Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aftermath- Looking Ahead

Torn scraps of colored paper litter the floor. Boxes, bows and ribbons are strewn throughout the room. Debris from ripping through packaging material are all that remains. Toys are in the rooms. Electronics are being played with and gadgets are being tested. There is relative peace, because Christmas is over.

I remember as a child it seemed Christmas was over all too quick. All the anticipation and build up was over after just 30 minutes of unwrapping presents. The mysteries of what was in each box were revealed and the puzzle of figuring out what was in that odd-shaped package was solved. Now all that was left was the clean-up (and the playing with the gifts of course). I can remember some years feeling a let-down, as if the end was anti-climactic compared to the waiting.

Now this doesn't mean I didn't have good Christmases growing up. Just the opposite. I had parents who gave us not only what we wanted, but what we needed, as well as unexpected gifts to help us pursue our passions or hone our hidden talents. It's just there were times, especially when I got older, that it seemed the excitement far outlasted the temporary happiness that each gift brought. And now, as an adult, the aftermath of Christmas means bills to pay (though we are fairly good at not going into debt for Christmas) and paring down of older things to make room for new things. It means the taking down of decorations and the constant reminding of children to put their new toys away. It means getting back to work and back to routine. Usually by mid-January Christmas is a distant memory and life plows on, ever-faster; ever-relentless. Surely this isn't what Christmas is all about?

As I think about this, I think about the disciples and what they must have felt after Jesus ascended into heaven. The long-awaited Messiah had come, and for three years ministered to the Jewish people. Now he was ascending into heaven. No political kingdom had been founded. No government coup had taken place. Caesar still ruled, taxes still had to be paid and the Sanhedrin still ruled the Temple with a legalistic tyranny. I wonder, as they waited in Jerusalem for what Jesus had promised (see Acts 1) what their conversations must have been. They had been on an adventure for three years, now what? Was it over? What was next? Surely this was not what they had anticipated.

Oh to be there on that day of Pentecost! When the senses were brought to life with the sound of a violent rushing wind and the sight of a flame coming to rest upon each one in that upper room. Oh to be there when the Apostles began to preach in a myriad of languages and to see 3,000 souls immersed into Christ! What a fulfillment that must have been! The Kingdom had come, and it came with power.

You know, that same Holy Spirit works within the Church today. He still moves and compels the people of God into a life of adventure and fulfillment. That doesn't mean it will be easy, but it will be an adventure. So as you put away the tree and wrap up the lights, remember, Christmas has always been, and will always be a beginning of an adventure, not merely a fulfillment of ancient promises. God has more in store for you and I!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Marble

Our bedroom looks like the gift wrapping department at a major retail store. Ribbons, bows and paper cover every available surface. Unused boxes sit in the corner, open and waiting to be filled with a thoughtful gift. Scraps of paper, too small for use on a medium sized gift, but too large to be thrown away, litter the floor. The kids are constantly trying to find ways to sneak into the 'forbidden zone' in hopes of catching a glimpse of an unwrapped toy.

The living room shows the fruits of this gift-wrapping chaos. Beneath the tree, neatly packaged and decorated with bows of green, red, silver, and gold, are the presents. Some small, some large, and various ones in between. Since most of the wrapping goes on after bedtime, the kids have been greeted several mornings with another gift or two under the tree. Last night, as I went to place the latest stash beneath the boughs I saw a wadded up piece of newspaper. I picked it up thinking it mus be something the cats have been playing with. But inside I could feel something hard. I slowly unwrapped it to discover a marble.

Now I must pause to tell you the significance of this marble. This was not just any marble. This was Savannah's marble. This particular marble had been residing in the top drawer of Savannah's dresser for several months. The top drawer was a place of honor. It was a place of distinction. From the top drawer Savannah's favorite trinkets and toys resided in relative safety from curious sisters and clumsy little fingers. And it was from within this top drawer, that the marble had been taken from it's place of honor to be wrapped in a piece of torn newsprint, to be placed beneath a tree.

I went to Savannah the next day to ask why she placed her beloved marble under the tree. Her answer was reflective of the heart that is sometimes hidden by her spunky attitude, "I wanted to give you something for Christmas, but I didn't have any money, so I gave you my favorite thing."

The story is so familiar isn't it? God, who has no use for money, went into his 'top drawer' to pick out His most valuable possession to give to us. This gift did not come wrapped in the fanciest, most colorful of garments, adorned with gold and silver, but it was wrapped in the swaddling cloths of a poor Palestinian maiden. Nor was it put in a place of honor. In fact, this gift would not be placed under a tree, but upon one. And through the whole story we hear God revealing His heart to us, "I wanted to give you something, so I gave you my favorite thing; I gave you my Son."

As I hugged Savannah, I couldn't help but smile because with her child-like heart she showed me once again, what Christmas is all about.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


It's that time of year again. Many of us are pulling boxes out of closets and bins out of attics. Fragile decorations are placed carefully around the house and evergreen trees decorate the interior of our homes. Light strands are untangled and tested. Wreaths are dusted off and hung up proudly. Reds and greens are splashed everywhere. All in preparation for Christmas.

And that doesn't include the presents. Stores are staked out and reconnoitered for the appropriate gifts. Websites are assaulted daily by frugal shoppers in search of the best deals. Gift wrap, ribbons, bows, bags, and tissue paper litter our floors and tables. The sound of tape tearing and scissors snipping fills the air as mundane boxes are transformed into beautiful packages. All in preparation for Christmas.

And did I mention the food? We mustn't forget the food. Hams are glazed, turkeys are basted and potatoes are mashed. Gravy bubbles, casseroles steam and rolls rise in anticipation. And then there's dessert. The mouth waters as it thinks of all the cookies, pies, fudge, and dare I say it, fruitcakes that will be baked. Kitchens will be filled with laughter just as sinks will be filled with the dishes that bear witness to the feast that will be enjoyed. All in preparation for Christmas.

And then there's John the Baptist. Yes you heard me right. Don't back-up and re-read the previous paragraphs. I didn't forget to type a few transitional sentences. And, believe it or not, I didn't jump tracks. If we are talking about preparations, we can't neglect this wild preacher whose radical wardrobe of camel hair was rivaled only by his strange diet of locusts and wild honey. Yet he is described as a 'voice in the wilderness,' and as one who would go before the Messiah. One who would 'prepare the way of the Lord.' So he did. He went; he proclaimed; he prepared. His message was profoundly simple yet simply profound, and it only consisted of one word: 'Repent!'

Repent. A change in direction. An about-face. When we hear this word we must be careful not to make the common mistake of thinking that the word merely means to stop doing something. It involves much more than stopping. It involves turning. Turning requires volition. Turning requires initiative. Turning requires a change in goals. No longer are we enticed by the worldly riches, but by Godly treasure. No longer do we face our self-serving motives and desires, but we face the glorification of God in our lives. Our feet no longer carry us away from God, but toward Him; toward His love; toward His grace; toward His plan for our lives.

This was John's message to Jews awaiting the Messiah. It must be the Church's message. If you want to see the Messiah, repent. If you want to see salvation, repent. If you want to see mercy, repent. As we prepare to celebrate His coming, let us not neglect our preparations for His second coming. We need to be a voice in the wilderness. We need to 'prepare the way of the Lord.' We need to proclaim the Good News. All in preparation for Christ.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Gospel According to Jesus by Chris Seay

Okay, I'm going to be honest, this was a tough read for me. It's not that it wasn't well written (it was) or that it did not have some unique aspects (I enjoyed the interviews at the end of each chapter), it 's just that this book travels down the same road as several others I have recently read. Essentially, it's a book on discipleship. After reading Stearns' 'The Hole in Our Gospel' and 'Starving Jesus' by Gross and Mahon, and 'The Christian Atheist' by Craig Groeschel, this book struggled to keep my interest.

Seay begins with the fact that the term 'righteousness' is widely misunderstood in Christendom and that we mostly relate it to behavior modification. He then argues that to achieve righteousness we must live as Jesus lived (i.e. become a disciple of Jesus). He gives a chapter on what we were created to be (image bearers of God) and why we fail at this (because we are sinful), and then he spends the rest of the book on how we can live in relationship with Christ. At the end of each chapter he interviews some well known church leaders on how they accomplish this in their lives. Personally, I got more from the interviews than any other part of the book.

The book is written with a somewhat 'anti-establishment' voice that is common to many young writers and ministers who are trying to shape the Church into an effective institution for post-modern culture, yet he doesn't try to purposefully offend anyone. His call to live in relationship rather than with regulations is spot-on. If you haven't read any books on discipleship, this would be a good start, although there are several others that I think share the same message much more effectively.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Christmas 'Advent'ure

As a kid I grew up with an Advent calendar. There are several varieties, but most have a door or flap that is opened or removed as you count down the days to Christmas. I can remember the excitement building each day as me or my sister got to open the next door that revealed part of the nativity scene. The anticipation grew and grew until that Christmas morning when the final door was opened to reveal a baby laid in a manger.

