’s a legitimate quote, but I won’t cite it just in case the preacher who said it has come to his senses and doesn’t want to be embarrassed by something he said in a moment of obvious and glaring stupidity.)

I confess that, for a very long time, I had no answers to give… but now I do.  And, like so many revelations I have received while not knowing that I was looking for one, this one came from a combination of Bible Study induced questioning and a great movie.  I was studying John’s gospel several years ago when I read:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. – John 10:27-30

My initial pondering was one of how this impacted the “eternal security” debate.  Then my wife and I decided to see the movie Luther.  In this film there is a series of scenes wherein Luther interacts with a young man who is obviously depressed, but, for reasons we are not told, will not respond to Luther’s outreach.  One day the young man (a boy, really) is found hanging in the scaffolds near the church.  Luther has him brought down and insists the boy be buried in the church’s cemetery.  (This scene is fictional, but it conveys much of what happened in Luther’s understanding of God’s grace.)  When confronted by the parishioners that the boy had committed a mortal sin and , therefore could not be buried in holy ground, Luther responded this way:

Some people say that according to God’s justice, this boy is damned because he took his life.  I say it was overcome by the devil.  Is this child any more to blame for the despair that overtook him than an innocent man who is murdered by a robber in the woods?

When these two ideas conjoined in my head, I knew I had an answer to the question of suicide.  Plainly, suicide is no indicator of faith or salvation, much less the lack thereof.

And that is why the coroner’s report will be wrong.  Because, you see, my friend is as much the victim of murder as any who meets their death at the hands of an enemy.  Be sure, my friend was murdered.  And it is the intent of his truest enemy to see as many of us dead as possible.  We’re told over and over in the Bible, both implicitly and explicitly that Satan wants us dead.  It is his primary motivation.  Today, my friend’s family suffers for it, and we are all diminished.

But more than anything, we should be filled with a righteous anger, because, while this murder hits close to home for me, how many deaths have gone unnoticed by me, or by the members of my church, or by the Church at large?  No, let us be furious, not at those who take their lives by their own hand but at the hand of the one who drives them to that act of desperation in the first place!

In closing, to all who might disagree with me on this issue, I say this: You have every right to be wrong.  (That’s a joke, I love you Dr. Horton.)  In truth, I say this, seek God in prayer and see what He would tell you.  And, finally, consider these thoughts from the great C.H. Spurgeon, in his sermon “The Security of Believers; Or, Sheep Who Shall Never Perish”:

Some one wickedly said, “They may get out of his hand themselves.”  But how can this be true, when the first sentence is, “They shall never perish”?  Treat Scripture honestly and candidly, and you will admit that the promise “they shall never perish” shuts out the idea of perishing by going out of the Lord’s hand by their own act and deed.  “They shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.”  Who is to loosen the clasp of that hand which was pierced with the nail for me?  My Lord Jesus bought me too dearly ever to let me go.  He loves me so well that his whole omnipotence will work with that hand, and unless there is something greater than Godhead, I cannot be plucked away from that dear, fastholding grip.

Go with God, D.W.  To be absent from the body is, after all, to be present with the Lord.

Caring For Those In (Medical) Need

“Earlier this month,” says Zachary Roth in a report filed with Yahoo News, “a 59-year-old convenience store clerk, walked into a Gaston, N.C., bank and handed the cashier a note demanding $1 and medical attention. Then he waited calmly for police to show up.”

I came across this  news item in the modern repository of news highlights, the FaceBook News Feed.  (Because, seriously, what would we do in this day and age with Facebook and RSS feeds?)  A friend of mine posted the link and responded to the article by saying this:

[O]ur system is screwed up, because if you were a single lady having babies by different men you could get medicaid, food stamps, welfare checks. when what really needs to happen is they need to be made to find a job and tie them tubes. then when people like this man needs help there will some funds to help. EMERGENCY ROOM BILLS WILL RUIN YOUR CREDIT IF YOU CANT AFFORD TO PAY THEM.

The problem with that statement (as logical as it sounds) is this: It is one tiny step away from federal regulation of reproduction.  Read the history and see what people like Margaret Sanger thought about that (Planned Parenthood, Eugenics).  As I often quote, “America isn’t easy.  America is ADVANCED CITIZENSHIP.  You’ve got to want it BAD!”  We can’t allow for federal (or even state or local) regulation of personal liberties like this, because if the governments of this world have taught us nothing else, they have taught us that if the citizenry will give an inch, then the government will take the nation.  It may be (it is) ridiculous that a person in prison receives better health care than the average homeless citizen, but it is a mark of virtue in our society that we treat our prisoners as people.  It is sad that many in this nation have no health care, but that is a SYMPTOM issue and not one of causality.

Finally, yes, it is a bit of a travesty that a woman can do what my friend described said, and it is sad that people without health care feel forced into this position.  But rather than expecting the government to step in and do something, the better question for a Christian to ask is this: what is the Church doing to reach her so that she will stop relying on a system that, essentially, makes her a slave?  I liken it to the abortion issue.  I don’t understand why churches will stand in protest lines around an abortion clinic waving signs that say true things, but also, many times, very hurtful and accusatory things while AT THE SAME TIME providing no alternative for those walking into the clinics.

