Monday, May 31, 2010

Lessons from an Oil Spill

It's ugly and gross.  It's smelly and dirty.  Thousands of gallons per day gush from the jonesed up pipe a mile below sea level in the Gulf of Mexico and we just can't seem to do much about it.  As I've watched this unfold over the past 5 weeks or so, some thoughts have come to mind.  Here they are, in no particular order.

We can claim it's best to be a proactive leader.  We can champion the values of proactivity in the leadership sphere.  We can read the books, attend the conference, and implement the principles.  But you know what?  Sometimes leadership is reactive.  We can't get around it.  Sometimes, things get messed up and you have to react.  It was true for me at the church during Hurricane Ike.  Reaction is forced upon you at times.

Speaking of leadership, it seems better to appoint a singular figure during times of crisis and equip them with what they need to do what needs to be done.  Who in a barrel-of-crude-oil is in charge out there?  The President claimed he was and has been from day one.  Nobody believes that, but I am grateful that he's at least taking some responsibility here.  Who's the go-to guy or gal?  That seems like a good thing to identify early on and ride that horse until you get the problem fixed or it needs a different level of leadership.

Lastly, on leadership:  nothing speaks to a struggling population like presence.  Being down there, being down there often, being down there actively - those are all things I wish the President would have done.  It's a different ballgame when it's Hurricane Katrina and a Presidential motorcade would screw everything up.  This is an offshore problem with onshore implications.

BP has apparently cut some corners and they have a horrendous safety record.  We had a church member at the plant in Texas City when it went up.  I hope that CEO guy with the accent can pull those people together and start being a responsible corporation instead of merely a liable one.  What's more, their lack of responsibility has now cost thousands upon thousands of others in unimaginable ways.  There are always social implications to our sin.  Always.

Once again, it appears volunteers are the strongest part of the recovery effort.  We've seen this over and over again haven't we?  Hurricanes.  Earthquakes.  Fires.  Tornadoes.  Haiti.  New Orleans.  Name a bad situation and you get the same answer.  Who's out doing the work (or waiting to come and do the work)?  Volunteers.  Government folks sweat about who gets camera time.  Volunteers sweat while they do what needs to be done.  In particular, church groups have done thousands (if not millions upon millions) of man-hours worth of hard work in all of the situations mentioned above.  People who follow Jesus have that capacity because they're drawing from a different source of strength and have different motives.

Finally, I have friends in Houma, LA.  I hope they all survive this - not the ecological problem but the economic one that is soon to follow.

But that's just me thinking thoughts.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sermon Notes from Sunday 5.30.10

These are the notes from my sermon on Sunday.  As always, you can find the sermon audio at  Thanks!

Jesus and the Agenda
Mark 3.7-21, 31-35

Agenda:  Call people to Himself
  • The crowds were interested in what He did, not what He said.
  • Those who desire His activity but not Him find themselves at a distance from Him.
  • He is merciful but desires that His kindness lead us to repentance.
  • In repentance, we turn from one thing to something else – from sinful idolatry to God.
  • Jesus came that people might be rightly related to God (1 Peter 3.18).

Agenda:  Send out His People
  • He calls people to Himself with a purpose.
  • That purpose:  be with Him and minister for Him.
  • Your authority in the Kingdom is directly related to your closeness with the King.
  • Objection:  isn’t this for the twelve apostles, not for me?
  • Answer:  everyone is called to be with Him and go for Him.
  • Caution:  going for Him does not mean you are His.

Agenda:  Create a New Family
  • Society:  the family is primary and indispensable.
  • Religion:  the gatekeepers were no longer in charge.
  • Relationship:  the history they had became a stumbling block.
  • Context:  the message was completely foreign.
  • Even if your family follows Him too, His call to obey will strain you.
  • He is creating a new family with a new Father.

Jesus’ Agenda:  Draw people to Himself to send them out in ministry to create a new family.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Power of Mutuality

Being together, in the best sense, is the commitment to see one another experience God's best.  That's the essence of biblical love.

This is the final installment of the previous series of posts.  I didn't share this part at the men's retreat, but it's been on my mind and a fifth post rounds out the week.

There's a lot to be said for mutuality.  That's the shared nature of life that can be the source of great frustration and great joy.  That mutuality can come in many forms:  mutual interests, activities, relationships, goals, etc.  And the benefits are numerous as well:  better outputs, deeper relationships, greater understanding, etc.

For instance, I'll never forget the time my dad and I spent three days building a fence around the property of our house in Waco.  It was about 400 linear feet, three stringers, 6' privacy pickets, metal posts at 8-foot intervals cemented in the ground - very hard ground at that, rocks and clay.  Lots of work done, lots of conversation had, lots of mutuality.

Bill and I shared some mutuality too.  We were at seminary together, he as professor, me as his teaching assistant.  But he was a lot more than that to me and I became more than that to him.  For some reason, he actually liked the cocky, sarcastic, often foolish kid who helped him get ready for class each day.  His patience for idiots was forged in the 1960's, when he pastored the first church to integrate their preschool in their entire state.  Death threats and a midnight train for his family, while he stayed mind you, were some of the tools for growing patience.  And his career as a resolver of conflict.  He was brought in by churches in their worst moments to do what Jesus wanted but no one was willing to do.  The stories he told...