Growing up in a non-denominational brotherhood of churches, my knowledge of Advent never spread beyond that calendar. I had friends at school that talked about Advent, but I chalked it up to some mysterious practice that many followed but few understood, and would proudly think to myself, 'I am glad that my church is above these silly traditions.'

Now I serve at a church that has a history that precedes the Restoration Movement by nearly 100 years, and one of their traditions is lighting a candle on an Advent wreath every Sunday leading up to Christmas. Immediately upon hearing this tradition my 'churchianity' detector kicked into overdrive as I sought out how to best handle this 'denominational' tradition. (Even I amaze myself at my overly pious pride), but as I researched this tradition I found some surprisingly Biblical insights.

The roots of this tradition are found in the meaning of the word 'advent'. It is based on the Latin for 'coming'. The leaders of the 5th-6th century church wanted to tie together the parallels between the Old Testament Jews waiting for the coming of the Messiah and the modern Church waiting for His second-coming. The time of year where we celebrate His first 'advent' seemed an appropriate time for this teaching. Over the centuries many more traditions became attached, some good, some not so good, but I think it is good to think about four 'advents' as we approach Christmas.

1. The First Advent of Jesus- His birth in a manger to a virgin mother is a miraculous fulfillment of prophecy (Is. 7:14). But that birth would mean nothing apart from His death, burial and resurrection. This is a great time of year to remember, and be thankful for the greatest gift ever given to us: Grace. And let us remember that grace is free, but not cheap. It required the life of Jesus and demands the life of His followers.

2. The Advent of the Holy Spirit- One of the great promises Jesus gave His followers is that He would not leave them alone, but that He would leave them a helper, companion and counselor: the Holy Spirit (for more read John 14 and John 16). The prophets spoke of a day when God would place His Spirit inside men (see Ezekiel 36:25-27 and Joel 2:28-32) and the coming, or advent, of that is found in Acts 2 when Peter and the rest of the apostles experience God's Holy Spirit and preach the first gospel sermon. It is in this sermon that we are told how we can enjoy the benefits of this 'advent', "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (emphasis mine). The days the prophets long for are here and now. We enjoy the fulfillment of promises that were eagerly waited upon for centuries!

3. The Advent of the Church- Not only did God provide His Spirit to comfort and guide, but He established a Divine Institution to encourage and disciple us to maturity. This institution is the Church. The Church, after Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is perhaps God's greatest gift to man. In her we find community, fellowship, love and opportunities to make a difference. Within the Church we are instructed with the Word of God so that we may carry out the Will of God. I am not saying that every congregation is perfect, but I have had the privilege of serving and seeing congregations that truly seek out God's plan and purpose for them. Yes, we could sit around and swap horror stories of congregation that have abused God's grace, but I prefer to focus on the positive and strive to lift up the bride of Christ as a vehicle through which the Gospel is presented. If you aren't a member of a local congregation, than you are missing out on some great opportunities to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ!

4. The Second Advent of Jesus- Just as the Messiah was promised to come to the Jews, He has promised to return for His Bride, the Church. We can count on this second coming because God has established a track record of keeping His promises. The imminent nature of this second Advent should spur us on to evangelism. As the old hymn says, "There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save. Send the Light! Send the Light!" The Church was not established to give us Spiritual food so we can be fat and happy and content. We are to feed, and then give that food to others! God has sent us as servants so that His table might be full (see Luke 14:15-24). As laborers, we look forward to the rest this coming will bring, but as faithful stewards of the Gospel, we work to make sure that every person has an opportunity to accept the invitation of God!

What I have discovered is that this Christmas season, known as Advent by our denominational friends, should serve as a reminder that God has called us to a great adventure of serving, evangelizing and building for His Kingdom. There are preparations to be made and souls to be saved. But, there is also joyful anticipation as we wait for God to open that final door as He calls His children home to be with Him for eternity. Please keep this in mind as you enjoy this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Driving with Frank Abagnale Jr.

In 2002 the Stephen Spielberg movie "Catch Me If You Can" hit box offices. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks it told the story of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. and his exploits as a con-artist and check forger extraordinaire. The movie was loosely based on Abagnale's biography that goes by the same title. I have watched the movie several times and at the end of the movie, Abagnale joins forces with the FBI to help catch other con-artists.

When I was driving around yesterday, scanning the radio stations for something to listen to, I came across a broadcast on Bloomberg Radio that had Abagnale as a sit-in guest. The host was Pimm Fox and the topic was protection against identity theft. As a fan of the movie, I decided to listen to a show I would otherwise skim over, and I nearly did as the advice was mostly common-sense type advice, but then the conversation turned to ethics and character development. As a preacher, this interested me. I am always interested in what the 'world' thinks. This is what I discovered.

1. The Secular World Recognizes that there is an Ethical Vacuum

Pimm Fox asked Abagnale something along the lines of 'What is the difference in philosophy between those who scam people today, and yours when you were scamming people?' Abagnale's response was simple: unadulterated greed. He even mused why, if a CEO cheated people out of 50 million dollars, why would they risk getting caught for a few thousand more? The only answer was greed. Abagnale then used this as a springboard for jumping to the topic of the lack of ethics being taught today. He spoke of how all of his children completed graduate degrees, and only the lawyer was required to take just one ethic course. The result? A generation of children have grown into adults with no character. From Wall Street to politicians (as I write this, the top story on Fox News is long-time Congressman Charlie Rangel from NY was found to be in violation of 11 ethics charges) the world we live in sees evidence of a moral vacuum.

2. The Secular World Doesn't have a Clue as to how to Reverse this Trend

What was Abagnale's solution? He suggested starting as early as middle school, teaching character courses and ethics in public schools. But he punctuated his advice with a curious phrase, "now I am not talking religion here." That short little phrase revealed a lot about what many people falsely think will cure society's issues.

First, to think that public education is solution is to fall into the same trap that sex education advocates have fallen. All sex education has done is increase teen sexuality, not curb it. Character development cannot begin in the classroom, it must begin in the home, with parents who are committed to raising morally upright children. If it doesn't, the problem will only get bigger because what you are in all actuality doing is raising a generation who will believe they can out-think the system.

Second, to think you can have morality without God is like thinking you can have law without a constitution. To take God out of the equation is to remove the foundation for morality. If we teach our children that we evolve from animals, it is only a matter of time before they begin to act like animals. If we teach them they are their own authority, soon you will see the results of anarchy. What power has government if you take away the God who ordained it in the first place? We Americans cherish the idea that a government cannot rule without the consent of the governed. But what happens when the governed decides they no longer wished to be ruled by any authority? Only a God-fearing people can thrive in a democratic society, because if we cease to fear God, chaos will erupt and the only human tool that can rule a chaotic society is military might. A quick perusal of history will show you that is how Greece, Rome, France, Germany, Russia, China and a litany of others went from either monarchies or democracies to dictatorships. The names of Caesar, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler and others leave a sour taste in our mouth, but when a society rejects belief in a higher power, then only the philosophy of 'might makes right' remains.

This is where the Church comes into play. Am I advocating Church involvement in politics? No. What I am advocating is if God's people would do what they are called by God to do, namely to seek, save and disciple the lost, we can become a God-fearing people again. By changing people, one life at a time; by trusting in God's power to transform hearts and minds; by taking Christ at His word and lifting Him up so that He can draw all men to Himself; we can restore morality to America. It won't happen in the classroom. It will happen if God's people, the Church, move in a purposeful and motivated manner towards the goal God has placed before us in Matthew 28:19-20.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Broken but Blooming

The poor thing didn't have a chance. Not with wind gusts of up to 60mph whipping around it. It was bound to fall over and sure enough it did. Potted plants just aren't made for that kind of weather and neither was my wife's Hibiscus. I went out the front door last week to find it lying on it's side in the middle of the yard, it's forlorn, windswept blooms staring up at me as if to say, "What are you doing leaving me out here?!?" I picked it up and placed it just inside the front door and looked it over to see if there was any severe damage. There was only one break. A small branch with a bud on the end had broken. But the break was not clean through. It kind of dangled there, sad and pathetic. I thought to myself, "That bud will never blossom." I went to get scissors to snip it off completely, and as often happens in a house full of children, I forgot about it completely.