Stand up!  Be irate!  But “be angry and sin not.”  Look around and see those in your community that are caught up in the lies that have been told to them and show them the light of God’s truth.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16
Or as the old Sunday School song put it…
This little light of mine?  I’m gonna let it shine!
Because, ultimately, if you’re in a deep, dark cavern, who cares if you say you have a light, if you refuse to use it to show the way out?

“Abba” Means Daddy (Not Father)

A very important day is coming up this Sunday. As a pastor, I have an obligation to talk about it. 🙂 Sunday is Father’s Day. It has a very interesting history, if you haven’t read it. This is the day we set aside to celebrate, in a special way, the importance of Fathers in our lives. I’ll get to the “devotional” aspect of this post in a moment, but, to set the stage, let me tell you a little bit about my dad.

I won’t go into where or when he was born (although I’ve been to a tiny cabin he shared in South Carolina with my Grandfather, Grandmother, and five other siblings) or what he did for a living… this isn’t a post about what a great guy he was or is. It’s about the relationship that he and I shared while I was growing up, and what’s happened to it since.

My mom and dad divorced when I was about seven. I didn’t see my dad a lot, because he worked himself near to death in an effort to provide (and, yes, this is a quote) “everything you and your mother might have ever had if we had never gotten a divorce.” I talked to my dad a lot… every day, really. There was a hardly a night that I didn’t get a phone call before bed. He was there on every birthday, every Christmas, Easter, official and unofficial holiday, every school and extra-curricular event. Still, I felt distant from him. I was never able to feel close to him.

There were a lot of reasons for that distance, but there’s only one that’s important: I believe with all of my heart that the reason I felt distant from my father is found in a prophecy in the book of Malachi.

See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse. – Malachi 4:5-6

I have often wondered what this prophecy meant. I know, of course, that it is a prophecy of John the Baptist and his ministry, but there is something underneath the surface in this prophecy. If the prophet Elijah will have, as part of his ministry, the job of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, then it stands to reason that their hearts have been, for some reason, turned away from each other.

Some people call this the “generation gap” and it’s dismissed as something that just happens and is supposed to be completely normal. But God doesn’t see it that way. More importantly, God knows the important role that fathers have in the lives of their children. This is especially evident when God talks about Himself as “Father.”

I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son ; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’ – Psalms 2:7-8

Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds — his name is the LORD– and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. – Psalms 68:4-5

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. – Psalms 103:13

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. – Proverbs 3:11-12

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. – Isaiah 64:8

They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. – Jeremiah 31:9

Have we not all one Father ? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? – Malachi 2:10

For a long time, I couldn’t relate to God, but I have only begun to understand in the last decade or so that the reason for that is that I was relating to my heavenly father the same way that I was relating to my earthly father; which is, of course, to say “not that well at all.” But then, a miracle happened.

I have seen in the past ten years a gradual but profound change working in my earthly father. In many ways he is not the same man I knew growing up. He is kinder, gentler, more loving, more giving, more understanding, easier to relate to… I’m closer to him now than I have ever been. I tell my wife often that a miracle has happened in my dad’s life. I don’t know how or why outside of God’s influence. Then, I have to stop and think… Has my dad changed? Or have I? I think that the truth is that we both have. And that is the miracle of the fulfilled prophecy of Malachi 4:6.

The word translated as “father” אב in the Bible is a wonderful thing. In the New Testament, it’s almost always the word πατήρ (pater) which is a high Greek/Latin term that means, you guessed it, “father.” But the word in Hebrew is more beautiful by far. In the Old Testament, the word usually translated as father is אב (ab). Here’s what you need to know about this word. It’s a baby word. I don’t mean that it’s small. I mean it’s one of the first words that a baby says. “Can you say daddy? Daddy? Daddy? Daaaaaddy?” (This illustration works a thousand times better if you imagine it being said in that silly way adults talk to newborns.) Now, imagine that same thing said to a young Jewish child. The word would be repeated not as אב but as אבא (Abba or Ἀββᾶ in Greek), and it is this word that is used EVERY TIME the word father is uses in reference to God as Father in the Old Testament.

What’s the point? My heart melts when I walk in the front door, and my daughters, on seeing that I have returned form a speaking engagement or a rehearsal or wherever or whatever has taken me away from them, faces light up and yell: “Daddyyyyyyyyyy!!!!” This is how God wants us to interact with him. Not as some high and distant far away monarch, but an up close and personal, right now available ready-to-wrap-you-up-in-His-arms DADDY! This is how I have finally come to interact with Him (I’m not finished yet, but I’m getting there), and, by His grace and because of that promise in Malachi, it’s also how I am coming to interact with my earthly daddy. It has been an amazing thing, getting to know him all over again these past tent years. I still fail, sometimes miserably, as a son (at least from my perspective) and he still frustrates me, but my daddy is amazing all over again to me. I thank God that the heart of this child has been turned toward his father, and I am yet even more thankful that the my Heavenly father, my אבא, my Ἀββᾶ loves me so much.

