Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Time for Change

Change is the only constant that life promises us.  We encounter it everywhere.  Sometimes it's good.  Sometimes it's bad.  Sometimes it's expected and sometimes it's sudden.  For the past few months I have been struggling with a choice about a change.  Is it a major, life-altering choice?  No.  But it is one that is important to me, and that choice has been whether to re-locate my blog or not.  After weighing the options and praying for several weeks I have made the decision to relocate my personal blog to  Before you jump ship, please allow me to explain my decision.

Why This Change?
Over the past year I was privileged enough to be a contributor on a couple of different blogs.  They used a different host site than Fuzzy Reflections, and I got to see how the software and administrative controls worked.  In other words, as a contributor I got to lift the hood and see what makes the engine run on a different blogging host.  The more I contributed, the more I liked the tools available.  It also gave me more options as far as design, domain name, and pricing if I choose to upgrade in any of several ways.

But I also noticed that in just setting up the skeleton of my blog I generated more traffic (site visitors) in a day than my blog here gets in a week.  While I don't foresee my blog ever becoming a mass-appeal site, extra-traffic is always good, especially when you write about things that, hopefully, help people draw closer to God.  I realize some of this traffic may be curious passers-by, I am hoping to expand my reach to a more global audience.

What Will Be Different?
The obvious difference will be the name of the website.  It is now simply  The other obvious difference will be the name of the blog.  No longer is it 'Fuzzy Reflections' but it is now 'The Pondering Preacher.'  Why the name change?  Because, my focus has shifted.  Will there still be some 'fuzzy reflections' on every day life?  Yes!  But there will also be articles that challenge church leadership and deal with current event issues.  There will also be my musings on any number of doctrinal and theological issues.

The other main difference will be the layout.  I have simplified and downsized some of the gadgets in the side column.  My hope is for a cleaner, more professional look.  But when you see the site you will find it is just as easy, if not easier, to navigate through past posts and articles.

What Will Be the Same?
There will still be articles and occasional book reviews.  All of the old posts from Fuzzy Reflections are archived on the new site and so are the comments.  So if you have a favorite article to show someone, it will still be available on the new blog.  You can still access my podcasts from the new blog as well.  Just click on the link in the right hand column and it will take you to the media player for my podcasts.

Change is Risky
I realize that I am taking some risks in switching my blog to a new site, the biggest one being losing some of my wonderful readers as followers.  Please, if you followed Fuzzy Reflections, follow The Pondering Preacher.  It means a lot to me that so many people read and view my blog.  I hope that you continue to do so, and spread the word to your friends to check out!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why Marriage Matters

Recently I read two articles (one on; the other on that examined the downward trend of marriage in our culture.  One article revealed that now, barely more than 50% of adults aged 18 years or older are married (compared with 71% in 1960).  The other article revealed that adults under the age of 30 are more likely to view marriage as obsolete than ever before.  Both articles revealed that younger people are waiting longer to marry and that cohabitation among young adults has trended upward while marriage amongst that same demographic has dropped.  Now these two articles did not surprise me nearly as much as a third article on’s faith page did.  It revealed that more and more young adults who claim to be Christian are cohabitating.  In fact, it revealed that ‘Christian’ young adults living together is trending upward at the same rate as their non-Christian counterparts.
More Than Just a Sin Issue

The first reaction for many Christians is condemnation.  Some may chalk it up to the rebellious nature of youth while others may count it as one of many signs of the times.  But we, as the Church, must realize that this is much more than a sin issue that needs to be confronted.  The problems that the disintegration of marriage presents go much deeper than a lifestyle choice or a church discipline issue.   What is at stake is how we communicate God’s relationship to humanity and the fabric of society as a whole. 

Building Blocks

I remember several years ago being confronted with a statistic that read one out of every two children is either from a broken home or a home with a single parent.  That statistic astonished me at first, but as I thought about the friends I had growing up, I realized I was the only one who had parents that weren’t divorced at some point.  When I thought about the kids in the classes I was teaching at the time, easily half of them would have fit into the broken home/single-parent demographic, and I taught at a ‘Christian’ school.  The result has been a generation that views marriage as either inconvenient or disposable.  So we saw divorce rates rise in the 70s and 80s, but eventually they leveled off and began to drop as the practice of cohabitation began to be more readily accepted by society.   TV shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ (as well as a score of others) portrayed cohabitation as normal, healthy and funny, and if Satan can get you to laugh at sin then you are no longer taking it seriously.

There is nothing funny about sin.  As a minister, educator and friend, I have seen the pain, heartbreak and confusion of divorce.  I have witnessed how cohabitation destroys trust rather than builds it.  But as I said earlier, this is deeper than a sin issue; it is a family issue.  God, in His infinite wisdom, ordained the family.  There was to be one husband, one wife and they were to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’  The family became the basic structure for society.  Inside the family unit a child learns how to respect others, obey rules, treat the opposite sex, take care of property, work ethic, basic people skills as well as a host of other things.  History has proven that when the family structure declines within a society, social problems increase.  Crime rates rise (a child wasn’t taught that breaking rules has consequences).  Economies suffer (a child never learned a work ethic from his parents).   Violence increases (a child missed out on respecting others).  I am not saying that it is impossible to bring up good-citizens in a broken home, nor am I saying that all nuclear families will bring up perfect kids.  What I am saying is the higher the percentage of kids growing up in single-parent/broken homes, the more likely that several of them will not learn lessons that most kids learn in the traditional family setting.

But the family is more than a building block for society.  It is also a microcosm of the Church.  Fathers are called to be ministers to their families.  Godly instruction begins within the home, not the synagogue, tabernacle, temple or Sunday School class (see Deuteronomy 6:4ff.)  A Father is to instruct his child about God through everyday routines.  A mother is to impart wisdom to her child through Godly example (see Proverbs 31 for the ideal example of a Godly mother).   When we forsake God’s blueprint for marriage, we are destroying the Church from within by destroying the next generation of Christians.  If we love Christ and we love His Bride, we must respect and restore the institute of marriage to a place of honor.

Marriage as Evangelism

As Paul began to conclude his letter to the church in Ephesus he shifted his attention from what the Church at large should look like to what the Church in the home should aspire to.  He gives wives and husbands specific commands.  He tells wives to submit to their husbands and he tells husbands to sacrificially love their wives.  Both commands he links to the Church and to Christ.  Marriage is a living parable of God’s relationship with the Church.  In other words, our marriage is a testimony to the world of whom God is and who the Church is and how the two interact with each other.  The love, passion, respect and submission that takes place in marriage teaches ourselves and others about God.  More to the point, marriage is at its core a tool for evangelism.  If more and more young people inside the Church are forsaking marriage for cohabitation then we are teaching about God falsely.  God didn’t merely decide to coexist with us; He entered into a covenant with us!  He made a full-fledged commitment to us and backed it up with His blood.  His vow?  To never leave us or forsake us.  His dowry? The cross.  His guarantee?  The empty tomb.  Marriage is a powerful picture of God’s love and commitment to us.  Frankly, ‘shacking up’ just doesn’t convey the same message.

Tackling the Issue

Realizing how much is at stake, I believe we have been going about preventing the rise of cohabitation all wrong.  The Church for too long has been reactionary to this problem, and our meager efforts at being pro-active have hardly proven effective (do I really need to dig up statistics on how many purity pledges are broken?)  Our children are missing out on the Bible’s full teaching on marriage when we focus on sin-prevention and purity, and as a result they grow up not seeing the real importance of marriage.  So what do we do?  How do we educate, not only youth, but their parents about marriage?

Teach the Positives

Instead of focusing on the negatives, which many purity programs do (abstinence protects us from disease, heartache and sin, etc.) let’s stress the positives about what marriage provides.  I’ve already touched on a couple of things: a foundation for society and an evangelistic message.  There are more positives than merely these.  There is the sense of security that marriage was designed to bring.  Another positive is the level of intimacy that a Biblical marriage provides.  The sense of stability that children need to thrive and prosper is best found inside the bonds of marriage.  Marriage provides fertile ground for the next generation of Christians to grow and mature into productive disciples of Jesus.  Are there negatives aspects to forsaking marriage?  Yes, and they need to be taught as well, but let’s no let those things dominate our teaching about love and marriage.

Equip Parents

It is not the Church’s job to raise children.  That responsibility falls squarely in the laps of parents.  The excuse, ‘I brought them to church every week’ isn’t going to cut it.  Parents have more opportunities to interact with their children than anyone else, thus it is their responsibility to teach their children about the benefits of a Christ-centered marriage.  But many parents are at a loss as to how to do this.  Why?  Because their parents never taught them!  For too long the church has focused on teens with purity events and abstinence programs.  If we want to reach the kids we need to teach their parents how to talk to them about issues surrounding marriage, including sex, intimacy, expectations, etc.  Only then will we begin to make any headway in this particular battlefront.