Have you ever felt like that poor plant? You are sitting where God has placed you, and then out of the blue a storm comes and blows you off balance. And as you roll and tumble, you feel the pressure and then the snap! of something breaking. I have, and unless you are very young or very out of touch, chances are you have felt that disoriented and painful sensation of breakage.

We are reminded of brokenness everywhere we look. This month, my wife's cell phone decided that it would no longer charge. Snap! This past week as my car sat parked along a busy street, someone drove by and clipped my side-view mirror with theirs. Snap! Just this morning, I went to turn on the television to watch the news and heard a 'pop-fizzle' sound, and now instead of a TV I have a 27-inch paperweight. Snap! We are surrounded by brokenness.

Even our bodies remind us we live in a broken world. A father is diagnosed with cancer. Snap! A couple tries unsuccessfully for years to conceive a child. Snap! A family slowly loses their grandmother to the fog of Alzheimer's. Snap! Yes, our bodies act as barometers of the storms that bring pain and brokenness.

If only that brokenness were confined to things or our physical bodies, but we see broken people around us as well. A marriage suddenly ends when one partner decides that someone else's grass is greener. Snap! Children raised in good Christian homes grow up and reject the faith of their parents and live lifestyles that are self-destructive. Snap! A man tries to bear the weight of the world on his own shoulders, but succumbs to trying to drown out the world with alcohol. Snap! A woman is stuck in an abusive relationship because she doesn't know if there is any way out, and for some reason she truly does love the person who harms her. Snap! Broken people make up a large portion of our population, and chances are, there is part of you that is broken as well.

You lost your temper with the kids. Snap!
You got laid off at work and actually doubted God's ability to sustain you. Snap!
You failed to love your spouse like Jesus loves His Church. Snap!

You might even be wondering how God can use you if you are so broken.

Funny thing about that Hibiscus plant (you thought I had forgotten about it didn't you?) I came back the next day to place it outside and noticed something odd. The bud that was at the end of the broken stem had bloomed! Apparently it had enough of a connection with the main part of the plant that it was able to blossom, in spite of it's broken condition. This reminded me of a conversation that Jesus had with His disciples in John 14-16. Jesus is with His disciples on the last night of His earthly life and He instructs them that hard times are going to come. In other words, storms are coming to blow them off course. But then, in John 15, Jesus gives them the secret to surviving life's storms, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (verses 4-5) I love how The Message paraphrases parts of this, "Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you... I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant..." What Jesus is saying here is that the key to survival is to keep the relationship with Him close and intimate.

You might be questioning right now, "But I am broken. How can God use me if I have snapped off the vine?" Just because you are broken doesn't mean you have been snapped completely off. Just as the flower blossomed, you too can bear fruit. Paul hinted at this in 2 Corinthians when he spoke of a thorn in the flesh, a physical brokenness that he felt inhibited him from bearing fruit. I love God's reply to Paul's request for the thorn, the broken thing, to be removed: "My grace is sufficient for you; My power is perfected in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) Stay connected. Pray for the Vine-dresser to come and repair you. Realize that even though you are broken, through the all-sufficient grace of God, you can bloom and bear fruit. And in this brokenness, God's power just may be perfected within you!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Who, not What

I am not sure when it happened. Maybe it was during Bible College. Or perhaps during the turbulent first years of ministry. Or maybe it happened in the midst of trying to instill faith in my children. Whenever it was, it definitely happened.

What? you ask.

A shift in perception. A new way of describing my beliefs. Unlike some moments, there was no epiphany. No sudden revelations. Just a subtle move from one system of thinking to another.

It used to be I described my beliefs in terms of 'what.'

'This is what I believe about theology...'

'This is what I believe about the Bible...'

'This is what I believe about Jesus...'

But no longer! I am not confined to the world of 'what'! To me it is supremely more important to figure out who you believe.

Who do you believe about lifestyle choices?

Who do you believe about hope and love?

Who do you believe about salvation?

Why the difference? Because 'what' is subjective to my whim. I can choose this, or I can choose that. 'Who' is subjective to the authority of the person I believe, and when it comes to Jesus, there is no greater authority. Because 'what' is subjective to me, it can change and mutate, but 'who' is steadfast and reliable because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Also, 'what' leads to cold, legalistic religion. When I submit to 'what' I don't care about people, I care about rules. My concern is not about introducing people to Jesus, my concern is enforcing a law code. But the system of 'who' leads to relationship. As my relationship with Jesus grows, so does my desire to introduce others to Him, because only what He thinks matters and only what He does makes a difference.

Does this mean that 'what' is no longer important? No! but it is my contention that knowing the 'who' will lead to the 'what' and beyond!

What about you? Have you moved from 'what' to 'who'?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This is My Story- Part 3

You may not know who Greg Allen is. You may not know that he is the worship leader for the largest Christian Church in North America. You may not know that every weekend he leads tens of thousands of Christians to the throne of God through music. You may not know that the staff around him respected not only his musical abilities, which are profound, but they also noticed his walk with God, which was so profound that they moved him from worship leader to a new position: the Minister of Leadership.

You also may not know that Greg Allen nearly lost his voice... permanently. In the late 1990s Greg had three different surgeries on his throat and vocal chords to repair damage. Unsure whether he would ever speak, much less sing again, he fell at the feet of Jesus. The leaders at his Louisville congregation valued integrity more than talent and still used Greg at times to lead worship even though all he could do was talk barely above a whisper and lip sync the lyrics. It was at this time that Greg felt God saying to him, "I do not love you because you are a worship leader. I love you because you are my child."

As I heard Greg share his story this weekend, I was reminded of my journey. I went to Bible College and got a degree in Bible and preaching. My first ministry was in northern Ohio. No friends nearby. No family around the corner. Cold weather that seemed warm compared to the culture of the congregation I found myself serving. Those first years were rough. My inexperience combined with feeling alone combined with overbearing leaders led to a lot of headaches, many of my own making. But I never wavered in my commitment. I was a preacher. I was called. I would not give up on my calling.

After Ohio came Kentucky. Everything Ohio was not, Kentucky was. Here I had friends. Here I had a network of ministers I could lean on. Here I was close enough to home to see family a couple times a year. But... these stories always have a but! But it was a difficult ministry. A church plant that had more going wrong than right when I arrived. I was hired as 'the last chance effort' to save the already 2 year-old plant. Long story short, there were internal power struggles that when confronted led to an already small church splitting. After three years the funding ran out and I was asked my honest opinion on what to do. What did I do? I fired myself! I told them to close the doors and relaunch. But my faith did not waver. I was a preacher. I was called. I would not give up on my calling.

Then came six long months of searching. Dozens of resumes went out (I stopped counting at 50!) and 'rejection' letters began to pour in:

"We're sorry but...'re too young to preach."'re too old to lead youth."

...we can't afford to support you and your family." preach too well to be an associate."

Five months went by without a single interview. My wife and I each juggled part-time jobs as we tried to make ends meet during this dry spell, when finally a church in southern Virginia called. Virginia! Virginia was home! It was a youth ministry position under a well-seasoned and successful preaching minister that I could be mentored by and learn from his example. We could barely curb our excitement! We went and interviewed for the position. I prepared a lesson to teach to the youth and was told by elders and staff alike, "Pack your bags, the rest is a formality." This had to be God's will for us!

Turns out it wasn't. Two weeks later we got the rejection phone call. I was broken. I was shaken. I began to doubt if I was really called. After all, if I was called then God would have a place for me, right? All my confident statements turned into questions.

Am I a preacher?
Am I called?
Will I give up on my calling?

It was soon after this that I attended church with a good friend in Lexington. It was a Wednesday night service at a large church and I wanted to hide in a corner and hope beyond hope for some revelation. There was worship, but my heart had no song. There was a lesson, but my mind did not feed. But... these stories always have a but! But then the teacher said they were going to do something different. He divided the crowd into groups of a dozen or less and told us to pray for each person. I tried to avoid a group, but God's people have a way of sucking you in when you don't want to be but desperately need to be included. My group was only five or six people. We introduced ourselves and agreed to pray for the person to our right. I have long forgotten the name of the gentleman to my left. I don't remember every word he said, but I remember one phrase, "Lord let this young man know tonight that You love Him."

He loves me!
Oh how He loves me!

After the amens were said I left quickly and sat in my car and wept openly. The message God gave me that night was the same he gave to Greg Allen, "I don't love you because you are a preacher. I love you because you are my child!" I no longer doubted my calling; my calling as a child of God. Within a month I was employed in Maryland as a teacher in a Christian School and part-time associate minister. It was not what I had envisioned, but for four years God held me in a crucible of learning humility and obedience; two lessons I desperately needed to learn.

Then after four years God flung open the doors to preaching ministry. Today, I find myself in southern Virginia, doing God's will and not my own. You see my story is really His story and this is my story: I am a preacher. I am called. I will not give up on my calling.