In closing, Happy Father’s Day to my earthly father (I love you so much, and I am so proud to be your son) and my Heavenly father (I am unworthy to be in your family, and I am amazed by your love for me), but, more importantly, for anyone who might read this and is for whatever reason distant from your earthly father, know this, when you accept Christ’s salvation and make Him Lord of your life, then you have this amazing promise to hold on to:

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. – Romans 8:14-17

Just as an endnote: I don’t want to be misunderstood. My dad was and is a great father. He is now a great grandfather. This is not so much about the “change” that I’ve seen in him (though it’s there) as it is about the miraculous work God has done in our relationship with each other. Happy Father’s Day, Poppa!

But This Time I REALLY Mean It!

Before I launch in too deep into the murky waters that this post is sure to stir, I want to say thank you to everyone who stopped by on May 20th and 21st to read my previous post about this issue.  Even moreso, I want to thank those who commented, either here or via Twitter or Facebook.  Your comments are appreciated and heard.

With that in mind, let me address a couple of comments that actually spurred the initial draft of this post.  Some said that I was too hard on Harold Camping in my initial post; that I disrespected someone with whom, though a brother in Christ, I vehemently disagreed.  Message received.

After listening to Harold Camping – and even quoting him a few times in a dissertation – I must admit that I have never heard him teach bad soteriology.  He teaches, so far as I know and have been able to discern, that salvation comes to someone through faith in the atoning work of Jesus and nothing else.  That’s good solid doctrine.  In Acts 16, Paul said, in response to the jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?”, that salvation comes about simply by “believ[ing] in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and all in your house.”  That’s it.  Believe in the atoning work of Jesus, understanding that there is nothing you can do to add to that to insure your salvation.

So, the original intent of this post was to clarify my position on Camping (i.e., I believe he is a Christian, even if he is horribly misguided on some issues) and to extend my condolences to him and all of his followers who find themselves in awkward situations in this uncertain time.

But then, Camping said this:

The structure of God’s timeline has not changed.  No change at all. … My life and the life of many others… if we found we made a mistake we’ll correct that immediately. [May 21] was an invisible judgement day. A spiritual judgement day. But it was still a judgement day.

and

When we study the Bible, we don’t know everything. The Bible is very complex…. I challenge everybody, read every word and try to decide what is God saying? I don’t know if any of you have tried that…. You’ll find that you’ll read verse after verse and you’ll wonder, ‘What is God talking about?’ We have to do it. We don’t always hit the nail on the head the first time. We’re a long way toward being right. But it’s not physically at this time, it is spiritual. We have not been wrong about that at all.

And in response to the question, “how can you in good conscience say that the world will end in October on the heels of your failed prediction for May 21, 2011?”

I have never never told anybody that I’m infallible…. There isn’t any student of the Bible who can say I have never made a mistake.”

Finally, in response to the question, “Are you prepared to apologize?”, Camping gave this feeble response:

If people want me to apologize I can apologize, yes I did not have it all as I should have.  I’m not a genius.  I pray all the time for wisdom.  When I make an error I say Yes I was wrong.  It was to be understood spiritually, not physically.  The world is now under judgement where it was not prior to May 21, 2011.

Before I continue, I have to address this.  Outside of his error in attempting to discern a date and time that the Bible clearly teaches can not be known, what we have here is a man who is egregious in his arrogance.

Words mean something.  Time and again in the past year or so, Camping has used the term “irrefutable” and “infallible” to describe the various “proofs he has found in the Bible to give the May 21 date for the Rapture.  He described it as an actual physical event which would involve earthquakes and the snatching away of believers at 6:00 pm.  These “facts” were irrefutable!  Yet, here we are.

So, in order to preserve what precious little legitimacy his ministry has, all of a sudden we learn that May 21 was a date of spiritual judgment and October 21 is the date of the actual Rapture. <sigh>  Where are the “irrefutable” and “infallible” proofs, Harold?!?  The fact, remains, readers, that these “proofs” don’t exist because we are assured, in the Bible from the lips of Jesus Himself, that they can’t.

So, essentially, Harold Camping added some prophetic revelation to the Bible.  Consider that in the light of these words taken from a transcript of Harold Camping’s radio call-in Q&A show.  Camping responds to a caller by saying:

The minute you try to add to the Bible, from this vision or that tongue, or whatever, and one person adds this, and another one adds that, and someone else adds something else, and then attempt to interpret the Bible in the light of all this new information, you end up with a gospel that will take you almost anywhere.  This is exactly what is happening today.  The false gospels are going off in all directions.

Essentially, my friends, that’s what Camping did.  He added.  True, he claimed to have reached his conclusions via intense study of the Bible, but he added, nonetheless, and came up with – according to his definition – a false gospel.

If you’re reading this, and you are uncertain about your spiritual future, let me assure you that you don’t have to be.  Yes, there will, one day, be a rapture, but you need not worry about that.  The path to salvation is simple: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”  Simple.  The best part is that it’s not about what you have done, are doing or will do.  God doesn’t look to your actions to see if you have done enough to earn His favor.  ” God loved [you] so much that He gave His only Son, so that [if you] have faith in Him [you will] have eternal life.  God did not send His Son into the world to condemn [you].  God sent Him to save [you]!  No one who has faith in God’s Son will be condemned!”

And that’s a promise you can count on.

