Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sermon Notes from Sunday, 9.30.12

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, 9.30.12, from the series Clarity.  You can find these notes in PDF and the sermon audio at  You can also download the audio via our podcast on iTunes.

Part 4 – Worship:  How
John 4.22-24

Matthew 28.18-20:  rationale for all we do, resources we draw from

Worship is our response to God, giving Him our allegiance, affection, and action.

True Worship happens in a relationship with God.
  • We are sought and saved to worship Him.
  • The Gospel leads us into relationship with God.

True Worship happens in Spirit and Truth

  •  I say true things about God
  •  I say true things to God

  • I delight in His passion for me.
  • I express the passion in me for Him

  • Singing
  • Bodily Response


1.  What if I don’t like to sing, don’t like the music, etc.?

2.  What if I’m not all that passionate about Him?

3.  What if I don’t feel like it?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Snakes are Scary, but so is this: Vote or Die

I.  Do.  Not.  Know.  What.  To.  Say.

To link to the original Snakes are Scary post that explains the Friday insanity, please click this link.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Music and silence - how I detest them both!  How thankful we should be that ever since Our Father entered Hell - though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express - no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise - Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile - Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires.  We will make the whole universe a noise in the end.  We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth.  The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end...

Uncle Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood
in C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, Letter 20

(and for those unfamiliar with the book, it is a series of letters from an older demon to a younger one, thus "Our Father" refers to Satan and the notable contempt for Heaven)

And for the record, as I finished this post, my cell phone noised about, letting me know I have a text message.  Ironic, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lake of Fire

Within 30 meters of an active volcano's lava lake at the bottom of the crater.


...and the Devil who had deceived them was thrown into the Lake of Fire and sulfur where the Beast and the False Prophett were...Then Death and Hades were thrown into the Lake of Fire.  This is the second death, the Lake of Fire.  And if anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the Lake of Fire.  ~ Revelation 20.10, 14-15

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jesus' Wife (and other such things)

You might consider yourself disconnected from the world if you haven't heard that Karen King, professor at Harvard, has found a fragment of Coptic papyrus that she has sensationally called The Gospel of Jesus' Wife.

In case you're a little unclear on the facts, here are some of the most pertinent.

1.  The fragment is the size of a business card and is written in Sahidic Coptic, an ancient language from the 3rd century A.D.

2.  Jesus states in the fragment, "My wife."  Also, "My mother gave life to Me," and, "She will be able to be my disciple" (though the identity of "she" is unclear).

3.  Karen King presented a paper identifying the fragment and arguing it claims that Jesus had a wife.

4.  There are guesses by really smart people that, if it is authentic, the fragment came from the 4th century A.D.

Now, onto the analysis of the issue.  I'll spare you and me the scholarship here and simply make two points.  Links to scholarly articles are at the bottom.

First, there is a significant difference between something being authentic and it being accurate.  I can write down the numeral sequence:  2+2=5.  It can be authenticated that it was my handwriting.  It can be authenticated that it was written during the time period in which I was alive.  It can be authenticated that I used paper that was normally used during the early 21st century.  But it's not accurate.  Authentic?  Sure.  Accurate?  No.

In this case, Karen King is flying in the face of all biblical scholarship and is taking some heat for it.  Dan Brown sold millions of books on this issue, but King is a history professor and not a fictional author.  If the fragment turns out to be authentic, the best we can say about it is that it records some sayings of people who were outside the mainstream of Christianity and Christian thought during a time period that was well after the four canonical Gospels were written.

Second, it appears that all of the sayings are collected from the Gospel of Thomas, a gnostic writing that used an apostolic name but had no apostolic connection from the 2nd century A.D.  In fact, sayings 114 and 101 from Thomas are almost parallel to the writings on the fragment.  Believing that Thomas is an accurate picture of Jesus' life is like thinking that The DaVinci Code was actual history.  Was there enough to make it interesting to read?  Yep.  But not the kind of document you would call reliable.

So the bottom line is this:  a professor presented a paper to get some notoriety and publicity, which she did.  They said if it were true it would change everything.  But the claims and headlines simply don't stack up to the facts.  If Jesus would've had a wife, I'm sure God would've told us in the Gospels.  What He did tell us is that Jesus lived perfectly, died sacrificially, and rose victoriously.

And that changes everything.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

If you're looking to read more on this, here are some worthwhile links.

Daniel Wallace

 Gary Manning Jr.