Outside of the seminary tasks, we had little in common.  He loved fishing, I loved catching fish but not fishing - give me a basketball game any day.  He was probably a little more *ahem* broader in his theological disposition.  I was (and still am, no doubt) wound tightly on that front.  But he and his wife found room at the dinner table for a seminary student.  He had this annoying practice of saying thanks, ending with, "Amen," and then lobbing out the question of the night.  I hadn't even put mashed potatoes on my plate yet and we're 5 minutes into whether or not Communion can be used as a religious education tool for children and the implications of that.  The conversation was always thoughtful, often spicy, and wonderfully irenic.

My favorite Bill moment was at his table where some peppered discussion was going on over roast, potatoes, and green beans.  He looked at me, flummoxed...

Bill:  "I have finally figured out why I like you."

Me:  "Because I don't eat all your rolls?"

Bill:  "No.  You drive me crazy sometimes with your theological strictness.  But you're no fun-damn-mentalist," emphasizing the middle syllable accordingly.

We talked a lot about that.  He believed my conservative theology is a position, but fundamentalism is an attitude.  One you can work with, the other you cannot.

Our mutuality of shared concern for the church and his patience with me led me to be more in God's likeness.  Our mutuality and his patience made me think more deeply and be more open to others with whom I might hold disagreement.  Our mutuality and his patience modeled for me that it's okay to disagree and still be mutually engaged in important things.

I have no idea what he got out of the relationship, outside of copies made and tests typed and graded.  I was honored to be called his friend.  I was honored to visit him when he was sick.  I was honored to be his pall-bearer.

Mutuality matters.  How else will you do all those "one anothers" in the New Testament?  Mutuality matters because through it you can experience God's love.  It's what makes the church the church and not a monolithic rock, cold and unfeeling.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Power of Mentoring

Every person, somewhere along the way, needs an outside perspective into life.  Taking the opportunity to speak into someone else's life and do so in love is an invaluable gift to them.

This is the next to last post about the stories of how a few men shaped my life.  Be stirred.

I was a junior at Baylor.  I had met Dave before and, frankly, was a little awed by him.  He was a man of spiritual power and authority, great faith, and generally a very nice fellow.  I called him one day related to something else and we got to talking.  I asked him if he had time to meet with me regularly.  "Of course, son.  But I'm giving both barrels to you."  And he did.

So every Thursday after class, I left and drove to Lewisville.  I'd sit down with Dave and enjoy some time. We'd talk about life and the Scriptures and whether or not dating so-and-so was a good idea.  Afterwards, I'd stay for a home-cooked meal with he and Mary, his wife.  We'd sit and laugh and talk and wonder and all the good stuff that happens around unhurried meals.  Then I'd drive the two hours back and have all sorts of stuff to think about.

He, more than any single person, shaped my understanding of what following Jesus looks like.  I specifically remember walking through Matthew 6 and talking about worry.  I sat stunned as he talked about his family and how their finances were completely dependent on the gifts of others who believed in the ministry they did.  Agape.  Slack-jawed.  I probably looked like a goofball, but I had never heard of such living.  And they did it without worry and without want.  God provided.

That was one of many lessons I learned in Dave's office and around his table.  I'm grateful for a mentor who would (a) take the time and (b) have the patience to invest in me.  And it has made me look for those kinds of relationships in my life.  I sense I'm at the age now where my investment is owed to the next generation.  But I still love lingering conversations with the wise.  They still stir and provide perspective.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Power of Modeling

Examples are often more powerful than words.  You live as an example for someone.  The question is what kind of example you set.  

This is the third post in the expansion of what I said at the men's retreat.  Thanks for reading.  Hopefully these stories of how men made a difference in my life will stir you as they have me.

I had an incredible privilege in college.  Yes, I got to go to a private university that provided a great education.  That was certainly a privilege.  But that's not what I'm talking about here.  I had the privilege of seeing a person whom God is currently using powerfully on the national ministry scene, watching from up-close-and-personal distance and having the opportunity to interact with him and the others in the ministry.

Here was the thing that was stunning.  What he said on the platform was consistent with how he worked at the office, conversed with students, interacted with his family, etc.  I'm just a guy from a small town in east Texas.  To my knowledge, I had never been in a position to see someone so popular, much less see them in multiple settings and interact with them personally.  And the ministry examples I had growing up were not terrific, save a godly female youth minister.  Most were distant, conniving, political or deceitful (or some combination).

But here was this guy.  He preached his heart out and God used him like none I had ever seen before.  And he also really believed it, evidenced by his off-stage activities and attitudes and interactions.  That indelibly marked me.  It changed the direction of my life by setting integrity as a destination.  I'm confident I had heard teaching and exhortations on being a consistent person wherever you are.  Not until I saw it modeled in ministry did I it really take root.