Finally, this will be my last post on this topic.  It simply isn’t worth my time.  I will address any questions you have (as always read and comment.  It’s about community.) here or through Twitter or FB.  But let my final word on Camping be this:

I do believe Camping is a Christian, but he is dispensing more false teaching than truth.  Avoid him at all costs.  If you have given him money, I’m sorry (though I don’t think he should refund anything.  Caveat Emptor.)  Find a local church that teaches truth, and don’t just be preached to.  Study, and show yourself and approved student of the word.  Keep away from worthless and useless talk. It only leads people farther away from God. (2 Timothy 2:15-16)  Test all things and all teachers. (I Thessalonians 5:21)  Camping advocates intensive study of Scripture.  Do it!  And stop letting him do it for you!

Rapture (Not According to Blondie)

20110520-030907.jpgHere’s the skinny: according to Harold Camping at 6:00 pm today (May 20th in the Western Hemisphere & May 21st in the Eastern) the world will start to experience the effects of a “rolling rapture” with the real-time experience happening at your personal 5/21/2011 6:00 pm moment. (Apparently, God, Who is no respecter of persons, is a BIG respecter of time zones and geography, and for a rapture to happen all at once would make a doomsday forecaster’s date wrong SOMEWHERE and that wouldn’t be nice at all. I digress…) Mr. Camping and his followers have spent countless dollars on a billboard & flyer campaign, with many of Camping’s followers handing out the flyers at street fairs, conventions, trade shows and casinos.
To be fair, Camping did conclude that the rapture would occur back in 1994. He revealed his conclusion in a book titled, 1994? When the end didn’t occur, Camping pointed out that he was uncertain of his date, hence the question mark. (I swear to God I’m not making this up.) Obviously, punctuation not only saves lives – “Let’s eat, children!” being a far different statement than “Let’s eat children!!!” – it also covers a multitude of sins. However, Camping says that this time he is “absolutely certain,” and to even consider that the Rapture would not occur on May 21st is tantamount to sinful.
So, what’s the deal? Should we live up the next few to several hours we have? Should we rush to a local church and pray that we get things right, just in case? Should we go out Steve-Buscemi style and take out tons of loans from loansharks and leave behind all that debt to the sinful gangster? Should we sell all we have and give it to the poor, then rush to the highest point in our area so as to save some hang time when we meet Jesus in the air?
The truth is, none of these are necessary. Why? Because I can guarantee that nothing Rapture related will happen on May 21st 6:00 pm anywhere in the world. (I can’t say anything about 6:01 or anytime after)
It’s a simple thing, really. As much as is revealed to us in Scripture (there’s a LOT), as much as there is to know (a TON) as much prophecy that has already been fulfilled (yeah, you can check it out) and as much prophecy is yet to be fulfilled, there is one item we are guaranteed in Scripture to not EVER be able to know: the date (never mind the time) of the rapture. Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, speaking of the day in which the end would be (specifically, when two would be in the field when suddenly one would be left behind – that’s the rapture, people):
“No one knows the day or hour. The angels in heaven don’t know, and the Son himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows.”
As Camping claims to have come to his conclusion via intense Bible study, one can only conclude that he missed that verse entirely, because that pretty much settles that debate right there.
Also, let me be clear about one thing: while the Rapture won’t happen on May 21st, it WILL happen at some point, but there is no need to fear the Rapture or the One who knows when it will happen (NOT Harold Camping) because the One who knows is the same One who loves you enough to have already made a way for you.

As Those Who Will Not See (Part 2 of 2)

In my last post, I responded to the first half of Ricky Gervais’ Easter “sermon.”  (If you want to be brought up to speed, go read it. 🙂 Things will go faster if I don’t summarize it all again here.)  Today… the second half.  We covered the first five commandments, now on to 6 – 10. Let’s get to it.

RG says in his defense of Commandment Six:

SIX

‘You shall not murder.’

Nope. Tick.

Very often, you might hear from the more liberal among us that even though “Big Corporations” (or very rich individuals, etc.) are not technically breaking the law, they are ignoring the “spirit” of the law.   Anyone who has spent some time in the New Testament knows that Jesus spoke directly to this commandment in letter and spirit.  He said that to harbor anger against some one (“to hate them”) was the same thing as committing murder.  So, what RG is asking us to accept is that he has never hated anyone.  Here’s what he, RG, said in an interview with “TimeOut London” he said:

I’m not a comedy snob but I hate people who’d rather be thought of as intelligent than funny. I hate people who’d rather have a round of applause for their wit and wisdom as opposed to making people laugh.

Was it said in jest?  Is RG using hyperbole?  Probably, but that’s awfully loose hate.  So, sorry, RG, no points on this one either.

In his response to the Seventh Commandment, RG said:

SEVEN

‘You shall not commit adultery.’

Nope. Tick.

The spirit of the law is at stake here as well.  Jesus said that to look lustfully at someone was the same thing as actually having sex with them.  So, again, no points here, RG, for you or anyone (Because, seriously, who has never – NEVER – seen someone, ANYONE, and said, #*$&….” you know?)

Regarding the Eighth Commandment (one of the trickier ones in my opinion), RG says this:

EIGHT

‘You shall not steal.’