Darrell Bock

Christian Askeland

Michael Kruger 

Peter Williams and Simon Gathercole

Dirk Jongkind,

Francis Watson - probably the most in depth to date 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Context Matters

This morning, as most Mondays, I hit the gym with a friend.  I love our local YMCA.  I really do.  They're nice people with a newer facility and it's within shouting distance of my house.  All of this makes for a wonderful workout experience (if there is such a thing).

One of the things that cracks me up about our YMCA is the music they play in the Wellness Center (aka where we lift weights and do cardio).  It's not bad.  In fact, I commend them for trying to put the "C" back in YMCA.

But the music is old.

Case in point, this morning I am hoofing it on the bench press and David Meece's We are the Reason comes on.  First, it's a Christmas song.  Second, it's not exactly inspiring when you're lifting weights.  Need proof?  Well, imagine yourself beneath a bench press bar lifting to...

One morning, Amy Grant's classic Father's Eyes came on.  It's a little hard to do your exercises to that.  Maybe you're a better worker-outer than me, but it's just a little rough.


Because context matters.  I love David Meece at Christmas time (genuinely - I do).  He's one of the people I cut my Christian music teeth on.  But in a gym, it's a different story.  Something with a little more energy might do some good.

Here's where I cut to the chase scene:  context matters in presentations.  As a church, we're in a season focusing on praying for our lost friends and neighbors.  I have no doubt that God is going to open doors for presentations of the Gospel to them.  But context matters.

Sharing the Gospel will look different for different people.  Context matters.  Paul preached on Mars Hill in one way, but shared differently with Lydia at the river's edge.  Sharing with a neighbor who's hurting is going to look different than sharing with one who is prideful.

But sharing is what's important.  And context matters.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

And for all 80's Christian music lovers:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sermon Notes from Sunday, 9.23.12

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, 9.23, continuing the series Clarity.  You can get these notes in PDF and the sermon audio at  You can also find the audio on our podcast via  iTunes.

Part 3 – Worship: Why 
Revelation 4-5

Matthew 28.18-20: rationale for all we do, resources we draw from

Worship is our response to God, giving Him our allegiance, affection, and action.

Why Worship God?

Because of Who He is
  • Holiness: the display of the majesty and beauty of God.
  • Response: fall down (allegiance)
  • Response: cast crowns (affection)
  • Response: confess (action)

    Because He made us
  • Creation always owes its Creator thanks.
  • And not just us, but everything. How do you worship with that in mind?
  • Recognize the source.
  • Say thanks to the Giver.
  • Enjoy the gift.

    Because He saved us
  • He died
  • He ransomed people for God
  • He transforms lives
  • He makes us into worshippers.

    Hardest time to worship: when our circumstances go awry. 

    His character doesn’t change when our circumstances do. 

    His role doesn’t change when our circumstances do.

    His rescue doesn’t change when our circumstances do.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Snakes are Scary, but so is this: Easter in the middle of September

Well, if His name is Jesus and He was crucified...

And fire the teleprompter operator. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Space Nerd-ness

Because I pastor within a stone's throw of NASA's Johnson Space Center, we have a lot of folks tied to the space industry.  And what our people are into, I want to be into.  In this case, that's easy because (a) I'm a nerd at heart, (b) my mom was a math teacher, (c) my little brother has his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and now is faculty-ized at VaTech, and (d) it's space we're talking about people!

So when Space Shuttle Endeavor flew right over my office multiple times on Wednesday morning, I had to grab some footage.  Here's what I got.  And for the record, it was a LOT closer than it appears in the footage.

Even cooler:  the kids were out of school because of a highly strange midweek Teacher Work Day, so the voice you hear in the beginning belongs to the Ninja saying, "That is awesome!"

And kudos to a church member who caught this awesome still image.

Something that large.  Being carried along by something even larger.  Space shuttles.  Burdens.  Make your own application here...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Can you sing this?

A little friend here is battling Rhabdomyosarcoma.  They are from our former church in Waco.  Having spent some time at MD Anderson, I got to pray with them on an occasion or two.  And then this past Sunday...

A 7-year old hero singing about God's goodness.  If that's not spiritual warfare, I don't know what is.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pat Robertson...

I know the guy was trying to be funny.  But he wasn't.  Not even a little bit.  Especially in light of the embassy attacks...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy Birthday, Bear!

I have three great kids.

They take after their mother.

One of the things that I love about my oldest, the Bear, is how he's persevering through some of the struggles that he faces.  It also leads me to one of the more difficult prayers I pray for any of my kids.

I have quit asking for relief.

