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.

Pastor, This Is Why They Hate You and Your Church

Article after article has cluttered my Facebook feed and my reading list over the past few weeks. You’ve probably seen them: “Why Millenials Are Leaving the Church” or “15 Reasons I’ll Never Go Back to Church” or “3 Reasons I Decided to Write 6 Articles Covering the 148 Problems I Have with the Church.”*


I’ve tried to be open-minded (I think I’ve succeeded) and read them to see if there are any positive takeaways from these articles. There have been some. Certainly we want to listen to people’s questions, problems, grievances, etc., but listening doesn’t necessarily mean we are to change what we’re doing. More importantly, there is a reason not covered by ANY article I’ve read so far that is above and beyond the biggest reason people hate you, your church, and Christians in general.

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.

Click to Play

Play

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.

Sparrows and Faith

Some days it’s hard to be motivated. Anyone who is, essentially (or truly), self-employed can tell you that. Even if every aspect of everything you do is 100% your one and only passion, it is sometimes difficult to stay focused. Some days, I admit, I am less than thrilled with myself. I become riddled with the thought (if not outright convinced) that I’m not good enough, or my passion isn’t enough, or I’m doing the wrong thing, or… You get the idea.

The point is, I sometimes feel inadequate. I try to rid myself of that, and then I see this guy:

When he woke up that morning he had a headache.

When he woke up that morning he had a headache.

Yeah, that’s a guy leaping from a boat to stab a whale with a spear. On this planet, that’s a thing. That happens on normal days. That guy is amazing!

Now, I love whales. I love dolphins. I love cetaceans in general. They are my absolute favorite animals. Yes, I’m glad that whaling bans exist. I’m not for indiscriminate killing of whales. (Disclaimer done)

A Personal Revolution

phoenix-from-the-ashesEvery now and again, I’m invited to churches, small groups, and retreats to speak on the general topic of marriage. I’m always nervous when this happens.  Not because I don’t like talking about marriage, but because I think it’s so very important that husbands and wives rightly understand marriage and relationship issues. My prep is always the same. If I’m speaking on a familiar topic, then I spend the week prior in review and prayer.  Is there something that I have in my notes and/or outlines that isn’t correct or that I have come to have a different better understanding of, or is there a new way to explain this point or that point?

Additionally, I spend quiet time every night in the week prior and the entire morning/day of the event listening to one album. An album written and recorded in 1990 and released in 1991. This album:

LoveLife

That, friends and neighbors is, arguably, my favorite album of all time. (You can buy your own copy of Love Life here.) At the very least, as I mentioned, it’s my “go to” album when I’m in a “let’s think about marriage and relationships” kind of a mood. I mean, look at the tracks:

The Dirtiest Word in the Bible

When I was a kid, there always seemed to be that one kid who knew where all the “good parts” of some books were. Of course, looking back, they were rarely the “good parts’ but were really just the “dirty parts.”

For the uninitiated (and some Christians can count themselves among that number), the Bible has quite a bit of NSFW content. I mean, if you dig through there (and, really, you barely have to dig), there’s some racy, gory stuff in those onion skin pages.

3 Warnings for Teachers

Alright, it’s confession time: I fought God tooth and nail against my calling to preach. I just refused. The list of reasons are long and varied, and the story is, mostly, entertaining and informative, but my last hold out was a little verse in the New Testament book that bears my name.


As you can see in the picture above, the very first verse of the third chapter of James is a stark warning to teachers. Today, I encountered someone who reminded all too clearly of the danger of being a teacher. His name: Justin Lookadoo

The Two Phrases That Kill Churches

It’s never fun to talk about topics like this. But it’s even less fun to sit in a conference room, or on one end of a phone meeting and hear someone say these deadly phrases.


I’ve sat with more pastors, boards, and committee members than I can tell you who have held on to one of these phrases, and it has always led to a painful “come-to-Jesus” type of realization, at best, or, the complete destruction of a ministry, at worst.