Sometimes, examples are more powerful lessons than words.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Power of Blessing

Words don't simply communicate information.  They often go to the deepest part of us, for good or ill.  Use them wisely.

The old saying of sticks and stones breaking bones but words never hurting is a lie.  Of course words hurt, sometimes with longer and deeper ramifications than a physical wound. But they can also bless and edify.  In fact, the Greek word for bless is eulogizo, which when broken down means a good (eu) word (logos).  You don't have to work very hard to see eulogy and eulogize in there.  So there is inherent power in words.

I had a coach in high school who coached me two years.  He was my favorite high school faculty member. This coach was italian in descent, so he had plenty of fire.  But he was also the guy who would laugh along with you.  As a basketball coach, when you screwed up, he would grab you by the jersey and get right up in your face and let you have it while turning the air blue around you.  He'd sling you toward the end of the bench and stare you down.  Then, about 2 minutes later, he'd grab you again and tell you to watch the backdoor cut and be sure and give help on the pick and roll and then swat you on the butt and tell you to go get 'em.  I loved him.  Still do.  In fact, I got to do his daughter's wedding about a year ago.

It was May of 1994 and I was headed out to do ministry on the east coast with Crosspoint, a Christian sports camp sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention.  It ended up being a tough summer, but that's another story.  My mom and dad threw a send-off party for me, grilling hamburgers, etc. at our house.  As Coach was leaving, I walked him out and he grabbed me as he had so many times before.  I didn't think I had turned the ball over or had been beat by my man, so the familiar feeling was in a strange context.  He looked me in the eyes and said, "If I ever had a son, I sure hope he'd turn out to be like you."

I have never forgotten that.  It was a blessing in the truest sense - a good word spoken that goes into the soul of a young man.  It said to me that I had what it takes, the question every man asks.  It spoke powerfully and has shaped me in many ways, not the least of which is I really don't get nervous in front of crowds when I preach.  And yes, I absolutely think the confidence he inspired in me then and the confidence I have to stand and herald are intimately tied.

Words have power.  They can wound or heal, tear down or build up, reveal foolishness or impart wisdom.  And they often go deeper than we know.  Use them wisely.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Power of Consistency

Things are often shaken in a day but rarely shaped in a day.  That is the power of consistency - the long obedience in the same direction.

The series of posts this week are brief expansions of what I shared at the men's retreat on Saturday.  I'm doing this because the stories that stir us should be told so they can stir others.  I hope that's the case here.

There's a guy named Norman.  He's not anything particularly exciting and would tell you that himself.  He's soft-spoken and aging, but in the way that he still looks like I remember him even though I don't see him hardly at all anymore.  He's an artist, having taught art in the public schools for decades.  He was my fourth-grade Sunday School teacher.

Every Sunday at FBC Huntsville I'd show up.  As many Sundays as I can remember walking around on the 3rd floor of the education building, I remember Norman in the 4th grade Sunday School classroom.  That stood out to me for a couple of reasons.  First, I didn't have a male Sunday School teacher until him.  And I didn't have one after that until high school.  So he was a rarity in my experience.  Second, he was there every Sunday (at least it seemed like it).  I said that already but it's worth saying again.  He was there.  He was consistently there.  And I remember sitting in his Sunday School class and learning from him.  It wasn't flashy.  I don't think we did coloring sheets or crafts.  I remember memorizing a passage from Luke 2 around Christmas.  And I remember his presence.

Things can be shaken in a day.  My beloved just returned from Haiti and can testify to that.  It seems like it can go downhill fast - marriages fail, kids stray, jobs end, cancer comes, etc.  Shaken.

But rarely are things shaped in a day.  I think about the Grand Canyon and how the Colorado has been flowing through it for millennia.  The consistency of the flow has shaped the terrain.  And that is Norman's lasting lesson to me.  The consistency of a man showing up week after week, working with snotty and stinky 10-year olds, and faithfully teaching the Bible is powerfully shaping.  It's not fast.  It's not always easy.  It's certainly not fame-producing.  But it shapes the souls of little kids who grow up with that sediment settled somewhere in them and write blogs and pastor churches.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sermon Notes from Sunday 5.23.10

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, 5.23.10.  As always, you can find the sermon audio at or on iTunes.

A Controversial Sunday
Mark 2.23-3.6

4 Pieces that Frame Sabbath
  • Rhythm – a pace that sustains us.
  • Rest – a practice that sustains us.
  • Reflect – a place in God’s story.
  • Reorient – a perspective that readies us.

Pharisees’ Concern

Preservation of Institution over the people the Institution was designed to serve (2.24).
  •  Those who appeal to the law first are those who have something to lose. 

Position of prestige of being the gatekeepers of the right way to believe and behave (2.26).
  • Definitions of boundaries typically are used for self-justification and looking for loopholes. 

Power of condemnation toward those who don’t keep the accepted rules (3.2-4).
  • The rightness of a rule is contingent upon its tie to love for God and neighbor.

Jesus’ Response

Bible (2.25-26)
  • Both instruction and exception are included in the Scriptures.