What's your story?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

This is My Story- Part 2

Stories. We love them. From a young age we are indoctrinated by story. Bedtime stories, nursery rhymes and cardboard books dominate our childhood. As adults, we are just as addicted. Movies tell stories. Music communicates story in an emotive way. Even sports usually have a storyline running through them as we cheer for the underdog to overcome all obstacles to defeat their hated rival.

What's your story? You might not think it's much, but it's yours. God has given you a story to use for His glory.

My story is simple. I grew up in a Christian household with godly parents. At the age of 16 I thought I wanted to preach. My home minister scheduled my first sermon for a Sunday night service. Blessed with a preaching grandfather and a teaching father, I had many resources to pull from to write a sermon. With the vigor of youth I zealously researched, wrote and rehearsed. I was determined that it would be the greatest sermon ever preached. In my mind's eye I saw people repenting with tears, the waters of the baptistry rippling and fire from heaven consuming those who would defy the Lord (what can I say? I love the Old Testament!) Oh the naivety of youth!

The day came and I approached the pulpit with confidence. The pulpit was old school in design. It was elevated on an elevated stage and boxed the speaker into a fixed position. As I laid my Bible and notes on the pulpit a 'gust' of air blew and all 30 pages of notes fell off the pulpit to the floor below. Two things happened. First, I learned that numbering pages is a must. Second, I learned the power of prayer as I gathered the notes from the floor beseeching God that they be in the right order! In my rehearsal time the sermon took 45 minutes. When I reached the pulpit, again, I noticed the people (who knew people would be there!) and I sped-read the notes, not caring if they were in order, and finished in under 5 minutes.

As I shook hands after the service I was touched by the good Christian people who tried to be encouraging. Some offered pats on the back, others lied to me and said it was good, a few simply smiled and shook their heads as if to say, 'Nice try. Find a plan B.' I no longer thought I wanted to preach. One of the deacons, my future father-in-law in fact, handed me a slip of paper with a scripture scrawled on it. He told me to read it when I got home. I thanked him and placed the now wadded up paper in my pants pocket and promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward a couple of hours as I sulked in my bedroom. I argued with God over His calling. I know, it's stupid to argue with God, but I was determined that He made a mistake. As I prepared to bed down I cleaned out my pockets and discovered the piece of paper. The Scripture scrawled on it was 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. As I read it, I began to weep at Paul's words, "When I came to you brethren, I did not come to you with wisdom or superiority of speech. For I resolved to know nothing among you except Christ Jesus and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and fear and with much trembling and my message was not with wise and persuasive words, but in demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God." As I read those words through the tears in my eyes I realized my mistake: preaching is not about me. It must never be about me. It's always and forever about the God who called me. I no longer thought I wanted to preach, I knew I wanted to preach.

That's my story. So far.

Friday, October 22, 2010

This is my Story- part 1

When I entered the sanctuary about an hour before the session started I heard the chords of a familiar praise song reverberating off of the 9,000 empty seats. Immediately my mind matched lyrics with music and I began to internally sing, "He loves us, O how He loves us, O how He loves us." I settled into a seat that promised plenty of leg room for my 6'7" frame. As I flipped through the conference booklet a melodic voice began to sing "This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior all the day long." But the music hadn't changed. In an instant I found myself caught up and carried away by the unexpected merge of modern mixed with traditional. Soon, another voice began to sing the lyrics that first popped in my head in harmonious unison with the familiar hymn. I began to worship as I contemplated that my story is His story of love for me.

I will have more on this topic later, but for now, What's your story?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Purpose

Raising children is an adventure to say the least. Comedian Bill Cosby has made the assertion that unless you have more than one child you are not a true parent because one child does not fight with themselves! Lately I have felt more like a referee than a parent as our two youngest daughters have been constantly bickering over everything from whose side of the room is whose, or who is the rightful owner of a particular toy (this despite the fact that the other has an identical toy), or whose clothes are whose since Charley is beginning to wear hand-me-downs from Savannah. Sometimes the bickering escalates into something more physical in nature. The most recent bout took the form of hair-pulling and face-smacking. As I interrogated the diminutive divas, Charley kept saying, "I didn't do it on purpose" as if that was an excuse for her wrong actions.

This prompted my mind to wander to the excuses we have when God convicts of sin. How often do we claim, "I didn't mean to sin. It wasn't as if I did it on purpose"? I can remember using that excuse with my mother once, to which she quickly responded, "You didn't mean not to either." In other words, I didn't purposefully make the choice to avoid my shortcomings.

Purpose. Purpose imbues intention on an action. As I read the Scriptures I am convicted that the best way to avoid sin is not to go through life with the, "I will not do this today." Rather, we must approach life with purpose, with intention, as we decide to do good in the place of evil. Good actions must replace evil deeds. It's not enough to avoid sin. It's not enough to simply say, 'I will not do this.' We must replace the sinful deeds with good ones. We must purposefully seek to do good. We must live life on purpose.

As I thought about this, I began to evaluate other areas of my life and work with the lens of purpose set upon it. Are my sermons 'on purpose' or are they simply set up according to whatever whim hits me at the time? Do my Bible studies reflect intentionality or do they simply jump from one random book to the next? Fortunately these two areas passed the purpose test. But some areas did not. Some personal areas that deal with familial issues and other not so personal areas, one of which is this blog failed to measure up to the standard of intent. I have not approached this blog with purpose or intention. My writings have been based upon whatever is bouncing around my cranium at the time.

I want to change this. Starting at the first of the 2011 year, this blog will show more purpose. It will still have book reviews from time to time (I'm not going to turn down free reading material), but the other posts will reflect more intentionality. They will reflect (1) the topic of that week's sermon for those of you who attend Cool Springs Christian Church that will also be applicable to those not privy to the sermon material, (2) a challenge to do something for the Kingdom, and (3) prayer topics based either on the post, the ministry that I am serving in or the impact of the blog. Even though I'm a small voice at a small church, it is my prayer that God can use this blog to impact a worldwide audience!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Transforming Church in Rural America

I've been serving local churches in ministry for over a decade. All of them have been small churches struggling to find ways to grow. Some have been limited by a worship of the past, others were hampered by overbearing leaders and others still by poor location combined with limited facilities. In his book, Transforming Church in Rural America, Shannon O'Dell writes a church growth book specifically geared to small churches in small population areas. By using examples from his own congregation in rural Arkansas, O'Dell challenges the 'myth' that only churches in large urban/suburban settings can grow and succeed in dynamic ministry.

Through the use of the acronym VALUE (Vision; Attitude; Leadership; Understanding; Enduring Excellence) O'Dell imparts principles that a congregation of any size can follow. The author outlines his own successes and failures for the reader's benefit. The book is written in a very conversational tone that makes it both easy to read and to understand.

As for negatives, they are minor. There is an emphasis on vision throughout the entire book. The other principles are overshadowed by O'Dell's focus on developing, adopting and communicating vision to leaders and congregants alike. The book might be better promoted on how to develop vision for the rural congregation. Although I did appreciate the emphasis that a leader with no vision has no business being the lead minister.

Also, under-emphasized throughout the book is one of the major keys to O'Dell's success: a supportive leadership. Experience has taught me that in order to effect change in the traditional, country church you must have the lay-leadership in your corner. If not, change will not occur. O'Dell's claim that change produces conflict is 100% accurate, and without leaders that are long-time members of the church giving support, a minister will not be able to achieve his vision, no matter how clear it is.

I would recommend this book to any leader in the rural church who desire to cast God's vision before the church. The principles O'Dell outlines are solid even though his methods may not work in every congregation.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Prayer for MACU

On October 3, two students at my alma-mater, Mid-Atlantic Christian University, got into an altercation resulting in one young man being shot and losing his life. My heart has been breaking, and this is my prayer...


I want to scream. I want to shake my fists and yell. But my enemy has no face. No, rather than give an object for wrath, he leaves this cold, impotent rage that struggles to be voiced. So I turn to You. My questions swim around my head. Questions of why this happened and how could this be allowed to happen and who does Satan think he is attacking my school, my family, my heritage?

But it's not mine is it? It's not mine, it's Yours. She was Your school and he was Your child. One family loses a son to murder, the other to prison. But they are Your families. A campus full of students has lost her security; her innocence. But she is Your campus. So I turn to You, to implore You, to beg You, be the God You have always been. The God who avenges the innocent. The God who protects the helpless. Spread a blanket of protection over the students, staff and families affected by this tragedy.

You are the God that drowned the armies of Pharaoh. Drown out the cries for retribution with Your grace.