Instead, I've started asking for God to work in his heart to bring about proven character and hope, a kind of spiritual maturity that cannot be learned outside the school of hardship and suffering.  (see Romans 5.3-5 and James 1.2-4)

I'd much rather pray for relief.  But I know for his sake and for Jesus' sake, the better prayer in this instance is for God to use what the Bear is experiencing to bring the Kingdom and accompanying transformation into his life.  Not easy.  But necessary.

And so happy birthday to a brave and awesome 10-year old.  I love this kid.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sermon Notes from 9.16.12

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday's sermon in the series Clarity.  You can get these notes in PDF and the sermon audio on our website,  You can also download the sermon audio on iTunes via our podcast.

Part 2 – Our Neighbors
John 1.35-51

Matthew 28.18-20:  rationale for all we do, resources we draw from

What’s the Message?
  • Jesus Christ died for sin and rose again.

What’s the Call?
  • To follow Jesus.

Priority – “first”
  • When Jesus is priority in our lives, His priorities are ours.
  • Neighbors are a priority because they are His priority.
  • Our priorities are reflected in our activity, its timing, and its consistency.

Pursuit – “found”
  • Staying in Jesus’ presence means going with Him in the pursuit of others.
  • Doubts are not landmines – they are opportunities.

o   Jesus is not afraid of your doubt or theirs.
o   The more we follow, the more we know.

Open your eyes.
  • When does a person feel connected?

o   When someone knows their name.
o   When they know someone’s name.
o   When they have a shared experience.

Don’t be a jerk!

Have a routine.

Give something.

Throw a party.

Pray like God is for real.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Snakes are Scary: Uh...No.


And if you attend a church like this, you may want to ask Jesus for permission to leave.

And in case you're wondering, the good people of Heritage Park are excellent followers.  But it's not their pastor they follow.  It's Jesus.

And if a pastor feeds well and serves the Body, the Spirit will lead through him.  But service is the way Jesus leads His people, not forcing something down their throats.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Feeling Connected

There have been a couple of stories from our church where people have said they are (or were) having trouble connecting.  It made me think about what it means to "be connected in church."

I'm going to say this on Sunday, so for all Heritage Park family, you're reading ahead, but I think feeling connected has to do with three things.

First, someone knows their name.  They can see them in the hallway and say, "Hi Sally," or, "Hey there, Fred!"  Names go a LONG way.  Primarily because it helps them feel like a person, not an attendance figure, greeter target, or seat occupant.

Second, they know someone's name who is not on stage.  It's easy to pick up the pastor's name or worship pastor's name because they're on stage, the face of the church (for good or ill), and have names printed in the worship bulletin or on the marquee outside.  But knowing someone's name who's not on stage means they've had a brief conversation with a person inside the church family.

Last, they have a shared experience with the church family.  It can be an act of service, a mutual hardship, or a powerful experience.  What the shared experience does is give a sense of common ground wherein they can say, "There's Lisa, and she's been through cancer too," or, "There's Bob, he's the guy I moved chairs with," or, "There's Marilyn; she's the person I sat next to when they had that prayer time."

I'm still pondering how to help make that happen systemically in our church.  Connection matters, not for the sake of numbers, but because it's in the committed connection between church family and individual member that transformation happens.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Can Christians vote for Mormons?

I have gotten this question a few times, and I thought I'd give it a run here and hope it proves helpful.

Mitt Romney is a Mormon.  He's the Republican nominee for President of the United States.  Most evangelical believers lean farther right than they do left, though they would say (and I would agree) that neither party is particularly helpful in some major areas of life and government.

So the question comes:  can an evangelical Christian vote for a Mormon?

First, let me say what a privilege we have that we can vote at all.  That's not true everywhere in the world.  It wasn't even true of every person who was a citizen in this country just a mere century ago or so.  Don't take it for granted.

Second, whether you vote for Romney or Obama is between you and Christ.  Christians have the responsibility to vote their conscience, having prayed through the decision and sought God's wisdom on who would be best for the country.  This is not my political statement on telling you how to vote.  Vote as Jesus leads you, nothing more or less.

Third, be clear as to what Mormonism is and isn't.  It is a religion on the landscape of the world that produces nice, moral, upstanding citizens.  It is NOT a Christian religion in any normal sense of the word.  Christianity hinges on the claims to deity of Jesus Christ.  If He's not God, He has no way of taking the blow of God's wrath on the cross in a redemptive way.  As well, if He's not God, He has no guarantee of His victory over death by His resurrection.