Nope. Tick.

RG is a comedian… I love how he doesn’t even defend his ticks.  I mentioned how this one is trickier than the others.  What does it mean to steal?  If you go into a store, grab a soda from the cooler, stash it in your jacket and leave without paying, that’s certainly theft.  Is there some kind of esoteric interpretation or understanding of this commandment?  I think if such can be said of other commandments, it’s certainly plausible that the same could be said of this commandment.  That said, it’s fairly well-documented that RG has stolen borrowed joke’s from other comedians in the course of his shows.  So, again, no points here.  (Regarding the “esoteric” application, let me say this – then more on it later – this commandment is, I think, intrinsically linked to the Tenth Commandment.)

The Ninth Commandment is, it seems, on of the most oft ignored of the “Thou Shalt Not” commandments.  I’d be willing to bet (is gambling on thsi list) that RG has nothing but good things to say about himself on this one as well.

NINE

‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.’

Nope. Tick.

Well, what do you know?  To “bear false witness” literally means to say something that’s not true about someone else.  Again, I think there is a deeper application here.  More at the end…

The Tenth Commandment, the one that is, truly the deal breaker for so many, because it’s virtually “unkeepable.”

TEN

‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.’

Nope. Tick. Another point for me.

Not bad for an atheist.

This commandment covers property, spouses, accomplishments, position, and, ultimately, “anything” that your neighbor has.  Of course, there are subtle layers to “coveting.”  However, what this amounts to is even the slightest tinge of jealousy regarding something that someone else has or has accomplished.  Any jealousy at all!  I’m certainly guilty of that, as are we all.  No points here either, RG.

So, 0 out of 10.  Not good for anybody, but it illustrates a larger point and RG’s declaration that he has never broken any of these only shows his – and so many others’ – misunderstanding of just what the 10 commandments is.

The Purpose of the Ten Commandments

To be fair, I’m going to focus on just one purpose (there are many) in this post, but I want to start by saying what I believe the Ten Commandments is NOT.  Specifically, the Ten Commandments is not simply a long list of “do not’s”.  Of course, that seems a little specious as the word “You shall not” appear nine times in this list of commands.  But the point of this list is, ultimately, to demonstrate the need the Children of Israel – and, by extension, all of us – had and have for God to apply His own holiness onto our lives.  In short, “If you can live by these ordinances – and not just the letter of these laws but their very spirit – then you will be as holy as God is.”

RG sums up his “argument” by saying:

Even if this doesn’t prove I am a good Christian it does prove that the Bible is a bit inconsistent, open to interpretation, and a little intolerant.

This is not peculiar to Christianity to be fair. And I like to be fair. Because unlike ALL religions, as an atheist, I treat ALL religions equally.

I don’t know how either of these statements is true.  First of all, nothing that RG says in his article gives any support to the statement that the Bible is “inconsistent, open to interpretation and a little intolerant.”  I guess we could ignore the fact that RG demonstrates his own level of intolerance (as so many clamoring for tolerance so often do) and acknowledge that, while nothing he, RG, said supports it, the Bible is, in fact, open to many interpretations.  God has, in His mercy and grace, given us the freedom to come to our own conclusions on biblical matters, but that does not excuse us if our conclusions are incorrect.

Moreover, RG says that he likes to be “fair” and that as an atheist he “treats all religions equally.”  This last phrase might be the most honest in the entire article.  If you research RG’s walk into atheism you discover that he is, quite simply, following his convictions.  But I heard him say once:

“I wish there was a God and that he was all the things people said he was; all powerful and kind and all that… but the possibility is overwhelming to me.”

What we see here is that RG is a man of faith, it’s just that his faith is atheism.  Something(s) has convinced him that God can’t possibly exist.  I understand this doubt.  I have struggled with it in my own life as have many.  It is at this point that I would tell RG and anyone reading to pick up a copy of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith and read just the first chapter.  Lee’s interview with Charles Templeton, now deceased, but former evangelist with Billy Graham and, at the time of the interview a staunch agnostic (if not atheist) is a heartbreaking recollection of a man’s love and los of a relationship with Jesus.

And that, really, is the point of all of this.  No, Ricky, you aren’t a better Christian than most Christians, nor is any Christian a better person than you are (and any claiming to be so is a daft git who has no understanding of truth as revealed in Scripture).  There is, as the Bible says, “none righteousness; no, not one.”  But thank God – Who, incidentally does exist, is all powerful and kind and loves all of us very much; so much so that He sacrificed everything to reconcile us to Himself because He knew we would never be able to pull it off by ourselves – that we don’t have to worry about creating a righteousness for ourselves, but instead we can “let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to [us] as the clothes [we] wear” and have His righteousness because “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ [is] for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.”

I said it in closing Part 1, and I say it again here: How wonderful it is to know that we don’t win God’s favor or forgiveness based on a points system.

None So Blind… (Part 1 of 2)

Ricky Gervais has written a sermon, of sorts, entitled “Why I Am A Good Christian.”  The humor, if it can be called that, in the title is that Mr. Gervais is an admitted atheist.  I don’t often feel the need to respond quite this specifically, it would be remiss of me to NOT admit that this post came about specifically because I read his article.  I will hit the highlights and respond, and, in doing so, I hope to shed some light on all of us.