What I Believe

I once got into an exchange on Facebook that was troubling to me: not because of the content as much as due to the fact that the conversation made me realize that I had never expressed to this particular friend what are my specific beliefs. Now the context of that conversation is far too much to post here, but I thought it might be prudent to answer the question here for you.


So, here are some bullet points. These, for me, are essentials.

UTC, Free Speech, and Stupid

I don’t often do “current events” type commentary here, but a local event has triggered a lot of very strong reactions. Many of my friends at UTC (some of whom are not believers) have asked me questions about this situation, and, as the answer is universally applicable, I thought it would be a good idea to address it here.


Chattanooga, TN – On November 15, Cole Montalvo, a UTC student was arrested for disorderly conduct. That’s not so unusual, right? A college student making a little ruckus is not really newsworthy. What made this topic leap to the front page, though, was the reason he was being “disorderly” in the first place.

A female “Christian Evangelist” has been… preaching, I guess???, on the campus of UTC for a while. Reports are that she has been “haranguing students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.” Due to incidents that occurred during previous visits, the University erected a perimeter of orange cones around the “evangelist.”

There are two things that make this story sensational: 1) A 3:58-minute video of the arrest was released on YouTube, apparently shot with a cell phone, titled “Police brutality on UTC campus” (be careful. This video has LOTS of NSFW language and is horribly shot – for a different perspective, you can see the “evangelist’s” video here. For the relevant bits, skip to 7:15) and 2) the lengths to which campus safety officers had to go to restrain Montalvo.

Now, there is no question that it required a lot of force to take down Montalvo. There’s also no question that Montalvo was belligerent and refused to comply with the directions given to him. But that’s not my topic today.

Nor is my topic the frighteningly ignorant petition on change.org begun by students at UTC. Not because I agree with them, but because Susan Kruth has already addressed the issue wonderfully. (Though it is concerning that so many students don’t view what they are doing as a willful relinquishing of their own rights)

It’s not even my intent to discuss free speech and the difficulty in being an American Citizen. (Even though it means I don’t get to use my very favorite Aaron Sorkin quote of all time.)

My topic isn’t even Angela Cummings’ remarkably flawed theology (some of which can be viewed here.)

No, my topic here is the “evangelist” Angela Cummings herself.

(James… seriously, what’s with all the quotes around the word evangelist? It’s getting annoying.)

Let me explain.

In her “sermons” (sorry), Cummings often says things like “sinners are going to hell” and “you’re all fornicators and fornicators will have their place in Hell.”

All of this is true – and this is a topic for other posts – but this “evangelist” is no evangelist. I read last night (I haven’t found a ton of evidence to support this, but it isn’t vital to the point) that she is part of a group that goes to public places, becomes a nuisance, people respond, her rights get infringed and then the group sues (much like those fine folks at Westboro Baptist). You see, it’s not the things that she is saying that are wrong, but, quite literally, how she is saying them.

The word “evangelist” is from a compound Greek word euangelion. The word “eu” means “good, well, normal; happy, or pleasing.” It’s always used as a prefix. The word “angelion” means, “messenger” or “message.” So, literally this word means Good Message.

So, what message does Cummings preach? She preaches a Hell for sinners and then – again, much like her WBC counterparts – exudes a happiness that sinners are going there. The good news is not that sinners are going to Hell. That’s not good news for ANYONE!

There is a good message: Jesus died so that we could be made right with God.

The Apostle Paul said that we can have the gift of prophecy, and even understand all mysteries (one would infer that we could also evangelize on street corners every day until Jesus comes), but if we don’t have love we are nothing. Without love, we serve no better function than a “clanging cymbal.” (Or, perhaps, imagine a toddler banging on pots and pans.) One need only listen to this woman one time to know that there is no love in her message.

I absolutely defend her right to speak. But, please, UTC students, faculty, staff, news media bloggers, countrymen… don’t call her a Christian Evangelist.

She is nothing of the sort.

The Trouble 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. Now, make it personal. Read each percentage like this, “There is 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?