Supremacy (2.27-28)
  • If your religious rules obscure Jesus’ glory, you’re an idolater.
  • If your religious rules conceal Jesus character, you’re ignorant.

Anger (3.5)
  • Anger is the appropriate response to wrong in the world.
  • Righteous anger is mixed with grief over its cause.

Healing (3.5)
  • Religion doesn’t inhibit Jesus’ agenda – the religious just miss it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gospel Size and Evangelism

How freely we share the Gospel is in direct proportion to how freely we apply it to ourselves.

I have done months of personal thinking and praying and thinking and studying and thinking and soaking about the nature of the Gospel.  In my opinion, American evangelicalism is weak in two areas.

The first is the size of the Gospel.  We have a reductionist tendency.  We like smaller iPods and smaller computers and smaller times of downloads and smaller amounts of waiting.  That has played itself out in the realm of the Gospel by reducing it to something that fits on a napkin, can be shared in 30 seconds or less, and can be tract-bombed in an afternoon blitz.  The message, it seems, has become this:  believe that Jesus died for your sins and you get to go to heaven when you die.  That's not untrue.  But it's certainly not the whole truth, especially as its generally presented.

  • "Belief" is synonymous with "think these facts are true."  Biblical belief is a life-altering, worldview shaping, behavior-transforming issue (ala James 2).  It's why around here, we use the phrase "put confidence in Christ," which for us communicates more of what the Bible is saying when it speaks of belief or faith.  
  • "Jesus died" means that I'm off the hook and can then live without consequence.  Following Jesus is for those seriously committed to Him, but He'll pay for the sins of anyone who prays a prayer.  I'm careful here, because I think Jesus does forgive people who authentically and honestly deal with Him in prayer and that He forgives people of sin who will sin against Him later and do so intentionally at times.  But living without consequence mocks God and He simply won't have that.  
  • "Heaven" is that place where there are no more tears, hurt, pain, cancer, etc.  And that's true.  And that's wonderful.  But lots of people want to go there.  The difference between the biblical heaven and some painless utopia is that Jesus is there.  Without Him, heaven wouldn't be heaven.  We make an idol of heaven if we would gladly have its benefits without its Benefactor.  It's a piercing question to ask yourself:  would I be happy in heaven if Jesus wasn't there?  The answer tells you everything.
Second, there's a real problem of thinking that the Gospel is for those who need to be converted but not the church at large.  This is an outflow of the small-gospel problem mentioned above, but according to the Bible the Gospel is preached to the church as much as anyone.  We all need (a) reminder about what God has done for us in Jesus and (b) fresh application of that to our lives.  You don't enter the Christian life through the Gospel and go on from there.  You enter the Christian life through the Gospel and go deeper into the Gospel as you grow.  

One huge outflow of these two problems is evangelism.  We don't preach the Gospel to ourselves and so it's not in our bones.  We don't have a story worth sharing, so we don't open our mouths.  But the Gospel of the Bible is both enormous, penetrating, and powerful.  The Bible calls it the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1.16).  You know what Paul says right before that?  That he's unashamed in his sharing of it.

So live today with a large Gospel:  Christ's righteousness for our forgiveness, peace, deliverance and healing through His death and resurrection.

And go share it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Church (as it ought to be)

The Church is neither building nor religious organization.  It's designed by Jesus, its founder, to be a training ground for those who know Him to be both the Treasure of the Universe and Master of Life.

Admittedly, I work for one, so what I'm going to say is biased beyond belief.  I love the church.  I love the church where I get to pastor and I love the church worldwide.  Both drive me nuts at times, but that doesn't temper my affection or cause my love to wane.

I know some people who say they love Jesus but not the church.  That's like you saying I'm okay with you but you can't stand my wife, with whom I'm insanely in love.  That just doesn't play with me.  We're a package deal (and besides, she's way cooler than me - just check out her blog and see how I'm trying to play catch-up on the writing front:

Most folks who say that or have other complaints generally do so as a result of getting burned by a religious organization posing as the church somewhere along their road.  I understand that.  I talk to people like that a few times a month.  But that's not who the church is and certainly not who she is designed to be.  She's meant to be a training ground for those who want to do live in Jesus' way.

He's the Master of Life, the one who's not just God but smart.  He knows that living with the busted and broken human heart is not God's best, so He sets about renovating it - sometimes gently, sometimes ruthlessly.  His reclamation project means that we apprentice ourselves to Him and enter His school of life so we can learn from Him how to do life like Him.

But He's not merely a better way to live.  He's the best way to live and that flows out of His unique, personal being.  Remember, He didn't say He's bringing the way - He claimed to BE the way.  That keeps this whole followership thing from being a utility to your best life now and you from becoming the kind of self-righteous weasel that misses His Kingdom by light years.  With Jesus the Treasure in view, discipleship to Him makes sense.  You can't take on the role of apprentice to Jesus without first knowing that He's the Greatest Treasure in the whole Universe.  Otherwise you'll listen to Him and realize He's calling you to way more than peaceful meditation and not yelling at your kids and then decide not to follow Him after all.  He's not an option in the self-help aisle at Barnes and Noble.  He's the most incredible Person you'll ever know.  He is God the Son, the perfect sacrifice, who died in our place to display God's righteousness and demonstrate God's love.  That's the One you follow.  He's the One who becomes your Master.