Imitate Jesus by being ‘Full of Grace and Truth’

I love the Gospel of John.  His near mystical approach to the life of Christ has always appealed to me.  From the opening lines I find myself mesmerized, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  As you keep reading, you discover something even more miraculous, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld Him as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  I love that description of Jesus, “full of grace and truth.”  When I think about His ministry, I see evidence of both grace and truth.  The woman at the well?  Jesus offered her the grace of living water before confronting her about the truth of her cohabitation.  The woman caught in adultery?  Jesus offered her grace by forgiving her before confronting her with the truth about her love life.  If we are to reach a culture that is outside of Christ with the truth about marriage we must be willing to offer grace.  There are many single-parent homes that need the grace of Jesus if we are to teach them the truth about marriage.  The homes across America are littered with the broken pieces of marriages that did not live up to the Biblical ideal.  The last thing many of these families need are stones cast their way.  Instead, they need some living water and the assurance that they can come to Jesus, even if they are embarrassed, naked and guilty.  As I said earlier, this issue is much deeper than sins that need to be confronted; its lives that need to be restored.  I pray that by the grace of God, we restore and rebuild marriage to be what God intended it to be.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lessons Learned this Year

It's getting to that time of year where I start looking back and seeing what I have learned over the past 12 months.  There have been dozens of books read and scores of sermons and lessons prepared and presented.  There have been nearly 60 articles written for three different blogs, including a few that were published in our brotherhood's most recognized magazine.  But what did I learn?  How did I grow?  All this productivity is for naught if I do not grow through it.  Below is a brief list of ways that I have grown and lessons that I have learned along the way.

Issues take a Backseat to People

When I look at Jesus' life and ministry I see that He constantly put the needs of people at the forefront of His ministry.  Whether it was breaking the social, racial and gender barriers by approaching a Samaritan woman a a well or by defusing the attempted execution of an adulteress caught in the act, Jesus always took the side of people over the issues.  Does this mean issues aren't important?  No.  Jesus managed to maintain a perfectly holy lifestyle and, because He's God, He had perfect doctrine.  But His adherence to truth never got in the way of Him helping those in need.  Rather, His doctrine seemed to motivate Him to help.  Remember His answer to which commandment is the greatest? 'Love God. Love People.'  His theology motivated His charity.

Too often when we look at issues, whether they be homosexuality, abortion, the existence of Hell or any other hot-button topic of the day, we get caught up in whether we are right or wrong and people become an afterthought.  I can't help but think that Jesus would turn that on it's head.  Motivated by love, He would teach the truth concerning these issues while never losing focus that there are people who bear the image of God within them who are caught up in these issues.  Sin would still be confronted, but it would be confronted from a position of love rather than a position of self-righteous condemnation.

Not Every Issue is a Hill worth Dying on.

I read an article last week about a minister in a small Wisconsin town.  The town was being sued by an atheist group to remove the nativity from the town square which was local government property.  Of course the townspeople, which are mostly Christian, are fighting back.  But this minister was very aggressive in His commentary on the matter.  "This is a hill worth dying on!" He proclaimed.  Really?  A creche display is worth dying for?  Wouldn't it be more impactful of a statement if the citizens of the town displayed the nativity in each of their lawns, OR (now this is really radical) if they all displayed Christ-like behavior on a daily basis?  I'm not saying I think the nativity should be removed, nor am I saying that I think the town is wrong for filing a counter-suit.  What I am saying is that there are things MUCH MORE important than displaying baby Jesus in the town square.  Starvation, AIDS, clean water are major issues all over the world, yet people want to get mired in a fight over a display.  Shame on BOTH sides of the issue for being so easily distracted.

The American Church Needs Jesus

I know some of you are now saying, "Come on Captain Obvious, tell us something we don't already know."  But it's true.  Too many churches are adopting business models to grow their membership.  Even more are more focused on outward appearances than inward change.  Discipleship has taken a backseat to conversion.  Oh, and by the way, these are problems that are 20-30 years old and what we are seeing is a generation of young adults totally and completely disenfranchised with the Church.  The lack of trust in big-corporations isn't limited to the occupy Wall St. crowd.  It is being applied to organized religion as well.  Young adults are more cynical than ever before, and the result is that they see through the facade of programming to the heart of the matter: do we really believe in Jesus?  If we really believe that He is God, then why don't we act more like Him?

But personal discipleship isn't the only ingredient missing in the American Church.  Fellowship, sharing one another's needs and church discipline have all taken hits.  The results have been disastrous with declining attendance numbers and stagnating churches becoming more the norm and less the exception.  If we are to recover, then we need to heed the words of Jesus to the Ephesian church and "remember our first love."  To quote Kyle Idleman, are we "fans or followers of Jesus?"  A fan lacks true involvement, whereas a follower will sacrifice anything to please the Master.

Christians Need the Church

I've met a number of people who have rejected organized religion to go on their own personal faith journey.  The idea appeals to many Americans.  We respect people who take the initiative to accomplish something by themselves.  We are a self-made country built on the backs of self-made individuals, so the person who says, "I'm doing it my way" is admired.  The problem is that this goes directly against what the Bible teaches.  Paul told the Corinthians, Romans and Ephesians that the purpose of Spiritual Gifts was to build up each other.  Hebrews tells us not to forsake gathering together.  Why?  So we can encourage one another (see Heb. 10:25).  Are there times when we need to focus on our personal walk with God? Yes!  But not at the expense of the Church.  We need the Church for purposes of accountability and encouragement, and the Church needs us and the gifts God has given to us to build up the body of Christ.  If you want to see the Church improve, contribute!

You Can't Convince Someone by Trying to Please Everyone

Everyone wants to be liked, and I'm no different.  But when you teach and preach and write about Biblical truth, there are times you must take some unpopular stances on controversial issues.  Yes, people come first, but not at the expense of truth.  The result has been a fair amount of criticism.  I decided several months ago to contribute to a controversial blog that was designed to shake up leadership within the Church by pointing out some flaws in modern church philosophy.  I got some 'hate mail' from people who were surprised that a 'conservative' like me would join forces with 'liberals' like 'them.' (Of course, those terms are so relative, that it's laughable whenever I am labeled as either conservative or liberal).  But, more than any other year, I was able to let the criticism slide because my conscience was good.  Everything between me and God was still good, so a little criticism didn't hurt as much as it had in previous years.  I doubt I could say that if I had tried to compromise for the sake of popularity.

These are just a few lesson I have learned this year.  My goal is to continue to grow and learn as God molds me into the vessel of His choosing.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Learning to See

We got the note a couple of weeks ago.  In the precise handwriting of a second-grade school teacher were the words, "Savannah is having trouble seeing.  She needs to have her vision checked."  This was paper-clipped to the school nurse's report that recommended an immediate visit to an optometrist.  We called, made appointments, and last Friday the day came to take my seven-year old to her first visit to the eye-doctor.  Now it must be stated that Savannah has always had a unique way of 'seeing' things.  She expresses her opinion in blunt, unashamed statements that are sometimes funny when they come out of the mouth of pixie-faced second-grader.  She was no different at the eye-doctor.  Asked to read the eye chart, Savannah said, "I know the top letter is an 'E' because I saw it when I came in."  When asked about the fourth line down she squinted and said, "F, Z, an upside-down A, a squiggly line, and is that a sideways number 4?"  No doubt about it the kid needed glasses. 

As the doctor did her best to find a prescription that would work, she had Savannah look through the ocular device that looks like a robotic mardi-gras mask and asked "Which looks better, one (flip the lens) or two?"
Savannah quickly replied, "Neither."
"Three or Four?"
Savannah Shrugged.
"Five or Six?"
"I guess six."
"Seven or eight?"
"Ellie wears number seven in softball!"
This was going to be a long doctor's visit.  The doctor, with much patience and expertise, finally evaluated Savannah's vision enough to get a prescription.  Savannah's vision was poor.  The doc told us that at first reading was going to be hard for her because her eyes had never had to work to focus.  She also said walking and balance might prove to be problems over the first several days because the ground would look different to her but that eventually her eyes would actually strengthen and adjust.  We thanked the doctor and ordered the glasses and were told they would be in next week, which to an excited seven-year-old means eternity.

We picked up the glasses earlier this week and I got to pick up Savannah from school the very next day.  Usually on the way home the child will talk my ear off, but she was abnormally quiet on this trip.  I looked in my rear-view mirror and discovered why.  There sat my my daughter, eyes wide as they took in the scenery that passed by her window.  She could see birds flying in the air; leaves falling to the ground; a squirrel scampering up a tree; a cat sun-bathing on it's master's porch.  Nothing escaped her vision, and she was too amazed to even speak.

I was reminded how often we go through life without actually seeing it.  We get so caught up in the blur of our daily schedule that we fail to see the blessings and opportunities that God places in our path.  When was the last time you paused to look at the changing colors of fall?  When did you last look up to see the starry host of night and marvel at how big God is?  Did you notice the beggar on the street?  The elderly lady in the grocery store?  The clerk at the gas station?  Blessings and opportunities missed because we fail to see.