In the first paragraph, Mr. Gervais makes a telling statement:

I am of course not a good Christian in the sense that I believe that Jesus was half man, half God, but I do believe I am a good Christian compared to a lot of Christians.

I’ll deal with the comparison issue in a moment.  The more important issue is that in this opening statement, Mr. Gervais demonstrates a remarkable lack of understanding of a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith: Jesus was not half anything.  Jesus was both FULLY God and FULLY man.  This is called the Hypostatic Union. (John 1:1&14, Collosians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3).

Mr. Gervais goes on to say that:

It’s not that I don’t believe that the teachings of Jesus wouldn’t make this a better world if they were followed.  It’s just that they are rarely followed.

I wonder what teachings Mr. Gervais thinks should be followed…

  • The teaching that looking at a another person lustfully is the same thing as having sex with them – Matthew 5:28-30
  • The teaching that it is difficult for a rich person to go to Heaven – Mark 10:25
  • The teaching that the ONLY way to come to God is through (Jesus) – John 14:6
  • The teaching that to see him (Jesus) is the same thing as seeing the Father (God) – John 14:9
  • The teaching that he (Jesus) came to bring a fire (judgment) and division on the earth – Luke 12:49-53
  • The teaching that your love for your family should look like hate in comparison to your love for Jesus and that salvation comes from taking up your cross daily – Luke 14:26

Which one is OK with Mr. Gervais, I wonder?

Later in the article, Mr. Gervais decides to demonstrate his “better than most” Christianity by ticking a point system through the Ten Commandments.  He says:

ONE

‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’

I definitely do not. Excellent. I get one point.

Do you really?  Now, I get his humor here.  He’s an atheist.  He doesn’t believe in ANY God.  But there is a gulf of difference between saying you do or do not believe, believing and the truth.  “You shall have no other Gods…” means, quite simply, that if ANYTHING is more important to you than God (your career, your family, money, fame, success, your favorite sports team… ANYTHING) then you have set up an idol (Oops.  Looks like you broke number two as well.)  Additionally, I’d like to say that, while I am HARDLY innocent of this (or of what I am about to say), it’s true that one of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn was that worry was the WORST kind of (forgivable) sin.  The moment we worry, anout anything at all, then that thing has become God.  So, tick two points AGAINST all of us.

RG continues:

THREE

‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.’

I never do.

Now, he goes on after this, and I have to say that he is spot on with his understanding of this one (if not his execution).  [Forgive my mish-mashing of his statements and mine in the next few lines…]  Few people understand that God’s name is not “God.”  This commandment has everything to do with attributing credit to, swearing by God’s (actual) name with intent to not honor the oath, or “honoring” God for something in a hollow manner.  RG points out that:

The commandment could equally be, You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in “vanity” e.g. when your enemy is hurt or defeated saying, “that’s God’s wrath,” or when you win an award saying, “thank God.” This is using his name in vanity. It’s suggesting that you KNOW that God helped you win that award because you deserved it more, or because he was on your side. It’s always tickled me that God would have a favourite actor at The Golden Globes.

He’s actually completely correct here.  His understanding of the fourth commandment “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep It Holy” while effective and correct on a practical level, demonstrate a lack of understanding of the full scope of the commandment.  The Sabbath was a multi-leveled point of contact for this new nation of people.  Also, we’re told in the New Testament that Jesus is our Sabbath rest.  So, like so many things in the Old Testament, the keeping of the Sabbath was a foreshadow of Jesus and the hope we can have in Him.

With regards to the fifth commandment, RG states:

FIVE

‘Honour your father and your mother.’

I think I get a point if anyone does with this one.

The problem with this is that, as much as RG (or anyone) loves his or her parents, being disobedient – even once – or talking back (giving attitude of any kind), speaking disrespectfully to or even about your parents means you lose your point on this one.

So, in a nutshell, if you place more importance on anything than you do to God, worry about anything, thank God for something without truly meaning it or even mocking the idea of Him, consider the Sabbath Day just a “day off” without recognizing that it is a precursor of Jesus and the redemption rest that can only be offered in Him and talk back, even once, to your parents.  You’ve broken all of the first five commandments.

Sorry, RG.  No points for you… or any of us.  How wonderful it is to know that we don’t win God’s favor or forgiveness based on a points system.

Being The Best Around (or No One’s Gonna Ever Keep You Down)

Ok, so it’s no secret that I’m a child of the 80’s and some of you who were lucky enough to grow up in that wonderful decade won’t have a second wasted in identifying the source of this post’s title.  However, as much as I love the martial arts, they are not the subject of this post.

I have loved many vocations in my life.  I have given careful consideration to being a full-time composer/arranger/orchestrator, teacher, musician, collegiate professor, writer (sometimes books, sometimes game show questions), philosopher, Rock historian (would have been a great avenue whenever VH-1 or A&E did bio-documentaries), and even pursued the idea of being the exclusive biographer and chronicler of one music artist’s life.  I’ve ventured into some of these fields and those have been fruitful and fun. But, a job is one thing… PASSION is another.

THIS is Passion!!!