Both are necessary.  Jesus the Trainer without the Treasure is Anthony Robbins deified.  Jesus the Treasure without the Trainer is a nice religious guy who ends up being put on the shelf like toys from days gone by - once loved, now irrelevant.  It's both, not either.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jennifer Knapp, Genetics, and Giving a Rip

There was, about a month ago, a not-so-shocking shocker to the world of Christian music.  No, it wasn't that a non-whiny song made it to the top spot in radio play or that lyrics from a self-help book were actually nixed from a song in order to make room for theological thought that was deeper than a rain puddle in Saudi Arabia.  The artist known as Jennifer Knapp, whose music was raw and honest and worthwhile when she was writing, had come out of the closet as a homosexual woman.

Shocking?  Well, maybe.  Ray Boltz had watched the Lamb before, said thank you, and decided it was better to follow Ray than Jesus.  There were others.  The Christian Music Industry (and that's what it is, don't mistake it) is not immune to nor estranged from its controversies.  Amy Grant and Gary Chapman.  Sandi (or is it Sandy now?) Patty.  Michael English and the girl from First Call.  Ray Boltz.  And these are just the public ones - not the ones that we don't get to see because the artist is too hungover from an all-night bender to make it to the studio on time or in shape to do something creative.

But Jennifer Knapp?  I LOVED her music.  Lyrically and musically, I thought she was making some of the best music (Christian or otherwise) during her heyday.  But then, from off the charts to off the grid.  She went away.  Far away.  Australia away.  G'day, Jenn.  Thanks for three great albums.

I promise I have a point.  First, indulge the back-story.  I did a camp one year with a Nashville songwriter who's name I won't share here but had at least one Grammy nomination in 2009 and has done great for himself.  FYI, my favorite memory from that camp was this guy singing (to the tune of Rocky Top) about diatomaceous earth, the chemical we were using to keep some nasty scorpions out of our cabin.  I digress.  We were up late talking one night and I was asking about how fake Nashville was on the Christian scene.  It's the Baptist Camelot, but also has porn stores everywhere.  He told me what he knew about a few artists I asked about, including the rap that Jennifer Knapp was a lesbian but not pursuing any relationship and staying celibate.  I thought, "Good for her for doing this the right way."  

Well, things have changed.  So let me give you four or five people who will read this a couple of reasons why this should matter.

First, praying for Jennifer Knapp to follow the clear teachings of Scripture and staying celibate would be the best, most appropriate, most loving response you could offer her, the Kingdom, or any other gay person you know.

Second, whether or not the genetics play larger or smaller, more or less dominant roles in the issue, the Bible is crystal clear about God's take on homosexuality.  It's a sin and has to be called such.  No, not some unforgivable leprosy.  No, not worse than the greed and gossip most of us struggle with.  But it is sin.  Let's go ahead and call it that.

Third, Jennifer Knapp and others are calling into account the validity and authority of the Scriptures on this issue.  Google her interview with Larry King and watch her about 8-10 minutes in as she does gymnastics of all sorts to say a whole lot of nothing regarding how the Bible speaks to this issue.  To be clear:  the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible and He's not in favor people sinning against Jesus in this way or any other.  You can't take the affiliated texts any other way without sounding like a goofball.

Fourth, you probably know some gay people.  Loving them well includes speaking the truth to them.  It also means refusing to ostracize them.  And for those with sexual identity issues in the church, calling them to walk in abstinence and celibacy is hard but the most loving thing to them and the most joy-filled path (albeit, ultimately) for them.  Some think that following Jesus means all the evil impulses go away, particularly on this issue.  If that were the case, we'd never eat junk food, never share gossip as a prayer request, never look at porn, and never covet our neighbors' new jet skis.  Walking in the path of Jesus, no matter our desires, is the way of sanctification.  It's true for homo- and heterosexuals.  His call to holiness is independent of whether or not He delivers you from a particular sinful desire in this life.  Are there ways to deal with desires and lay them aside?  Sure.  Does Jesus deliver people immediately and instantly?  Sure.  Do people who love Jesus sometimes struggle all their lives with a particular sin?  Sure.  But no matter how strong the impulse or how strong the deliverance, the Bible still calls us to holiness, without which we will not see the Lord.

Fifthly, and very personally, a guy got sent to jail in the UK for letting the word sin get caught in the same sentence as homosexuality.  No kidding.  Same thing happened in San Antonio to two street preachers who, on video, weren't yelling but were preaching.  But the truth matters more than jail, just ask John Bunyan, Martin Luther, the Apostle Paul.