I don't know about you, but I need my spiritual vision checked.  My eyes are lazy and don't want to do the work of focusing on the things of God.  Will you come with me to the great physician?  I warn you, the results may be hard to handle at first.  We may find ourselves off-balance because we are not used to seeing so many needs.  We may even stumble over ourselves because we are not used to seeing the path God has laid out for us.  But see we must.  So join me as I pray to the Holy Spirit of God, "Lord open my eyes, that I may see."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Change is Constant - God is Eternal

I would hate to be the complaint department at Facebook right about now.  They tweaked their networking site to handle newsfeeds, emails, and other minor things differently and the complaints started popping up on statuses everywhere.  The emotions seemed to range from minor irritation to "I'm leaving facebook forever!"  I couldn't help but chuckle at the irony at how a generation that has seen so much change in their lifetime can get so upset when a free service that is voluntary to use is changed.  Perhaps as a minister this struck me particularly funny because so often it's the "old folks" that get portrayed as sticks in the mud and the young adults are the proponents of "change" and "progress."  Now it seems the shoe is on the other foot.  Let's see how it fits.

Our Generation isn't the only Generation to see Major Change

A few years ago I officiated a funeral for a lady who was 98 years old.   In her lifetime she had seen some significant changes.  As a young girl she remembered traveling to California... by stagecoach.  Her generation saw the invention of the airplane, and the subsequent revolution in travel it would affect.  She saw a World War, a Great Depression, and another World War.  Alaska and Hawaii added their stars to our flag in her middle years.  She witnessed how the interstate system shrunk a continent and how rock and roll united a generation.  Her eyes saw race riots in the 60's and her ears heard the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.  She witnessed a nation divided by war in Vietnam, then divided again by war in Iraq.  She saw the walls of communism fall in Berlin and the Twin Towers fall in New York as terrorism replaced communism as the chief enemy of the United States.  Yet, remarkably, she adapted to each and every change, and even when life was tough, she survived and adapted.  One of the elders asked her to reflect on her life and teach him a lesson she learned.  Her voice, feeble with age but strong with conviction whispered, "Change is constant, but God is eternal."

Adapting to a Changing World

Our generation (I speak to my peeps who are 35 and under) has seen a fair amount of change.  September 11 forever changed how we travel and how we view safety and security.  The internet has dramatically altered how we communicate and gain information.   Cell phones have morphed from a brick with an antenna that only the rich could afford to devices that perform hundreds of functions and nearly everyone has one in their pocket.  Blogs have given a voice to the undervalued and the overrated.  Televisions are no longer large cubes on a tabletop, but flat screens on a wall that can double as portals into the worldwide web.  Just this past spring, revolutions in Arab nations have altered the politics of the Middle-East.  Yet we adapt.  We change.  We cope.

So why do we get so upset when something as insignificant as Facebook changes?  Because, we desperately desire something to be constant.  Why does the older generation resist change in the church?  Because, through wars, depressions, recessions, civil rights movements and political upheavals, the church has been a constant to them.  What we need to realize, in both technology and in the local church, change is a constant.  When we need to cling to something that is never going to leave us, forsake us, or abuse us, we need to realize that we don't need a something but a someone.  God is that eternal constant.  God is the "anchor for the soul" (see Hebrews 6).  God is eternal.

The next time something changes and it unnerves you, remind yourself of Who is your anchor, because change is a constant, but God is eternal.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Prayer for My Country

Oh Lord, how did we end up here?  As I look around I see people who are hurting, angry, scared and indifferent.  Pundits proclaim they have the answers.  'More education! More money! More Government! Less Government! Less taxes! Less God!'  It's enough to make my head spin.  I hardly know where to turn, so I turn to You.  How have we gotten so far apart?  Not even the 'Christians' agree on what our nation needs!  Some say we need to get involved in every part of the political process.  Others say that our nation is demonic and patriotism is idolatrous.  Me?  I can't help but love the land you have given me to be my home.  The rolling hills that You created reveal an artist's heart.  The sound of surf-pounded beaches remind me of the waters of your unquenchable Spirit.  The buildings I have not built, and the food I have not grown and the freedoms I did not fight for remind me of Your blessings and Your provisions.
But now, as I look around, I see disasters.  Blizzards, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires and tornadoes sift us like flour.  A poor economy, unemployment rates and a failing stock market make what once seemed like a stable future look shaky.  Our leaders seek to make each other look bad instead of seeking You.  Are You trying to get our attention?  Are these the pangs of childbirth that You warned us about?  Are You about to send Your Son?  Oh I hope so!  I long for that day when all nations will dissolve and the Bride of Christ will rejoice with her Savior.  Or are these warnings of something else?  Is judgment about to befall a country that has forsaken You in so many ways?
I find myself like Isaiah, wanting to repent on behalf of his people.  Lord, I repent for the sins of my nation, for they have been my own.  I repent of self-sufficient pride that says I no longer need You.  I repent of materialism that has crowded You out of my life.  I repent of being so comfortable that I did not bother to move to help my brother.  I repent of seeking entertainment over enlightenment; of seeking pleasure over purity; of seeking my good over Your glory.  I repent of being apathetic to Your call and ignorant of Your Word.  I repent of leading people to a cause rather than to the cross.  I repent of   not recognizing Your voice as You called desperately for Your sheep.  I repent of language that seeks to tear apart instead of bring together.  I repent for being distracted when I should have been determined.  I repent of seeking freedom apart from You instead of realizing that freedom can only be found in You.  I repent with tears.
Have mercy Lord on me and my country.  Raise up a generation who will bring people to Your throne.  Nonetheless, Your will be done.
Lord, please come quickly.
In the glorious name of Jesus, the King of Kings, I pray.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Earthquakes, Cancer, Hurricanes and other Signs of the Apocalypse

It has been an interesting week to say the least.  On Tuesday, Virginia had it's largest earthquake in over a century.  It was felt from New York to the Carolinas.  Fortunately, except for those close to the epicenter, the damage was minimal, but it definitely got the attention of everyone on the east coast who thought that earthquakes were a west coast phenomena.  On Wednesday, I got a phone call to see if my wife could help out a friend who is a Vice-principal.  This friend has a husband who has cancer and the future is very unclear for them.  Even now as I write this, Hurricane Irene is bearing down on the east coast threatening fury like a woman scorned.  The news station in the coffee shop where I sit is listing all the states that are having mandatory evacuations of their coastlines.  The fear and concern of the residents interviewed is palpable.

What am I as a Christian to make of this?  Earthquakes happen all the time.  Hurricane season comes every summer.  Everybody knows somebody that has cancer, or they have fought it themselves.  But it seems everything is accelerating.  We live in a time where economic uncertainty has become a fact of life.  Revolutions are happening all over the Middle-East.  Just a few weeks ago there were riots in the streets of merry old London.  When I talk to people, worry is evident in their words.  Worry over the future.  Worry over what their children will face in their lives.  Worry over whether or not America has seen her last golden age.  And so I am left wondering what words of comfort I could possibly offer.  So I turn to God's Word to see what He has to say about this.

There is a curious passage in Luke 13 where some people upset about Pilate killing Galileans approach Jesus for an explanation.  Talk about a moment to see the shepherd comfort His sheep.  This is a golden opportunity to see how God answers the age-old 'why-do-bad-things-happen-to-good-people' question.  We lean forward, eager to hear what Jesus has to say.  But Jesus does not answer the way we would expect Him to, instead He says,
Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
 What?  No comfort from the lips of Jesus?  No reassuring promises that everything will be alright?  Instead, Jesus takes the opportunity to warn us, not once, but twice, that these events should remind us to get right with God.  Every generation has known trouble, some more than others.  But trouble should remind us of one thing:  get your relationship with God right before you worry about the other things of this world.

Now this seems to be a calloused approach by Jesus.  These men asking the question may have had a family member killed by Pilate.  Perhaps they knew the men killed in the tower collapse that Jesus references.  But Jesus wants to remind them of what is truly important.  The reality of our situation is this: we are only on earth for a brief period of time.  In the hourglass of eternity, 70-80 years is not even a grain of sand.  What Jesus is doing in this passage is reminding them, and us, that life is fragile, brief and if we want to enjoy eternity, then we better have the eternal matters right.

So, as you shake with the quakes, or prep for the storms, or cope with a disease, be reminded that there is a God who wants a relationship with you.  As you look ahead to uncertain times, make sure your eternity is certain by getting right with Jesus.  Invest in things that matter by spreading the good news of Jesus to all you meet, for their lives are brief too.  Once you do those things, then I invite you to pray with me, "Lord Jesus, come quickly."

Friday, August 12, 2011

MacArthur by Mitchell Yockelson

The history buff in me couldn't wait to get his hands on this book.  I wasn't disappointed.  Yockelson's prose is easy to read and made this biography of one of America's most iconic heroes an easy page-turner.  Yockelson starts with the childhood of Douglas MacArthur, detailing how he grew up as a military kid, moving from post to post whenever his father was transferred.  MacArthur grew up seeing the west while it was still wild in many ways and loved the military life.