Mormons use terms like Son of God in ways that Christians are familiar with but do not enforce the same meaning.  Their understanding of Son of God would be more akin to Son of Trent, as in offspring.  Son of God in normal Christian parlance means the second person of the Trinity, the person who is fully God, coequal and coeternal with the Father.

So please don't make the mistake of assuming that common language carries common meaning.  "That's cold" means one thing among teenagers, another among scientists, and another among adults enjoying beers in the backyard.  It's true in theology too.

Fourth, I point you to an instance in history that my friend Tommy Kidd has pointed out on his blog (go read it, it's a great article) where a group of conservative Christians, the Danbury Baptists, supported someone for President who was not even close to their beliefs - even denying some of the basic ones, like the deity of Christ.  In 1800, Thomas Jefferson got the support of the Danbury Baptists because they knew he was a believer in religious liberty, even though they shared nothing in common theologically.  The Danbury Baptists knew that politics requires at times partnership with those who do not hold your theological convictions in order to promote the good of society.  The same lesson still applies.

So can Christians vote for a Mormon for President?

My answer is maybe.  The question is whether or not his presidency will promote the good of society.  And that hangs on his character primarily, along with his leadership capacity, pertinent experience, and his courage to do the right thing in the tough moment.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A powerful story for 9.11

I've seen this powerful story in multiple media outlets.  Credit given to John Breunig of the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate for the story.

The note is just five words and two numbers.