The Danger of Agreeing with Your Pastor

Hebrews 13:17 says, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”


It’s Sunday morning. Your pastor is giving a great sermon. The topic is the Church. Not the “little c” local body of believers church, but the “BIG C” centuries old and across Church born of a great move of the Holy Spirit at the festival of Pentecost just a few weeks after the resurrection of Jesus.

It’s great! He’s talking about the marketing approach by many churches today. You know how it is… they say things like:

  • A New Church for a New Generation
  • Church for People Who Don’t Like Church
  • This is Not Your Grandmother’s Church

Then your pastor says, “Let me turn this around. How many of you have living grandmothers? Raise your hands.” People raise their hands. Then your pastor says, “If you have a living grandmother, please stand up.” People stand.

Then he asks a question that drives his point home, and you absolutely agree with him and you express your agreement verbally.

Is that a good thing?

I can prove to you that, sometimes, it isn’t a good thing.

Why Today (12/12/12) Is Important

Today is December 12, 2012. For anyone who’s been on Facebook today, you have, no doubt, seen a status update or thousand, that encapsulate the importance of this day. After all, “it’s the last time we will have a repetitive date for almost a century!” We heard similar things on January 1st 2001, and every repetitive date across the last twelve years.

Of course, much like the jokers who told us that January 1st, 2000 was “The New Millenium” there’s a problem with ALL of these repetitive dates: Specifically, today is not 12/12/12, it’s 12/12/2012. See? No real repetition.

Now, lest anyone thinks my tone is dripping with sarcasm (it is) alone, there is something very special about today (and NOT just because it’s Universal Sound Check Day):

This is the last December 12, 2012 EVER!

It bears saying again. Today isn’t important because it’s repetitive. It’s important because this is the last time this day will happen EVER.  Best part? That’s true of tomorrow 12/13/2012 as well.  It’s also true of every day before and after this one.

The worst part? That’s true of tomorrow 12/13/2012 as well.  It’s also true of every day before and after this one.

This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24

Every day is the only day you have to be all that God has called you to be. Today is important! What are you doing to prove it? How are you rejoicing IN today? How are you “being glad” IN today?


Also, today is important because it’s Sheila E.‘s birthday, but… you know… all that other stuff from up there too. Happy birthday Sheila!

Robertson, Petraeus, and Facepalms… Oh My!

This morning I woke up to some distressing news. Apparently, there’s still a war going on in Afghanistan. I couldn’t tell, what with all the news about David Petraeus and his “Love Pentagon” with Paula Broadwell, General John Allen, Jill Kelley, and Frederick W. Humphries II.

So, let’s talk about that. No, wait… I have a better idea. This isn’t where I post political rants (I do that at The Blahg).  This is where I talk about theological stuff. “Rubber meeting the road” Christianity. “Theology with Shoes On” (That would be a good subtitle for this page.) So, let’s talk about something for a moment.

I make a concerted effort in my life to not pull a “Swaggart” and blast any ministry with whom I have the slightest disagreement. (See what I just did there?) And I’ve only called out this guy ONCE before in my life, but it was because he was SO WRONG, a response was needed (that, and I had a bunch of people on FB, Twitter and IRL ask me what I thought). But, now Pat Robertson has done it again.

Now, to be fair, many of the bloggers and other news agencies have taken only a portion of what he said and used it against him. This much is true. But let’s examine ALL that he said.

When introducing a segment on the Petraeus “scandal” (what, does NOBODY remember Clinton? He didn’t have to resign. Anyway…) on the November 13th episode of The 700 Club, Pat Robertson said this:

The guy is brilliant. He’s got a Ph.D. from Princeton. He’s got Four Stars. He’s written a book on counter-insurgency. He’s the acknowledged expert in the world. He’s one of the greatest generals America has ever produced… and yet he can’t keep his pants zipped.

