Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fiery Preaching

Earlier this week my oldest daughter, Ellie, emerged from the basement in that semi-conscious state that says, "I'm up and dressed, don't expect much more." It was about 6am and polite conversation was not yet awake. She looked at me and mumbled, "It's cold downstairs." Without any coffee in my system to blunt my response, I was short and to the point, "It's winter, and you're in a basement. It's supposed to be cold." I shrugged it off and went about my morning routine. Making lunches for the girls, brewing coffee, and grabbing a bite to eat. I quickly forgot about the cold basement... until I needed a shirt out of the dryer.

I saw Ellie off to the bus and went downstairs and discovered the basement was cold, and then it dawned on me. Typically, one of my last duties before retiring to bed in the evening is making sure I put some wood in the wood stove to keep the basement warm through the night. I had neglected to do that the previous night, resulting in a basement that was colder than usual.

I went to the wood stove and opened it up to discover a cold pile of ashes; evidence of the previous day's fire. As I lit some kindling, ("lighter'd" to those of you in rural Virginia) and stoked a new fire to life I couldn't help but be reminded of one of my favorite Bible verses. "Your word in my heart has become a consuming fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in. Indeed I cannot." (Jeremiah 20:9)

That cold pile of ashes was the perfect description for how I feel on Mondays. After a day filled with preaching and teaching, I am worn out, consumed and burned up. Preaching takes a lot of energy. For thirty minutes every Sunday morning I place myself as a mouthpiece for God. My feet are held to the fire to see if I correctly handle the word. My mind is aflame with an awareness that I will be held to a higher standard. My heart is consumed with a desire to see people as passionate for God as I am. For thirty minutes I enter a crucible in which I open myself up, not only to public scrutiny, but to God's scrutiny. People critique the message itself, God questions whether my message and my life correspond to each other. This is followed by an hour of Bible teaching on Sunday nights. It's not as intense, but it's still hot (going from the fire into the pan, so to speak).

This means on Monday, all that is left is a cold pile of ashes. Mentally, I'm exhausted and physically I am drained. But God's Word still calls to me; beckons me and invites me. By Tuesday I'm ready to crack it open and allow the fire to warm me, even though I know I will be consumed again on Sunday.

People ask me why I preach. I could say all sorts of things that are true.

I love God.
It is my Gift.
I want others to love God.

But the truest answer is this: I preach because I must. If I don't, the fire will consume me. As the apostle Paul once said, "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel." (I Cor. 9:16)

"Is not My word like a fire?" declares the Lord, "and like a hammer which shatters a rock?"
Jeremiah 23:29

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where is God? by Dr. John Townsend

Who among us has not felt abandoned and alone in difficult times? In his book, Where is God?, psychiatrist Dr. John Townsend not only addresses the "why" of why we ask this question, He also gives answers laden with Biblical truths and sound advice. He begins by explaining the that it is perfectly human to ask Where God is in the midst of trials, but that the asking of that question should prompt us to seek God for answers. He outlines for the reader correct views of God and incorrect ones as well as healthy and unhealthy approaches to dealing with tragedy and loss. The bulk of the second half of the book is dedicated to demonstrating God's presence, empathy and participation in our times of deepest pain. Dr. Townsend uses great real-to-life stories as well as Biblical examples to illustrate his teaching and advice.

As a minister who has spent many hours counseling the bereaved and grief-stricken, I found this book not only emotionally encouraging, but filled with practical "do's" and "don'ts" concerning coping and recovery. A must read for anyone who has found themselves asking, "Where is God?" or anyone who is on the front lines of helping people find God in the midst of a broken and hurting world.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Loving Life

Today marks the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Since that time nearly 50 million babies have lost their lives to abortion. Instead of trying to opine on the moral state of our nation, I simply ask you to read the following scripture and pray for our nation's leaders as well as those who have felt the sting and guilt of abortion. Pray that they might find forgiveness and healing from the Author of life.

"...You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them."
Psalm 139:13-16

Friday, January 15, 2010


This week I have been glued to the TV and internet watching the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. The destruction is catastrophic. The human suffering is heart-rending. But the reason I watch is not out of morbid curiosity. The reason I watch is because someone I know is there. His name is Billy Johnson, a minister at a small church on the eastern shore of Maryland.