I’ve had to give a LOT of consideration lately to what that means.  Which leads me to “Bones” (buy the DVD’s here).  I got to thinking about the subject of following your passion – and, more specifically, being the BEST in your field – while watching the adventures of Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, who is, quite literally, the best in the WORLD at what she does (interesting note to those who might care; the character of Dr. Brennan is based on the real-life forensic anthropologist and author Dr. Kathy Reichs).  Governmental agencies fly Dr. Brennan all over the world to do what she does simply because she is the BEST at it.

So that gets me thinking… Have I identified my passion, and the true calling that God has for me (more to come on this in a later post.  HINT: Start reading Psalms 37:4) and, if I have, am I doing all I can to make myself the BEST IN THE WORLD at it?  If I haven’t, who not?

And that goes for all of us.  We are, each of us, unique individuals with a specific calling, prepared by God to do things that ONLY WE CAN DO!  Are we doing what we can?

So, what does that mean for me?  Well, it means I have to work hard at continuing to speak publicly, preaching and teaching; I also I have to spend more time at the piano to hone my abilities and improve my existing skill set.  Additionally, I have to work a little every day, writing and arranging songs.

Finally, I have to spend time with God EVERY day seeking His guidance and asking His blessing on my work.  Without those two things, my Passion is pointless, my work is wasted and my efforts are expended in vain.

When to be a CON Man!

I’m having a crisis of confidence all of a sudden. It probably has to do with being slightly overwhelmed by the amount of work that has come up in a short amount of time. Possibly it has something to do with my reticence to allow other people’s lack of planning to become my emergency. Possibly there are issues of the amount of work to low pay ratio that just makes everything else stressful. But what is really going on with me is the horror of a tentative job offer.

A few years ago, I worked in the worship department of a rather large church. For those reading this who know me (or just those who might be good at Googling) let me be clear; I loved (read: would have taken a bullet for) my boss. I still love him. I loved (read: would have dared people to shoot him just so I could take the bullet for) the senior pastor. I still would. The short version is I can’t disclose the full story of why I no longer work there. I can say that there was no misconduct on anyone’s part. It was right before the big dip in the recession and I will just leave it at that. I “left” on good terms. I love the church, the staff, the people… ALL OF IT! LOOOOOOOVE!

But…

Sometimes, I still feel like I was thrown under the bus. I accepted this call to ministry, and I found a church that I loved… and then the ground fell out from under me. (Sidebar: I know God had/has a plan. That’s not what this is about.)

Then…

Recently, I was told by someone that I really trust, that he didn’t think i was cut out for an “office hours” type of job. I can’t explain why that hurt me the way it did. I can say that it rocked my confidence to the core. The thing is, I didn’t keep office hours at the church; not regular office hours, anyway. I lived about 45 minutes away from the church, so coming back home and running errands (doctor’s appointments, etc) was not easy like it was for other staff members who might live 5 minutes form the church. Therefore, I often took mornings to do my in-town errand running and then went into the church. It was not uncommon for me to, even then, stay at the church for 12 hours or more a day. The last big production week we had, I came into the church on Sunday morning at 8:00 and left the church Thursday night at 11:00. Yes, I slept in my office. The changes being made in the production made the time lost in the back and forth of travel (settling in, etc) counter-productive.

Understand, I don’t say this to glorify myself; I loved doing it! I hated being apart from my family (And that is, I think, a big part of the aforementioned “God plan”, but, again, that’s not what this post is about.) but I loved the work! Then to hear, from someone at the church, that he doesn’t think I am an “office hours kind of a person” has just rattled me.

“Poor, James…” No wait, even all that isn’t the issue. That’s just the background. Now to this tentative job offer.

A friend of mine has recommended me for a position at a church. It’s an associate pastor of worship. Basically, my exact same job except that the expectation seems to be more creative (i.e. arrange songs and see to it that the church makes recordings.) and to be a primary keyboardist. And that’s the rub…

I’m a multi-instrumentalist, but I’ve been playing drums a lot and I haven’t done a lot of arranging in the past couple of years… Put that together with the confidence shaker and I’m a bit of a mess right now. So, what do I do?

Proverbs 3:25-26 tells me everything I need to know.

Do not be afraid of sudden terror, Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the LORD will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught.

If God has called me (He has) and God has ordered my steps (He has) and God has promised to look out for me (He has), then I needn’t worry about anything.

That goes for you, too. If you put your trust in God, then the Lord HIMSELF will be your confidence. I don’t have to have self-confidence, and neither do you. God will be the source of your strength and every ounce of confidence you need.

Because, after all, everybody blows it at least once… Sometimes in a very public way.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NjOaV515iQ]

Ad Hominem – ATTACK THE MAN! (But, you know… love him too)

A dear friend of mine, the great thinker – and a few short weeks away from Ph.D. in Theology (from DUKE People!!!!) – Michael Raburn (Read his AWESOME Blog posts HERE) and I were having a conversation last night on Twitter. The subject: Tim Challiesreview of Rob Bell‘s new book ;” target=”_blank”>Love Wins.” (STOP! This isn’t a post about Rob Bell!!!!! Please continue reading!)