A little crude, yes, but a fair representation of the particulars. After a standard news package, Pat returned to say this:

You know, folks… I don’t use e-mail – thank the Lord! – but everybody else does.  My wife uses e-mail.  But those things are public. [He then spends some time railing against teen stupidity, but then gets back on track] But these guys are generals! What are they thinking when they send an e-mail! Good grief!  At least they could make telephone calls … All of those things are searchable! And it seems like there’s no way you can get rid of them. … Why would they be so stupid as to do it?

Good call, Pat.  Way to help the people know that, if you’re going to be an immoral person who betrays his family, company and calling… At least do it over the phone so there’s no record.

On a different episode (Monday, Nov. 12th ???)  Pat said this:

[Broadwell] is an extremely good-looking woman. She is a marathon runner. She’s run Iron-Man triathalon’s. So she’s out running with him. And she’s writing a biography. And, uh, I think the term is “propinquity”, and there was a lot of “propinquity” going on. (chuckles)

Just so you don’t have to look it up, like I did, Propinquity is defined as “physical or psychological proximity between people.” The “Propinquity Effect” basically is that “tendency for people to form friendships or romantic relationships with those whom they encounter often.” So, in plain English, it’s difficult to hang out with someone and not develop strong platonic or romantic feelings for them.

So, what is Pat trying to say here? Is he trying to help us understand what caused the affair? If so, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is helpful to understand motivating factors for people’s behaviors. But listen to what he said next:

The man’s off in a foreign land and he’s lonely and here’s a good-looking lady throwing herself at him. I mean… He’s a man.

I know you don’t believe me… So here’s the video.

Yeah. OK. That’s enough.

Pat… No, Mr. Robertson. Brother. Respected leader of the Church. My friend, you are in gross error here. And it isn’t that you condoned what happened. (If you watch the tapes, he does say that the actions taken by all parties were sinful.  Fine.) It’s that you flippantly dismiss it immediately afterward.

God was not flippant about David’s sin with Bathsheba. But let’s look at it 2 Samuel 11 through the “Robertson” lens…

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army.  They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.  One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing.  The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her.  The man said, “She is Bathsheba,the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”  Then David sent messengers to get her.  She came to him, and he slept with her.  I mean… He’s a man.

What are we to suppose? Can we imagine based on Robertson’s rationale that if Broadwell were overweight, or even just NOT a “good-looking” “marathon runner”, that Petraeus would have been able to control himself? Or, worse, that his actions would have then been inexcusable?

No. It was wrong when David did it, it was wrong when Kennedy did it, it was wrong when Clinton did it, it was wrong when Petraeus did it. To say anything else is misleading and makes light of the destruction these people have caused in their families.

Worse, it gives cause for the man (or woman) who is watching your show, contemplating the affair to think, “Well, this is kind of normal, I guess.  I mean, I look at her and, there’s a lot of propinquity going on… She’s a good-looking lady, throwing herself at me and, uh… I mean, I’m a man.”

Families are crumbling around us, Pat. So much so that every time you turn around someone is struggling to redefine the term. What you did here is, thankfully, forgivable, but still ridiculous.

Back in September you suggested that a man with a wife who had Alzheimer’s would be justified in seeking a divorce. That same month you laughing suggested that a man who was having legitimate issues of order and unity with his wife “become a Muslimthen you could beat her.”  In neither case did you offer words of encouragement or sound scriptural advice. Even if you were joking about the latter (and I think you were) the viewer wrote to you with a legitimate question and you took it as an opportunity to take a pot shot at Muslims.

Bad form, brother. Your actions over the past few months have been so audacious that only Jesus is capable of giving you the facepalm you deserve.

How about this? Instead of having CBN issue statements defending your actions and statements, maybe you should take note of how many times CBN has to issue statements defending your actions and statements. Then decide if you’re being the salt and light that God has called you, and all of us, to be.

For everyone else: God loves you even in your sin. God still loves Petraeus, and Broadwell, and Kelley and ALL of us and wants desperately to save us from our sins, give us new life, and help us to show His love through us.   Why? Because He loves us, and we need it so badly. Take that away from this so-called “scandal.”