You are the God who dried up the Jordan so Your children could enter the Promised land. Dry our tears and mend our hearts.

You are the God who knocked over Jericho's walls. Knock down the walls of fear that threaten to imprison us.

You are the God that guided David's sling. Guide our hearts toward restoration.

You are the God that destroyed the prophets of Baal. Destroy the arguments of those who would use this to defame Your name.

You are the God who restored the sight of the blind. Open our eyes to see who the real enemy is.

You are the God who rolled away a stone and proclaimed life out of death. Roll away this black curtain and speak life into a seemingly hopeless situation.

You have done all these things before and now we beg that you do it one more time. Out of the despair, bring rejoicing. Out of the anger, bring peace. Out of the sorrow, bring joy. Out of death, bring life. Then the world will know You are God.

Thank You for listening, for hearing and for doing. Take MACU in Your arms, dry her tears, and be the God You have always been.

In the name of the death conqueror: Jesus,


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Of Plants and Men

Jesus would often use the physical world to explain spiritual realities. Mustard seeds illustrate faith. Fruitless fig trees illustrate pointless living. A farmer sowing seed illustrates evangelism. The Gospels are chock full of Jesus' stories and their effectiveness is undeniable.

As a preacher, I am always looking for ways to emulate the Master Teacher. As fall approaches and the time for planting bulbs and certain other plants draws nigh, my wife is excited. After four years of living in an apartment with no yard, she is itching to plant a spring flower garden. This means that trips to plant nurseries, reading of countless internet articles on botany and visiting landscaping websites has occupied much of her time. This also means that I, the loving and understanding husband, have spent more than a few minutes listening to plans, ideas, and interesting tidbits about various plants. As she was doing this one day she reminded me of two phenomena that I remember learning in High School Biology class (I typically try to repress all memories from High School. Highwater jeans, thick glasses and a body type that resembled an anemic giraffe made me the recipient of much unwanted attention).

The first of these phenomena is phototropism. Have you ever put a potted plant in a window and after a few days it leans toward the window? What it is leaning toward is the light. The plant is actually stretching itself, and growing toward the light. God has equipped these plants with photo-receptive cells that can sense where the most light is and sends messages of, 'Hey, we need to go this direction if we want more sunshine!'

The second phenomenon is thigmotropism. Watch a vine grow up a trellis or see a venus flytrap close when a fly lands in its open maw and you are witnessing thigmotropism. The plant can actually 'feel' touch and will react to it. While most thigmotropic plants are harmless, some are parasitic and will wrap around another living plant, like a tree, and literally sap the life from them.

So what type of plant are you? Are you phototropic or thigmotropic? Do you want to grow in the light of a living God, thriving in your relationship with Him, or do you simply go with what 'feels' right at the time. The problem with being a thigmotropic Christian is that often what 'feels' right isn't. Solomon knew this when he penned, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." (Prov. 14:12). As a minister I have seen this first hand when lifestyle choices that are contrary to God's plan are justified by saying, "In my heart I know this is right." God's Word begs to differ: "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick..." (Jeremiah 17:9a).

What hope is there? I mean, if we can't trust our gut feelings and heart what can we trust? Simply put, we trust God's Word. In Psalm 119 David composed a love poem to God's word. In it he proclaims God's word as a "lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." (v. 105) If we are phototropic we live in God's Word, and if we stay phototropic, eventually we can trust the heart again. How? By hiding God's Word in our heart (Ps. 119:11) In fact the true 'Word' of God is Jesus (John 1:1) and when He takes residence in our heart, He doesn't merely dwell there, He renews the heart! This is what God promised through Ezekiel when He said, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from you and give you a heart of flesh." (36:26)

"God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." I John 1:5-6

Friday, September 17, 2010

Old Time Religion vs. New Morality

I make it a point to try to read what people who disagree with my worldview write on a regular basis. My hope is to discover what makes them 'tick' or what they view as supremely important. Knowing that I do this, my wife pointed out an article to me on CNN's website:

The article basically takes the stance of if we accept the technological advancements of our age, we must therefore accept the moral advancements too. In other words, our moral code is too 'antiquated' to be effective for such a modern time. Instead of looking to people of great faith for our morality, we should look to people who made tremendous profits for our morality. To quote the authors, "it is they (the profiteers), not the Mother Teresas of the world, that we should strive to be like and teach our kids the same."

I wonder if the authors took into account that our current economic state is due to the fact that people valued profit above morals. I also wonder if they would be in favor of re-instituting the practice of colonial slavery in order to turn a quicker profit. While I respect their candor and intellectual honesty, I can't help but wonder where our world would be in the absence of such out-of-date morals. As it is the child sex slavery industry is devastating economically challenged countries. But the practitioners are earning the big bucks. Should we teach our children to honor that as well? This is what happens when we place intellectualism as a god instead of following the One who created all things (and yes, I still look to the Old Testament for my beliefs on origins).

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this article is that it is written by two well-respected men. I worry that this philosophy of 'moral evolution' will make it into our classrooms (in some instances it already has I'm sure). I am confident that this very philosophy is being taught in many institutions of higher learning, resulting in the ethical vacuum we see on Wall St., in politics and in our judicial systems.

I am reminded of the book of Judges, where it is said twice of the extremely immoral time, "In those days Israel had no king and every man did what was right in his own eyes." I feel that the same is true of America. If we make profit our 'king', then we are headed toward a downward spiral that will end in catastrophic ruin. Instead, let's return to that "old time religion". It's good enough for me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Immanuel's Veins by Ted Dekker

I was very excited to learn that I could get the newest Ted Dekker release to review for booksneeze. I have read several of his works, including the Circle Series, Obsessed and Showdown to name a few. So when Immanuel's Veins showed up in my mailbox I was more than excited to get it.

The story takes place in 18th century Russia. Catherine the Great sends two trusted soldiers, Toma and Alek, to protect a Moldavian aristocratice family, a mother and two beautiful daughters. Alek, the consummate ladies' man, immediately falls for the younger daughter, a naive girl who is out to milk every physical pleasure she can out of life. Toma, the main character, falls for the older daughter, Lucine. Lucine has a painful past and is slow to trust or love anyone.

The antogonist is a mysterious Russian royal named Vlad. His mysterious castle and followers slowly entice each of the characters into a sensuous trap. Through many twists and turns Toma fights to free his love from the grasp of Vlad's power, and uncovers the power of true love over lust.

Dekker is a master at taking spiritual truths and explaining them through story, and this book is no different. With one story Dekker explains God's pursuit of His beloved and reveals the dangers of lust masquerading as love. The symbolism is powerful and poignant and the message is unmistakable. If there was anything I would have to criticize, it would be Dekker's character development. After reading several of his other novels, I know what he is capable of and I was disappointed with characters who were entirely two-dimensional. While the story line was great, and the action was fast-paced, making this book a page turner, the characters came off as flat and hard to empathize with.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, it's a good read, it just falls short of high standards set by a talented author.

Want a free Ted Dekker T-Shirt? Comment on my post and you will be entered into a drawing to win! One person commenting on my blog WILL win!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

Just when you thought that he couldn't possibly turn out another fantastic book, Max Lucado releases his best work in several years. I admit that I approached this book with a cynical point of view. Many of Lucado's books have a certain 'feel' to them, and after you have read a few, you feel like you have read them all. And this book had some of those same Lucado-esque qualities: short chapters, retelling familiar Bible stories in prose, modern-day stories and illustrations and powerful simplifications of Bible concepts were all present. But what set Outlive Your Life apart from his other books was the challenge to impact others in every chapter. His focus on applying the message sets this book a notch above most of Lucado's other works.

Lucado uses the events of the first 12 chapters of Acts to motivate the modern Church to do what the ancient church did so well; connect with hurting people. Lucado emphasizes that God used "ordinary Joes" to do extraordinary things. Whether it's feeding the hungry, helping the persecuted church or simply showing hospitality to the downtrodden in our communities, Lucado challenges the reader that he can help, and that the Biblical mandate is that he MUST help. Injected into each chapter is a story of a modern 'ordinary joe/jane' to illustrate how the most common people in the hands of an uncommon God can impact the world.

At the end of the book is an excellent study/discussion guide which can be used as an individual or in a small group setting. Even if you feel you have read all that Lucado has to offer, I recommend this book. It won't disappoint.

Friday, August 20, 2010

There is Coming a Day

The time is at hand.

Soon, alarms will sound and people will be startled to a state of wakefulness. Moans and groans will echo from every direction. Some will stumble. Some will complain. Some will try to hide. But all will awaken. What is this dreaded event? What is coming that would cause such a stir?

Is it an air raid?

Is it a natural disaster?

Is it the end of the world?