Lastly, sin cost Jesus His life.  He died to exchange sin for righteousness.  But when we live in an unrepentant way, the Bible is clear about how God will take a hands-off approach and we'll get what we want.  In no way am I going all Pat Robertson and saying our country is going to hell in a handbasket because of homosexuals.  We probably have more BP's and Enron's and AIG's to thank than we do homosexuals.  But every person who refuses to honor God, giving Him thanks, exchanges the truth for a lie.  And that lie is deceptive to the point of creating death that feels like life.  Don't take sin lightly.  Those who do find that it grows to the point where it's big enough to kill you (bringing forth death, ala James 1).

But that's just me thinking thoughts.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Transformation Happens

I can't tell you how excited I am to share the video below with you.  A foreign exchange student at our church was saved by Jesus and is heading home with more than a cultural experience, eternally more.  Here is the video...

Faithful Always

God's faithfulness to us is independent of ours to Him.  He can't be unfaithful.  It's just not in Him.

My wife's coming home today from Haiti.  She's coming home with scabies or some fungus on her skin, not unlike ancient lepers.  But she's also bringing home a sense of God's faithfulness in sustaining her, hearing her, providing for her, using her, and on an on.

The amazing thought in that is that God does this all the time.  He's 100% faithful, not 99.9999%.  He never fails.  He never forgets.  He never falters.  He is always faithful.  And this faithfulness is an attribute of Him - it's in His character.  To be unfaithful would be to deny Himself.  Whether or not we're faithful, He is.  Whether or not we stick to it, He does.  Whether or not we cling to Him, He's faithful.  Whether we fail and fall to temptation or walk with clean hands and pure hearts before Him, He's faithful.

If we are faithless, He remains faithful - for He cannot deny Himself.  (2 Tim. 2.13)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sermon Notes from Sunday 5.16.10

Well, I didn't get all the way through the notes below, so the sermon from Sunday was truncated.  But we'll deal with the two Sabbath controversies next week (2.23-3.6), Lord willing.  Here are the notes from Sunday (5.16).  As always, you can find the sermon audio here:

Mark 2.13-28

Why are you hanging out with those people?
  • Jesus consistently works in the most unlikely places.
  • Jesus was comfortable around sinners – so why aren’t Christians?
  • Some are afraid of the risk of association – protecting their reputations.
  • Some are afraid of catching the sin disease – choosing fortress over mission.
  • In Jesus’ Kingdom, it’s okay not to be okay – it’s just not okay to stay that way.

Why are your people not acceptably religious?
  • Jesus does not bring stoicism on top of asceticism; He brings joy.
  • Jesus does not patch the old; He makes everything new. 
  • Jesus does not fit into our categories; He defines Himself to us. 

Why are your people not keeping the rules?
  • Sabbath was for resting, remembering, and reorienting around God.
  • Exalting the symbol reduces the need for a Savior.
  • Reducing a relationship with God to a checklist means missing Him entirely.
  • Discernment can see whether the precept falls in line with the two overarching commands:  God-love and neighbor-love.

Mother's Day Video

Just because I thought this was well done.  FYI, I'll hopefully be posting the baptism video we show this morning (5.16.10). It's going to be great story of God's grace.  For all moms, we're grateful to God for you.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ergun Caner, Integrity in Ministry, and a Rationale for Caring

Integrity of character is the infrastructure of the soul - there is a lot that hangs on it.

Integrity is like the frame of the car.  It's the 2x4's inside the walls of the house.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  So much hangs on the integrity of a person - their word, their reputation, the reputation of others who know them, etc.  This is particularly true in ministry.

Which is why this post is happening.  I just haven't been able to let go of something that's rumbling in the evangelical world but may very well go Iceland-volcanic on us and have ash on a lot more than the key players.  The issue is a guy named Ergun Caner, specifically whether or not he's living with integrity in regard to his testimony.

Ergun Caner is the president of the seminary of Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell and Elmer Towns.  He has an islamic background and has been become a very popular speaker on the evangelical circuit regarding Islam.  The problem, allegedly, is that he appears to have told different stories in different places that are irreconcilable.  After a brush-off last week by Liberty, it appears now that there is an internal investigation into the situation led by the Provost.  If you want more timeline details, just google Ergun Caner and there is plenty of info.

As a minister, I know I've said things that I shouldn't have from the platform.  Once, when I was in college, I fabricated a story at a retreat - it was on the fly - and had to wake up the next morning and repent to the group.  I'm not throwing stones here.  My wife and another friend even asked me, "Why do you care?"  Here's why I care...

If true, it is ammo in the guns of Muslim apologists.  "See, you can't trust those converts to Christianity.  They'll tell you absolutely anything to get you to forsake Islam."

If true, it never sits right with me for a charlatan of any stripe to steal resources from the Kingdom.  And that's precisely what he's doing - taking money for fabrication - if this proves to be true.

If true, I've lost a lot of respect for Elmer Towns and Liberty.  While I have some significant theological issues with LU, I do respect them for trying to train students to think like Christians as they head to the workplace.  His brush-off (it's not a moral issue?) and subsequent turn-around doesn't bode well.