Randy Scott scrawled these five words and two numbers on a piece of paper on Sept. 11, 2001, while at work at Euro Brokers Inc. in the World Trade Center.
But if a picture is worth a thousand words, these five words and two numbers have changed the picture completely for Scott's family. Family members refer to it simply as "the note." The note that floated from the 84th floor of Two World Trade Center to chaotic streets below, and was tenderly preserved as it traveled from hand to hand and through time to reach them.
Denise Scott learned of her husband's message in August 2011, just weeks before the calendar marked a decade since he died in the World Trade Center's collapse.
For those 10 years, his family members believed he likely died instantly when United Airlines Flight 175 flew into the tower at 9:03 a.m., near the floors containing Euro Brokers offices.
The words of Denise and her children overlap as they consider how the note changed their oral history of Randy's final moments. Each delivers a piece of the agonizing account as though trying to spare the others.
"I spent 10 years hoping that Randy wasn't trapped in that building," Denise, 57, said Friday from a front room in her Stamford home with two of her three daughters, Rebecca, 29, and Alexandra, 22, at her side.
"I thought he was killed instantly," Rebecca interjected.
"It was so close to impact," Alexandra concluded.
Randy Scott's daughters fought tears as his message again triggered new mental images.
In a steady tone, their mother explained the power of the note. "You don't want them to suffer. They're trapped in a burning building. It's just an unspeakable horror. And then you get this 10 years later. It just changes everything."
"84th floor
West Office
12 people trapped"
It is not these words alone that change the narrative of Randy Scott's final moments. The other content on the note is a dark spot, about the size of a thumbprint. It is Randy's blood, and the clue that eventually enabled the medical examiner's office to trace the source of the note through DNA tests and deliver it to his family a decade after he apparently tossed it from the 84th floor.
Not long before writing the note, after the first plane hit One World Trade Center, Randy, 48, called Denise at Springdale School. She was in class with her first-grade students, so someone picked up the school line and passed along the message. Thinking the first crash was minor incident, he just wanted her to know he was fine. The full news of the terrorist attacks would not reach Denise until later that morning, when Rebecca called her from Ohio, where she was attending college.
For the next few days, they considered Randy a missing person, checking bars, restaurants and hospitals.
In the years to follow, Denise recorded key information in a black notebook. On Friday, four days before another Sept. 11 anniversary, she consulted the notebook when needed to ensure she was accurate in sharing details. She glibly refers to the space in the front of the home as "the 9/11 room," since it is here that so many friends and family members gathered nearly 11 years ago waiting for news and consoling one another. Though Denise quickly dismissed her own name for the room, it is accented by reminders of one of the most famous days in U.S. history: The New York Times book "Portraits: 9/11/01" on the coffee table, the faint names of the victims weaved into an American flag on the wall over the piano, photos of Randy with family members and at play.
The home, which they moved into two decades ago, is blue with white trim. Red shutters were added to complete the color scheme weeks before Sept. 11, 2001. Now they make an indelible reference point. "We're the red, white and blue house," Rebecca says wryly when offering directions.
After returning Friday from a day with her second-grade class at Springdale, Denise tells the story of the note like a school teacher. She avoids dramatic embellishments ("I try not to personalize it; just the facts") and references her black notebook when needed. Her account is punctuated by flashes of emotion, pauses to ensure accuracy, and laughs when describing her husband.
Denise was out of town visiting a friend in August 2011 when she received a call from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York. With the passage of time, and the evolution of DNA technology, the office will sometimes call families with news that something has been identified, most often fragments. This call, though, came from Dr. Barbara Butcher, chief of staff and director of Forensic Investigations at the ME's office.
"I said, `What kind of fragment?' " Denise recalled. "She said, `No, it's not a fragment. It's something written.' And that's when I just fell apart."
Denise did not know the contents of the note, or how it had been linked to Randy. The uncertainty made her grateful that she was able to process the news away from her daughters, for fear of upsetting them.
"I was a mess. Because I didn't know what it was," she said.
She slowed her cadence for emphasis, a heartbeat between each word. "It ... was ... 10 ... years ... later. It was the 10th anniversary, and they started replaying everything. It was hard enough anyway, and to get a phone call 10 years later. It's not even (a call) 10 years later to learn there are more remains, more fragments. They call them fragments. It's 10 years, and now it's something else again. And it's something I had no idea existed."
Her sole confidante was Steve Ernst, Randy's best friend. When they went to New York to see the note, she took a substitute for her traditional notebook.
"She leaves the house with this (black) book, we know something's up," Rebecca said.
Denise also brought a sample of Randy's handwriting, thinking she would need it for identification.
"The minute I saw it I didn't need to see the DNA test," she said. "I saw the handwriting. It's Randy's handwriting."
Butcher retraced the note's path through the years. Someone on the street found it immediately and handed it to a guard at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Just then, the world changed.
"He went to radio, and the building was gone. The building collapsed," Denise said.
The Federal Reserve kept the note safe, eventually turning it over to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The museum worked with the medical examiner's office, which traced it to Randy in summer 2011. "I'm speechless that they actually were able to identify it," Denise said. "This note was written on September 11. It came out of a window. Somebody had it. People had their hands all over it."
Butcher posed a question for her to consider. The museum wanted to exhibit the letter, with Denise's permission. She agreed, asking only that they embargo it until she told her daughters.
Jan Ramirez, chief curator of the museum, said the note is "exceptionally rare. I don't know of anything else like it."
"There have been other pieces of paper that came out of the towers that day, to which we have been able to attach some powerful stories, but none have been quite as rare and unusual and inspiring and sad and touching as this particular one. It really is in a class by itself," she said Saturday.
Denise's decision on the exhibit came easily; choosing the right time to share the news with her daughters became a tortured process. The 10th anniversary passed; Alexandra had started her fall semester; holidays came and went.
In January, Denise's father died. She decided the time was right to bring her three daughters -- Rebecca, Alexandra, and Jessica -- into the family room and share the news.
"I was bawling, because I recognized his handwriting," Rebecca recalled.
They knew it had changed not just their father's narrative, but that of the 11 other people referenced in the note.
"Everyone hoped that it was right on impact. That he didn't suffer," Alexandra said. "Because not only to know that he was trapped but what he was going through? And we knew the guys in his office too. And they had kids and they had families, and to think that they were terrified."
Rebecca, Alexandra, and Jessica dismissed their mother's anxiety about her decision to delay delivering the news. The Scotts also knew they had to widen the circle, reaching out to other relatives and to the families of Randy's co-workers. The five words and two numbers had written a new narrative for them as well, a narrative Denise found herself repeating in the months to come, "again, and again, and again, and again, and again."
In March, Denise and Rebecca took a hardhat tour of the museum, which is not yet open to the public. They were shown the area where Randy's note will be displayed as part of an exhibit to document the final moments inside the World Trade Center.
"It's so amazing to think that Randy Scott wrote it and it eventually ended up with his wife and three daughters, which is an amazing arc of a day," said Ramirez, the museum's curator. "We are incredibly proud to be able to show it and I think it will be one of the most powerful artifacts in the museum."
The Scotts are aware that if not for the spot of Randy's blood, they and other families could have one day seen the letter in the museum without knowing its origins. Over the past 11 years, some families have chosen not to be notified by the medical examiner's office when fragments are found.
"I can't do that. I can't do that," Denise repeated. "The last notification of remains I got was in 2008. And I can't do that. I can't leave him there. I cannot leave him there."
Better to know the truth, even when it comes in the form of a message that took a decade to be delivered.
"It tells people the story of the day," Denise said.
In just five words and two numbers.