No, it's the first day of school! My children have spent the last two weeks getting ready. Bookbags have been packed with supplies. New shoes and clothes have been purchased. Schools have been visited and teachers introduced, and come Monday morning, my kids will roll out of bed, bright and early, in order to greet another year of academic achievement.

They are not nearly as excited as their mother is. She has spent all summer, entertaining them, keeping them busy and keeping them out of trouble. She has been in 'mom' mode 24-7 for three solid months. Monday she will have her much needed, and much deserved, R & R. But as I said, the kids are not so enthusiastic. Morning will come early for them (Ellie has to catch her bus at 6:30am), but they will wake up, get ready, and LEAVE! They know it's coming, so they are prepared.

I often wonder how prepared we as Christians are. We know the day is coming when Christ will return for His bride, the Church. How many of us are living like it could be today? I wonder if our spiritual bags are packed. Are we fully supplied to meet the savior, and judge, of the world? My fear is many who should be ready won't be. Just like a student showing up without pen or paper, they will be without excuse. The 'supply' list has been made available, yet they chose to ignore it in the name of pursuing their own pleasures.

On that day, there will be two reactions from those in the 'church'. There will be those who will rejoice at the sound of the trumpet. Their knees will bow out of love and reverence, and with eyes blurred by tears of joy they will look upon their King. But there will be those who are caught by surprise. The trumpet blast will strike fear in their hearts. Knees will bow, not out of love, but out of fear. They will groan, and complain and try to hide because they are unprepared to meet their Creator.

Which camp are you in? Are you looking forward to the day of His appearing and working to prepare for that day, or are you living like it is a distant reality that won't need your attention until later in life? Unlike the first day of school, we don't know the time of Christ's return, but we do know it can be any time. We need to live like it could be today.

The time is at hand.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cast of Characters by Max Lucado

Everyone loves a good story, and the best story tellers are those who can take a familiar story that's been heard a hundred times over and tell it in such a way that it feels like it's the first time you've heard it. That's exactly what Max Lucado does in his newest release, Cast of Characters: Common People in the Hands of an Uncommon God. As someone who has read most of Lucado's books, I was familiar with most of the selections in this work, yet I found that I still could not put the book down. The array of stories ranged from the shores of Galilee to the banks of the Nile. Criminals, kings, fishermen and pharisees all told the story of how God used them, and changed them. Woven throughout the book was a great unity of theme: God can and will use anyone to accomplish His purpose.

If you have never read a book by Max Lucado, this would be an excellent start as it offers samples from a wide array of his previous writings. But even if you have read everything from the pen of this prolific author, you won't be disappointed by this collection. A definite 'must have' for the bookshelf!

Friday, August 6, 2010


The carpenter rubs his hands over the surface of the table. He's looking, feeling, seeking for any imperfections. His hand comes across a rough patch. To the eye, it looks fine, but the hands know better. Out comes the sandpaper to rub away any imperfections.

I wonder if the wood minds. Does it complain when the tooth of the saw cuts? Does it gripe when the lathe turns? Does it rebel at the sight of a chisel? And what about all this endless sanding? Does the wood wonder when enough is enough? When is close enough good enough?

To the carpenter close enough doesn't cut it. He seeks perfection. His sharp eyes and expert hands seek out even the most minor of imperfections in order to correct them.

I don't think it an accident that Jesus was the 'son' of a carpenter. I can see him in Joseph's workshop watching his step-father ply his trade. Building. Fixing. Repairing. Rebuilding. Major problems required major tools. Smaller problems required a gentle touch. Some woods were hard and unyielding, requiring brute strength to work with. Other woods were as pliable as a bruised reed, and only the softest of touches were required. But both types of wood needed the carpenter's touch.

How is Jesus shaping you? Will you allow Him to chisel you into an image of His liking? It will hurt. Removing the rough spots of sin always causes pain. And for those of you who think you have arrived, there's still some irritating sanding to endure. But let the Carpenter do His work and you will be astonished at a beauty you never knew existed within you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My afternoon

I am worn out.

The to-do list is much longer than the 'done' list.
The Sermon ain't flowing like it does most weeks.
The phone and email haunt me as I try to contact people for various reasons.
There is work to be done at home.

I am worn out.

So what do I do? I do what I don't feel like doing. . . . I pray. I stop and pray. The words don't come easy at first (because my to-do list is interrupting) and my mind isn't focused totally on God (I'm still thinking about the second point in my sermon) and my heart isn't at peace (there are people to talk to and chores that are piling up), but I pray anyway. I begin to knock on the doors of heaven.


I wonder if He'll hear me?


Will He reject me?


Maybe I'm wasting my time.

Have you been there? Have you knocked and knocked and felt like no one is at home? Me too. But I have found if I quit knocking and start talking, the doors open. Sure, they might be heavy and slow, but they open. So I keep talking.

"Lord there's so much to do..."
"It can wait"
"Yeah, but the sermon..."
"It can wait"
"But what about all the people I need to talk to..."
"They can wait"
"And the stuff at home..."
"It can wait too. I can't wait...
to talk with you.
to bless you.
to encourage you.
to hold you.
to inspire you.
I can't wait to be with you."

All of the sudden, I'm not so worn out.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Summer is upon us and quickly marching past. Already I have sent two kids to camp, been to two outdoor concerts, celebrated 4th of July with friends, and had VBS at church. As I look ahead I see a week of camp that I am working, some weekend trips to historical sites and who knows how many meals cooked on the grill. Before I know it summer will be gone, kids will be in school and leaves will be falling off their branches. Where does the time go?

It's at times like these that it's good to take a break and pause. Pause to see God in the beauty of His creation. Pause to discover God in the wealth of His written Word. Pause to listen to God in those times of solitude and prayer.


It's hard to do isn't it? So many obligations. So many needs. So many people. And with each cry for attention the seconds tick off even faster.


It's a discipline I am trying to master; the art of pausing. I am slowly discovering that the world won't fall apart when I turn my cell phone off. Disaster will not strike if I take a couple days off from email. People will not reject me if I say 'no' every now and then.


When we get so busy that we neglect our relationship with God, we are too busy. That is one reason I don't blog as often. It's not that I have run out of ideas (I have bunches). It's not that I have lost interest. It's simply one of several things I have cut back on so I can...


So do as God prescribed through the pen of the psalmist, "Be still and know that I am God."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

Does Jesus still change lives today? The answer is a resounding, "Yes!" and for proof, look no further than The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. Stearns takes you through his journey from successful business man and CEO, through the heartbreak of poverty and starvation in Uganda in which he realized being a Christian with his resources should demand something more than a check in the offering plate. He takes you through his experiences on his road to World Vision where he would take the reigns in 1998. He uses his real life situation to challenge the American church to wake up and fill what is missing in our gospel, which is love and service to our fellow man.

The only drawback to this book was that it was hard to get into at the beginning. The first 50-100 pages seemed to drag as the author searched for his style of writing. After that, the book picked up pace, especially in it's challenge to modern-day Christians. I was challenged by this book and would definitely recommend it to others.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Land of Egypt

Last week our VBS focused on the life of Joseph. As we studied his life I couldn't help but notice how God was cultivating Joseph in the midst of trials and unfair treatment. From being sold into slavery by his own brothers to being cast into prison by the false accusations of a spiteful woman, God humbled, matured and grew Joseph into the man that not only Egypt would need, but that the Hebrew nation would need as well. Yet, in the midst of these trials, Joseph has no indication of how long each trial would last, nor does scripture ever state that God explained Himself to Joseph. Yet Joseph remained faithful through every hardship. Not until he is able to look back with perfect hindsight is Joseph able to say to his brothers, "What you intended for harm, God meant for good" Genesis 50:20.

What's your Egypt? When have you faced trials and mistreatment through no fault of your own? Some of us might be inclined to question, doubt and blame God for our misfortune. I implore you however, pray for wisdom (James 1:5) and think to yourself, "What others have meant for harm, God intends to use it for good." Be like Joseph and look for opportunities to use your God-given abilities to help others. Stay faithful, because you may be just the right person God needs in your situation.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

War of Words- Friends

Part 5 of a Series

"No longer do I call you servants... but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." John 15:15

Friends of God

There is a popular praise song that proclaims, "I am a friend of God... He calls me 'friend!'" The refrain is loosely based on John 15:15 where Jesus calls his apostles 'friends'. So we Christians like to walk around proclaiming ourselves to be friends of God and friends of Jesus, not knowing that some people in the world think us extremely arrogant for thinking of ourselves as such (not that it is wrong to do so, but we must remember we are friends by Jesus' merit, not ours.) Then when we evangelize we invite people into this "friendship" with God and some respond, but others give us a quizzical looks because, let's face it, friendship with a Deity is a mind-blowing concept.