Yockelson then describes MacArthur's West Point days, as well as his adventures in WWI during which he would earn 7 silver stars, two distinguished service crosses, a Purple Heart and be recommended (though denied) for the Medal of Honor twice.  From there MacArthur served as Chief of Staff under Hoover and FDR before being assigned to serve in the Philippines.  It was while he was there that the U.S. was drawn into WWII by Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Again, Yockelson tells of MacArthur's wartime exploits with enough detail to keep the story moving, but not so much to bog the reader down.  After WWII came MacArthur's time to serve Japan by rebuilding it's government.  Of all his accomplishments, it was his treatment of the Japanese people that I found most noble about this great general.  As they describe, he did not treat them as vanquished foes, but as allies in need of help.  YOckelson concludes with MacArthur's brilliance in the Korean War, his clashing with Truman and subsequent firing, and his final speeches to congress, and then a decade later to West Point.  Sprinkled throughout was the story of a man who tried to honor God the best way he knew how, by honoring his country.

I found the book informative, easy to read and fair.  Yockelson doesn't sugarcoat over some of the messier details of MacArthur's life (like the mistress he had while serving as Chief of Staff or his surly attitude towards Truman over Korea and China), but he does treat the life of MacArthur with the respect deserved of a man who gave so much for his country.  A must-read for any history fan out there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Letter from Camp

I have had a blast serving multiple weeks of camp this summer.  If I were a kid and had to write a letter home that described some of the things I have seen, it might have looked something like this:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Camp has been fun so far and I just couldn't wait to write home about it.  Yesterday I met a kid named Jimmy.  He was covered head-to-toe with poison ivy!  When he's not itching and scratching, he's at the nurse's station getting pink stuff poured over him.  Jimmy says he's famous, but nobody knows it yet.

I also met a kid named Austin.  I think Austin is going to be a gymnast someday because he likes to climb and flip off of the top bunks in the dorm.  Even though the dorm dad tells him not to, Austin waits until he's not looking and dismounts with a 360 degree turn and lands perfectly on one toe! 

My favorite time is pool time.  Our dorm dad does the biggest belly-flops in the world!  He makes the pool look like a tidal wave!  It's more fun than that water-park you always take us to.  We practice baptisms in the pool all the time, although the life guard yells at us when we hold somebody under for too long!

Worship time is fun too.  I think it's funny when the worship leader forgets the words to the song and makes them up as he goes!  Sometimes he tries to do the motions to one song while singing a different song.  Somebody should tell him that he's got it wrong.

I miss the food at home.  We had macaroni and cheese, but the cheese was all brown on top!  Maybe mom can come and show them how to make mac and cheese like she does.  I told the cook that all she needs to do is read the side of the blue box!

My friend Owen got baptized today.  It was really neat.  Some of the adults were crying and the other ones were clapping.  I don't understand it all, but maybe when I get home Dad will explain it to me.  Well I gotta go, the bell is ringing to go to campfire.

Love you guys,

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Reluctant Servant

A week of opposites.

That is what last week was to me.  We had breakfast at dinner-time and dinner at breakfast time.  We ate desserts first and main course after.  We walked in lines backwards and turned the daily schedule on it's head.  Why?  To illustrate that Jesus wants us to live 'backwards' and 'upside-down' to the way the world teaches us to live.  As far as Sr. High weeks at camp go, it was one of the most effective I have been a part of in quite some time.

Rewind about a week.  I didn't want to go to camp.  My schedule was packed, and I had moved out of the area this camp served two years ago.  But as a favor to a good friend, I agreed to help out.  When I pulled into camp on Sunday night I found my self wishing I had turned my friend down.  There was not an air-conditioned building in sight.  It was hot, humid and buggy.  The mosquitoes in Delaware are so thick you can see them in clouds, and the horseflies double as F-16s when they are not busy terrorizing the foolish camper who left his bug repellant at home.  And the sand.  Because of the camp's proximity to the beach, sand is everywhere.  It's in the dorms.  It's in the showers.  It's in the beds.  It's in your cereal.  Grit and grime become routine at this Christian camp tucked away in middle-of-nowhere, Delaware.  I found myself sorely tempted to look up the number to the local Holiday Inn.  But I am a man of my word, so I stayed, and I'm glad I did.

God specializes at using the mundane to do the extraordinary.  In His book shepherds kill giants and crucified carpenters save humanity.  So I should not be surprised that at a small, remote and run down camp God decided to show up and make His presence known.  The week was filled with incredible moments.  Baptisms stirred the pool on three different nights.  Tears of repentance, mourning, and healing were shed throughout the week, as old lives were left behind for new ones.  Then came Thursday night.

The theme was to lead you must serve, and to illustrate it the dean brought out a tub of water and washcloths.  Kids partnered up and began to wash each others feet.  At first there were nervous smiles and anxious laughter.  But as the worship leader began playing old hymns on the piano, the voices of dozens of teens began to fill the pavilion.  Immediately, I could sense that the Holy Spirit was moving as the teens began to seek out the adult volunteers to wash their feet.  I hung out in the back.  I don't like anyone touching my feet due to being extremely ticklish.  That, and there was something inside of me that said I didn't deserve such an honor.  However, eventually a young woman found me and insisted that she wash my feet.  I protested, but she would not relent.  All she said was, 'If you are to serve others, you must be served.' 

I didn't realize just how much cleansing I needed.  Fifteen years of carrying the burdens and heartaches of others washed away as the water poured over my feet.   Wounds received in serving God's army began to heal as I felt the washcloth scrubbing away the grime from my soles.  If it wasn't for the fact that I was trying not to laugh at the tickling sensation, I would have been weeping like a baby.  In that moment, I was restored.  In that moment God renewed my strength.  After the ceremony I was emotionally spent, but I was spiritually invigorated.

As I drove away from camp the next day, I couldn't help but feel a sense of loss.  I was leaving a place that had become holy that week because it was visited by the Holy Spirit of God.  There was part of me that wished that I could stay there forever.  But just as certain as it was God who restored me, it was God telling me now it was time for me to serve others.  Now is my time to be a servant with a basin and rags.  Now is my time to take the message of Christ to others, and to help them bear their burdens and wash their wounds.  Now is my time.

Now is also your time.  Go.  Serve.  Wash some feet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

No He Can't by Kevin McCullough

I typically steer away from getting mired down in politics.  Even now, I am not sure why I picked this book to review from booksneeze (maybe there was a limited selection, or I was momentarily entranced by the eye-catching 'O' logo of Obama's).  Either way I picked it, and now the onus is on me to review it.

The Good
McCullough is a talented writer.  The information is presented in a clear and easy to read name.  Even the chapter titles are catchy.  Even a novice to American politics would be able to follow the points and reasoning of the author.  While it is clear he is no Obama fan, McCullough does raise some salient questions that get the reader thinking and reasoning.

The Bad
The book is your typical political read.  It shows the clear bias of a conservative journalist.  I am sure that are several 'clones' of this book out there, as well as rebuttals written by journalists who lean more to the left.  The biggest problem in all of this:  politics is not what the world needs!  I was hoping that a book coming from a 'Christian' publishing house would steer us away from the muck and mire of American political theater, and steer us toward the cross of Christ.  While I am not ignorant of politics, I don't put my trust in them as a cure-all for societies ills.

Overall, A Good Read
If politics is your thing, give this book a read.  Use it as a discussion with friends.  But don't let it create such a division that evangelism becomes impossible, whether you are evangelizing to the left or to the right.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Max on Life by Max Lucado

Max Lucado has long been a favorite author of mine, though admittedly I read him more to 'borrow' illustrations for sermons and lessons than for any other reason.  When 'Max On Life' came out I was so excited to give it a read  I was hoping for perhaps a more intimate look at Lucado's life and personal insights form his experiences.  Granted, there are some personal stories and illustrations throughout the book, but it left me feeling like I had just read a 'best of...' featuring some of his more memorable passages etc.  The book is arranged by questions, some deep, some very surface-level and Lucado responds with usually a one to three page response.  The problem is that some of the deeper questions he really seemed to just skim the surface of while other questions were answered with a re-hash of a previous writing.  Lucado often suffers from the criticism of 'if you've read one Lucado book, you've read them all.'  Unfortunatley, this book does nothing to dispel that critique.  If you love Lucado, give it a read, but don't be surprised if you've heard it all before in some other date with a book.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What If the Lunatics are Right?

Harold Camping is just the latest in a long list of doomsday prophets who have fallen flat on their faces.  As I watched the aftermath of his failed prediction I was struck by the sincerity of some of his followers.  Sure, they were gullible and easily led astray.  And yes, it's easy to look at them with total bewilderment as we see all that  they sacrificed for a false prophet.  ABC news profiled one guy who spent his entire life savings (nearly $150,000!) on billboards, pamphlets and posters.  When asked why, his answer was something along the lines of "I wanted to do everything I could to save as many as I could."  Was he misguided?  Absolutely.  Is there something we can learn from his example of total sacrifice?  Absolutely.