And just take Pat Robertson away…

50 Shades (No Grey) – Updated

I once planted every seed from a cantaloupe in a giant planter in front of my house. It was a science experiment for my daughters. The problem was, we planted in mid fall. The seeds exploded in the dirt, and a vine came up, but it was far too cold to truly thrive, much less produce fruit.

The next summer, we went on a month long-vacation back to my hometown. When we got back, we were surprised by a giant vine growing from the planter and a small cantaloupe melon lying on the ground beneath. (This will be important later.)


I had no intention of writing this post, – there have been so many posts about this book, 50 Shades of Grey and the film about to be released that my thoughts seemed unnecessary – but something happened today that got me thinking. I’m not going to go into the book’s “creation” process. It really doesn’t matter that E.L. James created the entire series initially as a series of “Twilight”-based fan fiction. For the purposes of this article, I won’t talk about how both the book and film industry as well as the buying public ignore that fact and treat the books like they are some kind of groundbreaking fiction.

I’ll totally ignore the fact that E.L. James did none of the hard work of an author – creating fresh and compelling characters with their own unique personalities, flaws and compulsions, or creating a unique world in which those characters live.

I won’t talk about how the plot of the books – down to the trilogy format and arc – is stolen lifted almost whole cloth from Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series.

I won’t even talk about how the book’s success is both a slap in the face to writer’s who work their entire lives to come up with something that is “original”*.

I won’t even talk about how these books and film(s???) are a blaring example of how Rule 34 can be exploited to the unwitting masses.

I won’t even talk about the fact that if you changed Christian Grey’s name BACK to Edward Cullen, and Anastasia Steele’s name BACK to Bella Swan, nobody would know that the trilogy wasn’t simply books 5-7 of the Twilight series.

I won’t point out the glaring sophomoric quality of the writing, except to say that if your medulla oblongata ever has to “recall[s] its purpose” (yeah, that’s an actual quote from the book) you probably need a doctor and not a bondage session with a pervy bossman figure.

I won’t go into the morality of it all. Outside of the fact that what goes on in a married couple’s bedroom is their business, the morality of the content of these books has been covered in many, many, many, many places. That’s been done, and done very well.

I won’t even talk about how it feels to watch women I love and respect reading these books and giggling while they call it “mommy porn.”

No, what prompted this is a realization I made when I came across a Facebook friend’s request to borrow the book. I thought I would take a second and spare them the trouble of reading this tripe. That’s time you’ll never get back. (I know. I watched Napoleon Dynamite TWICE trying to figure out why my beloved friends thought it was so great. That’s three hours of my life GONE. Anyway…) I summed up the book(s) for them like this:

I’ll save you the trouble of reading. It’s Twilight. Except Bella doesn’t turn into a vampire after High School. Instead they go to college. Also, Edward’s a perv. The End.

Initially it was supposed to be a joke. But then I got to thinking. That set of sentences (almost fragments) really does sum up the entire trilogy. Then I got to thinking: “Can I do that with other great works of literature?” I’m not talking about the obligatory one sentence summary that conveys a books essence. I’m talking about a book so bereft of real meat (as is so often the problem with fan-fiction) that its entire content can be conveyed with a few short sentences leaving the reader not missing that much.

This isn’t a post about the value of time, but the point should probably be stated here. Time is the only non-renewable commodity. Do you really want to spend it on a book like this?

Ultimately, read the book, or don’t read the book… See the movie, or don’t see the movie… that choice is yours. But, at least go into the reading or viewing of it informed. It’s pervy. And just like there are things that, once you see them, you can never unsee them, there are things that, once in your head, will be there forever. And, ultimately, whatever is in your head will, somehow, work its way out into your daily life.

After all, even an untended, unwatered, forgotten about seed can produce unexpected fruit. The question is, “what kind of fruit do you want to produce?” (I told you the cantaloupe story would be important.)

Question: So, are you planning to see the movie this weekend? Have you read the book? What are your thoughts? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

__________________________________________________________________

*”Original” being an admittedly somewhat subjective term.