"Will you 'friend' me?"

Facebook has transformed our use of the word friend. A word that was but a few years ago used exclusively as a noun is now used as a verb. The phrase "friend me" has become an invitation to follow our online personae as we update the world on what we are doing, feeling, seeing etc. It's as if this one social network, which has many positive uses, also has a dark side that tempts us to feel as if we are the center of our own self-made universe, and this universe is measured by the number of 'friends' we have.

Recently my 'universe' grew to over 230 friends. My sister has over 500. I even have a couple of 'friends' whose count is closing in on the 1,000 friend mark. But are these people truly our friends? Are they friends in the same sense Jesus calls His followers friends? Most of us would say no. There is no way that 1,000 people are sharing intimate moments with us. Only a fool would share the secrets of his life with 500 different people. Friends grow through trials, troubles and toils. Friendship takes work and effort to cultivate trust and communication, and for us mere humans, this is difficult to do with 3 or 4 people, much less 230.

So the facebook 'friend' is most likely an acquaintance. It may be someone we knew long ago and are interested in what they are doing now, but we don't share our secrets and trials with them anymore. Others may be people we know by face and name only. We might work with them, but we don't really know them. Still others might be friends of friends, so out of sheer curiosity we follow their postings. Acquaintances, workmates, former friends, these make up the facebook world we live in, but we should not think of them as friends, because in the truest sense of the word, they are not.

The Disconnect is Our Fault

Do you want to know why people look at you funny when you call yourself a friend of God? Do you really want to know why the dubious expressions when we invite them to be friends of Jesus? Here's the reason. Too many people say they are friends with Jesus when they are really a mere acquaintance. They view Jesus like a list of friends on facebook. They may have walked with Him long ago, but have since fallen out of step. They are interested in what He's saying or doing, but they don't have any real relationship with Him. They don't communicate with Him. They don't work on cultivating trust in Him. When trials come, they pray to Him, but it's for mere deliverance, and not for growth and maturity. They are acquainted with Jesus, but they do not know Jesus, and the difference is vast and catastrophic. And the saddest part, is that a world that desperately needs to see what a friendship with Jesus looks like, instead sees what you see on a facebook page; glimpses and snapshots, but nothing of real depth or meaning.

What about you? What does your relationship with Jesus look like? Are you helping the cause of Christ or hurting it by your example? Jesus needs some real friends to introduce Him to a hurting generation of people. Will you be that friend?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

War of Words - Joy

I know it has been forever since I have been on here, but between softball schedules, church demands and a surprise visit from my sister in Africa, my life has been full (in a good way) for the last several weeks. So with your forgiveness, I'll move on :)

The Pursuit of Happiness

I read recently an article in Psychology Today that revealed an interesting trend in our culture. According to this article in the year 2000 there were nearly 50 books published on the subject of happiness. In the year 2008 over 4000 books were published on that same topic. Why the rapid increase? Could it be that a society based on materialism is discovering the emptiness of physical possessions? Or perhaps in the post 9/11 world we are simply more aware of the evil in the world and as a culture we are searching for a way to cope. Or could it be something more?

Long ago, when this nation was founded, Thomas Jefferson penned within the Declaration of Independence a trinity of inalienable rights. Any eighth grade civics student could tell you that they are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As I study the history of our nation, I see where the rights of life and liberty were cherished, protected and fought for. But over the last century, especially the last 50 years, I see a culture that wants to demand its right to be happy. They fail to notice that Mr. Jefferson said we had the right to pursue happiness, not that everyone would succeed in such a pursuit.

So what happens when a nation pursues happiness above all else? The rights to life and liberty suffer. The legalization of abortion has forfeited the right of the unborn to live in the name of "happiness" for the mother. Even now, big government threatens the liberties of many to secure "happiness" for a few. But let's avoid politics and look at the many other ways Americans are pursuing "happiness":

Materialism - The hope that "stuff" or money will make you happy
Hedonism - The hope that worldly/physical pleasures will make you happy
Intellectualism - The hope that education and knowledge will make you happy
Activism - The hope that pushing a certain agenda/cause will make you happy
Fundamentalism - The hope that absolute adherence to a certain dogma/religion will make you happy

One would think with all these avenues to happiness, we would be an ecstatic country. What other country has more stuff/pleasures/opportunities for education/causes/religions than the great U.S.A.? Then why so many books on happiness? Why, according to one study, do less than 40% of Americans describe themselves as happy?

Confusing Happiness with Joy

I've got something radical to tell you. Some of you might even label me "unAmerican" for suggesting such a thing. The right to "pursue happiness" is nowhere supported by Scripture. It is a wholly worldly idea from an imperfect human mind. To elevate it to a God-given right is not only unBiblical, it is downright dangerous. What we are called to do is pursue God and the joy that He gives, and there is a massive difference between pursuing joy and pursuing happiness.

We as Christians are called to rejoice with an "inexpressible and glorious joy" because of our salvation in Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:8). We call Jesus' message the "Gospel" or "good news" because of the joy that it brings. Yet I have seen Christians weep at funerals. I have seen them hurt by betrayal. I have seen them angered by sin and evil. Does that mean they are not joyful at those times regardless of the command to "rejoice in the Lord always"? (Philippians 4:4). And what about those that reject Christianity because they thought it would make them "happy" but then it didn't? Did the good news of Jesus fail to bring them joy? No, what they did was they confused the word "joy" for happiness.

What is Joy?

Joy is not an emotion, although it may elicit several emotive responses (the Bible mentions laughter, singing, dancing and making music as outward displays of joy). Joy is a sense of peace and fulfillment knowing that God's will is being accomplished. Throughout the Old Testament God's people respond with joy whenever His will is being accomplished, whether it is in the atoning for sins (Leviticus 9:24), the returning of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (I Chronicles 16:8-36), or the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 3:10ff) to name but a few.

But joy is more than finding peace in seeing God's will accomplished. It is also that sense of fulfillment when you are actively involved in bringing God's will to fruition. This is how the writer of Hebrews can say that "for the joy set before Him, [Jesus] endured the cross, despising it's shame." (12:2) The Bible is not saying that Jesus was on the cross laughing and having a good time. But it does say that the cross was a joy that God set before His Son. How can Jesus enjoy the cross? By understanding that He was actively participating in bringing about the completion of God's will. When He shouted "It is finished!" from the cross, it was not merely a shout of declaration, nor was it only a shout of triumph. It was a shout of joy!

What does this mean for us as Christians? It means that fulfilling God's will is not always pleasant, but it is joyful. And when we discover that "peace that surpasses all understanding" is directly linked to "rejoic[ing] in the Lord always" (see Philippians 4:4-7) the outpouring of emotion may very well be a happy one.

The Bottom Line

What it boils down to is this: Happiness is circumstantial in that it is based on the circumstances of your current situation. Joy is relational in that it is based on your relationship with God and in your fulfillment of His will. Getting back to the original question of why are so many Americans "unhappy"? Because many of them are living outside of God's will. If we want to impact the world for Jesus, we need to explain what true joy is. That it can, and at times will, make you "feel" happy. But that mostly, joy is the taking pleasure in seeing God's will done on earth just as it is in heaven.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

War of Words- Love

part 3 of a series

"For God so Loved the world..." -John 3:16

"All you need is Love" -John Lennon

"It doesn't really mean anything."

If you grew up in the late 80's-early 90's you were most likely exposed to the movie "Ghost" starring Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg. During one scene, Moore's character tells Swayze's character, "I love you" (all the females who loved this movie can now commence with the ooooohing and aaaaaaaahing), to which he replies, "Ditto." She then presses him on why he never says, "I love you" and his answer is about the only line in the film I clearly remember, "Everybody says that, but it doesn't really mean anything."

It doesn't really mean anything. The first symptom of a changed definition is confusion of meaning. The film-writers were on to something, and as is typical throughout history, the arts precede philosophy, and we realized how a word that is so intrinsic to our nature, like "love", can lose it's meaning. We use the word love for everything.

Girls- "I love those shoes with that dress!"

Guys- "I love [insert favorite sports team here]"

Everybody- "I love ice cream!" (seriously, if you don't love ice cream I don't know if you can be American. It's in the Constitution, or it should be)

Then we turn towards our loved ones, people we cherish more than life itself, and we say, "I love you." What we have done, linguistically, is equate that loved one with a bowl of Rocky Road! The definition of love has been so broadened that it has become shallow and meaningless.

The Deification of Emotion

So, what do we do with such a shallow term? Do we discard it as useless? Do we abandon it, as so many other words that have gone before (e.g. when was the last time you heard someone say "forsooth" during a conversation?). No, amazingly enough, we have gone the opposite direction with love, and we have elevated it to a status above any other term.