A Long Line of Lunatics
Have you paid attention to just how many 'lunatics' there are on the pages of Scripture?  What I mean by this is, just look at how many characters were willing to do crazy things to get the message of God out to the masses.  These guys, if they existed in our culture, would be mocked by the media, estranged by mainstream Christianity, and thought of in the same vein as the sidewalk preacher who hands out the 'You're Going to Hell' tracts.  Here's a list of just a few:
  • John the Baptist-  Yeah, he attracted a huge crowd, but I wonder how many were just curious bystanders who wanted to look at the quack country preacher with long hair, itchy clothes and who ate bugs.  Let's admit it, he would be the preacher that everybody says is just too 'out of touch' with modern culture, especially with that whole repentance message he had.
  • Hosea-  This guy married a whore!  No, really, he did.  Can't you read the headlines now, "Preacher Marries Prostitute: 'God told me to do it!'"  Never mind the laughability, now he's got no credibility among the religious right.  And things are just going to get worse when he starts explaining that his marriage is a picture of God's people selling out to lesser idols rather than remaining true to God.
  • Jeremiah-  As far as lunatics, this guy owns the franchise.  During one series of sermons he walks around town with an ox-yoke on his shoulders (that will garner some unwanted attention).  But that's nothing compared to his let's-preach-naked stunt.  He would be on all the cable news shows for being locked up for indecent exposure, not to mention being sued by the naked-cowboy guy in New York for trying to steal his unique performance gimmick.
Our faith has been handed down to us by some radically different characters.  Men and women who were absolutely unyielding in their devotion to God and unwavering in their commitment to Him.  Unfortunately, such commitment and devotion is not only rare today, it is looked down upon by many within the Church.  And the sad thing is, I am just as guilty of looking down my nose at those who are willing to do whatever it takes to share the gospel.

A Confession
Earlier this week, NBC news did a story on a woman who was taking a year off of work to do something different.  She was going to walk from her home in Utah to Washington DC.  What made her unique however, was that she was going to carry a ten-foot tall wooden cross the entire way.  I'll be honest, my first reaction was religious snobbery.  'That's not going to be effective,' I mused pridefully to myself.  'She's just going to be a joke to 90% of the people she meets.'  My snobbery was reflected in the faces of the news anchor who had that raised eyebrow smirk on his face.  But then the Holy Spirit started to do it's work of convicting me.  I began to ask myself all sorts of questions, 'What if she is called by God to do this?  Who am I to question such a calling?  How many conversations is she going to start on this 2,000 mile journey?  Would I be willing to take a year off of work to do something radical for God?  Am I as devoted to Jesus as she is?'  Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night repenting, and being challenged by a woman I never met, that I don't know what her religious background is and that I initially thought of as a loon.  I guess her walk wasn't in vain.

What About You?
Are you as dedicated to Jesus as Mr. Camping's followers were to his false teachings?  Are you willing to give up everything you have to see others come to Christ?  Would you take a year off of work to do something radical if God called you to do it?  The 'lunatics' may be misguided at times, but their devotion should serve as an example of what Christ expects of His disciples.
For those of us who are leaders, are we leading by example?  What are we doing to cultivate an absolute devotion to Jesus Christ in our followers?  Are we, as C.S. Lewis pointed out in The Weight of Glory, "half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us..."?  As Lewis concludes, I sometimes wonder if, "we are far too easily pleased."  Let's get radical with our message.  Let's go to people no one else will go to, preach the truth that no one else will preach, and love those that no one else will love.  We may be branded as lunatics, but at least the message of Christ will be spread.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rejoicing and Mourning- My feelings on the death of a Terrorist

It is tempting to cheer, and at first I did.  Hands went in the air triumphantly at the news that one of America's greatest foes had fallen.  Justice was served.  The innocent blood of thousands was avenged, and I rejoiced.

But in my heart something broke.  Beneath the jubilation was a great sadness, a mourning of sorts.  Yes an enemy was defeated.  A murderer had his own blood shed.  But the Spirit within me would not let me cheer with the others who chanted 'U-S-A' outside the gates of the White House.  My heart was too heavy to share the jubilation of those who gathered in Times Square in the early morning hours of May 2, 2011.

Osama Bin Laden was dead.  Terrorist.  Murderer.  Hate-filled propagator of evil.  Image-bearer of God.  It's the last one I struggle with.  How can one filled with so much hate, who has killed and wounded so many, bear the image of God?  Yet, I cannot deny that this is what the Bible teaches, and my spirit wrestles with the fact that one made in God's image appears to have died outside of His grace.  So I attempt to answer two questions that many Christians are wrestling with today.

Is it Wrong for me to feel a certain amount of Joy at this News?
In short, no.  Now before I get any 'Amens' from those who have rejoiced all day, and before my fellow believers who feel saddened that another soul has crossed the threshold of Hell cast any stones, let me explain.  The Bible is full of examples of those who rejoiced when God's justice fell.  Ranging from Psalm 58 to Revelation 19 we see examples of the righteous rejoicing when God's justice falls upon the unrighteous.  We serve a God whose justice will not be denied.  The Psalmist says that God is known by His justice (9:16), that He loves justice (11:7; 33:5) and that His justice is as deep as the oceans (36:6).  We can rejoice that God is vindicated in this matter.  We can rejoice that His justice has been meted out.  We can rejoice that good has triumphed evil, that a murderer was brought to justice and that God can and will be glorified in this.  We can rejoice that thousands of families will be brought closure by today's news.  We can rejoice that New York City has taken a giant step towards healing today.  So yes, it is okay to feel a certain amount of joy at this news.

Should I feel Sorrow that Another Soul has Died Outside of Christ?
Yes, but no more than you should for any other soul that has perished outside of God's grace.  Why should Bin Laden deserve more grief than your neighbor?  Should we not be sorrowed by every death of every unbeliever?  If anything, this has reminded me that I do not grieve the lost enough.  Many 'good' people die outside of Christ everyday.  Why do I not mourn for them the same way so many are saying we should mourn for Bin Laden?  It is to my shame that I do not shed tears for every soul in my community that perishes without a saving knowledge of Jesus.  My heart should feel this weight every day, and I should feel more compelled than ever to share the good news as effectively as I can with as many as I can.   I dare not mourn this man any more than any other lost soul, and I fear I do not mourn the lost as I ought.  It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit makes me more aware than ever before of those who need the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed in a real and tangible way.

I pray that this historical event does more than stir feelings of patriotism.  I also pray that it does more than cause us to be saddened by the death of an evil man.  I pray that it raises our awareness of two things, (1) God's justice is sometimes slow, but it always comes and (2) Because of God's justice, we need to share the Gospel with all who will listen.

I end by echoing the words of Paul in Romans 12:15, 21: 'Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What I learned from building a Fence

Our dog had puppies.  Five adorable, food consuming, poop producing puppies.  This was not a planned pregnancy (our pooch was not even a year old when she lost her innocence to a rag-tag scoundrel of a dog that lived across the street).  No, this is not a post about puppies having puppies (although I highly recommend spaying your pet).  Nor is this a PSA for birth control (although I will be writing about a 'barrier' method of sorts).   This is a post about what I learned in building a kennel for the dog and pups.  I wanted an area large enough for all the pups to run and play (until we found good owners for them) and big enough for momma, a highly active Australian shepherd-miniature collie mix, to exercise while I was away at work.  The most cost effective way of doing this was to build a fenced in area that measured approximately 20' x 20'.

Now I must admit, I don't have the foggiest idea about how to build a fence.  But it can't be too hard, right?  Just sink some posts in the ground and wrap some fencing material around them and 'Voila!' you have a fence.  Fortunately for me, one of the deacons in my congregation is a fence-builder by trade, and when he saw my fence posts sticking haphazardly out of the ground he offered his services to help.  When he came over I learned some very important principles on building a fence that can be applied to our walk with Christ, and I thought it would be good to share these fence-building principles with my readers.

Principle 1:  Start with the Corners
The first thing we did was set the corner-posts of the fence.   My deacon friend, Pete, took great care in sinking them to a proper depth, making sure they were level, square and plum.  He then set them in cement, and once the cement cured, he tamped the dirt in around the post.  Pete explained to me that a fence's strength comes from the corner-posts.  They act as the 'foundation' of the fence.  They keep the lines true and level.  They determine where the other posts will be set and how flush the fence will set against them.  If you don't set the corners correctly, the fence will not be as strong or effective.