Hole-Hearted

hole-heartedA couple of nights ago, my wife and I were doing our nightly routine of tucking in, listening to Our Daily Bread, doing some object lessons, reading, and then praying with our daughters (Yes, our ritual is long, but we love it). My oldest was having a problem getting settled down.  Initially it was a conversation about peer pressure (it turns out that some of her friends at school last year were very invested in teasing another friend, and my daughter didn’t know what to do when confronted with the possibility of being the friend of a “loser”). Suddenly, the night took a very strange turn, and she started sobbing (She’s almost nine and, yes, the hormones are kicking in, but that’s not the point), and then made this declaration to my wife and me.

Daddy, sometimes I just feel like something is missing in my life.

I was flabbergasted.  My nine-year-old daughter is not supposed to be having concerns and feelings like this. More importantly, I am a pastor and evangelist how is it possible that my daughter could feel that kind of emptiness inside? How had I failed?*

I took a breath, said a quick prayer and then, suddenly, I was given the answer. The answer came in very fast flashes. The first thing that came to me was this:

When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.

and then…

Life’s ambition occupies my time, Priorities confuse the mind
Happiness one step behind, This inner peace I’ve yet to find
Rivers flow into the sea, yet even the sea is not so full of me
If I’m not blind why can’t I see
That a circle can’t fit where a square should be?
There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you
And this hole in my heart can’t be filled with the things I do…

Yeah… It’s a song by Extreme… So what?  Then this…

Read Ecclesiastes to her.

Now, all of a sudden, the pieces fit together.  This is what I said to her:

Do you remember the story of King Solomon? He was the wisest king Israel ever had; maybe the wisest king ever! Do you remember that since he asked God for wisdom instead of riches or fame, that God gave him all three? Solomon lived a life that was pleasing to God for a while, but then he started to do things that God had told him not to do. He married foreign wives who worshiped false gods, he set up temples for those false gods to be worshiped in Israel. Eventually, Solomon had done all kinds of different things to see how it felt and to see if they would make him happy. And here’s what he finally said:

Nothing makes sense! Everything is nonsense. I have seen it all–nothing makes sense! What is there to show for all of our hard work here on this earth? People come, and people go, but still the world never changes. The sun comes up, the sun goes down; it hurries right back to where it started from. The wind blows south, the wind blows north; round and round it blows over and over again. All rivers empty into the sea, but it never spills over; one by one the rivers return to their source. All of life is far more boring than words could ever say. Our eyes and our ears are never satisfied with what we see and hear.  Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun. Someone might say, “Here is something new!” But it happened before, long before we were born. No one who lived in the past is remembered anymore, and everyone yet to be born will be forgotten too. – Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

When I finished reading (and before I could say what was on my mind to say) my daughter said, “Daddy that’s depressing!” I said, “you’re right. It really is.” And it truly is depressing. Here was the greatest king the world had ever known, wise beyond comparison, and the magnum opus of his life, the summary conclusion of his very existence is that everything we do is pointless. You see, the fact of the matter is that Solomon was dealing with a whole in his life. Something was missing, and he couldn’t figure out what that something was. If you read through Ecclesiastes you see that he tries to fill the whole with this and with that and nothing works. I tried to explain this to my daughter, and I confess a momentary uneasiness when I saw that it was making her worse. Then we got to Chapter 12.

Now, Chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes is one of my very favorites in all of the Bible, but we’ll get to why in a moment. I read to her:

Keep your Creator in mind while you are young! In years to come, you will be burdened down with troubles and say, “I don’t enjoy life anymore.” Someday the light of the sun and the moon and the stars will all seem dim to you. Rain clouds will remain over your head. Your body will grow feeble, your teeth will decay, and your eyesight fail. The noisy grinding of grain will be shut out by your deaf ears, but even the song of a bird will keep you awake. You will be afraid to climb up a hill or walk down a road. Your hair will turn as white as almond blossoms. You will feel lifeless and drag along like an old grasshopper. We each go to our eternal home, and the streets are filled with those who mourn. The silver cord snaps, the golden bowl breaks; the water pitcher is smashed, and the pulley at the well is shattered. So our bodies return to the earth, and the life-giving breath returns to God. Nothing makes sense. I have seen it all–nothing makes sense.