If true, everyone in ministry takes a hit.  We all get some ash.  It was true with Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard.  It will be true, to a lesser degree probably, here.  But the conversations I have with unbelieving neighbors and others who know about the situation will have to first be sanitized with the "I'm not like that guy and neither are most of the ministers in the world" caveat.

Lastly, if true, why did LU wait to take action until the Washington Post, et al, came snooping around.  The provost specifically mentioned the pressure from the press in the rationale for starting the internal investigation.  Why not when a few bloggers brought it out?  Why not when Christianity Today inquired?  Why wait until bigger names in the media get involved?  Where is the integrity in that?  It's one thing if it's not on your leadership radar but another thing completely when you brush it off at first then reverse course.

I long to be the church to one another.  Speaking the truth in love, receiving rebuke in love, taking correction in love, encouraging in love, and so forth.  Integrity matters.  It really does.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Back to Basics

Jesus Christ came to seek and save the lost.  He's still in that business.

We prayed as a staff yesterday through Isaiah 53.  As we were doing so, I was continually struck by the simplicity of the Gospel and my part in it - the root of the problem and the benefits I received from it.

I was the sheep who had gone astray.  I was the one who had walked after my own way.  It was my iniquity that the Father put upon the Son.  It was me who received the healing by His stripes.  It was me who had committed the atrocity that He bore, whereby He was crushed.  It was because of my sin that the Father crush Him.

But, gloriously, it's me who is the receptor of righteousness from Him.  It is me for whom He makes intercession.  It was me who received all these benefits and more from His hand.

Thank you Father for the beauty and benefit of the Gospel.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Jesus, the Crucifixion, and Sagan's Contact

Christianity isn't going to the cross at first and moving on from there to deeper things.  It is going to the cross and going deeper into it.

I was flipping channels last night in a 20-minute attempt to clear my brain before bedtime and ran across Carl Sagan's Contact with Jodie Foster.  In the scene I'm describing, they're at the Mall in DC where she and the pseudopriest Matthew McConaughey are talking about her reasons for going.  Right before the romantic kiss and the mutual confusion that ensues, this conversation happens (slightly paraphrased).

MM:  Why do you want to go?  You, not humanity, but you?

JF:  Ever since I was a little I wanted to know if there was more.

MM:  Why would you risk losing everything?  Is it really worth your life?

JF:  To find out our purpose in the universe?  I think it's absolutely worth a life.

That got me thinking about a person who gave His life.  In that death we find salvation through forgiveness and the imputation of righteousness.  But we also find our God-glorifying purpose on display.  And there's love on display, powerfully portrayed in the sacrifice.  Then there's victory over the spiritual forces of darkness.  And reconciliation to God and one another.  And the promised healing whereby He will set the whole world right again.  And on and on we could go.

So much happened at the cross.  So much is revealed.  So don't fall for the mindset that the cross is the beginning and then from there you move on.  The cross is like the spring in the middle of the City of God - the place life begins and is sustained.  Move deeper into it, not away from it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Two idols, some poles, and high places

Secret sins are every bit as dangerous as known sins and must be dealt with just as ruthlessly.

I'm reading through the books of the Kings right now as I journey through the Bible this year.  One creepy theme keeps showing up and does so in sequels like the never-ending Friday the 13th movies.  That theme is the good kings and their response to the sins in the land.  They dealt with most of them, but the text testifies that they didn't tear down the asherah poles or destroy the golden calves or knock down the high places where the people offered incense.  It never attempts to explain the political or leadership pressures they faced that caused this course of action.

And this has me thinking (and praying):  where am I unwilling to deal with sin in my life?  Are there places in my life where I am not dealing with the sin that remains, no matter the reason or rationale or excuse or justification I might give?

Search me and know me.  Find out if there's any wicked way within me.  Lead me in the way everlasting.  Amen.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Girl is in Haiti - how do I blog?

FYI to the four of you who read this blog, my sweet and wonderful wife is in Haiti doing mission work with YWAM.  Please pray for her and follow the adventure here:  I'm managing the chaos around the house solo this week.  So if I blog a little less, I'll fall upon your grace.

Thanks in advance,

Sermon Notes from Sunday 5.9.10

As always, our webmaster extraordinaire makes the sermons available at:  With the limited number of notes provided below, you might want to get the sermon and follow along.

Through the Roof
Mark 2.1-12

Where are you?
  • Listening Crowd – hearing the truth and checking Him out.
  • Faithful Friend – bringing another to the Master.
  • Desperate Paralytic – offering nothing but hoping for anything.
  • Religious Observer – right answers but wrong assumptions.

What will it take?
  • Overcome the obstacle of others.
  • Overcome the obstacle of hindrance.
  • Overcome the obstacle of perseverance.
  • Overcome the obstacle of obedience.

Will you trust?
  • Do you believe that God always does what is best?
  • Do you believe that He gives us what we need?
  • Will you glorify Him no matter what?  