What are your corner-posts?  What are the things you give primary attention to in your life?  If your corner-posts aren't strong enough to handle the stresses of your life, then your defenses won't hold up when the storms of life blow.  There are many different things people rely on for strength, but most of them aren't sunk deep enough, or not cemented down, or they aren't square with the rest of their lives.  Things like wealth, politics, pleasure, patriotism and even family are things we try to build our lives on, and while they offer varying levels of strength and security, they all prove to be too weak and too temporary to be adequate.  Wealth can be squandered or lost.  A politician's language is usually whatever is expedient at the time.  Pleasure is fleeting and always leaves us wanting more.  Patriotism, while noble in it's intentions, has yet to find an earthly country that lasts forever.  And while we love, honor and protect our family, there is nothing that can wound us more deeply or bring us to our knees quicker than a family member.

There is only one corner-post, or 'cornerstone' that we can trust to be strong enough to withstand and endure everything that life can throw at it.  In fact this cornerstone is often rejected by men, but God has made it 'the' cornerstone (see I Pet. 2:7-8) for His kingdom (the Church) and His people (Christians.)  Jesus said those who built their lives on it would never fall in the midst of storms (see Matt. 7:24-25).  What is this cornerstone?  Actually the question should be 'who' is this cornerstone?  He is Jesus.  Only Jesus is capable of serving all the purposes of a corner-post.  He can make sure the rest of our lives are straight and true.   He can determine where we sink in the other 'posts' of our lives (things like how we use wealth, politics, pleasure and family).  He is strong enough to withstand any and every assault that prevails against us.  In short, only Jesus is adequate to serve as the corner-post of our lives.

Principle #2:  A Fence's Weakest point is the Gate
As Pete continued to set posts, he took great care in measuring and re-measuring the opening for the gate.  He made sure the gate-posts were sunk to the same depth.  He took great care in reinforcing them in concrete and keeping them level so the gate would hang properly.  Why all the extra-attention to this part of the fence?  Because just as the corner-posts are the strength of a fence, the gate is it's weakest point.  Because the gate moves it is more prone to be dug under, left open, or coming unlatched.  If it is not hung true, it may not close tight enough to latch securely.  The gate determines what enters and what leaves.  It is vital that the gate be hung securely and fits snugly into place, or else you might as well not have the gate up in the first place.

You might be expecting me to ask what is your weakest area.  You might expect me to equate that with your 'gate.'  Instead, I want to encourage you as to who should be the 'gate' to your heart.  He can keep the predators out and the good things protected.  Again, He is Jesus.  I take great comfort in Jesus' words when He says, 'I am the sheep-gate' (John 10:7ff.).  The weakest point of the Christian's fence is Jesus!  Our weakest defense is the God of the universe!  It is little wonder that Paul writes in Romans 8, "If God be for us, who can be against us!"

Principle #3: A Fence Depends on Unity for Strength
As Pete finished setting the posts he gave some pointers on how to put up the actual fencing material.  He told us how to stretch and anchor it securely to the corners and how all the posts will be strengthened by stapling the fence to each individual post.  He encouraged us to run planks along the top and bottom, making the entire fence one, cohesive unit instead of four individual walls, independent of each other.

How united is your worldview with that of Christ?  Do you manage your finances according to the principles Jesus outlined in His teachings?  Do you interact with your family the way Jesus encourages you to?  Have you subjected every area, or fence post, of your life to the teachings, or fencing material, of Jesus?  If you haven't then you have some weak points that need to be addressed before they are infiltrated by the enemy.

Principle#4: A Fence Serves Two Purposes
Purpose 1: Keep Things Out
The reason I built the kennel was to keep out other dogs and predators.  By keeping those things out I can ensure the safety and health of momma and her puppies.  By making sure the fence is strong and secure, I can rest at ease knowing that hungry mongrels aren't stealing food or territorial males aren't mauling pups.   If your life's fence is not strong, you will be prone to attacks.  Satan will exploit every opening and every weak-point.  He will invade every gap and attack every breach.  Only a strong fence, with the proper corner posts will withstand such an attack.

Purpose 2:  Keep Things In
It doesn't matter how strong your fence is if you let the wrong things inside.  I could build the Fort Knox of dog kennels, but if I allow a predator inside the fence, the damage will be the same as if I had never put one up in the first place.  Rather, I must take great care of what I place inside my fence in order to protect those things that are dear to me.

What do you let inside your fence?  Do you let friends who have a negative influence on your life inside?  Do you allow anti-Christian philosophies to take residence inside the fence of your heart?  The most dangerous attacks are those that originate within the stronghold.  We can claim Jesus as our cornerstone, but if we don't allow Him to guard the gate also, we can be destroyed from the inside-out and our fence will fail us.

I must give thanks to Pete, my fence-building friend.  Not only did he build us an outstanding dog kennel, he is a reminder of how God can use any profession to remind us of the truths of scripture, and I know he lives his life according to the principles of the fence.  Won't you do the same?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Handing Down my Inheritance

Last Friday was a great day for me.  We had a full week of revival and Friday night was our final night.  A fantastic choir from a local church sang spirituals and that was followed up by a great message on the nature of Jesus Christ.  But that's not what made the night great.  As we stood and sang our hymn of invitation I looked up to see my oldest daughter coming to the front.  Immediately my mind went into 'sappy commercial' mode, and instead of seeing a beautiful pre-teen young woman, I saw Ellie as a toddler, taking her first steps in a new world.  It took me a verse-and-a-half to regain enough composure to sing.

As we stood in the baptistry, I took her confession of faith, and I realized, I gave her the most valuable thing I could ever give.  Just as my parents handed down their faith to me, and their parents handed down their faith to them, and their parents handed down their faith to them, I handed down my faith to my daughter.  I know that it's the Holy Spirit that convicted her heart, and that it was the blood of Jesus that washed away her sins, but the Bible places a high priority on parents teaching their children.  In Deuteronomy 6 God instructs fathers to teach their children God's statutes 'as they rise up, as they eat, as they walk along the way.'  In other words, we are to teach our children as we do everyday things.  Chores can teach responsibility.  Repairing things can teach good stewardship.  Meal time can teach family values.  And woven through all of these there must be the word of God serving as the foundation.

So as my daughter came up out of the water, I welcomed her as my sister in Christ.  I also realized, just as when a child is born, my work was just beginning.   But it's a work that I undertake with great joy, as I watch her become a young woman after God's own heart.

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Opportunities

I am constantly amazed that God chooses to use such a broken jar of clay as myself.  You may have noticed that my usual 'post-a-week' pace has slowed significantly.  This is partly due to a busy schedule.  This time of year is a busy time as we get ready for revivals, community-wide Palm Sunday services and Resurrection Sunday Services.  But the main reason production has slowed is because God has opened up a new opportunity for me to use the gifts He has entrusted me with.  Christian Standard (a magazine that serves Restoration Movement Churches) runs a website called 'Stake'.  The site is a user-influenced blog of sorts designed to promote inter-denominational conversations about many of the relevancy issues the Restoration Movement faces.  I have been asked to be a contributing author for the site, and after much prayer, I accepted.  So for the last several weeks, much of my writing has been directed to that.  However, I don't want to neglect my readers here.  So you can still expect articles here, and once things slow a little I hope to get back to my normal pace of writing.

For now, I ask for your prayers.  Ask God that He uses me in such a way that He gets all the glory in these writing ventures.  Pray that I may have wisdom that exceeds my experiences.  Pray that even more opportunities present themselves as I seek to use my gifts for His fame and glory.  Thank you for being such faithful readers, and I look forward to more writing!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Leaking Happiness

The written word.  It's a powerful thing.   Our history is littered with important documents: The Torah, The Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution.  These are works that have shaped not only our history, but the very culture that is Western Civilization.  There are other works that have left a mark on history, whether you agree with them or not.  Darwin's Origin of the Species forever altered the way many people view creation.  Descartes'  Meditations left a wake that the philosophical world still bobs around in. 

I was reminded last week of the power of the written word.  Charley has been learning about love at the Christian pre-school she goes to and parents were asked to write a 'love-letter' to their child.  I wrote a page, describing how she was my favorite birthday present ever (Mandy found out she was pregnant with her on my birthday in 2006) and that I loved the way she laughed, and the way she has to hug everyone in a room before she leaves.  When my wife picked her up from school later that day the teacher said, "Charley made me cry today."  She then proceeded to explain to my wife how, as the letter was read, Charley began to cry.  When I asked Charley why she cried when the letter was read, she sheepishly tried to explain deep feelings with a four-year-old's vocabulary, "it just made me so happy that it leaked out."

Even though I have said to Charley, "I love you" a million times over, there was something about having it written down that affected her deeply.  Just as the works of men like Jefferson, Darwin and Descartes have impacted our world, that one page letter impacted her little heart in a way that I did not expect.  In fact it has convicted to write more love letters to my children.  I want them to have a physical reminder of their father's love for them.