I could see (and was feeling for myself) a lingering uncertainty about the effectiveness of this tact.

I was a wise teacher with much understanding, and I collected a number of proverbs that I had carefully studied. Then I tried to explain these things in the best and most accurate way. Words of wisdom are like the stick a farmer uses to make animals move. These sayings come from God, our only shepherd, and they are like nails that fasten things together. My child, I warn you to stay away from any teachings except these. There is no end to books, and too much study will wear you out.

And then I told her, as I’m telling you who are reading now, that these next verses are the reason I love this chapter so much.

Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about. God will judge everything we do, even what is done in secret, whether good or bad.

You see, Solomon discovered all these thousands of years ago what my daughter was feeling that night. There is a God-shaped hole in each and every one of us. Just as all of creation groans for redemption, our spirits (if not our very bodies) yearn to respect and obey God, even when, and most especially when, we don’t. We may try to fill it the void with social service, carousing, vice, good deeds, study/education, pursuing a dream… you name it. But it is a GOD-SHAPED HOLE!!!

And “a circle can’t fit where a square should be.”

If I don’t land this plane, then this will officially be the most depressing blog post ever, so let me say some things that we can remember and remind ourselves of when we have feelings like my daughter had the other night. If you are a believer in Christ and you have accepted the salvation offered for you, then what I am about to say applies to you. PERIOD! If you are not a believer in Christ, these things don’t apply to you YET, but they absolutely CAN!

  1. I am a child of God (John 1:12)
  2. Jesus brought kindness and truth into my life, even though I didn’t deserve it. (John 1:17)
  3. I am an important part of Christ’s body! (1 Corinthians 12:27)
  4. I am a NEW CREATION!  Everything that I was, every sin I ever committed, every failure I ever made, every mistake I ever made, every harsh thing I ever said is not only gone, it’s DEAD! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  5. God is not some high up there in the sky authority figure just waiting to zap a lightning bolt through me, I have DIRECT ACCESS to Him because of and through my High Priest, Jesus. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
  6. I am completely forgiven of my sins. (Colossians 1:14)
  7. I can not be condemned anymore. (Romans 8:1-2)
  8. I am completely exempt from the accusations that Satan will try to hurl at me and at God on my behalf (Romans 8:31-34)
  9. Nothing, that’s right, NOTHING – not life or death, heaven or hell, angels or demons, nothing that ever was or ever will be – can separate me from God’s love for me! (Romans 8:35-39)
  10. I no longer have a spirit of fear, I have a spirit of Power, Love and a Sound Mind! (2 Timothy 1:7)
  11. I am someone who overwhelmingly conquers. (Romans 8:37)
  12. Because I have believed these truths, I am FREE! (8:32,36)
  13. There is no such thing as a terrible day.  EVERY day can be and, in fact is, a wonderful day! (Psalm 118:24)
  14. Because of God’s strength through Christ Jesus, I can do ANYTHING! (Philippians 4:13)

The best part is, this list barely scratches the surface of God’s promises for you and for me. The sad and somewhat embarrassing truth is that I often feel just like my daughter felt the other night. It’s at those times that I feel like the God-shaped hole is so big, I forget that it’s God-shaped. But when I remember that I can, because I have direct access to Him, go directly to God and pray these promises over my life, and over the lives of those in my family and in my church and in my extended life. Suddenly, that God-shaped hole starts to get filled up with God, and then – I said to my daughter – I don’t feel like something’s missing anymore.

At least for a while… But that’s another post.

Question: Have you ever tried to fill up the hole in your life with something that just didn’t work? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


*The reader should follow everything from “more importantly” to “how had I failed” with much sarcasm.