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Psalm 19, part 4

The Word of God offers more satisfaction than possessions or pleasure.  So our deepest desire is satisfied as we gain Him through it.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (v.10)

Sometimes I don't desire to read the Bible.  Is that okay to say (and still be a pastor-type)?  Most of the time, I do anyway.  And on the backside of my encounter with the Scripture is a type of satisfaction.  Not the kind of self-satisfaction that delights in the self-righteousness and self-discipline and screams, "Look at me!"  It's a different kind of satisfaction.  It's a kind of satisfaction that enlarges the soul more than any activity I would replace it with could ever do.  Even when it's dry and dusty (which happens sometimes too), I know there is soul-enlarging goodness happening.

That's the power of the Scripture that gives us God.  It trumps the gold of materialism and the honey of hedonism.  It gives me the one thing my soul longs for.  The one thing I was made for.  It gives me God.  

And part of what it shapes in me is perspective.  The Bible, in enlarging the soul and defeating the trite (though powerful) desires of the flesh, gives me a sense of what's real.  It helps me see what's true.  It "gives light to the eyes" so I'm not guessing in the dark.  By it, I see the rest of the world and can keep it in perspective (thank you, CS Lewis).

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Psalm 19, part 3

Wisdom isn't a simple matter of been-there-done-that.  Wisdom is a matter of God's revelation in the Bible being applied to my life.

The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

I love it that the Bible calls itself the testimony of God.  It is the word of God about God given to us by God.  It is the revelation of Himself to us.  To my knowledge, no other religious text makes such a claim.  Yet one more reason the Bible is unique and should be heard.

Some would have you believe that wisdom comes from experience - whether experience in a particular area of expertise or wisdom in surviving a particular experience (such as a surviving a head-on collision).  I don't doubt that perspectives shift when those kinds of things happen to us.  I don't doubt that some people are wiser plumbers, electricians, engineers, surgeons, leaders or preachers because of experience in a skill.

But the wisdom of the Bible is a wisdom about life.  You know people who have been through relationship after relationship, situation after situation and it never seems to get better.  Their cycles aren't cycles at all, but rather spirals that go deeper, faster, and more destructive with each iteration.  Wisdom doesn't just come to us by living through those things.  Wisdom comes from listening to the God of the Universe who speaks through His Word to us and applying that Word as the best way to live.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Psalm 19, part 2

The reason we keep the law of the Lord is not to make ourselves perfect but because it's honoring to Him and the way He says is best to live.

The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul.  Those are powerful words from the pen of David.  One of the reason they're so powerful is because they're universal.  I cannot think of a person alive today, yesterday, or tomorrow who doesn't need a serious restoration project on his soul.  We're all messed up, cracked, fading, unstable, broken, bruised, and generally destructive to ourselves and those around us.

While the law of God is not the source of our righteousness, it is the course of it.  It is the path by which we honor Him and live in the way He says is best.  It honors Him by treating Him as holy but also smart.  And it turns out for our best - the restoration of our jonesed up souls.  Holiness and wholeness are not opposed to one another.  They're cause and effect.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sermon Notes from Sunday 5.2.10

Audio to this sermon can be found here:  Jesus Goes Outside (our comfort zone)

Jesus Goes Outside
Mark 1.35-45

Jesus is at work outside our comfort zones today.  We are left with two options:  miss out or join Him.

Outside our Practices
  • His life and ministry are shaped by His practice of prayer, not vice versa.
  • Pray using the Bible as a guide.
  • Pray using the calendar as a friend.
  • Pray using the response of spiritual warfare.

Outside our Movements
  • He left the success of Capernaum for the ministry in unnamed townships.
  • His glory was coming, but first the Kingdom needed proclamation and demonstration. 

Outside our Ministry
  • He retreated and redirected, but He’s not aloof.
  • He stopped for someone who offered Him nothing.
  • He touched the untouchable, making clean the one who made Jesus “unclean.”
  • He healed the one who (possibly) deserved it least.

Outside our Command
  • We don’t understand His commands but are still accountable to them.
  • We can trust that everything He says is best for His Kingdom.  

GREAT post

There is a GREAT post from my wife on sanctification and joy and the process of both.  Find it here:

Blog Link

Psalm 19, part 1

Pulsing with energy and mystery, the stars of the universe are communicating a singular message:  God is amazingly glorious.

I watched with fascination last night a Discovery Channel special on the universe and Stephen Hawking's thoughts on it.  For those of you who don't know, Stephen Hawking is the leading theoretical physicist in the world, the black hole specialist on the planet, and the smartest guy in any room.

Hawking talked about the power of stars, the energy still out there in the universe, and the deep darkness and danger of black holes.  Though, to my knowledge, he's not a follower of Christ, his explanation and the accompanying dramatization of how things happened, are happening and will happen in the universe made me think about David's take on the universe too.  The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky shows forth His handiwork.

Whether billions of years old or several thousand years old has been a debate for years now.  It's actually uninteresting to me.  I have my opinions, but they're just that - opinions.  What does matter, though, is the receptivity of my heart to the message in the stars.  Will my heart, life, mouth, actions respond mirror that message?  Will I say, "Yes!  Glory to God!"?