God has left us a written love-letter that is the Bible.  When was the last time you wept for joy over the following words, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life"?  Or what about the wonderful promise, "Perfect love casts out fear" or "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"  I think we need to let the happiness 'leak out' so that the world may be infected with the love of God.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Jesus Inquest by Charles Foster

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is by far the central tenet of the Christian faith.  It is at once the core of our doctrine and the source of new life in Christ Jesus.  When I saw Charles Foster's The Jesus Inquest was available, I jumped at the chance to read it.  The book is extremely well-researched and is set up in a debate-type dialogue where the debaters (x and y) alternately present their side of the argument.  The book covers a plethora of topics centered on the resurrection ranging from the death of Christ (did he actually die?) to Scriptural integrity to different theories concerning the body (including some that are largely ignored by other apolegetics books).  He even delves into what the earliest Christians actually believed and where their doctrine of resurrection originated (the Gospels, mythology, or somewhere else?)  Overall I believe the author gave a very balanced and fair treatment of the subject matter at hand.

My biggest objection to the book is his source theory for the New Testament.  He seems to outright reject the Apostolic authorship of Matthew and questions the authorship of the other Gospels.  If I were an agnostic or atheist, this gap in the armor is where I would attack viciously. If the Biblical account cannot be validated by either eye-witnesses (Matthew, Mark, and John) or by those closely associated with the witnesses (Luke), then what authority does it carry?  While the book, overall, builds a strong argument for the resurrection of Christ, my fear is that Foster's argument rests on a shaky foundation of poor textual critique.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is the 'Movement' in Need of Restoration?

Let me begin by saying I love the Church.  As a minister I have had a front-row seat to see the Bride of Christ in action.  I have sat as a witness to God’s people mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice.  I have seen the hungry fed, the homeless sheltered, the hurting comforted, the repentant restored, and most importantly, the lost saved. This is not to say I haven’t seen the ugly side of overly zealous religionists, but in my experience, the good has outweighed the bad.

I also must say I love the Restoration Movement.  I love the principles upon which she was founded.  I love the thought of ‘restoring’ the Church to that which God intended her to be.  The ‘Movement’ runs deep in my veins.  My family’s roots run at least four generations deep into it’s history.  Both sides of my family boast preachers, elders, deacons, church planters, Sunday School teachers and missionaries.  Even the congregation I serve is one of the oldest in our movement (depending on which local legend you accept either Campbell or Stone preached there and played an essential role in bringing Cool Spring Christian Church into the Restoration family).  This is not to boast, this is just to say I have a vested interest in the subject that I am about to broach, a subject that may raise more questions than it answers.

Symptoms of a Dying Cause

Over the last several months I have read a fair share of articles questioning the relevance of our Movement.  Granted, most of them are written by bloggers who are taking advantage of the technology available to them to voice their opinions.  Some are unsubstantial, others raise some very good points and ask some very hard questions, all point to a huge problem: we are failing to reach young adults with the voice of our movement.  Why is this?

Newer Churches Are Distancing Themselves from Our History

I have several friends and family who are involved in ‘new’ churches and church-planting.  While I must admit that most of them are doing some exciting things in reaching unchurched people with the story of Jesus, and I love the fact that they are using their freedom from established traditions to use some unique methods in demonstrating the Gospel in their local communities, there is a disturbing trend among them all:  they don’t have any teaching on their Restoration heritage.  This not to say that they don’t have sound doctrine, nor is it to say that they are ineffective in reaching the lost or making disciples.  What it does point to is that these churches, which are very effective at reaching the 40 and under crowd, are producing members of our Movement who may or may not even know that our Movement exists.

Our Movement is No Longer Distinguishable from other Denominations
I know, I know… eyebrows are arching and blood pressures are spiking, and the old arguments are beginning to escape from the lips of the faithful:

“We have no central governing body like denominations.”
“We have no man-made creeds like denominations.”
“We don’t follow non-Biblical traditions like some denominations.”

To this I would say that while we have no central governing body, the NACC often serves the purpose of one (what else would you call a group of leaders coming together to discuss matters pertaining to their organization?)  And whether we admit or not, our movement is rife with creeds. ‘We are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only’ has served as a creed for centuries, as has the shibboleth ‘in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, charity; in all things, liberty.’   Even the battle cry of the Restoration Movement, ‘no creed but Christ!’ has served as a creed, or central teaching, within our movement since the times of Stone and Campbell.  As for non-Biblical traditions, while we may not hold them as equals with the Scriptures like those in the Orthodox denominations,  and while they differ from congregation to congregation, we cherish them nonetheless (just ask any leader who has tried to lead a church through the transition from hymns to praise choruses, or from one building to another.)
The fact is, while we may not see ourselves as a denomination, those unfamiliar or outside of our movement perceive us as one.  While this may show ignorance on their part, it should also serve as a clarion call for us to once again distinguish ourselves as ‘different’ and ‘set apart’ and most importantly, as relevant.

We Are no longer Perceived As a Movement for Unity

Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell, independent from each other, sought to restore the unity of God’s Church.  This was in response to Jesus’ plea in John 17.  Unfortunately, we are no longer recognized as a force for unity.  Rather we are known for one thing we are for (baptism) and a plethora of things we are against (Calvinism, Catholicism, Pelagianism and denominationalism, to name a few.)  No longer are we the group who was considered scandalous because they dared to practice ‘open communion’ and allowed any who considered themselves ‘Christian’ to partake, regardless of denominational background.  Today, a marked legalism and exclusiveness have become the fingerprint of our movement.  This has lead to ‘denomination-bashing’ from many a pulpit and a pharisaic pride in our ability to ‘get it right’ in areas of doctrine and Biblical interpretation.  In short, we have lost our focus, and as a movement we are flailing about aimlessly, sometimes fighting with each other through blogs and periodicals.  This, most definitely, is not the picture Campbell and Stone had in mind when they began our Movement.  It is this divisive nature that is alienating many from our cause and driving others from our ranks.

Searching for A Cure

So what are we to do?  If we truly care for the Restoration Movement and her original purpose of restoring and unifying the Church we cannot merely stand by and watch as she becomes mired in a swamp of irrelevance and legalism.  But how?  What is needed, and is it too late?

A Good, Healthy Dialogue

One of the characteristics of the beginning of our movement is that it was founded in the golden age of debate.  Campbell made a name for himself as a debater, and our movement flourished.  Why?  Because ideas were put forth, discussed, tested, compared, exchanged and adopted or rejected.  In an age where we can exchange information faster, and more broadly than ever before we should see an exchange of ideas like never before.  While this is true in many areas, within our Movement it is exceedingly rare.  Usually we read one-sided articles.  If we agree with them we file them away, if we disagree, we trash them.  If we really disagree we might zip off a tersely worded letter to the editor or author.  But there is no exchange.  There is no dialogue.  There is no debate.

Why is this needed?  After all isn’t a debate bad?  Not at all!  At the beginning of this article I said it might generate more questions than answers.  But that is not necessarily a bad thing!  When we can have an intelligent, respectful exchange of ideas (and questions) it forces us to grow.  We are forced to not only examine what we believe and why we believe it, but we are also forced to examine and test the ideas of others.  We are stretched mentally and spiritually.  Yet, in too many cases those who have concerns in our movement are shouted down or branded as a ‘liberal’.  Within our movement we need to discuss why we exist, what God desires from us, and whether or not we are living up to either standard.  These discussions and exchanges may become heated, but it is within that heat that a unity is forged as we search for common ground.

We also need to be willing to exchange ideas with leaders of the denominations represented in our community.  If we are to seek unity, then it is we who must initiate the dialogue.  How else will they see the values of our Movement if we do not share those values with them?

A Dose of Humility

As a young Bible College graduate I was convinced I had all the answers, and my attitude reflected that conviction.  I was quick to judge others, sometimes based on nothing more than their denominational affiliation.  As I have grown in my walk, I have learned that people must be, and deserve to be regarded as individuals with individual beliefs that are unique to them.  In our movement there is a strong segment that is often labeled by younger ministers as ‘legalists’.  My generation often looks at this segment with skepticism because in their zeal for perfect doctrine, they have built themselves altars of pride that mimic the Pharisees who knew the law, but not the Spirit behind the law.

But the ‘legalist’ segment is not the only segment that needs to eat some humble pie.  As younger ministers strive to achieve unity and show love to the lost, they at times have been just as guilty of pride as they look at the legalists and say the prayer of the Pharisee, ‘Thank you Lord for not making me like them.’  The result can be a church that is strong on love and acceptance but weak on doctrine.

If the Movement is to be restored, we must strike a balance.  In order to accomplish this, both sides need to acknowledge the strengths of the other and the weaknesses of their own approaches.  We cannot sacrifice Truth on the altar of unity, nor can we teach the letter of the law of Christ without love for our common man.  Rather, as the Scriptures say, we need to ‘teach the truth in love.’