First, let me point out that love, as it should be defined, does enjoy an elevated status in the Scriptures. Paul wrote an entire chapter on it in I Corinthians, where at the end he points out, "now these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love." (13:13). But the love he refers to is not the shallow view of love. It is not the love that "doesn't really mean anything." But it is this shallow, diminished view of love that has been elevated in our culture.

Society has taken the term, "God is Love" (I John 4:8) and has turned it on it's head to say, "Love is God" thus elevating a shallow, emotional feeling to the status of deity. The problems this generates are tremendous. I have seen church-going people use love to justify adultery ("but I love him), overindulging their children ("I will feel that they won't love me if I don't give in"), and even homosexuality, ("God won't condemn our behavior because we love each other.")

But the repercussions of such a view not only generates problems within the church, but outside of it as well. When church leaders take a stand and condemn lifestyles that are forbidden in scripture, whether it is pre-marital sex, cohabitation before marriage, or homosexuality, those leaders are perceived as intolerant, bigoted and even hypocritical. How is this possible? Because the world views us as blaspheming against their god of an emotional and shallow form of love.

True Love Is...

It would be wonderful if I could sum up the definition of love in one sentence. Many have tried and there are some great efforts out there that attempt to do just that. But in trying to form a Biblical view of love, I am confronted by the fact that the ancients used multiple words that are translated today as love. For instance, the Greeks had four words for love:

1. Agape- This is the unconditional love that God has for us. It's a love that says, "no matter what you do, I will love you, even if you don't deserve it." This is the love described by Paul in I Corinthians 13

2. Phileo- A love shared by good friends. The words camaraderie and friendship best describe this love. To the Greek philosophers this, not agape, was the highest form of love.

3. Storge- A familial love. The love you share with your closest relatives.

4. Eros- A physical love- This word is where our English term "erotic" originates.

When we talk about God's love, we mean "agape". When we talk about the love we should have for our fellow Christians, we are talking about "agape + phileo" or "agape + storge". When we talk about the love a husband has for his wife it is "agape + phileo + eros." As you can see, "agape" is the common denominator for the love a Christian is to share, and it is "agape" that we are to share with those outside of Christ.

But this Biblical view of love is not empty emotionalism. No it is something that is active and requires something of us. Read first Corinthians 13 sometime and note how many verbs are used in conjunction with love. Take note of John's command in I John 3:18- "Little children, we must not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth." Biblical love acts, even when it doesn't "feel" like it. This is what will separate us from the world, when we can show love, even when someone is deemed, "unlovable". In fact, that is how we will overcome the false definitions of love that are floating around, we will let our actions speak louder than words.

Friday, April 16, 2010

War of Words- part 2

part 2 of a series


One of my favorite films is The Princess Bride. The movie is chock-full of quotable lines and humorous zingers. Early in the movie, Princess Buttercup is kidnapped by three "villains;" Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo. As they sail across the sea, Inigo notices a boat in pursuit. Over the next several minutes, after each update of how the mysterious stranger continues to advance upon them, Vizzini spits out, complete with a lisp, "Inconceivable!" After several utterances of the same epithet, Inigo makes the observation, "You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

I believe that as we seek to engage the world around us with the good news of Jesus we are using words that are defined by the world in a way that differs vastly from our long accepted definitions. It's as if the people we speak to are saying to the Church, "You keep on using these words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean." The result: disconnection, confusion and rejection of the Gospel. We are left scratching our heads and muttering, "Inconceivable!"

The Rules Are Changing

I have four beautiful daughters. I love them very much, but as much as I try to believe to the contrary, they are not perfect. They often love to play games with each other. Some games are real, others are made up on the spot, all are played with intense competition. The Richmond gene pool runs deep with a fierce lust for not merely defeating an opponent, but destroying them. Couple this with the genetics of my equally competitive wife and what you get is a recipe for a knock-down, punch you in the face type argument over Chutes and Ladders.

Recently, my oldest daughter, Ellie, taught chess to my second oldest, Jenna. In turn, Jenna decided to teach it to the five-year old, Savannah. Before long, Jenna was making up rules on the spot in order to reinforce her chances of winning. Savannah, easily the most competitive of the four, was not to be outdone. She simply removed all the pieces from the board, took them to her bedroom and proclaimed herself the winner, to which Jenna protested vehemently.

What happened? The rules changed. The battle-lines were redrawn. What started out as a civilized chess match became a chaotic melee that hardly resembled the original game. This is what Satan is attempting to do in the battle for the souls of men; he is trying to rewrite the rules. How is he doing this? By redefining words that make up the very core message of the Gospel message. Words like love, joy, communion and fellowship have all suffered a severe makeover, yet the Christian subculture is largely unaware of the shift occurring in the minds of our friends, neighbors and co-workers.

A Confession

I have a confession to make. I'm a nerd. (I know, I know, some of you are quite startled by such a revelation and may need to take a break from reading in order to collect your thoughts. Feel free to do so, I won't be offended.) One of my "nerdy" interests is words and their origins, or the science of etymology (not to be confused with entomology, the study of insects. Bugs; ICK!). As I said, it is a hobby and I by no means consider myself an expert, yet I feel I am up to the task of taking you through a journey over the next several posts and exploring how some vital words have changed, and what we may be able to do about it. In doing so I hope to make you aware of the ever-changing landscape of the battle we are fighting and we can shift from being reactive to pro-active in bringing people to the foot of the cross.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

War of Words, part 1

Part 1 of a Series

Several years ago I flew to Florida for a preaching opportunity. The church in Florida had booked my flight out of Huntington, WV which happened to be the closest airport to us at the time. Huntington is a small airfield situated on a mountaintop.

Small airport = Small airplanes.

I am not small.

So when my 6'7" frame tried to squeeze into an airplane designed to hold 20 people the result was humorous. Imagine a human accordion squeezing and contorting to fit snugly into a space designed for the munchkins of Oz. I nearly choked when the attendant said I needed to buckle-up for take off as if I was going to come loose and fall out of the seat. No, I did not need a seat-belt. What I needed was a crow-bar (or a "Caution: Contents under pressure!" sign). That's when the words you dread to hear came over the intercom, "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I'm sorry to inform you that our flight has been delayed due to fog on the mountain."

After the collective groan from the dozen passengers, the flight attendants handed out a small bag of pre-packaged cookies to the now captive flyers. At the time I didn't want to eat the cookies lest I expand another millimeter and become a permanent fixture of the aircraft. Visions of Winnie the Pooh stuck in Rabbit's hole served to tame my appetite so I resorted to playing with the bag of goodies. A small pocket of air was trapped inside the bag during the packaging process which delighted my bored mind to no end. I squeezed air from one end of the bag to the other making a nice crinkly-rattle type of sound. I even found that I could use the bag as a percussion instrument:


I know, not very catchy, but hey, I was bored!

Then it happened. "POP!" The seam on the bag burst and my precious cookies were no longer protected by the foil packaging. They were exposed and in danger of becoming stale, which is a cardinal sin to a cookie connoisseur such as myself. I had to do something. My mind raced. I needed something that I could put the cookies in that would have a nearly air-tight seal. Then my eyes alighted on the perfect solution. The air-sick bag! It came fully equipped with a sticky strip to seal the contents within. It was exactly what I needed so I placed my snack in the bag.

Fast forward about an hour to when it came time to disembark the sardine can with wings. As I made my way up the narrow aisle, I had to turn sideways in order to pass between seats. In my forward hand I carried my cookies. The ever-watchful attendant noticed the package, and per her training offered to dispose of the airsick bag along with it's contents. At first, I was oblivious to her interpretation of the bag in my hand,

"Oh! No thanks. I'm saving this for later."

Her look of utter confusion sparked my slow brain to realize what she thought was in the bag. In vain I attempted to explain,

"You don't understand. I tossed my cookies in there."

Alas, by this time she was thoroughly flummoxed and I, tired of preventing my fellow passengers from disembarking walked away from a situation where words failed me, leaving behind a confused woman who was just trying to do her job

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where there was a mental disconnect from the person/people you were trying to communicate with? I have and it's disconcerting and discouraging. Especially when sharing the Gospel. I have heard countless stories of good, intelligent Christian men and women being discouraged when they attempt to share the gospel. They try and try, but the result is not much different than my experience with the flight attendant. Their words fail them and their audience is totally disconnected from the message they were attempting to share.

Over the next several postings I am going to explain one of Satan's tactics in this age of information. It's a tactic that creates confusion and often a disconnect between Christians and non-Christians. What is this tactic? It's the changing of definitions. Stay tuned.