I liked the review, but my friend Michael did not. He said “[Challies] Review begins [by] comparing Bell to the serpent in Gen.3. … Ad hominem has no place in serious theology.”

Now, the fact of the matter is, I have, for years, deferred to Michael on almost all things theological. He is, as far as I am concerned, one of the greats. He is a staunch adherent of truth, a sincere searcher for understanding and absolutely full of love for not just his brothers and sisters in Christ but for all people.

So, is this all about singing Raburn’s praises? No. His stament re: “Ad Hominem” got me thinking.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary “Ad Hominem” is defined as follows:

1: appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect

2: marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made

So, what my brother is saying is that when someone makes a theological argument, taking an “ad hominem” approach in response is unacceptable.

I want to believe what he says, but, at the same time, I can’t dismiss a person’s character from their affirmations. Ad Hominem may be a “classic logical fallacy” but that doesn’t make it fallacious in every instance. Character matters. Truth is truth regardless of who says it. And these are the murky waters we find ourselves in EVERY DAY in the body of Christ.

HOWEVER…

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) This must be the highest rule of conduct in the Body of Christ. Period. You might disagree with Rob Bell (Or Joel Osteen, or Billy Graham, or Joyce Meyer, et al.) or you might disagree with those who disagree with them, but if you have affirmed a faith in Jesus Christ then your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ must be evident before ANYTHING else (And, yes, I’m preaching to myself here).

P.S.

He didn’t ask me to do this, but Michael has started a fund-raising project to help fund his dissertation year. GREAT benefits for investors and this will, I truly believe, be of great benefit to the Church. Check it out at: Between Love and Doctrine

When The Congregation Attacks!

A friend of mine shared this with me today:

There are so many things wrong with this I hardly know where to begin.  I once worked in the music ministry and I know that it seemed to be the favorite pastime of some people to complain about the sound volume/mix or the selection of songs or to sit around and talk about how much better they could do the job(s) of the people in authority.

Listen to some of the things this woman says: “If ___ think they have financial problems now…” “I’m gonna give you one more week…”  THREATS!  Have you had to deal with this?  How did you handle it?  If you haven’t how do you think you would handle it?

When Christians Disagree

So last week, Rob Bell showed us all the way* to gain instantaneous HYPER-PR: Hint that you are a [controversial belief holder], you’ve written a book about it and then do a short promo video hinting at [the controversial belief].  In Bell’s case, it was universalism, i.e. the notion that all people go to Heaven eventually (Yeah, a GROSS oversimplification of universalism, but we’ll deal with that at another time).  So, the internet blows up with people lauding Bell for his work, urging caution to those unfamiliar with him and outright damning Bell for all time for this rank heresy.  The problem, of course, is that Bell’s book, Love Wins, isn’t even out yet, so all of the railing against him (or the defending of him, for that matter) is a little premature.

Or is it?

What does Rob, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, mean when he asks “How do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe or what you say…?”  Moreover, what’s wrong with responding to this trailer as it is?  No, no one has read the book yet, but can’t we respond to Rob’s comments as they are?  What happened to discourse?

This is the primary question, sort of, in Jonathan D. Fitzgerald‘s, Rob Belled: Corn-Pone Opinions Prevail Amongst The Din On Twitter.  Corn-pone?  CORN-PONE?!?  Read the article and what you find is a general dismissal of any who have a problem with Rob Bell and his pronouncements in this video.  Now, read the definitions of “cornpone” from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: of, relating to, or appealing to people who live on farms away from big cities.

So, if you disagree with Bell, you’re just a hick???

I wish that Fitzgerald was alone in his criticism; He isn’t and the implications are frightening.

*I don’t believe Rob released this trailer solely to generate PR.

Takin’ It To The Streets

In late 1975, Michael Mcdonald was invited to join The Doobie Brothers.  One of his first contributions was a song called “Takin’ It To The Streets” – incidentally, one of my Doobie faves.  As I have considered the point and purpose of my ministry, I often think about this song.

You don’t know me but I’m your brother
I was raised here in this living hell
You don’t know my kind in your world
Fairly soon the time will tell
You telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see

Takin’ it to the streets
Takin’ it to the streets
No more need for runnin’
Takin’ it to the streets

I love theology.  I love talking theology, I love studying theology, I love living theology… But I find that, far too often, the Church’s theology never really makes it to the street.  This isn’t a general criticism, it’s just an observation.  For many Christians, theology is something we leave in the sanctuary and it never makes it to our day-to-day lives, much less (and far more importantly) our relationships; especially those relationships we have with those who don’t know Jesus.

Hence, going from the Pulpit 2 the Pavement; putting shoes on our theology and taking it out for a walk.  (Practical application: If we teach “love your neighbor as yourself” then we should actually love our neighbors in practical ways.)

Jesus talked about this in Luke 14:

Then Jesus said to the man who had invited him: ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends and family and relatives and rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return, and you will be paid back.  When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  They cannot pay you back. But God will bless you and reward you when his people rise from death.

Then there’s that second verse from “Takin’ It To The Streets”:

Take this message to my brother
You will find him…everywhere
Wherever people live together
Tied in poverty’s despair

So, that’s what this blog is all about.  Lace up.