A Focus on Jesus

Campbell believed that unity could be achieved through solid Biblical interpretation.  However, if we are to achieve unity we must take it a step farther.  Why?  Because many denominations think their interpretation is correct and sound.  To overcome this we must focus not on the written Word, but on the living Word; namely Jesus Christ.  It is Christ who taught us how to make disciples.  It is Christ who gave us the example of viewing others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:1-11).  It is Christ who pleaded for unity in the Garden and that unity would be based in the fact that we are one with Jesus just as Jesus is one with the Father (John 17:20-26) and that oneness is rooted in a Christ-like love.  If we are to survive as a Movement, if we are to be restored, then Jesus is our only hope.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finding Equillibrium

It seems all ministers live life in the middle of a teeter-totter.  We are constantly trying to find balance in so many areas of our life:

Between church needs and family needs.
Between pride in our successes and giving God proper credit.
Between being available to people and being alone with God.
Between study time and devotional time (and yes, there is a huge difference).
Between working productively and resting responsibly.

It seems everything we do is an attempt to keep from leaning toward one side or the other.  There is one area in particular that I struggle with, and that is striking a balance between theologian and shepherd.  I love knowledge.  I love to read, study, and debate as well as challenge myself by reading and studying what opponents to Christianity have to say.  I love exploring theological conundrums and trying to explain passages of scripture that have been debated back in forth in millennia old table-tennis grudge matches.  I also love the preaching and teaching aspect of my job.  I thrive on going through a book of the Bible, verse-by-verse, with a group of people who are eager to dig deeper into the text and learn what God is teaching them through His Word.  Needless to say, I tend to tip toward the Theologian side of the scale.

It’s the Shepherd side I struggle with.  I am not naturally a ‘nurturing’ person.  It is something I have worked on for years to try to develop, and God has used my children on more than one occasion to humble me enough to learn.  I also don’t score very high in the compassion department.  It’s not that I don’t care… it’s that I don’t always notice.  This is where God has blessed me with an observant wife who notices people in need and points me towards them.   But my lack of compassion sometimes leads to frustration in areas of counseling.  My first impulse in counseling is to ask what someone has done wrong and then instruct them to stop!  In addition to all these issues, my mercy meter usually reads on low.  I have had to develop an attitude of grace and forgiveness, because like many a Pharisee (and remember, the Pharisees were strong theologians) I am quick to point the finger and quicker to pull the trigger.

In all this I have noticed something, however.  I have met many a minister who is strong as a theologian, and I have met just as many who are strong shepherds.  Yet I have rarely met one that is gifted in both.  But God is rich in mercy and He has a place for theologically-challenged shepherds and sheep-fearing theologians.  I am confident in this; God is working to develop within me the set of skills I will need to carry out His will for my life.  Knowing this I say, ‘Bring on the sheep!’

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Ground Grows Thorns

Dust and Dirt
Mud and Clay
Combined to form
A being like no other

Breath of God
Air of life
And there arose
A man with no mother

Image of God
Freedom of will
To choose right from wrong
To choose the dark or the light

Fruit forbidden
Talking snake
The crown of creation falls
And thus begins an everlasting fight

And the ground grew thorns
Thorns that cut
Thorns that choke
Thorns that cause pain and death
Yes, the ground grew thorns

Holy Spirit
Virgin maid
Combined to form
A being like no other

Heaven waits
with bated breath
As God the Son
Is born of a mother

Second Adam
Lamb of God
Love's master plan
Begins to unveil

Darkened Skies
Brutal cross
The gates of death
Will now be assailed

And the ground grows thorns
Thorns that cut
Thorns that choke
Thorns that make a King's crown
Yes, the ground grows thorns

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

God Knows His Plans for You

I've been chewing on this one for a while. Having friends/family that serve in areas hostile to the Gospel and teaching Acts on Sunday evenings has brought this to the forefront of my mind. Please pray for the Persecuted Church.

I have a bad habit. If I hear a discussion on religion, I squeeze my way into it. It doesn't matter how awkward I appear or how insensitive it may seem. It's an occupational hazard. I see an open door and I barge boldly through it.

One example of this boorish behavior occurred several years ago when we were living in Kentucky. My wife and I went out to eat at the local Dairy Queen and seated near us was a group of teenagers. Their Christian T-shirts, 'WWJD' bracelets and brightly colored Bibles told me they must have been getting ready to go to a youth group meeting at one of the local churches. As I munched on my fries, I could hear the door of opportunity creak open as they began discussing, quite animatedly, a theological conundrum that has given scholars much to write about for centuries: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? The discussion started getting more lively and I looked up at my wife, who had the "you're-going-to-do-it-anyway-so-just-hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with" look on her face.

I put my french fries down and quickly assessed the group. The most dominant was a loud and brash girl who was maybe 16. She spoke with the cocksure confidence that comes with adolescence. So, like a gun-fighter approaching a posse, I chose to address her. She spoke of how her minister said as long as you had enough faith, bad things won't and can't happen to you, because you are under God's protection. She then went on to cite several television evangelists who spouted off the same message of prosperity and well-being for all God's faithful children. After she gave her side of the argument she crossed her arms and gave me a smirk that said, "I'm right. You know I'm right, so why don't you just go back to your fries and cold hamburger."

I politely asked her one simple question: What Scripture backs up this claim? Her response? Jeremiah 29:11- "'For I know the plans I that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare, and not for calamity; plans to give you a future and a hope.'" I asked her about context and Biblical examples of suffering, including Jesus, but she was deeply rooted in her philosophy and would not yield. I knew when I was beat, and when discussing religion with a headstrong teen, reason would not prevail. I gave her my email address and excused myself from the table.

America is a tremendously prosperous nation. There can be no denying that God has blessed us materially. The majority of Americans live in the top 1% of wealth in the world! But all this wealth has had a side-effect that has seeped deep into the culture of the American church. Consider the following stats from the 2006 article 'Does God Want You to be Rich?' in Time magazine:

-17% of Christians claim to be a member of a church/denomination that teaches 'prosperity theology'

-31% of Christians believe that if you give God money, He will bless you with more money

-61% of Christians believe that God wants all Christians to be prosperous (although to be fair, the question did not specify spiritual or financial prosperity)

-The article goes on to claim that 3 out of the 4 largest congregations in America preach a message of 'prosperity theology.'

What the article does not say is that this theology is a phenomenon unique to the American church. In countries where the Church is persecuted, you won't hear a message of financial prosperity based on having enough faith. In cities stricken with disease and poverty, the 'health & wealth' gospel would be rightfully scorned. Every day Christians all over the world are arrested, imprisoned, tortured and executed for their beliefs. What do the prosperity preachers have to say to these martyrs? Was their faith, a faith that was fired in the kiln of persecution and purified in the crucible of humiliation, not enough to allow them to fulfill God's plan of financial well-being in their life? This doesn't include the Christians who die of cancer, who are suffering from debilitating diseases or who work hard every day to keep their head from drowning below the poverty line. The prosperity 'gospel' leaves way too many questions unanswered for my taste.

But what about Jeremiah 29:11? What about other passages where it clearly states that God desires to bless his children? How do we interpret these Scriptures in light of the reality we face?

1. Recognize that the World is Sick with Sin
Sin has consequences that reach far beyond our own personal lives. Because of sin death entered the world, and with it came every form of disease known to man. Because of sin governments are corrupt, depriving people of the ability to make a living or practice their faith openly. Because of sin natural disasters (a byproduct of the flood that destroyed the world in Noah's time. A world so sinful that God was forced to 'wash' it away and start anew) inflict terror that is felt acutely by countries so poor, they cannot properly prepare for them. Sin is what causes suffering. Not God, and definitely not a lack of faith in Him.

2. Recognize that God's Blessings are not Always Physical
Some of the blessings I have enjoyed from God are not physical in nature. Encouragement, the presence of His Spirit, the confidence of knowing He stands with me and the knowledge that this world of suffering is not my home are all things that pale in comparison to physical wealth. When we add suffering to the mix, the apostles open a whole new door on how to rejoice in God's blessing. They counted it as a blessing to share in Christ's suffering (Acts 6:40-41). Paul said that 'to live is Christ and to die is gain'. The greatest thing that can happen to a Christian is death. The early church understood this, and this leads us to one final point.

3. Recognize that God's People have a History of being Persecuted
Let's take Jeremiah as an example. Here is a guy who wore an ox-yoke while he preached, was imprisoned numerous times, was considered a heretic by the priests, a naysayer by the false prophets, and a traitor by the king. He was so hated that he was thrown into a cistern and left for dead. When his prophecies of defeat to Babylon came true, he was exiled to Egypt, and was hated by the exiles there as he warned against falling into idolatry. Jewish tradition teaches that while in Egypt he was assassinated and denied a proper burial. This is the guy that God delivered the message of "a future and a hope" to Israel. God's promise through Jeremiah was (a) specific to Israel and (b) a spiritual reality to His people. Today, nearly 20,000 Christians a year are martyred world-wide (according to Voice of the Martyrs). This persecution should not be ignored. Neither should it be grieved. These men and women gave their lives for the Gospel. As Tertullian said, their blood is the seed of the spread of Christianity. God placed upon them a burden that is perhaps to heavy for the American Church to bear. Their suffering blesses us with encouragement, edification and hope. If only our 'prosperity preachers' could be so worthy.