Our relationship would be best defined as somewhere in between associates and friends. We know each other well enough to have a conversation when we meet, but "best friends" is not a term I would use to describe our relationship. But, I read his blog, interact with him on the internet, occasionally we shoot emails back and forth to each other. I know him well enough to know he was praying for this missionary trip to Haiti months ago. I know he has a heart to serve the people there. And I know he is there. So I watch the TV and watch the internet for updates from his parents. In doing this I have become aware of two things.

1) While the Haitian government is corrupt and the people are enslaved by an 80% poverty rate as well as spiritual darkness in the forms of witchcraft and voodoo, most of the Americans that I have heard of being there when the quake hit were missionaries of some sort. God's Church was there when tragedy struck. As of now Billy has delivered at least one baby, treated several wounded and comforted the grieving. Multiply that by the dozens (if not hundreds) of missionaries there who were doing the same thing, long before humanitarian efforts by worldly governments arrived. I pray that the Haitian people remember the Christ-followers who were already there to help and continued to do so.

2) My heart has become calloused. As I watch, my heart breaks for these people. Billy has told of orphanages, clinics and mission complexes being totally demolished. I can't help but think of the Tsunami that hit Indonesia several years ago, or the earthquakes in India. I was not effected by those nearly as much. I prayed for the people there, but my heart wasn't broken for the people. It took someone I know being there for God to touch my heart and say, "these are people too, made in my image. Care for them." I felt like Jonah being scolded by God over the city of Nineveh, "Should I not have compassion on... the great city in which there are 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?" (Jonah 4:11)

I pray your heart is touched by the situation of Haiti, as well as the rest of the world whenever disaster strikes. If you would like to help monetarily I would suggest International Disaster and Emergency Services (IDES) which is a Christ-based, non-profit humanitarian relief group. For more information please check their website @ where 100% of your donation goes to relief efforts.

As for Billy, he is safe doing what he went there to do, to show the Gospel of Christ in action.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Giving God Glory in All Things

Last night I, like many a red-blooded American male, watched the BCS national championship between Texas and Alabama. I was torn between who to root for (or root against as the case may be). Texas had stolen the Big 12 championship away from my beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers in a heart-breaking game, so I had no desire to see them win, but Alabama was from the SEC, a conference that has won the three previous football championships, and having friends who relentlessly remind me of how "great" the SEC is compared to all other conferences, I had no desire to see Alabama win either. So I watched with interest, not really rooting for anyone.

On Texas' second offensive series early in the first quarter, their QB, Colt McCoy, suffered an injury that knocked him out of the game. You couldn't help but feel bad for the kid. He's the winningest QB in College history, yet he has spent his college career in the shadows of heisman winners Sam Braford, from arch-rival Oklahoma and Tim Tebow from Florida. Now, his senior year, his final game, his chance for the spotlight to be his, and his alone, he gets injured and sidelined.

Texas ended up losing, largely due to a freshman QB from Texas who committed 5 turnovers that turned into 21 points for Alabama. After the game McCoy was questioned by an interviewer along the lines of "What are you feeling right now, knowing this is your last game in a Texas unifrom?" Fighting back tears, and trying to maintain his composure he answered, "To God be the Glory...He has plans for my life, and I trust Him."

We've all seen celebrities/athletes give thanks to God after winning something. But this was different. This was raw and real. There, in the midst of pain and defeat, a young man gives glory to God. He could've been sarcastic, "gee, thanks for asking THAT question!" He could have been surly, "what do YOU think it feels like you stupid reporter?!?" Instead, he gives glory to God at a time when he did not feel "happy" or "blessed". He glorifies His Maker, unashamed and unafraid.

What about you? When the phone rings in the middle of the night, do you glorify God? When the doctor comes back with a bad diagnosis, do you worship? When the audit comes, do you praise? You should. Why? Because He is bigger than football and He is bigger than your problems. Because, others may be watching, and they might just see that God is real enough to matter in the midst of tragedy and loss. Because, He is God. That's why.